A Swindonian guide to attending Cheltenham Festival

By Jamie Hill - 24 January 2019


Here's your guide to attending the sport of king's most prestigious event.

If you’re aware of the sport of horse racing to any degree, you’ll also be accustomed to Cheltenham Festival, which takes place annually, opening its doors to over 250,000 people throughout the duration of a four-day racing event that encapsulates the hearts and minds of sports fans across the UK and Ireland. As for the estimated 200,000 people of Swindon, attending the festival can be a quandary, as there’s almost an hour between each area and more than one way to make the journey.

The importance of Cheltenham Festival over other sporting events

Each part of the UK and Ireland that facilitates a racecourse will hail their own as having the most history, the most authenticity, and the most enjoyable experience for all who attend. Past editions of The Aintree Grand National, Royal Ascot, The St Leger Stakes, and The Epsom Derby have proven this to be an arguable matter, but it’s rare to see many horse racing fans claiming anything as being superior to Cheltenham Festival, where all of the sport’s biggest stars go head to head over a total of twenty-eight different races.

Whether it’s the tension of The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the perseverance of The Queen Mother Champion Chase, or the competitive nature of The Cheltenham Gold Cup, there are several key highlights over every day. Not only are the races highly-anticipated among the horse racing community but also the trainers and horses themselves, Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliott, and Colin Tizzard looking like a handful of the main trainers to watch as they all fight tooth and nail for wins in all of the festival’s biggest races.

Efforts to see The Festival in person

After establishing some of the key factors that make Cheltenham Festival so enjoyable, you might be tempted into enjoying the festival for yourself and make the more than thirty-mile journey from Swindon to Cheltenham Racecourse. You’re given the chance to buy Cheltenham Festival tickets on their own website, where each day is priced at £31 for each day, with the option of a more scenic part of the racecourse based on the enclosure, paddock, or grandstand that you’d most ideally like to watch the action unfold from. It’s always advised to get your tickets early in order to come away with the best price and the most value, with tickets often going on sale around six months before the festival gets underway in March.

If you’re unable to attend Cheltenham Festival, every race will be covered on the main horse racing channels as well as on all of the bookmaker websites and apps that will be providing prices for every horse in contention. Although this is an enjoyable way to indulge in Cheltenham Festival without having to venture all the way to Gloucestershire, there’s nothing better than the atmosphere at the racecourse across the four-day event, where the sport truly hits its peak. Each day comes with its own highlights, but the opening day kicks off with an age-old tradition, the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ sounding from those in attendance, officially triggering the opening race, as an array of horses attempt to show dominance in The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Methods of travel from Swindon to Cheltenham

An estimated thirty-two miles stand between the centre of Swindon and Cheltenham Racecourse, equating to around an hour in travel time. You can opt to make the trip in a number of ways depending on how long you’re looking to stay, which days you’ve got tickets to attend, and how many people you’re bringing with you. Driving is an often preferable way of attending, journeying through the Cotswolds on the way, where the route is made up entirely of A-roads. Parking is provided at Cheltenham Racecourse and through a handful of nearby areas made available for cars to be left during each race. It would be advised to park at Cheltenham Festival’s official parking zones, where you’re given the option to pay £12 in advance, locking in your space, or £20 on the day, where it will be up to luck whether there’s any spaces left.

Services such as National Express are hailed for facilitating bus travel for The Cheltenham Festival, accommodating twenty-one locations throughout the UK both to and from Cheltenham Racecourse. Their helping hand in getting people to the event adds further support to the estimated 80,000 movements made between Cheltenham Racecourse and the local town centre during the festival, where a lot of people will choose to get to in order to use their constant shuttle service. You can receive further information and even book your travel through The Jockey Club website, where they have a dedicated National Express section. The third and final option for reaching Cheltenham Festival is by train. You’re able to do this from Swindon by taking Swindon Station to Cheltenham Spa on the Great Western Railway, before walking to Cheltenham Spa Railway Station to get a second train to Hyde Lane, which is then only a mere twelve-minute walk to the racecourse.

Staying in Cheltenham

The fun to be had at Cheltenham Festival comes in many forms and a lot of those who attend are bound to have a drink as they watch the action unfold. Around 120,000 bottles of wine are poured over the four-day event, with a further 18,000 bottles of champagne and 265,000 pints of Guinness recorded by avid spectators. There are options to stay in Cheltenham and the surrounding area, and it’s advised if it means that you’re able to enjoy more of the action and stay until the end of the day that you’ve bought a ticket for.

Hotel review websites have attributed The Ellenborough Park Hotel as being the closest and best option, situated 1.7 miles away and given a five-star rating. You’ll need to book early to stay here due to these two factors but if you’d rather go for a cheaper option, there’s a Holiday Inn Express at the same distance from the racecourse. After these two extremely close options, the other advised alternatives include The Malmaison and Hotel Du Vin, which are both given four-stars and are housed an equal 2.4 miles from the racecourse, and Queens Hotel, which is also given four stars but is a slightly further 2.7 miles away from the racecourse

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