The tranquil scenery of The Backs in Cambridge makes an incredible backdrop for casual walkers and nature lovers. A relaxing stroll along the serene river Cam, and the vibrant streets of Cambridge can instantly get you transported to a different era altogether.

Moreover, the stunning colleges of Cambridge are open to the public throughout the year that makes them one of the “most photographed” Universities in the world. With an extensive coverage of green spaces surrounding the overall campus and its vicinities, the backs in Cambridge certainly takes the top spot as one of the most attractive spots in London. It’s not just Cambridge University but the entire surroundings are enveloped in picturesque scenery in every location.

Why are they called “The Backs” ?

Cambridge University consists of 31 distinguished colleges, out of which 8 of them have the rear/side facade of the buildings and grounds facing the “Cam”, the river associated with the backs. In medieval times these grounds were extensively used for herding cattle and cultivating crops. Also, the River Cam was a busy commercial trade route in those eras.

This stunning location comprises several colleges that are flanked on either side of the River Cam.

Darwin College

This famous college was established in 1964 and named after the renowned English naturalist Charles Darwin. The entire college was built using the Victorian and Georgian styles of architecture. Also, the college grounds are integrated with the Darwin College bridges for easy passage and connectivity to the two islands owned by the college. Furthermore, Darwin has the honour of being the first graduate college in Cambridge to admit both men and women.

Queen’s College

Several iconic, medieval and modernistic styles of buildings can be found at the Queens College in Cambridge. They are famed for having their college buildings on either side of the River Cam. The connectivity between these two halves of the college is accomplished with the help of Mathematical Bridge. As the name suggests, the Queen’s college was established by two royals of England, Queen Margaret of Anjou and later by Queen Elizabeth Woodville. They were the wives of King Henry VI and King Edward IV, respectively, of England.

King’s College

King Henry VI was the founder of this distinguished educational institution in Cambridge. Kings is globally considered as an architectural marvel that showcases an exquisite range of Gothic-style architecture designs. The largest fan vault in the world and the gorgeously stained-glass windows are the other tourist attractions at King’s. Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Great Britain was one of the famous alumni of the King’s College.

Clare College

Formerly known as the University Hall, this famed college of the Cambridge University boasts several iconic buildings and monuments like:

Old Court

“This grade I listed building is one of the most historic structures in England. The design of the Old court is a fusion of the Classic and Gothic style of architecture.

Memorial Court

“This structure was designed by the architectural genius of Britain, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.”

Clare Bridge

“Built completely out of stone, this is the oldest bridge in Cambridge to survive the civil war.”

Trinity College

King Henry VIII founded this esteemed college in 1546. This building houses an enclosed courtyard, which is said to be the largest in Europe. The reputation of the college lies in its impeccable architecture, the picturesque gardens and obviously, the 32 Nobel laureates from this prestigious institution. Popular attractions in the Trinity includes :

  • The Wren Library at Nevile’s Court
  • Trinity Bridge
  • Whewell’s Court north range
  • Great Court
  • The River Cam( river associated with the backs in Cambridge)
  • Clock Tower
  • Great Gate

Trinity Hall

The Bishop of Norwich, William Bateman, was the founder of this distinguished college in Cambridge. Established in the year 1350, Trinity was historically a law school but currently teaches arts, sciences and humanities. The architectural elegance of the Trinity exudes a medieval ambience, and the main building was modified to a Baroque style in the 18th century by the English jurist Sir Nathaniel Lloyd. Also, the college is open to visitors on certain days for self-guided tours and is one of the famous tourist attractions in Cambridge.

St. John’s College

Established in the year 1511, this institution is one of the eminent Oxbridge colleges in the Uk. St.John’s is renowned for producing numerous high profile alumni including Nobel laureates, prime ministers and several archbishops from various countries. The college is also well known as a tourist attraction spot in Cambridge with multiple heritage sites and architectural marvels. Some of the top sites include the Great gate, The Chapel, First Court, Second Court, Third Court, Chapel Court and Cripps Building.

