An example of a quintessentially English Riverside Town
Henley-on-Thames is world famous for the Henley Royal Regatta, which is held every summer over a period of five days and attracts international rowers. The town is defined by its position on the river Thames, and is situated on the Oxfordshire side of the river. The regatta rowing course extends from near Henley Bridge to Temple Island just over a mile downstream. There are pleasant riverside walks extending both up and downstream of Henley Bridge, which dates from 1786 and is itself an attractive structure and a Grade 1 listed building. The town of Henley is quite small, but has many attractive features to enjoy such as restaurants, bookshops and antique shops, as well as being an everyday shopping centre for the surrounding Oxfordshire villages. There is a museum in the Town Hall, and the River and Rowing Museum at Mill Meadows. Many famous and wealthy people have lived in or near Henley. The former Beatle George Harrison lived here at Friar Park, a rambling Gothic estate and mansion just up the hill from the town centre. His widow Olivia still lives there, but the estate is strictly off-limits. Dusty Springfield also lived near Henley, at Harpsden, and there is a memorial to her in St Mary's churchyard near to Henley Bridge. George Orwell, the famous author, spent his childhood years in Henley. As with most old towns, parking is difficult in Henley and there is no free parking in the town centre. Free parking is available at Mill Lane car park about a mile south-east of the town centre. It can be very pleasant to walk back to Henley from the Mill Lane car park, enjoying the riverbank views and watching the variety of boats cruising the Thames. Boat trips are available from the landing stages near the town centre, and rowing boats and motor-boats are available for hire. Henley is an ideal place to visit for someone wanting to experience some of the old-fashioned character of England, still relatively unspoilt by modern developments. You will not find MacDonald's, Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken in Henley.
5 stars - Excellent!
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Reading(15th July 2014)
A historically important town now strangled by the motor-car
Reading has a rich history and at one time was the location of one of the most important Benedictine Abbeys in England (until dissolved by Henry VIII and now even the ruins of the Abbey are inaccessible to the public). Over the years, Reading became a major market town and in Victorian times, with its position on the Great Western Railway, became a wealthy industrial town. Many famous manufacturers were based in Reading, such as Huntley & Palmers Biscuits and other large manufacturers. Other industries such as aviation and electronics came along later. The town has not coped well with the advent of the motor-car. The road layout of Reading is still based on the medieval road plan and there are only two river crossings across the Thames connecting to the north. Traffic jams in Reading are the stuff of legend, since at one time the major road through Reading (the A4) was the only way for Londoners to get to Devon and Cornwall. Despite its poor road system, its status as a hub for other transport links is excellent. The railway station has recently been modernised, and Heathrow Airport is easily accessible by a dedicated coach service. The M4 motorway runs a few miles south of the town. Reading in recent years has become a multi-cultural town, and English is not often heard spoken in the town centre. The local government of Reading is firmly to the left, leading some residents to refer to the town as the PRR (People's Republic of Reading). The town centre is well provided with good shops and is safe for visitors during daylight hours, although street-begging can be a problem. Caution is needed later at night, where the alcohol culture occasionally leads to rowdiness and fisticuffs. Reading is a good base for exploring the surrounding countryside, being about equidistant between Oxford and London. The River Thames and River Kennet flow through Reading, so the town has quite a 'watery' feel, which to some extent offsets the less desirable aspects. In summary, Reading is a good base to get to other parts of the south-east, and is less expensive than London.
3 stars - Average
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An interesting Elizabethan House and Estate
Greys Court is a National Trust property in South Oxfordshire, within easy reach of Reading to the south, or Henley-on-Thames to the east. The site comprises a pretty Elizabethan House, outbuildings and walled gardens. Originally, there was a much older fortified settlement on the site and remains of this are to be seen in sections of walls and in the three remaining towers. Greys Court is situated in the unspoilt Chiltern Hills, which is classed as an AONB (an area of outstanding natural beauty). There are also extensive walks through the adjoining woodland for the more adventurous.
At first sight, Greys Court is not a stately home in the normal sense. It was very much a lived-in home until recently, before transfer of ownership to the National Trust. It is well worth taking the tour of the house, to appreciate the history of the place, even though the scale is much smaller than many other stately houses.
The south-facing gardens are a glorious mixture of traditional English flowers, fruit and vegetables and at one time would have provided produce for the estate. Other features worth viewing are the Tudor Donkey Wheel (for drawing water from the well), the Ice House, and a Maze.
In summary Greys Court is well worth visiting, but do not expect a grand estate with formal gardens. Even so, you should allow at least three hours for a visit to the House and Gardens.
4 stars - Good
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