Living on the river mean that the views from your house are ever changing and evolving–from the mists that rise from the water on crisp winter mornings through to the flourishing birdlife in spring and the busy season of rowing regattas in the summer, there’s always something to do or watch on any day of the year. But in high summer, after a day of work and a sticky commute home, owning a riverside property really comes into its own. There’s something deeply civilised about being able to climb aboard your motor launch on a balmy summer’s evening and potter downstream with a cold glass of wine in the hand.
Much like a tennis court or a swimming pool, having direct access to the river is a true amenity for a property. But instead of just providing a place to play sport or marvel at nature, it offers a way into another lifestyle too, with the social connections with neighbours and the wider river community providing a deeper grounding in an area.
Clients in the market for a riverside property or plot are typically lifestyle buyers–recent deals have included one international couple with grown-up children and another family who are building a weekend house. Most often it’s couples who are selling the family house that has been occupied for about 20 years and making the conscious decision, now that the children have left home, to have some fun.
The premium for buying a riverside property—by that I mean one which comes with direct river frontage–is substantial: somewhere between 50% and 100% for a comparative house without the river amenity. However, like everything in the world of property, there are shades of grey and the difference between buying a property with river frontage and towpath frontage is considerable. It’s what makes areas such as Wargrave and Cookham so attractive because they generally offer private sites (see River Thames hotspots below).
Riverside sites are particularly attractive to people who want to create a statement contemporary house. One of the reasons is that, in the post-war period, these properties were built often as temporary structures to provide holiday homes. Today, they offer prime opportunities for people to knock down the existing buildings and create something that’s crisp and modern.
Obviously there’s an element of pragmatism that has to be taken when buying a river site, particularly with the way the weather systems are changing and the recent increase in floods in this country. Most of my clients will look back at some of the worst floods –including 2012 and 2014 – and treat those as worst-case scenarios of where the water might reach. If you can identify the high water mark during those periods and then build with plenty of tolerance above that point, that’s a good route to flood-proofing a house.
River Thames hotspots
Cookham: An attractive village with a strong community, Cookham was thought to have inspired Kenneth Grahame to write The Wind in the Willows as he lived in Cookham Dean as a child and returned to the village to write the book. Buyers will find more in terms of opportunities to knock down and build a new in Cookham and the surrounding area. The village hosts an annual regatta every September.
Marlow: This is a buzzing, cosmopolitan town with a really good quality high street and lots of excellent places to eat including The Ivy, which has recently opened, and Tom Kerridge’s two Michelin-starred pub, the Hand and Flowers. It also has a selection of excellent schools and offers easy access to the M40 for commuting.
Henley-on-Thames: The grande dame of the riverside towns with a history rooted in rowing (there are five clubs including the world-famous Leander) and the social scene and cultural that surrounds the sport, Henley also offers other cultural highlights including a music and arts festival as well as excellent schools.
Wargrave: This rather more sleepy, winding village has a good selection of shops and riverside pubs but is also a good place to look if you want to build something funky and contemporary and are in search of a good plot.