The Thames is England's greatest river. It flows for over two hundred miles across the heart of the country, from the Jurassic limestone of the Cotswolds to the clays of the London basin and the estuary.
Populated since the Stone Age, the Thames valley has also been at the heart of English history. The Romans were probably the first to recognise the river's strategic and cultural importance and it was they who gave the river its name, Tamesis.
Today the Thames is many things; a country stream, a rural river in a delightful landscape, a powerful waterway winding its way through history and a royal river, inseparable from the history of England.
Actief's journey is through the upper reaches of the Thames. This is an area officially designated of "Outstanding Natural Beauty". Old bridges, remote locks and pretty stone cottages with riverside inns, handsome churches and old manors make up Actief's route. With commercial traffic only coming up as far as London, there is nothing to disturb the river's tranquillity.
This stretch of the river without doubt the most beautiful and fashionable part of the Thames, beloved of artists and writers alike. It's also the cleanest major river in Europe where salmon and trout are to be found among the many other fishy inhabitants and freshwater mussels seek sanctuary on unsuspecting boat hulls. On a warm summers day you can lean over the bows and see water cabbages and eel grass swaying on the river bed..
Actief's journey starts at Shillingford Bridge where the river ambles through low lying meadows in a wide valley bounded by distant hills. Before too long the ruins of a Norman castle are visible from Actief's deck as she approaches the largely medieval Wallingford bridge, whose seventeen arches stride across the water meadows. A short ride further downstream and Actief passes two large smoothly rounded hills, each surprisingly regular and crowned with a clump of trees. These are the Sinodun Hills which house the remains of an Iron Age hill fort on their peaks and are a powerful and primitive element in an otherwise domestic and agricultural landscape.
Continuing on the meadowland gives way to gently rising hills, broken only by woodland. Passing the twin villages of Goring and Streatley, the scenery gives way to an ever narrowing valley with steep tree-lined sides as the river enters the Goring Gap. With little or no road access the drama of this valley can really only be enjoyed from the river.
Actief's first stop is in the famous village of Pangbourne, home to Kenneth Graham, author of Wind In The Willows. From here guests leave the rural tranquillity for an afternoon of culture in Oxford, but once the river journey recommences it is easy to see where the inspiration for Toad, Ratty and Mole came from.
Almost immediately Actief sails under Whitchurch Bridge, a long and rather pretty white iron toll bridge linking Edwardian Pangbourne with medieval Whitchurch. Here the riverfront is dominated by the old mill, a grand mellow brick building of great beauty. Drifting on, Actief passes Hardwick House, one of the oldest houses in the Thames valley and thought to be the inspiration for Toad Hall, and so continues her journey until reaching the hidden away village of Mapledurham. Here guests enjoy a private tour of Mapledurham House and Water Mill. This wonderful Elizabethan mansion is still home to the same family who can trace their residence on this site directly back to 1490. The 500 year old Mill is the only remaining working water mill on the River Thames.
Set amidst wooded hills, Henley is the centre point of Actief's journey, a beautiful small town of largely medieval and Georgian properties, through which the river dominates. Actief's private mooring is at the finishing point of the famous regatta mile, outside the Leander Rowing Club, and from here guests visit the award winning River and Rowing Museum and explore the town.