Henley is the most gorgeous little town in the UK. It's famous for the Henley Rowing Regatta held every year where the rowing best of the best from around the world take on each other on the water in crews of eight whilst everyone else dolls themselves up and watches whilst drinking Pimms. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
The only stipulations are that swimmer numbers are capped, swimmers must swim in the rowing race lane and swimmers must be off the water before the rowing crews start training at 6am. "No problem" said the organisers, "we'll start the race at 4.30am!"
Such an early start of course means there is no public transport available, however there was the option to camp in the field behind the rowing club which my cousin Nicky, her fiancee John and I decided would be fun. Luckily the weather was truly summer and we had an extremely warm and pleasant night.
Up before dawn the next morning, our little tent was surrounded by cars, it seems there were hundreds of people who didn't think twice about driving to Henley for a 4.30am swimming race! We gathered at the Upper Thames Rowing Club at 4am, in a "ceremonial procession" (ie: following a person with a lit flame) to make the trek 1.2km downstream to start the race. It was pretty frosty and our toes were quickly numb as we walked along the river. After a quick round of "Happy Birthday" for the race organiser, the men hit the water. The majority were decked out in wetsuits, however there were a group of men in fluro green budget smugglers who were clearly ready to make a statement!
The scene of the river at this hour was really quite breathtaking as the mist rose off the river and left us all a little bit more glad we had made the effort to do a 4.30am race. It was really quite beautiful.
A wave of "ahhhhs" was heard as the men hit the water, it was actually apparently a balmy 21 degrees in the water! Toes defrosted and 5 minutes later the women were off!