Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race

Photograph above: 02 April, 2017. The Oxford men’s crew lead the Cambridge men’s crew during the Cancer Research UK Boat Race. Photograph by Warren Little / Getty Images

Since 1829 the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge men’s crews have battled each other along the 4.2 mile (6.4km) Championship Course from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge.

The race was cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus; the only times this has happened in the race’s history, except during the two World Wars.

In 2015 the women’s crews made history. That was the first year in the whole 186 year history of the race that the women’s crews were permitted to race the same stretch of river as the men. Previously, since the start of the women’s race in 1927, they raced at Henley.

Christine Wilson, the Oxford Women’s coach, spoke to The Chiswick Calendar before that first race about the preparations and the expectations of the first women’s crews to race on the Tideway.

The races take place at the end of March / beginning of April and are televised live. The race course – the ‘Tideway’, the tidal stretch of the Thames – has notoriously difficult bends. At spring tides the river rises and falls as much as 24 ft (seven metres), so if you’re coming to see the race be careful about picking a spot on the shoreline. Every year the Chiswick RNLI lifeboat picks people up who find themselves stranded.

Where to watch

Nick Raikes visited various spots along the race course to see where was the bestplace to watch the race. The video was shot in 2015, during preparations for the BNC Mellon Boat Race, but the arguments about where to watch remain the same.

The race starts at Putney Bridge, and some would argue it’s the only place to be, because you witness all the build up, and the coin toss, but it does get very crowded. Waterside pubs such as the Blue Anchor, the Dove and the Black Lion in Hammersmith are always heaving.

The Bull’s Head in Barnes is a good spot, as is the Ship at Mortlake. In Chiswick you can pick a spot anywhere in Dukes Meadows and people bring picnics. Please don’t bring disposable plastics and please do take your rubbish home with you. There’s always a huge mess at the end of the Boat Race event and a lot of it ends up in the river.

The only places on the north shore open to the public for a pint are the Thames Tradesmen rowing club by Barnes Railway Bridge and The Pier House, Corney Reach Way, where Chiswick Pier Trust always puts on a party with a band and a bar, big TV screens to watch the start and finish of the race and a spectacular view of the river from the Surrey Bend to the Middlesex Bend.

If you want to watch the finish, Chiswick Bridge is the place.

Photographs below: Getty images, courtesy of the Cancer Research UK Boat Race 2017