The spiritual home of messing about on the river, the Norfolk Broads is an area of ethereally beautiful countryside, remote villages and over 200km of navigable waterways, most of it tidal. Consisting principally of seven interlinked rivers, and in fact stretching across both Norfolk and Suffolk, the Broads is the country’s largest protected wetland, making the region a birdwatcher’s paradise. For those wanting an easier ride, the flat landscape means the waterways are lock-free, taking out what can be a tedious hindrance on a boating trip, and also giving the area its most famous manmade features, its historic windmills.
2. THE LLANGOLLEN CANAL, WALES
Running from the town of Llangollen in north east Wales through Shropshire and up to Hurleston in Cheshire, this stunner of a waterway includes an 11 mile section that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Clamber aboard a narrow boat and ease your way through bucolic countryside, stopping at the odd canal-side pub on the way. The highlight of the trip is arguably the highlight of all the UK’s canal routes, when you pass along the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the valley of the River Dee, the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain.
3. THE CALEDONIAN CANAL
The great thing about the Caledonian Canal is that most of it isn’t canal at all, since it takes you through three major lochs (as opposed to locks), the manmade sections merely acting as connectors for a natural route between the east and west coasts of the Scottish highlands. There are still four aqueducts and several bridges to take in as you journey from Inverness to Fort William along an area known as the Great Glen, through countryside that’s nothing short of breathtaking. Look out for monsters as you cruise across Loch Ness, be awed by the scale of Ben Nevis as you pass the UK’s highest mountain, and take in an area of craggy, heather-covered hillsides steeped in history.
4. THE CANAL DU MIDI, FRANCE
You might think of holidays in the South of France being about either beaches or vineyards, but the canal connecting the great city of Toulouse with the Mediterranean provides some of the most picturesque and charming waterway journeying to be found. You travel past one of France’s most dramatic sights, the walled medieval city of Carcassonne, encounter the “staircase of locks” at Fonserannes, and travel through the vineyards of the Languedoc and the secluded beauty of the Camargue.
5. HOLLAND’S WATERWAYS
Travelling by boat is one of the best ways of discovering both the countryside and historic cities of Europe’s flattest country, with its myriad canals, lakes and rivers to journey through. It’s worth taking bikes onboard so that you can go off investigating the surroundings as you pass by those famous windmills and tulip farms, or cruise through the waterways of the country’s ancient cities. Highlights include the ancient gothic structure with its twin spires that is the Waterpoort Gate at the city of Sneek, the impressive houses lining the River Vecht, and the history and culture of Utrecht and Amsterdam.
To book boating and canal boat breaks, visit: www.drifters.co.uk, www.leboat.co.uk.