A guide to Punting in Cambridge


April 24th, 2020

Couple Punting

Scholars Punting Proposal Shot,
River, Cambridge
Tuesday 15 October 2019.
Picture by Terry Harris.[/caption]

Punting is the use of traditional flat bottom boats to tour around the amazing Cambridge University. Much of the route is only accessible by river, making it all the more exciting.

As a tourist coming to visit Cambridge you will want to make the most of your punting experience. I’m a professional punter of 20 years as such, I can help you choose the right punt tour for you, based on price, time, season and location.

 

I will include

What is punting?

A punt is a flat bottomed boat traditionally build out of wood. See this link for more details. Punting is the act of propelling the boat in the traditional fashion using a pole or Quant. The punter or Chauffeur is the person who drives the punt, this is done from a platform at the stern. There is seating for the passengers in the middle of the boat. There are generally cosy cushions and blankets to keep you comfortable.

 

Thanks to @bendavisphotography for the photo of the punting

 

Punting is now popular with tourists as a unique way to see the sites. Originally it was used as a mode of transport. Particularly useful for transporting goods around the shallow boggy sites which once surrounded Cambridge. Long after the Fens were drained Punting remained an exciting way to see the world-famous Cambridge Colleges. During the late ’90s, a small group of part-time student punters exploded into one of Britains most popular tourist activities with full-time staff every day of the year. See the following blog for more history of punting.

 

Self driven or take a tour?

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self-drive punt

 

There are actually three options here. Drive yourself, take a shared tour or take a private tour. There are pros and cons of all three. I would say that if you like adventure and a challenge pick the self-drive. If you prefer to relax, then depending on your budget pick a private or shared tour.

Self drive a punt

You are the skipper, which means that you can explore all aspects of the river. If you want to take a trip up lovers lane (Queens ditch) or mosey up to the Granta for a beer.

These boats are smaller than the tour boats, so you’re limited to 5 passengers. Luckily they are faster too, which is a good thing because the punting is more difficult than it looks. Check this previous blog on how to punt.

Self-drive boats are hired per hour, unlike tours which are generally 45 minutes.

Private and shared tours

The main reason to take a tour is to relax, rather than do the hard work. Private tours are generally a little more expensive depending on your numbers.

 

typical shared tour

It can be beneficial to be punted if you are interested in the sites;

1 because you will get a historic commentary from the chauffeur

2 because the experienced chauffeur will guarantee to cover a certain distance.

Self driven or take a tour summary

I would say that if you like adventure and a challenge pick the self-drive. If you prefer to relax, then depending on your budget pick a private or shared tour. For more information see the following blog about whether or not to self-drive or take a tour.

Where should I go punting?

The river is generally broken down into two areas. These include the Granta and the Middle Cam. Generally speaking, most people punt on the Cam because that’s where the colleges are. Alternatively, see this in-depth blog about the above point.

The Granta

This area of the river is far less popular. Rather than historic buildings, it boasts miles of lush meadows and a short wooded area.

 

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Granchester Punting on the Granta

It’s popular in the summer for picnics because it’s vast enough that you will always find a secluded river bank to moor your boat up to.

It’s a few miles, but if you get time you might make it as far as Granchester, yes the village where the TV series is based. Here you can stop at the famous Orchard tea rooms or drink a beer in the red Lion.

The Middle Cam

This part of the river flows through the Colleges. There is a lot of historic colleges and bridges to marvel. Most of the punts here have a Chauffeur who takes the passengers on a standard trip from Silver street to Magdalene Bridge or the reverse.

 

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Kings College on the Middle Cam

This part of the river is much shorter. It only runs just over 1 kilometre, so don’t expect to spend any longer than a couple of hours here.

There are a few places like Jesus Green or the Millpond where you can more up for a picnic, however, generally, the Granta is more suited for this.

From Where can I rent a punt?

Strictly speaking, you could bring your own, however, not many people own punts. For those who don’t the following operators provide punt.

You can access any area of the river from any of the following companies, however, it may be more convenient to pick the location closest to the part of the river you wish to visit. If you punt from the Granta to the Middle Cam or vice-versa, you will need to use the rollers at the millpond. Bear in mind that this is quite a labour intensive and requires at least x4 strong people.

In terms of tours, all the companies cover virtually the same route, so don’t worry about missing out by selecting the wrong company. I say virtually, because some companies include a little bit extra, just because they are based slightly outside the main sites and have to cover the extra in order to reach the part of the river everyone wants to see. In any case, the extra is inconsequential.

Have a look at the map of punting Cambridge to see for yourself the various locations

The Quayside Area

The vast majority of punt operations work out of this area. Scudamore’s have a branch here. Let’s Go Punting, Cambridge Punt Company, Cam Punters, Rutherfords and Ourselves have our sales team based here. We actually depart from slightly further downstream at Beaufort Place. It’s a busy area of the city packed with bars and restaurants.

 

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Magdalene College at Quayside

The Quayside has a scenic backdrop of Magdalene College. It’s a popular spot for students, locals and tourists who want to sit on the river bank and watch the sun go down.

Trinity

Tucked away within the Trinity college is Trinity punts. It’s visible from Garret Hostel Bridge. From the Bridge, you can hail a chauffeur.

I recommend this place for self-drive as you don’t have to travel far to see some amazing sites.

