Cambridge in England is perhaps unique from any other city in the world as it can offer its visitors punting tours to help them get to know parts of their city. The punting tours will of course only be able to show visitors the parts of the city they pass on both sides of the river as they gently glide down it in their punt but at least that alone is a unique experience. Although punting today is mainly associated with Cambridge, punting also still takes place, to a smaller scale, in Oxford, Canterbury and Stratford although at one time it was even more widespread. The punt which is an oblong shaped boat, meaning it has square corners, has a flat bottom with no keel. This means that as well as the 15’ pole which accompanies every punt, you not just have to power the boat but also steer it. Often a punt has been compared to the gondolas of Venice but as you know they are a lot different as they are pointed at the back and front, like a canoe and are often associated with ice cream which punts are not. They are both however mainly employed in carrying passengers and are both powered by poles and so those that have said they are alike can perhaps be forgiven.
Punting is a leisurely activity and so is in no way associated with being a sport although Cambridge is of course known for its river sports as it is Cambridge which faces Oxford in one of England’s biggest annual sporting events, the University Boat Race. This is when the universities of both Oxford and Cambridge field a team of boaters to race against each other along the River Thames in London. Both these cities are renowned for having some of the best universities in the world and the culmination of their joint rivalry is settled in the race with the winner earning bragging rights for that year. Whereas in Cambridge, punts can usually be seen on the river every day, in Oxford it will be the students in their boats practicing for that year’s race so both the university cities have strong connections with their relevant rivers, The Thames in Oxford and the Cam in Cambridge.
The punts in Cambridge today are a tourist attraction, one that brings people from all over the country and sometimes from abroad, to spend a pleasant day just relaxing on the gently flowing river in a punt. There are of course though also Cambridge punt tours which allow tourists to relax and have someone else use the pole and that someone else may well be a student from one of the universities but if they are or not, they will give you details on most of the buildings and other structures you pass as you amble down the river and back. Once again I guess this is another reason why people have compared punts to the gondolas of Venice as they too have guides that use the poles.