Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. The UK’s canals, lakes, seas and lochs can be discovered in narrow boats, yachts, ferries, canoes, kayaks and pleasure cruisers. Britain is not just a green and pleasant land, but a very blue one too.
From the Solent to the lochs of the Scottish Highlands, wrap up warm, grab your boat shoes and chill on the deck of your choice!
Solent, Dorset: The Solent is one of the most famous pleasure boating areas in the UK, and it is filled with leisure boats throughout the year. The waterside towns, such as Southampton and Portsmouth await visiting yachts, but the Solent also provides many quieter moorings in England's most beautiful natural surroundings.
Sandbanks, Dorset: This small peninsula or spit of just 1km squared crosses the mouth of Poole Harbour Poole in Dorset and is surrounded by the English Channel. You can reach this exclusive peninsula on the Sandbanks Ferry, which runs across the mouth of the Poole Harbour. Sandbanks Beach is a beauty and the property is out of this world, making Sandbanks, by area, the fourth highest land value in the world. Revel in the wealth and hire a yacht for the day and cruise around like you own the place! Sandbanks is a haven for water sports and is used by light marina craft. The north side of the peninsula is home to the Southern Headquarters of the Royal Yachting Association and an international sailing school, so you can learn from the best. The views you can catch from your chosen sea vessel are second to none: to the North you can see Poole Harbour and Poole, to the South you can see across the English Channel and in the West you can see the world heritage coastline of Studland and Swanage.
Weymouth: If it’s good enough for The Olympics, then it’s good enough for us non-Olympians too. Hire a boat from the Georgian Weymouth Harbour and cruise around the bay, or jump on board a pleasure cruiser and discover Portland Bill and Chesil Beach from the waves. Situated on the Isle of Portland is the National Sailing Academy, further proof that this is the top spot for boating community.
Lake Windermere, Cumbria: Windermere is the largest natural lake in England and is in the heart of the Lake District National Park. There are 18 islands to explore in the lake. Passenger services serve the length of the lake, from Lakeside railway station, on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite heritage steam railway at the southern end of the lake, to Waterhead Bay near Ambleside in the north. The Windermere Ferry, a vehicle carrying cable ferry, runs across the lake from Ferry Nab on the eastern side of the lake to Far Sawrey on the western side of the lake. There are also two summer only passenger ferries that cross the lake. One crosses from Lakeside station to Fell Foot Park at the southern end of the lake, whilst the other links Bowness with Far Sawrey. Windermere water bus is operated by Windermere Lake Cruises. If you’ve got your own boat then Windermere is home to some rather prestigious boating clubs. There are four large boating clubs based around the lake: the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club, the Lake District Boat Club, the Royal Windermere Yacht Club, and the Windermere Cruising Association.
Norfolk Broads: The Norfolk Broads are a haven for wildlife and Britain’s largest nationally protected wetland has over 200kms of lock-free canals and rivers. Expect to see kingfishers, terns, owls, crested grebes, otters, herons and even the rare swallowtail butterfly. Explore the idyllic wildlife filled backwaters on a canoe or kayak, letting you get up close and personal to the wildlife.
The Thames: What a beauty, and a lengthy one at that. Although perhaps the best known image of The Thames is the Eastender’s aerial view of the majestic serpentine river, The Thames is not just based in London. The Thames stretches all the way from the Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flows into the North Sea at the Thames Estuary. The river is the longest river that lies in entirely in England, and the second longest river in the UK.
Rent a narrow boat along The Thames and you will pass idyllic wholly English villages such as Marlow, Cookham, Pangbourne and Datchet with their 14th century houses and oak-beamed waterside pubs. You can moor near Windsor Castle & Eton College to take a peek into some regal hotspots and public school education or float through the historical university-centric city of Oxford. If you want to keep it boat based then Henley-on-Thames is home to England's most famous summer regatta, the Henley Royal Regatta, which takes place over five days at the start of July in the upstream town. Hampton Court Palace also has a riverside location aside The Thames.
The Thames winds all the way down to London where it passes the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, and St. Pauls Cathedral. You can hop on a tourist cruise to see the major sights from City Cruises. You can even hire a party boat if sweating it out rowing isn’t your thing. Moving down stream you can take in the sights of Canary Wharf and Greenwich, arriving at the Thames Barrier, a route that many river cruises operating in London take.
Moving away from tourist attractions you can give skiffing a go. I think the term skiffing may need some explanation. Skiffing is rowing (or more correctly sculling) a Thames skiff. A Thames skiff is a traditional hand built clinker-built wooden craft of a design which has been seen on the River Thames for nearly 200 years. The University Boat Race, the historic competition between Oxford and Cambridge, is held in late March or early April. The race is fought on the Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake in the west of London.
Punting at Oxbridge: What a glorious way to spend a sunny afternoon! Hire a small boat with a long stick, and push yourself along the rivers at Oxford and Cambridge, the Cherwell in Oxford and the Cam in Cambridge. Make like a scholar and get your hands on some Keats poetry so you can recite famous phrases and feel big and clever!
Little Venice, London: So comparing this very British waterway to Venice is sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, but the picturesque canals with narrow boat cruises travelling between Little Venice and Camden Lock are beautiful and are a great way to see London, minus the smelly, cramped public transport. There is a waterbus that goes around Regent's Park, calling at London Zoo and on towards Camden Town.
Birmingham Canals: Gas Street Basin is where the Worcester and Birmingham Canal meets the BCN Main Line. The hub of Gas Street basin is, not surprisingly, located on Gas Street, off Broad Street. You can moor your narrow boat here and explore the cafes and restaurants which line the water’s edge and the Brindleyplace canal-side developments.
Caledonian Canal: This canal stretches between Inverness, the capital of the Highlands in the North, down to Fort William in the South. Set beside the hillsides and mountain ranges of the Highlands. Hitch a ride on a holiday barge or rent your own narrow boat to discover one of the world’s greatest waterways.
Loch Ness, The Highlands: Extending for over 23 miles this site is most well known for being home to the most famous monster in the world, who continues to elude and fascinate many. Boat cruises operate from various locations on the loch shore, giving visitors the chance to look for the "monster". The nearby wild Loch Lochy is at the foot Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. There are also boat trips from Inverness harbour to watch bottle-nosed dolphins in the Moray Firth.
Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland: Lough Neagh (pronounced Loch, don’t you know) is the largest lake in Britain and Ireland, and five of the six Northern Ireland counties have shores on this lake. There are 151 square miles of lough to explore so hop on board the Maid of Antrim, a pleasure cruiser which can carry up to 100 passengers. You can go on boat trips to the many islands in the Lough, such as Rams Island, which is nearly one mile long by a quarter of a mile wide and is the largest island on Lough Neagh. The island has a rich history spanning many centuries, with evidence of human occupation dating back 8000 years BC. If that doesn’t float your boat then there are even pirate boat trips!!! Ahoy!