The Bumps

W1 pursue Clare W1 and the Mays Headship 2014. Kind thanks to Giorgio Divitini for photography.
W1 pursue Clare W1 and the Mays Headship 2014.

Bumps races are in themselves a reason for you to get involved with rowing at Downing. They’re an exciting combination of racing and aggression. It’s even been said – by someone with experience of both – that sitting waiting for the start cannon in Bumps is more nerve-wracking than an Olympic Final! There are 2 sets of bumps a year – one at the end of lent term, and one at the end of Easter term (after exams and before May week).

W2 closing in on the Bump – Mays 2018

To an outsider the Bumps might seem a bit odd – it’s a kind of competition that you only find at Cambridge. The boats in each race all set off at the same time, spaced a boat length and a half apart. The objective being to catch up and make contact with the boat in front of you – to ‘bump’ them. Add the winding river Cam, furious whistles, coaches cycling alongside and hundreds of spectators into the mix, and you’ve got an exhilarating race experience unlike any other.

During the Lent and May bumps crews race once a day for four days, giving crews four opportunities to move up the division. Crews that pull off a bump on each day get awarded ‘blades’. Meanwhile crews unlucky enough to be bumped four days in a row are said to have ‘spooned’, and are awarded wooden spoons as prizes.


M1 defending their headship on the first day of the Lent Bumps 2015.

The ultimate aim is to reach the top of the first division and obtain the coveted Head of the River title. A club’s position in the division (With Lents and and Mays being independent events) is carried over until the next year, meaning that each crew passes on a bumps legacy to future generations of their club. Although not every crew will have the chance to become Head of the River in a given year, the possibility of gaining blades means that particularly fast crews lower down the divisions are rewarded.

In recent years Downing crews have dominated the top of the bumps charts. In the Lent bumps M1 were Head of the River in 2014 and are currently in 5th. W1 currently hold the Lents Headship and also held it between 2011-13. In the Mays M1 is currently in 4th in the May Bumps. W1 most recently held the Mays headship between 2011-12, 2014-16. They are currently in 6th.

The 2016 Headship Crew

Downing 2nd boats also consistently sit at the top of the 2nd boats on the river, competing with and, in many cases, beating other 1st boats. M2 are currently the 10th highest M2 in the Lents and 4th M2 in the Mays. W2 are the 4th highest second boat in the Lents and 4th in the Mays.

The Bumps Crews for previous years can be found here, while Photo’s of the Bumps can be found in our Galleries here.