by Janis / 4 comments - Orginally published:3rd September 2019

It’s the little details that make meandering through the British waterways perfect

Ahh, there’s no better way to discover the British countryside than hopping on a canal boat and letting the world go by around you.

Watching kingfishers nosedive for their dinner, ducklings frantically paddling along trying to keep up with their mum. And folks just out for afternoon strolls.

It doesn’t get more relaxing.

Oh yes, then there’s the alluring call of the waterside country pub, offering local ales to wash down their hearty homemade meals.

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A close-up of a duckling chasing our canal boat as we head along the Kennet and Avon Canal.
A duckling in pursuit

Everyone loves it

From young to old - it's great family fun
I’m not saying that we’re experts on canal boating, although we have enjoyed a few boat trips with the family. We’ve journeyed around the Cheshire Ring and taken a few voyages along the Kennet and Avon Canal.
The family at the aft end of the boat enjoying the trip basked in the summer sunlight.
The family on Moonbeam, from Moonraker Canalboats

Our last trip with my family was to celebrate my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, and we took to the water on a luxury narrowboat. You’d be amazed at what you’ll find on some of these beautiful boats.

We hired our wide beam narrowboat from the family-run business Moonraker Canalboats, located along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Their boats are amazing, you can even choose one with a jacuzzi.

Moonbeam, our wide beam canal boat, heading along the Kennet and Avon canal at relaxing pace barging makes you adopt.
A peaceful pace of life
Winding our way through the southern counties of England, mastering the locks and then mooring up in the heart of the city of Bath was a wonderful experience.

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Get the most from your Canalboat experience

with our little pointers
I’ll stop waffling on about how much I love canal boating and get to the point of why I lured you here in the first place.
A narrow beam canal boat is exiting a lock with the children wearing life vests as a safety precaution.
Life Jackets for safety.

So, if this is your first time on a canal boat or even if it’s just been a while since you’ve taken to the water, I’ve compiled some useful tips for you.

These handy hints will make the joy of canal boating even more relaxing.

Safety is paramount, particularly with children; it is so easy to become complacent. As your confidence builds, you take these heavyweight goliaths for granted. I don’t want to sound negative; however, it is essential.

See the additional comment from Jim

The view along the roof of our Widebeam canal boat with the lifebuoy, one of the many safety features onboard, located on the hatch at the aft end of the boat.
The lifebuoy on the roof of Moonbeam - one of the many safety features
Carry out some research prior to your trip to find out where stores, pubs & restaurants are along the way. You may need more provisions or just fancy a leisurely cream tea. Often you are unable to see these amenities from the canal side, and you will need to go exploring.
Tables and chairs outside of a tea room next to a lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal with a Narrow boat moored up alongside.
A canalside rest stop
There are some truly wonderful places we have visited, there are also some that cater for broader tastes. We'd recommend using something like (The Campaign for Real Ale's online pub guide).
If you are not completing a circular route on your canal trip, then you will need to turn your boat around. Be aware of the turning points along the way and make sure you are aware of the length of your narrowboat. The turning point may not be wide enough if you have an extra-long canalboat.
The view of the Pulteney Weir at Bath in front of the Pulteney Bridge as we attempt to turn the 65 foot (20m) Widebeam canal boat around.
Approaching the Pulteney Weir at Bath
Perhaps check with your canal boat operator if you can request which direction the boat will be pointing. This can save you considerable time on your first day.

A bit more info

The Canal River Trust website is particularly useful for planning your trip and gives detailed information on the canals and the surrounding facilities.
You’ll be amazed how quickly time passes even at 4mph. Allow plenty of time to get to your daily end destination. It may take longer than expected to navigate through the locks, mainly if the canals are full of activity.
Our canal boat is entering a lock. It's an all-hand job with a couple on the lock gates while the 'skipper' pilots the vessel into the narrow lock.
Managing a lock
If there are only two of you operating the narrowboat it will take you a little longer. However, don't worry; the barging community are a friendly bunch and will often assist.
Again Time: Don’t leave mooring up until too late into the evening as you may be disappointed if you are unable to moor near where you had planned. Be flexible, you may have to walk a little further to the country pub, but it’ll be worth it.
The aft end, or back to you & I, of our Moonraker canal boat safely moored up at the end of a day barging on the waterways of England
Our Moonraker Canalboat moored up
You'll need to bang in your own mooring pins (don't worry, your canal boat operator will supply them and the mallet required). Ensure they are firmly secured to avoid waking up to the embarrassment of your canal boat blocking a canal.

