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Top ten canal boat adventures for beginners

If you’re one of the many travellers considering a UK canal boat adventure for the first time, Debbie Walker gives her tips for the best routes for newbies

High waters: Narrowboat passengers take in the views as the Llangollen Canal crosses the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (Shutterstock)

1. Glide through the Brecon Beacons

Isolated from the main canal network, the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks is nice and easy for beginners and offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, dark night skies for star gazing, plenty of wildlife to watch out for and a series of village pubs to enjoy along the way. You can hire an electric boat at Beacon Park Boats at Llangattock. 

2. Navigate to the bright lights of Birmingham

Boasting more kilometres of canals than Venice, Birmingham has to be visited by water. Between the city centre and ABC Boat Hire’s narrowboat hire base at Alvechurch on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, there are 18km of waterway but zero locks. The first part of the journey take boaters through fields, woods and Wast Hills Tunnel, past Bournville, home of Cadbury World, then through the ’burbs of Birmingham and Edgbaston Tunnel, reaching moorings in the central Gas Street Basin in around 4.5 hours.

3. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

Passing through North Wales, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular routes on the network. On a short break from Chirk Marina, canal boaters can travel across the UNESCO-listed Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, soaring 38m above the Dee Valley, to the town of Llangollen, nestled in the Berwyn Mountains. crestnarrowboats.co.uk

4. Cruise along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation

From Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire boaters on a getaway can cruise along the Calder & Hebble Navigation to the historic town of Brighouse and back. The return journey travels 19km of waterway, passes through 20 locks and takes around eight hours. The route takes boaters through the historic market town of Elland and – a little beyond Brighouse – the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool. Once moored up, there are Pennines walks to enjoy.

5. Bob gently along to Fradley

On a short break from Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can head south along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction. The journey takes around five hours, travelling through 19km of Staffordshire countryside, including Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and passing through just five locks. At Fradley, boaters can moor up to visit the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and take a wander around the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve. Visit anglowelsh.co.uk for more details. 

6. Saunter up to Stoke Bruerne

From Linslade on the Grand Union Canal in Bedfordshire, it takes around 10 peaceful cruising hours to reach the canal village of Stoke Bruerne, home to the Canal Museum and a choice of canalside eateries. Along the way, the route travels along 41km of waterway, through seven locks and across two aqueducts, including the Iron Trunk Aqueduct at Cosgrove. Visit canalholidays.co.uk for more details.

7. Potter through the Peak District

The Caldon Canal offers a fine way to experience the Peak District NP. Starting from Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent, it’s a chilled eight-hour cruise through the countryside to Cheddleton Flint Mill, with its popular Black Lion pub and Old School Tearooms. The route passes through 12 locks, past moorlands, water meadows, woodlands and the village of Denford with its popular Hollybush Inn. Visit black-prince.com for more details.

8. Travel to Bradford on Avon & back

Heading out from Devizes on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, it takes around five-and-a-half hours to reach the Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. The route takes boaters through 16km of countryside, through seven locks and past a series of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend. Once moored up at Bradford on Avon, take time to explore the town’s Georgian architecture, 14th-century Tithe Barn and range of independent shops, restaurants and cafes.Visit foxhangers.co.uk for more details. 

9. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal 

On a week’s trip from Braunston in the heart of the canal network, boaters can cruise to the village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 75km, passing through just eight locks (four there and four back) in around 32 hours. This largely rural route follows a section of the North Oxford Canal, Coventry Canal and the lock-free Ashby Canal, which winds through countryside for 35km and passes close to the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field. Visit unioncanalcarriers.co.uk for more details.

10. Cruise to Market Drayton

From Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man. Along the way, boaters pass through unspoilt countryside, and a series of deep wooded cuttings where time seems to stand still. Bonus: there are just six locks to pass through each way. Visit countrywide-cruisers.co.uk for more details.

 

This list was put together with help from the Canal & River Trust, the charity which cares for 3,200km of canals and rivers across England and Wales. For more info, including the Boater’s Handbook video giving an introduction to navigating the canals, go to canalrivertrust.org.uk

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