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The Great River Race: A Marathon on the Thames

I know I’ve said it before, but one of the best things about where we lived in Chiswick was our proximity to the Thames. We could get from the door of our flat to the banks of the river in less than 15 minutes. We spent many weekends at Strand on the Green, relaxing at outdoor pubs with friends, sitting and watching the boats and paddle-boarders pass by, and taking walks (and sometimes runs) along the water. Every time we were there, it felt like we were on vacation. I don’t know what it is, but being by the water always gives me instant holiday vibes.

One of our favorite things to watch on the Thames were boat races, and none were ever better, or more fun, than the annual Great River Race. Stretching 21.6 miles from the Docklands to Ham in Richmond, the Great River Race is London’s marathon on the water. Paddling upstream, the Great River Race is a race for competitors, but it’s also known for being one of the most fun boat races on the Thames with brightly decorated boats, competitors in costume, and loads of smiling faces. (Impressive, seeing as paddling upstream on the Thames for hours is not an easy task.)

Over 300 boats compete in the Great River Race. You’ll see everything from small skiffs to Celtic longboats and dragon boats (and plenty of other strange-looking boats I don’t know the names of). The only rule is that every boat must be human-powered by oars or paddles alone. As a spectator, the best part about watching the race is definitely seeing all of the unique boats and creative costumes. Some people really go all out! The Great River Race is a lively event – the competitors love people cheering for them along the route – so I definitely recommend watching with friends or somewhere where lots of other people are watching, too!

This year’s Great River Race will take place this Saturday, September 9th. If you plan to watch, I’ve put a few ideas for the best places to view the race below. The full course map can be found here. Timings on that link are approximate, and boats will continue to pass through the checkpoints for quite a while after the times listed. Since I can’t be there to photograph this year’s race, here’s a nostalgic photo dump from 2015’s Great River Race when we watched from the docks in Chiswick.

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

Best Places to Watch the Great River Race

Bridges along the race route, specifically Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and Westminster Bridge if you’re wanting photos with classic London scenery in the background, provide the best views, but they’re also the most popular so getting a good position in front may require getting there early.

The riverside promenades above and below Battersea Bridge are also a good choice – this is the halfway point of the course!

Riverside pubs in Hammersmith, Chiswick, and Kew – this option gets my vote because you can sit. :) The competition starts heating up once the boats reach this point in the course, so you’ll get to see many boats fighting to pass each other.

Richmond Bridge is one of the last points in the course to watch the race from before the finish line and loads of spectators gather here to watch. If you know someone competing, this is the best place to watch from since everyone gathers in Richmond pubs afterwards.

Otherwise, setting up anywhere along the banks of the river between the start and finish lines will be good. It takes a couple hours for all boats to pass through any one point, but the first hour is definitely the most exciting with the boats in the lead coming through, followed by the huge rush of those holding steady in the middle!

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The Great River Race: A Marathon On The Thames

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  • Reply
    September 9, 2017 at 10:52 AM

    Hi dear Sarah,
    Can I just say that I’m truly impressed by you digital native outlook on life? I’m in my third year living in London now, and hearing that you moved to SIngapore is truly inspiring!! Will definitely come back to your blog and keep following along (just follwed you on insta as well).
    Singapore is beautiful, so green! I only stayed a weekend when i backpacked SEA but I can imagine that it must be such an amazing place to call home now.
    Just going through my old comments and found your profile there. There is a reason our paths crossed back then, I’m 100% certain.
    x finja

    • Reply
      Sarah Shumate
      September 10, 2017 at 1:32 AM

      I’m so happy you found me through an old comment! And I’m glad I’m not the only one who looks through old posts and clicks on other people’s profiles to find out if they’re still blogging. :) I followed you back on Instagram. Your photography is just beautiful. I’m looking forward to seeing more on your blog!

      Singapore is a very beautiful place. I was very ready for a warm weather home after three years in London! This is actually my second time living here, so in a way, it’s felt like coming “home”. :)

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