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Canal Boat trips through the UK

One of those 'why not,' ideas happened in our house last night; what about a canal boat trip in England. Understand I know absolutely nothing about a canal boat vacation, other than it sounds like fun and new way to experience the English countryside. If you have taken or about to take a canal boat trip in the UK or can give me the practicalities of this type of adventure, your insight would be deeply appreciated.

Thank you,
Time to try a different way of travel - Lynette

Posted by
906 posts

I read a novel years ago by British author Katie Fforde ( yes 2 fs) called "Life Skills". Not great literature but the author actually has experience on canal boats so its informative.

I'd consider taking a trip with a company like the one in the book but not trying to actually rent and pilot my own. Too many things to go wrong.

Posted by
1469 posts

I just read a book about Wedgwood Potteries. Josiah Wedgwood was a member of the Lunar Society; a group of scientists, engineers and industrial innovators who encouraged progressive improvements to promote art and industry. He and this group came up with the idea of the canals to bring supplies and send product to market. I just looked on line and there are several companies that do narrowboat canal tours; often with biking on the tow paths. You can do day trips, too. Be sure to visit the Potteries District. Wedgwood has a factory tour and very interesting Museum. There are many other Potters with showrooms and some with factory discounts. Bon Voyage!

Posted by
33306 posts

I love mucking about in boats - and I love working narrowboats.

I have a little experience and know something about these wonders of technology.

The boats are what they say on the name - very narrow and very long. That's so they fit in the locks which raise the boats up over hills and join different canals and rivers together. Boats can be up to 72 feet long and no more than 6 feet 10 inches wide.

The steering position is right at the back of the boat, a direct link to the rudder. No power steering, and on most boats the steerer will want to be standing or leaning most of the time so as to be able to see where she or he is going.

The boats are not allowed to travel faster than 4 mph - a normal walking pace - and must slow down as they pass moored boats - no wake.

Most locks are do it yourself - there are lock-keepers on a few locks (the Foxton Staircase of locks near me jumps to mind). A couple of windlasses are included with the boat, and instruction is given. With a little practice it is easy and straightforward.

We are used to new people using hire-boats and we understand some of the issues that new boaters encounter - lots of people will help out. Positioning the boat in a lock and keeping it in place as the water rises or falls is a skill to learn - they tend to move around. You don't want to leave the boat on the cill.

Boats are hired for a week or two weeks or a week and a half (less common). You can go "out and back" especially on shorter trips, but most people link two or three canals into a "ring" and make one circuit. You will usually have a mixture of urban and rural boating.

Many people, especially the younger ones, take bikes with them. Handy for heading off to a nearby market for provisions.

Wildlife is extensive along most canals - swans, geese, ducks, kingfishers, herons. Sheep, cows, horses. If you look carefully you may see traces of smaller mammals, and at night perhaps badgers,

Boats will vary in fit out - some basic, some posh, some somewhere inbetween. When you check the prices that will become clear.

Flush toilets, showers, fridges, microwaves, ovens and hobs are usual. TVs too. Little ones.

How many in your party, what time of year, what part of the country are you mulling over?

Posted by
39 posts

My husband and I did this for our honeymoon 14 years ago. It was our worst vacation ever! Now, we look back on it with a sense of humor, and would love to go on a hotel boat canal trip someday, but we would not attempt to pilot ourselves again.

We rented a boat on the Llangollen Canal, going from Whitchurch to Llangollen. The boat was extremely hard to steer, so much so that we managed to run it aground on the sides of the canal many times (and once diagonally on both sides, blocking the entire canal!). One kind stranger from another boat hopped on board to help us out of being stuck once, and that was the highlight of that day.

On our second day, we finally made it to our lunch stop destination (Ellesmere) at the end of the day. We were exhausted, stressed out, and dreading the rest of the week, so we decided to just moor up there for the rest of the week and we took day trips on the bus from there. We ended up cutting our canal boat part of the trip off a day early, returned the boat early, and spent an extra night in London.

The good parts of the trip: The boat itself is a fun and quirky place to stay, and it was surprisingly comfortable to sleep on it. Other boaters were all very nice, there was a good communal spirit on the canal. We saw some lovely countryside that we otherwise would not have seen.

We were young 20-somethings on that trip, so maybe if we had been older with some life experience and no expectation that we'd be good at steering at the boat right away, we might have had a better time. But it was not relaxing at all, and steering the boats is so much harder than it looks! Seriously think about going on a trip on one of the hotel canal boats that has someone else driving the boat for you.

Posted by
1013 posts

I have always looked at those canal long boats going through the locks and thought how wonderful it would be. But, my sister who lives in UK has tried it a few times and she tells me its not for the faint of heart. The last time she spent a week on the water, she almost lost her dog when he fell over the side between the boat and the lock - its was awful - she managed to pull the golden lab to safety in the nick of time. She has been put off going ever since.
Just another suggestions, Not a canal boat, but your could perhaps chose to rent a boat (with a motor) to explore the Norfolk Broads. You can get fancy sleepers with kitchen/bathroom plus they go a little faster. The Broads are just lovely to explore with lots of villages and pubs to stop along the way. You would have more control over the boat and no locks to deal with! There are many companies that hire boats. We usually take a boat out from Wroxham. Just very pretty but a little off the tourist path. (But plenty of British holiday makers chose the broads for good reason). There are probably other boats to hire in other parts of the countryside, but Norfolk is what I am familiar with.


Posted by
906 posts

Ok..... Not sure about the OP but I'm convinced not to do it or at least not try to rent. How are they for sea sickness? Do they rock much.

Posted by
73 posts

A large thank you to all for your stories and advice on canal boating, which now has both my husband and myself looking into exploring the other optionsl renting a boat to explore the countryside, however one with a motor I think will suit our plans.

Posted by
1338 posts

I cannot see from your question if you set on a narrowboat. If not try to look at leBoat who rents "normal" motor boats in various parts of Europe. We have rented in Scotland (LochNess) and Ireland (Shannon) and enjoyed it.

Posted by
906 posts

Unclegus, re the Great Canal Journey's - I checked BBC America, Acorn and Britbox streaming services and none list the show. Time to start nagging Acorn to add it to the rotation.