Boating off the beaten track
If you’re tired of the same old routes, or want to escape the crowds on your next canal boat trip, then why not try something a little different? The canal network is full of hidden gems - lesser-known routes that have so much to offer the intrepid boater - and who knows them better than experienced hire boat operators and local waterway campaigners? We asked some canal experts to share their favourite places to get off the beaten track on the waterways
Wakefield has a lot of great attractions, including a redeveloped waterfront area, the brand new Hepworth art gallery and canoeing, sailing and windsurfing at Pugney's Country Park.”
The Rochdale Canal
The Rochdale Canal is a 33-mile trans-Pennine route, which runs from the centre of Manchester, to its junction with the Calder & Hebble Navigation near Halifax. It reopened to boats in 2002 after an ambitious restoration project.
Nigel Stevens, director, Shire Cruisers says: “The thing I like about the Rochdale Canal is the exhilaration of going up into the Pennines – it’s very intense. The canal has a huge variety in its short length. There are stone buildings, interesting towns, scenery, access to the moors for going walking – everything except queues of boats.
“Some people are put off this canal because there are a lot of locks, which are quite heavy, because of the steep climb into the Pennines. However, they don’t know what they’re missing!”
The Chesterfield Canal
The Chesterfield Canal known locally as the 'Cuckoo Dyke' once ran 46 miles from the River Trent to Chesterfield. It was saved from dereliction and now has mostly reopened, although there is still a nine-mile gap between Kiveton Park and Staveley.
Rod Auton, trustee and publicity officer, Chesterfield Canal says: “The Chesterfield Canal is being restored and an additional 11 miles has recently been added to the 26 previously open to navigation. Boaters can now travel from the River Trent at West Stockwith to Kiveton Park. It is very popular with walkers and cyclists, but quiet in terms of boats.
“One of the reasons for this is that people are sometimes scared of the tidal Trent, so they don’t want to come any further than Nottingham. However, as long as you do what the lock-keepers at West Stockwith tell you, there’s nothing to worry about. Another reason might be that the canal doesn’t go anywhere – you have to turn round and come back – but people shouldn’t let that put them off, as it is so gorgeous. At the eastern end, there’s scarcely a house in sight, and Retford is a lovely market town. The restoration has meant a resurgence in business for lots of nice pubs along the canal, which might otherwise have had to close.
“There is also a further five miles of restored canal at the Chesterfield end, but this is not connected to the rest and is only accessible via a slipway. Most of the time, the only boat on that section is the Chesterfield Canal Trust trip boat.”
From Blackburn westwards on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is Britain's longest, starting at the Aire & Calder Navigation in Leeds and running all the way to Liverpool, where the new Liverpool Link connects it to the famous Albert Dock.
Lesley Yates, partner, Canal Boat Cruises, says: “This end of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is very, very unspoiled and quiet compared to the rest of it. It goes through pretty, open countryside, and lots of rural villages. You can travel though Withnall Fold Nature Reserve, where there is an old paper mill, which used to produce all the paper for the UK’s money! After Wigan, the canal passes into the Douglas Valley, where it runs alongside the River Douglas. The landscape here is very flat, almost like the Fenlands.
“I think people might be put off this end of the canal by the 21-lock Wigan Flight, which can seem a bit intimidating. However, they forget that in the other direction, there are just as many locks, only more spread out. Also, it used to be a bit of a canal to nowhere, but these days you can go up the Liverpool Link to Liverpool and do a bit of shopping. Or else, you can go up the Rufford Branch and through the Ribble Link to the Lancaster Canal.”
The Calder & Hebble Navigation
Although the Calder & Hebble Navigation once served a very industrial area, it is now a rural and peaceful connection between the Yorkshire and Pennine canals.
Sally Ash, head of boating at the Canal & River Trust, says: “The Calder & Hebble Navigation passes through and near to towns such as Wakefield, Dewsbury and Huddersfield, that might not be everyone’s first idea of a holiday destination. However, I would urge them to think again – Wakefield has a lot of great attractions, including a redeveloped waterfront area, the brand new Hepworth art gallery and canoeing, sailing and windsurfing at Pugney's Country Park.
"The canal provides a wonderful green corridor and is a great jumping-off point for walking and hiking in the Pennines – and the people are very friendly. The Calder & Hebble Navigation has some interesting waterways architecture, including quirky lever-operated locks."
The Montgomery Canal from Junction
Pam Langford, marketing co-ordinator, UK Canal Boating, says: “The Montgomery Canal is one of my favourites for the glorious scenery and the spectacular views across the countryside to the Welsh Berwyn Mountains and beyond to Snowdonia. The Montgomery Canal is peaceful and rural and, because access to the canal is controlled by the lock keeper, there are only ever a limited number of canal boat users on the stretch at any one time. This means you virtually have the whole canal to yourselves and after the busy Llangollen Canal it is absolute bliss. The short distance that can be cruised makes the diversion off the Llangollen Canal, close to Ellesmere at Frankton Junction, well worth the effort. From Frankton Junction there is a seven-mile stretch which is navigable and includes nearly one lock for each mile - six in total.
“The Montgomery Canal has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is most noted for its aquatic plants. Along the way, you can also see the Aston Nature reserve, which is being extended to provide a major new wetland area. Otters are frequent visitors to the reserve and waters voles are returning to the canal after an absence of many years. The pounds here are now becoming well established with plants transplanted from off the main line of the canal. Other attractions include the New Perry Aqueduct, the Heath House Passenger Terminal and the picturesque village of Maesbury.”
The Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal
Garry W. Banthorpe, campaigner for the Slough Arm, says: “For boaters who want to experience a little-visited part of our canal heritage, the Slough Arm runs for the five miles from Cowley to Slough Basin. It is a great way to escape the crowds on the London waterways, as it is very quiet and, despite what people might expect, very rural, with lots of chances to see wildlife. In September, it plays host to the Slough Canal Festival.
“In my opinion, more people should explore this historic route so it can be used the way it was intended – for boating.”