Henley Regatta ahoy!
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Yesterday I spent the day in a Merchant Ivory film. Oh no, hang on, I was at the Henley Regatta, being visually assaulted by men young and old (and quite a few positively ancient) in stripy blazers and straw boaters. I’d never been to the Henley Regatta before and it was quite an induction into ‘Englishness’ in both its best and worst forms.
The good bits: The view is quite stupendously lovely, looking towards Henley’s 11th century church with its English flag, the arch of the bridge to your left, up river with the rowers straining manfully, sweat glistening from their taut arms, lycra tightly wrapped around their… oh sorry, that’s a different sort of film.
This Regatta is brilliantly organised – it’s kind of like Wimbledon on water – with fantastic eating areas, grandstands from which to watch races, shops, nice loos, officials wearing bowler hats, all that stuff.
And let’s not forget that this is the most famous regatta in the world, 175 years old this year, and it’s right on our flippin doorsteps!
The flipside: there’s the usual home-grown exclusion system in operation, with a 10 year waiting list for the Steward’s Enclosure, the private Leander Club, a small contingent of roaring English snobs (though it must be said a lot of really lovely people too – I met loads of them) , and a lot of badge-staring to see if you’re allowed into or banned from certain areas. These are all the badges available each day – frankly bonkers.
Anyway *sigh*, as your loyal servant is not keen on Jobsworths, I had a slight ding-dong with one of the security men who made me leave the entire Regatta and walk around again to collect my press pass as I had inadvertently missed the press box and wandered in (and was trying to wander out again) of the Leander club. GRRRR!
I finally got myself sorted and after taking some snaps around the boat launches…
I watched some races from the Regatta Enclosure, which is actually a really lovely place to hang out for the day.
I’d tell you more about it, but all this good weather has meant that it’s now sold out this weekend, but here are a couple of pics so you get the feel, in case you want to book or next year.
However, Cinders, you may still go to the ball, as a brilliant way to see the racing is by boat. You can hire one, either a little chuggers or bigger ones depending on the size of your party from Hobbs of Henley or perhaps from further down the river in nearby villages to give yourself more choice (please call beforehand too or you’ll be cursing me if they’re all rented out!).
Then basically you can go right up the river to where the races are, and as long as you keep moving you can watch the boat races from a prime spot on the river itself. It’s a bit of a no-brainer when you think about it! Also, if you have small boat you can actually moor on the central channel of the river for as long as you like. The other benefit is you can bring a picnic, and pull off to a bank to eat in the shade of the willows. Seriously, I’m really tempted to do this with the Muddy troops this weekend.
The other good way to see the Regatta is simply to walk down the tow path. The races actually start 2 miles from the Henley Regatta enclosures and so you can take a position on the bank and see the rowers going past. I didn’t have time to walk all the way down here but I spoke to the organisers and also some punters who said there are plenty of food and drink vendors, plus a very good bar. I imagine there’d be a fab atmosphere down there on the weekend.
Parking is appalling so either set off early or leave your car in a nearby village and get the bus in. There are plenty of carparks around charging from £15 – 35 for the day depending how close you want to get, but there were massive queues when I went on Thursday so it will only get worse this weekend.
Would I go back? Definitely. With a group of friends dressed up on a sunny day, or with the family freewheeling it with a picnic and boat, I reckon it’s immense fun. Give it a go and let me know what you think.