One of the more random things I got to do during my month-long work stint in London last year was watch the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. Or simply, The Boat Race.
It’s an annual race on the Thames between eights from Oxford and Cambridge and people take it seriously. The rivalry between both schools is akin to an Alabama/Auburn or a Michigan/Ohio State, if you will. Since I love spectacles and sporting events, I was there!
I actually got wind of it from my coworker, a Cambridge alumnus himself, when he was asking me about the finer points of college football rivalries. He said the only thing Britain has like that on the non-pro level is the Boat Race and it was happening that. very. weekend.
I took the bus to Putney Bridge and met a coworker and friends to check it out. People crowd into pubs, houses, yards, and all along the bank of the Thames. Much beer, bubbly, and Pimms is had by all.
As seriously as the rivalry is, the socializing is as well. Walking around, one can’t help but think, “can this be any more British?”
Seriously, a bicycle cart with champagne. I can get behind this.
I was in luck last year and got to see a major milestone. Although the men’s race has been run over a hundred years, the women’s rowing teams have been competing for around ninety. Last year, 2015, was the first year that the women’s race took place on the same day and at the same place as the men’s. I got to watch the ladies put their boats in and cheer with the rest of the crowd. You go girls!
If you go this weekend
The 2016 race is this Sunday, March 27. Women start at 3:10pm and men at 4:10pm. Get there at least an hour early to get a drink and take in the scene.
Head to Putney Bridge. The race starts at Putney Bridge and ends in Mortlake. Putney is easily accessible by bus or tube. Use the Putney Bridge tube stop and cross over the Thames, or East Putney and walk down Putney High Street to the river.
Blink and it’ll be over. Here’s the thing, it’s a boat race. Everyone will cheer when they get ready to go and the boats will be by in a matter of seconds. On the one hand, it’s not hugely exciting all told. On the other hand, it doesn’t take up your entire day — I visited the Tate Britain earlier in the day.
Who should you support? If you’re a person who expects to win, like a Yankees fan, go with Oxford. If you’re someone who supports teams that tend to let you down and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (like myself), go with Cambridge.
I inadvertently supported Cambridge by sporting my new scarf that happened to be the Cambridge color. It all worked out in the end!