Canal Boating in Britain

The canals and rivers of England were originally built to transport industrial goods to and from towns and cities by boat. Today, the UK waterways are at the heart of inland boating holidays and weave through some of the most picturesque areas in the UK. Barge holidays in England provide a great opportunity to discover the English countryside. Canals offer a real change from everyday routine and bring one in touch with a new unexpected England remote from main roads and railways, free from crowded and noisy roads; peaceful, pleasant and unspoilt.

Over the past 50 years many thousands of people have found the fastest way of slowing down is to have a relaxing canal boat holiday. Even if you have no previous canal barge hire experience you will be surprised just how easy it is to become a confident skipper of your canal boat. All today's narrowboats for hire are purpose built for easy and responsive handling and if you have any doubts over any aspect of waterway, canal or river cruising, boat hire operators can assist. At the start of a canal barge holidays hirers are usually taken for a free tuition boat trip by an experienced pilots and shown through a lock (sluice). Instruction continues until you are confident of how to handle your canal hire boat.



The canals of the United Kingdom are a major part of the network of inland waterways in the United Kingdom. They have a colourful history, from use for irrigation and transport, through becoming the focus of the Industrial Revolution, to today's role for recreational boating. Despite a period of abandonment, today the canal system in the United Kingdom is again in increasing use, with abandoned and derelict canals being reopened, and the construction of some new routes.

The majority of canals in the United Kingdom can accommodate boats with a length of between 55 and 80 feet (17 and 24 m) and are now used primarily for leisure. There are a number of canals which are far larger than this including New Junction Canal and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal which can allow use for boats with a length of up to 230 feet (70 m). One purpose built ship canal exists in the United Kingdom, the Manchester Ship Canal, which is incomparable in size to any other canal in the United Kingdom. Upon opening in 1894 it was the largest ship canal in the world, and permitted ships with a length of up to 600 feet (180 m) to navigate its 36-mile (58 km) route.



There are now about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of navigable canals and rivers throughout the United Kingdom. Most of them are linked into a single English and Welsh network from Bristol to London, Liverpool to Goole and Lancaster to Ripon, and connecting the Irish Sea, the North Sea, the estuaries of the Humber, Thames, Mersey, Severn and Ribble. This network is navigable in its entirety by a narrowboat (a boat 7 ft [2.1 m] wide) no longer than about 56 ft (17 m). There are also several through-routes not connected to the main network, notably those in Scotland, e.g. Glasgow to Edinburgh via the Falkirk Wheel and Inverness to Fort William via Loch Ness.



Locks are the most common means of raising or lowering a boat from one water level to another. The distinguishing feature of a lock is a fixed chamber whose water-level can be changed. Where a large height difference has to be overcome, locks are built close together in a flight such as at Caen Hill Locks. Where the gradient is very steep, a set of staircase locks are sometimes used, like Bingley Five Rise Locks. At the other extreme stop locks have little or no change in level but were built to conserve water where one canal joined another. An interesting example is King's Norton Stop Lock which was built with guillotine gates.

Northern England


Rocherdale Canal

The waterways of northern England boast some of the most breathtaking of canal scenery. Perfect for the more adventurous boaters, you can cross the majestic Pennines on your boating holiday and appreciate the stunning contrasts between our industrial heritage and countryside, with fantastic views under wide open skies. You'll discover historic Victorian mills, plenty of friendly local puns and rugged stone-built towns, with unique shops, restaurants and boutiques.


Narrowboats at Skipton

Hire a narrowboat on the canals in Northern England and navigate across the Pennine Waterways via one of 3 main canals. Choose the wide open vistas on the mighty Leeds and Liverpool, the picturesque Rochdale Canal or narrow Huddersfield Canal with the longest tunnel in the country. These waterways are packed with industrial history, modern day commerce and agricultural land, passing through cobbled towns and villages. All three have their own character and all offer magnificent views.

Take a boating holiday along the Trent & Mersey Canal and explore the history of the potteries at Stoke on Trent and thesalt works around Middlewich. Take your hire boat for a cruise onto the River Weaver via the Anderton Boat Lift, marvelling at this unique feat of Victorian engineering. Or cruise the pretty lock free Lancaster Canal for coastal views of Morecombe Bay just beyond Lancaster.

Travel along the Macclesfield Canal - one of the highest on the network which skirts around the Peak District - plenty of opportunity for walks and photography.

Central England


Bottle ovens and new flats in Stoke-on-Trent, Trent & Mersey Canal.

The heart of the canal network, a boating holiday in central England might include a journey through Shakespeare's Country, a trip to Cadbury World or a family day out at Warwick Castle. With more canals than Venice, industrial heritage and shops galore, Birmingham is a popular boating holiday destination. The hub of the working canals, the waterways of central England played an instrumental role in transporting goods such as coal between London and Birmingham.

Canal boat holidays in Central England cover the largest range of canal & river networks, including the Grand Union Canal mainline: one of the longest canals in the UK, the sleepy Droitwich Canals: re opened in 2011, and the notable Trent & Mersey Canal, which leads to the North of England waterways.



Waterways weave through the Great British countryside offering waterfront pubs, fields of cattle and crops, and pretty villages. As you pass through these scenic areas on your hire boat, take advantage of your route to visit some of the many cities located in Central England including Warwick, Birmingham, Stoke on Trent, Leicester and Worcester, to name but a few. Each waterway has its own distinct feel and unique attractions, there is an experience to suit every boating party; if you are looking for a relaxing break through the Shropshire countryside, or a thrilling break to into Birmingham with the family visiting Cadbury's World, you can find it here.

