Taking A Punt On Cambridge


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June 1st 2008
Published: October 12th 2008
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Before I left New Zealand, I had promised my British flatmate Alex that I would pay him a visit in Cambridge while I was over here and his birthday party presented the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.
I haven't seen much of England, so this weekend, I was looking forward to seeing what England was like outside London.

The train ride was just under an hour from King's Cross, so it was nice and easy to get to, and it was good to see Alex again as I walked out of the train station.
After meeting up with his mates and getting a few bits and pieces together from Sainsbury's, we then made our way into town.
The first thing I noticed while driving around town was the quietness of the suburban streets - I suppose it's to be expected having come from a city with literally 100 times more people.
I also noticed a lot of Asians - brainy students attending the world-famous university here no doubt.
Just walking around the old part of town, you instantly notice and feel the history of the place. You could almost smell the academia in the air, with all the old
St. John's CollegeSt. John's CollegeSt. John's College

Taken from the river, this is the Harry Potteresque St. John's College with a chaotic crowd of punts in the foreground.
buildings and narrow streets. This was the England you imagined while reading old fables when you were a kid.
Anyway, it was a glorious day and we weren't the only ones enjoying a beer in the sun by the river. At one point I was worried I might get sunburnt in the English sun!

The best and most fun way to explore the city and is to do it along the River Cam by punt.
Funny word isn't it, punt, let alone a word for a boat.
For those not in the know, a punt is a long, wooden, dinghy-like boat. The driver propels the punt forward from the rear of the boat using a long stick that touches the riverbed. The driver uses the same stick as a rudder that determines the direction of the boat. In other words, driving a punt is a lot harder than it looks.
Our gang split into two groups, with one group to a punt.
I was spared driving duties for the first leg of the journey, as I sat back and enjoyed the journey with a beer in the sun, while Alex worked his arse off driving our punt forward.
Cambridge
King's College CathedralKing's College CathedralKing's College Cathedral

Perhaps THE sight of Cambridge.
is inextricably linked to the university and it's 25 colleges are scattered all over the centre of town.
Heading north from our starting point along the river, we go through the section of the river known as the The Backs, which offers brilliant views of six of colleges.
After managing to somehow drag our punt back down river to retrieve our punt stick (that Alex managed to leave behind stuck in the silt at the bottom of the river) we then passed the first and arguably the most famous college of the university, King's College, and it's magnificent Gothic cathedral.
After passing by some HUGE ducks, we then passed under a couple of bridges including the lovely Bridge of Clare College and the wooden, flimsy-looking Mathematical Bridge which was apparently designed so carefully that it was built without a single nail.
We then passed the Wren Library (named after the famous 17th-century architect Sir Christopher Wren) before coming to the impressive St. John's College which seriously looks like something out of Harry Potter.
We then passed under the beautiful Bridge of Sighs, built in 1831.
After passing by the nightlife/restaurant-ty Wharf, we decided to turn around and head back -
Henry VIIIHenry VIIIHenry VIII

Above the gateway to Trinity College, the original sceptre in his right hand was replaced by a table leg by student pranksters, where it remains today. Ahh, students will never change - and I'd be damn proud if it was me!
and it was time for me to have a go driving the punt.
Like I said earlier, driving a punt is harder than it looks.
There is a special technique that involves pushing off the floor of the river with your stick before hurriedly pulling up the stick and then dropping it onto the river floor again for another push. You have to be careful that you don't get the stick stuck in the mud like Alex did while at the same time trying not to drop the thing while attempting to steer at the same time - all while trying to keep enough balance while standing on the back of the boat to prevent a comical fall into the water!
I got used to the pushing technique fairly quickly, but it was the steering that I found the hardest as our boat zig-zagged it's way down the river.
Other hazards include other punts (with which we had more than a few head-on collisions) and ducking under bridges.
Punting is a fantastic way to spend a gorgeous afternoon, and there is endless entertainment to be had watching other amateur punters and their endless collisions (and near-collisions), as well as having
King's CollegeKing's CollegeKing's College

Check out those lawns - what I'd give to play football on that!
a chat with the people in the punt next to you.
This all culminated in a race against our other punt which we ended up winning by the smallest of margins.

