Punting on the River Cam

Imagine nothing finer: the typical quintessential British summertime activity, punting on the river Cam on a lovely sunny day. It’s an image often associated with Cambridge – lazy summer days, champagne picnics, men in straw boaters…

What is punting?

Punting is one of Cambridge’s chief attractions. Punts are flat-bottomed boats which, because they don’t have a keel, are usually steered with a long pole (about 10 foot long).

Somebody (usually the drawer of the short straw!) stands on the platform at the back and pushes the pole against the river bed in order to move the punt. The end of the pole that goes in the water has two metal prongs on it to help you get a grip – especially if you are unfortunate enough to get stuck!

If you go punting in Oxford you’ll be doing it from the front, rather than the back like us sensible Cambridge people!

Where did they come from?

Pleasure punts were introduced to Cambridge in Edwardian times. Before that, they were used by fisherman and reed-cutters in the Fens. The basic design was developed in Medieval times and made it a very stable craft, particularly suitable for shallow water. These craft were therefore perfect for use in the marshy Fens.

Where to punt in Cambridge

You can punt between Grantchester and Jesus Lock, by Jesus Green, a route which takes you along the Backs (the backs of some of the older Cambridge colleges).

Instructions for punters:

  • Wear sensible footwear
  • Make sure platform is dry to avoid hilarious banana skin-like slide into water
  • Get your balance
  • Drop the pole straight down into the water. Let it slide through your hands until it touches the river bed
  • Push
  • Pick up the pole
  • Repeat as often as needed

N.B. Try not to splash your puntees and if you ever need to decide between staying in the boat and keeping hold of the pole, remember that you can always go back for the pole.

Instructions for puntees:

  • Sit in punt
  • Eat
  • Shout ‘helpful’ instructions to punter
  • Shout ‘helpful’ instructions to other river users e.g. “Please can you get out of the way!”
  • Occasionally try to steer the craft yourself by frantically dipping your hands in the water and paddling like mad.
  • Don’t rock the boat.

Those booking the punting activity as part of their registration process for Friday 27th June will receive joining instructions when when they receive their registration pack at conference start.

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