A Downstream Day

This is a punt. Punt!It is a boat that you rent and float in side by side with the ducks downriver.

The day I first went punting, Ashley and I went shopping for snacks first–tiny individual wheels of cheese, malt vinegar and sea salt crisps, a bottle of cheap red wine, and sour gummies called Tangfastics (which would become our tiny saviors as the term went on). Life was good.tangfastic

We met Max and Jim at the punt house next to the river. Max brought a guitar and a carton of juice. The ducks were macking as we loaded our goods onto the punt and unsteadily rocked into our seats.

Max took the helm, propelling us into the Cherwell. Jim steered with the paddle, Ashley cracked open the cheese, and I strummed the guitar. It was thrilling to glide through the water nearly level with it, gazing at ducks floating past, feathery white flowers wandering through the air, the sun rippling between leaves and glancing off the water.

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Max was an excellent punter, skilled at both pushing us forward and steering us (something with which I had trouble). We floated past St. Catherine’s and the playing fields and made our way to University Parks. As steerer, Jim’s job was to alternate paddling on either side of the punt. For some reason the ducks really loved Jim and, when he pretended to whack them with the paddle to get them out of the way, he actually hit one really hard. That duck was pissed, but Jim had no further trouble steering.

The duck population increased as we glided through the entrance to the Parks. We were surrounded by the sound of people and delighted children throwing bread at the ducks. Our punt flowed past a mini-waterfall and entered full sunlight. What a beautiful day it was. To our left was lapping water and to our right was a group of grey geese protecting their goslings. And then there was a swan.

Ashley and I were admiring how lovely it was when it came way too close. I went digging around for my camera and when I looked up I was face to face with a very large swan head. Those suckers are A LOT bigger than they look. And meaner. It wanted my face for lunch. A struggle ensued, Max distracted it while Ashley sort of half tried to smack it away. Her bravery was rewarded, the swan turned away from me and toward her. We fed it the rest of our crisps and Jim prepared to whack another species of water fowl with the steering paddle. Some idiot children started throwing bread at it and it swam away. Yay!

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The next challenge was to transfer the punt over the rollers to get it over Mesopotamia, the dry bit of land in the middle of the river. This took lots of grunting and heaving, but eventually the punt soared over the rollers and dipped into the river again. We hopped in, bid the swan goodbye and punted away.

It was my turn to punt. The river was a lot deeper and it was slightly difficult to manage the punt pole, which is about three times as tall as I am. I managed not to abandon the pole in the mud or get it stuck in the trees. It was a lot calmer on this side of the river and we punted onwards for about a half an hour. We were somewhere near Magdalen College by the time we turned around. We could hear joggers thumping on the towpath behind the trees lining the river and passed houses nestled in the banks. Slowly we made our way home.

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