One of the traditional activities in Cambridge for both locals and visitors is to go punting. A punt is a flat-bottom boat that is powered and guided by someone standing at the back of it with a very long wooden pole used to push against the bottom of the river.
One of my boyfriend’s friends suggested a punting trip from Cambridge to Grantchester with a BBQ in a field in Grantchester before our return punting trip to Cambridge. The weather forecast looked beautiful, and the group was up to about 20 people. Little did we know this trip was going to inspire the new British sport of Xtreme BBQing. Let me just say, if you are planning on moving to the UK, buy loads of waterproof gear first and never leave home without it.
The walk from my boyfriend Neil’s house to the river started out badly. Like a silly foreigner I had worn summer clothes after seeing the forecast. We got caught in a massive hailstorm on the way there, and we were all soaked to the skin and absolutely freezing. Once the rain and hail abated, we were leaving puddles wherever we walked. At one point Neil’s roommate Rich said to Neil “You’ve just stepped in a puddle” and Neil said “The puddle is from my shoes”.
After waiting out the storm in front of the fireplace at The Anchor, a lovely pub on the river, the group of us loaded into the punts. As we were filling the punts with the BBQ stuff, the rain started to fall again. Five of the people decided to stay on land and go straight back to the pub, while the rest of us decided that it would clear up eventually and loaded ourselves onto the boats.
The punt ride was very enjoyable, with beautiful dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. We tried to send a message in a bottle to the other punt requesting more wine, but they missed the bottle. Someday years from now someone will find the bottle and wonder if we ever received our wine.
Another tradition while punting is to bridge jump. This involves one or two crazy people from each punt jumping onto a bridge as the boat passes below, then jumping back onto the boat from the other side. Some of the guys made it look easy, but I was still so wet and cold that I was not even going to attempt it. Neil ended up helping one of the girls, Sarah, up onto the bridge by pulling her up with one hand. *sigh* he’s so strong.
Okay, enough of that. So once we got to the BBQ site (which we decided upon long before reaching Grantchester) we unloaded the disposable BBQ grill and the food from the punts and lit up. Suddenly, as the food was being laid on the well-lit grill and my socks were almost dry, the skies opened up with a vengence.
Hailstones larger than I have ever seen them began pelting us so hard that all we could do was cower under whatever cover we could find. My shoes were still off because I had been trying to dry my socks, and I thought I was getting frostbite on my toes from all the ice piling up on them. In true British fashion, a group was huddled around the BBQ covering themselves up with blankets while making a makeshift roof out of the blankets to keep the BBQ from getting wet. Rich stayed huddled on the ground tending the BBQ, breathing in massive amounts of C02 while cooking the meat to perfection. After a very long time the hail finally subsided and we were able to enjoy our BBQ. Drenched and soaked, but well fed.
After another smaller hailstorm, which quite handily put out the BBQ fire when we were finished with it, and a couple of very close lightning strikes, we decided to head back. Emily was kind enough to remove the bulk of the piles of hail from inside the punts, and we enjoyed beautiful weather for most of the return punt trip. There was more bridge jumping as well as some strange inter-punt fights (mainly between Prue and Rodolph). Upon returning to Cambridge, the rain began to fall very hard again and we unloaded the punts while wrapped up in whatever soaking wet blankets we could find.
Two days later I am still sore from the constant seven hours of shivering, but at least I feel a little more British. No wonder they have such great senses of humour over here. It is the only way to cope.