Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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Where shall we go?
If you are taking your first trip on the canals you will want to go on the best one first, but what is the best one? There is no clear answer. There are many very popular waterways: the Oxford Canal (Southern Section), the Shropshire Union - Llangollen Canal, the Stratford upon Avon Canal and the Macclesfield Canal. There are canals just as scenic and enjoyable that are not so well visited: the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Grand Union Leicester Section, the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Caldon Branch - Trent and Mersey Canal all come to mind. Not that I'm suggesting that these are a list of my favourite canals - no that would be far longer - its just a few thoughts to get you started. Have a look at some articles and photographs on the web, in books and magazines or at the descriptions in the hire boat brochures and see what you fancy.
How do we decide?
Think about what you want from your holiday. Do you want to be boating most of the time or do you want visit places of interest on the way? Will you have an enthusiastic and active crew who will relish a flight of locks or do you want to keep locking to a minimum? One of the most important factors is the time you have available which will determine how far you can travel. The first thing to do is to work out how many cruising hours you have available, remembering that your first and last days of your holiday will probably not be full days. How many hours do you want to cruise each day? Don't forget that if you cruise early or late in the year you will have fewer daylight hours.
How far can we go?
The classic way to calculate a canal journey time is to use lock-miles. The assumption behind this calculation is that it takes about the same time to do a mile on the canal as it does to go through a lock. Suppose that we will be travelling the narrow canals and therefore expect to average about three miles per hour. If we have 7 days and plan to travel 7 hours each day then the total journey we can make is 7 times 7, or 49 hours multiplied by our 3 lock-miles per hour gives a total of 147 lock-miles. Suppose we decide to go down the southern Oxford Canal from Napton, how far can we get before we have to turn to bring the boat back (assuming we must bring the boat back to Napton for the end of the holiday)? The answer is 73½ lock miles which brings us to Baker's Lock which is 40.8 miles and 33 locks from Napton. If we travel on rivers our speed will increase to 4 or even 5 miles per hour.
Another useful way of working out cruising times is by means of Chris Clegg's Canal Time Map which is an A4 diagram of the waterways system divided up into two hour cruising distances. On the reverse of the laminated card are Summary Maps showing places 6, 8 and 10 hour apart. This is a very easy system to use and gives good estimates of cruising times. The map costs £4 by post from IWA Sales www.iwashop.com, or from:-
One of the advantages of the waterways system is the many "circular" routes, or rings, that are available for cruising. A look at the map of the Inland Waterways of England and Wales will show the large number of these that are available. Here are some of the rings you could consider:-
The Avon RingThe Worcester and Birmingham Canal, River Severn, River Avon (Warwick) and Stratford upon Avon Canal. 109 miles 132 locks.
The Birmingham RingThe Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, Coventry Canal, Trent and Mersey Canal, Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and BCN Main Line Canals. 76 miles 79 locks
The Cheshire RingThe Bridgewater Canal, Rochdale Canal, Ashton, Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals and Trent and Mersey Canal.95 miles 92 locks.
The Four Counties RingThe Trent and Mersey Canal, Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Shropshire Union Main Lineand Shropshire Union - Middlewich Branch. 110 miles 94 locks.
The London RingThe Grand Union Main Line, Grand Union Paddington Branch and Grand Union Regents Canal then back to Brentford on the River Thames. 44 miles 25 locks.
The Leicestershire RingThe Grand Union Main Line, Grand Union Leicester Section, the River Trent, Trent and Mersey Canal, Coventry Canal and Oxford Canal (Northern Section). 154 miles 101 locks.
The Midland Countryside RingThis is not one of the normally recognised rings but is one that takes in the cream of the rural Midlands. The Grand Union Main Line from Braunston and Stratford upon Avon Canal, River Avon (Warwick), River Severn, Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Trent and Mersey Canal, Coventry Canal and Oxford Canal (Northern Section). 226 miles 166 locks.
The Outer Pennine RingAnother cruising ring made possible by the restoration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in 2001. It also includes the Ashton Canal, the Huddersfield Broad Canal, part of the Calder and Hebble Navigation, Aire & Calder Navigation - Wakefield Section, Aire & Calder Main Line, Leeds and Liverpool Canal, Bridgewater Canal, and Rochdale Canal,. 175 miles 220 locks.
The North Pennine Ring
The North Pennine RingA cruising ring made possible by the full restoration of the Rochdale Canal, in 2002. It also includes the Calder and Hebble Navigation, Aire & Calder Navigation - Wakefield Section, part of the Aire & Calder Main Line, Leeds and Liverpool Canal and Bridgewater Canal. 184 miles 216 locks.
The South Pennine RingA new cruising ring made possible by the restoration of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in 2001 and the Rochdale Canal in 2002. It also includes the Ashton Canal, the Huddersfield Broad Canal and part of the Calder and Hebble Navigation. 69.5 miles 198 locks.
The Stourport RingThe Worcester and Birmingham Canal, River Severn, Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and BCN Main Line. 85 miles 116 locks.
The Thames RingThe Grand Union Main Line, the River Thames, and Oxford Canal (Southern Section). 248 miles 175 locks.
The Warwickshire RingThe Grand Union Main Line, Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, Coventry Canal andOxford Canal (Northern Section). 104 miles 100 locks
As you can see from the above examples and by studying the map there are countless possibilities for making up your own circular cruise.
Introducing Canal History A short account of UK navigations from Roman Britain to the years of Canal Mania.
Introducing the Waterways System A description of UK canals and navigable rivers as they are today.
Introducing Canal Boating How to choose a boat, navigation basics, working locks.
Related External Web Sites