Narrow Canal Boat rental in Great Britain.

I am interested in a Canal Boat rental for 3 persons very soon (May or June). I have been looking at the rental company sites but it is very difficult to know anything about the routes. I would like something scenic with interesting stops. Is there a canal trip in the Cotswolds? Can anyone recommend a specific canal trip? What about the length of trip? Is 3 or 4 days too short, a week too long, etc.?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

OK, a few questions before the answers.... Have you been to the UK, England previously? Have you canal boated anywhere previously? England? Do you prefer to prefer to go somewhere, moor, and explore or do you want to crack on and complete an out and back or a ring? Between the ring or an out and back which would you prefer? Do want to do lots of locks or would you rather winding countryside? How many are in your party? EDIT: I see you say 3 persons - are they all adult persons or will there be persons who may find the physical part of the trip difficult?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Start to work on the routes from here: http://www.waterscape.com/canals-and-rivers. You'll probably have to switch back and forth with google maps to make sure there are interesting stops/towns. Pick a company that has something in the area. The most important thing is 'stops per day'. Just motoring along at three knots or less gets to be a bit tedious. The more pubs the better. My preference is to go for a week, at least. Invaribly you dont' get away until later afternoon and you have to have the boat back first thing in the morning of the return day - - that pretty well nixes a short run. With a narrow boat that 'sleeps four' two people will be sleeping on the fold-out couch that will block the entry to the tiller deck. I've done a bunch. The only route I've taken more than once (three times, actually) is Market Harborough and hang a left at Foxton (up the staircase) and press on as far as you can get in three days.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

My reply from yesterday didn't post so I will try again. Nigel: We were in England a few years ago for 9 days and last Sept. to Scotland for a week. My favorite experiences were a walk near Lower Slaughter, a hike to the Old Man of Storr in Skye and walking along Hadrian's Wall. I love the British countryside. We have never canal boated. I am not sure what we want. Mooring and exploring sounds nice. We like walking but I think 2 - 3 mile hikes would be our limit. We could go further for something special but not EVERYday. I would prefer not covering the same ground twice but it is ok, especially if it was interesting the 1st time. I think locks would make it fun. I mainly want to see pretty countryside and experience quaint villages. My husband and I are 58 and able and our son 19 quite strong. We will make him do the locks I think. Ed: Yes, the stops per day is important. It is the tedious part that I am worried about. If you have done that route 3 times it must have something going for it. I looked it up on Google maps and wondered how far you get to and what you see along the way.
Thank you guys for the help. I need to get something planned soon and "sell" it to my husband.

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

have you thought about Norfolk Broads? You are not stuck with going in one direction all the time?

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Thank you Brian, Norfolk Broads looks like a facinating area. Do you have anything specific to recommend?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Like Brian, I really like the Broads, but I don't think it's a great place for a boat since it's so flat. I took a trip in similar terrain down in the Carmargue once and it seemed like you were always down in a ditch to the point you had to stand of the roof to see anything. The Midlands seem to be the best for scenery, since often the canal follows the countour along the side of a hill and you can see pretty well. The canals in the area also cut through enough towns and villages that you're coasting through somebody's back yard and of course the pubs are more frequent. The only place I wouldn't recommend is out of Nottingham in either direction - - it's just too boring. I really don't like the Cotswolds and try to steer clear of the mess unless my minder holds a gun to my head. I just can't picture having seen narrowboats anywhere in the heart of the area. I have seen them at Bath. Also at Strattford-on-Avon - - I haven't done it, but I think there's a one-week loop that goes through there. Don't worry about operating the locks - - seven and eigh year old kids do it all the time. Also, the boats are easy enough for one person to manage that you can get off and walk along the tow paths, it'd be a coin toss on who was ahead at the end of a couple of miles. To rough guess speed / distance - - figure you can average three miles per hour and a lock takes about as long as a mile - - assuming no back-up with other boats waiting to traverse. If you need to sell the old man on something, try a different twist - - not a narrowboat, but a cabin cruiser type deal and run the lochs and Caledonian from Inverness to Ft William - - you can get over and back in a week. Lock keepers run the locks there and all you do is tug the boat through with a rope.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Ed: I do want to be where I can see, not in a ditch. I really like the idea of the lochs and the Caladonian but we were just there the end of September. I will give it some concideration though. I think it would interest the husband like you said. We drove through Ft Williams without stopping to look at the locks and he was dissappointed.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

The locks on the Caledonian are actually at Fort Augustus. I think the staircase has more steps at Foxton. It's a pretty good hike from the canal terminus into town at Ft William.

