Wifi along English canals?

My family is planning a 2-week narrowboat rental on the Leeds & Liverpool canal in Yorkshire, but, alas, I have to keep working, teaching online graduate courses, so need good Internet connectivity every couple days for a few hours for email and audio conferencing. Wondered if some locals or experienced folk could advise or confirm what I'm hearing? Poking around, I sense that free and/or paid wifi is more practical and economical than mobile phone data plans? Anyone happen to know how convenient free/paid wifi is, either along the Leeds & Liverpool itself, or, I suppose more likely, in the towns along the canal? Can I just saunter into public spaces here and there, settle down on a bench or at a tea table, and connect reasonably well? Looking at British Telecom's web site, it appears they have quite extensive wifi coverage in most settled areas, including small towns along the canal? Looks as though £39 gets you a month subscription to their coverage? Is BT the way to go, or is there another carrier with generally better coverage? Any other advice you could share for helping me understand the connectivity landscape along the canal? Thank you all!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

Well for narrowboats Ed's your man. I will try to help more when I get home but my initial thoughts are you are asking a big ask. Most of the areas I walk along on canals in England are pretty spotty for regular voice mobile calls, and certainly no public wifi. You may find a pub that will offer it but that will take quite a lot of research. Maybe get the Nicholson for that canal and start calling the listed pubs. If you are looking at the BT map of BT Fon that's very slow and narrow pipes for BT broadband subscribers piggybacking on a special slow and narrow slot on BT routers in people's houses. I really don't think you'd have the bandwidth to run, say, a Skype call, that way. You might in a pub or restaurant along the way but you'll get background noise, and still maybe not have enough bandwidth. I'll put my thinking cap on...

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

I agree with Nigel. Sometimes the canals are down in a ditch and you can't get squat so even a usb gizmo might not work that often. Lots of semi-rural pubs don't have wifi. Those are general observations. The only time I was on the western end of the Leeps and Liverpool darn well may have been before the invention of cell phones, but I seem to remember hotels offset a half-mile or so that are of the caliber that would probably have it and you could probably buy twenty minutes for a pound or something. Blackburn, Wigan, and Burnley should have something. No bets on anyplace else.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Where are you starting from? Which way are you going, and how far? Also, which company?

Posted by Bob
San Diego, CA, USA
5 posts

Starting from Silsden, probably going mostly west, not sure yet how far, on Silsden Boats. So we'd be going close to settled areas like Skipton, but also probably out where there are just the occasional pub or small village. Don't know the area well as yet.

Posted by Linda
Bromley, Kent,, UK
1632 posts

Used to recommend public libraries, many had PCs and/or free WiFI facilities. With the current austerity measures underway you may find that in smaller places they may have closed or reduced their hours.

Posted by Bob
San Diego, CA, USA
5 posts

Thank you all, this has been very informative. One of the options mentioned is the "dongle," by which is meant, I think, what we in US refer to as a wireless card for a laptop computer basically using your computer to connect to a wireless data network, similar to (or perhaps identical with) a mobile phone network. Googling around it looks as though there are several vendors who can provide those both for laptops and for tablets in England. Any recommendations on specific vendors anyone's had a good experience with? Thanks again for all your good advice!

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2900 posts

Bob, I'd suggest that you go into any Carphone Warehouse (there are stores all over England ... check their internet site for locations) and discuss what you need. They sell mobile broadband prepaid for most of the providers.

Posted by Tim
Berkshire, England
8 posts

Knowing the Leeds and Liverpool canal, quite a bit of it goes through some relatively remote areas - if you use a dingle from one of the mobile carriers, I'd research which ones have good reception over that
specific area before you buy.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17783 posts

Bob, The "Dongle" you referred to provides Internet access via the cellular data network. This Product or This Product are examples. Service with these tends to be a bit on the "pricey" side, and I'm not sure what type of plans are offered in the U.K. As someone else mentioned, it would be a good idea to stop at a Car Phone Warehouse or a Cell shop with one of the networks for the best information on what's available. I'm not sure what kind of bandwidth would be used for Skype calls, so that could be expensive if done on the cellular data network. Good luck and happy travels!

Posted by Bob
San Diego, CA, USA
5 posts

Thanks again to all of you for the suggestions. Here we are on the Leeds & Liverpool after a week and a half cruising through North Yorkshire and Lancashire and thought I'd y'all on what we ended up doing. At the last moment we came across a service called Tep (http://www.tepwireless.com/index.php) that rents either smart phones or (what we ended up trying) a "pocket wifi" device that allows you to "dial up" to a mobile phone/data network. For about $2.25/day (that's based on a month rental more if you rent for a shorter time), you get little phone-sized gadget that worked right out of the box as advertised. There are four of us with a variety of iPods and iPads (works with laptops too, of course) and we've connected 1 to 3 or 4 devices at a time and it seems to work like a charm. So far we've used it in Heathrow, in the Cotswalds, in the Lake District, and here along the canal with excellent results. Driving in the car (passengers only of course) was a little iffy, but we managed to get through a bit. Better than the traffic flow on the M6 that's for sure! Coverage is described by Tep in two categories indoor and outdoor. We found that when we couldn't get coverage in the boat, all we usually needed to do was to position the device in view of a window (no steel walls there) and it was fine. The wifi is easily picked up throughout the boat. Internet access isn't unlimited wouldn't be good for streaming video or large downloads but plenty good for email, web browsing, the kind of stuff I need for teaching my courses. We've used it to make Skype calls with our mobile devices because they aren't terribly high bandwidth, and the quality has been darned good. So a nice combination of wifi hotspot and smart phone rolled into one. I'd recommend it highly so far.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8758 posts

That's great to know, Bob - one to stick in the back of the brain for later usage... How about the narrowboat experience?

Posted by Bob
San Diego, CA, USA
5 posts

We rented from Silsden Boats in Silsden, and they've been wonderful. We have a 52-foot narrow boat and we've gone west through the Foulridge tunnel and east to the Bingley five-rise. Amazing countryside, extraorinarily friendly folks, especially on the canal itself, and no end of interesting side trips. In the past few days we've been cruising close to Silsden and our car and taken side trips as far afield as the Lake District (Beatrix Potter's Hilltop Farm an unexpectedly satisfying experience), thoroughly enjoyed a day of walking at Bolton Abbey, and planning to visit the Bronte sisters' haunts and the model mill town of Saltaire. On the canal itself we've enjoyed the adventure of navigating 11 locks in a wildly wet Yorkshire storm, watched the Olympic torch come through the town of Skipton, shared an English loss in a European football quarter final at the White Lion in Kildwick, walked through the fields from East Marston to the Lovely town of Gargrave just for a second chance at scones at the Dalesman, fed geese and ducks and swans, hob nobbed with the sheep, cows, and pheasants, and just generally have been having a whopping good time. Recommend it highly!