The Thames made Marlow what it is today. It grew up as a river crossing and its greatest landmark is still the 19th century suspension bridge designed by William Tierney Clark, who used more or less the same design for his bridge linking Buda and Pest in Hungary. There is a tour of the town that takes in other landmarks from the house where Mary Shelley completed Frankenstein to Court Garden House in Higginson Park, designed by nerve specialist Dr Battie. He forgot to include a staircase, thus giving us the expression "batty". Look out for Marlow Museum in Higginson Park (open weekend and Wednesday afternoons). Explore the shops in the High Street, West Street and Spittal Street before putting your feet up and taste buds to work in one of Marlow's many, excellent eating places.
Nearby Cookham was once well known to the touring public, coming out of London during the early 1900s to show off their new motor cars. It was a very popular place to be seen on the river or visiting one of the 30 night clubs that existed between Maidenhead Bridge and Cookham. Today, you would head to Cookham to visit the Stanley Spencer Gallery, dedicated to the life and work of Sir Stanley Spencer RA (1891-1959) who was born and lived and worked in this highly picturesque village which he regarded as "a sort of earthly paradise". Set aside an extra hour to follow the Cookham Walk which revisits many of the subjects of Stanley Spencer's paintings in and around the village.
With its Swiss heritage, Burgers family bakery, patisserie and tea room down by the bridge is surely the tops for tea. With two Michelin Stars, The Hand & Flowers is the ultimate connoisseurs' choice, but there are plenty of other cafés, pubs and bistros that will hit the spot.
Plan a June visit to enjoy the Marlow Town Regatta and Festival with two days of rowing, music, food and dragon boating or the Marlow Regatta at Dorney Lake scene of Olympic rowing triumphs. Come in July to witness the ancient ceremony of Royal Swan Upping when the Queen's Swan Marker and Swan Uppers travel by skiff from Sunbury to Abingdon to complete the annual census of the swan population on the River Thames. By tradition, the colourful crew break for refreshment at The Two Brewers in St Peter Street prior to staying overnight in the town.
What to see and eat in Marlow
St Peter Street – Marlow's oldest and most picturesque street, which runs down to the water's edge. Key buildings include the 19th century St Peter's Church, designed by Pugin, and the Two Brewers pub – a traditional favourite with the Swan Uppers.
Marlow Lock – provides the most photographed view of the weir and bridge. Approached via some magnificent old houses, the lock itself is usually busy with passing pleasure boats.
Marlow Country Fayre – takes place on the first Sunday of every month in Dean Street Car Park. Market stalls now sell arts and crafts as well as gourmet local foods.
The small Thames-side village of Bray – 8 miles from Marlow - is known as 'the culinary village' for its exceptionally fine dining. "Culinary alchemist" Heston Blumenthal owns no fewer than three restaurants here: The Fat Duck with its three Michelin stars, The Crown, a 16th century inn with low beams and open fires and The Hinds Head, a Tudor building which retains its relaxing pub atmosphere. The Roux brothers' rival Waterside Inn, also with three Michelin stars, is a French restaurant par excellence.
Cookham, the destination on the Thames Path Walk outlined below, has a choice of excellent places to eat including; The Ferry, Bel & The Dragon, The Kings Arms with its large beer garden and The Crown, an independently-owned pub with rooms, on the village green. Just beyond Cookham – 6 miles from Marlow - the Boulters Riverside Brasserie and Terrace Bar enjoy a really superb river setting, on the island at busy Boulters Lock: the perfect place to enjoy a cream tea and watch the boats go by.
Into the countryside
The Thames Path National Trail runs through Marlow, offering easy, level walking in both directions. The 5½ mile scenic walk to the pretty village of Cookham is a popular choice. Pick up signage for The Thames Path in the churchyard of All Saints Church beside the suspension bridge, leaving the churchyard with the river on your right. The Path leads through St Peter Street to Marlow Lock and on to Bourne End, then via meadows to Cookham and the Stanley Spencer Gallery. Stop for a bite to eat in the The Ferry and Bel & The Dragon. The train journey back from Cookham to Marlow takes 16 minutes, or go with a Salter's Steamers who run a river passenger service in the summer for the return leg.
The six-mile Marlow Circular Walk starts from Marlow station and follows the Thames before heading off into the Chiltern Hills.
Heading out further afield
There are plenty of idyllic villages in the lovely Hamble Valley is much used as a location for TV and film productions. Call (or stay) at The Stag & Huntsman and continue along the valley to reach turnings for the Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery and for Turville, "home" of The Vicar of Dibley, the windmill featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Bull & Butcher pub.
Cliveden near Taplow – 6 miles from Marlow. Enjoy these really splendid National Trust gardens and riverside walks in the grounds of the mansion once home to Nancy Astor, Britain's first woman MP. Impressive Cliveden Maze, with 500 metres of paths, is newly opened. Other family activities range from seasonal trails to live concerts with tribute bands. Cliveden House is now a sumptuous five star hotel. Afternoon tea is a decadent treat.