Canal and river walking
Our canals and rivers are perfect for exploring on foot - at any time of year. In spring and summer, canal walkers can enjoy blooming flowers and an abundance of wildlife; autumn brings the splendid red-gold foliage reflected in the water, and there’s nothing more invigorating than a crisp canal-side walk come winter time.
The canals give you some of the best of Britain's countryside”
Phil Newman operates Meander Holidays, a company offering self-guided walking holidays, including accommodation at different points along the way and luggage transport between them. Phil is, understandably, a big fan of walking on the waterways: “Whether it’s a short stroll, long walk or a weekend away, the canals give you some of the best of Britain's countryside. The canal is a great place to see plenty of wildlife. Watch out for herons on quieter stretches of the canal as well as the more common ducks, swans and geese.”
Phil also has some useful tips for walkers, especially on the subject of the unpredictable British weather: “If you are planning a walk, make sure you are prepared for changeable weather. Wear clothing in layers and take some waterproofs. Pack something to drink and some snacks. Wear a sturdy pair of walking boots or trainers and, if you are wearing new shoes, rub Vaseline into your feet - it prevents blisters. Don't forget the mobile phone and take some money as there's usually somewhere to get food and drink.
“Canals tend to be linear – so, if you plan to walk in one direction and do the other by public transport, I’d recommend parking at your finish point and taking the bus or train to your start point. That way you can take your time and not risk missing your bus or train.”
All waterscape’s recommended routes below have been chosen because they offer a good chance to see wildlife and plant life, and appreciate the glories of our canals and rivers at their best.
Phil’s top routes…
Chirk to Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal, Shropshire/ North Wales
Phil says: “The northern reaches of the Llangollen canal feature the Chirk Aqueduct - which carries you 80 feet over the Ceirog valley - the 420m Chirk Tunnel and the truly spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – Britain’s longest and highest, carrying you 126 feet above the Dee valley on a narrow iron trough. The walk from Chirk to Llangollen is around nine miles. Llangollen is an attractive riverside tourist town with a steam railway and riverside walks plus pleasant shops nestling in an attractive valley. A regular bus service links Chirk and Llangollen for the return trip.”
Bradford-on-Avon to Bath on the Kennet & Avon Canal, Wiltshire/Somerset
Phil says: “The nine-mile walk takes you from the pleasant former mill town of Bradford-on-Avon into the heart of the splendour of Bath. The walk closely follows the River Avon and crosses it twice on elegant Rennie-designed aqueducts.”
…and a selection of our routes
Llanymynech Rocks Nature Reserve, Shropshire
The site’s history as a quarry has left spectacular limestone cliffs towering over a valley floor now taken over by vegetation. Located on the English/Welsh border by the Montgomery Canal, the area is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, known in particular for its orchids and rock roses, wild thyme and basil. The wild flowers provide a home for butterflies, including the threatened pearl bordered fritillary, while peregrine falcons can be seen nesting in the cliffs.
Black Poplar Trail, Hertfordshire
The Black Poplar is Britain’s most endangered native tree, and many of the specimens are to be found in the Vale of Aylesbury. In spring, the male trees are particularly noticeable because of the vivid red catkins known as ‘devil’s fingers’. This route allows you to admire these striking trees while walking along the Grand Union Canal and through Tring Reservoirs. It is an 8km walk, with views of the Chiltern escarpment.
Walk through Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire
An easy 4km walk through the lovely setting of the lakes at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve and the River Great Ouse. The reserve is a great place to see birds all year round, and the route takes you past two bird hides, including one where Kingfishers can be seen. The last part of the walk follows the Meadow Trail, which will be full of blooms in springtime.