It’s a cold and windy morning on the Thames and I’m readying the boat for an excursion down to Windsor with some friends from Slough. I’ll be eating a spicy Indian breakfast later so I’m not making my way up to Ye Olde Belle (one of 100 pubs that claim to be Britain’s oldest). Walking past the “inn” last night I see it also described as the Olde Bell and even the Old Bell , suggesting it may be looking to lose some of its history. Sadly it has lost its foraging garden and its charming washrooms which played you excerpts from Winnie the Pooh as you abluted.
Hurley, where Lady Lucy is moored, sits below Knowle Hill as a reminder that a place can retain its history and accommodate any number of immigrants. It has two large caravan parks which, though largely empty in the winter, give rural holidays to the kind of people who see one of the most idyllic stretches of the Thames as the location of their staycation. The village serves them through a quaint shop that runs a good business and through the village pub, the Rising Sun which serves Thai food and good (though expensive) beer. If you want to do Hurley cheaper, you need to drive up to Maidenhead where the supermarkets are.
Hurley exists because of the Thames, there were mills here, wherever the hills steamed forth the water that rained on them. One such mill is now the family home of the Freebodys, an ancient boating family made famous by the father of the current managers of Peter Freebody – boat builders. At the point where mill stream that runs past their house issues into the Thames, is moored Lady Lucy, my boat.
This is where I am sitting on this chilly morning, listening to the stream making its way under a little wooden bridge that allows walkers to make their way to and from Hurley lock. All is as it was these 300 years that Freedodys have owned their business and lived in the Mill House. But the sheds that restored boats are now filled with Italian Rivas which have arrived from the lakes and Monaco on low loaders, for Freebodys is one of the few global centres of woodcraft that can re build a Riva’s tender hull, created from ply upon ply of teak or mahogany around the magnificent lines of the boats design. A riva announces itself with the throaty roar of its engines but delivers herself with the elegant glide of a well-crafted launch. I said that Hurley manages immigrants well.
Above Hurley on the Buckinghamshire side of the Thames ascend the Chilterns and on the Berkshire side, Knowle Hill and its network of bridleways. This spring it has been my delight to walk and run the paths offering me pleasing panoramas of Hurley village and its caravan sites. Looking down I can see the old England of Blake’s Songs of Innocence, and the new England of Stormzy’s grime.
This morning is windy and a little cold, it is likely to rain, but that is of no consequence to Lady Lucy or to Bikhu and his 10 family who will be arriving in four hours. Till then, I will make it to Ye Olde Belle which has wi-fi – unlike the boat.
There are still places on Lady Lucy over the summer, if you or you and your family want to see what I mean, it doesn’t matter what weather. Lady Lucy will travel the weekends of the summer months and the days of Henley Royal Regatta. You would be very welcome to join one of our outings as my guest.