Today hundreds of self-skippered, comfortable and often luxuriously appointed canal boats are available in which to cruise sedately along the more than 3000 kilometres of inland waterway which make up the system. Various sections incorporate impressive aqueducts and tunnels and one can only marvel at the engineering skills which created them.
The Liverpool to Leeds Canal at Burscough, Lancashire
A lack of boat-handling experience is not a problem. Often travelling works of art complete with gardens of potted plants, a canal boats handling qualities, simple tiller steering and basic stop-go engine controls together with comprehensive instruction ensure a hassle free holiday which promises to place the British countryside in an entirely new perspective. Without doubt barging offers sights and sounds that go completely unnoticed by travellers using other, more conventional, modes of transport.
Long and narrow the average barge provides a deceptively spacious interior comprising bedrooms or cabins, separate living areas and fully equipped galleys. They are a real home away from home which glides effortlessly along the waterway past quaint villages, towns and historic homes and navigating a complicated system of locks which compensate for the rise and fall of the surrounding countryside.
The Top Locks, Latham, Lancashire
Negotiating the locks is an acquired skill but there are a lot of them and you'll get plenty of practice. Fortunately they are almost always sited adjacent to or near a pub where your efforts can be promptly and suitably rewarded.
Britain boasts 3000 kilometers (2000 miles) of inland waterways suitable for canal boats
Acton Bridge in Cheshire is a great example of a starting point for exploring a number of routes. Travelling north, you meet the canal where it all started – the Bridgewater Canal, which takes you lock-free all the way to Manchester. From there you can navigate the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, or continue on the Cheshire Ring via the Peak Forest and Macclesfield.
Sign on the Liverpool to Leeds Canal near Lathom, Lancashire
Available in a variety of sizes and at numerous locations right through the summer season the cost of hiring a barge can vary considerably depending on location. A good average figure would be around £1300 for a 7 night canal holiday in peak season and on board a vessel sleeping 4 adults in comfort. Bear in mind that these boats come complete with cutlery, utensils, bedding and the proverbial kitchen and you'll agree that's not bad value for money.
If you find yourself near the Top Locks at Lathom, Lancashire drop in and see Pauline at the nearby Ship Inn for a pint of the Ship Special
Suffice to say that barging has everything to offer by way of relaxation amid truly beautiful scenery and brings with it uniqueness that can't be found in too many other forms of inland travel.