If 2021 is going to be anything like 2020 then perhaps we could all use the time to slow down a little bit. This year, why not spend some time slowly drifting down one of the UK’s beautiful canal routes on a narrowboat hire? Around 200 years ago, at the peak of the industrial revolution, the UK’s 2,000 miles+ of waterways served as the most efficient way of transporting goods across the country. Today, they have been repurposed. Although some canals like the Manchester Ship Canal are still used for transporting goods, most are now a way of getting off the busy streets and seeing a quieter, slower side of the United Kingdom. They are hubs for wildlife and you can see plenty of animals on these waterways that you will struggle to find elsewhere. So with Click&Boat, let’s take a look at the best routes for a weekend or more away on a narrowboat hire holiday in the UK this year.
1. Kennet & Avon Canal
From Bristol to Reading with 105 locks.
The Kennet & Avon can was originally used to connect Bristol to London but has since become the perfect, slow-paced canal to float down for families. Bring along your bikes on your narrowboat hire and have the occassional stop for a slow bike ride to Avebury.
There is plenty to do along this canal to keep the whole family entertained. With plenty of locks to go through the captain of the boat will be busy too. Stop at Crofton Pumping Station and admire the huge boilers and steam engines that are still regularly fired up. Caen Hill locks are a flight of 29 locks and between there and Hungerford lies a beautiful stretch of forest, meadows and market towns for you to admire.
2. The Warwickshire Ring.
Traverse the Oxford, Grand Union, Coventry and Birmingham canals – over 121 locks.
This route is a great choice for a lot of reasons and certainly also because of its geographical position. You’ll need a couple of week to complete the loop but due to its location in the centre of England it is easily accessible. In fact, the ring circles the Warwickshire town of Meriden that has historically claimed to be the exact centre of England and even has a stone to mark the exact spot! On the southern part of the ring you will find the Hatton Flight. The Hatton Flight, or ‘Stairway to Heaven’, is a flight of 21 broad locks that elevate the canal an impressive 146 feet.
3. Trent & Mersey Canal
Through Preston Brook, Cheshire and Derwent Mouth, Derbyshire
The Trent & Mersey Canal was engineered in the 1770’s by the Father of English Canals, James Brindley. Those familiar with Birmingham will know of Brindley Place named after the man who is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and celebrated engineers of the 18th century. He has roads, schools, pubs and much more named after him even after almost 250 years since his death. The Trent & Mersey Canal is perfect for adults that want to experience a bit of history and to share an alcoholic beverage on the way. The canal is lined with canal-side pubs with beautiful beer gardens for you to stop and have lunch or dinner at with a beer. There is plenty of history to see along the canal with there being a real feeling for the days of working canals. This was the first long distance canal but was not just used for the transportation of coal but also for shifting finished products like pottery. You can chug through the mile-and-a-half of haunted tunnel at Harecastle and experience the impressive Anderton lift on your narrowboat hire.
4. Cheshire Ring
97 locks across the Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey Canals.
The Cheshire ring is a good narrowboat hire route to take if you live int he North of the UK. It weaves through busy towns but also sleepy villages and passes the heart of Manchester – drift right past Old Trafford stadium, the home of Manchester United Football club. Similarly to the Warwickshire ring you can do the whole loop in around 2 weeks with plenty of time to stop to explore the local villages and enjoy a canal-side walk.
If you take this route, Dunham Massey is a must see. With a stunning country house, a 250 acre deer park and a working Elizabethen mill, a day-trip to Dunham Massey is like stepping back into the 18th century. Documents point to there being a mill on this land since 1353 which shows exactly how mills have been at the heart of this areas culture for centuries. The current structure you see when visiting was built in the 1860’s.
5. Forth & Clyde and Union canals
Drift from Scotland’s east coast to its west.
This canal is a great option for people visiting or from Scotland with the west of the canal being easily accessible from Glasgow and the east being a short drive from Edinburgh. Trade the tree shaded canal for rolling hills as the Falkirk wheel lifts you from the Forth & Clyde Canal up an impressive 79-feet to join the Union canal and enjoy the next 30 miles without any locks as you chug along to Edinburgh.