The 2011 Boat Race is set to attract massive TV audiences this year and visitors always flock to the River Thames to watch the competition from its banks. Wallingford is home to the Oxford University Boat and Wallingford Rowing Clubs, who both share this stretch of water.
Weekends in South Oxfordshire should always include a lttle time on the river, so we spoke with club captain, Miss Atlanta St John and asked her all about this favourite Midsomer destination:
What makes Wallingford such a good spot for a rowing club?
Founded in 1947, It is situated in the beautiful and historic market town of Wallingford and lies on the River Thames, on one of the best and longest stretches of rowing water in the UK. Its 13km of uninterrupted water provide an unrivalled basis for training. The river continues to be one of Wallingford’s greatest attractions, but the castle remains and thriving town, with its shops, markets and range of restaurants and cafes, make it a beautiful and brilliant place to be a part of. It is also ideally situated, with Henley, Oxford and Reading less than 30 minutes drive away.
How much is the river a part of everyday life?
The river is part of so many peoples’ lives. You have the dog walkers exploring the Thames Path, and occasionally exploring the water too, the fisherman who set up camp as early as the rowers are out and stay there till happy, as still as statues. You see the cows from the surrounding farmland coming down to the water for a drink and the couples, friends and families enjoying a walk along the river and a picnic. There’s as much life on the water as there is around it.
In the summer children cool down in the water and boats of all shapes and sizes explore the stretch, whether pleasure boat, house boat or a father kayaking with his son. Whatever the weather though, there are always rowers out, and for a sport that is more of a lifestyle than a hobby, the river couldn’t be more part of their everyday life
It’s not all about the rowing, so tell us about the social side of the sport.
Rowing is more of a lifestyle than a hobby! You can find some members of Wallingford Rowing Club who have been there most of their lives so there’s a great sense of community within the club. Friendships are made within the squads you row, but as a welcoming club, you soon get to know all members; rowers and non-rowers of all ages and abilities. You row together, you train together, you spend most of your spare time together. It can’t help but be a social sport and it’s a team sport like no other.
Everything you do affects the boat, it’s balance and speed. You all have to be doing exactly the same thing and at exactly the same time, so again you can’t help but become close to those you row with. The club has a bar and a patio looking out over the water. It’s nice as a change to be down there relaxing by the river and catching-up, though be warned if you find yourself around rowers in a social situation – they almost always only talk about rowing!
What events has the club got planned for this year?
The first is the Wallingford Regatta on 1st May and held at Dorney Lake – it is one of the major rowing events in the UK, and the biggest one-day regatta attracting over 2,500 competitors and at least 3,000 spectators. In the winter the club also hosts its Wallingford Long Distance Sculls and Wallingford Head. The long distance sculls attracts world-class scullers from around the country and the Wallingford Head is one of the few pre-Christmas Heads in the country to offer racing in eights. In the past the club has also held its Town Regatta. Held in September, it’s a great day out for all the family including amateur and beginner racing, erg contests, rubber duck river race, children’s rides, craft stalls, food, drink and use of the club bar.
If I want to row, how can I get started?
Most rowing clubs have a website, Wallingford included. There you’ll find information on who they cater for and the best person to contact. If all else fails and you don’t know anyone at the club, simply pop down on a weekend morning. Wallingford Rowing Club provides facilities for all rowers and scullers of all ages and abilities, from beginners to Olympians and from juniors to veterans.
For tourists visiting South Oxfordshire for the weekend, where should they begin their exploration?
I’m biased. I live in Wallingford, I row in Wallingford and I socialise in Wallingford. I would begin there. It reminds me of Henley a decade ago. For the outdoorsy types you can walk around the castle ground, take a stroll by the river and explore the beautiful surrounding countryside. For the shopper there’s markets, independent shops and places such as Lamb Arcade, which is an Aladdin’s cave for antiques, gifts and furnishings. For those wanting to sit back and relax there is a range of restaurants and cafes. There’s also the Corn Exchange, a beautiful building housing the town’s cinema and theatre and situated in the Market Place. For such a small place Wallingford also has something going on whether it be parades, festivals or sports. And you’ll be able to spot many landmarks and scenes from Midsomer Murders!
Every stay in South Oxfordshire should include time on the river, but where’s your favourite spot?
On the Wallingford stretch. As you look out on the river there are fields in the background and some of the most beautiful sunsets and sun-rises happen over that water. If you walk down the path you’ll discover Benson Lock, Moulsford Railway Bridge which is also known as the Four Arches as well as some of Wallingford’s brilliant wildlife. Of course rowers get the best view being on the river.
And we have to ask: Who is going to win: Oxford or Cambridge?
You have to but there really shouldn’t be a need. It’s of course Oxford. Not only are we in the county, not only is the Oxford University Boat Club situated in Wallingford, also enjoying its amazing stretch of water but historically Wallingford Rowing Club has also has members compete for Oxford in the boat race. A special mention to John Wiggins who rowed in the successful Oxford University crews of 1976, ’77 and ’79.