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Punting on the River Cam
Punting in the river (Cambridge)
Member Name: bluejules
Punting in the river (Cambridge)
Advantages: Very relaxing
In the summer of 2006 I was offered a place at a summer school in Cambridge. Before being accepted to the summer school I had no idea what Punting was. When I saw it was on the timetable for one of the sessions during the week I decided I should find out!
A punt is a square-ended boat, which has a flat bottom and is usually propelled using a long pole. Punts were introduced to provide stable craft, which could be used in areas of water too shallow for rowing conventional craft.
Punting has now become one of the most popular ways to see the famous bridges and colleges along the River Cam.
There are two routes that you can take along the river in a punt. One of these is the Upper River, towards Granchester (a small village) and the other is along the Middle River, which passes the famous college Backs. We took the latter of these routes and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
~ A little bit of information about The Backs ~
Some of the first colleges to be founded at Cambridge were built right on the banks of the river. These buildings are now known as the "Backs". This is a one-mile stretch of river that has some of the finest examples of architecture in England. Altogether there are 8 colleges and 9 bridges.
King Henry VI founded King's College in 1441. He did not live to see it finished as it took nearly 100 years (and the contributions are five kings) to complete.
The Bridge of Sighs is found at St Johns College and is probably the best known bridge on the Backs. The only real similarity between the Bridge of Sighs and its Venetian namesake is that both of them are covered bridges. It is part of the main thoroughfare through the College and is used by those who live and work there every day. We went to an outdoor theatre at St John's College and we crossed this bridge to get there. I appreciated the beauty of it much more when I was on the river though.
Some of the other buildings on the 'backs' include: St Johns College, Trinity Hall, Clare College, Queens College, Magdalene Bridge, Kitchen Bridge and Clare Bridge.
~ My Experience ~
There were 72 students at the summer school, plus staff. We went in chauffeured boats, which sat 12 people (plus the punter who stood on the back of the punt.) I liked being in a larger punt as most of the people I was with were in my geography group, so it was an extra opportunity to socialise with them! Punts also come in a smaller size, which seat 6 people.
There were blankets on the punt to make it more comfortable if it was cold, we just sat on them though as it was a glorious summers day! There were also umbrellas in case of rain but many people had them up as a sunshade!
About 5 minutes into the trip our punter lost his pole! I was slightly worried as we started to drift towards the banks of the river but one of the other punters quickly retrieved our pole and we were back on course! I thought this might be something that would happen a lot but fortunately it was the only time during our trip!
The people who punted were mainly students in straw boaters and traditional dress. I thought this added a nice feel to the trip along the Cam. Our punter was a young man who was very enthusiastic. He told us lots of stories about the buildings that we were passing. He asked us questions about what we were looking at and he offered to answer any questions that we had. He showed a little bit of interest in us by asking us where we were from and what brought us to Cambridge. When he found out we were from a summer school at the University he was interested to know what subjects we were doing. He was very friendly and he seemed to know The Backs very well.
Where I was positioned on the punt, the punter was behind me. It was easy to forget that there was actually a person standing talking to us rather than just a tape playing. He fitted nicely in the background when we wanted to talk (or point at things and take photos!) between ourselves but the information was still there being offered. I did listen to most of what he was saying as I was taking my pictures.
Towards the end of the trip the punter was going to let us have a turn at punting but the summer school representatives wouldn't let us! (For health and safety) He thought they were just being spoilsports and even threatened to get off the punt so we would have to do it ourselves! (in a humorous not serious sort of way!)
The river was very busy when we were there as it was a glorious summer day. We occasionally bumped into another punt but he did warn us just before we collided so that we could move elbows etc out of the way. He was a bit late once though and a punt did bump one of the student's elbows!
Our punting trip was paid for by the summer school but 50minutes/I hour costs around £10 per person (children are cheaper)
I thoroughly enjoyed my time punting and would definitely do it again if I ever get the opportunity. It was a pleasant, relaxing experience, which was extremely enjoyable.
Should you be a more adventurous person you may like to have a go at punting yourself! You are only allowed to punt the 6 seat punts on your own. I don't think I would like to punt myself, as I'd be scared I'd fall in! We did witness a man who was punting and he fell into the river. (The river water is between 1m and 2m deep where we went punting along the 'backs')
If you are ever in Cambridge - go punting!
Thanks for reading! bluejules xx
Summary: An enjoyable experience
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