Punting down the river: GEM students at Open Cambridge


What’s Open Cambridge?

On September 9, 10 and 11, the annual weekend took place during which Cambridge throws open its doors so that local people can enjoy walks, talks, guided tours, exhibitions and special activities through its pretty gardens and amazing buildings. It was a unique opportunity for us, GEM students, to discover the beautiful surroundings, appreciate the calming and welcoming atmosphere but also to get to know each other better.

Created to offer free access to places that are normally closed or restricted to the public, [1] this year’s programme comprised a wide range of events from Tour of Robinson College Gardens and the Rugby Five Exhibition to discovering the local history of the Trinity Hall and the Senate House with professional guides, learning fascinating things through Historic Cambridge tour and enjoying the breath-taking architecture with Punting on the River Cam. Many colleges and museums organised special activities and surprising exhibitions, highlighting the city’s story. The Museum of Archaeology, for instance, gave an insight of its 2015 “Antipodes: Cut-Apart” collection, evoking the eighteenth century and the relationships between Britain, Australia, Europe and the Pacific, past and present.

In addition to the Open Cambridge[2],the annual Open Cambridge Walk (formally Bridge the Gap), which took place on Sunday 11 September, gave GEM students and local residents the occasion to visit selected College and University grounds while raising funds for charities.


How did it go?

The most appreciated tours by GEM students were punting on the River cam and Historic Cambridge tour. As home to the River Cam, Cambridge is the place where punting was born, and since it has survived to the present day, you can’t help but be fascinated by this niche sport and to give it a go. Who wouldn’t want to try this unique experience?

Open Cambridge gave us the exciting opportunity as GEM students to appreciate a punting tour for free. The chauffeurs were expert punters who presented the historical facts and stories of the colleges, University and the student life. While passing under the Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Bridge, were told unusual stories such as that the bridge had been built without nuts or bolts! From the punts, the students admired the stunning architecture of the colleges such as the famous King’s College and St John’s College.

As for Historic Cambridge, the students discovered the history of the most famous places in Cambridge as well as peculiar anecdotes. For example, inside one of the largest pubs in Cambridge city centre, “The Eagle”, a fire raged into the upstairs bedrooms a few hundred years ago and a young child, unable to open the window, was trapped inside and burnt to death. Ever since, the window has been kept open. On occasions when it has been closed, it has brought bad luck, or has mysteriously opened itself. It’s even claimed that it is now written into the lease that the window must always remain open. Every time those who have attended Historic Cambridge stepped into the courtyard, they couldn’t prevent themselves from checking whether the window was opened!

Some students have been surprised by the activities offered by Open Cambridge. Two boys, Thomas and Hugo, who had enrolled for “Rugby Fives exhibition match and taster session” had brought with them shoes and shorts in order to play traditional rugby. But once they arrived in an enclosed court and were given a ball slightly larger than a golf ball, they rapidly understood that they would play a handball game, similar to squash. “With Hugo, we were amazed by the Rugby Five activity, what a great discovery!” told us Thomas, laughing.

This activity enabled them to learn about a ball game mainly played in the United Kingdom, where the two players hit the ball above a ‘bar’ across the front wall in such a way that the opposition cannot return it before a second bounce.


Why was it necessary?

If one chooses to study in Cambridge, one is sure to soak up the rich culture and history this magnificent city has to offer, and this is precisely what we did as GEM students.

It was nice! Visits were interesting, which helps to discover the city and to see it from a different point of view. Too bad it rained on Saturday during my visit though. At least, I could enjoy the English weather!” commented Caroline, and “With the historical anecdotes, we can at least say something else than “oh it’s pretty!” in front of a monument, without knowing what we’re talking about. I’m thinking particularly of the bike located at King’s Chapel and Cambridge famous alumni” added Marine G.

Cambridge is such a famous great place to work and study, not just one of the oldest and most distinguished universities in the world, it is also full of opportunities for development and personal growth.


(By Vanila Alfassa, Jade Hoang and Dorian Durand-Bidaou)

[1] « Open Cambridge – Visit Cambridge », http://www.visitcambridge.org/whats-on/cambridge-university-events/open-cambridge.

[2] « Open Cambridge | University of Cambridge », https://www.cam.ac.uk/public-engagement/public-events/open-cambridge.



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