Punting traditions in Oxford date back to the 1870s when this mode of transport first moved from a utilitarian way of getting around on the river to a popular leisure activity. Punting is most popular in rival cities Cambridge and Oxford. Interestingly, or maybe obviously, the two cities have developed their own, rather different styles: People from the two cities actually stand at the opposite end of the punt to propel the boat forward. This is possible because these boats are very stable and can actually be used either ways around.
Last Sunday was a beautiful day- sunny and warm. In the shade, however, there was a slight chill in the air, signalling the coming of autumn. We knew we needed to make the most of the last summer days and decided to take the Littlins punting for the first time. …I know we live in Oxford! How can we have not punted with them before?!
We picked up our punt, booked through Dadonthebrink’s college, from the Cherwell Boathouse. This is a lovely location tucked away in North Oxford.
Max got a lifejacket, but we felt Hugo and Angelina didn’t need one, as these boats are fairly stable, almost impossible to tip according the boathouse staff.
We loaded our picnic dinner, the Littlins and a small bucket of left-over bread we got from the boathouse restaurant, and off we went. Dadonthebrink immediately showed his Dutch, seafaring, roots by how well he took to moving the boat in the right direction at a decent pace, not zigzagging across the river as we often see.
Ducks are plentiful along the river, used to being fed by humans. The moment they glimpse something falling into the water their greedy little guts bring them paddling or flying in closer.
We had so much fun feeding the ducks, racing with them!
I even figured out that they are in fact so used to humans that some will take the bread from your hands if you dangle it over the side of the punt. Angelina and Hugo picked a favourite duck and were giving the best bits to that one; Max slowly figured out what was going on and I was thankful for the dangling crouch straps of the lifejacket, which allowed me to hold onto him every time he wanted to steal some of his siblings’ bread to feed the ducks himself or just decided it was fun splashing with the water.
We went up the river Cherwell for a little under an hour and passed by the Victoria Arms pub, a favourite punting destination. Just beyond a slight bend after the pub we decided it was picnic time and pulled in under a tree by the bank. We just tied up loosely to an overhanging branch.
It was beautiful eating our picnic on the river. We didn’t have ducks as company at this point, but we could hear birdsong around and some geese honking too.
Hugo started experimenting with little bits of food- does ham sink or swim? How about crepes? Raspberries? Dried cranberries? Tiny bits of roast chicken? Cheese?
Max enjoyed chomping on his picnic from his father’s lap instead of mine. He tried to feed the non-existent ducks: one bite for himself, one for the water.
Angelina kept us on our toes by keeping the conversation going with newer and newer topics. I love how she is blossoming and her curiosity towards the whys and hows of the world widening day-by-day!
On the way back Dadonthebrink was really getting confident in his punting skills, so much so that he started singing.
Then suddenly the boat jolted and came to a holt: Dadonthebrink’s punt (the big stick that is used to propel the boat forward and steer it) had lodged in the mud of the riverbed and was almost left behind. Well, actually, we almost left Dadonthebrink behind too, as he was holding on to his punt for dear life. A last second save and we were ok! Didn’t I say this man was good?!
Down the river we saw some water hens and a fair few ducks. A fish jumped in the water, just besides us.
Then Hugo spotted a deer munching on grass just on the banks. We slowed all the way down and watch mesmerised. The animal, slightly nervous, glimpsed at us every once in a while, but carried on enjoying the tender riverside grass. The children were remarkably quiet, including Max.
What is the must do activity locally that you haven’t actually done yourself or not done in ages? Have you ever tried punting?