A holiday on the ‘cut’ — as regulars call the canal network — is about unhurried tranquillity: slowing down to a pace where all the time in the world is just about enough to take in your countryside surroundings.
Boatees vie to let others pass through a lock before themselves; catching a glance which asks ‘Why not?’ is all the persuasion anybody needs to moor at a canal-side pub.
True, there are brawny duties at locks — mainly winding the sluice paddles open and shut with a heavy metal windlass. But steering a 60ft narrowboat is easier than most first-timers expect. Here is a pick of narrowboat holidays on canals around Britain.
TOWN AND COUNTRY
The extraordinary Anderton Boat Lift in Anderton, Cheshire, which raises vessels 50ft from the River Weaver to the Trent and Mersey canal
The Cheshire Ring is a magnificent and varied circular route starting and ending at Anderton in Cheshire where the extraordinary Anderton Boat Lift raises vessels 50ft from the River Weaver to the Trent and Mersey canal. The route threads six different waterways passing through 92 locks.
Sleepy Peak District villages are a stark contrast with a day’s weaving through the heart of Manchester, passing the Old Trafford football stadium.
From £799 for a week on a five-berth boat with ABC Boat Hire (0330 333 0590, abcboathire.com).
The Oxford Canal is the most popular leisure canal in Britain and a great place to spot charming villages, herons, grand estates and alluring pubs
The Oxford Canal is the most popular leisure canal in Britain, and it’s not hard to see why as it winds its Wind In The Willows-esque way through the countryside, passing charming villages, herons, grand estates and alluring pubs.
Take a four-day pootle from the boatyard at Napton in Warwickshire to Cropredy near Banbury in Oxfordshire and back.
From £859 for a three-night weekend aboard a six-sleeping ‘Regency Class’ boat with king-size beds and WiFi with Napton Narrowboats (01926 813644, napton-marina.co.uk).
The only UK canal where electric (rather than diesel) narrowboats are for hire, is the 33 mile-long Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal — the ‘Mon & Brec’, pictured
The only UK canal where electric (rather than diesel) narrowboats are for hire, is the 33 mile-long Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal — the ‘Mon & Brec’ — between Brecon and Pontypool, which is not connected to the rest of the canal network.
You purr rather than putter through the Brecon Beacons National Park to a mountain backdrop.
Castle Narrowboats (01873 830001, castlenarrowboats.co.uk) offer a three-night cruise on a four-berth electric narrowboat from £672.
A boat passes through Caen Hill Flight — 16 locks packed together in a steep, straight line – in the Wiltshire town of Devizes
Even water’s unwillingness to flow up a 250ft hill was no problem for those industrious early 19th-century canal engineers determined to link Bristol, via the Avon, with Thames tributary the Kennet.
The Caen Hill Flight — 16 locks packed together in a steep, straight line — begins at the Wiltshire town of Devizes. After that, it is more of a dawdle through the enchanting Vale of Pewsey and along the edge of the myth-laden Savernake Forest, drifting to Hungerford and back.
Foxhangers (01380 827808, foxhangers.co.uk) offers a week aboard the luxurious, seven-sleeping Darwin’s Fox from £1,057.60.
VENICE OF NORTH
The Birmingham Canal winds past Broad Street in Birmingham City Centre. Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice
Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice — an oft-repeated fact. So how about viewing Brum puttering through the 35 miles of waterway?
Start at Tardebigge near Bromsgrove, then cruise into the heart of England’s canal network admiring the Victorian iron and timber lock machinery along the way.
Anglo Welsh (0117 304 1122, anglowelsh.co.uk) charge £280 for a one-night weekend on a canal boat with accommodation for two.
STREAM IN THE SKY
The Pontcysyllte aqueduct, completed in 1805, was designed by Thomas Telford. There are no side barriers on the Llangollen Canal
There are no side barriers on the Llangollen Canal, just a short metal lip between it and a 126ft plummet.
Thomas Telford’s 18-arched Pontcysyllte aqueduct, completed in 1805, carries the Llangollen over the River Dee — arguably Britain’s most spectacular canal feature.
Black Prince (01527 575115, black-prince.com) offers four days on a four-berth narrowboat from £699.
There are 97 locks to negotiate and a 645ft ascent on the Huddersfield Narrow, pictured
Rise to a War of the Roses challenge on this epic, one-way traverse of the backbone of England between Greater Manchester’s Ashton-under-Lyne and Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire.
There are 97 locks to negotiate and a 645ft ascent on the Huddersfield Narrow, the highest canal in Britain.
This is a week-long trip with wow factor that needs an active, experienced crew. From £1,105 aboard a four-berth boat for a week with Shire Cruisers (01422 832712, shirecruisers.co.uk).
BRIDGES OF SIGHS
The Forth & Clyde and Union Canals link Glasgow with Edinburgh and flows through Falkirk, home to the famous Kelpies equine sculpture
Potter through the Scottish Lowlands on the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, which link Glasgow with Edinburgh.
The scenery is sprinkled with historic monuments such as Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. You pass through two tunnels and cross a trio of magnificent aqueducts. An engineering highlight is the astonishing Falkirk Wheel, opened in 2002. This is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, raising vessels by 80ft and connecting the two canals. Falkirk is also home to the famous Kelpies equine sculpture.
ABC Boat Hire (0330 333 0590, abcboathire.com) charge £1,399 for a week aboard the broad-beamed, eight-sleeping Alvechurch Sanderling, including a king-size bed.
Further information on canal holidays from Drifters (0344 984 0322, drifters.co.uk) and the Canal and River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk).