To journey along our vast network of canals & waterways is to see the UK from a different perspective. Some 2,000 miles of rivers and canals connect cities, towns and countryside, combining history and wildlife against a backdrop of spectacular scenery.
Easily accessible to all, our waterways provide the perfect day out for walkers, cyclists, anglers and of course, those on the water itself. There are more than 35,000 vessels on our canals and rivers at present, including pleasure cruisers, traders and houseboats.
Travelling by barge is a truly enchanting experience. Away from the chaos of traffic jams and busy streets, you can amble through the countryside at a steady, peaceful pace.
See nature at its best as well as beautifully manicured gardens belonging to residents backing onto the water. The Canal and River Trust distribute awards for the best gardens as well as most flower-filled boat, best wildlife friendly towpath and most imaginative use of space.
In addition to flora and fauna, there are countless nods to our country’s industrial past to discover too.
Traverse locks, tunnels and breathtaking aqueducts for a journey back in time to the industrial revolution.
From the labourers and engineers who actually built the canals to those who worked the boats, there is a great story to be told along every tow path, at every milestone and through every working swing bridge. In fact, there are more than 2,700 listed structures, 50 scheduled ancient monuments and five UNESCO world heritage sites to see.
Canal building really took off in the 18th century when wealthy textile merchants, coal mine owners and aristocrats poured money into these lucrative waterways. Industrial towns like Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester were giants of the north as Britain became the first industrial power in the world.
These days, they are used for pleasure more than anything else and are largely protected by the Canal and River Trust, who rely on passionate volunteers and staff.
The Trust also makes sure there are many varied events taking place to engage visitors of all ages. Floating markets, guided tours and bat walks are just a taste of what’s on offer.
You can even discover what life was like on board a busy canal vessel thanks to George, a former working barge which used to carry coal from Wigan to the industrial cities. This floating education centre on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, helps visitors discover local history, geography and learn a little about rocks and fossils too.
If boating doesn’t appeal, then take a walk along the miles of towpaths and river banks instead. Be sure to take your binoculars too as you will inevitably be surrounded by wildlife whether out in the countryside or in the heart of a busy city. Watch out for Kingfishers, dragonflies and water voles, as well as a wealth of insects and plant life.