England, by Barge Lady Cruises
Sure, Porthole loves larger cruise-ship itineraries … but our hot take? A Thames River barge cruise in England and a down-to-earth exploration of the lochs and waterways of Scotland both offer appealing alternatives.
Spring and summer in the United Kingdom usher in the emergence of colorful landscapes — flush with bluebells, daffodils, tulips, and wisteria — depicting an artist’s canvas of panoramic serenity. Thanks to the guidance of the barging experts at Barge Lady Cruises, a 6-night barge cruise on the Thames River set this beautiful stage for our smashing British holiday.
Barging In On Royalty
While it’s likely you’ll never be invited to tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing life in regal fashion and dropping in on some of royalty’s prominent castles and related mansions.
Sequestered away on the U.K.’s lightly traveled waterways, the Magna Carta, an eight-passenger nautical vessel of relaxation, punches the ticket for fairytale visions of British Royalty and history. The sleek-looking barge has plied the country’s canals and rivers for many years and, with numerous upgrades over time, today sails proud with ultra-comfy furnishings, refined accommodations, and a reputation as one of inner England’s finest barges. With several itineraries offered, our cruise of choice was the Downton Abbey Itinerary visiting Highclere Castle, where the famed television series was filmed.
The Barge Lady Cruises Experience
Prior to boarding, guests are treated to the timeless British tradition of afternoon tea at the rather posh Stafford Hotel in London, followed by a short drive to the vessel’s mooring location near Shepperton. After an introductory champagne welcome aboard and some settling into the cabin, the first of a nightly parade of gourmet meals is served.
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Following the first morning’s guided tour of King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, the river voyage begins with the buzz of inner city London quickly dissipating into a distant memory. History comes to life with each day, providing insight into England’s storied legacy while sharing the colors of spring in full bloom. Evenings are ushered in with pre-dinner cocktails and cordial conversations concluding with sumptuous dining.
Barge Cruise Eats
Dispelling the myth of mediocrity in British cuisine, every meal is a surprising experience of gastronomic celebration. Respected international wines are thoughtfully paired with the day’s featured entrée, capped off with regional cheeses. The culinary passion of chef extraordinaire Carl Sherwin is manifested in his exquisite meal presentations. Imagine a dinner initiated with a poached duck egg caged by a Parmesan cheese crown and truffle, complemented with a main course of sea bass swimming in a curried sweet potato purée. Adding to the pleasure of the total experience, the congenial staff are keenly attentive to every wish and whim with royal treatment fit for a queen (or king).
With the morning’s hearty breakfast fueling inquisitive minds, it’s off to explore fictional Downton Abbey, properly known as Highclere Castle. The 5,000-acre estate is owned and occupied by the descendants of the Earl of Carnarvon, and avid fans will experience total immersion into the aristocratic ambiance portrayed in the popular television series.
The Leisurely Barge Life
An afternoon of river navigation grants leisure time soaking up charm and colorful scenery from the luxury of the hot tub or lounging on the open deck. A segment of the day’s itinerary cruises through Runnymeade, evoking visions of the historic signing in 1215 of the Magna Carta, the vessel’s namesake. A late afternoon arrival in Windsor affords the opportunity to visit a characteristic pub sampling local ales and beers. Following the overnight mooring, a late morning guided tour of the immense Windsor Castle exposes the pomp and glamor of authentic Royal life both past and present, with free time to shop or wander the streets of the city.
Venturing deeper along the meandering course of the river, a visit is made to the Astor family’s Clivedon Estate as well as the charming village of Cookham, former home to artist Sir Stanley Spencer. A visit to Oxford, home of Christ Church College and 30-plus others plays out as the finale to a six-day course in British pageantry.
Barging is essentially a floating holiday of canal navigation, never far from civilization but worlds removed from the white lines of….
By Steve Leland
Photo: Caledonian Discovery