ATP: In the Summertime…

Occasionally even England blesses a poor overworked graduate student with good weather. And when that season finally rolls around, there’s a whole host of new Cambridge traditions and British activities to explore…


One of the most Cambridge things to do in Cambridge is to go out on the river for a little punting. If you’re not familiar, it’s an activity which involves standing on the back of a little boat and pushing it down the river with a big pole. It’s lots of fun (though quite the ab workout), and a nice way to see the college backs if you’re a tourist. Just keep in mind that 90% of the stuff they tell you on the guided tour is made up.

If you are going to try punting yourself, keep in mind these two golden rules:

  1. No valuables on your person. Give your phone to someone else in the boat. (This is in case you fall in)
  2. If the pole gets stuck in the mud, LET GO OF THE POLE. Better to lose the pole (you have a paddle for this very reason, and if there are professionals out on the river they will often retrive your pole for you while laughing) than to fall in the river. Which is what will happen if you try to hang on.

Taking It to the Next Level

If you feel confident and want to try some advanced punting techniques, give these a shot:

Floating Tea and Cake. Tea and cake is already about as English as you can get, but let’s go ahead and make it better by putting it ON A PUNT. That’s right — bring your cakes and a travel mug and treat yourself while floating down the scenic river Cam.

Grantchester Brunch. Punt down the river in the opposite direction from the college backs, toward the picturesque town (village?) of Grantchester. Reward yourself upon arrival with brunch (or, more realistically, afternoon tea). As a side note, apparently the thing to do after May Balls (it’s 6am, and you’ve been up all night) is to hire a punt and go to Grantchester for breakfast instead of sleeping like a normal person.

May Ball Fireworks. Odds are you didn’t get a ticket to Trinity or John’s May Ball because you’re poor and those tickets are worth your weight in gold. But fear not, even if you’re a pleb you can see the fireworks. Rent a punt and go out on the river, park yourself, and wait. Bring snacks and booze. Try not to die on your way back in the dark.


For those of you who are a little less comfortable on the water, have I got a land-based tradition for you! It involves mallets and balls and feeling like an aristocrat.

Yes, it’s croquet.

Pembroke College has its own croquet lawn (it’s right outside my door) which you can book, and borrow mallets/balls/hoops from the porters. I have already played croquet (badly) this year, and although it feels like a ridiculous game, it’s also very satisfying to whack the ball really far. (Or, even better, to whack the other team’s ball really far).

May Bumps

Back to the boats again, though unless you’re a rower (read: nuts), you don’t have to go out on the water yourself for this one.

May Bumps are the summer edition of that crazy Cambridge boat racing tradition I’ve talked about before. But because this round happens in June (I know, just roll with it), it might actually be nice enough to sit on the banks of the river and cheer on your boat club of choice (which is Pembroke. Just so we’re clear. You’re all rooting for Pembroke). Sip a Pimm’s at a waterside pub or take a picnic out on the bank, and cheer as the boats go by.

May Balls

Like May Bumps, May Balls also happen in June. Basically, they’re huge (HUGE) parties to celebrate the end of exam term. Like, take over the entirety of the college huge. Last until 6am huge. Cost 1 million pounds huge (okay that’s just Trinity, and only because it’s some kind of anniversary, BUT STILL).

If you’re broke and can’t afford a ticket, you can apply to work half the ball for a discount. Or you can try for a ticket to one of the May Ball’s smaller cousins, the June Events. Personally, I’m planning to go to Pembroke’s June Event and maybe one other ball, fingers crossed.

…When the Weather is Hot

I’m really looking forward to the spring/summer events, actually, although there’s quite a bit to get through first: exams (I’m not taking them, but everyone else is stressed and that’s no fun), dissertation (AHHHHHH), stats (UGHHHH), medical school applications (WHYYYY), and various other bundles of joy. But I have to comfort myself with the reminder that this light is at the end of the tunnel!

And you? What summer events/activities are you most looking forward to?

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