Magdalene College

This institution is one of the distinguished colleges of Cambridge founded in the year 1428 and reputed for hosting the Benedictine monks in the past. The college was again founded in 1542 and thrived under the patronage of the nobles of Britain such as Duke Of Norfolk , the Duke of Buckingham and Sir Christopher Wray. Visitors can explore the magnificent college buildings , gardens , Pepys Library ,Cripps Court on certain days and also enjoy punting in Cambridge.

A chronicle of “The Backs”

The past

The lands that now constitute “The Backs” were owned by several colleges of the University in the past. These spaces were extensively filled with orchards, gardens and used as pasture grounds. For better connectivity, these lands were attached with wooden bridges built across the River Cam. Later, Lancelot Capability Brown, one of the greatest English landscape architects, laid plenty of wilderness by the Queens Road.

FACT – The Backs in Cambridge are listed as a Grade I Historic Park by the English Heritage

The Present Day

The Backs are currently set to undergo significant stages of evolution under the patronage of six colleges of Cambridge University. The next 50 years will reportedly witness drastic changes that improve the quality of the landscape and enhance the total appearance of “The Backs”. The transformations will be implemented under the expert guidance of Robert Myers, a landscape architect based in Cambridge. Moreover, the strategy involves the plan to enhance the existing landscapes and the formation of a wildlife corridor.

Being a traditional flat bottomed boat having a square cut bow, a punt is designed for the usage in shallow water. Punting is the use of punts to tour around the amazing Cambridge University. What is more exciting is much of the route is only accessible by river. If you are a tourist who loves to explore Cambridge, we can help you choose the right punt tour for you, based on price, time, season and location. We assure you to provide an experience that could be cherished as a red lettered memory for an entire lifetime.

What is punting?

Punting is the act of propelling the punt in the traditional fashion using a pole or Quant by a person, generally called a Punter, from a platform at the stern. Seating for the passengers is arranged in the middle of the boat. There are generally cozy cushions and blankets to keep you comfortable. A punt is often confused with a gondola in Venice, which is a shallow draft vessel that is structurally different, and is also propelled by an oar rather than a pole.

The History of Punting

Cambridge punting, now popular among tourists as a unique way to explore Cambridge, was originally used as a mode of transport. Earlier, it was used to transport goods around the shallow boggy sites which surrounded Cambridge. Leisure punts were first introduced in the U.K in the mid-1800’s and overall has grown in popularity since then. Sometimes used as vehicles to move goods commercially, the industrial revolution has confined it simply to a popular hobby in modern times.

The Punt boat explained

The flat-bottomed craft is not unique to Cambridge, but the city certainly marks some of the most famous punting worldwide. The boat itself is known as a punt and its drive as punting. It is a Latin term meaning “to push” because the technique used to propel the craft is to push it off the bottom of the river with a long pole (proper term: quant). Though the Venetian Gondolas which use an oar seem similar to this, it uses a different technique. Unlike Venice, the bottom of the River Cam has more gravel than mud which produces a striking voice as the pole touches the bottom of the river.

Popular cambridge punting tours

Once mastered, the technique allows a person to move a heavy load on a boat with relatively less energy expenditure and it is for this reason that merchants and farmers in ancient Cambridge used the punts to transport goods. A few sights along The River Cam proves this statement to be right including the river level doors at St John’s College and the steps on the old docks, now known as Quayside.

How to Punt?

The first thing you need to do to move a punt is turn your feet to the right hand side of the punt and keep the pole on the right hand side. When you want to go straight, pick the pole completely out of the water and slide through your hands until it hits the bottom of the river bed, if the rocketing line is where the back of your foot is. When you need to move your punt straight, walk your hands to the top of the pole, and try to keep the pole in line at the side of the punt.

When you want to steer the boat, keep the pole just under the surface of the water and you can use it like a rudder. If you want to go right, swing the pole under the water to the right hand side. If you want to go left, swing the pole to the left hand side. If you need to turn around sharper or need to turn around completely, take the pole from the water, place it away from the boat and push it away from the boat until the boat spins around. To slow down the boat or bring it to a complete stop, one of the easiest ways is to pick the pole out of the water, place it in front of you along the side of the boat and apply your weight, then the boat stops.

