“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do.” (Kenneth Grahame, ‘The Wind in the Willows’)
There’s something about punting that is so quintessentially Oxford-in-the-summer. It’s the epitome of the idyllic British countryside immortalised by Kenneth Grahame in ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Punting up the River Cherwell into the wilds of Oxfordshire, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, has always felt so luxurious. To take time away from the everyday is so necessary, particularly as a graduate, when your to-do list can seem never-ending. No internet, no emails to deal with or screens to squint at, just friends, food, and glorious weather (at least some of the time!).
For the last few years, we have made an annual pilgrimage. An all-day trip up to the village of Islip, a few miles north of Oxford. We pack food and drink, and leave in the morning, to return by the early evening. It’s by no means an easy journey: there are several places where the river is almost completely blocked (especially if the weather has been bad), which involves some interesting feats of engineering, and there have been times when it looked like we would have to turn back. But somehow we’ve always managed to get there and back again.
We’ve done the trip with various combinations of people (a punt can hold up to 6), but this year, when we went a week or so ago, there were only four of us. And it was the most fun it’s been.
The riverside fascinates me, perhaps because it’s not something there is much of in Greece – growing up, I had very little experience of idling the time away on rivers. I’ve always loved boats, and relished the opportunity to take boat trips to go to islands such as Poros, Hydra, Aegina, and Spetses, which are very close to the mainland. Punting is different, though – it’s tranquil, slow and steady, calming and restoring.
There’s something incredibly nostalgic about it all. Forgive me if I have come across as sentimental or romanticizing; it’s very hard to capture in words how wonderful the day was, and how it provided a much-needed break from everything, a chance to reenergise and regroup. Coming up in part 2: Islip itself, and the journey home.