Surviving the Henley Regatta

A bit like Royal Ascot and the polo, many of the people who attend the Royal Henley Regatta don’t go to watch the activities. But we thought we’d like to see some boat races as we bought our tickets a couple of months in advance for about £20 and dressed up in our finest when the day arrived.

The church at Henley – it’s such a quaint town

To get to Henley takes a bit more than an hour from London, although everyone gets into the spirit of things on the journey there, popping the champagne on the train. Yes, that’s not cracking the cider, it’s popping the champagne. Let’s be honest, Henley isn’t an event for the lower dregs of British society – it is mainly attended by middle and upper class toffs  who would think nothing of splurging a few hundred quid on a bottle of bubbly.

Me and Dave all dressed up

We packed a picnic and upon arrival were confronted by a gang of policemen at the train station who proceeded to confiscate all the alcohol they could lay their hands on. Buh-bye canned gin and tonics.

Getting to our general admission tent we discovered we couldn’t take our food and what was left of our drinks inside, and so we ended up picnicking in a muddy paddock which was doubling as a car park for numerous Mercedes and Porches. Many others had decided to do the same, which was unfortunate as there was only one port-a-loo for the area, meaning a half hour queue to relieve our alcohol-soaked bladders.

Many of the kids got into the spirit of things

Those that wanted to picnic whilst watching the races found themselves squished into a two metre wide embankment that bordered the footpath. Just standing up to straighten their picnic blanket risked plunging into the murky waters of the Thames.

Feeling well-fed on our salads and quiches, we entered the general admission tent and headed to the bar only to discover that they were out of the wine I wanted and had no ice buckets left. Not letting this dampen our spirits, the nine of us pushed our way towards the deck chairs set alongside the river, hoping to sip on our (second choice) wine. But we were denied access – alcohol is not allowed in the seating area, meaning that you can either get trashed out the back or enjoy the races whilst sober.

The Aussies rowing on the river – one of the races I did manage to catch

We opted on the former and after an hour or two started to get a little bored, seeing as we couldn’t watch the races that were meant to provide our entertainment. So we headed to the Mahiki tent which is run by the infamous London nightclub of the same name and can often be a great place to go for celebrity spotting.

Unfortunately, exclusivity doesn’t come cheap; it was a further £20 to enter this tent where the drinks were overpriced, the line for the toilets stretched all the way to the dance floor and the clientele were frantic, mostly high on cocaine. For this privilege it was good to see the doormen stuffing half of the admission bank notes into their pockets whilst placing the remainder into the till.

I managed to find a log seat to perch myself on, which doubled as a pot to hold a makeshift palm tree. As I sat down, I knocked over a £180 ‘treasure chest’ cocktail for eight people. Thankfully the lid slammed shut as it fell – protecting most of the drink from watering the plants – otherwise my expensive day could’ve turned into a ‘breaching my limit on my credit card’ kind of day.

If I’d wanted to find a chair to sit, perhaps with a view over the enclosure’s fence to the river where I could’ve actually wanted to watch a boat race, I would’ve had to have forked out the minimum spend of £1,000 a table within the VIP area.

The music on the dance floor was pumping and we had a little boogie which was probably the best part of the whole day. Expenses aside, the DJ was good and played some hit tunes which got the crowd going. Aside from my complaints, which sound as though I’m turning into an old woman, I still managed to throw some shapes on the dance floor.

With my girlfriends – my fellow dancing buddies

Dancing gave me an appetite and so I joined the queue for food which was served out of the sole food tent. And waited…and waited…and waited. After an hour and a half I was finally nearing the front of the line, salivating at the thought of getting a beef burger down my gob, when a girl decided to push in front.

I tapped her on the shoulder. ‘Excuse me, please go to the back of the line,’ I told her. No way was this person getting to eat their burger before me! ‘Erm, no, I’ve been waiting too,’ was her reply. ‘No you haven’t, I just saw you push in front!’ was my disgruntled retort. ‘Oh, and so have you been watching my every move all day long, have you?!’ was her kind reply.

The Thames, which cuts through Henley

At this point, Dave decided to butt in, although after a five minute argument she still refused to budge. We eventually let her stay in the line and order her burger because we couldn’t be bothered arguing further. She ordered EIGHT burgers, and as they were busying making her order, the power cut out.

‘Sorry, we’re closed!’ yelled the food cashier over the thumping music. ‘No you’re not! I have not paid £20 to get into this tent, queued for an hour and a half, and had some snob push in front of me, only to be denied a burger!’ I muttered through clenched teeth.

I must admit, I was pretty mad at this stage. Nonetheless, I got my burger. Although it tasted rather bitter to swallow.

Have you been to the Henley Regatta? What did you think? Overpriced rip off or a pleasant day out?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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