Over a decade ago, my aunt, uncle, and cousins moved to Australia. They’ve never looked back (and why would they with the sea right on their doorstep now?!) but one thing they have told me, on more than one occasion, is that they regret not seeing more of the UK while they lived here. And so, this year I’ve vowed to see as much of this fantastic little island as possible.
I was invited along for a whirlwind tour of Newmarket and its best attractions by Discover Newmarket - a company that offers tours designed to show you a glimpse behind the scenes of the horse racing industry.
So, while I started my year of staycations with a trip to Hornsea back in January; I kicked February off with an overnight stay in Newmarket, Suffolk! I will be sharing my two-day itinerary soon (so keep your eyes peeled) but for now I thought I'd share my thoughts on Newmarket's best attractions...
Seeing as it is only an hour away from home and is known for being a huge horse-filled town, I don’t actually know why I have never been to Newmarket before, but upon arrival, I fell in love with it instantly. It’s a quaint town, surrounded by acres and acres of countryside and filled to the brim with interesting buildings, a rich history and, of course, horses. Known as the Home of Horseracing, it won’t come as a surprise that it is quite honestly a horse-lovers haven. It is the only town in the UK to have two flat racecourses, has over 80 racehorse training yards and in 2015 there were 2,529 horses being trained in the small, Suffolk town. Yes, you read that right, the town is home to over two thousand five hundred horses!
The town itself is full to the brim with bridle-paths that wind alongside the roads, with crossings for the horses and their riders, and with signs stating that cars must give way to the horses. As a happy hacker myself I know that when you're faced with no choice but to ride on the roads, it can sometimes feel as though you're taking your life into your own hands. But the riders in Newmarket appear to travel at ease, knowing that the cars are on the lookout for them and with the safe knowledge that they will always stop for them. If you’re a rider yourself who has to brave the roads of a countryside town, you’ll know that the way Newmarket operates is the absolute dream. If only every town could have the same respect for riders as the ones here in Sussex do!
My day with Discover Newmarket started off with a cup of tea in Wavertree’s Cafe, which is located within the grounds of the famous Newmarket Stud. Originally founded in 1915, the Stud is easily located just off one of the main roads into Newmarket and can be easily spotted by the large rearing horse statue on the roundabout you turn off from. What was originally a private stud, opened its doors to the public in the 1970s and is now renowned for being the only commercial stud farm in the UK to allow visitors a peek behind the scenes. As a horse owner myself, I had to quickly pick my jaw back up from the floor after driving in to see the gorgeous grounds that the horses are bred within. I didn’t get to see much of the Stud while I was there but I can assure you I will be heading back in the Summer because who isn’t a fan of watching a foal frolick across the fields?
Visiting The Gallop Tracks
After a tea to get our insides warmed up, we were whisked off to the famous Warren Hill Gallop Track. It was here that we got out first glimpse into the racing world as group after group of horses in training came tearing up the track in front of us. It was far too cold to stand out there for long but it was incredible to see firsthand the speeds that the horses can get up to. On a sunny day (or at least a slightly less windy one), I could have lost a good hour or more simply watching them speed past one after another. The horses are out training from 6 am until 12 pm every day of the week, so you’re certain to be able to catch a glimpse of the action if you head out during those times. But if you’d rather avoid it altogether (although I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to) the tracks are opened to the public after 1 pm if you’d like to simply take in the scenery and go for a walk.
Jockey Club Rooms
Next up on the agenda was the Jockey Club Rooms. Being welcomed through the big front doors of the Jockey Club Rooms by a man dressed in a smart suit made it inherently clear to me from the second we arrived just how prestigious the private members club still is today. It has been open to the public for hire, tours and special events for several years now but it definitely still has that ‘posh boys club’ feel about it. And while it definitely isn't that today, it’s evident inside that it once was exactly that - along one wall of the club hangs photographs of all of the members, dating way back to the 18th century. And the first image of a woman doesn't appear until 1977.
Prestigiousness aside, one thing you cannot ignore when it comes to the Jockey Club Rooms is the beauty of the building. Set in stunning grounds, with a range of rooms that vary from dining areas to bedrooms, it is easy to see why people choose to use it as a wedding venue.
We simply got a quick glimpse into the rooms, that are full to the brim with a mixture of modern and classical photographs and paintings, intricate ornaments and chairs that look a bit too posh to sit on in anything other than your very best. But we were told that the club regularly hosts events and after a quick scan through the brochure I was given, I spotted that one of those events is an afternoon tea - priced incredibly reasonably at £30. It’s safe to say that with the royal history behind the rooms and it’s pretty interior, I will be doing my best to head back in my prettiest outfit for an afternoon of sipping on tea and eating scones. Because nothing beats the occasional afternoon spent pretending that you’re capable of mingling with the best of the best, does it?
Palace House: The National Heritage Museum For Horseracing and Sporting Art
Filled with awe from the Jockey Club Rooms, we were whisked away (and back to reality) by the Discover Newmarket team for the last stop on our whirlwind tour. To one of the newest attractions in Newmarket, the National Museum for Horseracing and Sporting Art. Located within Palace House, the museum was opened just a measly two years ago in 2016 by her Majesty The Queen (quite the contrast to the centuries-old Jockey Club Rooms). And in direct opposition to the previous stop, the shiny new museum is full to the brim with a range of highly interactive screens, displaying all of the information you could ever require to seek out about the horseracing industry. We were told they had been put in to encourage visiting children to interact with the displays but I had great fun exploring the exhibitions. I spent a good portion of my afternoon picking my own race-horse name (and checking it hasn’t already been used by scouring the registered database!), discovering just how heavy a horse’s heart is by picking up the model one and experiencing the thrill of being a jockey first-hand on the race-horse simulator (which I tried twice).
Meet the Resident Horses in Rothschild Yard
But you can’t go to Newmarket and not get up-close-and-personal with the horses themselves. And the Heritage Museum is one of the many places in Newmarket that you can do just that.
Hidden in a block out the back of the Heritage Museum, is the Rothschild Yard. After watching the up-and-coming horses training on the gallops in the morning, getting to meet some of the retired stars of the sport had been on my mind all day so I was overjoyed to discover that we were able to do that while at the museum. Heralded as the flagship home of the Retraining of Racehorses charity, you can spend an hour fussing the retired racehorses, hearing about their past and see a glimpse into what their future might hold as you watch their training sessions in action.
We spent a good ten minutes fussing Dan, the one-eyed retired racehorse who cannot help but put everything he comes across in his mouth - including the scarf of the girl next to me, which had to be carefully extracted from his over-welcoming mouth, much to his annoyance. We then followed him through the yard and watched as he was put onto the horse-walker with two of his stable buddies and then moved on to watch another of the Rothschild residents being lunged for the first time in the outdoor school. This was the absolute highlight of the day for me and made for the perfect end to a really interesting (albeit very, very cold!) day out. After being engrossed in a world that is worlds apart from my own (even as a horse owner!), getting to hear about the future of these incredible animals after they come away from the track was wonderful.
Visit on a race day:
All I kept being told all day long though was that for the ultimate Newmarket experience, you really need to visit on a race day and I am planning to do exactly that this summer. The town spends close to 365 days of the year prepping its resident horses for racing, so it would be a shame to miss out on seeing them in action. It’s worth noting that the prices in hotels and restaurants are often hiked up on race day weekends, and the town itself will be a hive of activity but for the thrill of watching a race, I'm certain that it would be worth it. After-all, you can't visit the heart of the horseracing industry and not see it in action, can you?
Have you ever been to Newmarket before?
*I was invited along on a tour of Newmarket by Discover Newmarket but all opinions are my own!
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