Coolcanals: Waterways Directory & Information Guide. Waterside Walks & Cycling, Boating & Holidays in the Waterways Outdoors

 
 

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Ashby Canal
Map of Ashby Canal
Marston Junction to Snarestone
22 miles, 0 locks

This lockless, lazy water road must be the best way to tour Leicestershire's countryside. Boaters can put their windlasses away and uncork the wine to cruise this uninterrupted short canal. Only history contradicts the tranquillity, as the canal skims the site of the bloodiest battle of the War of the Roses. Richard III fell to a gruesome death here at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. A day out at the Heritage Centre is a must.
 
Basingstoke Canal
Map of Basingstoke Canal
Greywell Tunnel to Woodham Junction
31 miles, 29 locks

A lush green canal that has become a haven for wildlife. And among its peaceful features are a large number of concrete bunkers used in World War II to defend against invaders. Due to the partial collapse of Greywell Tunnel and its subsequent abandonment, it is now home to the largest colony of bats of any known location in Britain.
Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN)

Birmingham (A network of canals, canal arms and branches)
100 miles (approx)

Down-staging its European rival, Birmingham claims to own an even more outrageous spaghetti of canals than Venice. The BCN canal network knits across the Black Country and Birmingham, colliding in a hub at Gas Street Basin - right in the centre of England's second city. The basin is as it should be, bustling with cool calm. But follow the canal out of the city in a north easterly direction, and a remote urban wilderness unfolds. A tourist-free zone for the discerning adventurer.
 
Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
Map of Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
Taunton to Bridgwater
14 miles, 6 locks

Cut off from other canals, the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal is a bit of a loner. Beyond its resident boats, the only other boats here are those that can be carried to the water. The absence of slow convoys of narrowboats gives this canal a different purpose and it finds novel ways to intrigue visitors. There's the Space Walk, the Mr Men Trail, and the West Country's long-distance cycle trail keeping the towpaths alive. And anyone who goes in late summer can vouch for its thriving population of dragonflies. Small, isolated, yet a dark horse often mistakenly ignored by the crowd of canals elsewhere. If you can, make the effort to find this one. (Don't miss the prettiest bit in the middle).
Bude Canal
Map of Bude Canal
Bude to Helebridge (navigable)
2 miles, 2 locks + sea lock

Sand in your toes and sea salt on your face. This is the canal on the beach. Incongruously positioned canal lock gates stretch over the golden sands of a Cornish beach, allowing an inland waterway to break the rules, tumbling right into the sea. When the tide is out, the canal lock gates are left stranded on the beach, and the manmade canal has to wait for nature to bring the sea to the canal. Come in seaside holiday spirit, willing to hop in a paddle boat, slurp an ice cream or just take a stroll along the little Cornish canal on the beach... oh, and bring your bucket and spade too!
 
Caldon Canal
Map of Caldon Canal
Etruria to Froghall
17 miles, 17 locks

A canal that begins in the fascinating, if unglamorous, territory of Stoke-on-Trent, made famous by its Potteries. But this down-to-earth start is deceptive, since the canal soon blusters away into unspoilt countryside, blossoming into a stunner. The deep greens of the Churnet Valley give the canal all it needs, and the Churnet Valley Steam Railway adds muscle to the attraction.
Caledonian Canal
Map of Caledonian Canal
Fort William to Inverness
60 miles, 29 locks & 10 swing bridges (all manned)

An ecstatic Highland journey, coast to coast, following the Great Glen Way. Along the trail, the Caledonian Canal laps up the drama of Ben Nevis, the romance of Scotland's lochs and a potential encounter with Nessie! This canal is the calm path set in a storm of remote Scotland's wild Highlands that once whistled with mournful pipes of the Clans. A sublime and deeply beautiful experience.
 
Crinan Canal
Map of Crinan Canal
Ardrishaig to Crinan
9 miles, 15 locks

A jagged coastline on the extreme west side of Scotland needed its own short cut to help sailors avoid the murderous seas. The Crinan Canal is only for seagoing vessels and towpath visitors wrapped up in woollies. The most stunning short cut in Britain, and anyone would travel miles out of their way to get to it.
Droitwich Canals
Map of Droitwich Canals
River Severn to Hanbury Wharf
7¼ miles, 16 locks

A recent restoration success, creating a new link between the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn. The opening of the Droitwich Canals completes a ring for boaters, walkers and cyclists. But these canals are more than a cog in a bigger ring, they stand boldly in their own right as a glorious unspoilt picture of green England. Ancient farm buildings quietly spice a rural route riddled with pleasure.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Exeter Ship Canal
Map of Exeter Ship Canal
Exeter Quay to Turf Lock, Exminster
6 miles, 2 locks inc. the double lock

