It’s that time of year when we start to plan our summer holidays; where to go and what sort of a holiday we want. The choice is legion, but sometimes it pays to spend some time searching for something a little bit different. If you’re stressed by life’s hectic pace and ache to have a holiday where you can really relax and watch the world go by at a leisurely pace, then perhaps a canal boat holiday could be for you.
In 1704 the first revolutionary waterway was built. The Aire & Calder Navigation made the River Aire navigable to Leeds and the River Calder to Wakefield by the construction of 16 locks. More river navigations followed and their success prompted the Duke of Bridgewater to finance and build his own canal. The last 20 years of the 1700s saw the formation of most of Britain’s most important canals, which were predominantly designed and developed by coalmine owners, textile manufacturers and pottery barons – most notably Josiah Wedgwood – wanting to open up new markets for their products.
Today our canal network is home to over 2,700 listed structures, 50 scheduled ancient monuments and five UNESCO world heritage sites. They are lined with cottages, pubs, wharves, warehouses, bridges and engineering projects on a grand scale, such as the impressive Pontycysyllte Aqueduct.
The expansion of the road and rail networks saw a decline in the canal network but despite that, they have survived to become a treasured leisure destination today. Trips can take you through city centres, past some amazing pieces of industrial architecture, or through lovely countryside.
For some the thought of a boat on a canal conjures up images of Victorian barges transporting coal and pottery across the canal networks surrounding our industrial towns and cities. But today’s boats are a far cry from the old image of a working barge. In some ways they are similar to floating caravans. They are generally smaller than the modern river cruisers but that lack of expansive cabin space can bring a certain calming ambience.
The joy of canals
You don’t need to own a boat to experience the joy of traveling on our watery highways. Boats can be hired at many locations across the UK canal network; anything from a day trip to a full-blown water adventure lasting a couple of weeks. There’s something to suit most budgets and party size.
Don’t think that canal boats are only for those with good mobility. Many companies offer specially adapted boats for those who need to use a wheelchair or have other mobility issues, whatever their age. This makes a holiday on the canal a great choice for multiple generational holidays; the whole family can enjoy some special, quiet, quality time together.
Floating along at a leisurely pace gives you the time to really appreciate what’s around you and to see wildlife in a whole new context. It gives you the opportunity to get out that sketchbook, start a knitting project, do a spot of bird watching or pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. For those rainy days, take some games everyone can take part in. Walking or cycling along the towpath is a joy in itself, as is nipping into the towns and villages you’ll pass through, not to mention those canal side hostelries.
Clearly it’s not all about sitting back with a cool drink watching the sun go down; locks need to be navigated and the boat steered but these chores are ones that you can share, making them less onerous.
If you fancy being on the water but really don’t want to bother with the steering, locks and cooking, then why not opt for a hotel boat holiday? As with any hotel they all have their own distinctive style and lay-out, generally accommodating between two to eight guests, although larger inland river cruise boats can accommodate 20 or more guests. Rooms are generally high quality and en-suite, and most hotel boats provide a bar facility. Many are crewed by their owners and having a local crew can be very useful when stopping off at places of interest.
Our industrial heritage has bequeathed us these wonderful watery highways so why not give those bustling airports, over-crowed holiday hot-spots and busy roads a miss, and opt for the tranquillity and uniqueness of a holiday on a canal this year.
For more information on our canal network please visit: canalrivertrust.org.uk