Canal Boat Itineraries on England’s Prettiest Waterways

Canal Boat Itineraries on England’s Prettiest Waterways

Explore England’s prettiest waterways on a narrowboat adventure this summer, taking inspiration from our guide to the country’s best canal routes.

aboard the Rosie Lee! Perhaps we’ve been swayed by a
childhood spent watching Rosie and Jim, but life upon a
narrowboat has always appealed. Slipping along sun-dappled
stretches, a few moorhens for company, travelling on a canal boat
lets you take life at a leisurely pace as market towns,
half-timbered hamlets and the industrial edges of the country’s
big cities roll by.

Over 4,400km of waterways make up Britain’s canal network. The
slow-flowing web once acted as the life-support system for the
country’s industry. Having stoically shouldered years of
abandonment, it has, in the last decade, been brought back to life
by the houseboat communities – and slow-travel cruisers –
reimagining life on the water.

Connecting the country along willow-brushed sections and urban
stretches, the system offers a way to traverse England from
Bristol to Burnley, only stepping foot on land
to operate locks, or enjoy a late-afternoon pint in the balmy
summer hazes so particular to English canals. And with sun-dappled
tearoom patios, low-key restaurants (looking at you, Towpath Café)
and plenty of historic lock pubs throwing open their doors, there’s
never been a better time to take to the water. We’ve navigated the
locks and moored up across the country to create four narrowboat
itineraries on England’s prettiest canals.

Cruise control: four narrowboat trips on England’s most
beautiful canals

A weekend in Wiltshire

Kick-start your waterways weekender by jumping aboard near
Devizes. You’ll be navigating the tranquil Kennet and Avon canal as
it follows the meandering Avon through urban Georgian splendour and
Jane Austen-esque pastoral plains en route to Bath. First
anchorage? The Seend locks, for a well-deserved pint at the
Barge Inn Pub. Come morning, slip the moorings and
nose your way through overhanging greenery, verdant woods and
Wiltshire’s rolling chalk downs, towards the quaint

Start with a boatman’s breakfast at the The Weaving
(sautéed wild mushrooms on toast with an egg for us,
please), then head into the medieval heart of the city for a wander
through the higgledy-piggledy maze of streets known as the
Shambles. After an al fresco lunch at the herb-fringed Timbrell’s Yard,
return to the water to glide across the impressive 100m Avoncliff
Aqueduct. We’d pick up a bottle from Bradford-on-Avon’s Cru Wines and some cheese from
The Cheese
before setting off, both of which will perfectly
complement your Cotswolds sunset cruise across this jaw-dropping
architectural achievement, which carries the canal over the

A canal passes a building in Bradford-On-Avon, Wiltshire
A canal passes under a Georgian house in the honey-stoned city of Bath, England

Moments on the Kennet and Avon

Once on the other side, moor up for the night in preparation for
an early departure to Bath. Drop down onto the Avon for
breathtaking views of the city’s honey-hued abbey; you’ll find
mooring points throughout the city. Bridgerton fans should stroll down the Royal
Crescent, then duck into the Fashion
to peruse structured empire lines and impeccably
tailored tailcoats. Come sundown, book a table at townhouse
restaurant OAK, to savour delicate vegetarian dishes and a glass
of lightly bubbled Pet Nat. It’s then up to you whether you choose
to call it a weekend, staying put for a soak in Thermae Bath
mineral-rich rooftop pool, or journey on to Bristol for a
final day’s adventure.

Who to hire from: Foxhangers Canal

A two-week pootle around the Cheshire Ring

Welcome to the Staffordshire Potteries, the industrial heart of
England’s historic ceramics production. Chugging around the six
canals that connect into the Cheshire Ring, you’ll encounter
cloud-tickling Peak District scenery contrasted with the North’s
much-quoted “grit”. The ring’s 156km and 92 locks will take at
least a week to navigate if you’re speedy – two if you’re dawdling
(and we’d recommend the latter).

A canal boat gliding down a green Staffordshire canal in England

Gliding under a bridge in

Jump on board at Acton Bridge to cruise Britain’s first man-made
waterway, the Bridgewater Canal, towards Manchester. Gliding
between green Lancashire hills, sights set on the city’s industrial
waterways, you’ll be ducking under rusting Victorian bridges and
easing through narrow red-brick passageways lined by the blind
walls of old cotton mills to find a city-centre mooring. You’re a
quick walk from the canalside Ancoats neighbourhood, home to
wood-fired pizza at the original Rudy’s,
modern British fare at Elnecot and stylish small plates at Erst, a chic wine
bar that’s been adopted by the city’s creative crowd. Take time to
explore the eclectic neighbourhood – you’ll want to swing by
General Store
for onboard food supplies, too.

