Henley 2014 233 (Small)Henley’s hub is the River Thames. It’s been a very important part of Henley’s economy and social life for over a thousand years.

It was a busy Medieval port, and an 18th Century coaching town. And the two often went together, when cargo was unloaded and taken along the Pack and Prime Lane.

Before setting off, coachmen used to ‘pack and prime’ their guns, as protection against the many highwaymen who lay in wait for them.

It’s now a grassy track, and it is said that a ghostly horse and carriage can sometimes be heard travelling along the route. Maybe they were victims of a brutal attack.

I suggested that Henley should be re-named Duckley, as there are so many of the birds on the Thames!

(No, nobody laughed the last time I said it either. But I still think it’s quite funny!)

Although some of the buildings were ‘modernised’ by the Victorians, and probably in the 50s, the general layout of the town is exactly the same as it was in Medieval times. Wonderful archaeological discoveries are often made when any renovation is carried out.

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There are a massive 368 listed buildings in the town!

Yes, you read it correctly. There are;

2 x Grade I listed (Chantry House on Church Street and Henley Bridge, Hart Street)

348 x Grade II listed

18 x Grade II* listed

I could have spent a lot more time exploring Henley and its streets, but we had to carry on with our visit.

On the river bank is the River & Rowing Museum.

Oh, how boring. Let’s get it over with! I thought when we parked outside.

Wrong. Very wrong!

As soon as we walked inside the modern, award-winning building, I had changed my opinion of it.

On the ground floor is the Wind in the Willows Exhibition. It’s been there for nearly 10 years, and believe me, it will be there for a lot longer!

I’ve always loved (and still do) a really stunning Santa’s Grotto. And the Wind in the Willows Exhibition reminded me of one.

Enthralled, I walked past all the lit-up displays of Ratty, Mole, Badger, and of course, Toad, showing scenes from the 1908 classic tale of the riverside.

Everyone else was very interested in the Rowing Gallery. It holds the boat that won the first-ever Boat Race in 1829, Steve Redgrave’s boat from the Sydney Olympics in which he won his fifth Gold Medal, and much more, like medals and torches.

Even though I half-heartedly watch the Boat Race on the TV, I never realised how long and thin the boats are. They’re huge!

I walked through fairly quickly, and entered the River Gallery. That was OK.

But I could go back to the Henley Gallery. It displays the local history of the Thames, or the Tamesis, to give it the Latin name.

There’s an ancient hoard of gold coins, old log boats found on the river bed, a painting by Jan Siberechts, painted in 1698 and heavily alarmed, and much more.

The staff are all very enthusiastic and helpful. If you buy a ticket, it lasts for a year, so if you are local, you can return again and again.

There’s a lot for children to get involved in, and they love going there.

The layouts do change. And yes, I’d go back there again!

We came out of the museum, and walked along the river bank to Hobbs of Henley.

Jonathan Hobbs was waiting for us, and led us to one of his six new luxury 12-seater ‘Olympic Class’ motor launches.

They were built specially for the 2012 Olympic Games, to transfer VIPs along the river. So of course, I felt totally at home on board. It was so Moi!

While we cruised up the river towards Temple Island, Jonathan told us facts about the river and his family’s history.

His Great-Great Grandfather started the boat business in 1870. They still have many of their own boats built, and at present have 64 boats of various shapes and sizes for hire.

We passed Fawley Court, which was designed by Christopher Wren. The gardens were designed by Capability Brown.

Temple Island, in the middle of the river, belongs to the Henley Regatta.

Opposite, The 80s Rewind Festival is held in the field there.

Round the island we cruised, passing rows of geese, all lined up like commuters on a railway platform. They were preparing to migrate to a warmer climate.

I wonder what they were waiting for? Late arrivals? A certain date on the calendar? A change in the weather?

Back towards the Henley Bridge, we passed the Henley Rowing Club, which is rather an ugly modern building. A lone rower was passing, which gave me a good photo.

We passed under Henley Bridge, which is roughly where Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire meet.

The five-arched bridge, which is Grade 1 listed, was built in 1786 to replace an old wooden bridge which had been swept away in a flood in 1774. The town must have been totally cut off for a while.

On the other side is the Leander Club, one of the world’s oldest and most successful rowing clubs. Its Members have won over 100 Olympic medals, which is more than any other sport.

Their colour is pink, and their mascot is a pink hippo.

Apparently, every club has a different colour, and all their blades (I thought they were called oars, but apparently not) are a different colour at the end. You can tell what club they belong to as they row past, when the oars – um, I mean blades – flash out of the water.

We were in the longest straight part of the Thames, which is why the Henley Regatta is held there.

Oh, haven’t I told you about the Henley Regatta yet? Silly me!

Started in 1839, the Henley Royal Regatta has become a five-day event. It’s held around the first weekend in July. Absolutely everyone turns up to watch the races, dressed in Summer dresses, or traditional striped blazers.

We passed lovely little houses with their own mooring spot, and large mansions like the Henley Management College.

The riverbank needs constant work done on it as it’s a living thing. Most of the work is covered with plants to make it look natural.

After the trip, we went aboard the New Orleans. It’s the biggest and most luxurious passenger vessel on the Upper Thames. She was carefully built and looks like a Mississippi paddle steamer. You can hire her for weddings and events.

I’m trying to think of a reason to hire her. She’s beautiful!

After our cruise, we walked towards the bridge, and then left along Friday Street.

(I know you’ve been waiting for the Brothel bit, you Naughty Readers!)

When a lot of the locals got paid on a Friday, they used to go straight to Friday Street, as it became known, to visit the bars and brothels there.

The road is still exactly as it was then, thanks to Henley’s marvelous preservation rules. The old Anchor pub is still on the corner. I bet that if it could talk it would have a few tales to tell!

After that, we walked over the bridge past the Leander Club, to the 15th Century Little Angel pub for lunch.

To be continued……….