It is not every town that boasts an embankment and river quite as stunning as the one here in Bedford. It's so easy to take the river for granted if you live nearby; rushing past it on your way to school and work all the time. But this weekend is one of the weekends when the river really comes into its own. This Saturday (11th May) Bedford will host the largest one-day regatta in the country; a regatta with a long and wonderful history. The Bedford Regatta celebrates its 149th birthday this year, with a race every two minutes between 8.15am and 7.30pm, and over 1,500 competitors from all over the country.
The 1200m course begins at County bridge, and crews race under the town bridge down to the finish line just by the Suspension Bridge; making it an excellent regatta to come and watch, and you can admire the wonderful display of tulips in the flowerbeds along the embankment at the same time!
If you'd like a closer look at some of the trophies on offer, you can walk along to the enclosure, just near the Suspension Bridge. For the price of a race programme (£1.50) you can come and wander around the enclosure, where there will also be a barbecue and fully licensed bar to enjoy! It's also a great chance to meet and chat to some of the competitors and get to know a bit more about the sport of rowing, and how you can get involved.
Rowing used to be seen as a bit of an elitist sport - strictly the territory of public schools and Oxbridge. And whilst these institutions have a vibrant rowing history, the future of rowing is far more open to all. Bedford sports not one, but two rowing clubs, who come together to organize the regatta along with the Harpur Trust. Both Bedford Rowing Club and Star Rowing Club are open to any new members, from total beginners to seasoned professionals wanting to get back on the water. They also work with local state schools to get more children into the sport. Interested? Why not come along on Saturday to get a glimpse of what you could achieve with a little hard work, dedication and a LOT of flapjack!
Bedford has a proud history of rowing alumni, including Tim Foster, Olympic gold medalist who trained at Bedford Modern and Star Club. You could be watching the next generation of Olympic rowers whilst sitting serenely on the embankment sipping your Kiosk Ethical Addictions coffee and munching on one of Barbara's flapjacks (endorsed by many a hungry rower.)
We picked the brains of David Dixon, President of Star Club for the crews to watch this year. He recommended trying to catch the Elite 8s race between Christ Church college Oxford and Kingston Rowing Club at 2.38pm. The Christ Church boat should contain 4 members of this years' victorious Oxford boat race crew - which basically makes it a rowing-celebrity boat. It should be a great race, and the final of the Elite mens' 8 category is the last race of the day, at 7.30pm. There's plenty of local interest too, as Bedford Rowing Club, Star Club, Bedford Modern, Bedford School and Bedford Girls School all have crews taking part, and there should be some good clashes to test local loyalties. Race commentary will be provided throughout the day, keeping you up to date with exactly who it is flying down the River Ouse.
This painting is of a regatta on Bedford river in 1851, just a few years before the first official Bedford Regatta began. Maybe it will be hanging in the newly renovated Higgins? (opening June 21st - also very exciting!)