Canal boat holidays in Britain offer the joy of life in the slow lane as you take in the countryside and towns at a sedate 4mph.
Besides glorious scenery and historic canalside buildings, there are opportunities to spot wildlife ranging from swans, ducks and moorhens to dragonflies, kingfishers and otters, with numerous stretches of the waterways designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or conservation zone.
We’ve teamed up with UK-wide hire firm Drifters to look at the best routes to spot wildlife on a 2022 narrowboat break.
Grab a cuppa and get ready for a dose of inspiration for your next staycation…
Bittell Reservoir, Worcestershire
Built to supply water for the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, the SSSI-listed reservoir is home to more than 200 species of water bird. Boaters can reach it in 40 minutes from the Drifters hire base at Alvechurch or in two hours from Tardebigge.
The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal follows the line of the Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park and is home to an abundance of wildlife.
At the village of Llangattock look out for kingfishers, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, as well as bats at dusk.
Llangattock is around four-and-a-half hours from Goytre.
Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, Staffordshire
Where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent and Mersey Canal is home to ducks, swans and bats plus sculpture trails, picnic spots and a choice of places to eat and drink.
It takes around one-and-a-half hours to reach Fradley from Kings Orchard Marina, or six hours (passing through five locks) from Great Haywood.
Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire
This tranquil SSSI stretch of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal offers the chance to spot freshwater mussels, rare native white-clawed crayfish, water shrew, dragonflies, damselflies and a variety of water birds.
It’s six hours from Kings Orchard Marina, or 16 hours (four locks) from Braunston.
Linlithgow, West Lothian
The Union Canal in Scotland is home to an abundance of flora and fauna.
Canalside at Linlithgow, there’s the chance to spot kingfishers darting across the water, herons fishing and roe deer grazing in the nearby woodlands. Linlithgow Loch is also home numerous water birds, including great crested grebe and the white winged scoter.
Linlithgow is around five hours from Drifters’ base at Falkirk and the journey involves a passage over the mighty Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift), through two tunnels and across two aqueducts.
Caen Hill, Wiltshire
The Caen Hill flight of 29 locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal at Devizes is not only one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, it’s also an important place for wildlife.
Caen Hill Diamond Jubilee Wood is one of 60 woods planted in 2012 around the country to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and is providing more bird habitats, with the locks’ side ponds home to water birds, water voles, otters and the rare chaser dragonfly.
Devizes hire base is at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight, while Hilperton is four-and-a-half hours away (seven locks).
Gronwyn Wharf, Montgomery Canal, Shropshire/Powys
The partially restored and navigable Montgomery Canal – the ‘Monty’ – runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, and is one of the most important canals in country for nature.
Much of it is designated a SSSI, and the Welsh section is of international significance with a Special Area of Conservation designation for its aquatic plants. Water voles and otters have been seen there and several nature reserves border the waterway.
Boaters can cruise to Gronwyn Wharf from a number of bases, including Blackwater Meadow (six hours, eight locks) and Whixall (10 hours, eight locks).
Consall Forge, Staffordshire
The 17-mile long Caldon Canal runs from Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent to the edge of the Peak District at Froghall Wharf.
Travelling alongside the River Churnet through woodlands and moorlands, boaters can spot kingfishers, herons, woodpeckers and jays, plus otters, which have recently returned to the area.
From Stoke, it’s nine hours to Consall Forge, next to Consall Nature Park (16 locks).
Marple Locks, Greater Manchester
The flight of 16 locks at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal is one of the steepest in Britain, and from there boaters can enjoy magnificent views of the Peak District.
Surrounded by beautiful countryside, including stretches of ancient woodland, there are many types of bird to look out for, as well as bats.
Around 16 hours from Stoke (13 locks) to Marple Junction, or from Bunbury it takes around 29 hours (48 locks).
The Mere at Ellesmere is packed with wildlife, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins, ringed plovers, greenshanks and herons.
There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground.
Blackwater Meadow Marina is on the edge of Ellesmere, and Chirk is four hours and two locks away.
Bingley, West Yorkshire
The fields either side of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near the Bingley Five Rise Locks staircase are full of wild flowers. Like Ellesmere, there are walking trails and places to refuel.
From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick it takes around 14 hours to reach Bingley (15 locks).
Drifters’ associated hire firms offer more than 550 boats to rent from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales. Prices for 2022 start at £550 for a short break/£760 for a week, for up to four people. Narrowboats range from 32-70ft and can accommodate up to 12. All Drifters operators provide hirers with lifejackets and boat steering tuition. Find out more at drifters.co.uk.
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