VERY different from the scene to which we are accustomed at the Boat House is that presented on the river at Oxford. Besides the Oxford University Boat Club, which sends the crew to meet Cambridge in the famous race every spring, nearly all of the twenty-four colleges have boat-clubs of their own. The boat-clubs of most of the colleges own barges, - great hulks painted with the colors of the colleges to which they belong. The barges each contain a large club-room and a number of dressing-rooms, and, above, there is a deck from which to watch the finish of the races. They are moored in line along Christ-church Meadows, from near the mouth of the Cherwell almost up to Folly Bridge, and a very picturesque sight they are. The 'Varsity of course has its barge, besides, larger and more gorgeous than the others. Outside of the line of barges are several floats, where, as also above the bridge, boats of all kinds imaginable can be hired.
In the afternoon the river is a scene of indescribable animation; every one seems to be out in some sort of craft or other, and the picturesque costumes of members of the different boat-clubs add much to the effect. The crews pull down to Abingdon or farther; the less energetic row slowly, or paddle down to Iffley only, or perhaps go on through the lock to Sandford, take their shandigaff there, and then turn back; or else, taking a boat above the bridge, they row up to the charming little inn at Godstow, and come back with the stream. The lazier content themselves with punting up the Cherwell to a shady place, fastening their boats to a tree, and then spending a delightful afternoon in reading or what not in their boats, under the overhanging trees.
The famous races for the "head of the river" usually take place during this month. The river is of course too narrow for more than two crews to row abreast, so, instead of such a race as our class races last Saturday, they are always "bumping races," as every one who remembers the account of the exciting contest described in "Tom Brown" will recall. The boats are placed in line, - the last a little above Iffley, - with a certain distance between them; at the signal, all start off, each trying to "bump" the boat ahead, before reaching the finish, which is just below Folly Bridge. A bumped boat is sent to the end of the line in the next race, and the successful boat is thus one nearer the head of the river. It takes a number of races, of course, to decide which crew is to gain or to hold the coveted position, and nothing can be more exciting than the contests. The friends of the crews run along the tow-path on the Berkshire side of the river, cheering on their crews, tumbling over each other sometimes in the wildest confusion, - for the path is narrow, and at one place there is but a very miserable wooden bridge, where there is always a terrible crush. The steering of the crews is a matter of the greatest skill; for a bump must be fairly made, an overlapping, merely, counts for nothing, and the coxswain of a boat which is in danger of being bumped is allowed to change his course as he thinks fit, to prevent the bump being made.
We, of course, will always keep to the straight-away race system, which is a better test, perhaps, of the relative merits of four or five crews which may race at one time; but under the conditions at Oxford - a narrow river and fifteen or sixteen competing crews - nothing better could be devised than the bumping races which have been rowed for so many years.