Punting on a flat boat on the shallow waters of the river Cam in Cambridge is a leisurely fun, and travel guides as well as tourists usually suggest punting as a must-do in Cambridge, especially in nice sunny weather.
“We went punting down the river. Punting is kinda like gondola’s in Venice. Only, the boat is bigger, and so is the waterway. But the driver uses a big stick to move you down the river. Our driver was a bright red haired boy, about 18 years old. Some of the first colleges to be founded were built right on the banks of the river. On the riverside the colleges would benefit from this major trade route into the town of Cambridge. The result today is the “Backs”, a one mile stretch of river that supports some of finest examples of architecture in England.” (quote from a travelblog – Marsgrl200 “there is a nice community feel to going up the Cam – everyone has a laugh and the “crash” can be a lot of fun” (PatrickDevitt’s tour review on TripAdvisor.com). Punt guides will tell you stories about Cambridge (facts and urban legends, or even self-invented).
Punting is an excellent option to take a look at the Backs (i.e. the backs of the colleges and churches along the river, otherwise isolated areas for tourists). That being said, here’s a thoughtful remark from a traveller’s review “Now, you won’t be able to take really good pictures of the buildings (mostly churches and colleges) because you’d be sitting in a boat in the river, so if you’d rather see the buildings up close and take pictures, the punting tour might not be your best option.” (PelfNyok’s tour review on TripAdvisor.com)
Tips for Punting:
- Shop around, there are several punting companies with different prices and discounts – Scudamore may be the oldest and biggest but not the only one
- Pick a tour guide whose accent you will understand – a punting tour is about 1 hour, and he/ she is your main source of info
- Don’t expect to take great photos of the college buildings – they are somewhat farther from the river, but you can still get great shots of the gorgeous and breathtaking scenery (willow trees, green lawns, flowers, peaceful moments)
- Tour sellers are selling tickets to all tourists and try to fill up a punt: don’t expect to be sold a punt for 2, instead a tour for 2 with several other tourists (approx. 12). If you want to have a romantic punt tour for the two of you, make it clear to the punt tour seller.
- Length of boat tours: punting tours may last from 35 to 65 minutes or more. Ask your guide about the estimate if time is an important factor when planning your Cambridge itinerary.
- There might be some dripping on certain seats “Little did I know that the spot I had been placed in was the one that would receive most of the water from the punters efforts. I was dripped on the whole time by water from the River Cam – gross – not a pleasant experience. I was so wet that when I left the boat, my pants were soaked in the just the perfect place – the butt. ” (CharityK13’s tour review on TripAdvisor.com) – grab a waterproof garment, or ask the tour guides in advance to provide you with some suitable ‘armour’ if you should be seated in a wetter spot.
- Punts for self hire: it may be well worth checking what kind of poles are available at the punting tour company for self guided punts. Aim for a good light pole to steer the punt (made of much lighter aluminium instead of traditional wood), your muscles won’t regret it.
- Smoking on board of the punts is not allowed but you can take your own food.
- Bring your picnic basket filled up – you can eat and drink in the punt / boat or you can just get out on the meadows and enjoy the sun, the river, the trees, the beautiful bird songs, the company with nice meals. It can be truly idyllic if the weather is nice. Don’t forget your cork screw.
- Steering the punt is no way easy, as you can count on several other self hired and inexperienced punters to avoid, but worth a try! Still, if you are on a romantic Cambridge tour with your loved one and has never before punted, it may not be the best time to learn punting and potentially end up in the dirty waters or the river Cam. There are very few people who could laugh at themselves after tipping over and getting all wet with no clothes to change into.
- Punting tour guides are usually university students. They will tell you many anecdotes but you can ask them about the everyday life at Cambridge University and about the Cambridge colleges too. If you liked the guide of your tour, you can tip him/her.
- Note for senior tourists: it may be a bit of a challenge to get in and out of the punt
- In chillier weather, the punting tour company usually provides blankets to keep you nice and warm.
