Friday 28 February 2014

Bumping Up The River

Some people may remember a peaceful stroll along the River Cam, that I wrote about in a post entitled "Downriver And Into The Country", observing the unhurried ways of those who drift along with the same lack of urgency shown by the stream itself. I was walking that same towpath again yesterday but the scene was anything but relaxed and easy-going.

Madness, mayhem and mighty exertion was the order of the day as the rowing eights of the various Cambridge colleges slogged it out in fierce competition to establish who is Head Of The River.

Now the river just north of Cambridge is neither wide enough nor straight enough for normal side-by-side racing so a different solution had to be found. It probably came about from one boat-crew chasing another during practice. In time this developed into "The Bumps". There are two sets of races, the Lent Bumps which takes place before Lent and the May Bumps which takes place in June (obviously).

An innocent bystander by the river would have observed the following:

  • Rowing eights formed of either men or women row gently downstream, occasionally stopping and doing practice-starts, accompanied by people on bicycles shouting instructions and encouragement.
  • After a while a lot of shouting would be heard as the first boat comes back up the river, closely followed by a whole line of boats, one behind the other, all rowing for all they're worth.
  • Then more boats come by, rowing quite placidly upriver.
an interested but puzzled spectator

What on earth is going on?
  • The first bit is just the boats going down to the start.
  • They then line up along the river at intervals of one-and-a-half boat-lengths.
  • A gun sounds and they all set off at once trying to catch up with the boat in front.
  • If they catch up with that boat (a "bump") then both boats involved pull over to the riverbank to allow the boat behind to continue racing.
  • If that boat can catch up with the boat now ahead of them (ie the one which started 3 boats ahead of them) that counts as an "overbump".
  • Boats which are not involved in bumps continue to the end of the course.

In the next race boats start in the order determined by the finishing positions in the race before  - that is ahead of any boat that they have bumped or overbumped. And just to make things a bit more complicated the boats are divided into divisions since there are far too many crews for them all to race at once. The first boat in each division can then row in the higher division race.

Is this a fair and logical competition? Of course not! But every crew has something to race for even though most have no chance of becoming overall Head Of The River.


This year there were 57 men's crews and 46 women's crews competing (that's over 900 athletes to save you doing the calculations) representing the various college boat clubs, some of which have four boats in various divisions. The great majority are named after the college in question with the addition of I, II, III or even IV to signify which crew they are. Of course there are exceptions - St John's College crews are called Lady Margaret, after the founder of the college, and Trinity College crews are called First And Third, as there were once four boat clubs at the college and the present club is an amalgamation of two of them.

The towpath can become just as chaotic as the racing on the river as the support teams cycle alongside their boats. There's even an "ambulance bicycle" in case any first aid is required.

Racing takes place all afternoon (or "early" as students call it!) and, with a bit of strolling up and down between races, makes a very pleasant outing. 

Crews who achieve a bump are suitably decorated. And as there are no laurels available ivy is collected from the hedgerow to be worn by the successful rowers who then row down to the finish, being cheered as they go.

Take care.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Alternative Views

When we went to Ely recently
I could just have easily 
shown you these pictures instead.

I just love taking photos of
and the little details that make each one unique.

"Easy and Slow"
that's the way to go!

What say you Mr Swan?

A nautical door-knocker.

An old house
with brick infilling between the beams.
It's called 'brick-noggin',
usually it's a neat herringbone pattern
but this one looks more 

Signs of spring
by somebody's front gate.

up above street-level.

These cottages are in the care of
The Cambridgeshire Cottage
Improvement Society.

I don't know what this is all about.
Someone has hand-painted the door on what looks to be
a rather neglected house.

A medley of walls near the Cathedral.

OK, one more of the Cathedral..

