Have you ever been on a punt? Probably not, most people have not, but don’t feel left out, punting is only for the very few souls, who, having found sitting in a rowboat a bit of a bore, found themselves something more challenging in a punt! You need balance and a desire to travel across water using only a long pole and brute strength. Do not be deceived, by the seemingly graceful movement the punter used to move his craft across the water. To the unassuming onlooker, the punter’s movement across the water is well planned and seemingly effortless. It’s not true!!
How do I know this? I have been a passenger in a punt, not by choice, when I first stepped aboard, I was convinced that oars were hidden underneath the seat, when my chauffeur stood up, I though the vessel was going to capsize, the thought also crossed my mind, that he was going to dive in and leave me, just as the rope which tied us to the bank was released. Not so, I was on a punt, no oars, no diving, just a long-boat with its only form of propulsion a long pole. We left the bank quickly, one swift push with the pole and we were out into the flowing current and I might add, not a slow current, the Avon can run quite quickly at times.
As we set off I realized the pole had a life of its own, refusing to let go of the bottom of the river, clinging to the various forms of plants that grow underwater. My punter also had very little balance, I sat squarely in the middle of the vessel, holding tightly to the sides, willing it not to tip over. Within minutes we were out of sight of the landing stage, the pole had only been in the water twice, but we were making great speed without its help. The cool casual punter’s face took on a look of alarm, the pole became a force to be reckoned with, my punter was turning bright red with sweat pouring from his forehead. As we headed for the bank, I clearly remember thinking, that grabbing the nearest branch pulling ourselves to shore was not what punting was supposed to be like, but that it was a good idea and it worked. At the last moment my punter used the pole well, jamming it into the roots of the branch then leaping for the shore before the punt took off, if I had not thrown him the rope I would have been off afloat and at the mercy of the river. So, when you watch those elegant punts gliding silently along the river, spare a thought for the punter, he is probably using every muscle in his body trying to look cool.