Towards the end of that sunny but chilly afternoon a week ago in West Sussex, I arrived at Goodwood Racecourse. This is situated right up on the South Downs, on a ridge, with views to the north and south. You can see the sea, and on a beautiful summer's day, when Glorious Goodwood is in full swing, it must (geographically speaking) be an exhilarating place to be, with the sky blue, the grass green, the views clear, and the distant sea glinting in the sunshine; the Isle of Wight a dark cliffy shape on the south-west horizon, like a huge boat moored there. These 2011 shots will give you an idea of Goodwood's situation:
It looks pretty good, but the close-up downside would I think be the crowds, the noise, the snobbish behaviour, the enforced dress codes, the drinking, the betting, and the ghastly contrived horsiness of the occasion. But I'm letting my imagination say all that, as I've never actually been to Glorious Goodwood, although the website is revealing - see http://www.goodwood.co.uk - where it says:
More than 100,000 people flock through the gates during our showpiece five-day Festival to enjoy the chic, relaxed and incredibly stylish atmosphere. Widely acknowledged as the 'sporting and social highlight of the summer', Glorious Goodwood is a quintessentially English event, where Champagne and strawberries are in abundance. It has none of the formality of a great occasion but most certainly all the glamour. Glorious Goodwood has always attracted the very best from the international world of horseracing and the likes of Frankel have graced the Downs in recent years to the delight of race-goers who come from far and wide to experience our iconic Festival.
Goodwood is a premier racecourse throughout the season, with fashionable events that have been part of the racing calendar for a very long time. This was Goodwood on a summer day in 1912:
It's all still done in that spirit. I suppose that if you enjoy crowds and showing off and having a flutter, it's all right. Twice in recent years I've had the chance to attend Ladies Day at Ascot. I've twice had to say no, both times because I was on holiday at the time. But it's not an event I yearn to see. I've no desire to dress up in a very expensive dress that I may never wear again, and a big heavy hat, and pander to conventional pretension, and impoverish myself with silly enclosure fees, silly bets, and dainty foodstuffs at silly prices. It may be a spectacle, but turning up on a major racecourse day really has no appeal, apart from the opportunity to take cynical photos of the British Public showing off.
All that said, curiosity is strong in me. So I thought an off-season visit might be interesting.
Having parked Fiona close to the entrance, I wandered over to the ticket offices, closed now, but still showing what you'd have to pay during 2013 to enter one or other of the public areas.
There was the Gordon Enclosure, clearly for the common riff-raff. £23 would get you in there, although that would still be a wallet-shrinking £46 for you and the missus, just to rub shoulders with the posh sporting world. For this is of course the Sport of Kings. The Members section of the website entices you to invest a stupifying amount of cash in joining, by saying that 'Some of the most influential and well-known figures in social history have graced the Richmond Lawn as members of Goodwood Racecourse – including sportsmen, statesmen, artists, diplomats and even Royalty'. This is a perfectly serious claim.
Then there was the Richmond Enclosure - the man down at Goodwood House, who owns the racecourse - and a lot of other things in the vicinity - is the Duke of Richmond. This is for suave people of poise and elegance, and of course significantly deeper pockets. You are buying some exclusivity. The price to mix with the better-behaved and better-dressed was a cool £32. That's £64 for a couple, before you even order lunch. That must be a bagatelle compared to the cost of a room at a posh local hotel, but it's still a lot to pay, just to get through some gates.
The small notice touches on the dress code. In the Richmond Enclosure this is the minimum standard:
At all race meetings in the Richmond Enclosure, gentlemen are required to wear jackets and ties, cravats or polo-neck sweaters. For the traditional, linen suits, waistcoats and the archetypal ‘Goodwood’ Panama hat can be worn, as popularised by King Edward VII in the early 20th Century. Ladies should also dress smartly and are encouraged to wear hats at the Festival Meeting. Jeans and shorts are not permitted at any meeting, for men or women.
On Ladies Day during Glorious Goodwood, the standard is even more particular:
Goodwood is famous for being a stylish yet relaxed occasion and gentlemen are required to wear jackets and either ties, cravats or polo neck sweaters in the Richmond Enclosure. Linen suits and Panama Hats are traditionally worn by gentlemen. Jeans and shorts are not permitted in the Richmond Enclosure. In other enclosures dress is smart casual. Bare tops and fancy dress are not allowed in any enclosure. Due to the terrain and areas of decking at Goodwood flat shoes are recommended.
I'm not poking fun at this, just noting that you must conform to a standard that enforces a high tone. And the tone presumably 'justifies' the prices asked, and puts you in a frame of mind to spend whatever it takes. I hate to think what a couple of drinks and a baguette would cost.
Well, there I was. Could I get in?
Indeed I could. One of the iron gates was unlocked and open, the one in front of the car in the photo above. Nobody was about. I just walked in. Somewhere there would be a skeleton staff - there were a handful of cars parked inside - and somewhere a camera must be trained on me. But nobody said 'Oy! You can't come in here!' and no dobermanns ran towards me with fangs bared. My one real concern was that they would close up the place for the afternoon - it was almost sunset - and lock that gate while I was still inside. I'd have the dickens of a job to get out then. And although I'm much more daring than I used to be, and ready to bluff or charm my way out of any likely situation, I am wary of committing clear and hands-up-guilty tresspass. But this was a chance not to be missed.
I decided to have an objective, if somebody did appear and asked why I was there. In the distance I saw a huge horse's head. I would say that I'd wanted a closer look, and found I could wander in, and so sorry if that wasn't actually allowed. This is my standard way of explaining my presence where I shouldn't be: curiosity fuelled by lack of barriers. Well, I got to the horse's head.
It was very big, but it was set at an odd angle, and wasn't a very inspiring creation to my mind. It wasn't really worth the effort of seeing, especially as I was by now very conscious that I was way out of my comfort zone, and likely at any moment to be challenged by no-nonsense security people with sticks and snarling dogs. I wanted to go a little further, but decided not to, and began to walk back to the gate as nonchalantly as I could. It was tempting to look at the course, between the two main stands:
It would be bathed in sunshine, and I might get a nice shot of the front of the March Stand, the Winning Post, and a fine sweep of railed course. But I chickened out. I was pushing my luck too far.
It was a relief to find the gate still unlocked, and to get back onto ground that I was entitled to walk on. As I opened Fiona's door - she was thankfully still quite warm inside: amazing insulation these Swedish cars have - I saw something move through a window in the other grandstand, the one with white pinnacles. A camera swivelling, to track my movements? A man with binoculars? I sped off, wondering whether they'd got Fiona's registration number.
No early-morning knock on my door yet.