Punting is just one of those Oxford things you have to do.
Flat-bottomed punts were originally built as cargo boats or platforms for angling. The first pleasure punts in England were constructed around 1860 for use on the River Thames. Recreational punting reached the peak of its popularity in the heady days of striped blazers and boaters before the First World War. Today punts can still be hired in Bath and Stratford for use on the River Avon, in Cambridge for use on the Cam and in Oxford and Sunbury for use on the Thames (or Isis as it is known in Oxford). You can also punt on the Cherwell in Oxford, which is the better river to try as it's quieter and the views are better.
The art of punting is not difficult. The punter is supposed to propel his or her punt by pushing against the river bed with a pole. In Oxford the punter stands on a platform at the back of the boat. The problem in Oxford, however, is that both rivers are muddy and it’s not unusual to get your pole stuck deep in the bed. The act of retrieving it will at best slow you down to a halt and at worst tip you into the river!
But the important thing with punting is the picnic (which often involves wine, beer or champagne). Punting is all about the journey, not about arriving.
As well as Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, punts can also be hired at Cherwell Boathouse (Bardwell Road), The Perch Inn (Binsey) and Salter's Steamers (Folly Bridge). Rates vary between the four boathouses.
If you’re not sure you’re up to this degree of exercise, enquire about chauffeured punts or rowing boats, canoes or pedalos. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the chance to enjoy Oxford river-life.