Henley Royal Regatta is the most famous regatta in the world and is the perfect combination of British eccentricity and world class sport.
For a glorious 5 days, thousands of spectators flock to the beautiful riverside market town of Henley on Thames to watch crews from around the world battle it out on the River Thames. The first Henley Regatta took place in 1839 and has taken place every year since, with the exception of the two world wars.
It became Henley Royal Regatta in 1851 when Prince Albert became its patron and every reigning monarch since then has accepted the role.
Henley Regatta is comprised of a number of different competitions for competitors with differing abilities, and therefore attracts entries from Olympic champions through to school teams. Competitors talk about Henley Regatta being the pinnacle of their year and the driving force behind the endless training on cold winter mornings.
Leander Club, located next to the boat tents and Henley bridge, is the most successful rowing club in the world, its athletes have won 124 Olympic and 3 Paralympic medals since 1908. The residents of Henley are hugely supportive of the Leander crews, we watch them training throughout the year and are very proud of their success.
We all celebrated their incredible performances at both the London and Rio Olympics with a row-past on the river and an open top bus parade through the streets of Henley. Local school children were delighted to be able to meet their heroes and even wear their Olympic medals…for a short while!
The 2-lane course of Henley Regatta runs the length of the Henley reach, a naturally straight section of the River Thames. The river forms the county lines between Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, hence the 2 lanes are referred to by the county name to which they are adjacent. If you are in the Stewards Enclosure, you are in Berkshire as are the crews rowing in the lane closest to you.
Just after the 1 mile marker, the crews row past the Regatta Enclosure, they then row the final stages of the race in front of the hugely enthusiastic spectators in the Stewards Enclosure, where the local crews receive a particularly warm welcome.
The Henley Regatta course is 1 mile 550 yards long, which is 125 yards longer than the standard course. The crews are followed by the race umpire who is chauffeured in one of the stunning traditional Umpire Launches, a more comfortable ride than the umpires at the first Regatta in 1839 who had to follow the course on horseback on the towpath.
Alongside the sporting drama, there is a social event like no other.
The Stewards Enclosure is at the heart of the action and is the place to see the “rowing royalty”, those incredible individuals who have represented the UK at the highest level. They are usually proudly sporting their club blazers, the brighter the better!
Visitors to the Stewards Enclosure must abide by the strict dress code and resist the temptation to make any calls from their mobiles from the enclosure…it’s a wonderfully mobile-free zone, which makes a pleasant change.
Over the five days of Regatta spectators will consume over 4,500 bottles of champagne and more than 2,000 pints of Pimms to accompany the huge amounts of smoked salmon and lobster that is on offer.
For many, Henley Royal Regatta is the highlight of their summer social calendar and, once you have spent a day here, you will understand why and start to plan your return the following year.