Why I love Cambridge it’s Jolly Good Fun!
When you say the words “Cambridge” there are a few things that spring to mind, more than likely, they’ll be: Cambridge University (that’s what it’s most famous for) Boat racing (muscular young men rowing against each other, beautiful girls cheering them on – if you like that sort of thing head down in early April for the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race) Cambridge punting, (think Venice without the costumes and the crumbling buildings!) Browns of Cambridge, (a yummy restaurant that has been a city staple for over 30 years)
Of course there is plenty more, Cambridge teddy bears (take children to The English Teddy Bear Company 1, Kings Parade), Cambridge satchels, exquisite cobbled streets…stressed out students….In fact, Cambridge is a heady mix of cosmopolitan people, unrivalled architecture, rich British history and raging student hormones. It’s a place to be appreciated whatever your age, walk of life or personality and now, thanks to William & Kate, it even boasts its own Duke and Duchess. Yes, Cambridge, I do love you.
If you want my opinion on what to do and where to go, as touristy as it may be, on a warm or hot day, the river is the place to be. On weekends you’ll find it packed full of young families – chasing their busy toddlers away from the banks, students taking a break from writing their theses and chilling out with a picnic on the lush green lawns (obviously, not in the depths of winter) and of course, there’s Cambridge punting. Punting in Cambridge isn’t restricted to Sundays; you’ll find it an available pastime every day of the week. There aren’t many places in England where you can take part in this iconic hobby.
It was the Edwardians we have to thank for the flat bottom boats that arrived in Cambridge in the 1900’s used purely for pleasure – before that, there were commercial punts as such but they were used by fishermen. If you want to watch punting in Cambridge from the banks of the river – choose a raucous bunch of people because the chances are, sooner or later someone’s going to fall in!
Punting is a skill not to be sneezed at. Whatever your reason for visiting, if Cambridge is your destination the chances are, you won’t escape Cambridge punting! If you know you’re going to be going punting in Cambridge, maybe you’ve got a special day out with your boyfriend or girlfriend or you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary – take heed of the following advice! Ladies, ditch your heels. Footwear should be something sensible, comfortable and if you can, waterproof. There is nothing worse than soggy socks or waterlogged pumps. Gents, be gallant, dry off the bottom of the punt for your lady friends. Also, you don’t want to be slipping and sliding around inside it’s not a good look plus a slippery bottom (!) will only lead to unexpected giant splashes in the River Cam. Best bring a change of clothes and a towel just in case. Don’t drink too much champagne before punting in Cambridge, it’s best to be sober to avoid falling in. Save the champagne to celebrate a successful Cambridge punt after you’ve moored and stepped off the punt onto the safety of dry land.
Back to your punt – if you’ve followed the advice, now you’re in your punt, it’s dry, you’re wearing trainers – it’s time to get started and show off your punting prowess. Stand tall and with legs reasonably wide apart to gain good balance. Drop the punting pole into the river until you feel it touch the bottom. Then it’s just a question of pushing the pole, lifting the pole up, pushing it back down into the river bed and repeating the exercise until you reach where you want to be. It can be heavy going on the arms, so take a break if you want to. If you find your punt starts to drift but the pole remains stationary – don’t keep grabbing the pole, you will look clumsy and more importantly, you’ll risk falling in. Let the boat go – the punt can be captured later! There is Cambridge punting etiquette too – don’t splash your fellow punters. You never know who you might annoy and wet clothes on a cool day won’t do you any favours. Of course, you may not be the punter, you might be the lucky one, sitting in the luxury of the punt while watching your other half/friend/colleague/random person get hot and sweaty trying to steer the punt. Lucky you – best hope they know what they’re doing or you could end up in the River Cam yourself!
On a serious note, you must try it, it’s tremendous fun, part of Cambridge tourism and will get you giggling. No trip to Cambridge is complete without undertaking Cambridge punting!
Of course, there are other river activities and things to do in the area. If punting seems like too much exercise for you and your friend/s then lounge around on a river tour and spot some famous homes or get a Cambridge punting professional to show you how it’s really done. That way both of you (if in a couple) can sit back, relax and feel safer in the knowledge that you probably won’t capsize.
Once you’ve wiped off the splashes of water from your waterproofs (good idea, take them with) see Cambridge in a different light and do an official walking tour. If you’re already university savvy you might want to opt out of this one because they will be taking you in and out of the colleges, round Corpus Christi and Kings or Queen’s college. There is plenty of other history to be explored such as the cathedral and Fitzwilliam Museum to name a couple. If you aren’t Cambridge savvy then make sure you visit the oldest college, Peterhouse which was founded in 1284! If you are staying overnight and you’ve banished your children (if you have any) then prepare to be frightened out of your wits with a Ghost tour – not for the feint hearted, you’ll be visiting colleges rumoured to be haunted and some of the tours have tarot readers, psychics and ghost hunters to guide you….beware the ghost of Oliver Cromwell apparently buried in an unmarked grave close to Sidney
Sussex college chapel.
Finally – a word of advice, when walking through the university don’t mention the O word (shhh Oxford….of course). One interesting fact you probably don’t know about Cambridge is that the university was actually founded by O word scholars who fled from their university town during riots in 1209. Today’s scholars actually have a lot to thank Oxford for!
In the words of Pink Floyd, the world famous band formed in Cambridge, once you leave, you’ll Wish You Were Here. Yes, I love Cambridge.