It’s not going to be a huge surprise to you that a museum all about rivers and rowing is in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire – home of the world famous regatta. I had seen a couple of different exhibitions at the River and Rowing Museum that I’d wanted to review, but it seems that something had always stopped me from going. Now I’ve finally been down to visit, and to explore a little bit of Henley as well!
The international rowing gallery
This gallery had got loads of really cool stuff in it. There’s Olympic medal winning boats, Olympic medals, historic boats, loads of information about the regatta and the boat race. There’s even the unbeaten boat which was rowed (and I’m fairly sure someone will tell me I’m using the wrong term) by Helen Glover and Heather Stanning at the Olympics. And I only got to see a tiny portion of it because Smallest Child was absolutely NOT interested in this gallery whatsoever. Which is really annoying because now I’m at home writing up this review of the River and Rowing Museum I really wish I’d seen them!
The stuff I did get to see was pretty cool. There’s a MASSIVE reconstruction of part of a boat on the wall that I think you can normally sit in and row. Sadly covid meant it was closed off when we visited. There are loads of boats hanging from the ceiling though. At first I thought it was weird that they’re hanging upside down. But of course they are – how are you supposed to see inside otherwise? I don’t think their bottoms are particularly interesting???
The River Gallery
This was much better! Whilst there was a little bit of running around in here, it captivated her attention much more and we actually got to stop and look at / read some stuff. There’s lots of hands-on stuff, interactive displays and a generally more child-friendly vibe to this gallery. At the end there’s huge windows overlooking the river and a wildlife friendly garden. There’s also lots of kids activities here including crafts, activities and dressing-up.
One bit that I particularly liked was the “how much water do you use?” calculator. OK, reading that back it sounds pants BUT it’s a nice interactive way to illustrate how much water we use in a day. Or it would be if it wasn’t turned off because of covid. If I’m honest I did wonder if they’d gone a bit OTT with covid-safe measures. They’ve removed so much that it definitely did have any impact on the day. Especially given that some particularly child-centric buttons were still working. I suppose being too safe is better than not being safe enough though!
The Henley gallery
I quite liked this one, which is all about the history of Henley itself. Partially that was because there was a video playing that caught Smallest Child’s attention so I got the chance to really have a proper look at some of the displays. Overall this is quite a text-heavy museum (a bit like Bletchely Park was when we visited a few months ago). To get the most out of it, you’re going to have to take the time to read the displays, which wasn’t always possible today.
I’d seen a sign outside about the Henley Iron Age coin hoard. Once we’d looked around the gallery I realised that we hadn’t actually seen it, and then struggled to find it. Turns out my idea of a hoard and the technical definition are quite different. There are 32 coins. I think I was expecting a big ol’ pile of coins!
The Wind in the Willows gallery
The Wind in the Willows gallery at the River and Rowing Museum is amazing, and I’m not sure how I’m going to choose only a couple of photos to go in this review. This exhibition recreates the much-loved story of the Wind in the Willows. BTW coming here really made me want to re-read the book with the kids, but it’s such a hard book to read aloud. I might have to just find the TV series on DVD!!
The models in the exhibition tell the story of Wind in the Willows almost scene by scene. There’s also lots of little, hidden details in nooks and up high if you look for them. Kids can go in the child-sized gypsy caravan in non-covid times, which is just incredibly cute.
There’s an audio guide available to tell you the story as you go through the exhibition. Annoyingly we didn’t actually get one because of a lot of faffing (on our part) when we were going in. Thankfully we knew the story well enough that we didn’t need it, but I would recommend trying to get one if you can.
There are a couple of self-led trails that you can download from their website, one of which has a Wind in the Willows theme.
Our River and Rowing Museum review
The River and Rowing Museum has had some wonderful family reviews, and it’s even won some awards for its family friendly status. Personally, I think it is a bit of a mixed bag. Certain elements are wonderful for younger kids. Certain galleries are more likely to appeal to older children. You can see they’ve really tried to make it family friendly with all of the interactive elements (and there really are a lot!) but covid has forced them to remove ,or turn off, a lot of these. That did take away from the day a bit.
Overall I would say that it’s probably most suited for older children than the younger ones. We spent just over an hour in the main museum (which could have been an awful lot longer if the boys were there rather than Smallest Child. Wind in the Willows really was fantastic. It was both mine and Smallest Child’s favourite bit but we were only in there for about 20 minutes. Again, if we’d had the audio guides that might have been longer. I think if the boys had been with us, they would have really enjoyed it here.
Confession time here – it took me a LOT longer than it should have done to realise that their logo is oars! Sigh.
Adults – £9, 4-18 years – £6. Under 4’s FREE. Annual passes are available.
Parking / How to get there
Parking – On-site car park available. It is chargeable but I’m not entirely sure of the cost. The website says £4 per car. The machines at the River and Rowing Museum were broken when we visited to do this review, so parking was actually free. There was a sign up though that said it costs £1.50 for up to an hour, £3.50 (1-2 hours), £4 (2-3 hours), £5.50 (3-4 hours) or £10 all day. The actual cost is anyone’s guess then!
There’s also a public car park just outside the museum that you have to drive through on your way in.
Address – River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley on Thames, Oxon, RG9 1BF. Sat Nav tries to take you to the rain station but it’s well sign-posted once you’re in Henley so just follow the signs.
On-site, including baby change.
Cafe on-site. Oh my word, the cakes! We ordered a cream tea each for £6.50. Little did we know that you actually get two massive scones for that and basically a bucket of jam and cream. Don’t get me wrong, I AM NOT COMPLAINING, I’m just still full from eating it. We should have known it was two scones – the menu told us! Kids meals were £5.50.
What else is nearby?
Bulk out your day but visiting the playgrounds (plural) at Mill Meadows and wandering along the River Thames. Or you could try out the nearby Marlow edition of Treasure Map Trails and save 10% using the code FREETIMEWITHTHEKIDS and this affiliate link.
Hi, I’m Vicky. My husband and I live in Aylesbury with our three children; a 10 year old son, an 8 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. I (mostly) love spending time together as a family. We visit all kinds of places and we’re quite happy to drive a fair distance for a decent day out. A few years ago I decided to set up Free Time with the Kids as a way to share our experiences of these family days out. You know, the essential information you need to know before your visit that can be surprisingly hard to find out. Where do I park? How much will it cost me to get in? Are there any discounts available? Are there loos? Can I take a picnic or get food? My aim is to be your go-to guide for all your free and cheap family days out across Bucks, Beds, Oxon, Herts & slightly beyond. I really hope you find the reviews helpful. If there’s anywhere that you’d recommend please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Facebook