hidden europe 61

Beyond the Marais: Punting Traditions

by hidden europe

Picture above: There are distinctive flat-bottomed boats used for leisure in the watery Spreewald region of eastern Germany (photo © Alexf76 / dreamstime.com).


From the withy boats of the Somerset Levels to the gunboats used on the Essex coast, wetlands have often fostered ingenuity among boatbuilders. Navigating shallow waters takes skill and a special kind of vessel. We survey a range of boats from the punts of Cambridge and Lusatia to the double-ended barquet of the Albufera lagoon.

The flat-bottomed boats of the Marais region of northern France are not dissimilar from craft found in other wetland areas of Europe. But there are striking regional variations. The very fact that these punt-like boats never ventured far from their home base meant that there has been less cross-fertilisation of design ideas than one might encounter with seagoing vessels. So each region’s preferred design of punt remains a distinct expression of local identity.

In Spain’s Albufera lagoon, south of València, a variety of styles of small flat-bottomed craft have been popular, both in the brackish waters of the lagoon itself and in the surrounding marshlands. Some, like the barquet, are double ended, making them well suited for fishing expeditions in narrow creeks where there would be no possibility of turning the boat around. Often the only way to progress is by pulling on the reeds to secure forward motion. The much larger barquetots, capable of carrying huge loads, were important in supporting the local rice production.

In England, the watery flatlands of Somerset (known as the Somerset Levels) were home to a variety of simple flat-bottomed boats which supported daily life and particular trades.

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