Thursday, 20 January 2022

Festival’s not only traditional — it’s quintessentially British

Festival’s not only traditional — it’s quintessentially British

FROM Friday, July 19, to Sunday, July 21, Henley plays host to one of the country’s most eccentric, extrovert and joyous festivals, writes Paul Clerehugh.

The Thames Traditional Boat Festival — call it the Trad — is a quintessentially British affair.

Inventive, wacky, astonishing, unique, fun. Like a river version of Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony. The best of Bizarre Blighty.

The Trad is quirky, crazy, mind-boggling and mad. Bewildering and shamelessly good fun.

With festival organiser the Duchess of Fawley, aka Lady McAlpine, at the helm, it’s guaranteed to be pretty Basil Brush. Last year marked the Trad’s 40th anniversary. Tens of thousands visited — the largest gathering of traditional river craft in the world.

From an amphibious transit van and Triumph Heralds to Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird, which set three world records in the Thirties, there is everything from a flotilla of Dunkirk little ships to a First World War radio-controlled torpedo, Edwardian steam launches, military boats, Sixties film stars’ river toys — literally hundreds of craft.

The 2019 event has even more attractions than last year and a record number of guests is anticipated — they reckon 30,000 people.

HRH Prince Philip is sending the Queen’s row barge Gloriana to Trad (God bless the lock-keeper).

I managed to get crème fraiche on Gloriana’s crushed velvet last year but scrubbed it out with Vanish and they were happily none the wiser. Visitors can also see performances by a Hurricane and three triplanes — a search and rescue display with the Royal Marines.

On land there will be hundreds of vintage cars, commercial vehicles and bikes. Loads of shopping, art, clothing, jewellery, garden stuff, an entire Portobello Road’s worth of antique and bric-a-brac shops. Not to mention a live music stage with great bands.

It’s a mini Glastonbury-on-Thames with a Tetbury-sized antique market, a vintage version of Chris Evans’s Carfest and the world’s largest gathering of traditional boats.

Peckish? The Trad’s cooking up a fabulously eclectic festival feast. I’ll be there in all my narcissistic glory with the Crooked Billet. Other delicious eats include The Gurkha Field Kitchen serving up curried military subsistence, Little Red pizza, the Soulfood Kitchen, and burgers from Shakey’s Diner.

Then there’s cream teas, cakes and sandwiches from the Vintage Tea Rooms — doubtlessly lots of vicars and dog collars.

The Crooked Billet offers 200 riverside tables, cooking up a great choice — fish and chips, salt beef on rye, crispy duck, loads of healthy interesting field to fork salads. We’ll pass on coronation chicken. Piri piri with corn and black bean rice salsa instead. I’ll take the Mr Whippy ice cream machine for the Eton Mess with a twist.

Rebellion IPA on the Crooked Billet bar, a good wine selection, Pimm’s, spirits, and Mr Hobbs Gin. Incidentally, Hobbs of Henley provide a free ferry service from Henley for ticket-holders.

There’s a live music stage, a Henley Festival’s worth of eclectica and eccentrica, and incredible bands throughout the weekend.

Catch the Rolling Stones’s pianist Ben Waters on the Crooked Billet stage, the festival finale band on the Sunday evening.

My favourite part of Trad is the Saturday night.

With bands playing and the Crooked Billet riverside restaurant packed with diners, the bar is crazy.

At 10pm take a seat on one of our vintage Lloyd Loom chairs under the Henley moonlit sky and watch the illuminated boat parade drift majestically, gracefully past.

I’m cooking from an open-plan canteen kitchen all day every day. Come and say hello.

For more information and to book tickets, visit

When the weather is fine you know it’s the time for messing about on the river. If you take my advice there’s nothing as nice as messin’ about on the river.

There’s big boats and wee boats and all kind of craft, Puffers and Keel bowls and some with no raft, with the wind in your face there’s no finer place than messin’ about on the river.

For more information and to book tickets, visit

Paul Clerehugh is chef patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch his Food on Friday show on BBC Radio Berkshire from 2pm to 3pm weekly — tune in for recipes, foodie affairs and an assortment of light-hearted kitchen chat.

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