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UK Boating Holidays

"There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats" Ratty, Wind in the Willows

 Do you like relaxing holidays, but get bored staying in one place?  Do you like touring, but want to do it at your own pace?  Do you like the countryside and beautiful scenery?  Do you like nature and wildlife?  Do you like sight-seeing?  Do you like pubs? If the answers yes to any of these, and you are looking for a self-catering holiday, then a boating holiday on the inland waterways could be for you.

There are boats to suit almost any size party, from couples, to families, to extended families and groups of friends.  All that you need is one person to steer and one person to be able to jump off the boat to moor and handle the locks.  Never been boating before?  No, well before you set out, the boatyard staff will provide expert tuition until you are happy to take the helm.

Norfolk Broads: big skies, windmills and ducks

The 126 ft high Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal

Your Boat

Your boat will come with all the comforts of home. It will have (very importantly!) flushing toilets and in the vast majority of cases, hot and cold running water for both the kitchen and showers. (A few of the sailing boats don't have showers.) Also, it will come with beds; a kitchen equipped with cooker, refrigerator and often with 240V appliances such as microwaves; plus the living area will even have a television. It will have plenty of storage space.

It will be supplied with a full tank of fuel which should last you for the entire trip. Normally, the price of the fuel is included in the price. However, where it isn't, it is a case of topping up the tank and paying for the fuel used. Depending on the waterway, you are restricted to a top speed of 4-7 mph. So in a week, allowing for sailing about 4 hours a day, you should easily be able to cover 100 miles.

Your boat is likely to be one of two sorts: a cruiser or a narrow boats. Cruisers are available on the Norfolk Broads, the Thames, the Cambridgeshire Waterways and Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. Narrow boats resemble the traditional canal boats and are designed to enable them to be used on some of Britain's narrow canals. As well as on the canal system, they are available on virtually all Britain's waterways except for the Norfolk Broads.

In addition to the motor boats, there are houseboats on the Norfolk Broads and yachts on the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness.

Where to Go

There are many places to go boating both in the UK and in Europe. In the UK the main boating areas can be divided into the Norfolk Broads, the canal system, major rivers and the Caledonian Canal.

Norfolk Broads

Big skies, mud flats, reed beds and tree-lined creeks; medieval castles, ancient abbeys, thatched cottages, wind pumps and windmills; small market towns, picturesque villages, waterside pubs; all of these are the essence of the Norfolk Broads.  Being Britain's largest protected wetlands, the Norfolk Broads team with waterfowl and other wild life, making them a birdwatcher's paradise.

The Norfolk Broads cover 117 sq mls with 125 miles of navigable waterways.  They are formed from a series of broads (or lakes) and meres, formed from flooded Medieval peat diggings, linked by navigable rivers. Most of them are in the northern half of the Norfolk Broads, divided from the southern and central part by Great Yarmouth.

The Canals

The arteries of the early Industrial Revolution, Britain's canal system is today mainly used for leisure.  Canals run through some of Britain's most beautiful countryside: the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the Cotswolds, the Welsh Borders, the Brecon Beacons.  Also, as can be expected given the reason they were built, many of the canals go through major cities.

Although canals are man-made, nature lovers will not be disappointed.  In the two centuries or so since they were built, wildlife has adopted them as their homes.  You can expect to see (depending on the time of year) as many kinds of different wildfowl, dragonflies, frogs etc. as in natural waterways.  However, for many, the crowning glory of the canal network are the still functioning triumphs of 18th and 19th century engineering.  These include the ubiquitous lock (which you will have to get used to working), tunnels, embankments and possibly most impressive of all, aqueducts.  These carry the canal high above rivers, roads or railways.  Of particular note is Britain's longest and highest aqueduct, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct: 1007 ft long, 126 ft high, built in 1805 to carry the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Whilst on rivers and the Norfolk Broads, it is necessary to retrace the same route to return your boat, on the canals there are several circular routes.  These are known as rings, and via several different canals and rivers, return you to where you started.  Unfortunately, some of them would need more than a weeks holiday to complete.

The Rivers

You can have a boating holiday on several of Britain's rivers.  The most famous of these is of course the Thames.  It is possible to cruise from Teddington to beyond Oxford, passing such places as Hampton Court Palace, Windsor or Henley.

Another popular cruising area is the Cambridgeshire waterways.  These are a combination of rivers, canals and drainage systems

Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal, Scotland

It is possible to sail past some of the most magnificent mountain scenery in Scotland on the Caledonian Canal.  This includes the entire length of Loch Ness; so if you are very lucky, you may even see the Loch Ness Monster.

The Caledonian Canal is 62 miles long.  It goes from close to Fort William to Inverness, joining the west and east coasts of Scotland.  It consists of approximately 20 miles of man-made canals joining Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour.