This weekend, the most important rowing event in Oxford, “Summer Eights”, took place. From Wednesday to Saturday, 171 boats and around 1500 participants are racing against each other.
Our boat closing in at Somerville II
To allow for such a high number of crews to race every day for four days and due to the narrowness of the river, a special mode of competition is used: the “bumping race”. Instead of crews racing each other one on one (that is, next to each) other, boats are lined up in a chain. In order to “win”, a crew has to bump the crew in front of them without being bumped by the crew behind them at the same time.
If a bump occurs, the bumped as well as the bumping boat stop racing. While the latter will rise in their division the following day, the former will descend a starting place.
Our boat bumping Oriel III (note their coxswain conceding)
By bumping four days in a row (and consequently rising 4 places in Summer Eights), a crew can win “blades”. This means that they get to take away a (fake) blade with their names, bumps etc. on it. (FYI: we even bumped five times and won blades)
The whole tournament is a massive spectacle. Around 20.000 viewers are expected in total. Their cheering pushes boats to their limits. To be honest, a boat race is one of the most intense experiences you can have. An entire day boils down to the maximum of two-three minutes your races takes.
On a recent journey through the east of the UK, we ended up driving to the middle of nowhere. Since we were quite hungry and sick of sitting in the car, we made a stop in this small town situated on the river “Cam”. What a mistake.
To start with, the weather was quite bad – something that, coming from Oxford, we were not really used to. Also, people were quite rude. Somehow emblematic of this is, they did not want us to walk on their, frankly spoken: not that green, grass.
Whereas this would be socially unacceptable in Oxford as well, we are usually not so blunt about it.
The place was strange in other ways: In general, there was a certain familiarity in the air. The kind of similarity you experience when you look at shoes that remind you of a really nice pair you once owned only to find out that the one at hand is merely a cheap copy.
Confirming this assumption: Not even the bridges (mathematician’s bridge) are for real.
We also found tons of fake art. The entire town seems to want to conjure the image of being really old.
The houses seemed a bit wonky and the churches quite dull.
In a nutshell: There is no reason to come here. Visit Oxford instead!
During Easter Break, our Boat Club organised a “Rowing Camp” in Wallingford, a 45 minutes bus ride from Oxford. Practising rowing on the water for 5 hours a day, for more than a week.
Unlike on the Isis river in Oxford, you are not interrupted by other spinning boats or the need to turn after 10 minutes due to the shortness of the stretch but can row on for up to 30 minutes. This gave us some time to focus on technique and throw in some longer and faster pieces. The big “Summer Eight’s” races are coming up. Everyone wants to excel in these. Apparently, it is going to be a hell of a spectacle with up to 20.000 people coming to see the races.
Also, Wallingford itself is another quaint and beautiful village in the English countryside. As such, it is definitely worth a visit from Oxford. I also found that it was representative of English villages in general. Several elements can be identified in this respect:
Naturally, we find a lot of old churches with beautiful graveyards and gardens.
The marketplace, where people meet up. It always strikes me as remarkable, that even these small villages have small and “funky” (independent) coffee shops (not referring to Costa here).
Needless to say, there is a post office and several pubs around.
Spring is finally coming to Oxford! I know, talking about the weather is rather dull. However, this makes such a difference. Oxford was beautiful in Winter already. But now it’s incredible. Sometimes, I am close to tears because my time here is over soon.
Especially getting up early is definitely worth the effort (cp. my post about Mayday). For rowing training, I sometimes get up at 5.40am. And if there is one priceless experience I am taking away from my year here, it is sitting in a boat on the river when the sun comes out and looking at Christ Church Meadow. The same holds true for outings in the evening.
Croquet is quite a thing here. Most colleges set the hoops up in their quad. Apparently, playing croquet is the only time you are allowed to step on the college’s grass (or at least a rare exception). This is a typically British game: Slow, relaxing and pretty tactical. The rules also seem to be a bit complicated. But definitely good fun.
If it wasn’t for the damn exams in a few weeks, this would be heaven on earth. But still, studying in the sun is better than studying in the rain I guess : /
Unfortunately Easter Break is now over. Although the University expects you to work a lot during this time (in German, we use the rather annoying term “lecture free time” for this), six weeks is enough do travel around the UK. Also, this is the perfect time: you have a good shot at having great weather while not many people are travelling. From Oxford, you would drive for about 5-6 hours until the land ends (in Land’s End), so you could arrange to drive two hours each day for three days and stop at same of the places named below.
So, my wonderful girlfriend and I seized this opportunity and went to Cornwall. The mythical birthplace of King Arthur offers beautiful landscapes, an infinite number of quaint villages and – on account of the Gulf Stream’s impact – very good weather make this place the most attractive tourist destination.
It is definitely worth renting a car for your travels. First, it gives you the obvious possibility to go wherever you want. And second, it is a thrilling experience to drive on the country roads. These are literally just one sided and buried in the earth so you don’t see upcoming cars.
(Yeah, our shoes got wet so we had to dry them in the window front)
Penzance is a great place to visit. There is a great hostel here: EasyPZ. Nearby is a quaint village named “Mousehole”, definitely worth a visit and in walking distance from Penzance.
Spring is finally coming to Oxford. Considering it is May already, this was long overdue. This might explain the following spectacle taking place in the early morning hours (from about 0530 on) at Magdalen Bridge and the rest of the City on May 1st: “Mayday”. The entire town seems to gather to listen to the Magdalen Boys Choir singing from Magdalen Tower.
Some of the people stayed up all night partying until finally coming here (mostly undergraduates, most postgraduates just get up early). On account of this, there is an ubiquitous smell of booze.
After the singing is over, the crowd moves downtown to either get breakfast or dance in the streets.
The atmosphere in the city is awesome on a Spring morning like this. Especially in quieter streets. The sun is out and we’re finally beginning to see some green trees (coming here in fall, I’ve never seen Oxford trees in green).
Most of the events are over at about 0730 and people are finally going (back) to bed.