My husband isn’t really the type of man to spring surprises on me for no justifiable reason, I mean it’s not Christmas, it’s not my birthday so when he came home one Saturday after work and said he had a surprise planned for the following weekend, I was rather more than taken aback by his grand gesture. Where were we going? Not one for holding things in, he told me there and then we’d be going to Henley, so knowing that his business is in Henley, I wondered how this could be deemed “a proper weekend away” There was me, imagining that he’d booked the Café Royal or the Ritz or some other boutique hotel, I was already planning a spa session but nevertheless, I was really looking forward to it, I needed to get away even for such a short time. Whenever I’ve met my husband in Henley after work on a Saturday, we have a great time cramming in as much as we can from 3:00pm onwards when he finishes and then we have that drive home to Pinner to contend with!! Not much joy when one of you can’t enjoy a drink so in all honesty, I was thrilled at the prospect of an overnight stay in this beautiful South Oxfordshire town.
Henley-on-Thames sits right by the river and is synonymous with the privileged clad in their boating regalia having a wail of a time during Royal Regatta week so I think people regard Henley as this affluent upper class place to live with “posh people” and though a lot of that is true, I mean, the place oozes money with it’s large town houses and country estates, the luxury cars, Ferraris, Bentley’s and Aston’s, but they don’t whiz past frenetically as the do in London, this is Henley after all, they drive through Henley’s narrow streets at a leisurely pace. It is in fact a really beautiful, charming town with a village like atmosphere with so much history and it’s people are yes wealthy but so friendly, welcoming, really well spoken in their dulcet Received Pronunciation English which I love to hear.
Everything you need is right here on Henley’s doorstep with an array of characterful shops, a couple of supermarkets, boutique hotels, clothes shops, coffee bars, hair and beauty salons, yummy restaurants and gastro pubs, a cinema and even a theatre. It can appear to be a little bit insular because people rarely venture beyond their confines unless travelling to London but why would you want to be anywhere else if you lived here? Yes Henley really is the complete opposite of what people assume and my husband has been welcomed into the community and made to feel very much at home, this North London born man from Tottenham! I don’t think he ever imagined he’d have a business here.
The well known Asquiths, home of Teddy Bear’s galore!
When I travel to Henley, I get the same buzzy feeling I get when I go away on holiday because I have to get myself to Paddington which is naturally busy as it connects to so many different parts of the country and of course to all the airports, I really feel that I am properly going away! I buy myself a coffee and quick bite and run to catch the Great Western Railway’s train to Twyford and then change to the Henley-on-Thames branch which stops at Wargrave, Shiplake and finally Henley. It’s a journey that takes me two hours door to door. I was packed and ready to go with my tiny cabin case, I made the two hour journey to Henley arriving around 3:00pm. It was a gloriously warm August Saturday and Henley-on-Thames was positively blooming in the literal sense too! Families were out and about and Market Square with it’s array of coffee shops and outdoor seating were all full, not having had lunch, we were lucky to find a table to have a quick coffee and sandwich.
We’d decided to visit Henley’s cinema, the Regal Picturehouse which was booked for 6:30pm, we had just over an hour to kill, what could be more pleasant than a relaxing walk by the riverside with it’s moored boats, some small, some bigger belonging on the whole to Henley residents as well as larger vessels that cruise along the Thames on organised trips by Hobbs of Henley. I wish we had time to take an hour cruise but sadly we didn’t. We’ve been on this type of trip with Hobbs before and I really recommend it especially if the weather is nice. In fact now, they have organised cruises such as Gin and Fizz which is essentially the boat ride plus an opportunity to sample various gins and tonics as well as champagne so if you’re a lover of gin and bubbly, this one’s for you, what more could you want on a beautifully warm day. Other cruises courtesy of Hobbs are Afternoon Tea, Traditional Jazz and so much more, you can find out more by clicking here. Henley-on-Thames has so much to offer not just in the summer, there is also a couple of museums (NuffieldPlace and TheRiverandRowingMuseum) you have the KentonTheatre with it’s vast selection of plays throughout the year which are really fun, I’ve been to a few myself, as well as Pantomimes over the festive period. It’s also home to the HenleyLiteraryFestival which takes place every year, this year it runs from 2nd to the 8th of October, it’s where I saw Tom Parker Bowls last year and bought his latest cookerybook, a collaboration with the fine epicurean store Fortnum and Mason.
