Try a canal boat – a new way to discover cities

For most visitors the first view they get of a new city is through the window of a car, a train or an aeroplane. There is another way though to see a new city for the first time and that’s from one of the many canals that link most of the cities in the UK. The canal system is part of the inland waterways, a network of manmade waterways, over 2200 miles in total length, which were built over 200 years ago. The canals were the Industrial Revolution’s veins, allowing raw materials and goods to course between factories and consumers.

The rise of the train and then the car saw a gradual decline in the use of the canal system. However, in recent years more and more of the canals have been restored to former glory, thanks to public and private investment, and are being increasingly used for leisure activities, such as canal cruising. There has even been the construction of some new routes, so popular have these activities become. They may not carry much commercial cargo anymore, but the canals have found a new lease of life providing a great way to enjoy the UK and its cities.

The canal system
Most of the canals in the UK are maintained by the British Waterways, but a few are privately owned. On the whole they are linked into a single network that runs from Bristol to London, Liverpool to Goole and Lancaster to Ripon, connecting the Irish Sea, the North Sea, the estuaries of the Humber, Thames, Mersey, River Severn and River Ribble.

The many canals in England and Wales include:
•    Ashton and Peak Forest Canal
•    Birmingham Canal Navigations
•    Coventry Canal
•    Grand Union Canal
•    Leeds and Liverpool Canal
•    Oxford Canal
•    Shropshire Union Canal
•    Stratford Canal

A brief history
Initially started by the Romans, canals were used for irrigation and to help with the transfer of troops around the countryside. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century that canals became so integral to the country. The roads at the time were unsuitable to transport materials on a large scale, so the leaders of industry turned to the canal system, as it was quicker and cheaper and they could move more goods. The more the goods flowed, the more the money flowed, and so the canal system expanded, each fueling the other. This was until trains and cars became cheaper alternatives to transport goods. But it was the canals that initially linked the great UK cities and powered the Industrial Revolution.

Modern canals
The canals now offer a great way to see the UK. More and more holidaymakers are renting canal boats, aka narrowboats, and navigating their way around the UK canal system; visiting villages, towns and cities en route.

If you fancy hiring a canal boat it’s easy as there are loads of great companies on the Internet that rent out boats. You can also find out about renting boats at the British Waterways website ( ), in fact you’ll find out pretty much everything you need to know about canals there.

When hiring a boat all you really need to know is the route you’d like to take and how many people will be going, including kids. Canal boat holidays are renowned for being child friendly, and kids love being on the river! Pets are also welcome, and most firms offer boats with wheelchair access as well. Obviously training is given before you set off on your journey, so you know how to steer in the right direction!

Ultimately, hiring a canal boat can be for anything from a family adventure to a romantic getaway. Canal boats are a great way to enjoy the country and its many towns and cities without the hassle of roads, trains or planes.

City pics