Posted by Linda
Bromley, Kent,, UK
1759 posts

Sorry Ed! I have to defend the Broads, it is nothing like boating in a ditch. http://www.enjoythebroads.com/content/broads-authority No wish to say one area is better than the other because they are so different but had to speak up. However, one thing I would say is that AFAIK there is little opportunity, unlike the canal system, for circular routes so some back tracking is inevitable.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

It all looks good. I think I like the idea of the midland canals the best though. Ed, tell me more about the route you have taken 3 times.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

It's essentially a piece of the Grand Union Canal that starts at the top of the Market Harborough Arm, turns south at Foxton, has another arm at that goes up to Welford (great pub), then presses on past Crick to Norton. Here, I've turned west twice to go as far as Braunston which was more interesting than going more or less east (maybe southeast) toward Gayton. If you don't like the dark, take a deep breath. Both the Crick and Braunston tunnels are about a mile long (no lights, and you can't see from end-to-end, but there is a spotlight on the boat). Passing an oncoming can get a bit sporty the first couple of times since the boats are six feet wide and the tunnel about thirteen. Interesting, but not scarey. Braunston is about as far as you can get. You'll have to watch your timing since it's illegal to run the boats in the dark. The trick for the return leg is to get to the bottom of the Foxton staircase at the end of the day (two pubs, the one on the east side of the locks has excellent grub), spend the night, and leave early to get the boat back up to Market Harborough before the turn-in deadline. The first time was great, but three is a bit much. When I did it the second time it was because I was coming off of a pretty mean trip and my wife met me there so I could wind down - - it was simply the only place we could find at the last minute. The third time was to introduce a buddy to narrowboats and so I took him to what I figured was the best. The whole area is Nigel's backyard. He undoubtedly has as much knowledge as anybody about everything.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Thanks Ed. Yes, I have been anxiously awaiting to see what Nigel has in store for me after answering the questions. Will the rental company give me more suggestions for things to see and places to go along my route? Do you have a company that you prefer?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Yep. Route discussions are part of the boat orientation and check-out. You'll also buy/get a BW map. We get boats off a crappy time-share we inherited but have never seen. I guess we've wound up with three or four companies - - the only one I can remember is Canaltime. All the boats are virtually identical.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

Karen, Ed has given you some excellent information, and the thoughts about the Broads are good too. My local knowledge is the Midlands, the Stratford Canal, the Grand Union and its branches, the Birmingham Navigations, and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. I have no experience of river navigations such as the Nene, Avon, or Thames. I'm pretty worried that you are hoping to go this month or next. I'm worried that you will be looking at leftovers because most people take between one and two weeks of holiday for narrowboat holidays and book up months in advance. Have you looked at the website suggested by Ed above? It is very comprehensive. If you go to the downloads tab on it and go to Watch the Boaters' Handbook DVD it is 40 minutes of (admittedly slightly cheesy) excellent advice. It shows some of the scenery in the midlands, shows the Foxton staircase, and other locks, and easy mistakes and lots of fun. It also shows what narrowboats and cruisers are like. I strongly suggest viewing it. I'm particularly partial to the Stratford Canal. It has narrow locks, gorgeous scenery with plenty of wildlife, not as busy as some, the locks are well spaced and quite shallow, and interesting. There a couple of excellent restaurants along it too, including the Crab Mill. There's also a walk to a pair of National Trust properties, Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton. My other concern is this: you have said you want to take walks. Unless you are walking the towpath (very much fun) you will have to moor up. If you are moored several hours the boat won't be moving so if you are trying to reach a goal or complete a ring you will have to make time when you return. Perhaps an out and back based on your style will be better than a 7 or 10 day ring.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

Perhaps best if you contact marinas and see what's available and then come back here for us to help you compare...

