Monday, April 18, 2011

The Grand National

What a weekend. I was so lucky to have this experience! Having been introduced to the interests of horse racing last summer by my friend Janet, a former jockey turned horse trainer/owner, she hosted both me and a mutual friend, Phil, to the greatest steeplechase race in the world, the Grand National. Yes, the same Grand National Elizabeth Taylor made world famous in film as a child star. I drove down on a Thursday headed for Lincoln as I wanted to include a viewing of Lincoln Cathedral on the trip.

 I chose to travel through an area of England called the Yorkshire Dales, a beautiful area of rolling pastures, cross-hatched by stone walls, surrounded by rugged, rock faced peaks. Two villages I drove through, only miles apart, were named Giggleswick and Wigglesworth. In comparison though, there were many neighbouring towns with names that were just silly. In some historical circles, this feeds the theory that early Norman town fathers must surely have smoked a bit of the doobage.

Another side trip on the way to Lincoln took me to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame. The legends and many stories of Robin Hood have been an important part of my literary life since childhood and I am a believer. I also clap to show an acceptance of Fairies and their health care system, and leave  a carrot for Rudolph next to Santa's cookies and milk. I discovered the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. I could clearly imagine Robin, Will Scarlet, John Little and sundry merry men scattered and lounging in it's massive, twisting boughs. This tree is reported to be the secret meeting place of Robin's band of Saxon outlaws. This makes great sense when you see the convenient parking area right next to the Major Oak.

The city of Lincoln sits perched on a solitary bluff overlooking the vast, flat plain of Lincolnshire at its base. Even from 15 miles away on a hazy day you can see the towers of the cathedral rising above the skyline of the city. The streets of the city fall higgledy-piggledy down from the plateau, twisting around the cobble stones, presenting a historical picture of delightful medieval architecture.

 I entered the Cathedral just as the final tours were closing and was able to pretty much have the experience to myself. It is reported to be one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in the country, and I am in agreement. Having just sat down to take it all in, the organ began playing and a single, stunning soprano voice started singing. I was transfixed. A choir joined in. They were all hidden from view by the ornate wooden screen behind the central alter, but the music rolled around and descended on me from all directions.

 I listened to Mozart, Benjamin Briton and Bach. I had stumbled into a dress rehearsal for a concert to be given the next evening. I won't soon forget the experience.

Southport was our home for the weekend of the Grand National. It is a Victorian, sea side family resort complete with beach front Promenade, grand streets lined with wrought iron covered walkways, and many outdoor cafes and coffee shops. Check my Flicker photos for more shots of this stunning city and the weekend in its entirety.

Phil had done a wonderful job driving us to Aintree for the race. However, we parked on a side road several miles from the entrance and racing stands. On the plus side, we had a glorious morning walk along the canal bordering the race course, passing canal boats floating in to moor right alongside the Canal Jump and watch the race from their floating homes.

The Grand National is an event of magnitude. 120, 000 spectators dressed fashionably, punters, horse owners, sports enthusiasts, and the social elite gathered to watch seven races, including the namesake National where forty of the best horses and jockeys in the world compete for the penultimate prize. I have always considered myself a lucky man, and that held true for this day as well. I had picked the winners and a runner-up for the first three races before missing completely on the fourth race. Though I had some good picks for the National, after watching the horses in the paddock prior to the race, I whimsically placed a twenty quid bet on Ballabrigs, a horse from Ireland, on the way back to our seats.

That's how I came to pick the winner of the Grand National, finishing up a most wonderful weekend. As a sidelight, the ladies next to us having an office party outing from their boss, thought I was brilliant. Sorry ladies, just a bit of luck, really.