River Ships: Cruising the narrow boat networks

You may be a seasoned professional when it comes to the vast open seas onboard a fully equipped cruise ship, but why not swap this season’s Caribbean cruise, complete with daily itinerary of port calls, for something a little more, well, little!

Why choose a narrow boat?

Narrow boats, for the eco-friendly amongst you, are a very green way to travel – around 20 to 30 times better than a two hour flight, and you get to see so much more scenery, nature, and wildlife along the way!

The United Kingdom is home to a vast network of canals which run through picturesque towns, villages, and cities, and it is in your hands as to where you want to stop, when you want to stop, and for how long.

Though you won’t find an onboard shopping mall or cinema on these barges, you will find a sense of family, culture, and being at one with nature, as you quietly glide along. Canal boats are also fully equipped with comfy beds and sofas, a toilet and kitchen area and mini deck. It may all be fairly compact, but that just adds to the overall atmosphere of your surroundings.

 Where to cruise?

There are many different routes covered with natural beauty all over the UK. If you want one that takes you through the city, then a good option is the London Ring – this is especially good right now as London is buzzing with excitement and culture from the Olympic Games. The route takes you from Southall, all through the famous Camden Lock and Islington, on a brief stint down the Thames, and back to the Grand Union Canal at Brentford.

If you’re after something that resembles a scene from a quaint countryside postcard, then a very pretty route can be found in Scotland. Take a 7 day cruise from the East coast of the Highlands to the West coast, being particularly careful not to be eaten by the legendary Loch Ness Monster along your way!

Another lovely destination for narrow boating is Wales, which includes the stunning Llangollen Canal, and Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, which are both perfect for a lazy meander.

When to go

The obvious time of year to go is Summer, as this is when the UK is at its warmest, however Spring is a great time to travel as it allows you to see the countryside blossoming as new life starts again. Similarly Autumn can be very pretty with a spectrum of deep reds, purples, and oranges covering the landscape. Though people do live on barges everyday of the year, British winters can be very cold, and so unless you are prepared to wrap up warm and huddle together for heat, then perhaps avoid this time of year.

A canal boat cruise may not hold the grandeur of an all inclusive cruise ship, but it does give you a very personal taste of the British countryside, free reign of your time, and a long lasting memory.

photo: Viking River Cruise

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