Map, guides and more

A great way to discover the landscape around you is with Ordnance Survey. Whether it's a traditional paper map, your own custom map or the OS App on your phone it will add an extra dimension to exploring the UK
It is crucial that you slow your barge down to tick over when passing other boats, a slight swell of water may dislodge their mooring pegs from the banks of the canal, especially if the ground is wet.
Three narrow beam canal boat moored up as we pass slowly on our relaxing trip along the Kennet and Avon canal.
Slow speed ahead
Ensure you read the signs on each of the lock gates you pass through, as often locks differ from each other. Some are required to be left open, others to be closed.
A part opened, pedestrian, swing bridge on the Kennet and Avon canal with a board detailing it's operating instructions for the safety of all waterway users.
A swing bridge with its operating instructions attached
Be considerate to other boaters these canals are a permanent residence for some folks and are to be shared by everyone. It’s the simple things, but if you follow 6 & 7, you will be fine.
A narrow beam canal boat that is clearly somebodies home is moored up in an idyllic lush green scene as we chug along the Kennet and Avon Canal
Consideration for those who call the Kennet & Avon canal their home
Keep an eye on your water levels. You may need to top up en route particularly if you are away for more than a few nights.
The neatly coiled mooring rope at the bow, or front, of the boat.
The view of the bow end mooring rope
Once again plan ahead and understand where your watering stations are. Filling a canal boat with a hose can take a very long time (30 minutes-1hr), and you may need to wait for another barge to fill-up in front of you.

More tales and experiences from the waterways

Who doesn't love life at a slower pace on the waterways? Whether it is experiencing the countryside, socialising by the waterside or feeling at one-to-one with nature?

We have a series of posts that may inspire you on your next adventure.

This may sound obvious, but you won’t get too far without it (you will generally be supplied with at least two; however, if you lose one it makes operating the locks much more difficult). 
A full lock is now level with the bridge over the waterway on its exit. Demonstrating the height you can climb on some of the sections of the Kennet and Avon Canal
Taking care at the locks & your lock keys
We had lost our key overboard before and had to purchase another. Remember they are slippery when wet!
Don’t forget your mozzie spray those pesky little mites are everywhere. Ahh, also take a torch with you, as the canal paths are not usually lit & maybe crunchy underfoot. I know your phone may have a torch function, but would you want to rely on that?
A close up of some yellow flag Iris growing wild at the side of the canal in amongst the grasses of the canal bank.
Canalside flora
A canal boating experience should be a relaxing one. You may want to spend the evening with a good book, perhaps one based on the location you're travelling through (best to avoid the horror genre) or the latest bestseller. Why not unplug completely and go traditional with a good old paperback.  If you want to remain plugged in, consider an audiobook?

Your favourite route

We’d love to explore more of the British countryside by canal boat, drop us a comment below with your lovely narrowboat experiences and the routes you took?
If you are planning to eat out on a Sunday evening ensure that the Pub/Restaurant you choose is serving food, it may be Sunday lunch only. You could be left with limited options in remote areas.
Narrowboats moored up alongside a towpath as the rain sets in. One of the perils of barging in the UK, even in summer.
The rain sets on on the Kennet & Avon Canal
Most important of all, enjoy yourself, take your time, you are on holiday after all.

An additional tip

Courtesy of Jim
This comes from a reader, Jim, and we think it's worth adding to this post.

“Never Run Near A Lock”

As quaint and cute as locks look, this is Victorian industrial technology.
There is no safety barrier, no man in a high viz jacket telling you what not to do or there to save you if you fall in.
It’s one of the reasons I love narrowboating, you are left to your own devices with an umpty ton house boat and it’s up to you to be safe, refreshing in this day and age.

Pick a Captain, it’s then their responsibility to make sure everybody is being safe.
No running, no lose ropes to trip, stove off when in the lock, etc.

Apart from that, enjoy the slow pace that’s just active enough to stop me from getting bored (unlike sitting on a beach, blech)

Our canal boat is entering a lock. One of the lock gates is open, while the other is closed, while the 'skipper' pilots the vessel into the narrow lock.
Navigating a lock

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  1. Good article, that’s pretty much everything you need to know for a good time on a narrowboat.

    But I’d like to request an addition to the safety section:

    “Never Run Near A Lock”

    As quaint and cute as locks look, this is Victorian industrial technology.
    There is no safety barrier, no man in a high viz jacket telling you what not to do or there to save you if you fall in.
    It’s one of the reasons I love narrowboating, you are left to your own devices with an umpty ton house boat and it’s up to you to be safe, refreshing in this day and age.

    Pick a Captain, it’s then their responsibility to make sure everybody is being safe.
    No running, no lose ropes to trip, stove off when in the lock, etc.

    Apart from that, enjoy the slow pace that’s just active enough to stop me from getting bored (unlike sitting on a beach, blech)

    1. Author

      Thanks very much for your kind comments and also for the additional tip. I couldn’t agree with you more about running near a lock; we will definitely add it to the post.

      You’re right that you are left to your own devices; that’s what is great about narrowboating; we can’t wait to head off on another adventure; the slow pace of life really makes you unwind.

      Are there any canal routes that you can recommend?

  2. This is a very well-timed article as 4 of us are about to go on our first canal trip along the K&A in 2 weeks, based from Bradford-on-Avon 🙂
    Any pubs/places you’d recommend?

    My attempts at route-planning so far have highlighted one important and surprising thing in particular: places where you can turn are few and far between! For instance, if we venture beyond Bath, it’s about 5 hours’ travel before we can turn around and come back. (At least, that’s according to

    1. Author

      Hi John

      Oh, I’m so jealous you’re going to have an incredible time; come rain or shine is you’ll always have fun.

      We’ve barged along the Kennet and Avon canal twice, both as long weekends. The first was from Bradford-on-Avon, and we headed to Bath, and the second was from Honeystreet to Hungerford.

      You are correct on the number of turning points; they are few and far between, and you need to be aware of the length of your barge too. Also, keep an out for the watering points en-route just in case you need to top up, as this can sometimes take 30/45 minutes, and you may have to queue.

      Hopefully, as you are picking your boat up from Bradford-on-Avon, you have the choice as to which direction your canal boat is facing. On our second trip, the boat wasn’t facing towards Hungerford, so we had to journey up to the next turning point and head back, which immediately shaved a couple of hours off our first day. So, I suggest it may be worth contacting the company you are hiring the barge from and seeing if it is possible to have the barge facing Bath.

      I know the idea is to go with the flow; however, it is great to set off with a good start.

      If you are just going for a few days, it’s a very good idea to keep an eye on your pace and stoppages along the way. Roughly plan ahead as to where you want to stop for the evening. As time can disappear even at a leisurely pace, and you’ll probably want to moor up at a reasonable time to enjoy your surroundings.

      When we made our trip towards Bath, our first mooring was just by the George Inn, Mill Lane at Bath. The following day we were at Bath by lunchtime; however, we decided to only stay for a short while then journeyed back past Bradford-on-Avon. I believe we moored near Staverton.

      The following day we went onto towards Melksham and the Seend Locks. We stopped by The Barge Inn, Seend Cleeve, Melksham for a late afternoon meal. Then headed part of the way back to Bradford-on-Avon so that it wasn’t so far to journey the following morning when we returned the barge.

      A pub that we didn’t get to but saw on the TV series Carry on Barging was the Cross Guns at Avoncliff, by the Avoncliff Aqueduct; it looked very welcoming.

      Hopefully, I haven’t bombarded you with too much information. If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to shout, either via these comments or email us.

      Happy barging
      Janis & Gary

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