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The Royal Windsor Web Site Home Page

'Just messing about on the river' is one of the most pleasant ways to while away an hour or two on a warm sunny day. From Windsor promenade there are a number of self-drive motorboats and rowing boats for hire in order to do just that. For those requiring just a little more luxury, and a little less effort, pleasure launches leave regularly for a delightful trip to Boveney Lock and back, lasting about 35 minutes. Longer trips are also available as well as the opportunity to hire a launch for your own private party.
  Boat hire on the river is not new. Postcards from over 100 years ago show rowing boats (skiffs) and punts for hire lined up on both the Windsor and Eton banks, the skiffs' stern seats elegantly decorated with wrought iron. Indeed Jerome K Jerome's
Three Men in a Boat was first published in 1889 and described in great detail the trials and tribulations of Jerome, Harris and George and their witless terrier, Montmorency, as they rowed up the river.

1900s view

Skiffs for hire lined up on The Brocas in the very early 1900s

These days the boats for hire are sturdy dinghies with outboard motors, easily steered by a wheel in the front of the boat, together with a simple combined forward and reverse gear lever, that also controls the speed.

Motor boats for hire on Windsor promenade

Motor boats for hire on Windsor promenade

  There are only a couple of 'rules of the river'. The first is to drive on the right, the second is to steer slowly and gently, anticipating course changes and allowing a few moments for the boat to respond, the third is to keep out of backwaters where you may get stuck, and the fourth is to keep an eye open for fishermen and their floats, moving away from the bank to avoid snagging their lines. You can be confident that the main stream, the river itself, holds no hidden dangers provided that you keep a reasonable distance from the banks.

Pleasure boat moored at promenade

Larger pleasure boats leave Windsor promenade regularly for much of the year

Windsor castle from the river

The dramatic outline of Windsor Castle viewed from the river

For the first part of the river trip you may like to go downstream as far as Windsor Bridge. The bridge was built between 1822-24 and The Royal Windsor Web Site features the history of the bridge here.   In 2002 HM Queen Elizabeth re-opened Windsor Bridge following repairs to the cast-iron supports which had forced its closure to road traffic in the 1970s. The bridge was completely renovated with a new York stone footway and a new colour scheme and lighting, the work designed to co-incide with The Golden Jubilee.

Windsor Bridge in 2002

Windsor Bridge in 2002 following its renovation for The Golden Jubilee

Wren's from the river

Sir Christopher Wren's House Hotel from the river

On the Windsor bank by Windsor Bridge is the hotel formerly known as Sir Christopher Wren's House Hotel although no connection with Wren has been proved.
 There is less of interest further downstream as Romney Lock and the weir are nearby and so we suggest that you turn and proceed upstream past the Eton College boathouses.

College Boat houses

Beyond the boathouses on the right is 'The Brocas', an open area of land in the care of Eton College. The Brocas family were land owners in Gascony, Aquitaine (in France) almost 1000 years ago and supported Edward I when Aquitaine passed to England in 1152. In the early 1300s John (de) Brocas had come to Windsor through his close connections with the royal court, married an English woman, Margaret, and was enjoying rights granted by the king to land around the town, including Etonmede (The Brocas) in 1330 also becoming Lord of the Manor of Clewer and Chief Forester of Windsor Forest. John Brocas also had interests in the wine trade and it is believed that there was a vineyard at Clewer. At St Andrew's Church, Clewer, there is the Brocas Chapel. Today much of the land on the north side of the river belongs to Eton College which can be seen across the meadows.
  On the Windsor bank is Jacobs Island named after Arthur Jacobs, the boat builders, who had a boathouse and a slip way at the eastern, downstream, end.

