Henley Ra-ra-ra Regatta..
It was a dark and stormy day, the rain lashed down at my face, my wellies sinking into the mud, delicate dress stuck to my tiny body, sodden, heavy with water…
…Joking!! It was of course another beautiful warm weekend down in Henley Royal Regatta! Just like every year previous. It seems, that if there is a god, he’s a rowing fan. Or maybe like me just partial to a jug of Pimms?
I first learned of Henley four years ago through the Jumbo man. Until this point the only thing I knew of the place was Temple Island (I had dreamed of getting married there one day), and I knew nothing of it’s rowing connection. To be fair, up until this point I knew nothing even of rowing – as a sport at least. The first time I’d asked the Jumbo out on a date he’d politely declined; “I’m rowing tomorrow, and I’d quite like to win”.
‘Win’? I’d thought. How can anyone ‘win’ at rowing? I had visions of big wooden boats with cumbersome oars, and chaps in chino’s leisurely drifting down the river, glass of wine in hand, drunkenly chastising their equally merry ‘opponents’ for over-taking. I didn’t get it at all. Though little did I know that when you put the races aside, Henley Royal Regatta is actually a lot like this!
I soon learned all about the real sport of rowing – and the fact that it is not JUST a sport, it is a way of life, a lifestyle choice if you will. When you row, you row with a crew, when you train, you train virtually every day. Your club becomes your family, the river becomes your mistress.. and your social life.. becomes ‘Regatta Season’.
That first year I rocked up to Henley with no expectations, and was met with what would become the love of my life – no, not an oarsman, the Royal Regatta “summer extravaganza”. A river lined with white Marquees, old men in panama hats, crazy striped blazers, pristine chino’s and deck shoes. Ladies in beautiful summer dresses and fascinators. Brass bands blasting out in one direction, live bands blasting out in another, dance music spilling out of the legendary Mahiki tent and laughter from the open top of the Pimms Bus. Picnics lining the river banks, quaint little wooden boats rolling peacefully in the undergrowth… And every now and then, if you listen very carefully, the sound of blades pushing through the water, of 8 men exhaling in unison, a cox roaring in the distance.. then as fast as you heard it, it’s gone again.
There is something for everyone at Henley. If you want a good sociable day and night out, hit the Friday, chill out in the Regatta Enclosure and head to the Mahiki tent, or Chase Bar. If you want a WILD day out, head there on the Saturday when the crowds are large, the music is loud, the dresses are shorter and the after parties in the Town go on to the small hours. If you want to take the kids, or the dog, or get REALLY dressed up, or actually want to watch some rowing, head there on the Sunday, have a picnic outside Remenham Club and watch the finals. Or.. if you’re up to the challenge, head there for all 3 days like we did! But book hotels early to avoid disappointment. We booked the last 3 rooms in the Catherine Wheel online for next year, from our beds, on Saturday morning. Yes, a year in advance!
There’s something very magical about the place. It’s the kind of eccentric wonderland that up until that point I had thought only existed in my head.. right down to Elvis, sailing down the river at the helm of a boat, serenading the revellers in the moonlight. Seriously, I do hope that god is a rowing fan, and very partial to a jug of pimms. Because when I die I’d like to go to Henley, not Heaven… or at least come back in the next life as some giant rower’s ‘onesie’ 😉
Henley Royal Regatta happens once a year, for 5 days, ending the first weekend of July. Warning: You’re going to fall in love. It’s a lifetime commitment once you’ve been!