Rivers, Canals and Inland Waterways – Things to do in the School Holidays

Rivers, canals and inland waterways are easily accessible for millions of people across the UK. They are an amazing resource and provide a fantastic opportunity to explore the great outdoors and have fun during the summer holidays. There are lots of activities that you can do in and around the inland waterways of Britain, so here are some ideas.

Safety First

Before you plan anything, remember that safety comes first. When the sun is shining and everyone is relaxed, it’s easy to forget the dangers posed by rivers and canals. The increase in popularity of ‘wild swimming’ needs to be treated with caution and is only suitable for strong swimmers.

Don’t allow children to swim in canals. They can be steep-sided, making it very difficult to get out. They can also be busy thoroughfares during the summer months for cruising narrowboats and other inland waterways boats. In addition, there can be hidden risks underneath the water – like weeds in which you could get tangled or, sadly, shopping trolleys and other rubbish.

Never enter the water in areas where there are ‘no swimming’ signs, however tempting it may be. Supervise children at all times and never let them get out of their depth.

There’s plenty of fun to be had without getting into the water, so know the risks and take care. See our previous blog on water safety on inland waterways and canals and this advice from the Royal Life Saving Society.

Watersports on canals and inland waterways

Staying on top of the water and taking part in organised activities are a much safer option. As a parent or guardian, you may have the option to take part, or you can relax in the knowledge that the children are in safe hands.

Depending on how energetic you want to be, there’s anything from pedalo hire to paddleboarding, canoeing and kayaking or taking a dinghy sailing or windsurfing course.

You could simply take a trip on a narrowboat, when all the work is done for you and you just enjoy taking in the scenery. In addition, there are opportunities to learn how to operate a narrowboat and children as young as eight years old can also take part in narrowboat training courses.

Making walking fun

With thousands of miles of canals in the UK, which cross countryside and city centres, there’s plenty of opportunity for a beautiful walk. You can make it fun by spotting and identifying all that nature has to offer – spotting plants, animals, birds and even insects could all be part of a competition. There are various apps available for identifying different types of flora and fauna. The Wildlife Trusts have nature reserves across the country, many of which incorporate lakes, rivers and inland waterways. Also, The Canal & River Trust has maps of the canal network in England and Wales.

If you’re close to home, you could map out your own route and devise a treasure hunt with interesting landmarks. Or you could find a ready-made ‘treasure trail’ for a self-guided treasure hunt and follow the clues provided. You’re only limited by your imagination!

Refreshment stops

A canal-side walk isn’t complete without a refreshment stop! Either take your own picnic and sit on one of the grassy banks, or find one of the many traditional pubs that line the canal. Marinas or nearby villages often host cafes, which are the perfect place to stop for a coffee or an ice cream.

Canal heritage

Canals are part of Britain’s industrial heritage as narrowboats were used to transport coal an may other raw materials. There are lots of interesting things to see along the canal network. Features such as bridges, tunnels and locks are feats of engineering and mileposts are other interesting items to spot along the way. If you’re interested in the history of the canals, then there are museums such as The Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire or The National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port. They provide a wealth of information.

The canals, rivers and inland waterways of Britain provide opportunities for all sorts of activities. Stay safe and enjoy them this summer.

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