Top 10 Riverside Hotels
by Adrian Mourby (February 2017)
There is something about water – lakes, lochs, rivers, and the sea itself - that answers a very deep need in us all. We are drawn to it. We want to swim in it , sail across it or just walk alongside it listening to the sounds of benign burbling. A day spent walking along a river is never wasted. It revives us in the way that a day walking along a road or motorway never could.
Perhaps it's because we humans evolved from aquatic creatures, but can never go back. Water represents 71% of this planet but we are restricted to the dry 29%. Is that why we crave proximity to this missing part of our inheritance? Yes water echoes in our primeval memory but it’s also physically essential to our existence.
Anyway, such musings apart, there are a lot of hotels and wayside inns that allow us time to explore this mystic connection - and it’s hardly surprising. From earliest times humans have travelled along rivers and needed to cross rivers and inns have always been positioned alongside there, at confluences and crossing points, to ease our journey. Today you can find some of the most interesting British hotels, pubs and wayside inns along our rivers. Here are just ten that I like.
Showing below are all 10 records in "Top 10 Riverside Hotels"
Marlow Bridge, Marlow
There has been a riverside inn at Marlow for centuries and various bridges have spanned the Thames at this picturesque spot opposite All Saints’ Church. The latest bridge was built in 1832 and was a prototype for the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge across the River Danube in Budapest, a later work by the same engineer, William Tierney Clark.
In the 1880s the inn alongside Marlow Bridge added a new wing and in tribute to Isaak Walton’s much-loved seventeenth century text on fishing and country life it renamed itself The Compleat Angler. That's a popular name for hostelries, there is also a pub in Norwich called 'The Compleat Angler' and a hotel in the Bahamas too. This Compleat Angler enjoys one of the best hotel locations in England. It not only sits on its own quayside along the Thames, but has great views of Clark’s elegant chain bridge and All Saints, an impressive Victorian church in Bath stone, topped by a spire that soars 170 feet above the town.
In the summer The Compleat Angler is often used for wedding receptions with the newly-married bride and groom being rowed across from the church while wedding guests process over Marlow Bridge. Summer is also when the hotel makes the most of its riverside lawn with a tented bar facing the Thames. In the winter the hotel is cozy with low ceilings, real fires and two superb restaurants: Riverside which overlooks the church, and Sindhu, the latest Indian cuisine venture from Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar that looks over the impressive weir.
This is a hotel that really makes the most of its riverside location. It’s ideal for walkers and diners alike, not to mention brides.
Gliffaes Road, Crickhowell
Don’t be surprised to find fishing rods and wellies in the porch of this Victorian parson's house up in the Brecon Beacons National Park. In 1885 the Reverend West, a Welsh clergyman, moved to his new house on the River Usk. West was a keen fly-fisherman and so he built his dream home very near to the river. The Usk or Afon Wysg rises on the northern slopes of the Black Mountain in the westernmost part of the National Park. It flows on down past Gliffaes to the picturesque towns of Crickhowell and Abergavenny and its name derives from an Ancient British word meaning "abounding in fish".
So it seems Rev West obviously knew what he was doing regarding location, but Gliffaes proved an ambitious and expensive building to construct. It had a tall and unnecessary Italianate tower, a folly made fashionable by Queen Victoria’s Osborne House, and by the time the Reverend West had completed his new home he had spent his way through three inheritances. After his death the house was subsequently let to and sold on to various Welsh dignitaries before becoming a hotel in 1936.
Whether you want to fish or just walk along the Usk, Gliffaes is a beautifully relaxing hotel for a weekend stay. The owners, James, Susie and Peta will even arrange rods, waders and a local ghillie for you. Gliffaes is also ideal for those who want a first-class meal at the end of a day tramping the Beacons.
Tarr Steps, Dulverton
It is well -known in Somerset that the Devil built the bridge at Tarr Steps. This series of slabs form a “clapper” bridge across the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park. Clapper bridges consist of flat stones held in place on rocks by their sheer weight. This one might be 3,000 years old and each slab weighs up to two tons.
