We’ve signposted seven must-see canal features on a narrowboat break in the UK. Consider them a bucket list of items to tick off, as you cruise through your weekend. Setting off from Market Harborough, you will undoubtedly encounter all seven, as you learn to handle your narrowboat on your journey towards becoming an experienced boater.
UK narrowboat break top 7 features
Some features on our list may seem daunting at first if this is the first narrowboat break you’ve taken in the UK, such as the first time you find yourself going through the centre of a hill in a tunnel. But don’t worry, there are techniques you can learn to ensure that you are prepared for such encounters. What’s more, you will be rewarded with a sense of achievement once you emerge into the light at the other end.
Other items on our list are purely for pleasure, such as mooring up at the bottom of a pub garden. There is no finer experience than looping a rope around a mooring ring and swinging open the pub gate directly from the towpath.
A good UK narrowboat break makes the most of the natural features of the waterways. Wildlife flourishes along the canals and witnessing a heron’s majestic flight from bank to bank ahead of your narrowboat is a wonderful sight. If you are lucky enough to spot the turquoise flash of a kingfisher, you’ll feel like a lottery winner.
Historical references are all around you on a narrowboat break too. From the centuries-old date on a lock gate to the cottages built during the industrial revolution to house those tasked with opening and closing the paddles, you are surrounded by canal heritage. If you never normally venture into a museum, you might want to change that approach during a narrowboat holiday just to remind yourself of the way people used to live and work on these boats. It is fascinating.
So, if you are planning a narrowboat holiday in the UK, here are our seven must-see features.
1. A flight of staircase locks
This is a collection of locks where the gates of each lock chamber leads directly into the next lock chamber. The front gates of one lock are essentially the back gates of the next. Foxton Locks, near Market Harborough is the longest and steepest staircase in Britain.
See them at: Watford and Foxton.
2. Waterside pubs
A pub that backs directly onto the canal is the perfect place to stop for a well-earned drink.
See them at: The Waterfront at Market Harborough, Foxton Locks Inn and Bridge 61 at Foxton, The Wharf at Weedon and The Navigation at Kilby Bridge.
3. Swing bridges
It’s heavy work, but it’s also pretty cool to swing a piece of road through 90 degrees to let your narrowboat pass through.
See them at: the Harborough Arm at Foxton Swing Bridge Road and the (easier) footbridge at the entrance to Foxton Basin.
The high-octane experience of canal boating continues with a thrilling attempt to get a 60-foot-long heavy steel boat through a brick-lined hill…unscathed. Watch the YouTube videos, do your homework (we have a series of Beginner Guides freely-available on our sister website www.unionwharfharborough.co.uk) and listen carefully to your trainers as they hand over your boat. And bring a hat for the drips!
See them: on the Leicester Line at Husbands Bosworth, Crick and Saddington.
5. Rural moorings
No UK narrowboat break is complete without at least one night under the stars in a rural location. Stay away from the marina and from other canal boats to experience the sounds of nature from inside your cabin.
Experience this: travelling north from Foxton to Saddington and travelling south from Foxton to North Kilworth
Keep an eye open for kingfishers and herons all year round; they are easier to spot when the trees aren’t in leaf. The canals are home to around 30 kinds of fish, including roach and bream. Water voles and squirrels are among the mammals which are easily spotted and there are plenty of domesticated farm animals which drink at the water’s edge.
See wildlife: in quieter areas where there isn’t a lot of boat activity. Avoid lingering in busy basins and near turning points.
Canal heritage includes milestones, bridges and the locks themselves. Often the dates of construction will be visible on structures. If you’d like to delve deeper into the industrial past of the canal, stop by a dedicated museum. At Foxton, you can even see the remnants of the Inclined Plane Boat Lift, a unique early 19th century alternative to the locks.
Visit: Foxton Canal Museum