Visit the Thames – the inspiration behind Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows

Book me in: Feeling a bit ratty? Follow in the footsteps of The Wind In The Willows’ Mr Toad along the Thames

  • Author Kenneth Grahame was introduced to the joys of the Thames as a boy
  • His inspiration for Toad Hall is said to be the grand Harleyford Manor in Marlow
  • Along the Thames Path are walking trails that burrow into weasel-filled woods

There’s no greater pleasure than diving into the pages of a good book, but what happens after the story ends? In our occasional series, we explore the location of a classic children’s book and discover more about its author – plus find fabulous places to eat, drink and stay. This week: The Wind In The Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.

Kenneth Grahame would be pleased as punch that river boating is a staycation trend this summer. He was introduced to the joys of tootling down the Thames as a boy, and messing about on boats is at the heart of his classic children’s adventure starring Mr Toad, Ratty and friends.

Born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Kenneth was effectively orphaned aged five. After the death of his mother from scarlet fever, he and his three siblings were taken from their alcoholic lawyer father and sent to live with their maternal grandmother in Cookham Dean, Berkshire.

Grandeur: Harleyford Manor near Marlow – said to be an inspiration for Toad Hall from The Wind In The Willows 

His uncle soon had him out in boats in nearby Quarry Woods, which you can still explore today, and later in life Kenneth would recall the willows at the bottom of the riverside garden and name as his favourite spot the lazy reaches of the Thames between Marlow and Pangbourne. 

While working in London for the Bank of England, Kenneth wrote his first stories – Pagan Papers, The Golden Age and Dream Days – but none had the same impact as his final work, The Wind In The Willows.

Sadly, tragedy struck when his only child Alastair, for whom he had dreamt up the bedtime stories which eventually became The Wind In The Willows, committed suicide aged 19 on a railway track in Oxford. Today, the pair lay side by side in the city’s medieval Holywell Cemetery.

Reminders of happier times are on display at the River And Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames ( Models such as Mr Toad upending a horse-drawn gypsy caravan fit the light-hearted mood.

Cliveden House – yet another potential Toad Hall – which is perfect for a wicker basket picnic

Cliveden House – yet another potential Toad Hall – which is perfect for a wicker basket picnic

Nearby is Mapledurham House, said to be an inspiration for Toad Hall (, while another was the grandeur of Harleyford Manor, with moorings and a marina (

Along the Thames Path is Cookham Dean and Bisham Woods, where walking trails burrow into weasel-filled wild woods and root-twisted dells with views over the Chilterns (

Stay at The Hand And Flowers pub in nearby Marlow, run by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge (

Then one last outing: to Cliveden House – yet another potential Toad Hall – for a wicker basket picnic and vintage launch river cruise (

As Mr Toad would say: Poop poop!