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Top six lock-free boating locations

If a boating holiday is in your plans for this year, why not take a look at six of the best lock-free locations on our canals.

Two adults steer a narrowboat on a sunny day

As you know, we make sure our canals are great places to explore all year round. That's why a boating holiday can be a great adventure, whatever the season.

Cruise along the lengthy Lancaster Canal

Stretching from Preston all the way to Kendal on the doorstep of the Lake District, the ‘Lanky', as the Lancaster Canal is affectionately known, gives you a full 41 miles of lock-free cruising – the longest stretch in the country.

This coastal canal also offers some superb views of the Silverdale Coast, the Forest of Bowland and the Wyre countryside. And while you won't encounter any locks, make sure you plan your journey on this waterway to include crossing the magnificent Lune Aqueduct.

Lune Aqueduct aerial view

Connect with nature on the Ashby Canal

We've said it before and we'll say it again, the Ashby Canal, at just 22 miles long, is perfect for people new to boating. A cruise along the Ashby is like a gentle stroll into unspoilt countryside. Much of the waterway falls within a SSSi and you're likely to see herons, dragonflies, kingfishers and all manner of fora and flora at every turn.

If you like a bit of history with your holiday, then the Ashby delivers. Near Sutton Cheney the canal clips the western edge of the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard III is said to have met his gruesome end.

Walkers on bridge across Ashby Canal

Fly high on the Llangollen Canal

From a starting point in Chirk you can cruise to a scenic mooring basin on the Llangollen Canal and then take a horse boat trip to the Horseshoe Falls. The route not only takes in the UK's highest and longest aqueduct Pontcysyllte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you get the beautiful Chirk aqueduct and two tunnels thrown in for free. You'll also be able to boast that you've done the ‘Ponty' - arguably top of the bucket list for all boaters.

A narrowboat crosses the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Navigate the Wyrley & Essington Canal

The Wyrley & Essington Canal is nicknamed the 'Curly Wyrley' because it twists and turns all the way along it's 16 and a half miles. Constructed entirely on the level, it makes for easy lock-free boating, or indeed walking, cycling and canoeing, away from the crowds on the rest of the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Much of the route is very rural, running past a number of nature reserves, including Pelsall Common; take the turn into the Anglesey Branch and you'll come across a SSSi at Chasewater Country Park.

'Curly Wyrley' courtesy Richard Law

Chill out on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Meandering through the Usk Valley along the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park is one of the most stunning and peaceful waterways in Wales, the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. Or 'Mon & Brec' as it's called. OK, so not strictly completely lock-free, there are six locks, five of which are all within the pretty village of Llangynidr. If you set out from a base in the south of the canal, you're going to get two-thirds of the 30-odd miles to Brecon before coming across a lock and a little gentle exercise.

Canal and towpath lined by greenery and trees

Try fishing on the Shropshire Union Canal

There's a stretch of the Shropshire Union Canal just south of Market Drayton (which incidentally is one of the top canals in the country to go fishing on) that's also virtually lock-free.

You'll find 25 miles of stunning Shropshire countryside that will take you all the way from the short lock flight at Tryley Locks past just one lock at Wheaton Aston to the outskirts of Wolverhampton at Autherley Junction. The spot where the 'Shroppie' meets the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.

Fishing and boating along the Shropshire Union Canal

Go on, get aboard a narrowboat this year and discover how boating can not only be lock-free but stress-free too.

Last Edited: 08 March 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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