The Exeter Ship Canal is detached from other canals, and stands alone with a lively Southern vibe. If you're after traditional canal boats and sleepy canals, you're going to be disappointed by this canal, but if you're ready for the real outdoors and an estuary-swept waterway, you're in for a treat. The wide straight water plays Pied Piper, picking up people in canoes, on bikes and in walking shoes. Everyone is heading to one place: the end of the canal and the Titanic experience it promises. The final sod of earth at the end of this short canal marks one of the most exhilarating points on England's canals. The Exeter Ship Canal and the estuary of the River Exe merge at an apex where the wind owns the distant sea and blows its story over a canal. Here, humdrum is flung to the wind and life is inhaled to the full, leaving canal pilgrims cleansed by the best of the waterways outdoors. English inhibitions loosen up visibly and, as the English would, we put a pub there!
Forth & Clyde Canal
Map of Forth & Clyde Canal
Firth of Forth to Firth of Clyde
35 miles, 39 locks

Glasgow's proud canal and another of Scotland's coast-to-coast routes, the Forth & Clyde links the Irish Sea to the North Sea. The canal connects to the Union Canal via the Falkirk Wheel.
 
Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
Map of Gloucester & Sharpness Canal
Sharpness to Gloucester
16½ miles, 2 locks

A canal built to carry tall ships and, when it opened, it was the widest, deepest canal in the world. This bold, wide waterway is less quaint and less winding, yet more dramatic than most. What it lacks in traditional narrow canal charm, it resoundingly makes up for in its natural seduction. Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Purton Hulks boat graveyard, Gloucester's historic docks and the moon moods of the River Severn Bore all accompany this canal on its unforgettable journey. At Sharpness Docks the estuary slips gloriously into the horizon in a mournful, joyous moment of beauty that makes you want to spread out your arms and inhale history and nature.
Grand Union Canal
Map of Grand Union Canal
London to Birmingham
137 miles, 166 locks

The waterway that links London to Birmingham, with a few adventures along the way. A bold route that was built to travel from the capital of England to the capital of the canals. Arguably, not the quaintest lock gates or winding backwaters, but definitely some magnificent places of interest along the way (such as Stoke Bruerne, Hatton and Braunston). The Grand Union Canal never lets you forget that the purpose of its water is the route it takes. Luckily, the M1 is out of sight and mind for most of the way - the Ugly Sister left to stomp with road rage, too brutal to understand the sparkly slippered waterway going its own quiet route.
 
Grand Western Canal
Map of Grand Western Canal
Tiverton to Lowdwells
11¼ miles, 0 locks

The entire canal is a designated Country Park and Local Nature Reserve. A linear treat stretching across Devonshire towards Somerset. Too short and landlocked to cater for canal boats on the mainstream cruising rings, but perfectly short and landlocked for the privileged few that cruise here. Anyone can hire a dayboat or take a trip on the horseboat, and the towpath tourist gets a taste of the best of the West Country's waterways.
Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Map of Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Ashton-under-Lyne to Huddersfield
20 miles, 74 locks

It might not win top prize for scenery, but every canal enthusiast's pride shines through in every mile of this 20-mile canal. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal is a restoration success and has been hailed as one of 'The' achievements of the canal restoration era. With 74 locks and a 3-mile tunnel, it is never mediocre. Standedge Tunnel is one of the 7 Wonders of the Waterways and the crowning glory of the Huddersfield, being the longest, deepest, highest canal tunnel in Britain (and a grand day out all on its own).
 
Kennet & Avon Canal
Map of Kennet & Avon Canal
Reading to Bristol
93 miles, 104 locks

A canal that has everything. From Bristol to Bath, sweeping through Wiltshire and eventually meeting the River Thames. A buzzing beauty almost every step of the way. This generous canal shares its gifts in uncontrived flamboyance, as the White Horse of Wiltshire wafts magic over a superior waterscape. The Kennet & Avon Canal is even home to the mighty Caen Hill lock flight, one of the 7 wonders of the canals.
Lancaster Canal
Map of Lancaster Canal
Preston to Tewitfield
41¼ miles, 0 locks

Slithering along the northwest coast of England, this is the canal that wants to reach the Lake District again. It currently halts at Tewitfield, tantalisingly close to the Lakeland dream, but the Lancaster Canal is strumming restoration hopes to reopen its route all the way to Kendal. In the meantime the canal remains a quiet waterway with other highlights doing their best to allay the mutterings of the Lake District. Only a hop from the canal, the wide sands of Morecambe Bay serpent the traveller and, as well as the rural views along the route, Rennie's Lune Aqueduct is an eye-catcher too.
 
Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Map of Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Liverpool to Leeds
127 miles, 91 locks

Simply the very best canal in Britain and the very worst canal in Britain. The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is a sitting duck for Lancashire's worst hooligan towns one minute and, in another, it escapes in euphoria to virgin tufts of wild Pennine grass.
Llangollen Canal
Map of Llangollen Canal
Hurleston Junction to Llantysilio (near Llangollen)
46 miles, 21 locks

A narrow fantastically exciting canal that deservedly attracts boaters and towpath tourists in droves. The Llangollen Canal sets off innocuously enough from Cheshire's soft surroundings, working its way towards the mountains of North Wales. Just before it reaches its famous destination at the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, the canal does its best to half scare you to death - it takes you over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Mice and men cross white-faced, and tourists with cameras from across the globe turn up to click away with one hand whilst holding on to the railings tightly with the other. A World Heritage Site - not to be missed.
 
Macclesfield Canal
Map of Macclesfield Canal
Hardings Wood Junction to Marple Junction
27¾ miles, 13 locks

The canal with the unique 'USP' of swirling bridges. These so-called Snake Bridges once allowed the horses towing canal boats to cross on the towpath to the other side of the water, without needing to be uncoupled from the boat. But there is much more to this canal than its quirky bridges - it's a master of mixed identity. The Macclesfield Canal blows north from the mild-mannered Midlands into the chunkier stoned canals of the north. Neither here nor there, it owns its space gloriously. Attractive, unspectacular, blissfully uninterrupted, the greenery is in charge and doesn't let anything disturb the status quo. Here, thrill seekers will find it takes little more than a moorhen to stir the pulse.
Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
Map of Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
Cwmbran to Brecon
35¾ miles, 6 locks

The DIVA of Britain's canals, set in the Brecon Beacons National Park with the Black Mountains as a spectacular backdrop. The Mon & Brec Canal is isolated from the cruising rings of the mainstream canal networks, and that leaves an intimate cohort of boats free to roam to and fro at will. With only a handful of locks, this is utterly lazy water. But don't be fooled by the tranquillity, its tumultuous scenery is a heart stopper. The route twists under canopies of leaves and then, with an innocent bend in the water, it will thrust you into the sort of sublime panorama that only Wales can do.
 
Montgomery Canal
Map of Montgomery Canal
Frankton Junction to Aberbechan (near Newtown)
32½ miles, 21 locks

Nicknamed the Monty, this canal is itching to do the full Monty again. It closed in the early 1900s after a breach and is one of the many canals across Britain that battle for full restoration. The canal is navigable in parts with plenty to enjoy, and where boats can't go yet, the towpath is the trump card into deepest Wales. And because the Monty has been unnavigable and undisturbed in sections, it is a special haven for wildlife too.
Oxford Canal
Map of Oxford Canal
Oxford to Hawkesbury Junction
77 miles, 43 locks

The Oxford Canal willingly performs the role of fair daughter to old father Thames, as she branches beautifully from the big river at her namesake city. Full of Oxford grace, this canal enjoys a rural amble, heading northwards fromOxford until it reaches the Coventry Canal. The northern section is arguably less appealing, but in the lower stretches, the canal swirls a narrow dance through leafiest England, stopping off at irresistible real ale pubs and idyllic villages that city-folk would die to live in. One highlight of the canal is the quintessentially English village of Cropredy - adored by boaters, frequented by tourists and infused with gentle acoustic souls every August when hoards turn up for Fairport Convention's annual reunion.
 
Peak Forest Canal
Map of Peak Forest Canal
Whaley Bridge to Dukinfield Junction
14½ miles, 16 locks

Trespassing into England's woolly hat walking territory, the Peak Forest Canal lets anyone taste the sheer pleasure of this remote landscape. A delicious canal with big views over the Goyt Valley and uplifting whiffs of the countryside. Marple Locks do their bit to spice the way with stonework screaming with history. A peaceful narrow canal, with memorable moments.
Regent's Canal
Map of Regent's Canal
Little Venice to Limehouse Basin
8½ miles, 13 locks

A secret tour of the big city sneaking unnoticed through charismatic Little Venice, quirky Camden, Regent's Park and regal London by the back door. This is London in its slippers, extraordinarily peaceful and fascinating.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
River Severn
Map of River Severn
Stourport to Gloucester (navigable)
42 miles (220 from source), 5 locks

Without the manmade ease of canals, a river's high banks often block the traveller's all important views, but the unpredictability of nature's waterways does give rivers a different energy from canals. The largest river in Britain starts life as an unnoticed trickle in Wales and then gathers muscle for its rite of passage into the sea at Sharpness in Gloucestershire. The River Severn isn't just a local star, it's a national phenomenon. The Severn Bore has entertained and challenged folk throughout history. Man has always used the river as a transport route, and sometimes tried to tame her, but never completely won over her wilfulness. This ancient river has claimed countless lives and drowned the ships of past kings and queens galore. The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal was built to bypass the treacherous tidal stretch as far as Gloucester, and northwards from there the river forms a vital link to the canal cruising ring between Worcester and Stourport.
River Thames
Map of River Thames
215 miles from source to sea
146 miles from Inglesham Junction in the Cotswolds to Limehouse Basin in London, 45 locks

The big one. Old Father Thames. The river that our Houses of Parliament sit obediently alongside. The Thames famously flows through Windsor, Henley, Oxford, the power and pleasure, classroom and playground of a nation. And it plays host to trip boats, party boats, taxi boats, police boats, trading boats, naval boats, live-aboard boats, motor and paddle boats and every shape in between.
 
