You don’t have to have a guided tour if you don’t want to. With a sense of adventure and a determination to learn something new, you can rent a punt and a pole and go exploring the college backs on your own. The following will help you to know what to expect.
The Mill Pond
The Mill Pond is beautiful and restful. It’s a lovely place to relax and, if you’re not accustomed to punting, it can also offer a wonderfully quiet spot to practice your skills as long as you stay around Laundress Green
The Silver Street Bridge
The Silver Street Bridge marks the beginning of the stretch of water than meanders past the college backs. It’s not the most attractive area and it’s a very tricky spot to navigate; it is best to be prepared for what you may encounter. The base of the river there is very soft and at each edge there are concrete posts hidden under the water that are known as the Queen’s Teeth, the combination is confusing and unsettling and it’s not unusual for an inexperienced punter to loose his or her pole as it becomes unexpectedly lodged in the riverbed or between the posts. As distressing as that concept may be, it’s worth noting that by holding onto a pole too long you also run the risk of falling in, better by far to manage to stay in the boat. As daunting as this stretch may be, it is worth the risk, as it acts as a guardian to some of the most spectacular views along the river.
Lovers Lane will be on your left as you pass by the very next bridge, this is a perfect location just to stop and enjoy the river. If you make your way through the willow tree veil, you should be able to moor up and take some time to relax in good company and enjoy a drink or two.
Kings College Chapel
Kings College Chapel is a spectacular and iconic view that presents an ideal, if not obligatory, photo opportunity. It’s also worth noting, however, that the river bed is very hard here and the water is open which makes it a fantastic training ground and also an opportunity to let out a sigh of relief if the trip so far has been a little bit hairy.
The Clare Gardens
The Clare Gardens really deserve to be much more well known than they are. They are gorgeous and carefully tended, making the stretch of river past the next bridge one of the most magical on the Cam. It’s well worth taking a moment to stop against the wall on the right in order to drink in the atmosphere.
The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs sadly presents little opportunity to stop and enjoy the view so be prepared to drink it in while you can. It is truly beautiful, though bizarrely very little like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice after which it is named, thanks to a comment made by Queen Victoria.
Magdalene or ‘Maudlin’ college
Magdalene or ‘Maudlin’ college, as it is called by students and residents alike, is known not just for its architecture, but also for the treacherously deep waters that characterise this part of the river. It is very important that you work to keep your punt to the right hand side as the left hand side is too deep and your pole will not always be able to reach the bottom.
The last stop on your journey will be the Quayside, known for its bounteous supplies of alcohol. So popular is this spot in the spring and summer months that it’s frequently overrun. If you don’t want to stop, you can always purchase a few tasty beverages for the journey home, there is a very well stocked wine merchants to be found there.
All you need to do now is take your pole to the opposite end of the punt and head back in the opposite direction…