When visiting the City of Dreaming Spires, to really get a taste of local life, you simply have to try punting in Oxford! While Rugby in Warwickshire is the home Rugby and Scotland is the birthplace of Golf, Oxford has the unique distinction of being the home of punting! And what is ‘punting’ exactly? Who came up with the idea and why does it remain so popular today? Let’s take a look at the history of this popular Oxford pastime.
Punting – What Is It?
Punting is the act of steering a ‘punt’ boat i.e. a flat bottomed boat with no keel and a square end. To steer your punt, you need to push a long pole, usually 5 meters in length against the river bed. The pole acts as a rudder that navigates the punt although this is a slightly more advanced technique that requires the person steering to push off at an angle. Collectively, these actions are known as ‘punting.’
Punts started out as mini cargo boats used primarily by fishermen. The benefit of these small boats was their ease of use in shallow waters that were too shallow to row in. These boats boosted the local economy at the time by aiding cargo transport. This eventually gave way to the common recreational pursuit of punting enjoyed by many to the present day.
Punts range in size and can accommodate anything from 5 to 12 passengers depending on size. Most punts are made from wood, some from fibreglass (generally for narrow racing punts). The sides of a punt can be made from either mahogany or teal and the bottom from softwood which can be replaced. You can even try a punt ferry if you’re lucky enough to find one!
How To Punt
The most widely accepted punting technique is to push onto the bed of the river using the punting pole. As the fisherman’s punt transitioned to a pleasure pastime in the 1870s, passengers sat on the stern while the ‘punter’ planted the pole by the bow of the boat then ‘ran’ forward to the stern to push the punt forward. This traditional method is known as ‘running the punt.’
Nowadays, punts are much lighter and an aspiring ‘punter’ no longer needs to run. A popular modern day technique is to ‘prick’ the punt by simply standing still towards the stern and shove forward on the river bed. In Oxford, it is popular to stand inside the actual boat and punt forward with the pole.
The rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge Universities has been well documented (but remember that Oxford is the first English speaking university in the World!)
So of course, even punting in Oxford and Cambridge have their rivalry.
If you are punting from “The Oxford End” we stand in the punt with the raised till platform facing forward. But, if you punt from “The Cambridge End” you would stand on the till platform and punt with the open-end facing forward.
Popular Places To Punt In Oxford.
You can try your hand at punting in various Oxford locations such as the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, Cherwell Boathouse, Salter’s Steamers & Oxford River Cruises (Folly Bridge, Oxford). If you’re feeling daring, you can have a try at punting by yourself or if you just want to experience punting without the struggle, you can even be ‘punt chauffeured’, either way, you haven’t truly experienced Oxford until you step inside a punt!