Messing about in Boats: Punts on the Cam

King's students messing about in boats.
King's students messing about in boats.

June 2011

For many visitors to Cambridge a punt trip along the Backs is a must. Whether you choose to brave the punt pole yourself or whether you opt for a chauffeured trip down the Cam it's not something  you'll soon forget.

This month we look at a selection of documents related to this popular activity.

Punts were originally used for ferrying cargo or as platforms for fishing and fowling in the Fens, the punt's flat-bottomed design makes it an excellent choice for use in small rivers or shallow water. It can be punted just as easily in either direction, handy in narrow waterways where turning around may be difficut - or when faced with congestion along the Backs!

The basic technique of punting is to move the boat along by pushing a pole directly against the bed of the river or lake. The traditional punting position is to stand in front of the flat deck (till), towards the stern, and to punt from the side. But Oxford and Cambridge tossed tradition aside: in Cambridge we stand on the till and punt with the bow or "open end" forward. While in Oxford they stand inside the boat and punt with the till forward. Devotees from both Oxford and Cambridge believe that theirs is the only true style, and the till end is often known as the 'Cambridge end', and the other as the 'Oxford end'.

In addition to the private companies offering tours and punts for hire many of the colleges provide punt schemes for their members. King's has four punts for hire by students, fellows, staff and even some conference participants. The punt hire is overseen and managed by the Punt Committee. But sadly few historical records remain for the Punt Committee and its activities. The collection is limited to a few images of Kingsmen, students and tourists punting on the Backs behind the college.


Gallery 1 - Messing about in boats: punts on the Cam

Gallery 2 - Messing about in boats: punts on the Cam

Illumination of Queen Elizabeth I (SAC/1)
Index page to the Archive Centre's online exhibitions, which each highlight a particular aspect of the College's history.
We are open by appointment four days a week most of the year - please contact us by email or phone to book your visit.