Driving a punt is tiring work, so after a bit of a chill-out session back at Alex's house, the party then got into full swing.
Alex's mates are all really cool people and we all had a good old chat.
The centre of entertainment for the night had to be the "Mr T In Your Pocket", that Alex got for his birthday from his brother which was basically a small toy with six buttons, each with a different phrase uttered by the famous Mr T from the 80s action show, The A-Team (of which Alex got the DVD series as well for his birthday). This thing is pure gold as it has a comeback for any taunt that might come your way.
After the inevitable game of circle of death, the night was concluded with some group "starfishing", permanent markers and a broken camp-bed. I will leave it to your imagination as to what exactly went down ;-)

The next day Alex's mother was so kind as
Rollin' On The RiverRollin' On The RiverRollin' On The River

It was a gorgeous afternoon to be punting in gorgeous surrounds.
to cook us all up a terrific hot breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausages and all the trimmings - perfect after big night on the piss.
After watching a couple of A-Team episodes, I then still had a few hours to kill before catching my train back to London.
So Alex then drove us back into town where he would show me a bit more of Cambridge by foot.
Our first port of call was Great St. Mary's Church, built between 1478 and 1519, where we took the 123 step hike up the tower for some great views of Cambridge.
We when walked by King's College, heading north while I took a few snaps of Trinity College before we came to the Round Church. The one thing I noticed the most was how absolutely immaculate the lawns were kept. So that is where most of the tuition fees go? It admittedly does look wonderful though, and at least I'm not paying for it.
After bumping into a few of Alex's old mates, we came back around to the Market Square where modern shops are almost seamlessly built into the old stone buildings along the way - but not before I popped
Streets Of CambridgeStreets Of CambridgeStreets Of Cambridge

Where modern shops are carved into the magnificent old buildings.
into Borders to grab my very own Mr T In Your Pocket.
We then drank away a couple of hours in The Regal - Alex's former workplace and apparently the largest pub in England. It was pretty huge inside I must say and with a 5000 people capacity it might just well be biggest pub in England.

And with that, my time in Cambridge came to an end. It is a lovely city, and no doubt it would've been awesome to actually study here!
I had an enjoyable time and it was nice to get away from London for a little bit.
A big shout out to Alex and his folks for putting me up and showing me around - it's nice to know I'll be welcome in Cambridge :-)

My next entry will be from Malta in approximately four months' time - see you then!

Cheers,
Derek


Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


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Chillin' In A PuntChillin' In A Punt
Chillin' In A Punt

I was just relaxing as Alex worked hard driving our punt. Behind me is the Mathematical Bridge.
Wren LibraryWren Library
Wren Library

Library in Trinity College named after the 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Easy Peasy...Easy Peasy...
Easy Peasy...

My turn - and it's harder than it looks. Just look at the concentration on my face. Alex and Rae take their turns to chill in the punt.
Great St. Mary's ChurchGreat St. Mary's Church
Great St. Mary's Church

The university church where there are some great views from the top of the tower.
Inside Great St. Mary's ChurchInside Great St. Mary's Church
Inside Great St. Mary's Church

The aisle inside the Great St. Mary's Church.
A Trinity College CourtyardA Trinity College Courtyard
A Trinity College Courtyard

Immaculate courtyard that only the students are allowed into.
Lemon TreeLemon Tree
Lemon Tree

Next to a building in Trinity College on the way to the Round Church.
Round ChurchRound Church
Round Church

Which is exactly that - a round church...
Market SquareMarket Square
Market Square

The "centre" of town with the Great St. Mary's Church in the background. This is where well, the markets traditionally are.
The RegalThe Regal
The Regal

The largest pub in England.
Inside The RegalInside The Regal
Inside The Regal

With three floors, it's pretty big. Alex says that you can get some good nights in here when it is absolutely rammed.


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