Henley Royal Regatta is the World Cup of Rowing and takes place in early July every year over five days. Henley is a picturesque sleepy little river town, nice for a relaxing day in a countryside setting. But come regatta time it transforms into a rural metropolis with competitors and rowing enthusiasts around the world, but mainly with posh Londoners seeking a day’s drinking in the sun. I was one of the latter and had a blast, especially as I spent some of it on my mate’s boat seeing the rowing (or more accurately spandex clad rowers) close up. Even if you don’t like rowing it’s a unique opportunity to spend a day with England’s upper and upper middle class (yes – we’re still obsessed with class) at their finest and most sociable.
Ideally you want to see the action on a boat, at least for some of the day, and unfortunately this means having to book months in advance. But don’t worry if you can’t get on a boat you can still have fun watching from the riverbank or in the pubs which line it.
Now for a few practicalities:
Accommodation and Transport: If you want to stay in Henley you’ll need to book months in advance and have deep pockets as even the cheapest bed and breakfasts charge massive premiums. But the good news is you can travel on the train in under 90mins from central London via train. (You can also drive, but congestion and the lack of parking makes it a nightmare). The bad news is at peak times the trains are rammed so it’s like being a sardine in a sauna. The last train runs late, so plan on making a day and night of it.
Dress: most people get dressed up, so it’s definitely worth making the effort. For women a nice daytime dress is fine. For men it’s the ideal opportunity to dig out the brightest most garish blazer you own – don’t hold back. That said, if you can’t be arsed you can still go in jeans and t-shirt, but you just can’t go into the posher marquees or viewing areas.
Food and Drink: it’s picnic central so stock up, ideally at a supermarket before you arrive. (The booze prices are slightly inflated versus regular London ones and everyone drinks on the train, so don’t skimp on it). And the drink of the day is definitely Pimms and Lemonade. There’s plenty of gourmet food stands and pubs, so no need to make reservations.