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Take the train to London…for the 2012 Boat Race

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The 158th Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race is due to take place on 7 April 2012 – so jump on a train to London, soak up the atmosphere and cheer your favourites on from the banks of the Thames.

Read on to find out more about the Boat Race and where to go for the perfect vantage point. And check our journey planner for cheap train tickets, hotel rooms and car hire – you could use the savings you make to push the boat out with a slap-up riverside lunch.

The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race is one of the UK’s best-loved sporting events and it has a long history. And if the idea of watching the battle of the blues up-close floats your boat, jump aboard a train to London and head down to the Thames on April 7 to see the 2012 race.

The History of the Boat Race

The Boat Race’s origins date back to February 1829, when Charles Wordsworth, a student at Oxford’s Christ Church College, met up with his old school-friend from Harrow, Charles Merrivale, who was studying at St. John’s College in Cambridge and went boating on the River Cam.

As a result, they decided to try and set up a rowing race between Oxford University and Cambridge University – and, on 10 June 1829, at Henley on Thames, the first Boat Race took place.

During the next 25 years, the race was repeated, but not regularly and the route changed a number of times too. Although the original race had taken place in Henley on Thames, the 1836 and 1839 – 42 races took place between Westminster and Putney.

The 1845 race took place between Putney and Mortlake, and, in 1864, this route was confirmed as the official course for the race, and became known as ‘The Championship Course’. Since then, this course has been used for all but three of the official races – although during World War II, the official race was cancelled, and three unofficial races were held elsewhere on the Thames instead.

Key years in Boat Race history

There have been many developments, and thrills and spills in the history of the Boat Race. We’ve created a timeline so you can see just some of them:

1849: Cambridge won the race, but Oxford claimed that their boat was defective, so the race was rescheduled. In the re-run, Cambridge were disqualified for a foul – no team has been disqualified from the Boat race since then.

1859: Cambridge’s boat sank, resulting in a win for Oxford.

1873: The boats featured sliding seats for the first time.
1877: The official result was a dead heat, although Oxford believed that they had won by a whisker.

1912: Both the Oxford and Cambridge boats sank, so the race was re-run the following day.

1925: Oxford’s boat sank, resulting in a win for Cambridge.

1951: Oxford’s boat sank and the race had to be rescheduled for two days later.

1959: Members of the Oxford team who had been involved in the previous year’s race tried to kick their President and coach out and replace the coach with one from Yale. However, Cambridge refused to race unless the President and his crew were reinstated and the coup failed.

1965: The reserve crews’ race was introduced. Oxford’s reserve team is named ‘Isis’ whilst Cambridge’s is named ‘Goldie’.

1978: Cambridge’s boat sank, resulting in a win for Oxford.

1981: This was the first year in which a woman participated in the Boat Race. Sue Brown was the cox for the Oxford team – and they won the race.

1984: Cambridge sank on the way to the starting line, so the race had to be rescheduled for the following day.

1985: Henrietta Shaw became Cambridge’s first female cox.

1987: In-squad disputes resulted in 5 American rowers in Oxford’s squad refusing to row for the team’s President and coach. The US rowers were eventually replaced with rowers from the reserve squad – and Oxford still won the race. Oxford’s coach, Dan Topolski, later wrote a book about the mutiny, ‘True Blue’, which was used as the basis for a film of the same name, released in 1991.

1989: This was the first year in which both Oxford and Cambridge had female coxes.

2001: After the teams clashed blades, following several warnings from the umpire, the race was stopped less than two minutes in. It was restarted and the Cambridge boat was first past the post.

2007: German rower Thorsten Engleman broke one record and set a new one – not only did he make the record books as being the heaviest oarsman to take part in the event, he later became the first person in Boat Race history not to be awarded a ‘blue’, when he dropped out of Cambridge University a few days after his team had won the race.

2011: Oxford won this year’s race easily – but they are still trailing as far as overall wins go. Cambridge University has racked up 80 wins, whilst Oxford has won on 76 occasions.

Watching the Boat Race

There are plenty of places along the course where you can watch the Boat Race, most of which are easily accessible by public transport – and, as parking can be difficult on race day, it makes travelling to London by train a great option.

The race begins at Putney Bridge and the teams row upstream, under Hammersmith Bridge, past Chiswick Eyot, under Barnes Bridge and on to cross the finish line at Mortlake, just before Chiswick Bridge.

Events on the river start at midday, with the Oxbridge Watermen’s Challenge taking place from 13.05, the Isis Goldie race beginning at 13.45 and the main Boat Race kicking off at 14.15.

Popular vantage points include Putney Bridge, Putney Embankment, Thames Reach, Hammersmith Bridge, St. Paul’s School Boathouse and Chiswick Pier – but to really get into the spirit, head to one of this year’s free Boat Race in the Park events.

There are two to choose from – one at Bishops Park, in Fulham and one in Furnivall Gardens in Hammersmith. As well as being able to see the boats go past, you’ll be able to watch the rest of the race on big screens and enjoy live music, food and drink, and more.

So whether you’re cheering on ‘Light Blues’ of Cambridge or the ‘Dark Blues’ of Oxford – or just want to see if anyone sinks – don’t miss the boat. Take the train to London and see the Boat Race for yourself.

Will you be heading off to the Boat Race in 2012? Do you have any tips for great vantage points? Let us know by leaving a comment below…

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