This April 6th, pack a picnic in your wicker hamper, put on something blue, and set off to watch the 2014 Boat Race, but don’t forget your umbrella and wellies.
The Boat Race: A great British tradition since the mid-nineteenth century, the Boat Race pits crews from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge against each other in a race of over four miles, from Putney in south west London to Mortlake in Richmond-upon-Thames. The young men (the women’s Boat Race is a separate event) row in boats called eights, with a crew of eight oarsmen and a coxswain, or cox, who steers the boat and coordinates the rowers. As well as these skills, light weight is an advantage for coxes, and they are often female. The Oxford team races in dark blue, with oar blades of the same colour, while Cambridge uses light blue. The course is gruelling, and only the top rowers are picked to represent their university.
Which blue are you? Some people always cheer for Oxford or Cambridge according to preference, or a connection with one university, while others choose afresh every year. Many bets are placed, some out of loyalty to the favoured side, some for the team most likely to win that year, or, alternatively, to the one with the highest odds against them. Either way, rooting for the team you want to win makes the day more exciting, and allows for friendly rivalry with your fellow spectators.
Vantage Points: There are plenty of vantage points along the race route, if your visiting for the weekend car hire in London lets you travel to the best spots to view the action. Which one you choose depends on what you want to get out of the event. Do you want to get right up to the action and witness the thrills and spills close to, or are you more interested in a pleasant day out by the river? Be honest.
The start and finish points are the obvious choices for spectators, but bear in mind they will be crowded. Quieter spots will still afford a good view, although you may have to rely on your phone or radio to tell you who has won. Pubs along the route tend to be packed out, but will generally allow you to take drinks outside. Pimms is the classic Boat Race drink, but beer is also allowed.
Putney Bridge, at the eastern end of the course, and the embankment nearby, will give you a good view of the athletes warming up and getting into position for the start. Once the race begins, you can watch the teams as far as the Fulham river bend.
The Fulham stretch of the race is called the Crabtree Reach, named after a nearby pub, so where better to watch than from the Crabtree itself? If there’s no room at the inn, Fulham Football Club usually open their grounds and clubhouse to the public for the Boat Race, offering good views as well as refreshments, and the river can also be seen from a nearby footpath.There’s a tight stretch at Barnes Railway Bridge, so if you’re hoping to see crews jockeying for position, with perhaps a clash of blades or even a capsizing, this is the place for you. Pubs with a view include the Bull’s Head and Ye White Hart.
The finish in leafy Chiswick is perhaps the plum viewing position, from the bridge itself, the Ship pub, or the embankment, part of the Thames Path. Dukes Meadow Park borders the final stretch, and is a pleasant place to picnic.
A sneaky way to see the entire race is to station yourself in either Bishops Park, in Fulham, or Furnivall Gardens. These family-friendly venues make for a great day out, with food, drink, and the opportunity to watch the rest of the race on the big screen after the boats have gone by.
The Fabulous Times