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The third week of June is known as "May Week" among university students. This is when exams are over and summer parties begin. Prior to this, in the second week of June, the "May Bumps" college rowing races take place. "Bumps" races are fun to watch! In a nutshell, the river is narrow and bendy, making side by side competition unfeasible. The solution has been to line up the boats a distance apart along the river, start them all at once, and wait for faster boats to catch up and "bump" slower boats ahead of them. A bump is the end of the race for both boats involved. A lot of action happens in the first minute of the race, with potential for more over the next 10 minutes as more closely matched crews battle over longer distances. There are around 12 races a day and the competition goes for 4 days. There are many sources of historical information and technical explanations on-line, a good starting place being one of the college rowing club websites:
For the visitor to Cambridge, and afternoon watching the bumps is a lovely way to enjoy good weather. Week days are quieter than Saturday, but give you a better chance to find a good vantage point or nice seat at one of the riverside pubs. The university radio station does commentary of the races live from the riverside pub "The Plough" and also have a great website to cover the results as they happen,as well as showing a map of the course:
There are many ways to enjoy the bumps as a spectator.Two examples for the Saturday are given below. In either case, check the websites above before you set out to give you some background to enjoying the day.
1. Pub Day
Make your way early to "The Plough" pub, getting there at about 10:30am. Secure a table along the waterfront and enjoy an early beer (or coffee). Watch the lower division crews row to their start, listen to the radio commentary, enjoy watching the swans and ducks, and cheer for the crews returning from their races. Bumps will probably occur early in these divisions, so you may not see any but you can still cheer for those who bumped (they will be decorated in green leaves) and cheer on any crews still racing (or "rowing -over" to the end of the course because they have neither bumped or been bumped). Have an early pub lunch before the crowds build then take a punt accross the river to the "towpath". This is the side of the river where the crew's "bank party" of coach and captians cycle along with the racing teams. You can walk along here towards the starting stations. There are ice cream vans, drink vendors, hotdogs (and portaloos) along the course. Over the course of the day watch a few of the races (which are 45 minutes apart) from different vantage points, all the way up to the starting cannons and the chains the starting boats are secured to. You will see the energy of the start, the fun of the bumps and the strength of those conitnuing to row. Watch the final womens and mens divisons at around 4pm and cheer on crews with a flag raised (this means they have bumped every day and will win "blades"). Catch a ferry punt back to the now very crowded Plough for another drink or just to make you way home.
2. Picnic Day
Walk along the towpath side of the river from the Penny Ferry pub. Take a picnic basket, blankets, plenty to drink, something to read and some sunblock. Find a a good spot to sit along the race path and settle back to while away the afternoon with chicken, champagne, strawberries, a radio to listen to the race call and a good book for all the time between races. You will be the envy of all those tired and hungry souls walking along the tow path as you sit relaxed with your bounty and good view.