Okay, Ray Mill Island. Just WOW. How can somewhere so beautiful be so close to where I live? How have I never been here before?! It is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful (if you go as early as we did at 9.30am). The views, the landscaping, the nature, the River Thames, the sound of waterfalls and birds singing. So much seating, benches at lots of points, as this island was designed for relaxing. There’s a sculpture trail and even a little ‘zoo’ – well, it’s called an aviary. And it’s all free to enter – yes really! Read on to find out more.
Ray Mill Island
These are the details for the Ray Mill Island:
Address: Boulters Lock, Ray Mead Rd, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 8PE
Parking: The car park called Boulters Lock Car Park and the address is 7-15 Lower Cookham Rd, Maidenhead SL6 8JN. It costs £1 for 3 hours parking.
Toilets: Yes in the cafe.
Food: Yes there is a cafe and a pub on the island.
Pushchair-friendly: Yes. There are a few steps but they are wide and look manageable with a pushchair.
Playground: There is a lovely sandpit playground and crazy golf 5-10 minute walk away. It’s called Riverside Gardens (postcode is SL6 8NS)
This is a map I have labelled with the main areas of Ray Mill Island.
Once you park up, you cross the road, turn right and walk down along the river for a few minutes until you reach the lock.
Before you walk on to the island, you’ll see Boulter’s Lock. Depending on what time of day, you’ll see boats navigating the canal and stopping at the lock while the water fills up. People love to watch this.
The walk along the river is lovely, with beautiful flowers and character houses, and even more as you cross the bridge on to the island.
Ray Mill Island
We walked over another little footbridge to the right and then you see another bridge in front of you. Ignore the bridge for now and walk left… here you will be amazed by the wonderful Ray Mill Island. I honestly could not believe what my eyes were seeing. It seems like a scene out of one of my fiction books. Just beautiful.
We saw a flock of geese swimming in the water, and a cute little bridge. The kids rans across the grass, with a fountain to their left, behind which I could see a cafe.
We saw this lovely sculpture of a woman with two swans in the water, where there were also little waterfalls.
Up ahead we could see little wooden sculptures, and more across a bridge, so the kids went to investigate.
There are 8 wooden sculptures for children to find and play on. We found a swan bench and a crocodile before a bridge. And across the bridge were more sculptures – a snail, ducks, a snake, a cricket, and possibly a sheep and a mouse (I think that’s what they are supposed to be!)
These sculptures lead you to a cafe called the Island Piazza Cafe. We didn’t visit as I had already packed our own food, but I saw people sitting outside and being served ice creams. FYI the toilets are within these premises.
In the centre of the grassy area is a Baby Memorial Tree – this is dedicated to babies who have left this world too early. Each silver leaf has a baby’s name printed on it. It is a very serene spot.
Ray Mill Island Aviary
Back over the bridge where we came, and there is the small aviary in front. The kids loved this, gave them a little taste of visiting a farm or a zoo, and for free! There were cute little guineas and so many bright, colourful birds tweeting away. One bird was singing right at us through the cage, it was such a wonderful sound.
This area was very popular towards the latter part of the morning, so I would advise getting here early to avoid the crowds.
The children spent a while here, they were quite fascinated by the guinea pigs. Behind the aviary is this wooden bridge for children (and grown-up kids) to walk along. It’s wobbly but that’s all part of the fun
We carried on walking along the grass and saw lots of people fishing, with tents set up as if they were here for the day. It was quite a pleasant atmosphere. We walked to our left and towards the top of the island. This led us to Boulter’s Weir
At the top of the island we could see and what sounded like a large waterfall. It’s actually called Boulter’s Weir. This is what the noticeboard says:
“The weir is the latest in a series built here over the last 600 years. Early weirs were solid banks of interwoven stakes filled with stones built across the river. No-one is sure who built these first weirs but millers, fishermen and boatmen all had reason to do so. Millers such as the Rays needed to keep a head of water to power their mills. Weirs intercepted fish and allowed local fishermen to sieve them out in large quantities. The deeper water created by the weirs let boats through reaches previously too shallow. Early weirs were often multi-purpose; head water was supplied for the mill, fish nets were sometimes lowered into the weir in place of sluice gates, and boats could ‘flash’ through a central section which could be opened. A winch was sited at the head of the island to haul boats up through the weir.
With their varied uses, weirs on the Thames were once numerous but today only 50 remain, all managed by the Environment Agency. They maintain water levels so that boats can pass through the adjacent locks, control land drainage and ensure water is available for public consumption.”
So, if you read that, you now know what a weir is. I had never heard of one before this day. The kids loved the sound of the water crashing so much, that they plonked themselves on the grass and asked to eat their snacks there. On the other side of where we sat was the more peaceful water with swans and ducks swimming by.
After we sat there a while, we decided to make our way back down the island. I remembered to check my Pokemon Go and discovered there are quite a few Pokestops here – win!
Back past the aviary, we chilled for a bit around the fountain at the kids’ request. They loved standing near the fountain and getting splashed.
The bridge in the above photo caught our curiosity, and we decided to see where it went. It turned out that it led to Taplow Riverside.
The bridge looks very new, and you get good views of the island from it.
On the other side of the bridge is a newly landscaped area. I presume the public can sit here, rather than just the residents of Taplow Riverside (which is a new homes development). We admired the wildflowers and the views of the Boathouse pub opposite, before making our way back on to the bridge. The Boathouse pub is open by the way.
Then back over the little footbridge, up past the Boathouse and we were at Boulter’s Lock. We stopped here to watch boats and then made our way back to the car park.
When is the best time to visit?
All in all, we spent 2 and a half hours here. It was brilliant! It’s an inexpensive day out, the only cost being the £1 to pay at the car park. I would recommend getting here early on a weekday morning, as this place is very popular and it gets packed at weekends. We arrived around 9.30am and it was lovely and quiet. More people started coming from 10.30am onwards.
I hope you found this post useful. If you do visit, let me know, I would love to know how your experience here was.