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May 2019. My wonderful day in Cambridge catching up with Irish Mike was drawing to a close. We’d toured King’s College and King’s College Chapel, climbed the bell tower at St. Mary’s Church, had lunch at the historical Eagle Pub, checked out Isaac Newton’s Apple tree, strolled through Market Square and wandered aimlessly through cobbled lanes, pretty parks and ancient bookshops. But there was still one quintessential Cambridge experience left: an hour drifting down The River Cam on a traditional punt! With a whole host of punting companies to choose from, it can be tricky knowing who to go with. Mike is a local of course, so I was happy to bow to his wisdom on the subject. He was of the opinion that we should do it properly and go with one of the city’s reputable main players. So we took a walk down to the Mill Lane to have a chat with the people at Scudamore’s Punting.
May 2019. It was pretty busy that day down at Scudamore’s Mill Lane station, as you would expect. After all, coming here and not going punting would be like going to Agra and not bothering with The Taj Mahal. “Good afternoon sir, are you in the mood for some punting today? I’ve got a feeling you are, can I tempt you with a discount on our usual rate?”
May 2019. Punting in Cambridge is not cheap. Mike and I weren’t looking for anything fancy, just a one hour zip up and down The Cam to see the backs of the colleges and a couple of the famous bridges. Scudamore’s Punting charges £22 per person for this privilege in a chauffeured punt that holds up to twelve people. The chatty student with his blue Scudamore’s uniform and clipboard was offering us a paltry two pounds off per person, bringing the total to £40. I was less than enthused with his amazing discount, especially as it had just started raining again.
Mm, I thought as a nearby punt bobbed away from Mill Lane with its huddled group of unimpressed inhabitants. “The umbrellas are complimentary sir!” grinned student boy hopefully.
I had no idea if pulling the I’m a travel blogger card would work in England. I’ve done it to varying degrees of success across Asia, most notably with my amazing stay at Park Hyatt Tokyo. But would that kind of stuff really work here in Cambridge on this grey, rainy afternoon? Pissing in the wind, I asked student boy if there was anything on his clipboard about giving a better discount for a travel blogger writing a review of my Scudamore Punting experience? This it seemed was way beyond his pay grade, so off he went to fetch a supervisor. It was all pretty quick, the guy checked my site, looked me in the eye for a moment and said he could do us a deal at £15 apiece. Sensing this was probably as good as it was gonna get, we paid up and climbed aboard our punt, crossing our fingers that we weren’t about to head out into an almighty downpour.
Our guide that day was Hayden, a beardy, well-spoken twenty something who likes to keep his tours lighthearted and jocular. Expertly steering us down the river, Hayden had a wonderfully dry sense of humour and came armed with plenty of funny stories and observations relating to the sights we passed.
“If you’re filming this I hope that doesn’t end up online!” he quipped, having given us his theory on why King’s was a “mediocre” college! Poor old Hayden, he hadn’t been given the brief by his supervisor.
Hayden was also great at answering our questions, which came thick and fast from a highly inquisitive Dutch girl sat behind us. And he was quite the dab hand at getting us out of river gridlock after we got bashed from both sides by a pair of clumsy punters. “It’s not punting on The River Cam if you don’t have a crash!” declared Hayden matter-of-factly.
We got to see two of Cambridge’s most spectacular bridges during our tour with Scudamore’s Punting. Located at St. John’s College, The Bridge of Sighs dates back to 1831 and was named after the famous bridge of the same name in Venice, Italy. Which is weird, because architecturally they’re not all that similar. The sigh reference in the Cambridge bridge refers to the students who would sigh aloud in anxiety as they headed across the bridge to find out their exam results. Or so the legend goes.
Another great Cambridge structure, and probably my favourite of the tour, is The Mathematical Bridge at Queen’s College. Constructed in 1749 by an English architect called William Etheridge, the bridge was made entirely from straight pieces of timber. There’s a brilliant myth that it was made without bolts and was held up only by clever angles and a favourable relationship with gravity. “It would be awesome, but unfortunately it’s not true!” exclaimed Hayden.
We were lucky that day I suppose in that the rain just about held off and we were able to get all the way back to the quayside without getting soaked. I also thought we did well to have Hayden, who pitched his tone just right with a nice balance between knowledgable, informative and silly. I’d seen a few other guides from a variety of tour companies that afternoon and they ranged from disinterested and monotone to the overly talkative kind who thinks that every single second of potential silence needs to be filled with dates, times and facts.
I would definitely recommend Scudamore’s Punting if you’re in Cambridge, check out their website here.
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