Paddle boarding through beautiful Cambridge: a complete guide
One of the most popular things for tourists to do in the beautiful University city of Cambridge is to see the historic colleges, bridges and gardens from the water in a traditional punt. This got us thinking, can you paddleboard in Cambridge? Turns out you can!
Head to Lammas Land Car Park, Driftway, Cambridge CB3 9PA where you can park right next to the water. The river is only a couple of inches below the bank which makes it very easy to get on and off of your board. Be aware that there is a 2m height restriction barrier into the car park, which means that regular cars would be fine, and Osprey (our Vauxhall Vivaro camper conversion) could sneak in, but anything bigger wouldn't fit.
Once you're in the water, turn right and follow the little creek a short distance until it joins the main river, then turn left and head towards Cambridge! You'll pass a small stone gazebo type structure on the right, remember this for your return journey so you can find the turning back to the car park!
The route starts in what feels like countryside a million miles away from a city. Look out for swans and grazing cows as you paddle past a kayaking centre on your left, the repair shed for Scudamore punts, and when you see a rather swanky brown hotel on your right with garden seating pull over on the left bank. If you carry on any further you'll reach a dead end (there is a sluice gate that prevents any further paddling), and the parked up punts and canoes make it tricky to turn around again.
Hopping out of the river and onto the path, you just need to carry your board down a short slope into the river basin opposite Darwin college. There is a portage platform which makes it easy for you to get in and out of the basin.
From here you're in proper Cambridge University land. Follow the river round to the right, past Scudamore's punts and under Silver Street Bridge. Ahead of you is the striking wooden Mathematical bridge which leads to Queen's College, and after the next bridge, one of Cambridge's most photographed buildings, Kings College Chapel, soars into the sky. Built between 1446 - 1515, the first stone was laid by King Henry VI, construction continued throughout the reigns of Edward VI, Richard III, Henry VII and was finally completed under Henry VIII.
Our favourite stretch is the next couple of minutes: bridges come thick and fast as you paddle past the Backs (a popular green space with beautiful college views), Clare College, Trinity Hall, Trinity College and St John's College with it's famous bridge of Sighs arcing over the river. Clare Bridge, immediately after King's Chapel, is the oldest in the city. Built in 1640, it was the only stone bridge left standing by Cromwell's Parliamentary forces when they were taking stone from other bridges to refortify Cambridge Castle during the English Civil War.
Fun Fact: The more modern looking bridge that you'll pass under next is the Garret Hostel Bridge, known by students as 'Orgasm Bridge'! It's a rather steep hump (hehe) backed bridge and so gets its name from cyclists grunting with exertion as they, er, mount the summit, followed by a sigh of relief as they reach the downward slope. Another cheeky note, the college it leads to, Trinity Hall, is also known between students as Tit Hall...
At the risk of this blog descending into Carry On Cambridge let's move on! The college buildings are really spectacular (barring some truly awful 1970s Brutalist student halls...) and many of them date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Parts of Trinity College (founded by Henry VIII) and St John's (founded by Margaret Beaufort, Henry's grandmother, who also founded St John's sister college, Christ College) look like Hampton Court Palace!
Beyond the Bridge of Sighs you'll leave the "gown" part of Cambridge and enter the "town" side. Bustling with chain restaurants and another Scudamore punt centre, your final riverside college will be on the left, Magdalene College, named after Mary Magdalene but pronounced Maudlin. It's not the only Cambridge institute with a confusing name - Gonville and Caius is pronounced Gonville and Keys.
From here, the Cam broadens and runs along Jesus Green, a huge park with a loo block and a little kiosk, plus useful broad steps for getting out of the water. There is also a lock here, so as you'll need to get out of the river, this would be as good a time as any to stop for a picnic!
To get round the lock, just follow the path under the bridge and there is a track with steps leading back down to the river again. You'll notice that now it is much broader, with canal boats moored either side, as the river makes its way north to where it merges with the Great Ouse near Ely. On the left bank of the Cam are the University boat clubs - each of these colourful buildings belong to a different college, and if the front doors are open you can see the long eight row racing boats, the same type used in the famous Cambridge/Oxford Boat Race in London every year. If you're lucky you might see a team out practicing on the river- they're fast, but you'll hear their cox before you see the boat coming so you'll have plenty of time out of the way.
Paddle as far as you like before heading back through the centre to the Lammas Land carpark. Beyond the rowing clubs you'll leave Cambridge behind and pass residential streets, Stourbrdge Commons and the village of Fen Ditton. Bear in mind that by mid morning the central Cambridge part of the river will get much busier with punts as tourists arrive, so just be courteous and give them space. You'll be much quicker and more manoeuvrable than them, so it's easy to nip by.
Don't forget, once you've crossed from Darwin basin back into the River Cam and retraced your steps past the kayak club, the little stone gazebo building on the left bank marks the turning back into the little creek next to Lammas Land car park.
And that's it! What a beautiful paddle. Next time we'd like to go the other way down river from the car park towards Grantchester, a quaint village with thatched cottages and a tea room serving cream teas... yes please!
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Disclosure - we were gifted our paddleboard from Bluefin Paddle, but all opinions are our own and we were not paid to post.