Here we take a look at the UK Canal & River Network starting from its heritage and as the chapter progresses we cover some very important information such as the cruising range, different canal widths and the obstacles generally encountered along the way.

Widebeam navigating a lock on the UK canal network
View from the top of a lock on the UK canal network
The not so pretty sights on the canal and river network

UK Canal & Rivers Guide… The History!

The Canal and River Trust’s website is a great resource of information regarding Canal heritage and our canal system in general, below is a brief introduction taken from their website.

‘Many of our canals and rivers were built at the height of the industrial revolution and stepping foot onto one of our towpaths is akin to stepping into a living museum where you can touch all of the exhibits.

Our canals are home to over 2,700 listed structures, 50 scheduled ancient monuments and five UNESCO world heritage sites. Just by walking along a 20 minute stretch of towpath you’re likely to pass numerous heritage structures ranging from smaller iconic items such as milestones, to working structures such as lock gates and swing bridges.

Our canals and rivers are also lined with truly magnificent structures such as the Pontycysyllte Aqueduct and Anderton Boat Lift. If it’s size that matters to you, the canals are a great place to view historic engineering projects on a grand scale.

One of the best features of our heritage-rich canals is that they’re free to visit. You don’t have to pay a thing to come and walk along our towpaths and see 200 year old infrastructure at work.’

UK Canal & Rivers Guide… Maps & information

With over 2000 miles of rivers and canals at our disposal all of us are going to need a map to refer to from time to time. If you’re researching the system or looking to plan some future adventures a great place to start is the following links to online UK Canal & River maps:

Canal & River Trust – UK Canals & River Map
Jim Sheads – UK Canal & River Map
Waterways World – UK Canal & River Widebeam Map (boat widths up to 12ft 6″)
Water Explorer Interactive Canal Maps

In addition to these links there are several publications all producing their own series of focused maps which prove invaluable when cruising the canals or rivers. These maps provide a whole host of details, some of which are listed below:

  • Canal & River Trust facility locations (water points, elsan points, refuse disposal, showers and toilets)
  • Cruising information – bridge locations and numbers, tunnels and lock locations and sizes. Passage restrictions associated with any specific locks or tunnels. Booking details & contact phone numbers.
  • Mooring information – where you can, any associated time restraints, and areas to avoid mooring overnight.
  • Local amenities such as chandleries, diesel points, shops, pubs, cafes, and local attractions.

For those new to or considering boating it may well be worth mentioning that choosing a narrow boat length or width can often be determined for you by looking at your intended cruising range. A perfect example of this can be taken if you’re looking to cruise the entire UK canal & river network. The maximum size canal boat catering for this cruising range will be a be 57′ narrowboat, which, excuse the pun, narrows down your options somewhat when considering canal boats are manufactured up to 72ft in length and in excess of 12′ 6″ in width.

UK Canal & River Guide

Not what you're looking for? Try some other items within this chapter...

crick boat show 2024

(Saturday 25 to Monday 27 May 2024)


Britain's biggest inland waterways show.

Advance tickets can be ordered by phone and online until 12midday on Friday 17 May 2024. If you are planning to purchase advance tickets, we recommend that you do so well before this deadline to allow time for postal delivery.
Children 16 and under – free entry Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Trade & Preview Day – Friday 24 May 2024
Get ahead and visit The Fit Out Pontoon before everyone else on Preview Day!
Preview Day tickets are strictly limited to a maximum of 1,000 pre-booked visitors and give entry to the Show from 10am – 6pm on Friday 24 May.