Rochdale Canal
Map of Rochdale Canal
Manchester to Sowerby Bridge
32 miles, 92 locks

A canal that stands out from the crowd, not because it has any of the facilities and fancies of the busier canals in the south, but because it is a canal of extraordinary uncluttered charisma. The Rochdale Canal is the rugged beauty of the Pennines. This waterway parties through Manchester's glitzy gay village and after enduring a few urban blemishes, the route beyond is a feisty delight. The water climbs through the friendliest villages on earth and seizes the heights of the Pennines with the full glory of no less than 92 locks in 32 miles. A thriller.
Shropshire Union Canal
Map of Shropshire Union Canal
Autherley Junction to Ellesmere Port
66½ miles, 47 locks

The trademark of this route is its brutishly gentle journey. The canal carves its way through deep cuttings and strides along straight embankments as if it were in a hurry. Long stretches are lock free and boats can throttle away at 4mph without a care in the world. This isn't a big city hopper, it's more solitary and professes to do no more than gambol through villages of no notoriety other than their village appeal. The National Waterways Museum is the crowning glory at the end of the trail. Here, the canal (and anyone in a boat who dares) tumbles into Liverpool's intrepid River Mersey.
 
Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
Map of Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
Stourport-on-Severn to Great Haywood Junction
46 miles, 43 locks

One of the busiest and one of the best. The Staffs & Worcs Canal is outrageously rural for a canal that clings to the edges of the Black Country. It defies the rules of the urban map as it follows its winding course, pearling secret leafy trails in the Midlands. Fiery red sandstone rocks overhang the breathtakingly narrow water route. A canal that is a soft adventure by boat and an undiluted treat by towpath.
Stratford-on-Avon Canal
Map of Stratford-on-Avon Canal
Kings Norton Junction to Stratford-upon-Avon
25½ miles, 54 locks

You get everything you'd expect from an English canal that tiptoes through Shakespeare's patch. A narrow floral route marked distinctively with ironwork bridges painted black and white, unusual aqueducts, and willow trees boughing over the river Avon where the canal and river meet at the basin in Stratford. On the doorstep of the bardic town, yet far away from the coachloads of souvenir shoppers, this waterway composes its own sonnets.
 
Trent & Mersey Canal
Map of Trent & Mersey Canal
Derwent Mouth to Preston Brook
93½ miles, 76 locks

Boaters must submit to slog up Heartbreak Hill, endure the dark passage through Harecastle Tunnel and the iron labyrinth of the Anderton Boat Lift. Enough to fluster any helmsman, yet the Trent & Mersey Canal has an unaccountable character that makes it lovable. The canal's features of interest are never in short supply. Notoriously it served the Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, and by no coincidence the canal cuts through Burton, the historic brewery capital of Britain, and at Great Haywood it hobnobs with the upper class at Shugborough Hall Estate. Never a dull moment, yet remarkably tranquil and green in most parts.
Union Canal
Map of Union Canal
Falkirk to Edinburgh
34 miles, 2 locks, 3 aqueducts

A canal that touches Edinburgh, yet is most celebrated for its connection to the Falkirk Wheel. The world's first rotating boat lift was opened by the Queen in 2002 and has become one of Scotland's top tourist attractions. This modern-day marvel of engineering was built to join the Union Canal and the Forth & Clyde Canal. The 8th Wonder of the Waterways. Long before the Falkirk Wheel, even when the canal was first being built, it managed to cause a stir - the owners of Callendar House couldn�t bear the new water-road to be seen on their estate, so insisted on a tunnel being clawed out of the hill behind the house (Falkirk Tunnel). The Union is the only surviving contour canal in Scotland, so has no locks beyond Falkirk. But it has 3 aqueducts, and Avon Aqueduct is the 2nd longest in Britain (after Pontcysyllte in Wales).
 
Worcester & Birmingham Canal
Map of Worcester & Birmingham Canal
Worcester to Birmingham
30 miles, 58 locks

A journey from Birmingham to Worcester by road doesn't compare to this. The Worcester & Birmingham Canal leaves the second city behind and steals into Elgar countryside with handsome locks on a homely narrow waterway. Treats include tunnels reputedly inhabited by ghosts and the legendary Tardebigge, the longest lock flight anywhere on Britain's entire canal system. Dreaded and adored.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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