If you are USA based as we are, “Punting in Cambridge” might conjure up the image of us (attempting to) kick a field goal by punting a football through the goal posts. Not much chance of that happening!
In Cambridge however, “punting” means a great time on the River Cam in a flat bottomed boat with squared end, commonly used in shallow water and propelled with a long pole, much like the gondola’s of Venice.
“Punts” are available for rental from several different companies along the river. Competition among the “hawkers” is pretty fierce so just keep walking and shaking your head at the price until you receive and offer you cannot refuse. The price will go down as you go along.
Punts are available for self-hire or a chauffeured which was our choice. Keep in mind that as a self-hire, you will be standing up on the end of the boat with a very long pole trying to navigate an extremely busy river; not for the faint of heart!
Our skillful guide managed to maneuver up the river and back, narrowly missing the self-hire punts that seemed to inevitably end up perpendicular to the waterway. It’s all done in good fun but we preferred to sit back and enjoy the views, and awesome views they are.
The Bridge of Sighs was built 1831 and connects the old court of St. John’s College with the third court. It is named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice where it is said the prisoners “sighed” as they were led across the bridge back to their cells much like it is rumored that the students “sigh” as they cross the bridge on the way to their exam rooms.
The bridge can only be seen by paying to go onto St. John’s College (many of the Colleges in Cambridge charge for the right to view their campus) or – in our opinion – the best way is by punt!
If you love Gothic Architecture, King’s College Chapel is the building for you. Started in 1446 by Henry VI, this immense building, with turrets soaring 146 feet high, took over a century to build. (Can you imagine that happening today?) Built as a place for students to worship, the Choir still sings evening worship daily during the term. This is another building you won’t see unless you peer through the front entrance of King’s College or pay the entrance fee. But if punting, it comes with the price of admission!
Although it looks like an arch, the “Mathematical Bridge” is so named because it is actually composed of entirely straight timbers. Built in 1749, the “Wooden Bridge” (which was it’s official name) joins two parts of Queen’s College. You might wonder, since it’s wood, if it’s the original bridge and the answer is “No!” The bridge was rebuilt twice, once in 1866, when the design was changed from a “stepped” bridge to the current sloping design and again in 1905 when the weathered oak was replaced with teak.
There are many other bridges, amazing buildings and other beautiful sights which makes this a “must do” while in Cambridge. Chauffeured punts are generally 6 or 12 passenger. If you like to hear everything the guide has to say, take a seat in the back of the boat where they will be standing. We preferred front seat accommodations where it was occasionally difficult to hear the guide but our views were magnificent! Really, no matter where you sit, the experience is one not to be missed!
See you on our next trip!
Jack and Elaine