Although Cambridge may be best known for its universities, its river also plays a major role in its existence. Of course, as many will know, the river plays a role due to Cambridge being one of the only two participants in the now famous annual University Boat Race, the other participant being Oxford. These are England’s and perhaps the world’s premier University cities and the race is held annually on the River Thames in London to offer the winner bragging rights for the rest of the year. A popular event, the race has become one of the premier sporting events on the UK calendar and is watched from the banks of the River Thames by thousands and by millions more from the comfort of their homes, on the TV.
The river at Cambridge also plays another important role for the city though as it is the venue for one of the few remaining punt tours left in the country. As one of the few remaining venues for punting, Punting in Cambridge has become a big tourist attraction, not only for tourists from England but also for foreign tourists that may visit primarily to view the universities. Although punting as a leisurely pursuit did become popular throughout the country in the late 1800s, its popularity has dwindled so that today, there are only a few punting venues left in the country in Oxford, Canterbury, Stratford and of course Cambridge with Cambridge being the most well-known.
Visitors to Cambridge, whether they came especially for the punting, to visit a university or whatever other reason, can opt to either take a punting tour where a professional punts them along the river giving a commentary on the history of the buildings lining the river banks or, opts to hire a punt and punt themselves along the river. Punting is the process which powers the punt along the slow-moving, shallow waters and is achieved by means of a 16’ pole being placed against the riverbed and pushing. This is of course not difficult but some people have had problems with steering the punt as the pole is also the only steering mechanism the punt has.
Many of the Cambridge University students can make some extra money for their tuition fees by learning the history of the buildings and becoming an excellent punter, then offering their services as professional tour guides and punting their way through university. Whether or not a student does become a tour guide or not, as the boat race plays an important part in the bragging rights for the university, the river and the river activities will always play an important part in any student’s life and may become attached to a river’s opportunities for recreation and relaxation. A form of relaxation rarely shared anywhere else in the world apart from perhaps Venice with its world-famous gondolas which, although being similar to punts in the way they are powered, by a pole, differ in shape quite dramatically.