The thing about Henley is that while it is a great event in the international rowing calendar, it is also one of the important events of the English summer social season. For visitors, it is a fabulous place to watch the English upper classes at play. And the best part is, anyone with the price of admission can go.
- Essential Information About the Henley Royal Regatta
- If you go - Tips and Pointers to Make the Most of Your Day
My First Henley Royal RegattaThe first time I ever saw a picnic Rolls was in the parking lot of the Henley Regatta. A picnic Rolls, in case you are wondering, is a Rolls Royce with the trunk (or boot as they say here) fitted out for a posh picnic - with a table and room for all the trimmings. Tailgate picnicking in the car park is part of the Henley tradition.
After the DownpourWe'd brought the regulation cold chicken, champagne and strawberries. It rained and we spent our picnic jumping in and out of my friend's car. A few rows along, we'd seen two couples and their butler setting out a picnic from the boot of the Roller. The men wore traditional straw boaters, striped blazers and white flannel trousers; the ladies were dressed in floaty, flower printed dresses and great big hats.
After one particular downpour, I wondered how the party, in their pretty hats, had fared sipping from their crystal goblets in the rain. Not to worry. There they were, at table, enjoying their civilized meal, while the poor, drenched butler held up a huge umbrella to protect them all.
Not long after, my friend joined the crowd of young men reading the race results, posted on a chalk board against an ancient oak tree. They were all dressed in white flannel trousers and blazers in the colors of their rowing clubs. They were all frightfully keen (imagine Hugh Grant saying that and by George, you've got it!). Meanwhile, wearing my own flowery straw hat, I eavesdropped on incredibly well dressed women gossiping about everything and anything but crew rowing and stirring their Pimms with cucumber spears.
A Grand Day OutAt the end of the day, my friend and I were a little damp and a trifle tipsy. He had placed a private bet on his favorite crew and won a little money. I'd spent my time chatting with elegant gents in straw boaters or panama hats, wearing the brass badges of the Stewards, who organize the regatta. I'd seen a bit of heated rowing on the river and I'd admired a crew from Brown University, at least a head taller than anyone there, as they portaged their shell off to the trailer.
I had no idea who won the races, or even who was racing. But I'd had a grand day out.