The Devil swore he would kill anyone who tried to cross his bridge over the Barle so the locals called in a parson. He sent a cat over the bridge but it disappeared in a puff of smoke. The parson then set off and met the Devil midway. The two men wrestled and verbally abused each other until eventually the Devil conceded that people could pass over his bridge, except when he wanted to sunbathe.
I don’t know if Satan has got tired of this deal but in 2016 part of his steps were washed away by uncharacteristic floods racing down the river Barle. Currently the bridge is still scheduled for reconstruction in 2017 but this does not mean that guests at nearby Tarr Farm can’t enjoy a stroll along the river. It flows through extensive tracts of ancient oak woodland where you might catch sight of deer. There’s also salmon and trout fishing.
Tarr Farm itself sits in 40 acres of grounds and offers just nine bedrooms. Its restaurant specialises in local produce serving Exmoor lamb, Devon Red Ruby beef, local venison and game, and fresh seafood from the nearby Cornish coast. If that’s not enough, the wine list runs to over a hundred vintages from France and New World.
You really can have the Devil of a good time at Tarr Steps.
Bridge Street, Kelso
Kelso is a graceful market town in the Scottish Borders, south east of Edinburgh. It lies on the confluence of the rivers Tweed and Teviot and many of its older houses back on to the slow-flowing Tweed.
Ednam House, which sits in its own grounds off Bridge Street, was built for James Dickson who ran away from Kelso at the age of 11 and made his fortune trading spices in England. By the time he returned to his hometown, he was a very rich man and so set about constructing a house that reflected his wealth. In 1761 this mansion, named Havannah House by Dickson was completed. No expense had been spared over its Italian plaster ceilings, carved doors and ornate fireplaces. In 1928 the house was turned into a hotel renamed Ednam House and its current owners, Robert and Gina Parker are working hard at restoring its former glory. Many of the suites have river views.
You’ll find the Tweed just below a stone embankment at the end of the hotel garden. Follow it to where it joins the Teviot join. There’s a very pleasant walk from here to Jedburgh and its ruined abbey.
Betws-y-Coed is one of the prettiest slate villages in the Snowdonia National Park. Though it was founded as a religious settlement in the 6th century AD, it became of interest to travellers after Thomas Telford’s Waterloo Bridge was built to carry the Irish mail coaches from London to the Holyhead ferry on Anglesey - and access became less perilous.
The Royal Oak Hotel began its life as a coaching inn on that route. The Afon Llugwy that flows in front of it has been a great attraction for tourists ever since the first nineteenth-century painters got off the mail coach and put up their easels.
The River Llugwy rises high up in the mountains in an area that receives the highest rainfall in Britain. This small, ice-cold river thereafter plunges down through the village of Capel Curig and then over the Swallow Falls, a popular stopping place for tourist buses, before turning abruptly in front of the grey slate Royal Oak Hotel and heading more gradually towards the River Conwy and the Irish Sea. This is glorious river-walking country, as long as you take wet weather gear.
In the evening eat in Stables Bistro Bar with its male voice choir and jazz evenings and casked ales from the Bragdy Miws Piws (the Purple Moose Brewery).
High Street, Tuddenham, Tuddenham
Tuddenham Mill sits on a tributary of the River Lark. The mill stream that powered this old flour mill until 1954 now forms a pleasant watercourse in front of the hotel and you can see it through glass floor panels passing underneath where the mill wheels once turned. The picturesque mill stream, overhung by long green willows is also home to a number of swans and ducks.
Two miles north of Tuddenham the mill stream joins the Lark River and here walkers can join the Lark Valley Path between Mildenhall and Bury St Edmunds.
There are a number of bedrooms in the old white clapboard mill with two - Mill Room and Mill Room East- that have bathtubs overlooking the stream through picture windows. There is also a modern extension called the Mill Stream block that overlooks the stream. Eating long and eating well is another good reason to visit Tuddenham Mill. Under head chef Lee Bye the Mill is one of only two restaurants in Suffolk with 3 AA rosettes.
