Taking it easy on the River Cam

Here’s a handy tip for punting down the River Cam in Cambridge…don’t bother trying it yourself!

Those postcard images of pole-wielding men in straw hats gently propelling boatloads of Pimms-toting punters along the famous river are very real but punting is trickier than it looks.

On a recent sunny weekend in this, the most genteel of English towns, we took the family for a punt along the river through the university district.

Tempting as it was to take control of the pole and have a go, it was soon obvious that it should really be left to the professionals.

Neil Fetherstonhaugh Punting in Cambridge Hols
Myself and my wife Liz on the River Cam

For soon there was a gentle chaos as insistent tourists attempted to steer their way through the mass of boats making their way serenely along the river.

All too often there was a sudden yelp and a small splash as inevitably one of them ended upside-down in the river, much to the hilarity of those gathered in the sun along the banks.

No, leave it to the professionals, sit back and relax and enjoy the ride as your oarsman deftly navigates the low bottom craft along the surface of the water while he regales you of tales of the magnificent buildings around you. This is where Prince Charles came to study and where, famously, his bored bodyguard requested permission in join in the studies and ended up passing with flying colours.

Further along and you drift under the equally famous and magnificent Bridge of Sighs where condemned prisoners on their way to gallows got their last glimpse of freedom as they passed over its gilded arches.

Cambridge, punting on the River Cam
The beautiful Bridge of Sighs

It is still called the Bridge of Sighs although these days it is more likely that those doing the sighing are students on their way to the exam halls.

Some of the ornate architecture on the banks of the Cam belong in a fantasy move and indeed several of the buildings were scouted and considered for roles in the Harry Potter series of moves.

For it really it feels like you are on a movie set as you pass by King’s College Chapel, and the Wren Library at Trinity College, just some of the famous Cambridge landmarks that could easily stand in for Hogwarts.

Neil Fetherstonhaugh Punting in Cambridge Hols
Another view of the Bridge of Sighs

It really is a blissful way to spend an afternoon but be warned it is not cheap.

It cost us 50 pounds sterling which converted into euro made for an expensive 40 to 50 minutes for the five of us but it just has to be done.

One small tip is to walk further along the river out of the busy city centre where the prices appear to be higher and you will meet smaller operators who will offer a discount.

Although it was busy on the river the day we were there, the gently rocking of the boat as we took in the history of this fascinating town soon lulled us into floating sense of calm as we drifted along. It was all we could to do to drag ourselves off the boat at the end of our trip to find somewhere to eat before the sun went down.

Cambridge is expensive to stay in too so we elected to stay outside the city itself in one of the well-appointed golf hotels on the outskirts where a swimming pool kept the kids entertained while I took a quick spin 10 miles along the road to the former World War Two RAF fighter base at Duxford.

Home to a jaw-dropping collection of aircraft and tanks, Duxford was once a front line fighter base during the Battle of Britain before it became home to the US Ninth Airforce as they carried out their strategic bombing campaign over Germany and occupied France.

Neil Fetherstonhaugh Punting in Cambridge Hols
A B-17 at Duxford

The famous B-17 Flying Fortress from the era stands alongside more modern aircraft such as the B-52 and stealth bomber.

Unfortunately, we were there just before the American Air Show so we missed the opportunity to see some of these epic aircraft flying in all their glory. What a thrilling sight it would have been to see them roaring in the skies over our heads, a noisier afternoon than a gentle punt down the River Cam no doubt but a thrilling one all the same.



2 thoughts on “Taking it easy on the River Cam

  1. Agree punting is not as easy as it looks. I went with my boyfriend and he did the punting. I had a great time but it was pretty stressful for him!


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