Slow, sleek and (almost) unsinkable – why riverboats offer the perfect escape

One of my favorite trips has been along the Caledonian Canal, which runs through Scotland and connects Inverness to Fort William. It holds a special place in our fishing history. Traditionally, herring schools were abundant on the west coast in the spring, and catches were easier in the northeast as winter approached. Fishing boats could follow the silvery darlings as they rush along the canal at four miles an hour.

With the right crew, perhaps your teenage children, or as part of a couple in love, the canals can bring great joy. You can reasonably dwell, with some pride, on our imperial history. These trading vessels traveling up the Thames transferred their cargoes to narrowboats to continue their journey across the country. You can follow in their footsteps, past an ancient ice house dug deep underground, past London Zoo, and you might end up where I was the other night, beside a berth in the basin of Paddington, ready and ready for the 21st century.

By Jean Sergent

Top tips for the perfect canal boat vacation

The pattern of sunlight, reflecting off the water, playing on the ceiling of a narrow vacation boat, gently swaying in the wind, and you moving slowly along a changing landscape, it’s easy to fall in love with canal life. But, as a bachelor party on the Droitwich Canal in Worcestershire recently discovered last month, it is possible to sink these ships if you are not careful. Here’s everything you need to know before boarding…

How much sailing experience do I need?

No previous experience is necessary and no formal training or license is legally required to operate a boat on inland waterways. However, all boat rental companies should give you a full transfer, explaining how to enjoy boating safely. Many companies send you links to training videos to watch beforehand. The Canal and River Trust ( has also collected valuable tips for novice boaters and its longer boat handling and safety video covers all key areas.

If you prefer to work your way through before committing to a longer boating holiday, hire from companies such as Anglo Welsh (, organize open days with free cruises on skippered boats. No reservations or experience is required and it’s first come, first served. It’s a great way to take in the view from a moving boat and try your hand at the helm.

Another way to test the waters is to hire a day boat – equipped with cooking facilities, a fridge and a toilet. Before leaving, you will receive lessons on how to operate the boat and the locks. Day boat charges start from just £10 per person.

For a more advanced initiation to piloting, the RYA fluvial coxswain’s license ( teaches everything you need to know. These courses do not require any previous knowledge and generally last one or two full days. They cost up to £400 per person.

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