Why we all eventually find ourselves punting down the Cam

Dario Colajanni 25 May 2018

Under the rays of the glorious summer sunshine, with Sicilian lemon flavoured ice-cream in hand, and factor fifty glossed over my pale, sun-fearing skin, I glide through the streets of Cambridge. On such a splendid day, what ever could I do to occupy my time? (Well, there is that essay deadline that seems to be clouding over my sense of summer relaxation, or those last few lectures to attend, and oh yes, those two plays I still need to read.) But what is there to do?

As a popular tourist destination, Cambridge attracts visitors from far and wide with its universal reputation for scholarly achievement and academic success. Reeling in sightseers from across the globe with its architectural wonders, its endless list of notable alumni and its worldwide status, what more could Cambridge possibly offer? It is often difficult to separate ‘The University of Cambridge’ from ‘The City of Cambridge’. Aside from career prospects, fantastic educational opportunities and individual teaching, I often find myself wondering what more Cambridge has to give. It is certainly not a lifeless or dull destination but spending a vast amount of time indoors, with my head down, book propped up and fingers grazing laptop keys, I rarely have a moment to explore Cambridge through the lens of the tourist.

So, strolling through the market on a bright, cloudless day, I decide to step into my tourist shoes and head to King’s College. Halting at the bridge to absorb the picturesque scene before me, I whip out my phone to capture the classic tourist shot. In reaching for my phone and framing the perfect photo, to capture the river, the punts, the people, I begin to recall one of my first ever experiences of Cambridge. And there I find it, the answer to my question: What more is there to do? Punting!

My best memories of Cambridge thus far stem from floating down the River Cam in a trembling punt, with an untrustworthy steersman and a boatload of laughter. With that, I would like to share my punting experiences with you. Unforgettably, my first day in Cambridge as a fresher coincided with my first official date. Grab your tissues! Upon arrival, I was whisked away to the riverside and swayed into stepping inside the wobbling wooden shell. It is hard to say whether I was more nervous about the unstable punt or the whole first date thing, but I can surely say that that day was a memorable one. Here’s a tip for any first-time punters, do what he did (I hope he does not mind me exposing this minor detail…): watch a couple of videos on how to punt like a pro, then hide this secret from your friends and to their amusement and surprise, when you nonchalantly request to guide the boat and do so with flair and success, you seem as though you’re a punting natural.

Anyhow, to re-visit the memory of my second punting adventure, I will journey towards yet another romantic punting gesture. No, not another date, but not far off. Where better to propose to your college wife than in a punt, on one knee, with a bottle of prosecco? A group of friends and I all banded together and ambled down to the river, in hopes of making it further than John’s College. Unfortunately, this mission was unsuccessful. As hypocritical as it may be, coming from someone who refused to navigate the punt, it was clear to see that, from the giggling of the passers-by, we were useless at punting. Unable to control the rocky boat, we sat spinning in the middle of the river for the majority of time. After over-running by half an hour, we somehow managed to seize the whirling punt and re-direct it back towards our initial starting point. And yet, despite our failed attempts to captain the boat, I can speak for all of us and say that we would not hesitate to hop back into the punt and drift down the River Cam once more.

To return to my present-day self, standing on King’s bridge, with a melted ice-cream in my hands and seemingly sun-burned shoulders, I urge you to gather a group of friends, wander down to the river and jump into a punt. Whether you’ve been punting before or never tried it at all, it is definitely an experience for everyone; from students to tourists, from families to fellows, punting is a classic Cambridge must-try. Get yourself down to the river now, before the sun retreats!