A History of Cambridge Punting

A Brief History of Punting in Cambridge

What is a punt?

For those new to punts, punting and being punted, the world of sticks and boats can seem a little overwhelming, if not outright confusing. Here, we discuss exactly what punting is, how it came about and why you should join us in this delightful activity!

Put simply, a punt holds some similarities to the famous gondolas of Venice– though they should certainly not be confused with them! For starters, gondolas are propelled by oars while holding the more traditional narrow structure and bow. Meanwhile, punting boats are propelled with a long pole, while their structure is wider. Punts also have a square-cut bow and are better suited to the smoother, more shallow rivers of England.

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Origins of punting

Originally used as cargo boats, punting was a great way of transporting larger goods. The flat-bottomed boats can carry a considerable amount of weight, due to their ability to evenly distribute mass. They were also commonly used by fishermen, since they are very stable and can easily be turned to wherever the punter would like to steer!

In the 1860’s, their ability to carry passengers was recognised and they became a popular way of touring cities from the river. Initially being used around the lower-level areas of the Thames, leisure punting gained traction as a popular leisure activity and soon spread to other parts of the UK.

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How punting in Cambridge began

According to R. T. Rivington, punting in Cambridge began to pick up steam between 1902 and 1904, becoming “the most popular craft on the river Cam”. Punting is now one of the most popular pastimes of both locals and tourists, especially as it one of the best ways to view the city in all its delight.

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Modern day punting in Cambridge

These days, the popularity of punting on the river Cam means that the local council has become much stricter in where and when punting can be done. There are currently three main areas of the River Cam in which punting is permitted. The lower river area, which flows faster and is generally reserved for competitions and events, as well as the middle and higher river areas which are used by tourists and locals alike. For those who would like to see some of the magnificent architecture of Cambridge, we recommend the middle river tours. Meanwhile, those who prefer to see more of the countryside would enjoy the tours hosted on the upper river.

Punting in Cambridge is now so popular that, during the peak tourist season, it is not uncommon for unfamiliar punters to bump into each other as they travel- another great reason to let a chauffeur do the hard work for you!

If you are interested in finding out more about how to experience this traditional past-time then view our blog about how to go punting. Alternatively if you would like to book a punting service then make sure to check out our punting tours page.

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Posted on December 25th, 2018, by the Traditional Punting Company