Picnics at the Races: We take a look at the sport of ‘competitive picnicking’ at the races and suggest some elegant essentials…
If you’ve ever watched or attended Royal Ascot then you will have noticed that there is a sub-sport closely related to Horse Racing: Picnics at the Races. The carparks opposite the racecourse are often packed with racegoers from mid-morning onwards. What’s taking place is a rather British version of the ‘Tailgating’ often seen outside American sports stadiums.
But instead of ribs and chicken wings (yum!) you are far more likely to see haute couture food, to go along with the haute couture outfits worn by the picnickers. And you’re rather more likely to hear the popping of champagne corks than you are the cracking of beer cans. The people you can see enjoying their pre-racing feast are initiates of a secret society of race-going foodies. Picnicking, especially in the summer, is an integral part of the racing experience.
This type of outdoor feasting is not just apparent at Royal Ascot – many Ladies’ Days offer tickets for Picnics at the Races and if you go racing at all, you will frequently see swathes of people camped out in the racecourse carpark or centre course before the festivities begin. Wherever they are, they will all be eating, drinking and making merry. It’s an immense amount of fun.
Either you can enjoy a ‘grown-up’ party; elegant and sophisticated to the max, or you can have fun with the kids – plenty of space to run around (so long as it’s not near cars or horses) and a relaxed day out. Some racecourses will even let you take a small barbecue with you and Cartmel actually hosts a Racing UK Barbecue Raceday on 24th July 2017 where racegoers are invited to bring their own barbie and cook lunch before racing – there will be a prize for the most stylish picnic or BBQ at the meeting!
A word of warning: this kind of outdoor dining bears little resemblance to the picnics of your youth.
Rather than taking a squished pack of slightly limp sandwiches with you (and perhaps a crushed packet of crisps), here you may be witness to banquets on a truly luxurious scale.
The food is a significant part of the experience, but a huge amount of effort goes into the fixtures and fittings required to make the event the spectacle it needs to be (if, of course you are going to compete at the highest level…).
Nowadays, there are some superb options for competitive picnicking tools – there are gorgeous blankets, wonderful cushions and delightful deckchairs. Add to those, posh picnic crockery, amazing plastic cutlery (if you don’t want to lug the family silver with you), and wonderful hampers for carrying sets of glasses!
And talking of hampers, of course we must not overlook the food: if you don’t feel quite up to The Great British Bake-Off standards with your homemade pies and petit fours, fear not, there are hamper companies dedicated to supplying you with sensational selections from simple cheese and biscuit combos all the way through to the caviar and champagne arrangements. Many invite you to select your own contents which will then be lovingly packaged and presented ready for the big reveal on raceday.
If you were to deck yourself out in style such as this, you’d be holding up your part of the proceedings very well indeed.
Here’s our pick of the products for perfect picnicking this summer:
Let it Rain
To start off with, you’re going to need something to either shield you from the sun or (this being the UK) a spot of rain. This Coleman Event Shelter from Millets will do both, in style. Price: was £180, now £130. And a great way to make sure you find your way home after a trip to the on-course bookies, is to customise it with ribbons or flags – get them made in your favourite colours! Bunting and Bows will make the flags of your choice, from four flags for £19 through to 12 flags for £35 on Etsy.
Seat yourself in Style
Opt for a beautiful blanket, and tuck it into a neat strap for carrying from the car to the centre course. Picnic blankets from Kirsty Gadd on Etsy come in various colours, priced from £40 to £60. Pictured: Mulberry & Duck Egg Herringbone Wool Blanket. Leather carry straps are handmade by Nanuck’s Forest Crafts, priced £20 and available in various colours via Etsy.
Laying the Table
Ideal for carrying to your picnic spot are disposable paper plates or reusable melamine marvels. We love these vintage-style paper plates from Eve’s Crafts (Etsy) priced £4.90 for 12. Joules offers a range of melamine plates including this Floral Blaze Set of 4 priced £24.95 (which matches the beakers above).
Basket and Bags
Are you a bag or a basket case? The large Spotted Oilcloth Tote Bag from Cosima Crafts (£29 via Etsy) will brighten up your picnic, as well as being damp-proof and wipe-downable should the British weather not play ball. If you prefer a traditional woven basket try Marks and Spencer’s Dovecote Floral Dorothy Basket, was £25, now £20. Or go for a fully-equipped hamper and simply add food… Joules offers a woven Picnic Basket for four for £89.95.
The Full Monty
Not got time to assemble a fully-prepared picnic? Let the professionals take the strain.
Virginia Hayward Hampers offers a Luxury Picnic Hamper (£125) containing a cooler compartment, which comes complete with food, drink and equipment for four.
Ladies and Gentlemen – Starters Orders!