All About the River Cam

Traditional Punting Company

The River Cam

The River Cam is one of the most iconic and famous rivers in the UK. Not only does it offer spectacular scenery for all who decide to float along with the current but it also flows past one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

It is the main river that flows through Cambridge and once it leaves Cambridge, it flows North and East into the Great Ouse which is located to the South of Ely at Pope’s Corner. Here the Great Ouse connects the Cam to the North Sea, travelling a distance of around 40 miles (70 km), about 15 miles (23 km) worth which are navigable by punts, small boats and rowing boats. There are also a series of navigable man-made channels, called lodes, that feed into the river.

For centuries, the river has formed the backbone of this magnificently beautiful city. Throughout the Medieval period, the River Cam was used to transport goods with the local wharfing facilities being in high demand during the annual period of Stourbridge Fair. However, the days of transporting goods have long gone with Cambridge being supplied with fuel, food and other goods up until 1951.

Despite the use of the river waning somewhat after 1951, it has, in recent years experience a renaissance in the way in which it is used. In fact, over 2,000 rowers are now registered at more than 30 boat houses and with so many other types of boats such as punts taking to the water, it is used more now than ever before.

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The Name of the River

The River Cam has had a different name throughout history and was once known as the Granta which was its original name. This comes from the city of Cambridge and its Old English name of Grantebrycge. However, the present name of the city became apparent in Middle English and so, it was eventually renamed to the River Cam.


It is a hugely popular river throughout the year and has many different uses.

Angling – The water is clean and not murky and so it can support fish. Fishing rights on the West Bank are leased on an annual basis to the Cambridge Fish Preservation and Angling Society. However, the River Cam is believed to be the home to a certain fish that many thought had become extinct in English Waters during the 1970s. The Burbot as the fish is known has not been caught since 1969 but a sighting was reported in 2010.

Punting – This is the most popular type of boating on the river and is the best way to see the surrounding areas in all its glory. This takes place between the Jesus Lock and Grantchester but it is a great way for people to sit back, relax and get taken on a journey along the river in style.

Rowing – Naturally, the river is extremely popular for rowers. The lower river between Jesus Lock and Baits Bit is where many different clubs train as well as the Cambridge Lent, May and Town Bumps races take place.

Swimming – As the River Cam is clean, it is the perfect place for those who enjoy open water swimming. The local swimming club’s annual swim used to take place here from the Mill Pond to Jesus Green but the upper river is where many people swim during the summer months and even during the winter months.

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Interesting Facts and the River Cam

The River Cam has a lot of bridges but the oldest bridge is the Clare College Bridge which has a story linked to it whereby the builder felt that he was not paid enough and so, he never completed the decorations. However, one of the most famous bridges is the Mathematical Bridge at Queen’s College. The bridge was constructed in 1749 of straight timbers which gives it a very unusual strength.

This is a river that is steeped in history and really is the lifeline of the city of Cambridge. From the all-important punting industry right through to its ancient bridges, it is a river that could tell a thousand stories.

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Posted on September 24th, 2023, by the Traditional Punting Company