A boating holiday in the Midlands offers the greatest selection of boating cruising rings for the experienced or energetic boater. Choose from the Warwickshire Ring, Black Country Ring, Avon Ring, Stourport Ring, Droitwich Mini Ring or the Four Counties Ring.

Southern England


Shrewley Tunnel, Grand Union Canal.

Whether it be a city break or a rural holiday, the waterways of southern England are full of variety. Within about an hour's drive of the city of London, the River Wey and the Basingstoke Canal are amongst the most peaceful waterways and ideal for a relaxing getaway. Active parties will be impressed by the Caen Hill Flight near Bath on the Kennet and Avon Canal. A 'Waterway Wonder', the Caen Hill Flight of 16 locks is part of a larger flight of 29 locks at Devizes.

Canal boat holidays in Southern England give you the opportunity to cruise a variety of waterways including the South Oxford Canal, Kennet & Avon Canal, River Thames, Basingstoke Canal, River Wey, Grand Union Canal & the Regents Canal.


Little Venice Canal, London.

There are so many things to do on the canals & rivers of Southern England on a boating holiday. You can hire a barge and cruise into the historic city of Bath, or navigate a narrowboat towards the dreamy Oxford Spires. If you fancy a more modern mode of transport, hop on board a motor cruiser from Windsor and motor down the bustling River Thames.

There's such variety of history, scenery and attractions to experience in Southern England, there is something to suit every party. You can opt for an active break powering over the Caen Hill Flight and head to Bath. Or a relaxing float with the ducks on the picturesque Basingstoke Canal, mooring to pick some blackberries by the towpath.

If you want to stay local and explore your region on a boating holiday, or if you are coming from a little further afield, there is a waterway for you on the canals and rivers of Southern England.

Horse drawn canal barges of llangollen

For over 100 years, visitors have enjoyed trips from Llangollen Wharf in Wales. Experience for yourself the pleasure of a horse drawn boat trip on the beautiful Llangollen Canal, now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. A 4 minute return boat trip from Llangollen Wharf runs every 30 minutes during the school holidays and roughly every hour at other times. This is the perfect thing to do whatever the weather, our modern purpose built boats have both inside and outside seating areas.

This trip is just long enough to allow you to relax and unwind - perfect as a gentle start or soothing end to your day, or as a moment of peace in the middle of a hectic one! Experience for yourself the pace of life in "the olden days", enjoy one of the most beautiful canals in Britain, and admire the strength of our gorgeous horses as they easily pull your boat through the water. Watch the fish swim lazily by in the clear water delivered fresh from the River Dee as your boat glides silently through the Welsh mountains. This length of canal has been designated as a World Heritage Site. No need to book. Just turn up and pay on the boat. If trvelling any distance we recommend that you ring to confirm operating times.

Alternatively, take a 2 Hour Public Horse Drawn Boat Trip to see the Horseshoe Falls. Departs every Saturday and Sunday throughout the season and Tuesdays in the school holidays. This is the perfect thing to do whatever the weather, our modern purpose built boats have both inside and outside seating areas. This is possibly the most beautiful length of canal you will ever see, and the horse drawn trip is definitely the most peaceful and relaxing way to see it. Take in the splendour of the Horseshoe Falls at the head of the canal, along with the newly restored Chain Bridge at Berwyn which reopened in June 2015. It's a leisurely ride along the last stretch of the Llangollen canal. A stop at the end allows you to admire the Chain Bridge across the River Dee, and marvel at the man-made Horseshoe Falls, another masterpiece by Thomas Telford.

Note: The 2 hour public Horse Drawn Boat Trip can be booked up to 2 weeks in advance via our website. Please check our online booking system for dates and times.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

There are daily Public Canal Boat Trips that take you across Pontcysyllte Aqueduct where you travel serenely along the canal at walking pace while enjoying the spectacular backdrop of North Wales' magnificent scenery. The narrowboat Eirlys has been a regular sight giving public boat trips on the Llangollen canal for over three decades and was joined by the restaurant boat Tommy in 2011 to offer meals and enthralling rides. Brightly decorated in the traditional canalboat style, Eirlys can accommodate over 50 passengers in comfort for a trip on the canal - ideal for large coach parties. Tommy seats up to 20 passengers at tables for 2 with a variety of menus and destinations.



The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee in Wrexham County Borough in north east Wales. Completed in 1805, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Great Britain, and a World Heritage Site. The viaduct carries a water passage for a single canal narrow boat as well as a towpath for pedestrians, and is now a popular tourist excursion; boat trips cross the viaduct and return.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was built by Thomas Telford between 1795 and 1805. There are 18 pillars made of local stone the central ones over the River Dee being 126ft high up to the ironwork. The canal runs through an iron trough 1,007ft long, 11ft 10 inches wide and 5ft 3 inches deep. The canal only becomes navigable at Llangollen where there are turning spaces for the narrowboats. The World Heritage Site stretches 11 miles to Gledrid Bridge just past the Chirk Aqueduct. The iron was supplied by William Hazeldine from his foundries at Shrewsbury and nearby Cefn Mawr. The Aqueduct and the length of the Llangollen canal from the Horseshoe Falls to Chirk Bank is now a World Heritage Site.

When the bridge was built, it linked the villages of Froncysyllte, at the southern end of the bridge in the Cysyllte township of Llangollen parish (from where it takes its name), and Trevor (Trefor in Welsh), at the northern end of the bridge in the Trefor Isaf township, also of Llangollen parish. Both townships were later transferred to Wrexham County Borough following local government reorganisation.

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