Your Guide To The Lewes Raft Race

Your Guide To The Lewes Raft Race

by Hanna Lindon

The Lewes to Newhaven Raft Race is a major highlight of the Sussex calendar. Here’s everything you need to know about one of this summer’s quirkiest events.

Even in a county known for its eccentric events, the Lewes to Newhaven Raft Race stands out as particularly bonkers. Every year, a motley collection of crafts gather on the Ouse at Lewes to begin the seven-mile slog downriver to Newhaven. Crowds of cheering spectators line the route and add a danger element by pelting participants with water, eggs and flour.

The Raft Race has been running for 42 years, and the Regatta was created by Lewes Rowing Club and the Round Table in 2015. The organising group, named Riff rafters, has members from both groups and both town councils and others such as the Bonfire Council.

Raft Race competitors face no mean challenge. The rules strictly state that each raft must be handmade and propelled by hand or foot. That means that the crews of up to 12 people have to row or peddle the entire distance between Malling Recreation Ground and Denton Island. The raft designs span the entire spectrum between basic (think plastic barrels bound together and propelled by canoe paddles) and incredibly elaborate. Some have ‘windscreens’ to protect the crews from the eggs and flour bombs that rain down on them from every bridge. Others buck the rules and use on-board water cannons to spray spectators. Past years have seen the crafts decked out as rockets, swans and magic roundabouts.

“Our race crews are always amazingly creative in their costumes and designs,” says Lewes Round Table Chairman Liam Jackson. “Over the decades this raft race has earned a special place in the heart of our community. Generations of the same family have gained their spurs, or perhaps I should say oars, in this race. Around £500,000 has been raised for charities, and thousands of entrants have come of age paddling through the pain, and the flour!”

The theme of the race this year is ‘Britannia Rules the Waves’. It’s the central event of Ouseday, a colourful regatta that also features a boat parade, ‘Bonfire Dash’, boat race, canoe races, food fair, Oxford and Cambridge-style boat race between Newhaven and Lewes and a public party at Newhaven. Funds raised will go to local youth charities Home Start East Sussex and A Band of Brothers.

The crowds are thickest and the atmosphere most euphoric around the start and finish lines. For fabulous views without the crush, head to one of the bridges that span the route. Those in the know congregate on Southease bridge, a rural spot roughly halfway along the route. Bring flour bombs and a serious sense of fun.

Ouseday will take place on Sunday 9th July with the Raft Race kicking off at around 14:15. Visit www.ouseday.com for more details.

Photogaphy: James McCauley