The Cheltenham Festival
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CHELTENHAM DIARY: MARCH 2012
I drove from Scarborough down to Bibury in Gloucestershire, which took around six hours, including breaks. Met up with Rob and Kate at the imposing Swan Hotel where we were booked in for the week. We enjoyed a stroll round Bibury, which was once described by William Morris as “the most beautiful village in England.” Indeed, sauntering along by the River Coln, admiring the black swans, it was hard not to be impressed by this prettiest of places. We ended our walk at The Catherine Wheel, enjoying an early evening drink sitting around a crackling log fire. Back at the hotel I booked into my room, which was very well appointed, and enjoyed a splendid view of the river, and the neighboring trout farm. Later on, Rob, Kate and I dined in the hotel restaurant, and relaxed in the comfortable lounge with a drink or two.
As our hotel was around twenty miles away from the racecourse, we had to hire a taxi to take us there. The driver certainly knew his way around the country lanes, however a pheasant flew straight into our windscreen as we were travelling at speed, and the poor bird perished instantly. The driver accepted it as the norm, and carried on unperturbed. He dropped us about a mile away from the track, as it was just so busy and we joined the faithful on the trek to the entrance. 55,000 racegoers packed into the course, certainly the most crowded racecourse that I have ever been too. I was surprised to see the actor, Nat Parker, arriving on a bicycle, but considering how busy the car parks were, maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea. Luckily for us Rob had been before, and steered us to a quieter part of the track on the inside. We were even able to find a chair to sit on, and a table for our beef burgers and tea, which we bought from a nearby takeaway van. Before I knew it, it was time for the first race, which of course is always preceded by the famous Cheltenham roar. I found this to be highly emotional, and a terrific send off for the horses and their riders. From our vantage point in the middle of the track we enjoyed some fabulous views of top flight horses, and world class jockeys. As the day progressed, we saw hurdlers and steeplechasers straining every muscle to jump superbly, and come up the final hill in front. Unluckily for me I didn’t back a winner all day, so had very little to cheer on. Late in the afternoon, it came in quite chilly so we made our way back to the main enclosure. We tried to get into the Guinness village, but this was a heaving mass of drunks, who seemed as if they were rooted to the spot. Money kept changing hands, and pints of Guinness in plastic glasses appeared, but the bar was around fifty deep, and seemed like hell on earth, so we shuffled out without getting a drink. We decided not to stay for the last race, and set off for a pub that Rob remembered from a previous visit. This was The Plough, a popular pub with racegoers, which has been in the same place since 1623! The bar itself was very busy, but we found seats in the marquee outside, where we tucked into an evening meal, and sank a few ales. On the way back to the hotel, our taxi driver told us that three horses had been killed that day on the track, which was sad news indeed. Later, back at the hotel, I enjoyed a couple of whisky macs around a traditional log fire.
An uneventful taxi ride into Cheltenham today, and no birds were killed. We still had the long walk to the course, and were relentlessly approached by ticket touts most of the way. I did accept a complimentary betfair scarf though. It was bright yellow, and made of polyester, but I was glad of it later, when the temperature dropped. At the course, Rob bumped into one of his friends, Dan, who had a horse entered in the Coral Cup at 4 o’clock. I’m sorry to say that his horse fell and was fatally injured. I managed to back my first winner today, Bob’s Worth in the RSA chase at odds of 9/2. This was to be my only winner though, so I ended up with another losing day. We spent most of the day in the middle of the course again, but moved back to the stands area as it got colder. The Guinness village still looked like the bowels of hell so we headed to the Centaur bar. Although it was really busy, we were able to get a drink, and even a sit down! We left before the last race, and headed into the town centre. This involved a two mile walk, and at regular intervals we were given flyers for bars and restaurants, we were approached by more ticket touts, heard countless buskers, including a homeless long haired tramp playing a drum and singing out of tune. Charity boxes were thrust in our faces, and thousands of racegoers were in party mode. The pubs in Cheltenham were heaving, with just as many punters outside each bar, as there were inside. Rather like the Bigg Market in Newcastle late on a Saturday night! Amazingly we found a bar where we got to sit down, so we ordered some food along with our drinks. This was the Copa bar, a stylish, comfortable real ale pub. Later we got the taxi back to Bibury.
Rob decided to drive to the races today, and we parked a couple of miles away from the track. We crossed a field, and headed up the familiar road to the racecourse. I was amused to see that many local residents were allowing cars to park in their spacious driveways, for a fee of course. I reckon they could easily make around £200 for providing this service over the four days. I managed to back the first winner, Sir Des Champs, but it turned out to be my only winning bet all day. For some reason we were not allowed into the centre of the track today, so we stayed paddock side. It was considerably colder than the previous days, so Kate and I headed inside for a hot drink, while Rob braved the weather to watch the horses in the parade ring. We left before the last race, and headed back to the car on foot. This turned out to be far quicker that actually parking at the racecourse car park, as I later read that it took two hours to exit from the crowded car park! We drove straight back to Bibury, and enjoyed an excellent meal back at the hotel, with a glass or two of port to end a splendid day.
I had work commitments in Warwick, so I was unable to attend Gold Cup day. I later heard from Rob that the hotel had been burgled the previous evening, and Kate had had some money stolen. An unfortunate end to a fabulous week.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.