A cool, gray mist floats seamlessly atop the age-old river whose waters have seen countless passengers and the evolution of marine transportation over the many centuries. Waterfowl greet the rising sun with a flurry of wings and calls, as you throw off the lines tying your boat to its moorings, eager to explore some of the over 3,000 miles of canal and river routes that flow inland throughout the United Kingdom.
With a bit of practice, the charming, 7-foot wide narrow boats are easy to maneuver through the various locks and ancient aqueducts that make up England, Wales, and Scotland’s extensive canal system. Canal cruising provides an up-close way to take in some of the UK’s most historic sites, like the calm waterfront of Leeds, the Llangollen Canal’s World Heritage Pontscysycllte Aqueduct that rises 126 feet into the air above the River Dee, and the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath.
But for those unwilling to fully disconnect with the modern world, rest assured. Restored and revamped narrow boats boast modern amenities like central heating, showers, TVs, and a fully stocked kitchen. And for any environmentally-minded passenger, boating provides one of the “greenest” ways to travel compared to flying, using one-third of the fuel and producing one-sixth of the pollution. Outfitters like Drifters offer more than 500 boats at 35 locations across England, Wales and Scotland.
For gritty centuries, the people populating the UK sailed the canal waters as a means of mass transportation. In the time before muddy roads, carts and horses, the canals were home to floating residences and even churches. Many were originally constructed by the Romans as irrigation or drainage canals.
Today, canal cruisers can embark on a journey into the past via a wide array of tour routes and lengths, with boats ranging from 30 to 70 feet in length. As most moorings are free, boaters can tie up wherever they like, enveloping themselves in misty mornings, awesome ancient sites, and the gray-green water lapping against the hull of the boat as they glide toward whatever destination they chart a course to.