The River Thames & the Lee Navigation (River Lea & River Stort)

The Thames is England’s premier river and much of English history has been lived, worked and fought over alongside this river. The river is tidal through central London up to Teddington Locks. Above Teddington it climbs through 45 manned locks to reach the limit of navigation near Lechlade. That’s about 94 miles, so allow a week at least to cruise.

Boats have travelled the Thames Valley between the port of London and Oxford from the twelfth century; palaces, castles, country houses, abbeys, water mills, historic villages and inns line its banks.

A busy lock on the Lower Thames.

A busy lock on the Lower Thames.

The Upper Thames winds through watermeadows to Lechslade. Below Oxford the banks are more heavily wooded, especially around Goring where the river cuts through the southern end of the Chiltern hills.

So much to see! The University city of Oxford , with a fine view of its spires from the river and a link to the Oxford Canal. Dorchester Abbey dating back to the 7th century, nearby Reading is the UK’s Silicon Valley and entrance to the Kennet & Avon canal. Henley’s Royal Regatta is held each July, Marlow has many fine Georgian buildings and Churchill’s Cliveden House and gardens high above a beautiful steeply wooded slope.

A quieter scene on the Upper Thames.

Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world was the favourite home of Queen Elizabeth. It was restored to its full glory after a disastrous 1992 fire. A few miles downstream Runnymede is where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Kennedy Memorial is sited, an English acre given to the American people. Hampton Court Palace is just before Teddington where the river becomes semi tidal. Closer to London modern dwellings of every fashion and colour line the banks, and the London river-front, past the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London, is world famous. The canal system can be joined at Brentford or by carrying on along the commercial Thames through the heart of London to Limehouse basin, leaving the wide river to head for the sea.

The Lee Navigation

The Lee Navigation (River Lea and River Stort) meanders through the site of the 2012 London Olympics. Now known as the Lee Valley Regional Park it is busy with sports and leisure facilities. The waterways leads into some surprisingly watery, green and pleasant rural areas of Hertfordshire.

Canal Ring

The Thames forms part of the Thames Ring, (aka Grand Ring) with the Grand Union Canal & Oxford Canal. At least 3 weeks to cruise. See our Thames Ring Cruising Guide.

Key Facts

Wide River, 94 miles, 5 days, 45 broad locks, Tidal below Teddington Lock.

All Thames locks have lock-keepers who do all the hard work. Some locks are mechanically operated but you can usually work your boat through them on your own, outside the keepers working times. Instruction notices are usually easy to see.

The Lee Navigation is 27 miles long with 20 wide locks.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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