ENGLAND BY BOAT?
A FEW THOUGHTS FOR BEGINNERS
Are you tempted to a boating holiday but not sure?
For a total change of pace, try a trip on the Inland Waterways. The UK is well blessed with places to try your hand at boating.
You can take an organised trip, even a hotel boat or why not rent a boat, they are available for a day, for a short break or longer periods and there is no need to forgo the luxury of home (unless you want to!).
Depending on area and taste, you can hire powered or unpowered craft and in all sizes suitable for solo sailors, families and even groups of friends.
For canals it is usually necessary due to restricted widths to hire a narrowboat, elsewhere cruisers might be preferred.
The pace is slow, there are generally 4 miles per hour speed limits (8 Kilometres per hour – 5 mph on the Thames) and in the world of waterways that is sufficient, after a week afloat, traffic on the roads seems very fast indeed.
It is possible to choose natural waterways such as the River Thames – a more unusual way of arriving on your own boat at Hampton Court or Windsor is hard to imagine in this day and age but historically, it was the way to travel.
The river Thames can be accessed between Teddington lock up towards its source in the Cotswolds, it is necessary to pass through locks which are manned by professional lockkeepers.
Perhaps, you would prefer the Norfolk Broads. The Broads are a mixture of natural and ancient man-made lakes (approximately 60 of them) often linked by rivers – The Waveney, Bure and Yare, it is a flat part of the country, so boating is effortless, and there are plenty of contrasts to be had, from pleasant countryside villages to the City of Norwich or the seaside town of Yarmouth), to Lowestoft which is part seaside town and part port and is reached from the waterways from Oulton Broad.
Choice of hire companies is an important consideration, you can choose a national company such as Hoseasons or choose a small company that gives a more personalised service for example
Canal Boat Escapes
is a small family operated company on the Leeds Liverpool Canal.
CENTRAL ENGLAND WATERWAYS
The navigable waterways consist of a network of canals and rivers forming a complex web covering both urban and rural situations.
Canals were added to navigable rivers to assist with the movement of goods and as such joined major towns and cities.
The Midlands forms the hub of the waterways system and to move from the north of England to the south it is impossible not to pass down a canal in the relatively narrow channel between Leicester and the Welsh Border.
The Shropshire Union Canal
There are two basic choices with an Inland Waterway holiday, which is either to pick a circular route – known as a ring - or to cruise along a branch and to retrace your route.
Physical constraints mean that a choice of boatyard will decide a route, or else the route will decide the boatyard so a decision has to be made as it is necessary to return boats on time and in good condition if security deposits are to be recovered.
There are other hazards to be considered such as flooding or even a shortage of water, and over ambition can be an enemy, advice can be obtained from boat hire companies.
Progress will be slowed by hills, a river flows down hill, but the water level in a stretch of a canal (a pound) is all on one level, and changes in water levels are achieved by mechanical means, usually a lock.
A lock is a short stretch of canal with gates at each end, a boat enters and the gate closed behind it. The lock is then flooded or drained (depending on whether the next stretch of water is uphill or downhill) and when the water level is equalised the boat can exit through the other gate.
Time can be lost if there are a number of locks and it is even worse if the last boat through was going in the same direction as
yourself as the water level in the lock will be at the exit depth, not the entry level meaning that the lock will have to be drained (or filled) to allow you entry, thus taking twice as long!
Also as each lock emptying sends a full lock full of water down to the next level, it is very wasteful on water (keeping up water levels is a constant worry for canal operators). It is a courtesy to see whether a boat is coming the other way before setting a lock up for yourself.
Operation of locks is possible for most people but operation of the gates and sluices (by use of a key on a winding mechanism) does require a degree of physicality.
Sounds complicated? - Its not really, but sense has to be applied, otherwise exploring the UK by boat is something that will stay with you forever!!
You might like to know that 30% of boating holidays are short breaks and not a weeklong, so if you are interested - give it a go! The Hoseasons link below gives an onwards link to a video which shows how easy it all is.
The interior of a Narrowboat
England By Boat
Canals of Birmingham and Central England