Jacobs Island

For many years Jacobs operated The Windsor Belle, The Empress of India and the Windsor Castle, three large and beautiful, Thames steamers in varnished wood, from the Windsor promenade until The Empress and the Windsor Castle were bought by Turks of Kingston. According to the National Register of Historic Vessels, whose entries are included here in brackets, the Empress of India was built in 1898, (Gross Tonnage: 53.00 Length Overall: 21.64 metres, Passenger Vessel. Bibliography, Hamer, Geoffrey, 1995, Trip Out 1995/6 - A Guide to the Passenger Boat Services of the British Isles, pp. 22, G P Hamer. Also Hamer, Geoffrey, 1996, Trip Out 1995/6 - A Guide to the Passenger Boat Services of the British Isles Supplement, G P Hamer), the Windsor Belle in 1901 (Edward Burgoine, at A Jacobs, Windsor, Saloon Launch) and the Windsor Castle in 1923. (New Windsor Castle, Arthur Jacobs, Windsor, Passenger Vessel). All are believed to have been built on Jacob's Island. The Empress and the Windsor Castle are now laid up at Sunbury [as of 2002], due to strict European regulations concerning the carriage of passengers. The blue and white Gaiety seen here moored on Jacob's Island is a most beautiful steel hulled, twin screw, Thames steamer dating from 1887. Now diesel powered, Gaiety remains in regular service although the original aft saloon has been removed. She was originally named Oxford and operated initially on the Thames by Salters Steamers. In those days, river travel, scheduled passenger services throughout the length of the Thames, were very common but nowadays are very limited. From 1927 Gaiety (as Oxford) worked the Severn Estuary and The Kennet and Avon Canal before being brought back to the Thames at Runnymede, partly by road, by her new owners, the boat operators French Brothers, in 1987.
  Upstream from Jacob's Island is the cafe on Barry Avenue promenade. This was built around the time that the promenade was first constructed. For more information and original pictures see The History of Windsor Promenade.

The cafe at Barry Avenue

The cafe at Barry Avenue promenade and dating from the early 1900s

Baths Island

Deadwater Ait with Baths Island beyond, immediately beyond the cafe.

The backwater around Baths Island is next on the Windsor bank, though it is not recommended that you take your hired motor boat down here as navigation is restricted. We suggest you use your time to proceed further upstream, passing Deadwater Ait and Baths Island to the left. Although now one island, the two were originally separated by a channel between them. Baths Island is so named as it was indeed the town's swimming baths noted on maps as early as the 1860s. Subsequently the banks were concrete lined, the islands joined and hand rails fitted along the waterline, probably in the 1930s and changing rooms erected adjacent to the railway arches.
  Just a little way upstream is Brunel's famous Bowstring Bridge, carrying the Great Western Railway on the branch line from Slough to Windsor on an extended series of brick arches, one of the longest such brick viaducts anywhere in the world and originally constructed in wood when the railway first arrived in 1849.

Brunel's Great Western Railway Bridge

Brunel's Great Western Railway Bridge on the Windsor-Slough branch line, the 'Bowstring' Bridge

Elizabeth Bridge

Elizabeth Bridge crosses the Thames at Windsor

Further upstream is the road bridge, The Elizabeth Bridge dating from the mid 1960s, and built just in time before Windsor Town Bridge had to be closed to traffic.
  Once beyond the Elizabeth Bridge you are passing the ancient village of Clewer, the Norman Church, St Andrew's, just visible through the trees. Here the Mill Stream rejoins the main river, the Mill House, once owned by Michael Caine, being a short distance upstream as the river bends northwards. The landing stage for Windsor Racecourse is on the left and ahead of you, The Chinese Bridge. The river banks are now natural, with no concrete reinforcement.

Natural river banks e

Out in the country now, and natural river banks each side

The Chinese Bridge

The Chinese Bridge

Continuing upstream is Boveney Lock and Weir, with Windsor Racecourse stretching out on the south side of the river. By now you are probably approaching half way through your paid time, so enjoy the countryside and slowly make your way back to Windsor. We sincerely hope you have a very pleasant trip.

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