After taking in Manchester’s urbane interior, get back to the
rudder and switch factories for far-reaching crags as you edge into
the Peak District, on the Macclesfield Canal. Stop over in
Middlewich to stroll around one of the many regular farmers’
markets, then stretch out your arm muscles in preparation for a day
of lock operations on Heartbreak Hill, so named for the 31 locks
between you and your final berth, in Stoke-On-Trent. The tow paths
are dotted with weeping willows and old inns, once used to rest the
waterway horses, but now popular watering holes for thirsty

Who to hire from: Black Prince

A long weekend along the Liverpool-Leeds stretch

Prepare for lofty Northern landscapes and edgy factory towns
along all 204km of England’s longest canal, the Leeds and Liverpool. This waterway – built to connect the
North’s manufacturing satellites – offers unparalleled views of the
cragged contours of the Pennines as it slinks towards Merseyside.
It’s do-able in 45 hours – but we’d tack on extra time to explore
the two majestic industrial cities. You’ll likely have to start at
a midpoint, rather than in the cities themselves.

A narrowboat on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal waterway

A narrowboat cruising on the Leeds-Liverpool

If embarking at the Yorkshire end, scope out Leeds’ industrial
bones. Once soot-stained, the Victorian beauty of this Yorkshire
city is shining again. Peruse the stalls of Kirkgate
for an on-the-go lunch (the vast covered market was the
original home of Marks & Spencer), then head to the ornate
Victoria Quarter. With its stained-glass panels and ceramic
detailing, it’s prime post-prandial stroll territory.

Boat hire done and dusted and voyage underway, you’ll be heading
straight into the rural Yorkshire Dales. From here, the route
alternates between epic natural vistas and canalside factory towns.
Make time to moor up in Wigan if you’re interested in tracing
George Orwell’s inspiration for his 1937-published The Road to
Wigan Pier, or jump off at Saltaire to explore the Victorian model
village’s terraces, independent stores and art galleries (the
ex-industrial Salts Mill now houses Hockneys).

The Albert Dock, Liverpool
Taco-tastic menu at Madres in Liverpool

The Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool, and
Mexican-inspired fare from Madre

Other points of interest along the way include charming Skipton
and the grittier edges of Burnley and Blackburn. For those keen to
scope out Liverpool, a cruise through the haunting Tobacco Docks
and under the iconic Three Graces will take you to the end of the
canal in the Royal Albert Dock. Gone are the ships and stevedores
that once carried the goods of industry out onto the Irish high
tides: Scouseland’s red-toned dock buildings now house an outpost
of the Tate
and relaxed dining spots, including the taco-tastic
– our choice for a final dinner.

Where to hire from: bearBoating

An art-focused odyssey along the Warwickshire Loop

Joining the dots between Birmingham’s urban edges and the rural
reaches of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, this mid-England loop can
take a week to navigate, or two if you’re wanting to explore. Begin
in Warwick’s historic centre, browsing the mom-and-pop shops
concealed behind wonky facades. Need some reading material for the
lazy afternoons ahead? The staff at Warwick Books
are always flush with suggestions. Giggling
, on the High Street, is the Thai group of restaurants’
original branch, and the place to linger over a lunch of sizzling
platters. When you slip the moorings, you’ll be heading west. For
those cruisers who wish to meander, we’d add in an excursion to the
Shakespearean-soaked Stratford-upon-Avon here. Catch the RSC onstage, then
head to The Dirty Duck, the 18th-century inn frequented
by thespians through the ages.

The Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England
Birmingham Canal in England

The Ikon Gallery and canalside scenes |
Image credit: Handover Agency

Returning to the Grand Union Canal, you’ll be passing through
wheat-filled agricultural idylls on your way to Birmingham. The
city’s “wet streets” take you into the Gas Street Basin; moor up
and hop ashore. Stop for coffee and contemporary photography at
(the brunch menu includes decadent Arabian buttered
eggs), then take an afternoon stroll towards Birmingham University.
There, under the “Old Joe” clock tower, you’ll find the Barber Institute of Fine
, an art deco temple to lesser-known works by artists
including Monet and Turner. Beyond the city, the canal network
joins the Coventry vein, taking you in a slow curve towards Rugby
and a return to Warwick.

Where to hire: Drifters

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