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Nigel makes a very good point. Except for weddings and funerals, I stay well the heck clear of europe in the summer. Thus I can't begin to guess how crowded the waterways will be or even if they would be so jammed that it could be downright unenjoyable. My experience has been that if you see more than a couple or three other moving boats in an hour it's pretty unusual.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Nigel: The boater's video is great. My husband is going to watch it today. I have been trying to find a place that rents boats on the Stratford. I read about the canal since you said you were partial to it and it sounds lovely. I am having trouble though. When I find Stratford it alway says "Stratford upon Avon" and the routes don't sound like they go on much of the Stratford. I may not understand the area. Can you guide me?
I was hoping to go soon to beat the summer crowd. I would love to wait until September but I think we are moving back to the states in August and I wanted to see England again before we go.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

Kate Boats is a small gang in Warwick. Warwick is a lovely town with St Mary's Church and its exquisite ring of bells and neat climb of the bell tower, and Warwick Castle and the ancient Lord Leycester Hospital . You could head up the Hatton Flight of locks (buy a commemorative mug or t-shirt or magnet at the shop at the top) and along to Kingswood Junction near Lapworth. From there its a nice walk to National Trust's Packwood House and its wonderful Yew Apostle garden and their Baddesley Clinton House and Garden with its priest holes (the Ferrers family was linked to the Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes). The Crab Mill restaurant is nearby. Turn left at Kingswood Junction and left again into the southbound Stratford. Or right turn and through the Lapworth Flight. well, back on topic - you might see if Kate's have any boats available. Anglo Welsh have a large base at Wooton Wawen just down the canal from Lapworth (scroll down on the webpage or you will read about the huge Tardebigge flight which is another trophy for lock fanatics. Alvechurch Marina is beyond the beginning of the Stratford Canal on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal in rural Worcestershire near the village of Alvechurch near Redditch. They have a large fleet your options from that marina can be extensive. I'd have a look around and see which appeals to you. Oh, and don't forget Rose boats, another in Warwick.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Oh thank you. I saw boats at those places (Warwick & Wooten) also places on Birmingham and Worcester canals. I guess what I should be asking is, "What are good bases to go out of in order to see the area you are partial to?" When I looked at rental places I didn't realize I could go from there to the stratford. They didn't mention Stratford in their routes. My husband is watching the video right now, he didn't get to it the other day. You are right, it is a bit cheesy but well worth watching for the information and representation of the canals, I love the cross over in the trough. I think I saw one of those on the Stratford. About the walking, I think the tow paths are a great idea and just keep going with the boat, thanks for straighening me out there. I am getting so excited about it. I get the impression that it is a bit like camping (without the hastle of tents) and taking an all day hike while I just sit on the boat and watch it go by. Hubby finished the video, HE IS SOLD!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

Karen, with respect, as your trip is so close, may I suggest you start by getting hold of some (all) of the marinas and seeing what (if anything) is still available? It is all beautiful areas, there are really good rides from all of them. The only area which might be less appealing, unless you like cities, is the Birmingham Navigations which goes through some areas with less beautiful scenery and lots of abandoned factories.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Nigel and Ed and anyone else who would like to give me their opinion. There were choices at all of the ones you mentioned Nigel. I was wondering about the length of the boat verses convenience of permanent beds. Is it much harder to control a longer boat and how inconvenient is it to have the 3rd person sleep on one of the couches.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

It isn't that much different to control a long boat than it is to control a short one. The long ones usually require that you have three people on board. I've frequently had it waived down to two after demonstrating that I wasn't exactly a novice. I've also taken the longer ones through locks alone with no trouble. The only real difference might be if you want to turn around in mid-canal - - you might have to drive a while longer to find a place to do it with a long one, probably not so far if you had a shortie. Sleeping is another story. The usual configuration on a short boat is a double bed up front and the couch/bed all the way in the back. The head of this bed will abutt the kitchen counter. There's only one hatch to the steering platform (or anywhere outside) and you have to clump against the bed/couch to get to it. ((There's also a side hatch, but you have to climb to get out it and then hold the handrail to scoot along a six-inch deck to get to the ass end of the boat.) If the guy/gal in the back is the late sleeper, it could get a bit miserable. There's also the storage issue for the third person's gear - - it's usually piled up on the couch or stuffled into the locker with the wet, smelly mooring gear during the day.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

I agree with Ed. The only real reasons against a longer boat, as far as I am concerned are: 1) Winding Holes - where you turn round may be limited in size. Several I am familiar with limit to 50 or 52 feet. If you have a 70 footer you may be limited. 2) Cills in the locks are a lot closer if you don't have any wiggle room 3) Cost. Usually the longer and more luxurious the boat the higher the cost.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Do you recommend going out of where Rose narrow boats is (Stretton-Under-Fosse) or where Kate narrow boats is (Warwick)?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

Now that you have both viewed the video it may be time to reflect on some of the questions earlier. The Hatton Locks can be a degree of work. 21 locks on the trot will take, using the calculation mentioned by Ed earlier you will be looking at the thick edge of 6 hours. You may or may not want to start and finish your holiday with that, but if you do you will all be lock professionals by the time you do the flight and be ready for a cup of tea. You will have the kettle on as you make your way up the flight, I'm sure, but you might like to pause at Hatton Locks Cafe for a sit down. Don't forget to buy a souvenir or two and maybe a post card to celebrate. There is a neat blog http://nbnorthernpride.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/hatton-locks-long-time-for-short.html giving a good feeling for working the flight. The Stratford will seem like a walk in the park after that. If you start at Alvechurch you can have several hours of cruising without much locking before you get into it. It all depends on what the three of you are looking for. Have a look at what Rose Narrowboats have put together about the various routes. It is very well done and shows the number of hours, locks, and items to think about. Happy Planning....

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

I'm not sure I understand. If we start out at Rose we still have to go through the Hatton Locks to get to the stratford right? Rose says it is difficult to do the stratford from there in a week that you really need 10 days. Or, are you suggesting a different route?

Posted by Nicholas
Hove, Sussex, United Kingdom
4 posts

You can't beat the canals! We've enjoyed quite a few narrow boat holidays in our time. Locks are great fun and I wouldn't want to go on a route that didn't have them but you do need a little bit of strength to help you pass through easily. As long as you're generally able bodied that shouldn't be a problem - you don't have to be a superman or woman! We've travelled with Black Prince in the past - probably the largest national narrowboat hire company. I'm sure others mentioned are equally good though. If nothing else their website will give you a decent overview of the system and what you will encounter on each possible canal route and how long your journey is likely to take. They also, I believe, give the routes a degree of difficulty rating... http://www.black-prince.com/

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Thanks Nicholas, they do have a nice website. I wish I had discovered canal boating sooner. I think I am going to want to do it more than once.

Posted by Karen
Altlussheim, Germany
18 posts

Thank you all, I have my reservation and will be going out of Warwick. That Hatton Ladder does look like fun. I am not sure that going down the Stratford will take a week though. It seems like we are going to have some time left over. What do you think?
Nigel, thank you for all the suggestions and the places to see along the way. I am so excited. I love traveling in Great Brittain. I think it is because of all the great history, the countryside is so beautiful, the people so wonderful and the fact that they SPEAK ENGLISH.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11965 posts

Hi Karen I hope it works out wonderful for you. Don't forget to: Bring waterproofs, and waterproof headgear. And sunscreen. And cameras. Be on the lookout for birds - kingfishers (photos), herons (photos), swans (photos), Cygnets (lots of photos), Ducks and ducklings (even more photos) and Moor Hens. Bring extra memory cards. Be prepared for lots of tea or coffee drinking (or occasionally something perhaps a wee bit stronger) - you should have a rota for who is in charge of the tea Use teamwork. Teamwork through the locks is definitely the way, and if you buddy up with another boat going through the locks in the same direction it will cut the work even more and save precious water. That won't happen on the Stratford as the locks are spread out and only hold one boat at a time.
Stop regularly and enjoy the ambiance of the canal-side pubs. Even if you just want soft drinks just moor up and wander into the garden - send one person in to the bar to order. Make sure to get the appropriate books - you can get them from the marina at the time but if you get them from Amazon (can you use amazon.co.uk or must you use amazon.de?) all 3 of you can study the books and diagrams before you arrive. There will be so much to learn the thinking may go by the wayside - remember the family in the video who went the wrong way? We prefer Nicholson's. You'll need book 2. >>Ed - if you've got your ears on, which books do you prefer? So, Rose or Kate? How long for the boat? How long for the trip? 7 days? I'll give more precise suggestions ...

Posted by David
Boulder, CO, United States
1 posts

I have spent 7 months on the canals of England and France and my favorites in England would be the South Oxford from Rugby to Oxford or the Llangollen into Wales. Check Blakes.co.uk, they rent all over the UK. 3 days is hardly worth the effort. I go for at least 2 weeks. Best vacation ever.