Paynters Cross, St Mellion, Saltash
The River Tamar divides Cornwall from the rest of the United Kingdom. It flows from North Cornwall to Plymouth Sound on the south coast. If it were only 6km longer it would turn Cornwall into the biggest island in the United Kingdom. Near Pillaton, above the Tamar sits Pentille Castle, a splendid seventeenth-century house in its own extensive gardens. Pentillie was the pet project of James Tillie, a hard-working land agent who in the early1600s married his employer’s widow. Later he gained himself a knighthood. Building this house demonstrated that Sir James now considered himself gentry.
In the nineteenth century Pentillie was remodelled by the famous landscape designer Humphry Repton who turned it into a Gothic Revival castle, although his additions later fell apart and were demolished in the 1960s leaving just the original house with its crenelations intact. These days the castle operates as a hotel and is available for private hire. Its grounds have been well preserved and feature an avenue of lime trees and a bijou quayside bathing hut for those who want to immerse themselves in the chill but lovely Tamar. For those less hardy there’s also a swimming pool.
Shibden Mill Fold, Shibden, Halifax
Shibden Mill Inn in West Yorkshire gets its name from the valley that it overlooks. “Shibdene” originally meant Sheep Dene (or valley) for in the past this land was heavily involved in wool production. Three hundred and fifty years ago a stream flowing down past the Shibden Inn made it possible for a mill to operate on this spot too. The mill is long gone now but the inn remains and down below it, across Whiskers Lane the beck joins Shibden Brook and flows on down to Halifax. Since Victorian times people in Halifax have come up here to walk and picnic. Today Shibden Mill Inn is a pleasant spot for walkers to rest, as it’s just off the circular Calderdale Way. It’s also only eight miles across country from Mytholmroyd, the childhood home – and inspiration – of poet laureate Ted Hughes.
The whitewashed inn itself is an extensive collection of rooms. Its brightly-painted bar offers dishes with wonderful names like Gloucester Old Spot Pork Chops with Sage Mash- just what you need after a good day’s river walking.
High Street, Bourton-on-the-Water
The Windrush river rises in the Cotswold Hills and flows for about 35 miles through a number of unbelievably pretty villages including Burford, the village of Windrush itself and Bourton-on-the-Water, before entering the Thames.
In Bourton – the epitome of mellow Cotswold cuteness – the shallow Windrush is the venue for “river football” every August, which is an event as crazy as it sounds. This game of village football is played between two teams of six players the length of the Windrush as it passes through Bourton. The match has been played for over 100 years now and not surprisingly everyone gets very wet indeed, including spectators.
Sitting somewhat above all this – but still very close to the Windrush - is Dial House which dates back to 1698. The hotel whose Royal Afternoon Tea is served from midday to 4pm every day is situated immediately opposite one of the low, stone-arched bridges that link the two sides of the village and that have led to Bourton-on-the-Water calling itself the "Venice of the Cotswolds". It's a two-minute walk down the river from Dial House to the famous 1930s model village, a replica of Bourton at 1:9 scale that contains a mini Windrush, a tiny Dial House and a miniature of the model village too.
Chatsworth Estate, Beeley, Matlock
The Devonshire Arms stands on Beeley Brook on the Chatsworth Estate. The brook itself is a tributary of the tranqill River Derwent while the public house dates from 1747. Its interior manages to combines the period features of a historic inn with the functionality of a contemporary brasserie. The Duchess of Devonshire is said to have had a hand in the design of the hotel's 14 bedrooms which are shared between the pub itself and adjoining buildings.
Dog walkers will be pleased to know that there is is no restriction on canines, neither on the size of dog nor even number. So if you fancy taking your four-legged friend(s) for a morning walk along the Derwent this is the place to stay. It’s only two miles north along the river to Chatsworth House itself, one of the most splendid stately homes in England, which does a good lunch in its old coach house. In the evening eat at the pub where Chef Patron Alan Hill has created a menu of pub classics. He sources many ingredients locally from the gardens of the pub’s neighbours, traded on a unique ‘Beer for Produce’ bartering arrangement.
If you want to follow the Derwent further it will take you through the Peak District National Park or to the charming old spa of Matlock Bath which Ruskin visited with enthusiasm and Byron compared - with poetic licence - to Switzerland. Maybe he was just carried away by proximity to a great British river.
To view the icons please zoom in