Read the story of how the Canal & River Trust came to be
Work for us
We have vacancies across all of our waterways and in the offices, museums and attractions that support them. We're one of the UK's biggest charities and we take pride in everything we do
If you're thinking of getting in touch then please take a moment to look through these pages as we probably have the answer on our website
Planning & design
All you need to know about planning and design on our canals and rivers
Find a winter mooring
Find a cosy section of canal to hunker down in this winter
10 reasons to take up canoeing
It's a great way to get fit and explore our waterways at the same time
Share the Space
Take a look at our common sense guide to sharing the towpath
Find a place to fish
From reservoirs to club-managed canals and river stretches - find your nearest place to fish
Get your free guide
Download your free guide today and start exploring the waterway nature near you
Download your free guides
You've nine free days out guides to choose from - where will you go first?
Find a walk near you
Are you ready to ramble? Find a waterside stroll or a satisfying hike along our beautiful canals and rivers
Take a look at our upcoming events here.
Find your favourite waterway
With over 95 canals, rivers, reservoirs, docks and navigations, find out more about your favourite waterway
Something for everyone
Help us make a difference and have fun along the way. Find your perfect volunteer role today
Join our team
Could you join your local Towpath Taskforce team and help us to keep our canals looking lovely?
Desmond Family Canoe Trail
If you're aged 16-25 and would like to get involved with this exciting project, please get in touch
Could you be a volunteer lock keeper?
Find out what's involved with this popular volunteering opportunity
Why we think canals are better with Friends
Become a Friend of the Canal & River Trust today and you’ll open yourself up to new experiences and endless opportunities.
We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.
For hundreds of years, horses were the backbone of British industry. They ploughed fields and pulled carts, carriages and charabancs all over the country. What is less well-known is that they also hauled narrowboats laden with freight.
We are all familiar with the term 'horsepower', and the notion that a horse can pull many times its own body weight. However, a horse can move almost 50 times more weight in a boat than it could in a cart on old-fashioned roads.
A horse pulling a boat or barge wastes minimal energy through friction, and it is this efficiency calculation which led to the development of Britain's canal system in the 18th Century.
The canal age reigned supreme until the advent of the railways revolutionised the transport industry. But the simple and romantic practice of horseboating continued in Britain until the mid-1960s - lasting almost 200 years.
It may appear slow and laborious, but horseboating was hard work and thorough knowledge of the canals was essential. Boatmen had generations of skill in boat and horse handling to draw on. The entire infrastructure of the waterways was built for the horsedrawn era, with smooth curves on bridges and buildings (to avoid snagging towlines), well-maintained and unobstructed towpaths and a wealth of canal furniture to help horseboats go smoothly.
The boatmen also relied on tools such as forethought, 'smacking whips' and 'strapping posts'.
Forethought: Horseboats do not have brakes and the act of stopping a boat loaded with cargo took a supreme effort. This came from knowledge of the canals and experience of where boats were likely to meet with obstacles such as lock gates or boats coming the opposite way.
Smacking whips: As barbaric as the name sounds, smacking whips were not used to punish the horse, but to create a loud 'smacking' noise, like a gunshot, to warn of the boat's approach.
Strapping posts: These were commonly made of wood or iron and set in the ground close enough to the canal for the boatman to wrap the 'strap' around them. The 'strap' was simply a strong piece of rope attached to the boat, which, after being wound around the post, would slow the boat down or, at junctions or sharp bends, allow it to change direction.
The practice of horseboating over the national waterway network continues thanks to organisations such as the horseboating society, although permission must be obtained before you take a horseboat onto the waterways. To learn more about horseboating, and maybe help out on a horseboating journey, visit the Horseboating Society's website.
Say hello to Ifan & Taffy, Llangollen Wharf
"I've always wanted to work outside and be with animals so it's pretty good that my job is to be out on the canal towpath with the horse boat. "
Last date edited: 26 September 2017