Monday, June 02, 2008

Punts and poles

click photo to enlarge
The other day I stood on a bridge in Cambridge watching tourists and students wielding their poles to propel their punts along the River Cam, past the colleges that line its banks. The action of standing precariously on the end of a boat and repeatedly dipping and pushing struck me as an odd method of propulsion. I remarked as much to my companions, and one suggested that it perhaps arose from the desire of the well-to-do to enjoy the water without working up a sweat. That struck me as an interesting thought, but not very likely. I suggested that it was probably a method devised by working people, seized upon by the inhabitants of Cambridge and its colleges. And, because I didn't know the answer, I determined to find out.

It seems that using a pole to propel a flat-bottomed punt arose during medieval times in the marshes, pools and waterways of the Fenlands that formed an arc around The Wash to the north of Cambridge. These shallow waters were subject to seasonally fluctuating water levels, and keeled boats and oars were less suitable for the fishing, wildfowling and reed cutting that sustained many "breedlings" (the name given to Fen dwellers). The punt was introduced to Cambridge in the Edwardian era as a pleasure craft for the moneyed middle and upper classes. Furthermore, far from being precarious, this way of moving the punt is relatively safe due to the stability conferred by that flat-bottom. So, another lesson learned!

The day was overcast with low cloud when I took my photograph, giving good colour saturation. Probably not the jolliest boating weather, but it wasn't deterring the visitors. However, the water looked cold and it didn't appeal to me!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 71mm (142mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.37 EV
Image Stabilisation: On