First rowing head race takes place at Lake District's Derwentwater for 150 years

The last event like this was held in 1870. Credit: ITV Border

Rowing clubs from across the North of England converged on Derwentwater in the Lake District on Saturday 4 March for the first head race to be held there in 150 years. 

A head race is a time trial competition in which crews set out one at a time and compete for best times. It differs from a regatta, in which they compete head to head. 

Lakeland Rowing Club - who train on Derwentwater - have been trying to put the event on since 2019 when they held a pilot. The race was supposed to go ahead in March the following year but was postponed due to the pandemic. 

Around 300 competitors in 57 crews took to the steely grey surface of Derwentwater with the first of two divisions setting off at 09:45am. The crews started the three kilometre course at intervals a few minutes apart and a second division followed at lunch time. 

Lakeland Rowing Club, which hosted the event, hopes it will be a regular part of Keswick’s future though they acknowledge that to say it hasn’t happened in the past isn’t quite accurate. 

Teams travelled from all over the North of England. Credit: ITV Border

“Back in 1870 this race actually happened,” says Katherine Dombrowsky, who helped organise today’s event. “We like to say it's the first time happening today but it's not. Back in 1870 crews from as far away as London got on the train, got off the train at Keswick, carried their boats through Keswick down to the shore here and a similar race was held then.”

Lakeland RC chair Julia McCumiskey added: "We've wanted to run our own event for a long time. Our beautiful lake is unlike any other location on the British Rowing calendar, and there's a lot of enthusiasm from the rowing community to come and race on it.

"We're a small club with very limited facilities of our own, so it's taken a lot of time and commitment from members and their families, and support from local organisations, such as the National Trust and Keswick Lions, and from umpires at other clubs to put this together.

Competitors ages ranged from 14 to 70, and though none brought their boats by train many had travelled some distance to be in Keswick for the historic revival.  

"Is for us an opportunity to row on a lake,” said Libby Fisher, of Bradford Amateur Rowing Club. “We row on short stretch of the river Aire just outside of Saltaire. This is a very nice atmosphere as well. We’ve been very welcomed here.”

“We weren't around for that event 100 whatever years ago,” joked Bradford club captain John Austin-Davies. “I’ve been rowing a long time, but not that far. But rowing has been a sport that has been competitive for many years. Our club is more than 150 years old, so maybe it came up then. I don't know.”

What he does know is that Bradford plan to return next year, as Lakeland Rowing Club have ambitions to grow their event - with its stunning backdrop - into one of the highlights of the British Rowing calendar.

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