Friends, food, and falling in: The Tab’s ultimate guide to punting in Cambridge

Tell me you go to Cambridge without telling me you go to Cambridge

Punting seems to be all that anyone puts on their Instagram story at the moment, and honestly, who can blame them? It’s a great way to spend time with friends, make the most of the sunny weather, and, most importantly, take yet another opportunity to show your home friends yet another of the unfamiliar Cambridge-specific pastimes by posting about it on social media.

But for those who are yet to go punting (or punt sober), The Tab has prepared the ultimate guide for you. Whether you’re most concerned about falling in the river or falling out with your friends, by the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll be ready to get a first in punting, even if you don’t in your exams.

Where to start

Even the start looks like a Disney film (Credit: Claudia Cox)

Cambridge has almost as many places to get punts as it has Tinder users. If your college is boujee enough, it may have its own punts which you can book in advance and rent. Clare, Corpus Christi, Darwin, Caius, John’s, Jesus, Hughes Hall, King’s, Magdalene, Pembroke, Peterhouse, Queen’s, St Edmund’s, Trinity and Trinity Hall all have varying numbers of punts which you may be able to book in advance.  The rest of us plebeians have to rent punts from companies around town.

We got our punt from Cambridge Chauffeur Punts, which is by the Silver Street Bridge. They do a discount for Cambridge students as well, which our bank accounts greatly appreciated.

How to actually punt

A true expert at work (Credit: Claudia Cox)

Learning how to punt is like ordering drinks in Spoons – it takes different people different amounts of time to get it.

It is much easier to control the punt if you stand on the very back of it. However, if you don’t trust your sense of balance and are worried about falling in the river, you could try standing in the very back benches instead.

The basic technique involves using the pole to push off from the river bed. If the pole is straight, you will go straight. If you angle the pole, you can control the direction of the punt.

Sometimes the pole gets stuck in the muddy bottom of the river. If this happens, twist it to get it out. Make sure to watch out for bridges, otherwise you may be doing some surprise swimming – many bridges are lower than you would expect, and the poles can often go up much higher than you would expect!

If you find yourself in a sticky situation (i.e. hurtling towards a vicious-looking tree or a now terrified boat of tourists) then you can always utilise the paddle, which is found in each punt. Sure, it’s not the fastest way to travel, but it may be necessary if your punter hadn’t quite mastered the art of going in a straight line yet.


Less paddling, more Pimm’s (Credit: Emma Paterson)

Punting is actually quite a lot of exercise (at least, it seems that way to students who spend all day sitting inside writing Tab articles). Snacks may be needed to keep the punter’s energy levels up, and alcohol may be required to ease the nerves of your passengers every time the punt starts swaying like a student on C-Sunday. Besides, there’s something very atmospheric about sipping on something fizzy while you cruise down the river.

We would recommend bringing any drinks in cans, since they are less likely than cups to spill everywhere each time you crash into the wall.


What percentage of your camera roll is actually of other colleges? (Credit: Emma Paterson)

Of course, there is absolutely no point in going punting if you can’t put endless photos on your Instagram story to show everyone what a fab time you had. The lighting along the river tends to be stunning enough for everyone to look #glowing. Punting is also a great way to get views of some of Cambridge’s most photogenic colleges. What better thing could there be to do than to post yet another picture of the King’s College Chapel on your story? Ever unpredictable.

Falling out

Smiling through the pain of motion sickness (Credit: Chessie Gunner)

Although the most important purposes of punting are clearly the day drinking and the Instagrammable photos, it is also worth giving some consideration to the people you’re actually with – there are few things more terrifying than losing control of your punt and drifting towards a packed tour boat. It may be worth remembering the virtues of patience, trust, and reassurance – it is far better to fall out of the punt than fall out with a friend (although, once you’re dripping with water and mud, you may beg to differ).

Most importantly, remember to have fun! (And please don’t blame the Tab if you follow all these instructions and still end up in the River Cam.)

Feature image credit: Emma Paterson and Chessie Gunner

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