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A barge trip in the country’s historic and picturesque network of canals may be just the answer for those looking for a refreshingly different perspective on the English countryside.

Prepare to glide past rolling fields; moor at quaint little pubs; flit between canal-side communities; and breakfast with the company of ducks. You cannot help but relax and slow down – but that’s also because the speed limit is a gentle four-miles per hour.

Narrow bunk beds, tiny cooking hobs and compromising bathrooms make for a cosy living experience but that’s all part of the charm. Rainy days become the perfect excuse to huddle inside playing card games, and when the sun shines, you can bask on the roof or walk alongside on the towpaths.

To hop aboard, simply choose a UK waterway you’d like to cruise through and contact one of the region’s barge hire companies.



There are hundreds of local hire companies dotted throughout the UK and each will be able to advise which boat to take, the best routes and places to moor.

A narrow boat that sleeps up to four people will cost between £430 – £1000 per week, depending on the season and quality of the boat.

You don’t need a license to drive a canal boat although you will be expected to stick to the speed limit and to follow The Waterways Code. All information will be provided at a tutorial when you pick up your boat – you’ll be cruising down the canalways in no time.

The Oxford Canal

Considered to be one of the most scenic waterways in Britain, the Oxford Canal links with the River Thames at Oxford and then crosses the picturesque Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire countryside. Passing through the historical towns of Rugby, Banbury and Coventry, this 78-mile long canal was once a vital trade route between the Midlands and London. Allow one week to glide along this canal route.

» canalguide.co.uk

The Worcester and Birmingham Canal

For the majority of the 30-mile stretch connecting the two cities you’ll pass little more than solitary lock keeper’s cottages and the odd village pub.

Closer to Birmingham you’ll brush by the Dickensian Cadbury’s Factory, built in 1879. The factory relied so heavily on the waterways to receive raw materials it built their own fleet of canals and even a workers’ village – all of which can now be toured by visitors. This route can be covered in two days.

» catshill.com/wbcs

The Stratford Canal

Joins the Worcester and Birmingham Canal to Stratford Upon Avon, and has 53 locks to navigate. The canal cuts through the Forest of Arden with its ancient oaks and glides gently across water meadows and has numerous Shakespearean links for literary fans. Allow three days or longer.

» stratfordcanalsociety.org.uk

The Bearley Aqueduct

This impressive feat of Victorian engineering carries the Stratford canal on cast iron and brick pillars 11m above the fields. Built in the early 1800s, the 250-yard aqueduct is still the longest in Britain. Allow one day to tour. 

» waterscape.com

The Norfolk Broads

The UK’s largest nationally protected wetland has had locals working and living with the marshlands since Medieval times. With more than 2500 miles of interconnected rivers and canals in the region there are a number of routes to consider.

Popular start or end points include Norwich to the west of the canal network, Great Yarmouth on the east coast, or the pretty town of Wroxham. Allow anything from one-day to two weeks to cruise the Broads.

» norfolkbroads.com

Need to Know

When to go: The canals make a great year-round holiday and a wonderful way to see the countryside in all seasons.

Getting there:
You can join the canal network from various ?locations throughout Britain.

Accommodation:
Three-night trips cost around £300. A week-long break cost froms £500.

See: waterscape.com and canaljunction.com

Barge Etiquette

Part of the barge-trip charm is the characters and fellow boaters you’ll meet along the way. That being said, there is a waterway etiquette which, if followed, keeps the canals a laidback and relaxing experience.

When operating a lock that is set against you, for example, it is advisable to check that there is not a boat coming in the opposite direction that could use the lock first.

When passing moored boats you should reduce your speed to two ?miles per hour and just like on the roads, you shouldn’t be too close to a barge in front.

If you’re moored and need to pull out you should let those on the canals have the right of way; and when passing fisherman, go slow and in the middle.

The general rule of thumb is use your common sense and be nice. What goes around, comes around.


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Barge trips in the UK
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