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Inspire Magazine -The hard work's done, sit back and relax

Inspire Grand Designs Cover

Inspire Magazine -The hard work's done, sit back and relax

story by: Inspire Magazine

Gliding gently along a sun-drenched canal, with an escort of paddling ducks and a cheeky glass of rosé it’s hard to believe that your idyllic afternoon is all thanks to the noise and clamour of the industrial revolution. It’s a fact that without the demands of industry in the 17th century, most of the thousands of miles of canals criss-crossing much of Western Europe would never have been constructed. It was the need to get goods from emerging industrial centres to the booming cities that pushed canals through the spectacular countryside in between, often connecting quaint villages along the route in a way that roads still fail to emulate.

However with the advent of steam power the narrow canals and their gaily-painted Narrow Boats fell into disuse. Then the large waterways like the Manchester Ship Canal were also abandoned thanks to the convenience offered by motorway transport.

It could have been the end for these forgotten arteries of industry, but volunteers stepped in to clear clogged waterways and local authorities woke up to the tourist potential of cruising the now quiet and peaceful canal systems. It was the beginning of a whole new industry for Europe’s hardworking canals.

Of course canals don’t lead everywhere, and it’s Europe’s rivers that offer further opportunities for us to explore. Look beyond the big names like the Rhine or Seine and you’ll discover hidden gems like the gently winding Douro River in Portugal. Meandering past terraced vineyards and whitewashed towns is just as memorable as the more famous destinations in Germany or France.

With cruising, whether it's on canals or rivers, you're able to see the country you're moving through from a unique perspective. A journey along the Llangollen Canal takes you across the River Dee at a dizzying 38 metres above the valley below. At 307 metres this is the longest and highest cast-iron aqueduct in the world and a superb photo opportunity. Plus with cruising it's not just that you have the time to take all the scenery in, it's that you're also travelling with a great deal of freedom. By living aboard there's no requirement to find a bed for the night, just tie up practically anywhere that takes your fancy. Nor is there a commitment to always take it slowly; pull a bike off the deck and race to the next village to buy fresh bread for breakfast or shop for the best produce at a farmer's market. You can even range further afield if you hire a car for the day.

Cruising on a canal is also a great way to discover unknown skills. Nosing a Narrow Boat into a Staircase Lock for the first time to climb a hill can seem daunting, but it's all done at a slow and methodical pace, and in the case of the Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal there's an adjacent pub where the locals will always be ready with advice.

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