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Introducing the Waterways System

Navigable rivers and canals are found in many parts of Scotland, England and Wales. Some of these waterways have only local connections with others or are isolated navigations, but most are interconnected to form what is called the Waterways System or the Connected System.

The Connected System

This consists of over 2,700 miles of waterways stretching from Godalming, Surrey, in the South to Ripon, North Yorkshire, in the North, from Llangollen, Wales, in the West to Brandon, Suffolk, in the East. See the map of Inland Waterways of England and Wales. The system is made up of the following types of waterway:

Rivers - These are mostly natural watercourses although many of them have had considerable engineering work done to make them suitable for navigation, e.g. locks, weirs and lock cuts have been built. Most rivers allow the passage of wide boats of 11 to 14 feet beam and often considerably wider. Some rivers have tidal stretches that provide vital links between waterways, e.g. the Thames between Teddington and Brentford, and the Trent below Cromwell Lock. In these cases the ability to travel will depend on the tide. Before entering tidal waters it is usually necessary to consult the lock keeper, who will tell you the best times for passage and give you advice on local navigation conditions.

Narrow Canals - These are waterways of the Midlands built to take boats 7 feet wide and 70 or 72 feet long. They form the connection between the rivers and thus restrict the width of a boat that can pass from the Thames to the Trent or the Severn by an inland route.

Broad Canals - Canals of over 7 feet width, usually 14 feet or more. There is a great variation in sizes of craft taken by various broad Canals, for example the Aire & Calder Canal can take craft of 185 feet length and 18 feet 9 inches beam from Goole to Leeds, however from Leeds westwards the Leeds & Liverpool Canal has a maximum length of 62 feet and a beam of 14 feet. Some northern canals have even shorter lengths, e.g. the Calder & Hebble has a maximum length of 57 feet 6 inches.

Detached Waterways - Other waterways have no connection with the main system but are still used for navigation. The best known example of these is the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads which have around 130 miles of interconnected rivers and broads. Other popular detached waterways are the short but beautiful Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in Wales and the Caledonian Canal that runs from coast to coast in Scotland's Great Glen, passing through Loch Ness on the way.

The Total Size of the UK Inland Waterways

Full calculations and source data used are available on the UK Waterways Locks and Distances pages. Here you will find calculations covering rivers, canals and other navigations from ancient times to the present day.

Navigation Authorities and Licences - The waterways in the UK are controlled by a number of different bodies each of which normally issues its own licences and makes its own charges. If you are hiring a boat the hire charge normally includes all the licence fees for its home waters. If you have your own boat you will need to register with the appropriate navigation authority. For all the contact details I hold see the Navigation Authorities page. The main ones are:

The Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways) who control about 2,000 miles of canals and rivers including many detached waterways. For more information see BW web pages.

The Environment Agency responsible for the rivers, Thames (above Teddington), Medway, Derwent, Nene, Great Ouse, Stour (Suffolk), Welland, Glen. and Ancholme.

The Broads for the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads.

Other Waterway Authorities. The following waterways on the Connected System have different navigation authorities and are subject to separate licences and/or charges.

River Avon (Warwick)

Basingstoke Canal

Bridgewater Canal

Bristol Docks

River Foss

Manchester Ship Canal

River Wey

 

Introducing Canal History A short account of UK navigations from Roman Britain to the years of Canal Mania.

Introducing Canal Boating How to choose a boat, navigation basics, working locks.

Introducing Route Planning Which waterway, Canal Rings, making a timetable

 

Related External Web Sites

 

Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
Home Introduction Waterways List Waterways Map Links Books DVD Articles Photo Gallery
Features Contact me Glossary Boats Events List History Local Waterways Help Photo List