The UK is criss-crossed with incredible canals and waterways that meander through stunning countryside and skirt past quaint towns and villages. A beautiful by-product of the industrial revolution and a testament to human engineering, these canals would have been heaving with cargo, people, hustle and bustle when they were first created. Fast forward 200 or so years, and they now make for a calm, quiet and relaxing way to explore Britain’s varied landscapes.
You can rent a canal boat for a day trip, a longer holiday, or maybe you prefer your feet on solid ground – in which case you can walk the towpaths. Here are 8 amazing ways to enjoy Britain’s waterways:
1. Circle your way around northwest England
The Cheshire Ring is an impressive canal that forms a circular waterway route in the Northwest, once the industrial heartland of England. At 92 miles long, it takes in an impressive variety of scenery, including the edge of the Pennine hills, the rolling Cheshire countryside, the lively city centre of Manchester and goes right past Old Trafford Stadium.
There’s a grand total of 92 locks to pass through, and the route also takes in the Bridgewater Canal – the first canal to be built in the modern waterways era. Anyone exploring the ring by boat can use the Anderton Boat Lift; an incredible feat of engineering that lifts canal boats the 50ft height difference between the Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey Canal.
2. A waterbourne adventure in eastern England
The Norfolk Broads’ ancient network of rivers, lakes and dykes covers a huge area of East Anglia. The entire waterway system would take well over a week to explore by boat, meaning that visitors come back time and time again to discover new routes and creeks. The Broads wind through idyllic villages and quiet market towns, past windmills and you can also access the Norfolk coast, as well as the historic city of Norwich.
3. A long-distance water route through the Cotswolds
The 87-mile Kennet and Avon Canal route links London with Bristol. The waterway passes through the lovely landscapes of the Cotswolds and Berkshire, and includes an impressive flight of 16 locks at Caen Hill. The Kennet and Avon Cycle Route is also a long-distance waterside cycle route, either following the canal, or the Bristol to Bath railway the whole way.
4. Wend your way through England’s villages
Winding sleepily through pretty villages, the Oxford Canal takes you from historic Oxford through to the 3 spires of Coventry. With waterways lined by cosy country pubs and colourful flowerpots, this gentle canal boasts wonderful views across the British countryside and opportunities to spot a rich variety of wildlife. A long-distance walking route follows the towpath for 77 miles from Oxford to Hawkesbury in Gloucestershire, so hikers can enjoy experiencing the slow-paced majesty of this lovely canal.
5. See London from a different perspective
A trip along the Regent’s Canal offers a leisurely way to explore London without the bustle. This quiet and atmospheric route passes from the attractive neighbourhood of Little Venice to Camden Lock Market, passing key sights like Lord’s Cricket Ground, a variety of parks, London Zoo and impressive Victorian waterside warehouses. Explore the canal by boat, kayak or simply stroll along the waterside pathways.
6. Cross between England and Wales 126ft up in the air
Crossing the border between England and Wales, the Llangollen Canal passes through picturesque countryside and the hair-raising but stunning Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the tallest navigable example in Britain. The aqueduct reaches 126ft high as it passes spectacularly over the River Dee, and can be crossed either by boat or by foot (if you have a head for heights). The rest of the canal journey boasts a steam railway and accompanying pathways for cyclists or hikers to explore the route too.
7. A city with more canals than Venice
You think of Venice, but it’s actually Birmingham that has more miles of canals, so if you’re looking to explore the great British canal network then it’s a great place to start. A gentle cruise through the meandering waters gives you a unique view of both Birmingham’s past and present. Once the hub of the industrial revolution, old factories and warehouses are now nestled in between luxury shops, modern bars and cosy cafes along the banks of the canals.
8. Go round a wheel in a boat!
An impressive feat of modern engineering, the Falkirk wheel uniquely connects the Forth and Clyde and Union canals in Scotland. Ideal for a day trip, you can experience the world’s only rotating boatlift yourself or just watch this magnificent structure in action. To explore the surrounding area, hire a bike and follow the cycle trails or book in for a Segway tour.
This blog article was contributed by Premier Inn - a chain of affordable hotels all over Britain.