Silver street

This is home to Cambridge Chauffeur Punts and another Branch of Scudamore’s. There is a sluice, and immediately above it is the third branch of Scudamore’s ideally placed on the Granta for hiring punts to use to go to Granchester.

The Anchor pub looks out over Darwin College. Across the water is Launders Green an open space popular with people who buy takeaway from the Mill pub

Granta punts

Granta punts are located past Darwin College. Although they are further upstream they are based on the Middle Cam.

It’s a more secluded yet beautiful area next to the Granta Pub which is itself picturesque. Views look out over a millpond and a nature reserve in the distance.

 

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Punting near Granta

Tours from here include a small section of Darwin College not normally seen on a tour.

What time of year should I go punting?

You can punt at any time of year in Cambridge.

Spring

Daffodils and cherry blossom line the river banks. There are some sunny days, but it’s not quite as busy as the summer months. Watch out for April showers.

Summer

This is by far the most popular time to go punting. Its nice cool off in any kind of boat at this time of year.

Autumn

The Trees are losing their leaves and St Johns Ivy is an amazing shade of red. It covers the who of the new court. This site alone is worth the trip.

Winter

During the winter you will be offered blankets and sometimes hot water bottles to keep you cosy. It’s a quiet time of year, so advanced booking isn’t required. Go punting in the fallen snow for a unique experience.

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Winter Punting

 

School and Public Holidays

Weekends are always busier than weekdays. Tip; To avoid the crowd’s punt on a weekday and get a unique insight into student life as you watch them studying quietly in the college grounds.

Bank holidays and school holidays are another level of busy so long as the sun is shining. Expect ques and congestion on the river. I would advise booking in advance at this time.

What time of day?

The time of day which you punt has an effect on your tour. The main difference is how busy it is.

Morning

Morning is the quietest time. It’s a great time for photography sessions at sunrise. People who are travelling from afar or enjoying a holiday lay in will prefer to pick a later time. Unfortunately, it can be a cold time, but equally a good way to avoid the hot summer sun.

Middle of the day

Most people choose to punt between 1400-1600. This makes sense in the UK as we can’t guarantee good weather and it gives the best chance of being the least cold time. Unfortunately, the downside is that it causes congestion on the river.

Evening

In my opinion, this is the best time to punt. The river is the most secluded in the evening, which is beneficial for site seeing. The lighting is most beautiful as the sun sets in the trees behind the college grounds. Even during the busy summer, you can avoid the crowds at this time of day. Here is a previous blog on evening punting.

 

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Wonderful evening light

 

Punting Prices

I have listed a range of prices because they vary depending on the following factors; time of year, time of day, the particular company. Under the title tips on how to save money punting, I have listed ways to get the best rates. Click here to see our prices.

Shared Tour Prices

Adults should expect to pay £12-22.50, Concessions (students/seniors) £10-£20, Children £4-£15. Click here to check our prices for shared tours.

Private Tour prices

£79-£200 for a boat with a 12 passenger capacity. Click here to check our private tour prices.

Self-drive prices

£20-£40 per hour for a boat with a 5 person capacity. Larger boats are not permitted for self-drive.

Special tour prices

There are various package or special occasion punt rides available from various companies. These include, but aren’t limited to Chauffeured Grantchester Tours, Proposal Tours. Seasonal tours include May ball fireworks tours (which are amazing). The prices vary dramatically depending on the offering. Expect to pay approximately £100 per hour for the boat plus any extras.

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amazing view of the fireworks

Tips on how to save money punting

Shop around

Whether your buying in person or over the internet, don’t buy your tickets from the first company you come to. They more than likely charge more than the second company you reach.

Buying online

This is almost always the cheapest option (although there are some exceptions which I will come to). Without the ability to haggle most companies provide their most competitive deal online. Believe it or not, there is actually a punting price comparison website www.cambridgepuntguide.com. Its also worth trying some discount sites like Groupon, which often have a discounted rate.

Tip: Sometimes you can find a voucher code or two with a google search.

Buying in person

Punt tours are sold by salespeople called touts. They are punting brokers and as long as you are a shrewd negotiator you will get the best price. They are a crafty bunch, so I have made some guidelines so you can outsmart them:

It will be easier to get a cheaper rate if there are four or more of you in the group. The touts are interested in the overall price as they may likely join the back of a queue after making their sale. To avoid this issue walk to the back of the touting area where the salespeople have already at the back of the queue, that way they have nothing to lose if they give you a cheap rate.

Avoid larger companies who set targets and rewards for higher average sales per head. Smaller companies don’t do this, yet.

Reject vouchers which are presented to you as a discount. They prevent other touts approaching you with a better deal and actually cost you money.

During busier times the companies come to capacity, so there is no negotiation on price. Try to avoid 14.00-16.00 to get the best rate. Equally arriving after 6 pm may also be more expensive as competition may be reduced. The optimum times are 10.00-12.00 16.30-17.30.

How to prepare for punting

Unlike other outdoor activities, you don’t need any particular clothes. The traditional punt clothing is a blazer, which isn’t particularly sporty. I would advise that you wear seasonal clothes to keep you comfortable. Check out a previous blog on what to wear punting.

Unsurprisingly there is no mental preparation for punting, as it’s a relaxing trip on the river. We would recommend that you bring a picnic or a bottle of wine to enjoy on your trip.