Taking part in the Boat Race of the North

The Boat Race of the North is an annual rowing event between the boat clubs of Durham and Newcastle universities. The event is staged on the River Tyne in Newcastle Gateshead in May.

The Spectacular course for the event. Photo credit: Newcastle Gateshead Council


The race has been around for almost 20 years. It is a side-by-side race over 1,500m through the heart of Newcastle and finishing under the Millennium bridge. For 12 years Durham University held the overall trophy until conceding to Newcastle University in 2009 who have held the title since. The competition includes eights from senior men, senior women and freshman squads of both men and women. This year features exhibition races between two local clubs Tyne RC and Tyne United RC as well as Alumni crews from the two universities. For the last two years the event has been sponsored and aided by NE1, a business development company based in the city centre.

What does it take to compete?

All the athletes in the top crews do an exceptional amount of training throughout the year. Our challenge is that even though our competition season only really begins after Easter, it takes months to build up the stamina to perform well in the summer. A typical week of training for us includes 80km on the water or on the erg. By this point in the year we have covered the distance from John O Groats to Land’s End! It’s quite a challenge to maintain that level of training around work, so most of us find that our schedule is about four hours off from everyone else’s. It can be a little antisocial at times, but the club is a tight group so while your housemates might rarely see you it’s far from lonely.

The upside is that we get to go and train and compete in some exceptional places. I have slept overnight in a castle before one race, flown out to Canada for a summer regatta, where I trained alongside the Canadian women’s national team, and raced on the Olympic course at Dorney Lake. The club has sent athletes to the European games in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Poznan. Our women’s eight is about to go and compete in China this summer courtesy of the Chinese Rowing Association. It is great that we get to be part of a sport that is so internationally recognised, even if it lacks the extreme coverage of football and cricket.

What is it like to race?

For me, the most exciting part of the Northern Boat Race boils down to the Port of Tyne bridge. It’s an old low bridge built on big buttresses that break the river into two channels. When the boats go under it you lose sight of the other crew for about ten seconds and everyone goes mad to be the first out the other side. It can often be the point where the race is won or lost and it creates a great moment of suspense for everyone watching from the bank.  The race is also one of the shorter distances we compete over in the year. The 500m less distance to cover means you don’t get quite the same level of exhaustion and means you can push that much harder for the entire race. In 2km racing the middle 1k is known for being the point where crews show their real pace and fitness as they settle into a pace they can maintain, in the 1500m there is no time for that so there is never a point where you feel comfortable.

I am very keen to see what this race could become. It restarted last year after not being run for about five years but we still had lots of people come and watch from the banks even though the organisation was quite last minute. If it could be an event with even half of the impact that the Oxbridge race provides then it can only be good for the rowing programmes at both universities. It’s also an experience in itself to race with a crowd of spectators, the only other time we race in front of that many people is at Henley or Durham regatta.

How can I watch?

The action kicks off at 15:30 on Saturday the 7th of May on the River Tyne on Newcastle’s Quayside and will be finished by 17:15. Trains leave every 5-6 minutes from Durham to Newcastle and the Newcastle station is a short walk from the course.  All the details can be found on the Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/170306180028463/  and be sure to follow the Boat club twitter page for live updates @DurhamUBC

Edward Gleadow

Edward Gleadow, Engineering student and Durham University Boat Club President. I began rowing at University when I joined the development squad in 2012. Since my first year I have rowed for the senior squad and held a seat in the first eight for three years. This will be my second boat race and one in which I hope to see Durham take back the overall title.

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