We’re just about hitting the blustery showers of Spring, and to those in this city that means a grand event approaches. The annual grudge match between a pair of institutions that have been hated rivals for centuries. The Boat Race. But for us here at the Varsity Hotel Cambridge who prefer to ignore the politics and embrace the fun side, it’s just another excuse for a party.
An Old Rivalry
Oxford and Cambridge Universities have been rivals for a very long time. To put it into context, this rivalry was already centuries old when Columbus first sailed west half a millennia ago. The reason why is simple. For the vast majority of the past thousand years they were the only two universities in England, making them direct competitors. The next oldest university in England is barely two centuries old. Oxbridge are each over eight centuries old.
But even when new universities started popping up, Oxbridge held their importance as being the top two universities in the country. Initially as being institutions of choice for the wealthiest and most prominent of families. This at a time when Brittania ruled the waves and the sun never set on the vast and wealthy British Empire. And later for sheer academic excellence.
Yet this rivalry is a peculiar one nonetheless. It’s like the proverbial “me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousins” sort of rivalry. Incredibly intense. Until some upstart comes in to rock the boat, at which point it may be instantly forgotten as ranks are closed.
The Boat Race
This rivalry has taken many forms over many centuries. But few if any are as lasting and as visual as the Boat Race. First raced in 1829 and celebrating its 168th race on Sunday March 26th at 4pm. A Race held on the Thames in London over a brutal 4.25 mile course of this tidal river. It is truly a race for the elite.
And it should be noted that we’re not talking about professional athletes here. Nor are any admitted to the universities for sporting scholarships. All are regular member of elite academic institutions who earn nothing for their participation in the Race. Nothing but pride.
Though it started as a one-off challenge, it has since developed into an annual event. A tradition broken only in time of national emergency, such as the world wars and the recent pandemic. That’s the level of severity needed to keep this old rivalry from popping back up for a new generation.
You might ask, why rowing? Of all the sports that England has created and now plays (often badly), rowing is far from the most popular. Well back when Oxford and Cambridge were the only universities in England, there were a similarly small number of Boarding Schools, educating boys in the 11-17 range pre-university. Schools such as Eton and Harrow – which tended to also be built next to rivers and taught boys to row. Hence it seemed the appropriate sport for Oxbridge. And remains so to this day.
Regardless, we at the Varsity Hotel Cambridge will be supporting our light blue teams this weekend, and invite you to do so with us.