| En Route to London |
I like to treat myself on a day out. If I’m going long-distance on a train, I’ll go first class. Quite often you can get a good off-peak price, and you can upgrade your standard ticket to first class for £20 on Weekends and Bank Holidays (Virgin Trains: Manchester to London).
Getting an early start, I leave Manchester Picadilly at 9.20am with a 2-hour journey ahead of me. I love train travel and find the glide of the high-speed Virgin trains to be really relaxing, especially while watching the world slip by through the window. On a Sunday morning, you can expect to get tea, coffee, water and fruit juice to drink, and a pastry and piece of fruit to eat.
| Friends Reunited |
I meet up with my friend from college, who now lives south of London, at around 12.30PM in Euston Station. If you’re going to be in London for the day then you’ll do well to buy a day-pass for £12.50 (you can buy these online or in most stations/travel shops). With the pass, you have unlimited travel by tube, tram, and bus in the central zone. Bargain! Once I’ve bought mine, we head down to the races: taking the Victoria Line to Victoria Coach Station and then Central Line to Putney Bridge
We arrive at Putney Bridge at around 1pm. Even though the race wasn’t due to start for another 3 hours, you could already feel the atmosphere starting to bubble. Not quite sure on our plan at this point, we happened across Putney Bridge Food Market and followed our stomachs’ wisdom to a delicious burrito stand – veggie and vegan options available! (I believe it was called Hola Burrito).
|The Blues Arrive |
The best way to start soaking up those race-day vibes is definitely by taking a stroll along Putney Embankment. If you’re lucky then you’ll see the rowing teams arrive in their blue mini buses, around 2.30PM. They’re treated like rock stars and emerge to cheers from the crowds.
This was our first time at the races so we decide that the best thing is to just start walking! I’d say that a race-day program is well worth the £5, you can purchase them from street vendors. The program comes with a map of the course – which is 4 miles long and winds its way from Putney to Chiswick Bridge – and was the only guide we needed for finding our way to many race-day activities lining the river.
After seeing the teams arrive in rockstar fashion, we start to make our way down to Hammersmith Bridge (approximate halfway point) with a couple of hours still to go before the Women’s race at 4.30PM. The 2-mile walk from Putney to Hammersmith – on the south bank – actually feels more like you’re on a country trail than in London as you wind your way through a nature reserve.
This bit is important: wear your comfiest shoes, you’ll thank me later!
|Come on Cambridge|
Grab youself a flag in your team colours from anywhere along the course, proceeds go to charity so it’s recommended you pop in a pound or two!
If you’re looking for a good outdoor spot to watch the race unfold then rock up early to the Adnams Fan Park, Furnival Gardens, just after Hammersmith Bridge. The feel in the park is a lot like a festival, with people camped out on the grass on picnic blankets, food stalls, micro-bars, and even VIP beach huts. There’s a large screen so you can watch the whole race, and you’re only a few meters from the river so you can see the boats as they go past.
We choose to keep walking past the Fan Park and picked a spot by the main bend in the course, which marks the approximate halfway point. Here we stand up on a wall outside of a rowing club to see the women’s race glide past – Cambridge in the lead – making the whole thing look effortless!
| Up High on Hammersmith|
After a quick break to grab some strawberries, we head back up the river slightly to get a view of the men’s race from Hammersmith Bridge. I’d say getting up on the bridge is well worth the view, and the atmosphere is electric; the roar of the crowds on the opposite bank announces the arrival of the boats just before you see them round the bend.
And just like that, as the mens’ boats glide under Hammersmith, the races come to their close. The crowds make their way to the nearest tube, Shannon and myself included, with spirits still high as we don’t yet know who has won. A quick glance at a news screen 10 minutes later tells us that Oxford won the men’s – so that’s a draw for this year then, with Cambridge winning for the Women and making a new record for fastest time. Go on the Girls!
It’s not surprising that the crowds were some of the biggest Race Day has seen this year; I suspect we were all keen to not only show solidarity with our fellow citizens but also act in defiance against London’s recent troubles. Hope was high, and London was strong on April 2nd.
Here’s to many more days like this to come!