Hundreds Of Boats Race On The Thames The Week Before Oxford Vs Cambridge

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Hundreds Of Boats Race On The Thames The Week Before Oxford Vs Cambridge

The famous Oxford V Cambridge Boat Races take place on Easter Saturday 2024, but a week before that, there's a chance to watch a whole host of rowers tackle the same course, in the Head of the River Race.

A group of rowing boats on the Thames
The Thames gets cluttered with rowing teams. Image: Rachel Clarke via creative commons

What is the Head of the River Race?

The Head of the River Race sees teams of eights (all male) race against each other along the Thames. They cover the same course as the Boat Races — but the other way around, from Putney to Mortlake. The Women's Eights Head of the River Race is a separate event, usually taking place a couple of weeks before the men's race and covering the stretch from Chiswick to Putney.

The race was founded in 1925 by rowing coach Steve Fairbairn, and initially ran in December to get some winter training in for rowers. Over the years, the race has changed to a spring schedule. Which you can imagine was a relief to the rowers.

How's it different from the Boat Races?

Apart from the fact it's run in reverse — and you don't get the hoards of spectators — the HOTRR features waaay more boats. With the Boat Races, you only see four boats in all. The Head of the River Race features up to 400 crews from some 160 different clubs. It's much more of a spectacle.

They don't all race at once, of course. The teams — who hail from various universities and boat clubs, in the UK and from across the world — are split into various categories including the coveted Fairbairn Trophy. Groups of rowers take it in turns to be timed as they navigate the course. It's not as easy to follow as the Boat Races, because there's a lot going on, but if you've got a passing interest in seeing scores of rowers looking picturesque on the Thames, this is worth going to watch.

When is the Head of the River Race?

It falls on Saturday 23 March 2024, and rowing begins at 3.15pm

The Boat Race going beneath a bridge on the Thames
The course is the same as the Boat Races... but in reverse. Image: Benedict Tufnell /Row360 for The Gemini Boat Race

Where's the best place to watch from?

The same places as the Boat Races, really! Here are a few hot spots:

  • Chiswick Bridge: This is where the races start, although it's said Barnes Bridge actually commands better views.
  • Furnivall Gardens, Stamford Brook
  • Bishops Park, Fulham
  • The Pier House, Chiswick Pier: One of the best vantage points along the course
  • Putney Bridge (this is where the races end)
Boat Races 2024: A riverside terrace decorated with flowers
You've got more chance of scoring a terrace seat at the Dove than on Boat Races day, we reckon. Image: The Dove/Fuller's

And the best pubs to watch from?

You're spoilt for choice.

  • The Ship, Mortlake: Before you get tooo excited, this is a Greene King pub, however it does benefit from sitting on the start line.
  • Ye White Hart, Barnes
  • The Bull's Head, Barnes: A swish way to watch the action unfold.
  • The Black Lion, Chiswick: "The very best place" to watch the races from according to themselves (well they would say that).
  • The Dove, Hammersmith: A classic riverside Fuller's pub that apparently has the world's smallest bar. It also has a pretty itsy terrace — a nifty place to spectate from, if you can secure a spot.
  • Blue Anchor, Hammersmith: Home to a terrific terrace overlooking Hammersmith Bridge.
  • Crabtree Tavern, Hammersmith
  • Duke's Head, Putney
  • The Boathouse, Putney: Positioned just behind the finish line, so good for seeing the boats gather.

Last Updated 12 March 2024

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