Slow down and relax with a narrowboat cruise

Angela Youngman


Escape the bustle of modern life and experience a much slower pace of life cruising on a narrowboat. These long vessels are a traditional form of transport on British canals and were once used by families carrying goods such as porcelain and coal across the length and breadth of the country. Rushing from place to place is impossible. You are limited by the gentle pace of a narrowboat moving at just a few miles an hour through beautiful countryside, with views that you cannot see any other way. Travelling by narrowboat offers seclusion, comfort and a tranquil lifestyle as you drift along, stopping off at the occasional waterside pub or discovering historic locations like Warwick and Stratford Upon Avon from a new viewpoint. Despite their length, narrowboats are easier to operate than you might think, resulting in an extremely memorable holiday.

William Shakespeare's countryside

Discover the countryside so familiar to William Shakespeare, the Bard of the Avon, with a romantic tour of local canals. The route involves passing through pretty villages and rolling fields, as well as passing near Warwick’s medieval castle. Moor up at Wilmcote to visit Mary Arden’s Cottage, which was the home of Shakespeare’s mother before her marriage took her to a new home in Stratford upon Avon. Cross a long aqueduct to reach the canal basin sited directly beside the Shakespeare theatre, and only a short walk away from his birthplace. Other places worth exploring in the town include Holy Trinity Church where he was buried as well as the school he attended.

Shropshire from the water

Head over to the beautiful Shropshire countryside with its historic small towns, way-marked circular walks and a nature reserve to explore while enjoying a short break on the Llangollen canal. Cruising opportunities are centred around the town of Ellesmere, and the waterway includes one of the most spectacular iconic structures, the Pontcysylite Aquaduct which has been described as the ‘stream in the sky’ crossing the border between England and Wales. Standing 126 feet tall, with 19 arches, the Aquaduct is fed by the nearby Horseshoe falls and contains 15m litres of water. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other shorter routes pass through Blake Mere and Whixhall Moss, or from Hurleston Junction to Whitchurch allowing journeys of around 3 to 7 days. Canal cruises to Whitchurch involve passing through one tunnel, as well as passing under moveable bridges. Elsewhere, the journey may involve operating a series of locks along the way. The journey from Hurleston Junction to Whitchurch and back takes 3 days, while the journey from Whitchurch to Llangolen requires a minimum of 7 nights.

Kennet & Avon Canal

Journeys on the Kennet & Avon Canal offer the opportunity to take a gentle trip over aqueducts, through bridges and a series of locks to the World Heritage city of Bath. Moor-up and explore the beauty of this city at a quieter, less crowded time of the year enabling sites such as the Royal Crescent and the Roman Baths to be fully appreciated. This is also the city of Jane Austen and there are numerous Jane Austen related places to explore and visit such as the shopping area of Milsom Street and the Jane Austen Centre.

Life on the River

Travelling in a narrowboat on the canal system demands patience and calm. You have to be patient, it is not about rushing from place to place, just enjoying the journey. Boat users have to keep to a strict speed limit of just 4 miles per hour. This is essential as it helps to preserve the environment and the canal banks, as well as showing consideration for other canal users. Before taking out a narrowboat, you are taught how to steer and manoeuvre it as well as health & safety requirements. 

There are several unwritten rules that have to be followed such as the need to check there are no other boats approaching from behind when moving out from a mooring. Boats need time to stop. Mooring wherever you like is not possible, you need to use official sites and secure the vessel safely. Be prepared to share locks with other boats and always check for oncoming boats before filling or emptying a lock.  

Preparation is key

Preparation is vital, as you need to time your journeys to ensure you return to the handover point at the required time. The slow speed and the need to operate locks can mean that journeys take much longer than anticipated, so it is important to plan ahead. Narrow boat hirers can provide advice and suggestions on suitable routes. 

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