Trad Boat Back For Four Days of Fun on the Water, Land and Air

This year’s Trad Boat Festival will be the biggest yet, with another day added, as it is taking place over the August Bank Holiday weekend (27-30 August) on Fawley Meadows.

The original little rally organised by like-minded people, showcasing classic boats started 40 years ago, has grown to include all modes of vintage transport including cars, army vehicles, aeroplanes, bicycles, traction engines and this year for the first time heavy horses and vehicles they pull. With all the quintessential English eccentricity which makes this event so utterly unique.

Co Chair of the Trad Boat Festival Lady Judy McAlpine comments, “The ultimate aim of the Thames Traditional Boat Festival is to make sufficient profit to be able to sponsor a boat-building apprentice and two boat-building academies will demonstrate the skills they teach.  This “dream” can only become reality if the event makes money.  It is run entirely by volunteers but still it is reliant on sponsors such as Shanly Homes, Grundon, Hobbs and the Flying Scotsman Trust without whom, the show would not go on. Please tell all your friends and contacts that this is a terrific event, well worth a day or two of anyone’s Bank Holiday Weekend.”

The Festival (prior to Covid) attracted thousands to relax, eat, drink, listen to great music and to admire the largest gathering of over 100 classic river craft in the world! These are joined by a flock of flag-festooned iconic “Dunkirk” boats lovingly preserved and none looking as if they could have completed the momentous task they performed in the last war.  The much-loved amphibious vehicles will be back that look so outrageous when “swimming” and appear to shake themselves like ducks as they drive out of the water onto dry land.   Lady Judy says, “Owners love to offer rides to visitors cheeky enough to ask.  Your first ‘amphib’ journey can be quite terrifying!”

Star of the show on the water will be the 1893 steam passenger launch, Alaska. She is the oldest such craft still operating on the Thames and will be running a full schedule of trips up and down the Henley reach throughout the weekend.  On her first appearance at the Trad since her miraculous rescue from a watery grave on the Grand Union Canal, the Jolly Brit is the last remaining support tender of the Royal Yacht Britannia, and the actual craft that conveyed the newly married Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip during their honeymoon in Africa.

Majoring at the Trad this year is the National Transport Trust (NTT), an organisation as important to our engineering heritage as the National Trust is to our buildings heritage, but sadly not yet as well known.  They give grants and awards for restoration of all forms of transport and work hard to encourage young people to get involved with engineering on all levels.  They will be displaying both restored vehicles and some under restoration.  Brooklands Museum is helping with this and will bring a different vehicle each day.   Edd China will be on site recording the first of a series of television programmes on the projects the NTT has been or is involved in. Lady Judy hopes that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will be at the Trad this year after trying to get her there for 6 years.

One past NTT award winner is Robert Morley who has restored a number of boats among which is a WW1 Motor Torpedo Boat that was radio controlled from the air and this boat will be out on the water when the planes that might have controlled it, the Bremont Great War Display Team based now at White Waltham, will fly over.  Each day there will be fly over of Memorial Flight Spitfires.  On a smaller scale, there will be endearing pedal planes made by the volunteers who run the Joystick charity for children.

There will also of course be traditional fairground rides for children and the Denning Montessori school will offer a little respite and a secure place for any “lost” children. There are always a few competitions for children with fun prizes and there’s are prizes for the most appropriately dressed visitors to match any of the vintage vehicles on display.

The now well-established “Family Dog Show” will be taking place each day from Saturday, entry is £2 per class in aid of the Ways and Means Trust and you can enter at the show, as many classes as you wish. There may be some surprise judges!

No festival is complete without shops.  There will be a whole street of antique shops, and lots of other stands offering everything from brownies (made by two girls aiming for a rowing Gold in the next Olympics) fudge and vintage clothes to serious boating kit.

When you need a break, you will find good street food, bars, and of course, the Crooked Billet pub offering it’s delicious fayre.  Twice the size of the original at Stoke Row, with the same wonderful food, the full range of drinks (including Henley Gin!)  and brilliant staff.  Or graze the food court with its mix of music on the Acoustic Stage.

The shops may close at 6.00 p.m. but the show goes on until 11.00pm each night as the pub becomes a party when local bands will be performing. The Covered on Friday and Saturday nights, Night Train on Sunday and Led Zeppelin Project on Monday.

This year, the Festival is offering evening tickets for £5 for those who want to come to dance, listen to the music, have dinner,  or just enjoy the ambience of a drink or two by the river.

On Saturday there are illuminated parades on land and on water and even if you don’t want to dance the night away, it really is worth staying for dinner to watch these parades.

Tickets are available on-line at a discounted rate at