When the sun is out in Cambridge, go punting! It is the number one Cambridge outdoor activity…definitely a must-do!
In this Blog post we ask why is punting a unique experience? What does punting have offer other than a typical ‘tourist-experience’? Where can I get a boat ride with a guide? How much does it cost?
Here we give you a fresh update on the activity itself as well as on the current punting-industry in Cambridge for the 2019 season.
What is punting?
As we referred to it in one of our previous blogs, ‘punting’ is smoothly gliding along the river on a punt being propelled by a person and a punt pole whilst enjoying the view. A punting tour is doing exactly same thing, but with a knowledgeable professional known as a Tour Guide / Punt Chauffeur. The priciples of Punting are the same in several fabulous cities in Europe; I’m sure you have all heard about the gondolas in Venice, for example. Now, that’s basically ‘punting’, just a slightly different action but the effect is the same!
Punting in England – similarly to how the ‘Ragazzi Italiano’ do it, English ‘ragazzi’ rock ’n roll on English rivers in two of the brightest and most beautiful cities of our stunning country: Oxford and Cambridge. Instead of gondolas, they use boats called ‘punts‘, which are fairly similar to gondolas but they are wider and shaped to be more rectangular. Now you might be surprised, but English punting experiences also do vary. Wondering why?
Although Oxford and Cambridge are – hard to admit, but – pretty similar in a way that they both welcome Britain’s strongest universities, when it comes to punting, the Oxford experience highlights more the natural beauty of town; the River Cherwell is surrounded by trees and green areas and has plenty of river birds for visitors to admire. Some of the Colleges can be seen from the punts, but punting people do not get a full insight into – what we call in Cambridge – ‘The Backs’.
The Cambridge Experience
Cambridge is famous for the University of Cambridge and it’s alumni. Cambridge University was founded in 1209 and is the number one university in England and one of the top universities in the world. The university consists of 31 Famous Colleges. Many famous thinkers, scientists and poets graduated here – including Oliver Cromwell, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking.
Punting in Cambridge means gliding through the famous College Backs in the heart of the city – by ‘Backs’ I mean the College gardens, hence you are right in the middle of the Cambridge University. During your tour, you see 7 riverside colleges, including Magdalene, St John’s, Trinity, Trinity Hall, Clare, King’s and Queens’ College. You’ve basically got two options when it comes to punting: hire a boat and do the punting yourself, or jump on one of the guided tours. If you chose the last option, there are two types of tours you can book yourself in: private and shared chauffeured tours.
If you book private, the punt is only yours. Your Tour Guide will effortlessly do the hard job while you sit back, relax and listen to the historical tales. The maximum number of people per boat is 12; for more people, additional boats can be purchased that go side by side on the river.
Shared Tours are basically the same as the private ones duration, Tour Guide and history-wise; but there will be around 12 people in total in each shared boat. As punting is an incredibly busy industry, most of the time we have to fill the boats up to their maximum capacity.
Pirates on the Cam – Is punting really a dodgy insusty?
Perhaps surprisingly in more recent years Punting was not entirely ‘legal’ (Would you ever think such an innocent activity can be dodgy?) It’s status as the primary visitor industry attraction became threaten by the proliferation of the “independent” Punting operator.
During May 2018 a seismic shift occurred to the market place in the Punting Industry.
Prior to this date Cambridge City Council spent the best part of a decade playing “cat & mouse” with various companies and individuals who were trading in an “unofficial” capacity from Garret Hostel Lane in the middle of the Backs level of the River Cam in Cambridge.
The City Centre became flooded by a deluge of touts standing on every street and street corner. As a visitor you would be repeatedly asked to go punting and the whole thing got rather out of hand….!! All very unseemly…!!
Such was level of commitment and organisation shown by the “illegal” operators this action was taken at huge expense to the City Council as they tried to match their determination. It was generally understood by industry insiders that the punting industry as a whole suffered greatly during this period at the hands of an unaccountable few. Their actions cast the punting industry in a very poor light but thankfully that has all changed now!
