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What to do in Marlow, Buckinghamshire's riverside gastronomic hub

A bunting-strung high street and centuries-old weir aren't the only attractions that make Marlow worth a visit — beyond the market town are some of the finest hiking and cycling routes in the South East.

By Nora Wallaya
Published 5 Jan 2022, 06:08 GMT, Updated 10 Jan 2022, 13:40 GMT
Set on the southern edge of the Chilterns, Marlow also offers an ideal springboard for day ...

Set on the southern edge of the Chilterns, Marlow also offers an ideal springboard for day trips in and around its green and pleasant surroundings.

Photograph by Getty Images

Why go

Dotted along the River Thames is a string of handsome, historic market towns, chief among them being Marlow. In the Buckinghamshire town, the roar of the centuries-old weir is a constant reminder that life here has always revolved around the water. Boaters wrangle with the 14th-century lock as kayakers push out from town centre jetties; along the banks, families feed swans and glasses are raised in snug riverside pubs and restaurants.

Set on the southern edge of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Marlow offers an ideal springboard for day trips in and around its green surroundings. Whether it’s hiking across the Chilterns AONB, exploring grand mansions, cycling along the Chilterns Cycleway or swimming in wild reservoirs, there’s ample opportunity to get out into the great outdoors.  

What to do

Marlow has easy access to some of the finest hikes in the South East. Numerous walks here cross tree-lined riversides, villages, sprawling estates and mixed woodland. If you’re heading for the Chilterns, the six-mile Marlow Circular Walk begins in Higginson Park in the town centre and leads across locks and past stately homes and churches before heading into Rassler Wood and the Chilterns. The Thames Path, a national trail following the river for 187 miles from the Cotswolds to the heart of London, also passes through Marlow; join the path in the town centre and head south west (upstream) to Henley-on-Thames, or downstream towards bustling Maidenhead.

If you’d prefer to take in the scenery on two wheels, then look out for signs for the Chilterns Cycleway. Threading 170 miles through the AONB and crossing four counties (Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire), the route mainly follows roads and is easily split into sections for day rides.

Alternatively, while away an afternoon shopping and cafe-hopping on bunting-strung Marlow High Street, home to boutique fashion and homeware shops, as well as several excellent secondhand clothing shops. After tea and homemade cake at Strawberry Grove cafe, explore the gothic All Saints Church and its riverside churchyard, which offers views of Grade I-listed Marlow Suspension Bridge. If you notice similarities with Budapest’s mighty Széchenyi Chain Bridge, that’s because they both were designed by the same person: Tierney Clark. Few high streets can offer scenes so serene.

Where to eat

The Hand & Flowers is the UK’s only two-Michelin-star pub. It’s chef Tom Kerridge’s flagship restaurant, serving reinvented British and European cuisine. Book well ahead for stellar pub classics like steak and chips (sirloin of 30-day, dry-aged Dovecote beef, no less), or Lyon-style fish.

For fine dining served up with equally exquisite views, head to The Cliveden Dining Room at Cliveden House, a three-AA-Rosette restaurant overlooking a topiary-filled formal garden, with sweeping views of the Buckinghamshire countryside. Choose the three-course à la carte menu or seven-course tasting menu.

Don’t miss

Arguably one of the country’s finest country houses, Cliveden was built in the mid-17th century and is now a five-star hotel, but its grounds are in the care of the National Trust. They comprise over 376 acres of Grade I-listed formal gardens and woodlands, including a Japanese water garden, a maze and an Italianate garden. The real highlight here, though, is the parterre. In the distance, rolling hills and forest stretch for miles, with the occasional church spire poking through tree canopies — and right through the middle of the scene snakes the River Thames. Head to the riverside to hire a rowing boat for an hour or two.

We like

Follow in the footsteps of ancient Britons along the Ridgeway National Trail — widely regarded as the country’s oldest road. Tracing 87 miles from Avebury in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, the viewpoint-dotted route has led travellers, traders, soldiers and drovers across chalk ridges, through tangled woodlands and across rivers and valleys for at least 5,000 years. The closest access points from Marlow are the 15-mile route from Streatley to Watlington or the 17-mile route between Watlington and Wendover.

Where to stay

The Macdonald Compleat Angler is an elegant, 400-year-old country house in the heart of Marlow, with the high street just a few minutes’ walk away and the river snaking beautifully around its grounds. The luxurious rooms are classic in style, with dark-wood furniture and damask furnishings. Choose a Deluxe room for views of the river. Sindhu, helmed by renowned chef Atul Kochhar, is the on-site restaurant, serving traditional Indian dishes. Alternatively, dine at the Riverside Restaurant for traditional British fare. Doubles from £149.

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