THOUSANDS of people are expected to attend a historic rowing contest in splendid North-East surroundings this weekend.

The medieval architecture of Durham provides the backdrop for the city’s 183rd regatta on Saturday and Sunday.

Large crowds are expected, but despite the recent warm weather, rain is forecast for both days over the weekend.

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Andy Jaggard, Durham Regatta spokesman, said: “It is a huge event.

“It would better if we can get a nice sunny day, but whatever the weather it will still be fantastic.

“Kat Copeland, Ian Lawson and Jess Eddie have all rowed at Durham so it is highly likely that there will be the next Olympians somewhere among the field.”

The regatta, the second oldest in the country behind Chester, has its origins in the annual procession of boats.

That event was organised by the High Sheriff of County Durham and the Squire of Dryburn, the Right Honourable William Lloyd Wharton, in June 1815, to celebrate Wellington’s victory over Napoleon’s French forces at the Battle of Waterloo.

Crews from schools, colleges and clubs across the country will be competing.

Races will take place every three minutes on the water of the River Wear.

There will also be displays of classic cars, bands and other entertainment for visitors and rowing enthusiasts on the Racecourse, in Durham.

Racing takes place over two days between Pelaw Wood and Prebends Bridge, over both a 750-metre short course as well as the traditional longer course, covering a mile-and-a-quarter.

The regatta regularly attracts more than 2,000 oarsmen and women, including international entries, and – depending on the weather – up to 10,000 spectators, including both rowing aficionados and day-trippers.

Mr Jaggard said: “There will be novices up to the people who are elite rowers and are very experienced and are potentially the next Olympians.”

The Grand Challenge Cup, part of the regatta for more than 160 years, is raced over the long course, negotiating the narrow arches of Elvet Bridge. It is said to be the most coveted prize at any regatta in the North of England.

Racing is from 8am to 6pm both days. There is a modest charge to gain access to the Racecourse stretch of river, although under-fives will be admitted free of charge.

For more information visit: www.durham-regatta.org.uk.