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May 21, 2012 / mintcustard

London’s day out – a skinflint’s guide to The Derby

There was a real frisson in the air as I crossed Epsom Downs early this morning. Temporary structures are being erected around the edge of the course. Workers in high vis jackets scurry from place to place. It feels as if some lumbering beast has awoken under the Downs and is slowly rising to the surface.

Why has this Leviathan  begun to stir? Well, for two days in June (1st and 2nd) Epsom Downs Racecourse becomes the focus for the racing fraternity not just in the UK but all around the world. The Oaks and The Derby have to be two of the most famous flat races on the planet. It isn’t this that draws me up to the Downs though. The race is important although to be fair I’d get a better view if I sat at home and watched it on the telly, despite the fact that they have huge screens dotted around the downs.  No, I go to people watch, I go to immerse myself in a sea of humanity. I go because I am a Londoner. This is, and has always been, a Londoners day out. You can get dressed up, go into the stands and enjoy some magnificent hospitality. You can come on an open topped Routemaster bus and then regret not having bought a cardie for the freezing cold journey home, you can even come by helicopter and fly into the temporary heliport.  Despite these times of austerity there will still be many who do.

I never have, but I don’t need to. You can watch the Derby or the Oaks for free, from the Hill. Imagine Brighton beach on a scorching Bank holiday Monday, double it and you are just beginning to get close to the atmosphere on the Hill just before a race. Yes, you will have to get there early to put down your picnic run and chairs, yes some people will be drunk by 11am,but they usually fall asleep and only wake up when the racing is over!, and yes your neighbours sausages on their BBQ may make you cough a bit but it is wonderful, fantastic, magnificent fun.

Food is paramount on the Hill, many make do with a diet of chips and beer sweetened with the occasional Mivvi or Oyster (the ice cream variety not the shellfish!). Lots turn up with pre-packed M&S picnic food but some families go the whole hog and bring tables, chairs, a whole buffet spread right down to the sherry trifle. Remember you have to carry this from the car up to the top of the Downs so having a big family has it’s plus points.

We fall into the Mivvi and chips category only because on Derby evenings we have a barbecue, The Derby Barbie, as it has become known. This year I’m feeling we might have a butterflied leg of lamb and some tuna steaks with a watercress salsa verde. (Don’t panic teens if you are reading this, I’ll slip in a few burgers and sausages for anyone who wants one.)

I’ll blog the recipes closer to the time. I really wanted to post this to give you time to organise your own trip up to the Derby this year. The Queen is coming as part of her Jubilee weekend celebrations, so you know the Hill will probably be a riot of  Union jacks and silly red white and blue hats. Go, have a picnic on the Downs, have a flutter and have a cheap day out. You can use your Oyster card to get to Epsom Downs station and walk from there. Bring your own food and spend your time soaking up the atmospher. You will have fun I promise. You could even go home and have a Derby Barbie of your own!

I haven’t even mentioned the Funfair, the market or the view over London from the Downs which add to the day out no end.

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One Comment

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  1. Mike / May 21 2012 9:48 pm

    And the Myor of Epsom is a member of Cheam Rotary Club and will welcome the Queen to the borough

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