Monday, 18 October 2010

The Duck does the Backs

There is one section of the river that had always remained tantalisingly unexplored by Lucky Duck. We have walked across its bridges many times, and punted up and down it during our time as students. 'The Backs' encompasses that stretch of the river Cam which has been photographed more often than any other, where the colleges line the water, and tourists come to experience quintessential England, watching students drift along in punts drinking Pimms. From April until October, all powered craft are banned from this part of the river, and rightly so, as it is carnage enough with inept punters blithely unaware of the rules of navigation.

But in the Winter, with permission, powered craft are allowed to navigate (if not moor up). We had always wanted to ascend Jesus Lock and attempt to cruise down to the head of navigation at the Mill Pond, so this year, decided to celebrate my birthday by doing just that. I emailed the Cam Conservancy last week, and yesterday got a reply saying that yes, we have permission, and that the punt companies will be duly informed.

It has been done. This is a photo from the Camboaters website

St John's Kitchen Bridge is the lowest bridge, and the most likely to cause a problem. Under nomal river conditions, the height is given as 2.08m. The Duck has got under 1.70m on the Nene, but that was a flat bridge and this is arched. Hmm. But we could turn round if it all goes wrong, and there was only one way to find out!

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, perfect for our adventure. We spent the morning doing last minute preparations, including buying provisions, stowing a quarter of a ton of coal and sealing a couple of drain holes which we were worried might end up below water level with lots of people ballasting the bows down.

At 12:30, we set off from where we are moored and headed to the water point to fill up in order to keep the bows low. At 1pm or so, everyone began to arrive. I handed out warming cups of butternut squash and bacon soup, mulled wine and tea, since everyone was sat outside in the bows to get the best views. We'd also taken off the fabric cratch cover. Bones and James went to set the lock and the once all the guests were on board, we set off through the lock and onto the Middle River.

The Duck prepares to exit Jesus Lock and onto the Middle River

We approach St John's College, where the lowest bridge,
St John's Kitchen Bridge was our biggest worry in terms of air draft,
with its height given at 2.07m on the Cam Conservancy website.

Soon we were under the famous Bridge Of Sighs at St Johns,
and jostling with punts, which were out in force on this glorious sunny day.
(photo: R. Herzig)

We made it under St John's Kitchen Bridge!
Everyone took photos of this momentous occasion.
From here on in, all we have to worry about are the rogue punts!
(photo: R. Herzig)

James steers expertly under the Kitchen Bridge,
but has to duck in order to make it! Plenty of room.
(photo: P. Garsed)

Another of the Kitchen Bridge

Clare Bridge (photo: R. Herzig)

Clare College, James' alma mater (photo: C. Houldcroft)

Lyra was very good. She kept out of the way in the bedroom mostly.
Jackie took this photo of her when were at the Mill Pond.
(photo: J. Witts)

We had more cups of tea, mulled wine, and soup while turning around at the Mill Pond. Then, we headed back, again dodging punts. Both ways, we had several close encounters with the multitude of punts which were out and this was certainly the main worry, after fitting under the Kitchen Bridge. However, thanks to James' steering we had no collisions whatsoever. A few of the professional punters suggested that we weren't allowed to be there, but we assured them that we had permission from the Conservators, and there was little they could say to that! All the punt companies had also been informed of our trip 48 hours before by the Conservators.

All in all, it was a very sucessful trip, and having seen how easy and fun it is to do, we'll most likely try it again sometime before the powerboat ban is enforced again in March! So, thanks to everyone who came, for making my birthday cruise so much fun, and for getting off to take such lovely photos!


  1. Sorry to miss it. If you do it again this winter, let me know and I'll bring the children :-)

  2. Lucky you! I am very envious it looks like a lovely trip. A great birthday present.
    Belated Happy Birthday by the way.
    Kath (nb Herbie)

  3. It was wonderful and you MUST do it again!!!!!! Thank you!!!

  4. The Duck outside Clare is just wonderful, well done, see you both soon.

  5. Looks great, mulled wine and soup to boot you are evidently very good hosts.well done.

  6. How exciting! Congratulations! We look forward to taking nbPatience along the same route in the spring. I presume you were ok for depth of water if you kept to the middle?