What it’s like to stay at The Runnymede on Thames Hotel

The Runnymede on Thames sits right on the banks of the river (Photo by Richard Waite)

The Runnymede on Thames sits right on the banks of the river (Photo by Richard Waite) - Credit: Archant

As the Runnymede Rivers Celebration got under way, Rebecca Younger visited a hotel right at the heart of the action

With the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, 2015 was a big year for Runnymede. Three years on and there’s another reason to visit the area – its waterways. Spring 2018 saw the launch of the first Runnymede Rivers Celebration, a festival programme of events centred on the borough’s watery heritage.

The River Thames flows along the northern boundary of the borough and, sitting proudly on its banks, just before the Bell Weir lock, is The Runnymede on Thames Hotel – a great place to base a visit to the area.

We arrived (on a rather wet Sunday afternoon) to find the lounge bar, in the lobby of the hotel, buzzing with couples, groups of friends and families enjoying the laid-back vibe – an acoustic guitarist providing the soundtrack to their afternoon.

Keen to throw ourselves into life by the river, we had booked one of the hotel’s riverboats, which are available to hire by the hour. Guest services showed us the ropes (excuse the pun) with a quick briefing on how to drive and moor the boat and then we were off.

Unfortunately, my romantic notion of sitting back and basking in the sunshine as my partner read out the lines of Rudyard Kipling’s The Reeds of Runnymede were ever so slightly dampened by the dreary weather but the journey was incredibly relaxing nonetheless. The electric riverboats are roomy (they seat up to six) and have pull down covers if the weather is not on your side or you require shade.

What’s so great about boat life is that it forces you to slow down. There’s an eight-knot per hour speed limit on the river and there really is nothing much to do, bar sit back and take in your surroundings, although there are plenty of places along this stretch of the Thames to moor up and explore if you wish.

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Back on dry land and after warming up with a coffee in the lounge bar, we headed to the hotel’s spa. Look out for the display of yellow rubber ducks (the hotel’s emblem is a duck) on your way – the kids (both big and small) will no doubt have fun spotting the different characters and you can purchase the ducks as a memento of your stay. We were suitably impressed to find a golfer (my partner makes a living as a professional), which now sits pride of place on the corner of the bath tub at home.

The spa offers an extensive range of treatments and there’s a gym and studio offering daily classes, two pools (adults and kids) a hot tub, steam room and sauna, as well as plenty of loungers on which to recline. There’s also an outdoor pool (open in the summer months) and tennis courts. To celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in Runnymede in 1215 the hotel, sponsored the Magna Carta garden at the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show. You can now view the said garden, which sits pride of place in the grounds.

For dinner there are two restaurants to choose from; buffet-style dining at Leftbank, which also serves breakfast and lunch, and The Lock Bar & Kitchen, which aptly overlooks Bell Weir lock and was where we chose to dine.

Built in 1817, the Bell Weir Lock has a fascinating history. It was originally known as Egham Lock but had to be rebuilt 50 years later after the weir collapsed due to the weight of ice. The original lock house was on the riverbank by the lock, exactly where the hotel now sits.

Under the direction of executive chef David Coutts, the menu at The Lock Bar and Kitchen is filled with hearty, home-style dishes with a focus on local ingredients and flavour.

We ordered the wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil and salt cod in clam chowder. Both were creamy and delicious and packed with flavour. For our mains, we chose grilled Surrey farm ribeye steak, served with big chips and salad; and stone bass with octopus, saffron, lemon and parsley. My partner’s steak was generously sized and incredibly tender, while my fish fell apart under my fork exactly as a bass fillet should. The recommended Argentinian Mendoza was an excellent accompaniment. We had planned to skip pudding but the chocolate cup topped with crunchy hazelnuts with churros was too tempting to decline. It was rich and chocolatey and to my delight was served in a proper mug rather than an espresso-cup sized portion.

At breakfast, served in Leftbank the following morning, there was similar attention to detail with pretty much every cold and hot breakfast food you could think of, including honey from the hotel’s own bee colony.

New to the hotel this year is the Riverside Dome Dining Experience, which enables two people to dine in a private pod right next to the river and is ideal for those extra special occasions.

The Runnymede-on-Thames works hard to offer something for everyone and manages to tick a lot of boxes. On arrival, you might think that it doesn’t look much more than a business hotel but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a warm and welcoming venue that is at the very heart of this riverside community.

Need to know

• Dinner, bed and breakfast packages at The Runnymede on Thames start from £220 per couple and include use of the spa facilities.

• Electric river boats can be hired at a rate of £45 per hour Monday to Thursday and £50 per hour at weekends

• The Runnymede on Thames Hotel and Spa, Windsor Road, Egham TW20 0AG; 01784 220600; runnymedehotel.com

• For more information about Runnymede Rivers Celebration and events taking place, visit runnyriver.org.uk