Whether it’s a river, a canal or a mystical lake
Other people crave to hike through highlands and hilltops or embark on a carefree train journey. My travels so often involve a desire to be close to open seas, lakes, waterways or coastal towns.
Toe-dipping in the med in Villefrance-sur-Mer, France
I’ve put it down to my childhood, family history and seaside living. Both my father and grandfather were lightermen on the River Thames, so, I can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia whenever I’m near Greenwich, where they lived.
As a family during the ‘70s and ‘80s, we used to head off on our traditional English beach holiday.
Then my later childhood and teenage years, we lived at a seaside town on the Isle of Wight.
I feel that it was inevitable the lure of water would always run through my veins.
Sandown bay and Culver Down, Isle of Wight
Now so often when we visit anywhere there just so happens to be a waterside location weaved in there somehow.
It’s to be expected that larger towns or cities around the world, will so often have a river at its heart. Early settlements relied on this to survive.
However, it isn’t just a river I’m lured to, lakes and canals are a bit of a weakness too.
Overlooking the English Channel
Old Father Thames
So, I feel this little aquatic journey can only start in London. And it just has to be the capital’s pulsing artery, the River Thames. I adore strolling along the waterside, crisscrossing the bridges and admiring the beautiful skyline that can only be London.
The River Thames from Tower Bridge, London
Gone are the days when grubby faced lightermen are hauling their cargo to and from the wharves. Today the dark mystical Thames cradles enthusiastic sightseers along this infinitely flowing waterway.
The working River Thames near Greenwich, London
A helpful guide
If you've yet to discover London and its ancient history, then let's start planning. I find these DK Eyewitness Travel Guides invaluable. They're extremely informative, easy to follow, and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those fascinating sites.
You can now grab a recently revised copy of this guidebook, so you won't miss a thing.
Good old Blighty
Ahh, the appeal of a meandering English canal. We’ve ventured off on a few family canal boat trips, and they have all brought so much pleasure.
The initial apprehension from some ‘would be’ boaters turned into a desire for wanting more. Come rain or shine, you can’t help but slow your lives down to a duck’s pace and just soak up the English countryside.
A boat moored alongside the Kennet & Avon canal
Now, you couldn’t really get much more English than a visit to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Yep, the name is a bit of a giveaway, this beautiful historic town sits on the River Avon.
The Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
Kick-off your summer sandals and sit by the riverside and enjoy watching folks bobbing up and down the Avon or why don’t you even hire a little boat for yourself.
On the River Eye, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire
Just a short hop south of the Bard country and you are in the Cotswolds. This incredible Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is awash with rivers and tiny streams meandering through the picturesque villages.
Beside the river, Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Dungeness - on Kent's rugged coastline.
However, there is one unique place on the Kent shoreline that Gary and I regularly visit, and that is Dungeness. It’s so surreal, ethereal and harsh landscape all at the same time and reputed to be Britain’s only desert.
Don’t be lulled into the fact that it’s warm, the coastal winds here are bracing.
The cobbled coastline at Dungeness, Kent
Venice of the North
The term ‘Venice of the north’ seems to get branded about so often, sometimes justifiably so. We visited St. Petersburg in Russia and the canals and waterways in this magnificent city, interweave for miles.
Plus, with St Petersburg’s spectacular architecture as a backdrop to this ancient city, this is a place that will always remain memorable to me.
The Lions Bridge, St Petersburg, Russia
Petite France, Strasbourg, France
You can’t forget Amsterdam with a maze of canals and a fantastic place is to jump on a boat trip. Believe it or not, it is so easy to find quiet spots along the waterside too.
The Singel canal with the De Krijtberg Church piercing the skyline, Amsterdam
A little further northeast and you’ll arrive at Hamburg. I love this city; it embraces the old a new so well. The inland seaport here is busy, and not just with tour boats, this is a full-on working port.
A visit to the Speicherstadt (warehouse district) is a must, this area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can take a boat trip around the restored warehouses and canals, or like us just go for a stroll.
A tall ship on the River Elbe, Hamburg
Another town that also has a similar moniker is Aveiro, theirs is the ‘Venice of Portugal’. Admittedly it isn’t overflowing with waterways like Amsterdam; however, these canals were once used by the locals to bring in their haul of seaweed, in their colourful moliceiros.
Moliceiros on the the Canal de Sao Roque, Aveiro
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The real Venice
Oh yes, Venice had to be on my list, this Italian delight often gets a bad rap, and it really doesn’t deserve it in my opinion. Of course, it gets busy, it’s incredibly picturesque and nestled in a lagoon of islands. But if you head to Venice out of season, it’s a pleasure to stroll around the tiny lanes and over the ancient bridges.
Evening on the Rio del Frari, Venice
Then there are its smaller counterparts of Murano and Burano. I understand that timing can be of the essence when visiting these islands; however, I would say try and make time, you won’t regret it.
A view to the lagoon, Burano, Italy
These islands are accessed by Vaporetto (water bus) which can get very busy on your return journey to Venice. If so, from Burano catch the Vaporetto onto Torcello (the next stop), stay on the boat, and it will turn around and complete the journey in reverse. This should cut down on your queuing.
our travelling toolkit
A little more Italy
The fabulous Villa del Balbianello, , Lake Como
The view of Lake Garda from the north at Torbole
There’s more to France
A strol by River Thiou, Annecy
Gary and I sat by the side of the opal blue lake and just watched as the delicate waves lapped between the crevices of the bobbing boats. To me, it’s so hypnotic and tranquil.
By Lake Annecy
If I was told there was only one lake that I could return to in the world, it would have to be Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. I know it was manmade; however, the African wildlife that has embraced it as their home, you would never believe that it wasn’t natural.
The sunken forrests of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe
My lasting memories that I have of Kariba are of us sitting in a boat watching the sun go down, with hippos wallowing by the side of us. I was in heaven.
Janis with Hi[ppos in the background
Embracing water with open arms
One country that we’ve visited that is awash with water is the Netherlands. I’ve touched on Amsterdam; however, there is so much more to this lowland country.
Sailing through Haarlem
Canal through the centre of Edam
The quayside at Monnickendam
Bridging the waterway, Kinderdijk
The ones that got away
I struggled so hard to condense this article, and I honestly feel that I left out so many other beautiful locations. Perhaps that’s one for another day.
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