The annual Boat Race sees Oxford and Cambridge's dark-blue and light-blue crews battle it out against a backdrop of landmark new Thames-side homes between Putney and Mortlake. These will soon be joined by a scheme of 750 homes and a promenade with bars and restaurants, a boat club and pontoon at Hammersmith Embankment, one of the biggest riverside regeneration schemes to date.
Dubbed Fulham Reach by builder St George, the site faces splendid Harrods Furniture Depository, the listed former storage warehouse on the Surrey side of the river that was recently converted into luxury apartments.
Other similar industrial sites are being unlocked. Head out of central London by car along busy Great West Road and it is difficult to imagine that a hidden riverside strip exists beyond a high-walled brewery complex. But explore a little and you will feel you are in the middle of the countryside at centuries-old Chiswick Mall, where a listed Victorian pumping station has been turned into 43 new homes.
Vintage artefacts from the old redbrick waterworks have been saved and residents have direct access to the riverbank via a private gate. Here, and beyond the four-mile Boat Race route (from Kew in the west to Canary Wharf in the east), riverside apartments continue to cast a spell over homebuyers. "It's the most resilient sector — values are holding firm and in some cases we are achieving all-time highs," says James Hyman, partner at Cluttons.
Riverbank regeneration has created a new property sub-market, prompting estate agents such as Knight Frank and Hamptons International to set up specialist waterside divisions. Glamorous architecture has brought fabulous penthouses with wraparound terraces, while new plazas and piazzas with cafés, boutiques and galleries have made the waterfront a far more convivial place to live, work and play.
New schemes continue to be launched. Vying with Fulham Reach, where the first flats are expected to go on sale later this year (to register, visit fulhamreach.co.uk), is Osiers — 275 homes being built at Point Pleasant, a former industrial strip that cuts back to the river from Wandsworth town centre.
The development sits on a bend of the river known as Wandle Delta, a noted wildlife habitat, and looks across the Thames to leafy Hurlingham Park. Eight blocks, including a 21-storey tower, will be completed in June 2012. Prices from £295,000. Call Barratt on 020 8326 7171.
Next door is Riverside Quarter, with more than 400 stunning apartments, moorings for pleasure boats, pontoon jetties, a new restaurant and even a commuters' river-taxi pier. Thames Executive Charters runs a daily boat service from Putney via Chelsea Embankment to Blackfriars.
There are more than 40 developments between Putney and Westminster. Agents report a widening price gap between older schemes and fancy new ones but location still drives price. Benbow House, a decade-old scheme next to Tate Modern at Bankside, has a waiting list of buyers.
Lots Road power station is the only major development site on the north side of the river west of Canary Wharf, whereas there are a couple of dozen in the pipeline on the south side.
Schemes such as Montevetro in Battersea are enticing wealthy people from Chelsea and Kensington, but the cluster of schemes either side of London Heliport is of varying quality — in design, bulk and relationship to the river. As yet, the infrastructure — shops and places to eat and drink — lags behind the homes. However, Nine Elms, arguably central London's last great riverside development opportunity, and poised to become a buzzing new district, will help to fill this gap.
Barnes, just across the river from noisy Hammersmith, is a family favourite, with good schools, pretty houses (from cottages to mansions), interesting shops, characterful pubs and even a village duck pond. But it is a good 25 per cent dearer than neighbouring Mortlake, the Boat Race finishing line.
The creep of development started about 10 years ago. Tideway Wharf, a former depot and power station, is now a complex of courtyard offices, wine bar and 18 apartments. Dukes Reach, on the high street, is a gated scheme of 26 river view flats while Vineyard Heights has 42 apartments, including penthouses, in a remodelled 1970s office tower. Prices start at £320,000 and rise to over £1.5 million, according to Marsh & Parsons.
All eyes are on the former Stag Brewery, which dominates the riverbank towards Chiswick Bridge. This key site has been home to beer making since the 15th century, when it was part of a monastery, but is earmarked for closure at the end of this year.
Local MP Zac Goldsmith is leading a campaign for its sensitive redevelopment, claiming it is a "chance-of-a-lifetime site — a major opportunity to build something beautiful that will be of genuine benefit to the community".
Council consultation with residents is continuing. A new primary school at the site is being considered along with leisure uses, but an element of housing seems inevitable.
Thames Bank is a peaceful waterfront street, reached past the brewery. Alongside pretty period homes is Parliament Mews, a gated scheme of houses and flats. A four-bedroom Edwardian house on Second Avenue, one of Mortlake's best streets, costs about £825,000.