Our walk took us to Hart Street near St Mary’s Church – to give it it’s full title, The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, it must be so atmospheric during service at Christmastime with carol singers and mulled wine adding an enchanting festive aura, I am definitely going to come to Henley this Christmas to absorb the ambience of this town at this special time of year. We ventured into the graveyard, “what” I hear you say but honestly, it’s not at all spooky though I’m sure it would be during a bleak winters’ day but we were just curious to see how old some of it’s inhabitants were, some dating back to the 1600’s, it’s hard to imagine. All this walking made us rather thirsty and the only thing to quench our thirst was a couple of alcoholic tipples, so we headed over to the pub where we would be eating later on that evening to enjoy a chilled glass of beer and wine.
It was almost 6:30pm so we made our way to the RegalPicturehouse to watch our film. My husband having a real interest in historical documentaries naturally wanted to watch Dunkirk but I’m not really a fan of army/war genres, I settled down and expected to be bored, I even envisaged myself nodding off but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Two hours went by like a flash, it was a film that so captivated it’s audience, the music, the feeling it conjured up – stirring and emotional almost hypnotic, it was truly mesmerising and moving, I thoroughly recommend it. The Regal cinema is a place we’ve been to a few times to watch films because it is the only cinema I have ever been to which is so civilised, you’ll not find any screaming kids or unruly teens chucking popcorn at you! It’s quiet and comfy with so much leg room, there’s even a bar serving alcoholic drinks, how cool is that! My husband is completely astounded by this cinematic experience. Now I know why it’s called the Regal Cinema, I nod in agreement when he says we will only be watching films at the Regal from now on.
It was a beautiful warm evening in Henley-on-Thames and I was truly grateful to my husband for arranging an evening at an airbnb, a stunning 5 bedroom residence in Wargrave just 5 minutes away so I was happy in the knowledge that he could also enjoy a drink at the Three Tuns, this is partly why we always get the tube into Central London these days when we go out because it means he can also have a drink. The Three Tuns is where I chose to eat because I had heard so much about this gastronomic Michelin recommended pub and was eager to see why it was all the rave in Henley. It absolutely delicious, hearty pub fare with a twist, you can read more here.
There’s even a pub called the Queen Victoria but Eastender’s this is definitely not!
As the evening drew to a close, we ordered a cab to Wargrave and what greeted us was this impressive white washed Georgian style house called Copperfields. The owner is in fact a customer of my husband’s, a really lovely guy who runs a section of the house as a b&b (it’s also available through airbnb) the family live in another part of the house however they were away on holiday so we had the house to ourselves. Having said that, it seemed a bit weird in all honesty as it was essentially someone’s house, if there were other guests there, it would have felt more like a conventional b&b but it was lovely all the same.
Our room was comfortable with large wrought iron bed, and en-suite which was very contemporary in style with clean grey and white tiles and walk in shower, a telly and a beautiful shabby-chic type light wood wardrobe. The view from our window was of the pretty flower laden gated front driveway, we settled for the evening with a nice cup of tea.
Next morning we took a brief tour of the house, the majestic staircase taking centre stage with magnificent chandeliers above – all I could think of was a scene from my favourite 80’s comedy Only Fools and Horses when the chandelier comes crashing down to the floor! The front room was enormous, I think the whole of my through lounge and kitchen can easily sit inside this striking room with it’s large windows and draped curtains.
On the side, a mini bar with a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, surely that’s not for us? we daren’t open it though, behind us sitting on a rocking chair the cutest and largest teddy I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the champagne was his I joked with my husband.
The kitchen was amazing, space is all I could see imagining how beneficial it would be to have a kitchen this size. It could so easily accommodate all my kitchen gadgets and cook books, one can only dream but hubby reassures me that one day in the not to distant future, I too will have my dream kitchen, it’s a lovely thought by which time, my tummy was rumbling reminding me that it’s breakfast time.
We decide not to disturb the fully laden fridge and have breakfast out, there is so much choice in Henley and Marlow which isn’t too far away. We pack our bag and leave this magnificent residence, it was a lovely end to this mini weekend break and I thank my husband for thinking of me, he knows how much that break as small as it was was much needed. We decide to make our way to Marlow for a delicious breakfast and the hour drive home soon beckoned. Henley-on-Thames isn’t just a town to visit when Henley Royal Regatta is on, it’s just fine anytime of the year.
Mr Robert Davis
The Regal Picturehouse
2 Boroma Way
0871 902 5738
Three Tuns Pub
5 Market Place
All pictures are my own, all views and words are my own, we visited Regal, Three Tuns and Copperfields independently.