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Narrowboats on Canals

Places to go

Enter the tranquil world of the canal and its traditional heritage with our suggested places to visit.

The National Waterways Museum

Since Roman times Gloucester, the most inland port in Britain, has been an important stopping point on the River Severn, and this museum concentrates on providing fascinating hands-on displays covering a whole range of waterway-related topics. 

Enter through a replica lock chamber, complete with running water, as exhibits, interactive computers and videos help give you a taste of what it was like to live and work on the waterways. The museum cares for approximately 5,000 items, ranging from the tiny to the gigantic – canal tokens, a hockey stick icebreaker, a cannon to signal that the lock was ready and even a concrete barge!

The heyday of the canals, from the late 18th century to the mid-19th century, is explored. Competition from the railways and development of motorways led to their decline. Videos narrated by those who worked on the canals give an insight into these changes. Visitors can also compare the romance with the reality of canal life, which was hard and often involved all the family. There is a new gallery devoted to boat decoration; here you can design your own cabin side.

The museum's historic boat collection includes narrowboats, river barges, canal and river tugs, as well as a steam-powered dredger. There is also a steam crane and heavy oil engine in the setting of a canal repair yard, complete with working machine shop, forge and weighbridge. Don’t miss the floating exhibits on the quayside. Step on board the narrow boat called Northwich from 1898 and compare it with Wye, from 1959. Have a look at Steam Dredger No. 4, and walk through the crew quarters and impressive engine room.

Address: The National Waterways Museum, Llanthony Warehouse, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester

The Boat Museum

The collection includes more than 5,000 objects, ranging from large boats to canal company buttons. They all help tell the story of canals and the people who worked on them. The Boat Museum has the world's largest collection of traditional canal craft. Visitors can step on board most of the boats during a visit to the museum and get an idea of what life must have been like inside a small narrowboat cabin.

Ilkeston is just one of the boats on show. An unpowered "butty" narrowboat, she was built in 1912 as a horse-drawn craft but was later towed by a motor-powered boat as part of a "pair". Visitors can step inside her cabin and see how people cooked, slept and worked in the smallest of spaces.

But it is the historic museum site that is the most important object of all. Porters Row was built as dock workers' accommodation in 1833. Four of the original cottages survive and you can step back in time from the 1840s to the 1950s as you visit them.

The Boat Museum site covers more than seven acres of the historic canal port, including Blacksmith’s forge where the canal company’s ironwork was made, and stables where you can learn about the work of canal horses that towed narrowboats and barges.

Address: The Boat Museum, South Pier Road, Ellesmere Port

The Canal Museum

Working models, videos, pictorial and three-dimensional displays bring to life the unique 200-year-old story of our waterway transport system, complemented by the living canal outside with its flight of locks and Blisworth Tunnel. The museum reveals the amazing feats of engineering that crated Britain's original waterways.

Address: The Canal Museum, Stoke Bruene, Towcester

London Canal Museum

Soak up the atmosphere of the canal in a building built to be served by the Regent's Canal. At the London Canal Museum you can see inside a narrowboat cabin - and learn about the history of London's canals with the help of a reconstructed boat that passes through a canal arch inside the museum! Visitors will also find out about the cargoes carried, the people who lived and worked on the waterways, and the horses that pulled their boats. Peer down into the unique heritage of a huge Victorian ice well used to store ice imported from Norway and brought by ship and canal boat to be stored. 

You can see examples of the folk art known as "roses and castles" that boats and equipment were decorated with, a model of how a lock works and the story of the Regent’s Canal, home of the museum, complete with the film Barging Through London. The museum is a must for anyone curious about life on England's waterways.

Address: London Canal Museum, 12-13 New Wharf Road