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What do Inspector Morse, CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll have in common? They all enjoyed a tipple (or two) at this quintessentially English pub, 10 minutes’ drive from the centre of Oxford. The Trout has a separate, cove-like area with a table for 25 for private lunches and suppers, made with fresh market ingredients. Godstow Road, Wolvercote, Oxford OX2 8PN, tel: 01865 510930, FR:1 BR:- M:- R:200
University College Oxford
They say only fools rush in, which might explain why it took University College Oxford eight years to replace its original Victorian boathouse, which was attacked by arsonists in 1999. The new building, designed by Belsize Architects, is available for occasional hire by corporate groups for meetings and teambuilding on the river. There’s no tied caterer and corkage is just £4, but sadly the powers that be don’t allow parties.
University College Oxford, Oxford OX1 4BH, tel: 01865 276190, BR:- FR:1 M:40 D:- R:-
Beetle & Wedge
This quirky restaurant and B&B, deep in Wind in the Willows territory, does a good trade in weddings and celebrations, for up to 100 guests. There’s a small meeting room too, for up to eight delegates, and three boats are available for hire, the largest of which, Princess Marina, can accommodate from 35 to 80 passengers. The food should keep you happy – chef Georges Delorme is a wizard with seafood on the charcoal grill.
Ferry Lane, Moulsford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire OX10 9JF, tel: 01491 651381, BR: FR:2 M:6 D:70 R:100
The Swan at
Close your eyes. Picture an idyllic riverside venue. Chances are you’ve envisaged something that looks very much like the 45-bedroom Swan at Streatley. There are ground-floor meeting facilities for 10-130 along with plenty of outside space, but for groups of up to 40, having a conference on the hotel’s beautiful Magdelan College Barge, dating from 1927, is a no-brainer. The Swan is licensed for civil ceremonies, too.
Streatley-on-Thames, Berkshire RG8 9HR, tel: 01491 878800, BR:45 FR:8 M:130 D:140 R:180
Crowne Plaza Reading
A prime location in the centre of town and a large riverside terrace make the Crowne Plaza a default choice. There are five meeting rooms spread across the main hotel and its adjoining Caversham Business Centre, the largest of which is the River Suite, accommodating up to 250. For parties, consider taking the 90-cover Acqua Restaurant, or the terrace, patio and garden area, which together offer plenty of extra space. Alternatively, book a suite and enjoy a meal on a balcony overlooking the river.
Caversham Bridge, Richfield Avenue, Reading RG1 8BD, tel: 0118 925 9988, BR:122 FR:5 M:200 D:180 R:250
The Island Bar & Restaurant
If you need a large party venue in Reading, The Island is going to be close to the top of your list. This stylish building on Pipers Island by Caversham Bridge has been designed to make the most of the river views – there are floor-to-ceiling windows that are folded back in summer to provide uninterrupted access to the outside terraces. Its two floors each have a maximum capacity of 150, though if you’re feeding your guests that drops to 120 on top and 80 on the lower floor.
Caversham Bridge, Reading RG4 8AH, tel: 01189 479530, BR:- FR:- M:200 D:200 R:200
French Horn Hotel
This 19th-century coaching inn is now one of England’s most famous hotel restaurants (Michael Winner, no less, is a fan). For business groups, there’s a private boardroom for up to 16 delegates and the hotel’s tie-in with Ibahn means that any IT equipment you can dream of can be ordered in. The big draw, though, is the beautiful riverside garden – drinks on the terrace at sunset will put a smile on any client’s face.
Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire RG4 6TN, tel: 0118 969 2204, BR:21 FR:1 M:14 D:24 R:25
The Great House at Sonning
Just over the bridge from the French Horn is the Great House, a 45-bedroom hotel sitting in four acres of grounds. Its riverside gardens and marriage licence ensure a healthy trade in weddings, but it’s also well set up for business meetings, with a variety of different rooms, the largest of which can take up to 100 delegates theatre-style (and has a terrace with views over the garden to the river). There are two restaurants: the contemporary Regatta, which can cater for up to 120 guests, and the more traditional Ferryman’s, for up to 90. Both have terraces looking down to the river.
Thames Street, Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire RG4 6UT, tel: 0118 969 2277 BR:45 FR:6 M:100 D:120 R:120
This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, summer 2011