Thursday 19 May 2016

Task 45: Take a punt up the River Cam from Cambridge to Orchard Tea Rooms in Grantchester

I was lucky enough to grow up near Cambridge. It's a truly beautiful city. Even as a small girl I appreciated its many fine features, from the lush green Backs and its quirky bridges to its university traditions and magnificent buildings  - a plethora of historic colleges, churches/chapels and museums. 

During my childhood, a special treat was to take a rowing boat out on the Cam, accompanied by friends and long suffering parents. And then as I grew into my teens, romantic notions of drifting along the river under the weeping willows in a punt (ideally commandeered by a fit looking male student) took over. Whilst tourists would tend to take the soft option of punting down the Backs past the colleges, experienced student hands would often punt two and a half miles up river to Grantchester. Ah yes, Grantchester.....the village affectionately described in Rupert Brooke's famous poem The Old Vicarage, Granchester, which ends 'Stands the Church clock at ten to three, and is there honey still for tea?' Home to Jeffery Archer and his fragrant wife Mary. Made even more famous by the ITV series of the same name.  And of more interest for the purposes of the sixtyat60 challenge, home of the renowned Orchard Tea Rooms and Gardens, the ultimate destination for many a weary but triumphant punter.

I moved to London when I was 18 and have never since punted on the Cam, not even whilst Lucy was a student at Cambridge. But it still holds a special place in my heart (hence my choice of a weeping willow pear tree to represent me in the copse of family trees in our garden). So punting to Grantchester became a very special candidate for the 'Re-living the past' section on my sixtyat60 list. 

Louise and Annabel, my two oldest friends from nursery school, courageously offered to punt with me. I say 'courageously' because Annabel fell and broke her wrist in Task 6, resulting in surgery and rehabilitation, not to mention pain and major disruption to her life. So what troupers she and Louise were to risk life and limb on another of my active tasks! I wanted to ensure that she and her wrist stayed safe on the punt. It was clear we needed one of those experienced fit student hands I've alluded to above to get us to Grantchester. To my delight and relief, help came in the shape of Stuart, who was headhunted for me by our great friends Peter and Linda. Stuart was a fit young student at Queens College, Cambridge a mere 40 years ago, and was reputed to be an excellent punter, as well as a skilled cox for the rowing crew. Yup, he ticked every box. Andrew and Stuart's wife Fiver made up our punting party of six, with Andrew nobly agreeing to provide novice punting services in the event of an emergency.

The date was set (Friday 13 May - was this wise??), a punt was booked, a picnic planned, the Orchard Tea Rooms contacted (yes, still going strong) and outfits agreed. The scene was set. And last Friday we all convened at Scudamore's punting company, up river, at Silver Street Bridge. Some great hats and blazers were in evidence, but I think it's fair to say that Stuart's and Fiver's outfits cut the finest dash.

At this stage in the story I'm going to hand over to Stuart, who as our main man is best placed (in my view) to pick up the narrative.  I shall insert photos at appropriate moments. 

When Peter approached me and explained your challenge and thus your need for a punter there was absolutely no hesitation on my part. Firstly I admire people who do things out of the ordinary. Secondly it was an excuse to visit my Alma Mater and thirdly, I would be doing something I really enjoy. That said, I remembered from my time at Cambridge that a punt to Grantchester was not to be undertaken lightly, especially if you were the only punter.

As the day of the outing approached though, I did begin to get concerned that the 40 years since the last time I did this journey in a punt might have taken a slight toll. Therefore, three months ago I did buy some small dumbbells which I used while walking around our flat during long telephone calls. I also added squatting to my morning exercises as there is much squatting under bridges and trees on the Grantchester route (Ed: as you can see Stuart's forward planning paid off - some impressive squatting under the weeping willows there!)

It was great to finally meet Andrew and yourself, along with your friends, on Friday morning and I knew we were in for a fun day, despite the weather being a little cooler and windier than we wanted. When we cast off I was a little tentative and it took a while before the steering was up to snuff. I actually found it quite hard punting 5 others due to the weight in the boat. When a few people got out to enjoy a walk along the river it was much easier.

That said, I was happy we stopped half-way for the lovely picnic on the river bank and the refreshing Prosecco which gave me a second wind. 

The tea at the Orchard Tea Rooms at Grantchester was well received (Ed: We moored the punt by the Orchard Tea Room at ten to three - I like to think Rupert Brooke would have been well impressed with Stuart's immaculate timing, we certainly were!and the scone and jam gave me the energy needed for the trip back, which went rather quickly I thought. 


However, I rather regret saying that it would be best for you and Andrew to only have a go when we were closer to the finish. If I had known how competent you both were, I would have been happy to have shared the bulk of the punting with you! (Ed: Stuart is certainly being too kind where my punting skills are concerned - I think we'd still be halfway back to Cambridge if I'd been left in charge of the punt). 

All in all a wonderful day with happy memories.

We're all in complete agreement with Stuart that we had a brilliant day on the Cam. Despite the date, I can now safely say that not a single disaster happened. Stuart himself did a spectacular job as punter and got us to Grantchester and back like a true professional (those dumbbells and squat exercises clearly paid off Stuart!)  I'm hugely indebted to him and Fiver for their support of the sixtyat60 challenge.  Fiver did some serious sketching up and down the Cam (she's exhibiting her work at the Artists' Open Houses in the Brighton Festival at the moment)  and I'm delighted to be able to include two of her fabulous drawings in this blog.

This is Granchester Meadow.

And this is a view of the Cam from the punt.

My thanks, too, to Peter for his pivotal role in negotiating Stuart's involvement in Task 45. Louise and Annabel were the best of companions as always and we had a wonderful afternoon of reminiscing and catching-up in between paddling, walking and punting manoeuvres. And Cambridge looked as beautiful as ever - I must find another excuse to return there soon.....maybe canoeing next time girls?



A total of 53 tasks completed - 7 more to go - 12 days left.........


I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at

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