With 2,000 miles of British waterways open to canal boats, there are plenty of routes to choose from for your next canal boat holiday – all offering their own unique experience.
A canal boat holiday offers a fresh perspective to even familiar places. When choosing a location, think about whether you want to visit a place you already know but are keen to explore in a new way or try somewhere completely new.
Britain’s canal network was originally built to transport industrial goods to and from towns and cities. This means that along with scenic countryside scenes, many canal routes take you to the heart of major cities such as London, Oxford, Bath and Birmingham.
There are canals to suit everyone – from quiet, coastal canals to waterways that traverse bustling towns and cities canals. Some canals require more effort with numerous locks in quick succession or you can opt for a canal with few or no locks. You can choose to keep busy with a full itinerary of things to do and see each day or simply relax and see where the canal takes you.
Here are some ideas for choosing a route for your next canal boat holiday.
Kennet and Avon Canal
The Kennet and Avon Canal is one of the most beautiful canals in Britain. Linking London with the Bristol Channel, it is surrounded by the rolling pastures of the Cotswolds and Wiltshire and passes through the historic Georgian city of Bath.
The entire waterway, consisting of a canal and two navigable rivers, is 87 miles long with 107 locks. The popular stretch from Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire to the centre of Bath involves only one lock – making it suitable for canal boat novices. However, the Caen Hill Locks section between Rowde and Devizes in Wiltshire consists of 29 locks with a rise of 237 feet over a two-mile stretch. Travelling through the locks in this section can take 5 or 6 hours.
The Lancaster Canal
For holidaymakers in search of a canal route with no locks, the Lancaster Canal in North West England offers 41 miles of lock-free cruising. Being naturally level, this stretch of the canal offers opportunities for outdoor activities such as walking, cycling and canoeing. The canal runs through the breathtaking countryside from Tewitfield at the northern end south to Preston. North of Lancaster, the canal closely follows the coast so you can enjoy a great view of Morecombe Bay. This is a pretty waterway and provides some stunning sights of the grand mountains of the Lake District and the chance to explore the historic town of Lancaster.
The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
Located in the Brecon Beacons National Park, this scenic route is a favourite with nature-lovers, walkers and cyclists. The canal runs for 35 miles from Brecon to the Pontymoile basin, most of which is through rural countryside. On the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, you can hire electric narrowboats, which are quieter and cleaner than diesel, allowing for pleasant, more peaceful cruising.
The Oxford Canal
Passing through rolling hills and glorious countryside, the Oxford Canal is one of the UK’s most popular and prettiest waterways. This 78-mile long narrow canal runs through Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and east Warwickshire. Enjoy cruising past stone Cotswold villages, country estates, quaint pubs and old churches, through lift bridges and narrow locks. Oxford itself provides plenty of sights to see during the day; the Ashmolean Museum, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Botanic Gardens and the many famous University colleges including Christ Church College.
The Cheshire Ring
The Cheshire Ring in North West England is a good choice if you’re looking for a busy route that combines bustling towns and stunning vistas. At 97 miles long and with 92 locks, the Cheshire Ring goes over Bridgewater Canal, famous for being England’s first canal. This route offers the chance to explore a variety of landscapes, including Manchester’s city centre and rural Cheshire, with stunning views of the Peak District and the Cheshire Plain.
For an experienced cruiser, a circular canal route such as the Cheshire Ring that covers a number of canals can offer more freedom and adventure. Other popular rings routes include the Avon Ring, Four Counties Ring and Stourport Ring.