Holidays on Britain’s waterways

White Moth wherry yacht
White Moth: the last of the wherries

Britain’s canals and rivers, once busy with industry,  are now used for more leisurely purposes.

For centuries, the wherry reigned supreme on East Anglia’s Broads, says Jo Tinsley in Lonely Planet. “Slung low with bricks, sugar beet, coal and timber, these elegant cargo boats ploughed the waterways, until the railways brought their rule to an end.” A handful survived, including White Moth, one of the last of the wherry yachts, built in 1915. The 59-foot vessel “would bear me on a slow expedition down the rivers Bure and Ant, from the lively Broads town of Wroxham to Stalham”.

At first, progress is slow. “East of Horning, the river softens. Willow and alder line the bank, wrapped in rose hips; warblers dart out of downy reed heads, catching flies over the still, green water… I begin to tune into White Moth’s musical interludes: the metallic chink as the wind fills her sail, the wing beats of greylag geese overhead, the rustle of wind through the reeds.” Evenings are low-key affairs in the boat’s warm and woody interior. “There’s little else to do but lie back on the deck and stare up at Norfolk’s dark skies.”

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Caledonian cruising

“Hours into captaining a boat for the first time, I’d notched up some nautical vocab,” says Genevieve Fox in The Observer. “Cleat, cast, half-hitch. Loop, line and, er, zigzag. I did a lot of zigzagging as I willed a motor cruiser up, down and perpendicular to the banks of the glorious Caledonian Canal in the Scottish Highlands.”

Motor cruising is easy when you know the ropes. Aboard the Elegance, a 43ft, three-stateroom, three-head beauty, with two dining tables, a microwave and “a mind of her own”, “we zigzagged into Loch Lochy slowly getting the hang of the steering, Munros either side of us and Ben Nevis… in the distance”. If we’d kept going south, we’d have reached Banavie, site of Neptune’s Staircase, the UK’s longest staircase lock. But our goal was Fort Augustus, the last staircase before Loch Ness. Later, “we toasted our sea legs and drank to having had more laughs than we could remember in a long time”.

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A charming Yorkshire canal

When the Pocklington Canal opened 200 years ago, this rural waterway was busy with Yorkshire keels being hauled by horses, bringing cargoes of coal, lime and manure, says Paul Miles in The Daily Telegraph. Today, its users are of a very different nature, consisting of a handful of narrowboats, walkers, birders and kayakers, along with dragonflies and otters, who call the canal home. Pocklington itself is charming: the eight-mile Pilgrimage of Grace walk takes you up from the edge of town into the Yorkshire Wolds for views, on a fine day, across to the sparkling Humber.

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