Summer in Henley-on-Thames
When summer strikes in Henley, the town becomes a wash of colour with strings of bunting across every street, a sea of bright, colourful blazers and fancy hats, beautiful dresses, boats galore and lots and lots of handsome rowers. This is because Summer is the season of rowing, and for Henley this means only thing – Henley Royal Regatta.
Each summer the Royal Regatta is held in the town on the banks of the river. The event became ‘Royal’ in 1851 when Prince Albert became the regatta’s patron. Thousands of people descend upon the town to live the high life and mingle among the rich and famous within a number of the town’s rowing clubs, from the world famous Leander Rowing Club and it’s Steward’s Enclosure, to the elegant Phyllis Court across the river. With a strict dress code it is almost like travelling back in time, to an era where men were in their Sunday-best every day.
Just a week later, the relatively new Henley Festival arrives in town on the same spot as the Regatta. With a schedule packed full of the biggest names in the music and comedy industries, celebrity chefs’ pop-up restaurants, a plethora of art and sculpture, spectacular fireworks, night clubs and of course splashes of Henley’s sophisticated and decadence, there is no questioning as to why the festival is a vital part of the local social calendar.
Top Tip: Henley Festival has a strict dress code of ‘Black Tie’
Unfortunately more often than not, it ends up raining and these dashing ponchos are handed out to save the day!
However, born and bred in Henley, I know that there is more to this town that just the extravagance of Regatta and Festival. The town during the week is a picturesque and quiet, yet active town in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside. Henley is an ideal place to sit and people watch and is a great hub for boutique shopping. The charming old market square in the middle of town provides many a coffee shop as well as great restaurants ranging from Chinese, to rustic Italian and even Portuguese cuisine! Additionally, the vast number of independent stores provide a unique boutique shopping experience, with many one-off pieces and vintage bargains.
Given the town’s prime location, sat on the River Thames and on the edge of the Chilterns, it is no surprise that walking and cycling in the area is a particularly popular hobby. Follow the towpath along the banks of the Thames, in the direction of the rural village of Hambledon (a popular filming location for films and TV shows such as Midsomer Murders) or in the opposite direction, towards Shiplake with its renowned College overlooking the Thames, Sonning with its bridge and riverside hotels, and eventually the bustling town of Reading (home to the popular Reading Festival). But whatever you choose to do and in whichever direction you go, Henley-on-Thames remains a little jewel on the river.