Take care.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Of Birds And Builders

Our crazy weather has had me thinking about Ziggy lately. Not Ziggy Stardust but Ziggy, the Polish carpenter, who used to do building jobs when I worked on the farm - Ziggy Sawdust some of us wittily named him. Now Ziggy only ever had a few words of English but he could give them more meaning and feeling than many an actor. And one of his words was "weather" or as he pronounced it "vezza". Sometimes in summer he would lilt it poetically in appreciation. More often though the weather was that was sent only exasperated our Polish friend; then he would spit the word through clenched teeth "Ach..vezzargh!"

And recently we had a "vezzargh" sort of day as endless drizzle kept me inside all morning, but in the afternoon it relented and I took the bicycle to the RSPB reserve at Fowlmere. On the way I stopped to photograph the lovely snow drops in the wood at Shepreth.

At Fowlmere the sunlight was skipping playfully through the trees and reflecting from the winter grasses.

The recent rains have left their mark on the picnic area making it an interesting subject for pics  - but not much good for picnics!

Fowlmere has some extensive reedbeds where you might find a Bittern lurking in winter, but you'll certainly find Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers in summer. And all year long there are Water Rails, though you're more likely to hear these skulking birds than see them.

There are pools for pond-dipping too!

I rather like reeds and can quite happily spend time photographing them....but I should really be looking for birds I suppose.

I have neither the reserves of patience or money required to seriously take up photographing birds but I'll gladly pop off a frame or two when I see something as large and immoveable as this Canada Goose!

The view from the Reedbed Hide, with a lot more water than there usually is. Those are Greylag Geese sunning themselves on the grass. It was that sort of day - lots of geese and not much else.

Nothing for it but to take more pictures of the reeds.....

....and geese!

It started to cloud over but I strolled on taking photos and seeing a few birds here and there. then I realised that the weather was really closing in...

By the time I got back to the bike it was raining steadily and I cycled home through a cold, stinging downpour. Just as I got to my back gate the rain stopped and the sun came out!


Take care.

Thursday 20 February 2014

In Ely

I rather fancy a mooch around Ely today. We've been before to look at the Cathedral, but this time I want to look at the town which, just to clear things up, is pronounced Ee-lee not Eli. It may get its name from the eels which once formed the basis of its wealth - and the local diet!

Having arrived by train we can take a little short-cut down to the river which was once the life-blood of the city. Before the Fens were drained Ely was on an island, The Isle Of Ely, so everything had to come in by boat, including all the stone needed to build the Cathedral. Nowadays the riverside is a place for walking, relaxing and, of course, boating.

Some hardy souls still live on the river in houseboats and converted barges. The one photographed above is called "The Tipsy Gypsy" which might give a glimpse into their lifestyle. The castle which is painted on the boat is a very traditional theme for boat decoration. Nearly every working narrowboat was adorned with paintings of castles and roses; presumably symbols of settled existence that the skippers of these vessels could only dream about.

Nearby others who spend their lives on the river were swimming serenely by. But after our taste of the riverside it's time to venture up towards the town.

By the look of it someone has stayed too long in the local tea shoppe and their bike is now securely attached to the fence by vegetation.

As you might expect there are many substantial houses in the vicinity of the old dock area.

Now we're in some sort of time warp. Not only an ancient bicycle by the door but a fine Morris Minor parked outside. 

When I said "venture up towards town" I meant up. I told you it used to be an island raised up above the marshlands and in this case you can see the elevation. In other parts of the fens you need a very well-tuned eye to spot the differences. You will look for a long time for the hill at a place called Shippea Hill, for instance. But all these places whose names end with an "ee" sound, Thorney, Ramsey, Manea, Whittlesea, Eastrea etc. as well as Ely used to be islands above the surrounding undrained marshland. 

An old sign tells you that this clothing shop was opened in 1810. Well, it seems to have fallen on hard times recently and is now no more, but I was attracted to this wonderful peeling paint work.

This shop, near the market, seems to be thriving however, despite having little room for expansion!

I said we weren't going to have any pictures of the cathedral today. OK, just one then....

Take care.