Welcome back to Canal Boat UK. Today we will be talking about how far you can travel by Canal in the UK. A lot of people (even outside the UK) are fascinated by this, especially as you don’t find canal networks in many other countries these days. Whether you are an interested local or a tourist, we have the answer for you.
We will start by showing you an overview map of all the available canals in the United Kingdom, thanks to opencanalmap.uk. They have made this awesome community map by overlaying canals (including locks) over Google Maps. What a great idea! It shows the 2200 miles of UK canals in all their glory 🙂
As you can see from this map, most of the canals are in the south and middle of the UK, with a tiny sprinkling up in Scotland. Obviously, this has a big impact on the question this article is asking “How far can you travel by canal in the UK?’. The fact that not all canals are joined up will limit this somewhat.
Some of the reasons for this are the simple fact that canals were tricky to build through elevated terrain, such as what you see in the Pennines. Couple with this the fact that the canal network was left in disrepair for a long time (there was quite a gap between the commerical and leisure use), and it is clear why the canal network might not be so complete.
I used the excellent tool over at canalplan.org.uk to come up with the longest canal trip possible. I would highly recommend their tool if you are indeed planning a narrowboat trip, it showed all the key events and possible outages along the way. Very handy! Anyway, the longest real route that I could come up with was a whopping 429 miles long. And if you did 7 hour solid days of cruising, it would take you over 30 days to complete. That would be a very tiring journey if anyone tried it. The route I decided on was from Cumberland Basin in Bristol up to Ripon Basin in North Yorkshire. You can see the epic route below 🙂
I don’t think anyone would actually want to try such a journey, but if you did I would highly recommend you check the route carefully to make sure your particular boat will fit and that all of the canals and locks along the way are available. You don’t want to get halfway and find out a major part of your route is blocked off for renovation or maintenance work! The tool I used here has preferences that you can set for your boat, including the length and width. Be sure to enter this information, especially if you have an above average sized canal boat. If you are in a wide beam I think you can forget it 🙂
Now let’s answer some frequently asked questions that people usually ask at this point 🙂
Frequently Asked Questions
How far can I travel on a narrowboat in the UK?
In the map above we have shown the physical locations of the canals in the UK, but how far you would want to travel along one would very much depend on your situation. As a narrowboat typically operates at walking pace, or around 3-4 miles per hour, you won’t get that far unless you have a lot of time on your hands 🙂 Realistically, most people could only stomach cruising for 7 hours a day. At a rate of 3MPH (rather than 4 to make up for the time lost at locks etc.), this would give you a daily range of around 21 miles.
This range will of course vary wildly by how many locks there are on the stretch of canal you are navigating. For example, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is exactly 19.9 miles in length. Perfect for a day cruise then, right? Well, when you find out it has 76 locks you might rethink this 🙂 So, always factor the amount of locks into any route planning that you do.
And don’t be tempted to try and speed. The speed limit on canals is 4 miles per hour for a reason. Any faster than this and you are creating a wash strong enough to damage the banks of the canals you are travelling on. This wash also disturbs anyone moored up in their own boat at the side of the canal. The etiquette here is to only pass moored boats at engine tickover.
What is the best canal trip in the UK?
Of course, this is highly subjective, and everyone will probably tell you a different one 🙂 I think the best canal trip in the UK has to be the Stourport Ring, a connected set of canals that form a canal ‘ring’. This will take you a good week to complete, but it’s totally worth the effort. If you complete the whole ring you will have had to go through 118 locks, the Tardebigge flight being the funnest of them 🙂 The scenery is amazing, there are some picturesque pubs along the way, and even some cities to boot. It’s got everything 🙂
Can canal boats/ narrowboats travel at night?
Yes, they totally can, it is just not always socially acceptable as there are many people that are sleeping in their boats along the canals. You will have to glide past very quietly (hard to do in a diesel narrowboat!) if you want to not be a local pest! This is why most people stick to day time cruising. Narowboats do have headlights, but they are more for tunnels and may not give the best light for cruising along canals at night. So, yeah….stick to day cruising.
If you do want to ignore all my advice, make sure your boat has the correct running lights to run at night. You can read more about the exciting details HERE.
What is the longest canal in the UK?
This is the Grand Union Canal, which is a whopping 137 miles, all the way from London to Birmingham. This is why you will hear about a lot of people cruising here, its quite a major thoroughfare.
Can narrowboats go on the Thames in London?
Yes you can, just make sure your boat is in a good enough condition to handle the tidal waters of the Thames!