There is often a lot said about going on a cruise in the Caribbean, or having a river cruise down the beautiful blue Danube, but another way to explore a country is with a narrowboat or barge holiday. This way time stops and one is truly free to explore the hidden charms of England.
Imagine spending all day outdoors with a mug of tea on the roof while moving from one spot to the next. After that, moor up for a couple of nights and explore another area. It's also very sociable as others with riverboats are always ready for a yarn and a cup of tea.
What To Know About England's Many River Canals
England is full of stunning river canals (these were the logistical highways before trains). narrowboat or barge river holidays are a very unique way to explore the quaint English countryside. One can rent a riverboat from companies like River Holidays.
- Highways: They Were The Highways Of England Before Trains and Trucks
The canals and rivers of England were originally built to transport industrial goods to and from towns and cities by boat. But they were largely forgotten after the industrial revolution, railroads, and motor vehicles. Today they are for recreational use and many people own narrowboats as a holiday home and others even live on them permanently.
There are a blistering amount of canals in England. Some of these are lock-free - like the Ashby Canal. There are many canals that meander their way through English forestry, farmland, under bridges, through weeping willows, and past pretty cottages.
Boating holidays are ideal for families and couples alike (although teenagers may lack the patience). Sometimes the canals go straight past well-known English attractions like Cadbury World, the living medieval Warwick Castle, and the Roman Baths at Bath.
- Ashby Canal: Lock-Free And Stretches For 22 Miles
- Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal: A Particularly Famous Scenic Canal
The Canal Regions of England
There are waterways in northern England that famously boast some of the most breathtaking of canal scenery in the country. In this part of the country, one can see the stark contrasts between England's industrial heritage, its green rolling countryside, its historic Victorian mills, and its rugged stone-built towns.
- Tip: Cross The Pennines Hills by Canal
One can even cross the Pennines by canal. The Pennines are a more-or-less continuous range of hills and mountains running between three regions of Northern England.
Central England is the heart of the canal network. This includes some of the more well-known regions of England and one can take a narrowboat journey through Shakespeare's Country or a family day out at Warwick Castle.
- Hub: Central England Is The Hub Of The English Canals
This region boasts more canals than Venice and is the hub of the working canals. In their day they would transport goods like coal between London and Birmingham.
There are also plenty of working canals a short drive from London. River Wey and the Basingstoke Canal are said to be amongst the most peaceful waterways in England and are ideal for a relaxing getaway.
Other more active options in southern England include Caen Hill Flight near Bath on the Kennet and Avon Canal. A 'Waterway Wonder'. One can hire a barge and cruise into the historic city of Bath, or navigate a narrowboat towards the dreamy Oxford Spires.
Some Of England's Most Notable Canals
Monmouthshire and Brecon canal:
This canal runs almost entirely through the Brecon Beacons national park and affords stunning views of the mountains. It's peaceful with some wild swimming spots along the way.
- Length: 35 Miles
- Locks: 6 Locks
- Tunnels: 2 Tunnels
Thames Ring (Multiple Canals):
This Grand Union canal boasts urban areas, rolling Chiltern hills, two long tunnels, and the bustling village of Braunston. The canal joins the Thames as Oxford and if one comes in August one can join the Cropredy folk festival.
- Length: 245 Miles
- Locks: 176 Locks
- Tunnels: 2 Tunnels
Kennet and Avon canal:
This route runs from Reading near London to Bristol and only reopened in 1990 after an impressive feat of restoration by volunteers. Along this canal one can stop by at canalside pubs while admiring feats of engineering and elegant architecture
- Length: 87 Miles
- Locks: 104 Locks
- Aqueducts: 2 Aqueducts
Running from Preston to Tewitifield, this is an example of a lock-free cruise. It affords views of the Silverdale Coast, the Forest of Bowland, and it gazes up at the stunning foothills of the Pennines. Discover the 1,000-year-old castle Lancaster where 10 people were convicted of witchcraft in 1612. Remind anyone of the wild trials of Salem?
- Length: 41 Miles
- Locks: No Locks