A Brief History of Punting in Cambridge
History of Punting in Cambridge

There is more to punting in Cambridge than taking selfies while admiring the breath-taking greenery. Punting is a storytelling experience, and it has a history that not many people know about unless they go on a specific historical tour.

What is Punting

Punting is an activity where people ride a small square-ended boat that has a flat bottom. A chauffeur then uses a long pole to push against the riverbed, which propels the boat in whichever direction you want to go. That propulsion is what’s known as “Punting.” Cambridge is surrounded by water, and there is lots to see, which is why tourists go for a punting adventure because they can take in the best views of the world-famous university.

History of Cambridge Punting

In between 1902-1904, Cambridge witnessed a more organised set-up for traditional punting, which then went on to become a major recreational activity along the River Cam. As a result, River Cam now boasts the most punting activities seen anywhere in England. The entire ecosystem is naturally structured to give the onlooker some of the most breathtaking visuals in the world. Moreover, the trip takes the tourists across the heart of Cambridge that is packed with stunning college buildings. As one travels upstream, the river enters the quaint and serene countryside in the village of Grantchester. Numerous historical monuments, churches, pubs and traditional buildings are situated in this scenic village.

Punting Along The Cam River

The little boats or “Punts,” were built in medieval times to row in shallow water. Cambridge has marshy flatlands that the locals lived near to take advantage of hunting ducks, eel fishing, and transporting cargo until the nineteenth century. Punts don’t have a keel, which is a flat blade that sticks down into the water. They do not need it because they’re only meant to be rowed on very shallow water. This makes the boats more flexible to move around in narrow waters. Their stable and generous width allows plenty of room for passengers to sit and enjoy the ride.

Modern Day Punting in Cambridge

Punts became a recreational mode of transport in Cambridge at the beginning of the 20th century. Before that, they were popular on the Thames and in Bath. Even during poor weather and strong winds, people still use them because they are unconcerned about a quick dip in shallow water that they can easily climb out of.

A punt is a little harder to navigate compared to a rowing boat, but people still enjoy riding them and getting their sightseeing done from the waterways around Cambridge. At times, the long poles get stuck at the bottom, and a chauffeur could get knocked off the boat if they yank it out too hard. They might have to go in the water to pull it out, but in the Cambridge area, there are stone beds in many areas that prevent poles from getting stuck easily. These stone beds were placed during a time when horses were allowed to wade up the river, so riders didn’t have to pay tolls to the university if they were crossing their lands.

The next time you go on a Cambridge punting tour along the River Cam, ask your chauffeur about the history of punting and what makes it so unique compared to any other mode of water transport. There are many punting tours to choose from, and they regularly compete because of the influx of tourists coming to Cambridge University. Hopefully, the number of punts can be reduced because some of the waterways are very narrow and boats can knock against each other if there’s too much traffic.

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