You probably know about Twickenham's Eel Pie Island, and perhaps you've even heard that Westminster Abbey was constructed on an island, but what about the other islands in the Thames? Come with us on a ride out west as we look at the more interesting spits of land in the Thames beyond London.
Penton Hook Island, Chertsey
Located at Penton Hook Marina, Penton Hook Island is a teardrop-shaped spit of land, joined to mainland via a footbridge across two other islands, stepping stone-style (the footbridge on the west of the island is a weir, and is closed to the public).
It's uninhabited, with a few footpaths available for those who wish to take a peaceful, waterside wander through its woodland.
Truss's Island, Staines
Park on the mainland on the western bank of the river, then cross onto this uninhabited island via one of two wooden footbridges. It's an ideal picnic spot, maintained as a public park with plenty of benches and grassy areas to pitch up and watch boats chugging past on the main body of the Thames. Be warned that you may be sharing your sarnies though — the area is rife with birds all looking for a bite to eat.
Magna Carta Island, Runnymede
Magna Carta Island, to the east of the Thames, is rumoured to be the exact spot where King John signed the Magna Carta, although most memorials and tourist infrastructure to the momentous occasion are on the other side of the river. Nobody really knows for certain, and there's not actually much on the ait — although the ancient Ankerwycke Yew can be found nearby. Best stick to the mainland on the western side bank of the river to get your history fix.
Ham Island, Old Windsor
Not to be confused with Richmond's Ham House, Ham Island is a sizeable chunk of an island, created by a split in the Thames just outside of Old Windsor. Vehicle access to the island is possible via a single track bridge, but large parts of the island are given over to a water treatment plant, so are out of bounds. Fancy trying island life for a week? Pixie Place, a house on the south-east of the island, is available to rent as a holiday home, and is one of 37 residences on the island. The Blue Acre Horse Rescue sanctuary is also located on the island.
It's referenced in Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat as the point on the Thames from which Windsor Castle can first be seen.
Monkey Island Estate, Bray, Maidenhead
Did you know that there's a luxury hotel on a private island in the middle of the Thames? Located closed to Bray, and Dorney Lake which was used as a London 2012 venue, Monkey Island is thought to get its name from a group of monks from Merton Priory who settled nearby in 1197.
It wasn't a habitable island until after the Great Fire of London in 1666, when barges took rubble from the destroyed City of London and dumped it in the river nearby, raising the island above water levels. In the 1700s, the Duke of Marlborough created an angling retreat on the island, building the two-storey Fishing Temple and octagonal Fishing Pavilion which survive today as the island's only buildings.
There are no vehicles on the island — access is via a footbridge, with a car park for visitors provided on the main land. A night at the hotel will set you back over £200
Ray Mill Island and Boulter's Island
This pair of islands are linked together — and to the western side of the Thames — via a vehicle bridge, with a footbridge connecting them to the eastern bank. Richard Dimbleby once live on Boulter's Island, and if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.
There's a bit more life here than on the other islands on this list — Boulter's is home to a restaurant of the same name, while Ray Mill Island has a seasonal ice cream and snack shop, and — a blessed sight to all day trippers — public toilets. While it won't take you long to explore both islands, Ray Mill is an ideal spot for picnicking, with plenty of grassy areas.
Cookham Lock Campsite, Cookham
That's right, you can pitch your tent in the middle of the Thames — or in the middle of two branches of the Thames, to be precise. Cookham Lock is a vehicle-free island, so pack lightly, and walk (or canoe) up, and pick your spot. Choose from the sheltered pitch near the lockkeeper's house, or the more picturesque (but also more open to the elements) area nearer the water. Toilets and a water tap are provided for campers, but other than that, it's fairly basic and wild. You must book your spot in advance.
Sonning Lock Island in Sonning — not to be confused with the smaller and less-lively Sonning Lock East up near Wargrave — is accessed by a footbridge over the lock, directly from the Thames Path, and is a petite, predominantly grassy area. Unfortunately the tearooms on the island are currently closed, but it's a decent picnic spot — otherwise, the centre of Sonning is just a few minutes' walk with plenty of eating and drinking options.
Sonning Lock isn't the only island in the area though. Sonning Bridge is a road bridge joining Sonning with the opposite bank of the Thames, via an island hamlet known as Sonning Eye. Compared to some of the islands on this list, it's a substantial place, with full vehicle access, and even a restaurant and theatre, for anyone who fancies a night out on an island in the Thames.
View Island and De Bohun Island, Reading
Follow the Thames Path even further, and you come to View Island and De Bohun Island on the outskirts of Reading. Access De Bohun via the footbridge at Caversham Lock, an area often awash with canal boats. Follow the main footpath through the centre of the island and you get to a much longer footbridge over a weir, leading to the larger View Island.
It was previously home to a wooden sculpture trail, but the majority of the works have rotted away now. Still, there's a decent footpath around the perimeter of the island, which will keep you occupied for a few minutes, before you find yourself on another footbridge, this time connecting to the mainland on the opposite riverbank — a convoluted and picturesque way of crossing the river on foot, much more interesting than the busy road bridge a few hundred metres further up.
Other worthy mentions:
- Queen's Eyot, Eton: Owned by Eton College, Queen's Eyot is only accessible to the public for events such as weddings.
- Pharoah's Island, Shepperton: Only accessible by boat, yet around 20 homes exist on the island, all with their own private moorings.
- Tagg's Island, Hampton: is actually within London, in the Borough of Richmond. It used to have a hotel, but that no longer exists and the island is home to a community of houseboat owners..