Railways were, in the beginning, only local links, scattered around the country until in 1840, the golden age of the railways began. Within 10 years, rail lines were extended, and more importantly, connected to each other, to create one big network. At this point, canals had already reached their golden age. In terms of routes, canals were built in the most efficient way, so many train tracks took the same route and therefore followed many canals closely. Due to the increased loading capacity and speed, a big part of the business was taken from the canals to the railways. This lead to the decline of commercial traffic on the canals in the beginning of the last century.
Even though many railways were effectively the end of several canals and navigations, many of those formerly disused waterways have been restored and revived in recent years and are offering a fascinating holiday by boat. It is not just easy access by public transport that is a big draw for the following canal boat holiday routes, but they also provide a true glimpse into the awe inspiring and fascinating history of this country.
If you want to travel by train to your next canal boat holiday, we have the perfect starting points for your trip. All of the following routes start from hire bases that are situated within a 30 minutes walk from the closest train station.
1) Leighton Buzzard to Stoke Bruerne
This route winds through the valley of the Ouzel with its picturesque hills and open countryside. The surrounding countryside is very pleasant and soon you'll reach the outskirts of Milton Keynes. Once you have passed through the city and it’s urban surroundings you’ll cross the Great Ouse Aqueduct and pass through Cosgrove lock. Once you have reached the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne locks, you can moor up and walk up to the Canal Museum which is a great place to explore the past of the canals. Alternatively, you can work your way up the 7 Stoke Bruerne locks. If you want to stretch your legs after all the cruising, there are a number of footpaths that lead away from the Museum, which are well worth exploring.
2) Leeds to Skipton
This route is absolutely stunning and so versatile. It takes you all the way up to Skipton, located right at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The canal winds its way around the hills of the Pennines and passes quite a few villages on the way. One of the wonders of the waterways, the Bingley 5-Rise, is also part of this route. Skipton itself is great for walks into the Yorkshire Dales, but also has a castle and a vast amount of ale houses on offer.
3) Bradford-on-Avon to Bath
Picture perfect Bradford-on-Avon is the start for this gorgeous canal journey through Wiltshire. On the way, there are 2 impressive Aqueducts, Dundas and Avon Cliff, to be found. Westwood Manor, owned by the National Trust, is a great place to stretch the legs away from the towpath. The turning point is the city of Bath with its Roman baths and everything a city of this size has to offer. This route is very light on locks, only one each way.
The hire base in Bradford-on-Avon is a 27 minutes walk away from the train station, most of the walk leads along the idyllic towpath.
4) Leeds to Ripon
Follow the mother of commercial waterways, the Aire and Calder Navigation, from trendy Leeds onto the River Ouse and the ancient city of York all the way to the northernmost reaches of the Yorkshire Navigations in Ripon. Train enthusiasts shouldn't miss the National Railway Museum in York while being there. After exploring York, the journey continues onto Ripton. Fountain Abbey and the Ripon City Wetlands are only two of the highlights here. This route is very light on locks, but does include a small section of tidal river between Selby and Naburn. The hire base in Leeds needs advanced notice if someone is planning to take this route, as the tidal section is skippered. Additional charges may apply for this service. The hire base itself is easily accessible from the train station. It's only a 19 minute walk from the train station to Castleton Mill.
4) Thames Ring
A great ring route in the South of England, remarkably close to London but rural at the same time. Hampton Court (with its own dedicated moorings), Oxford and the stunning Warwickshire countryside are only a few of the highlights on the way. This is probably the most accessible route from London, but also the most versatile of all.
It is only a 17 minute walk from the train station in Leighton Buzzard to the hire base.
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