Early spring can only mean one thing for sporting mavens: the Boat Race. The famous rowing battle between rivals Oxford and Cambridge University has taken place every year since 1829, over a 6.8 kilometre stretch of Thames between Putney and Mortlake. The two teams start at Putney Bridge and power west through Hammersmith and Barnes before finishing at Chiswick Bridge. The results have been excruciatingly tight in its 163-year history: Cambridge has won the men’s race 82 times and Oxford 80 times, with one dead heat recorded in 1877 – although the judge was later found to be blind in one eye (and a bit squiffy) at the finishing line.
There’s only one way to experience the Boat Race: from a pub terrace on the banks of the river, surrounding by pals and with pint in hand. Here’s what you need to wear (so that you don’t look like you’re on your Easter break from university) and here’s where to be at every point in the race.
At the starting line – The Duke’s Head, Putney
A Boat Race stalwart, this Grade II-listed pub has been around almost as long as the race. Just a stone’s throw from the start line at Putney Bridge, The Duke’s Head is a prime location for watching the coin toss and cheering on your team as they set out.
A grand Victorian pub with traditional tiled walls, dark wooden panelling and leather banquettes, The Duke’s Head also has The Rowing Club, an aptly named terrace with views of the river. With a selection of street food, cocktails and craft beers to entertain you until the starting gun goes off, it’s also the perfect place to celebrate (or commiserate) after the results are announced, with live music on offer for the rest of the evening.
At the halfway mark – The Dove, Hammersmith
Almost exactly halfway along the 6.8 kilometre race, The Dove is the ideal location to soak up the atmosphere and excitement of race day. A 17th century pub with a storied history – James Thomson wrote ‘Rule Britannia’ and Charles II romanced Nell Gwyn there – it’s also well-known as one of the places to gather on race day.
With a pretty terrace right on the bank of the Thames with prime viewing potential, The Dove offers the best location for the race’s important Hammersmith to Chiswick Eyot stretch. It’s here that the teams must navigate the sharp bend of the river while battling to retain their positions in its centre, where the current is fastest. Our tip is to get there early – The Dove’s a bijou venue. If you can manage it, settle in for a pub lunch and drinks while you wait for the rowers to appear beneath Hammersmith Bridge.
At the finishing line – The Ship in Mortlake
With all the traditional trappings of a classic English pub – timber floors, open fires, picturesque beer garden – The Ship is a cosy venue to while away an afternoon any weekend of the year. On race day, however, it really comes alive.
With the Oxford and Cambridge teams scrambling towards victory mere metres away, it’s the ideal vantage point to watch the crucial final moments of this famous boat race and to join in with the victors’ celebrations. Screens inside will feed you all the action till the rowers come into sight, while the well-stocked bar (they do cask ale well here) will keep you plenty occupied until the results are announced.
The Boat Race takes place 0n Sunday 7 April 2019, with the women’s race at 2.13pm and the men’s at 3.10pm, theboatrace.org