Reassuringly today all of the Cambridge Punting Companies now operate legitimately, and very importantly, there are enough options for you to choose from to feel like you can find the right option for you!
When you go punting in Cambridge you can now rest assured that the tour quality and safety concerns have been addressed before your arrival. Gone are the days of the topless chauffeur (Hen parties are still able to circumvent this one occasionally). Trinity College and Trinity Hall’s riverside location has returned to being and oasis of tranquility as it should be. No longer are there 90 minutes waits on Garrett Hostel Lane to be endured by visiting families with no facilities for them to rely on.
Today you are far more likely to go punting with a person dressed as they should be; in a shirt, a waistcoat and in some cases, in a straw boater. The guys ’n’ girls involved in punting today are generally polite, friendly and welcoming. They are a credit to and industry which is trying to rebuild after very trying epoch. The punting industry and Cambridge visitor experience can now begin to elevate itself to where it should be and Cambridge is well positioned to achieve just this over the next 10 years.
OK, but where can you go punting?
Now, there are a couple of places you can jump on the boats in town, detailed on maps down below.
The most common place is the Quayside. Here, there are 6 punting companies – including us – you can chose from (FYI, all legal).
Next, there is the ‘middle’ at Garret Hostel Lane. Although the ‘pirates’ of the river were operating here in the past, the ‘middle’ now runs all legally. Here you can hire a punt for yourself, without a Tour Guide.
At the other ‘end’ of the river, you can find the Silver Street Station at the Mill Pond, where two companies operate in total.
Finally, there is another company located around the corner at the head of the river close to the Mill Pond.
How much does punting cost in Cambridge?
Punting costs anything between £5 – £149 depending on if it’s a self-hire boat or a Chauffeured Punting Tour. Here at Let’s Go Punting we do offer only Chauffeured Tours in order to make sure you won’t miss out the best part of punting: the history. When booking online with us, the most common price for Shared Tours is £12 per adult on a weekday and £120 for Private Tours. However, Special Offers and Discounts are available throughout the year. To check the current prices, please click here for Shared Tours, and here for Private Tours.
How long does punting take in Cambridge?
Punting usually takes around 45-50 minutes for a chauffeured tour along the College Backs. However, options for shorter and longer tours are always available. When hiring your own punt, you will be charged per hour.
Is punting safe for children?
Punting is incredibly safe for children as the boats are stable and they are never wobbly. Most of the companies offer life jackets for the young ones and for those who require.
Are dogs allowed on the punts in Cambridge?
Dogs are allowed on private tours, and on self-hired punts, and well behaved dogs are allowed on the shared tours sitting on the lap.
What Season is the Best for punting?
It depends the type of the tour you would like to have. In other words; how crazy you wanna go? Punting is magically beautiful and relaxing in spring and autumn, when the river is more quiet and the nature is more colourful….it’s definatley our favourite here @ letsgopunting.
However, the summer-craze on the river is -again- a unique and individual experience: the Cam is filled with boats full of tourists and local people holding a drink in their hands, laughing aloud and generally having a rare old time. For those who don’t like crowd, this is definitely not an option. Boats do crash into each other and unexperienced ‘self-hires’ can end up falling into the water.
Special Events – Punting Parties
We are often asked to accommodate Hen Parties, Birthdays and Co-orporate Events. And we always say “Yes!”. Punting is fun, relaxing and suitable for every occasion.
Famous People Who Love Punting
We had the chance to welcome famous people on board a couple of times during the years. In 2015 for example, the Beckham family visited Let’s Go Punting.
Formal Arsenal Maganer Arsene Wenger has also been punting with us – twice!
We hope you enjoyed this blog post and that we provided enough information on punting in Cambridge!
If you would like to go on a tour, click here to book.
If you’ve got any further questions, click here to contact us.