Oxford summer eights week
Rowing is probably the most popular sport at Oxford and we are currently in the middle of the Oxford summer eights week, an annual regatta where the men and women of Oxford University rowing clubs compete against each other to win the prestigious “Head of the River” position. Its called ‘eights’ because the boats have eight rowers and a cox, as they do in the Oxford v Cambridge boat race. In 2017, 1,548 students competed in 172 boats, in seven divisions throughout the week.
How do they race?
We are all probably very familiar with the Oxford v Cambridge boat race held in London, where both boats race alongside each other, however the River Thames (or as the rower’s call it, the River Isis) is not wide enough in Oxford for two boats to compete side-by-side. So they use a system called ‘bumping’. All thirteen boats in each division line-up at the start line which is beyond Donnington bridge, about 1.8Km from the finish line. On lining up they attempt to leave around 1.5 boat lengths between each boat. On hearing a cannon, each crew attempts to catch-up the boat in front and if they can by either bumping into it, or by overlapping it, they have what is termed ‘bumped’ that boat. Clearly while catching the boat up in front, they also have to be aware of the boat behind! Once a bump has taken place, both boats stop racing and move to the side to allow the rest of the division to pass. Over the course of the regatta, boats move up or down their division, depending on whether they bump or get bumped. If a boat manages to ‘bump’ every day, then they are awarded the title “Blades”.
The social side
The University colleges have their boat houses alongside the River Thames at the bottom of Christ Church Meadow. Not only are the boats stored here, but the houses act as a focal point for social activities post-rowing. This is particularly true on finals Saturday where rowers and supporters take up every advantage point to see their boats come into view and across the line. The event is a key social event of the year, a joyous spectacle and very lively, probably down to the high consumption of Pimm’s available at every boat house!
If you have never been to the Eights week, I would highly recommend spending a few hours down at the boat houses, especially on Saturday to soak up the atmosphere, Racing starts at midday to about 7pm.
If you plan a visit to Oxford, then have a look at our excellent Tour Itineraries that can be downloaded to your mobile phone, guiding you to the best places to see, eat and drink in Oxfordshire. All the itineraries have hyperlinks under each heading providing you with lots more information about each sight you visit, plus they have an associated google map to help you navigate the tour.