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Gig racing on the Tamar at the Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival

The Saltash Regatta & Waterside Festival, held in the shadow of the Tamar Bridge, is older than the Henley Regatta. In 2013 it celebrates its 178th event!
Pilot gig racing is a popular pastime in Cornwall and many small coastal villages have their own competitive gig teams. The Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival attracts over 150 crews on this free two-day weekend event in mid-June.

Saltash Regatta is older than the Henley Regatta!

This colourful annual regatta takes place on the waterfront in the shadow of the Royal Albert Bridge, built by to carry the railway into Cornwall in 1859. The town had to wait another 102 years before a road bridge was built. The river was previously crossed by a car ferry and it departed from the waterfront where the Regatta now takes place.

The bridges not only mark the county boundary between Devon and Cornwall, they also connect the small town of Saltash with the city of . Naval destroyers and submarines frequently can be seen visiting the nearby dockyard and boat trips carry passengers from the historic up the River Tamar to Calstock on a half-day trip.

The is actually older than both bridges as in 2014 this will be the 179th event. It is even older than the famous Henley Regatta which takes place on the River Thames. To reach the waterfront from the town centre, take the steep walk down the hill on Lower Fore Street past the arcaded Guildhall to reach Tamar Street.

Gig racing at the Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival

The excitement of watching gig racing is quite infectious. And speaking of seeing it, you might want to bring your binoculars as the River Tamar is pretty wide here and the boats can be distant! Cornish pilot gigs are narrow and have six oars, one per rower, plus a pilot. They can only be raced if they conform to exact Treffry specifications and must be registered.

Boats are launched from the sandy beach near and pubs. These ancient waterside pubs do great lunches at any time of year with outdoor tables just a short distance from the river. Alternatively, you can support the burger stands and food concessions that line up along the waterfront for the Festival.

The Regatta and Waterside Festival is organized by the . It is run entirely by volunteers and is a non-profit event. The organisers pride themselves on making the event free to visit including the live entertainment. Car parking in Saltash is limited but there is a park-and-ride which is also offered without charge. Boats compete in a number of classes including Mixed Veteran and Junior Championships. More lighthearted races include the England and Back Fancy Dress Cutter Race on Sunday, and the Five Towns Amateur Challenge for Cornwall town councillors on the Saturday.

Speaking of fancy dress, every year the Saltash Regatta and Waterside Festival has a theme and in 2014 it will be pirate based. Come dressed as a pirate and you could win a prize! One of my favourite attractions is the RNLI demonstration which takes place on both days.

Family fun at the Saltash Regatta

The land-based part of the festival includes all types of family entertainment, children’s rides in the Children’s World and street entertainers. Live music keeps the atmosphere in party-mode. Market stalls, food vendors and craft stalls line the streets and are interesting to browse around.

If you fancy a walk around the town of Saltash there are some interesting buildings including the cottage of Mary Newman, wife of Sir Francis Drake; the historic and .

Saltash is one of many historic towns around Cornwall’s coastline. Do you know it as a local or regular visitor? Let us know what you think makes Saltash a special place to visit, either during the Saltash Regatta or at any other timel.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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