For locals and tourists alike, punting has been a quintessential part of Cambridge life since the early 1900s, when the city's cargo punts were used as pleasure crafts for the first time.
The Traditional Punting Company is an enterprise by a pair of Cambridge locals, who revel in showing the best and most beautiful parts of the city from the most unique perspective – the River Cam.
Despite the increasing number of businesses set up in the area to provide punting services, we have found that we are favoured by customers, who know us for our clean and comfortable punts, our expertise in the local area, and our outstanding customer service.
The Traditional Punting Company is a small independent punting tour operator, licensed by both the Cambridge City Council and the River Cam Conservancy. We are located at Quayside in the heart of Cambridge's historic centre.
The Traditional Punting Company was begun by Cambridge locals who recognised the need for a punting company that focuses on providing a personal service. The company grew from a single punt, built by the owner's father for leisure and family days out. From those lazy summer days on the River Cam grew a love for showing others what the stretch of river known as the “college backs” has to offer. Now with a small fleet of wide beam mahogany punts, the Traditional Punting Company has become recognised by tourists and locals as a provider of exceptional punting tours in Cambridge.
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A punt is a wide, flat-bottomed wooden boat, with a square cut bow, and flat platform called a till in the stern of the boat. Wooden planks, called treads, cross the width of the bottom of the boat. When punts are used as passenger vessels, cushioned seats are inserted for comfort. In Cambridge, punters stand on the till, at the back of the boat. A punt can be punted easily in either direction, which is an essential feature for navigating narrow waterways, when turning a vessel might not be possible.
When you hire one of our punts for a guided tour, your guide will be happy to let you have a turn at punting, if you would like. Before you have a go at punting yourself, make sure that you're wearing sensible footwear, and that the till is as dry as possible to avoid slips. Your chauffeur will teach you all the techniques, but we'll provide a brief description here. Of course, if you prefer to leave it to your guide, then all you need to know is how to sit back and relax with your drinks and snacks, and perhaps to laugh at your friends' disastrous attempts to steer the vessel!
A punt is propelled and manoeuvred using a 16ft wooden pole, which is encased with a metal "shoe" at the bottom to protect the wood from wear. The commonly used technique in Cambridge today is called "pricking", where the punter stands still upon the till, and throws the pole down vertically, close to the side of the punt, letting it fall all the way to the bottom. The punter then carefully guides the section in their hands to steer, before letting the foot of the pole gently rise like a rudder. The pole can get stuck, so an experienced punter knows to always relax at the end of the stroke, that way they avoid being pulled into the river with a stuck pole!
After you've given it a go, suddenly our guides will seem all the more impressive, as they handle the craft as though it weighs nothing at all, somehow managing to steer and chat at the same time, while manoeuvring around obstacles and other river users. As with anything, practise makes perfect, so the years of experience held by our chauffeurs really pay off, to give you a smooth and tranquil experience.
Up until the 20th century, punts were used as cargo boats, and by fisherman and reed-cutters in the Fens. The crafts were created in their unique, flat bottomed shape for stability and even weight distribution. Their lack of a keel made them ideal for use in shallow fenland waters. When it was realised that punts made excellent passenger vessels, punting for pleasure was born.
Punt tours began on the River Thames in the 1860s, and when pleasure punting was introduced to the Cam in 1903, Cambridge locals and students embraced it so wholeheartedly that within 20 years, there were more punts on the River Cam than any other type of vessel.
For a time, with the growing popularity of the pursuit, punt tour operators searched for ways to fit more customers on each tour. They tried lashing several punts together, and punting large crafts carrying more than twenty passengers. However, operators discovered coast guard rules stating that any passenger vessel carrying more than 12 had to hold a lifeboat for the same number of people, which was obviously impossible. Now, the maximum number of passengers on any punt is limited to 12 for this reason.
The flat part of the punt is called the "till", and the Cambridge tradition is to punt standing on the till, with the bow forward. This is a departure from the method employed by Thames punters, who stood in the boat in front of the till. Residents of Oxford also stand in the boat, but they stand in the sloped bow section known as the "swim", and punt with the till forward. Cambridge punts tend to have a stronger keel than the punts in Oxford for this reason. There is fierce opposition between the Universities as to which is correct - should you stand at the "Oxford end" or the "Cambridge end"? It goes without saying which side we're on.
When it comes to choosing a tour operator, you need to know that you are using a company that you can trust. Booking a punt tour is an exciting experience and your tour will create lasting memories. Of course, getting the most from the experience is all about selecting the right service to suit you, and this is where we can help.
We are the most comprehensive small tour operator on the Cam, providing a range of options to suit your needs, and we pride ourselves on offering a world-class service that our customers can trust. We don't cut corners, or settle for less than perfect. And happily, our reputation and company reviews reflect this.
A good punt chauffeur knows all there is to know about the local area. Our tour guides are carefully selected, and have a great wealth of knowledge. Our team includes local residents, historians and scholars, and every guide is equipped with a cornucopia of interesting and, most importantly, accurate information about the history of our city. The Traditional Punting team will strive to delight every customer with anecdotes and facts about the city and the University, the wonderful architecture and the famous scholars who have roamed our streets throughout the centuries.
Another great draw of our tours is the chance to enjoy the magnificent scenery whilst sipping on a glass of bubbly or Pimm's, or sharing a punnet of strawberries or other sweet treats. Food and drinks are allowed on all our chauffeured punt tours, so why not bring some delicious refreshments on board to enjoy whilst you glide down the river.
We are also a dog friendly operator. At the Traditional Punting Company we regard our customers' happiness and enjoyment as paramount, and knowing that their furry friends bring them joy and companionship, we welcome dogs to come aboard and be part of the experience.
Unlike some providers, we operate tours all year round, because with the change of the seasons come different delights to behold. Many veteran punters prefer a tour in autumn or winter, because not only is the river quieter, but the sights of Cambridge are breathtaking under a blanket of snow or wreathed in autumn mist.
When it comes to booking your tour, our advanced online booking system means that you can have a stress free experience, with none of the usual chaos involved when you buy tickets from the local touts. Book online today, then just head to Quayside for your tour, and we'll take care of the rest. Purchasing your tickets from us online removes all the hassle, and with our early bird specials and other offers, it ensures that you will find the perfect tour at excellent value for money.
From the moment you click on our website, to the moment you disembark from your punt, you should be able to relax and enjoy yourself, because that's what a punting experience is really all about. So if you've been searching for the perfect place to book your punting tour, look no further!
© 2020 River Cam Punting Limited. Company number 094877362019.