Advanced Punting Techniques

 

While traveling through higher flow, you need to adjust your maneuvers such that the punt is being directed relative to the moving water, and not to the still riverbed. In this case, if you travel at the same speed as the river, you’ll no longer have control on your boat. You gain control either by moving up or downstream relative to the flow.
Also be cautious when you observe a difference in water texture because it may be the Eddies which are caused due to the presence of fixed obstacles. Eddie’s may cause the water to flow either in a different rate or in opposite direction depending on the object present.
Though the theory is just simple physics, driving a punt is much more difficult than it might appear. So if you dream of learning to punt, book our chauffeured punts, so that a professional could teach you the lessons in an effective way.

Different options for punting

We provide you with 3 different options. You can either Drive yourself or take a shared tour or a private tour, where a chauffeur would accompany. If you are adventurous and love challenges, choose the self-drive. If you prefer to relax and enjoy the beauty of Cambridge, then depending on your budget pick a private or shared tour. Self drive punts are smaller than the tour punts, so you’re limited to 5 passengers.

Private and shared tours

This gives a chance to relax and enjoy the beauty of Cambridge in peace. Generally, private tours are more expensive. But if you are interested in sites, this might be the best option because:

  • The chauffeur would give a historic commentary.
  • The experienced chauffeur would cover the distance within time.

When punting on the River Cam in Cambridge, you can choose between taking a chauffeured tour with a driver and self-driving the boat. Here is a brief description of different options for punting in Cambridge.

Self-drive

Self drive would be cheaper if you know punting and you are a team of more than 2. The boats are narrower and faster if driven properly, however, despite looking easy, punting is an acquired skill. So you may not be able to direct the punt easily. And extra charges would be hired for extra time taken.

Chauffeured Tours

History of Punting in Cambridge

Chauffeured punt tours are strictly of the larger 12-seater boats which are more stable, making them safer than the smaller self-drive boats. The chauffeurs would give you detailed information about every landmark and also ensure that every destination is covered on time.

We provide more packages in Chauffeured Punting

  1. Shared Punting Tour (1-3 People) : Book a flexible ticket(s) and join the other passengers on a 9 persons’ chauffeured punt.
  2. Shared Punting Tour (4-6 People) : This is also a 9 passenger’s punt, where you could book your tickets join your co-passengers
  3. Private Punting Tour : A chauffeur would take you to locations you need for 50 minutes
  4. Cambridge Hen Party Tour : Ladies can have a hen party in the Cambridge River with all the food and alcohol you bring on board.
  5. Punting for Large Groups : Catering up to 100 passengers is possible at a time. A group with more than 24 passengers can avail for a discount
  6. Evening Punting Tour : Illuminated college buildings can be seen if the punting gets started at dusk
  7. Punting on Special occasions : Celebrate your special occasions at Cambridge, the hotspot for celebrations.

Punting Prices

With varying scenarios and occasions, Tyrrell’s Punting company has a great deal of offers awaiting you.

Private punting tour charges with your chauffeur can range from £110 – £140. And shared punting tours with booking for 4-6 people along with chauffeur a can range from £65 – £90. Evening punting tours which range from £100 – £140 are also available.

The services we provide you assure an unparalleled experience with a perfect value for money and time. If you are looking for a most economical punting experience, choose our shared punting.

Tips on how to save money punting

Buying online

This is almost always the cheapest option. With zero chances of haggling, most companies provide their most competitive deal online. Also, Voucher codes are often found in Google searches.

Shop around

Whether you are buying in person or over the internet, don’t buy your tickets from the first company you come to. Most often the popular ones may be charging high compared to the others. So have a comparison on the prices and the ratings of the companies before booking your tickets.

Buying in person

Punt tours are sold by salespeople called touts who are punting brokers. Only a shrewd negotiator will get the best price from them. Cheaper rates are available for a group of 4 or more.

Larger companies need to be avoided as they set higher targets. Smaller companies don’t do this, yet. It’s better to reject discount vouchers. This helps touts with a better deal to approach you.

