Punts were developed in medieval times to provide stable craft that could be used in areas of water too shallow for rowing conventional craft. One such area was the Fens, the marshy flatlands north of Cambridge, where punts were integral to local trades such as eel fishing, reed-cutting, fowling (hunting ducks, etc) and for transporting cargo, until their use died out in the late nineteenth century.The first punts are traditionally associated with the River Thames in England and were built as small cargo boats or platforms for fishermen. Pleasure punts – specifically built for recreation – became popular on the Thames between 1860 and 1880. Punting at Cambridge started as a recreational activity in around 1900, when industrial and commercial uses for the river dried up.
It started with Maurice “Jack” Scudamore, a Cambridge native who completed his boat building apprenticeship at a Chesterton Boatyard and was involved in the building of the first punt in Cambridge. Jack’s pioneering introduction of pleasure punts on the College Backs and upper river was incredibly successful, embraced by the locals and University students so whole-heartedly, that by the early 1920s punting had overtaken every other boating activity in Cambridge. Indeed, Jack’s punts were so well crafted that they were in demand across the country within just a few years.
Punting in Cambridge is done along a stretch of the River Cam called the ‘College Backs’. It is the middle section of the river and meanders through Cambridge University Campus.There are four points where people can depart from when going punting. The first is Quayside, which is an area located at one end of the river opposite Magdalene College. The next one is near Garret Hostel Bridge, which is positioned in middle of this stretch of river, and is situated next to Trinity College grounds. There is another departure point at the Mill Pond area, which is at the other end of the river, near to Silver Street Bridge. The last setting is at the Granta Pub, right at the top of the river near Newnham Road. You can also go punting from Cambridge to Grantchester. This is a longer trip than the ‘College Backs’ and takes most people roughly four hours to do the return journey. You can go on this scenic trip from the Mill Pond area.