Henley on Thames

by Rachel on July 25, 2010

The Henley on Thames Boat Races

It is my personal quest to have visited every major guidebook’s recommended list of top London tourist destinations and to have taken in all manner of typically British events before my second summer in London is out.  I’ve excluded Wimbledon from my to-do list because the going rate for tickets would buy me a second Mini-Cooper back home and because once Andre Agassi retired I gave up on following professional tennis (even though I still play weekly myself).  Andre was, after all, once married to Brooke Shields, Princeton class of ’87.  Brooke regularly took the aerobics class that I taught while she and I were undergrads – so you see, Andre and I practically knew each other.  Once he was gone, pro tennis was over for me.  But I digress, back to my QUEST (and if you aren’t thinking about Monty Python at this particular moment, sadly, we have nothing in common).  I have now visited every major London museum twice, and nearly all of the minor museums as well and I have the scars and heat stroke to prove it.  Since I have all that behind me I’ve moved on to day trips and events.  This second London summer began with a bang, or more specifically, a splash.  We spent a full day at the “Henley on Thames” boat races in Henley, England.

A View of Henley, England

When I arrived at the “Henley on Thames” I believed that the majority of attendees were there, as I was, to watch strapping young men row elegant skulls down a splendid river.  I could not have been more wrong.  We arrived early and set about getting seats in the front row thinking hordes of other ticket holders would soon be vying for prime seat real estate.  It was soon clear that not only would there be no competition for our fab front row seats, we were, quite literally, the only folks who seemed to care that there were boat races at all.  Rather than being a sporting event, the “Henley on Thames” is more of a goofy British fashion-show combined with a daytime drinking fest.  The various rowing clubs have uniforms of a sort – wildly colored suit jackets and ties that the current rowers get to wear, as well as the old guys who rowed once in a bygone day.  The ladies wear gowns and all manner of headgear from elegant hats to odd feathered things that they clip to the side of their heads.  My family, fab friend Wendy and I did our best to cheer on the sporting lads on the river, particularly when my Alma Mater rowed by (we lost to a Canadian national team by a length) and when Harvard (NOT my Alma Mater) sped by crushing its competition – a Greek National Team.  Occasionally some of the current rowers seated near us would break into cheers as well, but for many of the races the boats sped by with scarcely a whisper coming from the crowded shore.  Eventually, I too turned shoreward and focused my long lens camera on the outrageous outfits, jackets and hats that kept gliding by.

Former Rowers in their Brightly Colored Jackets

First Prize Outfit of the Day

A Member of the Paid Staff - Clearly Stolen from a Magritte Painting

An Absolutely Smashing Feather Thingee

Being that my family hails from the land of suntan lotion and botox, we are not connected to any of the rowing clubs that dot the shore of the Thames at Henley, and thus we were barred from visiting the “Steward’s Tent,” which is the member’s only area along the shore.  The dress code there requires suits for men and dresses below the knee for the ladies.  Though hats are not explicitly required they are in fact de rigueur.  Ragtag foreign interlopers are allowed to buy tickets at the Regatta Enclosure which has no dress code and no roof, but does have a great viewing area and at an additional heart-stopping fee, an elaborate seafood lunch served on bone china with a glass of champagne.  It was there that we spent our splendid day.  We loved the boat races almost as much as the people watching and it rained briefly, twice, making it a perfect English summer’s outing.

The Appetizer Course

The Main Course

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