It’s nice to live by the water.
A lockkeeper’s cottage, with pretty roses growing up the wall, perhaps.
An old wharf converted into luxury flats, boasting (if you’re lucky) a little Juliet balcony (that isn’t really a proper balcony at all).
Or a suburban terraced house whose back garden, rolling down to the water’s edge, can be filled with gnomes pushing wheelbarrows, etc.
Down here on the Thames, darling, they do things differently.
In Henley, I had a look in the estate agent’s window, before the manager came out to shoo me away with a stick.
You can get a flat there for 1000 a month, but judging by the (lack of) photos, that’s not getting you too much. You might fit a table in if you’re lucky, and the river view would be a postcard on your fridge.
More attractive is a modest six bedroom place down on the river. You might not get your own boathouse so it’s a snip at 3 mill. But the real players round these parts will splash out 10 mill and go the whole hog; that gets you the boathouse, tennis courts, helicopter pad, David Cameron to tea, etc.
A bit of the window is dedicated to “international”. A petite gite in the Charente-Maritime will cost you 100k, mon ami. The condo in Florida is 350k. The mind truly boggles as to how minted you would have to be to buy that condo, which you would surely only use once a year…
But that’s the Thames in these parts: absolutely dripping with cash, as I imagine it has been for centuries. Palatial white fibre glass boats sweep past. Elegant launches of polished golden wood bump up against their jetties. Leander Rowing Club’s crews scull up and down, Eton College boys bathe opposite Windsor Race Course.
And the Waitrose in Henley is the size of one of those Tesco Extras, and makes the upmarket Balham branch look like Poundland.
Into this rarefied, monied pleasure garden chugs Narrowboat Felucca. It is glorious and a privilege, after ogling those 5 million pound properties, to moor her on Henley Reach, with the best view in town, for eight quid a night.
Up on the Leeds & Liverpool canal she was a sleek, upmarket vessel, descending proudly through Bingley Locks and lying majestically moored in Leeds’ Clarence Dock.
Here, Felucca squats under the trees on Henley Reach like a gentleman of the road.
But we don’t care because the Thames is magnificent. It’s something else altogether, a startling contrast to the other wonderful waterways we’ve cruised.
The canals of the midlands and the north are always interesting, frequently picturesque, occasionally breathtaking. But whether Lllangollen, Huddersfield or Macclesfield, the canal is the waterway of the working man; the pie, the pint and the pub; ducks and Canada geese; dog walkers, shoppers, mountain bikers; crossed by the M6 and the ringroad.
The River Thames is the royal river, the millionaire’s playground. At Henley Regatta they drink Pimm’s and champagne and get through a ton of strawberries. The common mallard of the canals is not welcome here; the graceful tufted duck and the rarefied great crested grebe rule the waves, and glorious fork-tailed red kites wheel overhead.
The denizens in these parts don’t walk their dogs, they sail and punt and row; and their shit is gold and smells of perfume.
And if ever a bridge is pertinent enough to cross the Thames, it had better be designed by Brunel or – even better – built centuries ago in glorious stone and featured in a poem or two.
It’s not hard to see why the monied are attracted here: it’s quite beautiful.
It is no surprise to learn that Wind In The Willows and Three Men In A Boat, both fabulous love songs to life on the water, were conceived in these parts. Not a page of the map/guidebook goes by without a building that inspired Toad Hall or a reach/island lazily enjoyed by Jerome K. Jerome and his buddies.
Great banks of ancient trees overhang the river at Cliveden and Shiplake. Water meadows grazed by sheep and cattle and geese run down to the water at Oxford and Pangbourne and Dorchester. Each lock opens onto another sun-kissed (or more often rain-kissed) reach populated by rowing boats and herons, and dotted with tree-covered islands, know as eyots and aits…
So, it is all rather splendid and soporific and poetic!
But already we are noticing the change of this river of money, into a river of power. The channel broadens as we head downstream, 100ft ships chug by, and Windsor Castle across the way reminds us that we are now just an hour from London by train…
See y’all soon!