Punting has been an iconic part of Cambridge’s history for hundreds of years. A punt is a wooden boat with a square end and a flat bottom, they are manoeuvred along by the punter who uses a large pole to push it along, there is no rudder so the pole is also used to steer.
Punts were developed in Medieval times due to shallow waters that did not lend themselves to traditional forms of rowing. The city of Cambridge is surrounded by a region known as the ‘fens’, these are large areas of marshlands, dotted with narrow waterways which were used for transporting cargo.
Pleasure punts became popular in the 1800s and you can experience this in only a few places in the UK – Cambridge, Oxford, Canterbury and Stratford, Cambridge and Oxford being the most famous. It wasn’t until the 20th century in which people could enjoy pleasure punts on the River Cam in Cambridge, this is because the river traffic was too heavy before this.
It’s only the most extreme weather conditions which will stop the punts in the city, visitors enjoy the activity rain or shine, all year round, although the river is noticeably more busy over the warmer months. There are a number of different experiences available to tourists, groups can either hire a punt privately, or they can choose the cheaper option of a group tour in which a professional punter will navigate them along the river, past the famous university colleges, offering information along the way. You can also choose to punt yourself, or even enjoy a pizza or a cream tea on the punt!
Recently I enjoyed a 45-minute punting experience with Rutherford’s Punting, one of a few punting companies in Cambridge. So why Rutherford’s? They offer a number of diverse punting experiences and they also allow dogs on their punts which is always a bonus! Brides can enjoy their hen party aboard a punt, couples can enjoy a romantic punt for two, complete with champagne and their own chauffeur. My sister’s and I decided to book in a private punt with a chauffeur, cream tea and champagne, after a crappy few months for our family it seemed like the perfect way to look forward, have a nice day and draw a line under the bad luck.
Our chauffeur Levin was perfect, he was friendly, charming and approachable, although, at the tender age of 19, he did make me feel a little old! It is a right of passage for young residents of Cambridge and those attending the university to experience a summer (or two!) punting groups of tourists along the River Cam, I couldn’t think of a better first job!
The cream teas were put together in collaboration with Fitzbillies which has been serving delicious food in Cambridge since 1920. We popped our champagne as we navigating along the river behind some of the city’s most iconic colleges, including King’s College and St John’s. Levin even moored up for us so we could get the best view of King’s College Chapel in the city, he didn’t mind punting slowly under the Bridge of Sighs either, all because I wanted a photo!
The University of Cambridge is one of the most famous and highly regarded universities in the world and the 4th oldest! There is no better way to admire the ancient architecture, some dating back to the late 1400s, than from the River Cam itself. Punting tours start at £45, Rutherford’s even offer birthday parties, proposal experiences, sushi punting and even ghost tours!