Fancy a punt?
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It’s funny how you get out of the habit of trying fun things as you get older. I’ve lived near Oxford for nearly 10 years and it’s taken me that long to go punting with my kids, which is just plain embarrassing.
This is one of the reasons I love writing Muddy Stilettos, because it kind of forces me to get off my cascading backside and try different stuff, and hopefully make it easy for you to do the same.
The last time I went punting prior to this trip was when I was a student in Oxford, and my good friend Chris took me out for a boozy punt on the river. It still ranks amongst the funniest moments of my life when I saw Chris plant his pole, be unable to retrieve it from the bottom as we moved swiftly towards a bridge. It was either dropping the pole altogether or kind of leaping onto it, and he chose the latter, slowly sliding down the pole into the murky water.
With that image firmly planted in my mind and with three children in tow (at least one of whom cannot be trusted to do anything I ask) I took the early decision not to attempt punting myself and instead headed to Magdalen Bridge Boathouse in central Oxford, where I organised a punt chauffeur, and ahem, a ready-made picnic. Lazy? Er yeah, but also inspired, because the punt was pre-booked (so no having to elbow the French exchange students out the way), I could concentrate on showing the kids this and that, there was nothing to lug to the boathouse by way of sandwiches etc. And we were dropped off at a picnic spot (just down from the Botanical Gardens with Christ Church College in the background), and could call when we were done.
I wasn’t anticipating much enthusiasm from my kids, there being no keyboard or wifi or inappropriate TV programmes to watch on board the punt, but they all really got into the spirit of it, even my 11-going-on-16 year old. There was a bit of swapping seats, eating treats and discussing what would be in the picnic, and then, well, it was just looking and relaxing on a fabulously sunny day. Isn’t it beautiful?
Parking in Oxford is a bun fight and there’s nothing near Magdalen Bridge. We used the multistory at the Westgate centre and walked down the high street which was fine – it only took 10 minutes. Perhaps a lovelier way to do it would be to walk across the back of Christ Church meadows and that will pop you out at Rose Lane, just by the bridge.
There’s a fantastically positioned cafe at Magdalen Bridge Boathouse overlooking the river that you can go to for lunch or an afternoon cake – it’s actually part of Magdalen College and costs a couple of quid to enter through the main college doors, but it’s one of the most stunning of the Oxford colleges in my opinion (others I love: Worcester, Christchurch, Balliol, Wadham, tiny St Edmund Hall).
There’s a small shop selling sweets, drinks, ice lollies, boaters and various tourist tat at Magdalen College Boathouse, so if you arrive empty handed you’ll survive the hour or so on the punt with no problems.
An alternative is to try Cherwell Boathouse instead – a slightly classier affair with a lovely restaurant in situ and The Teahut Bar and Cafe open serving light food and drinks on the terrace. You can walk there through the Oxford University Parks (so you could leave your car around the side of Keble College if you can get a space).
And your third option of course is from the Head of the River at Folly Bridge, perhaps the closest from the Westgate, but not such a pretty walk to get there.
Wait for a sunny day, and give it a go. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.