During the peak time, the companies come to full capacity, hence negotiation on price is nil at this time. Try to avoid 14:00-16:00 to get the best rate. Evening rides are the most expensive. The cheapest times are 10:00-12:00 and 16:30-17:30.

What is the best time to go punting?

Seasons

The fact is you can punt at any time of the year in Cambridge. The only time which gives a halt to it is during a heavy rain or lightning, which occurs very rarely. Here is a brief description of the sights you happen to watch during different seasons of the year. Each season gives a different perspective to the trip.

Spring

Daffodils and cherry blossoms line the river banks. Warmer temperatures, clear skies and sunshine await you. The river would be a little busier but you can still relax and enjoy floating in the river.

Summer

This is the most popular season to go punting. On a sunny day, it is busy like hell, that there might be heavy congestion, boat crashing and people falling in. Though not relaxing, it’s exciting and fun to watch even from the bank. Gardens with a wide variety of blossomed ravishing flowers give an aesthetic appeal to the Cambridge College.

Autumn

Trees shed their leaves and River Cam will be flanked by trees, leaves, and other vegetation drenched in autumn colours. This adds up to spectacular scenery.

Winter

During the winter, punting in snow is both challenging and fun. The prices will be a lot cheaper during winters and you can enjoy a great deal of peace and calmness with lesser chaos, you almost own a whole river. Punting in the fallen snow is a unique experience.

What time of day?

The time you choose for punting has an effect on your tour. Irrespective of the weather, Weekends and bank holidays are the busiest. Going midweek will give you more of a relaxed experience. To experience the river at its quietest go as early or as late as possible, with 12 pm to 4 pm being the busiest.

Morning

Sunrise is the quietest and best for photography sessions .Even though it’s cold, it’s an effective way to avoid the hot summer sun.

Middle of the day

Irrespective of the heavy traffic and congestion, most people choose 12pm to 4pm as it’s the least cold time and gives a guarantee on the weather.

Evening

This is the best time to punt. Even during summer, the river is the most secluded in the evening, which is beneficial for sightseeing. The sun sets in the trees behind the college grounds and the lit college campus is an eye catching view.

Exactly where to go punting in Cambridge

Punting in Cambridge

The punting from Cambridge to Grantchester is considered to be the most desirable route with spectacular serenity. It is quite famous for its calm and enchanted meadows, trees, villages, and pubs. Punting to Grantchester is a unique experience, with plush greenery and serene nature on either side of the river. Grantchester is situated 2 miles south of Cambridge. Plenty of scenic beauty and architectural excellences awaits you on your way. Some of them are the Bridge of Sighs, King College Chapel and Mathematical Bridge. Each of them is historical remarks over decades.
After punting past the college backs and Newnham, we move past the enchanted Grantchester meadows where you can see cattle grazing peacefully among the lush green lands, and finally reach the famous Grantchester Village. This popular retreat, lying some 4km (2.5 miles) to the south of Cambridge, with historical monuments and thatched cottages, was once the beloved home of the First World War poet, Rupert Brooke. The ‘upriver resort’ is a hub for punters who take a tea at the Orchard and relax on the meadows.

Punting in Oxford

The punting start at the Cherwell Boathouse and meander by the playing fields of the Dragon School, gliding gently through the University Parks past Lady Margaret Hall, and continuing a relaxing exploration downstream, eventually arrive at the bathing site for Oxford Dons, Parson’s Pleasure, where the punt turn round and wend its way lazily back.

Traditions of punting in Oxford and Cambridge are different: Punters in Cambridge stand on the till and the open end of the punt would be facing forward, while in Oxford they stand inside the boat and punt with the till forward.

What to take with you?

Although, the traditional punt clothing is a blazer, which isn’t particularly sporty, wearing a seasonal cloth would be more comfortable. Punting in River Cam is a relaxing trip to enjoy the aesthetics of Cambridge. Just bring a bottle of your favorite drink to enjoy on your trip. During winters, bringing a blanket to keep you cozy is recommended.