The canal system in the UK was first established in the 1700s and has been revitalised this century to make cruising the inland waterways a relaxing pleasure. Massive investment in the canals has restored them to their former glory, with picturesque original locks and aqueducts and sights such as the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire and the fantastic Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. On the canals you will usually find locks, aqueducts, bridges and tunnels.
Locks are a fun part of your cruise, as you get the opportunity to meet people and enjoy the leisurely pursuit of negotiating various locks to go uphill or downhill throughout your journey. Before you start your cruise, you will be given instruction on how to go through locks and some canal boat bases may take you through your first one.
Even with just two people on board, locks are no problem, and if you have a family aboard you'll soon find you have no shortage of people to help, especially amongst the older children!
Aqueducts are a stunning opportunity to enjoy long distance views over surrounding countryside. The most well-known is Thomas Telford's Pontcysyllte aqueduct, towering 120 ft over the Dee Valley on the Llangollen Canal, where the boat travels across in a narrow metal trough with a sheer drop to one side. The Chirk aqueduct is another classic sight, but most stretches of canal will include an aqueduct taking the canal over a valley.
Canals do not go over big hills - they go under them, through a tunnel! Tunnels are part of the fun of boating, and can vary in length from a few boat's lengths to the 2500 metre long Harecastle Tunnel on the Four Counties Ring. Tunnels are not illuminated, so put the canal boat headlight on plus your cabin lights to help navigate. Some tunnels are wide enough for two boats to pass, others are single way working only at scheduled times. Your canal guide (such as the Pearsons Guides available through us) will show you.
Bridges take roads or sometimes farm tracks across the canal, and so need to be opened to allow boats to pass. Some are electric with flashing lights to stop the road traffic, but for most the boater drops off a willing passenger to go ahead and open the bridge.
You will find lift bridges, easily raised with a balance weight assisting the opening, or swing bridges which rotate to allow the boat through. Generally the nearest boat has right of way. And don't forget to close the bridge after your boat passes!
For many the pleasure of cruising the canals is the ever-changing scenery - often looking very different when cruising in the opposite direction.