- It seems that you can always negotiate the price of the punting tours, so give it a try, don’t accept the first offer. The later in the afternoon you go, the more sure you can be that a discount deal is available.
- At end of exams, students are happy to celebrate with punting, which hugely increases the traffic on the river Cam. Also the surprising sights, e.g. a naked bum, or more students in the dirty river, (the river is indeed dirty, do not swim / soak in the river Cam)
Punting Tour Companies
As you approach the river Cam, or the major attractions in the city centre, like the King’s College, you will notice that there are several punt tour sales guys / gals pouncing upon tourists (some of them charming, others aggressive). You can go along with the tour sellers or you can try self hire at the punt companies too if you don’t want to get a guided (very informative) tour and are not afraid of trying your hand at punting (here’s a detailed How To Punt guide, and you can also ask the punting company staff to give you a a very basic intro to punting).
Scudamore’s Punting, Cambridge (founded in 1910)
Probably the most famous punting company is Scudamore’s in Cambridge. Scudamore’s offer guided tours (there is a punt chauffeur / tour guide), fun themed punting tours (e.g Halloween tour, bat spotting tour, etc.). They have great (off season) discounts and promotions. You could easily get a 2 in 1 ticket deal (the average prices for tourists are approx. 15 GBP per person per tour), or student discounts – international student cards are also accepted (e.g. 9 GBP per hour per punt). In addition to flat bottomed punts, you can hire row boats, canoes, kayaks, double kayaks, etc.
If you are in love with punting, you can buy various season tickets starting from about 90 GBP (valid on weekdays from March 1st until September 30th). Scudamore’s has 3 punt stations: one at the Mill pub on Mill Lane, one by the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel and one at Magdalene Bridge.
Tip for Scudamore’s from a local resident:
“Why Scudamore’s: The main difference between Scudamores and the cheaper Trinity Punts is for self punting, Scudamore’s have the much lighter alumninium poles instead of wood. Secondly, you can punt toward Grantchester, all the way to The Orchard! During summer, when the Backs are jammed with tourist boats, we self-hire punt towards Grantchester, which is cheaper, always less crowded, with idyllic views of bridges and pastures (but of course, not the Colleges). After-Punting Local secret– the ugly grey building across from Scudamore’s is the University Centre, the top floor of which is a cafe with the loveliest panoramic river view, and cheap tea/coffee! Great for an after-punting cup of hot tea, especially if it rains while you are punting (as it often does).” (Pariswith3kids’s punting tour review on TripAdvisor.com)
Trinity Punts, Cambridge
Trinity Punts is at Garret Hostel Bridge in Cambridge (the postcode is CB2 1TJ). According to a local Cambridge resident “One of the cheaper punting places in Cambridge. (richardporter1982’s tour review on TripAdvisor)” And another local adds “Friendly, knowledgable, relaxed, and mature guides glide you along the crowded river to see a multitude of sights. No pushy barkers call you to the quay. Resonable [sic] rates and well-kept punts provide yet another reason to choose Trinity over the competition.” (lovelacm’s punt tour review on TripAdvisor).
Trinity College maintains the Trinity Punt Scheme, which is open both to members of the Trinity College and to the general public. The punts are located off the Avenue, on the east side of the Cam next to Garret Hostel Lane (just east of New Court). Punts are available for hire from the Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thursday) until mid-October, each day from 11 am (Mon – Fri) and 10 am (Weekends) until 5.30 pm (punts must be returned by 6.30 pm). Only members of the College may hire punts overnight – sorry. Trinity Punts is quite popular for self hire.
Cambridge Chauffeur Punts
Cambridge Chauffeur Punts is in Silver Street, Cambridge (postcode is CB3 9EL). Their Thai Banquette themed tour (with Thai food) sounds popular amongst tourists.
Lets Go Punting, Cambridge
Punting is not only relaxing, but it is a pretty popular team building activity and social ice breaker.
Last updated: October, 2012