Saturday, July 28, 2012

Punting on the Cam

One of the quintessential things to do in Cambridge is to go "punting on the Cam." The Cam is the river that runs through Cambridge (hence the name "Cam+bridge"). The current varies between lazily slow to nicely paced. The boats are flat-bottomed and have plenty of room to laze about while one person stands at the stern with a big, long pole, pushing off the bottom of the river to propel the boat forward and to steer. Tourists and students have the option either to rent their own boat or to rent a seat on a chauffeured boat. We chose the later, in order to avoid the embarrassment that would follow from our athletic deficiencies.

We bought tickets from Scudamore's Punting Company, which has two locations: just south of Queen's College or just north of Magdalene Bridge. We were already south of Queen's College, so the choice was easy. One of the punters made a deal with us where the kids could ride free. I guess with the rain-threatening weather, it makes more sense to sell three tickets for five people than no tickets for five people. We had to wait a bit while they sorted out all the traffic at their docks.

Too many punters not in a a row; where oh where should they go?

We shared our boat with some UK natives and some Asian women. We all knew English so our boatman didn't have to translate for anyone as he described the various sights we traveled past.

He didn't do any singing since we weren't in Venice

Jacob and Lucy had been feeding ducks earlier in the day, so I think this guy was either a previous customer or word-of-beak traveled fast on the Cam.

"Surrender your crackers or prepare to be boarded!"

Our first sight was the Mathematical Bridge, originally built in 1749 not by Isaac Newton (who died about 20 years earlier) and not with bolts (though later reconstructions did use bolts).

Pointing out Queen's College and Mathematical Bridge

We saw King's College and Clare Bridge from the water, which we had just seen from land.

King's College Chapel and the Gibbs Building

Clare Bridge

Further on we saw Trinity College's Bridge and one of the college's more modern architectural contributions.

Trinity's Bridge and their punting service

Interesting but I don't know that I'd put it on the waterfront

Trinity is also famous for the Wren Library, completed in 1659 according to the design of Sir Christopher Wren. It houses some books from Isaac Newton's library and the originals of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. And some early Shakespeare editions!

One view of the Wren Library (they wouldn't let us in!)

Another view, also inaccessible by boat

Further on, we saw St. John's College in the distance, including the New Court building, which is affectionately known as the "Wedding Cake" building for its Victorian Gothic styling.

A tower in the distance, belonging to St. John's

The Wedding Cake building

St. John's other notable feature from the water is their "Bridge of Sighs." Patterned after the famous bridge in Venice, though the guide books all say the only similarity is that both bridges are covered.

Cambridge's Bridge of Sighs

Venice's Bridge of Sighs (stolen from Wikipedia)

Oxford's Bridge of Sighs (picture also stolen from Wikipedia); not that they're competitive

Another less famous though perhaps more interesting sight from the river is a delivery door built into the side of one of the buildings. The punter said that back in the day it was used by businesses to deliver goods to the college. At night, students often snuck their girlfriends in or themselves out through this door.

Not much use now that they've gone co-ed

St. John's also gets the award for "Most Ivy Covered Building" with this stunner.

You don't need to be Spider-Man to crawl this wall

After St. John's, we came to the Magdalene Bridge and our turning point to go back down the river.

Magdalene Bridge, Cambridge

We heard a lot more stories and got to see things from a different angle, including this less slanted view of the Wedding Cake building.

New Court, St. John's

The boatman told us about all the Nobel prize winners from Cambridge and how they have many more (88) than Oxford does (48). Recently a prestigious journal ranked universities and Cambridge came in first place. The boatman said that was nice, but the really important thing was that they ranked higher than Oxford (which was fifth place). Not that they're competitive.

The rain came and went several times, as did our umbrellas. At the end of the trip we thanked him for a pleasant ride and he complimented us on our well-behaved children. Lucy and Jacob were mostly quiet throughout the trip and didn't rock the boat metaphorically or literally. A good time was had by all!

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