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Canal Boating In England, UK

A quick introduction for newcomers

Canal Boating In England, UK - A hotel boat pair motor and 'butty'

Canal Boating In England, UK - A historic working narrowboatCanal Boating in England has a colourful history, from use for irrigation and transport, through becoming the focus of the Industrial Revolution, to today's role for recreational boating.

Today the canal system in the United Kingdom is again in increasing use, with abandoned and derelict canals being reopened, and even the construction of some new routes like the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway.

English Canals first saw canal boating during the Roman occupation of the south of Great Britain. The canals were used mainly for irrigation, however, they did create several navigable canals, such as Foss Dyke, to link rivers, enabling increased canal boat transportation by inland by water.


Canal Boating In England, UK - A Waterways Restoration Group at work restoring a lock.

From the mid 19th century, rail track began to replace canals, especially those built with the standard narrow beam bridges and locks. As the modern transport trains, and later road vehicles advanced the canal network went into decline, and some narrow canals became unusable, filled with weeds, silt and rubbish, or converted to railways.

From the 1950s onwards, canals started reopening through the efforts of individuals like Tom Rolt and restoration societies as well as organisations like the Inland Waterways Association.

Many societies are still working on such projects and welcome anyone who wants to get involved as a volunteer.


Holidaymakers began renting 'narrowboats' and canal boating in England, roaming the available canals, visiting towns and villages they passed became a popular 'staycation'. Narrowboat / Cruiser Holiday Advice

Canal Boating In England, UK - A 'narrow' GRP canal and river cruiser.
Other people bought boats to use for weekend breaks and the occasional longer trip, while a few others now live aboard on residential moorings or continuously cruise!

Canal Boating In England, UK - A narrowboat using a narrow lockThere are now around two thousand miles of navigable canals and rivers available for canal boating in England. Most of them are linked into a single English network from Bristol to London, Liverpool to Goole, and Lancaster to Ripon, and connecting the Irish Sea, the North Sea, the estuaries of the Humber, Thames, Mersey, River Severn, and River Ribble. This network is navigable in its entirety by a narrowboat no longer than about 56 feet, but boats up to 72 feet can get around around half of the canal boating system in England. With a  canal maximum speed limit of 4MPH!