A campaign to get more use out of Norwich’s River Wensum has been handed a major boost after a company started a new punting service and the city was picked by the British Canoe Union for waterborne guided tours.

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The Wensum River Parkway Project and the Norwich Society have been pressing for action on the river, claiming Norwich is not making the most of this asset, compared to how cities such as Cambridge cash in on their waterways.

The company behind the Canterbury Punting Company, running punts on the River Stour in Kent, and Cambridge, brought its chauffeured tours to the city’s waterway last week after Norwich City Council and the Broads Authority approved the application in June.

Meanwhile, the potential of the river has been spotted by the British Canoe Union, which hopes people will pick up a paddle in the city this summer and take part in a guided tour of Norwich’s heritage from the unusual perspective of the water.

Canterbury Punting Company owners Ashley Dalton and James Murray have four boats, each carrying 12 passengers, available for river trips, starting at their ticket office close to Norwich Playhouse. The voyages range from daytime historic tours, candlelit voyages in the evenings, and ghost tours.

Mr Murray, who is originally from Ireland, punted when he was studying history at university in Canterbury two years ago.

“I had never been to Norwich before but when I heard that no one had thought of punting on the Wensum, I was so surprised.

“There are so many beautiful buildings from so many different eras, and it’s so important for people to see this side of the city.” Mr Murray said their first week has proved popular in the city, with people curious about the tours, and eager to book trips for the weekends.

The hour-long historic day tour takes in Pull’s Ferry, St James’ Mill, Bishopsgate Bridge, White Friars Bridge, Cow Tower, and Quayside, with a commentary throughout.

Lovers can enjoy their own private ride with chocolates, roses and violin music, and the bold and the brave can take on the haunted tour which journeys the river lit by lanterns.

Passengers are also invited to take picnics on to the boat to make the voyage even more quaint.

Mr Murray and Mr Dalton make all the boats themselves by hand in a barn near Cambridge in the winter months, before setting them off to sail the waters in the summer.

Mr Murray said: “I really enjoy building the boats and seeing them transform from pieces of wood into boats. It’s really satisfying.”

Anna Fox, 23, a trainee teacher from Heigham Street, in Norwich, took the historic tour, and said the views of the city surprised her.

She said: “I couldn’t believe how much of Norwich’s history James remembered on our trip.

“I was born in Norwich and went to school here, and I was quite surprised that I had never seen so many places in my own city.”

Charlotte Rye, 23, from Earlham Road, said next time she would bring a bottle of bubbly and make the most of the “beautiful views” along the river.

Last month, civic watchdog the Norwich Society launched a new film to encourage a rethink over the way the river is used.

Shown to invited guests, including councillors, council officers, architects and business leaders, the Beside Still Waters film highlighted how some parts of the river have been neglected, with poor access for the public.

The society says the river should be a focus for tourism, but suffers from a lack of joined-up thinking and under-investment.

Buy today’s Evening News for a first person experience of Norwich punting as well as more on the canoe tours.

Punting tours run from 10am until 5pm daily, with the historic tour costing £10 for adults, £8 for concessions and £3 for children.

The haunted tour need to be booked in advance, and is £12 for adults, £10 for concessions and £4 for children. And the romantic tour starts from £40.

For more information call 07810 047845 or visit www.norwichpunting.co.uk.

Do you think more needs to be made of the River Wensum? Tell us your views by writing to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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