A LONG-STANDING rowing festival returns after a two-year absence this weekend, but in a curtailed format.

Durham Regatta, first staged 188 years ago, will take place on the River Wear on the city’s Racecourse for the first time since 2018.

Heavy rain to almost flood levels caused the complete wash-out of the entire weekend’s rowing in 2019 and the restrictions in place after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic saw it join a long list of event cancellations, last summer.

But as the nation starts to emerge from the long lockdown status, the regatta has been cautiously given the all-clear as with other rowing events in the region in recent weeks.

Hexham staged its regatta on the Tyne, while the Newcastle/Durham university boat races were also held down river, both last Saturday.

Regatta organisers in Durham have not only had to abide by Covid restrictions, including closing the Racecourse side of the river to spectators, but have also been hamstrung by the ongoing repairs which have brought about the closure of New Elvet Bridge, over the Wear, which is usually passed under by crews in long course races.

The short course, only, will be in use on Saturday and over a slightly shortened length of 650 metres instead of the usual 700m, to allow for a safe turning area of boats.

As work is not taking place on New Elvet Bridge on Sunday, long course races can be held as normal on day two.

Regatta publicity officer Colin Lawson said the combined need for Covid compliance and the bridge works have made the staging of this year’s regatta, “something of a nightmare”.

But he said there will still be a packed programme of racing on both days, from 8am to 7pm, although there will be no onshore attractions usually mounted on the Racecourse playing fields.

“There should still be a race about every three minutes, but with only about two-thirds of the usual number of crews taking part to cater for social distancing rules.

“There’s still somewhere between 500 and 600 entries, although there may be the odd pull out in the time since entries closed.

“It’s something all of the competitors have been looking forward to after everything that has happened over the last year.”