A nautical nod to the heroes of war in Henley-on-Thames

This year’s Thames Traditional Boat Festival parades a first world war torpedo boat and a group of Dunkirk “little ships”, some of which will cross the Channel for the three-day spectacle

The annual Thames Traditional Boat Festival showcases traditionally built craft of all sizes in Henley-on-Thames
The annual Thames Traditional Boat Festival showcases traditionally built craft of all sizes in Henley-on-Thames

The genteel Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames might be best known for its annual rowing regatta, but the famous stretch of river flanked by Fawley Meadows is also home to another nautical event with even wider appeal – the annual Thames Traditional Boat Festival.

Held since 1978, it was established by a small group of enthusiasts intent on preserving boating as it was before the days of glass-fibre hulls and, more than 40 years later, remains open only to traditionally built craft of all sizes.

Taking place over three days from July 19-21, the festival attracts enthusiasts from around the world and a range of vessels from across the UK and beyond
Taking place over three days from July 19-21, the festival attracts enthusiasts from around the world and a range of vessels from across the UK and beyond

Taking place over three days from Friday 19 to Sunday 21 July, the festival attracts enthusiasts from around the world and a range of vessels from across the UK and beyond, with a regular highlight being the Victorian passenger steamer Alaska, the oldest boat of its type still in regular service.

This year’s festival will also include an appearance by the last surviving first world war torpedo boat Coastal Forces Motor Boat number 9, which can be seen on the water along with a group of Dunkirk “little ships” (the small private boats that famously rescued British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk from late May to early June 1940), some of which will cross the Channel to attend the event.

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Another impressive sight will be that of Gloriana, the majestic 90ft royal row barge specially constructed to help celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, while Saturday night will see dozens of boats of all sizes travel along the Thames after dark in an illuminated parade.

Other attractions include a display of historic aircraft provided by the Henley-on-Thames-based watchmaker Bremont and an extensive line-up of early bicycles organised by the Solent Veteran Cycle Club, and on Friday and Saturday nights the Crooked Billet pub in the nearby village of Stoke Row will host live music events for festival-goers.

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