Choosing your Canal Holiday Route
When you hire a canal boat you can choose the route you take. The routes available will depend on the starting base. You will normally have to return the boat to the starting base. Click on the 'Search Boats by Route' button above for detailed information on the various routes.
A Ring is a circular route covering a number of canals. Often there are a number of possible starting bases on the Ring, but the route taken always returns you to the base from which you started. A Ring route takes at least a week.
The most popular Rings are: Four Counties Ring, Stourport Ring, Cheshire Ring, Avon Ring, Warwickshire Ring, Leicester Ring.
Out and Back
On many sections of canal there are no possible Ring routes, so the Out and Back journey returns along the same canal to the starting point. Some sections of Rings make ideal Out and Back routes - all short breaks are 'out and back'. Not only do the canal features look different in the opposite direction, but the return route gives a chance to stop at places missed on the outgoing journey.
The most popular Out and Back routes are: Llangollen Canal, Kennet and Avon Canal, Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Oxford Canal, Grand Union Canal, Mon and Brec Canal. You can also take a canal narrowboat on the River Thames.
Unlike hire cars, boats can only be hired for certain fixed length holidays. The usual hire starts on the afternoon of the first day and finishes the morning of the last day.
Many boats are only available for one week, two week, or longer periods. Most are Saturday afternoon to the following Saturday morning, but some may start at other times or on other days. In addition, boats available for Short Breaks can be hired for a week or longer by combining successive short break periods.
Many boats are offered for short breaks. Weekend Breaks are usually from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, Midweek Breaks are usually one day longer, from Monday afternoon to Friday morning. Each costs about 60% of the weekly hire charge. Two successive short breaks can provide a week's hire with a Friday or Monday start at the weekly hire rate. A 10-11 day holiday is possible by combining a week and a short break.
The slogan 'the fastest way of slowing down' is very true. Canal boats travel at walking pace, about 3 to 4 miles per hour, so there is ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery and unwind. Occasionally it may be necessary to wait for another boat to go through a bridge or a tunnel.
Most canal journeys feature locks, which allow the boat to change level uphill or downhill. Locks provide exercise and a place to meet and share experiences with other boaters. Allow about 15 minutes per lock on average - at busy periods there may be a queue. The larger the crew, the easier it is to go through the locks. It can be an energetic holiday if there are only two people on a route with many locks.
Most distances are calculated in 'lock-miles'. Add the number of locks and miles together to make the total lock-miles. Then depending on how leisurely or energetic you wish to be, allow 3 to 4 lock-miles per hour to estimate cruising time between two points.
Remember that canal boats are not allowed to cruise after dark. So a mid-summer cruise will provide more hours of cruising per day than a journey in October.
Travelling the canal opens new countryside views around every bend, bringing a close-up on the natural world of birds, flora and fauna. Pass historic houses, market towns, rural villages, and occasional industrial heritage. The Route Guide shows attractions and places to visit on each route.
In addition to off-canal interest, the canal itself gives endless entertainment with locks to go through, tunnels to navigate, aqueducts to cross, swing or lift bridges to open.
You can moor wherever you wish (except for obvious locations such as lock areas, tunnels etc). Mooring is free, so it's just a matter of stopping at places of interest. Canalside pubs provide food and refreshments at regular intervals, and some attractions even have their own mooring area. You can moor in the heart of a city or town, or choose somewhere completely rural.
We recommend a suitable detailed printed canal guide - Pearson's Guides are full of interesting information - and this can be used to plan overnight and other stops on the day's route. Relevant guides can be bought online from this website.