UK travel: Punting along the River Cam

In the U.S., punting means kicking the football downfield to the opposing team. In the U.K., punting means riding in or operating a flat-bottom boat using a long wooden pole. And punting on the River Cam is a great way to see some of the best sights in Cambridge, England. You can hire a chauffeured punt, then sit back and enjoy your journey on the river or you can rent one for yourself and test your skills of balance and dexterity. If you hire a chauffeur, you will likely have the chance to learn some of the history of Cambridge, the University of Cambridge, the River Cam, as well as hear colorful stories of some of Cambridge’s famous residents.

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A view from the river of King’s College Chapel is iconic Cambridge. As soon as the sun peaks out in spring, punts and punters are out in full force on the river. Sometimes a traffic jam may slow down the punting trip. The trick is to not let the boats collide, but when you’re watching the sights and scenery; it’s much easier said than done.

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The Mathematical Bridge is a reconstruction of a bridge built in 1749. Legend has it that Sir Isaac Newton designed the bridge without nails or bolts, and that after the bridge was taken down for repairs, no one could figure out how to put it back together again. That’s just a myth. Newton had already been dead 22 years before the original bridge was built. It’s ‘mathematical’ because of the series of tangents that form the arc.

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Wildlife along the River Cam includes varieties of ducks, swans and other waterfowl. In the spring, cygnets (baby swans) can be spotted along the shore. Some punters have seen the occasional fox or badger.

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One of the many fascinating older buildings along the River Cam is the Old Library of St. John’s College. Cambridge University’s college chapels, libraries, common areas and interesting bridges make up the scenery along the river.

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Cambridge Chauffeur Punts is just one of several punt-for-hire enterprises along the River Cam. Some tourists aren’t as successful with their own punting skills, resulting in some accidental dips in the not-too-clean water. Handling that long, heavy pole of spruce can prove to be quite a challenge. Other rental and guided tour options: GoPuntingCambridge, Scudamore’s and Let’sGoPunting.  A basic 45-minute, chauffeured punting trip will cost about 14 pounds or 21 dollars. Tour prices vary with combination package type, length of trips and group size, of course.

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Take some time before or after your punting tour for a pint of ale and fish and chips at The Anchor PubSit in the upstairs bar area for great views of the river and street activity. The Granta is another very popular riverside pub. In summertime, ice cream vendors draw the crowds.

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Keeping knees slightly bent and feet apart, the best way to propel the punt forward is to push off with the pole in back of the punt, not to the side. Allow the pole to trail behind, to keep moving straight. Experience punters recommend twisting the pole slightly after pushing off from the soft river bed to prevent the pole from getting stuck. Otherwise you may find yourself circling back using auxiliary paddles to retrieve your pole. Punting against the current can be a exhilarating whole-body workout.

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Students members of the Darwin College Punt Club can sign out punts then embark from this punt house, located at one end of the River Cam in Cambridge.

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The Bridge of Sighs is part of St. John’s College. Named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it’s reported to have been one of Queen Victoria’s favorite sights in Cambridge.

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Twenty-three bridges span the River Cam through Cambridge, including several footbridges, such as this one.

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Punts come in a variety of sizes. All are flat bottom to accommodate the shallow river waters. Look for seats with backs and cushions. This sign specifies the maximum capacity of our vessel. Punting is probably one of the top tourist activities in Cambridge. If you’re considering a trip to anywhere in the United Kingdom, you should investigate the punting opportunities at your destination. Punting also is popular in other towns such as Oxford, Bath, Sunbury and Stratford-on-Avon.

 

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