Taking a narrowboat holiday on the Union Canal
If you’re thinking about trying a narrow
boat holiday on one of the country’s canals I would strongly suggest you start
on the Union Canal in Scotland taking the Falkirk to Edinburgh route.
My reasons for this are simple The Union
Canal is a contour canal and has no locks that have to be opened by yourself.
British Waterways staff operates all of the locks that access the Falkirk Wheel
above and below and are extremely helpful and professional.
The Falkirk Wheel is a stunning piece of
machinery when you watch it operating but to actually be on the gondola as you
access the canal is something you will never ever forget. The view from the top
is exceptional as the whole of southern Scotland opens up before you.
There’s also another wonderful piece of engineering
you have to negotiate namely the Falkirk tunnel some 673 metres long and when
it was built it was not lined so it has interesting stalactites and waterfalls.
If you’re at the helm you’ll need a waterproof for the first few yards but again
what an amazing experience.
We went with ABC Boat Hire and were thoroughly
impressed by the service. We were met by Davie who explained all that the four
of us needed to know about the boat from gas bottles to steering and how to top
up with water along the way as well as early morning checks.
You are sent beforehand a canal cruising
guide which explains all about the aqueducts (great views again) and tunnels on
the canal plus we were given a Skippers Guide which includes a canal map which
we found incredibly helpful as we knew exactly where we were at any given time
as all the bridges you pass under are numbered. You can download this
beforehand from the Scottish
This excellent guide also gives information
on pubs, shops and restaurants near the canal and rules of the canal when
meeting other boats. You also get an onboard in-flight guide/handbook which
tells you everything you could want to know about the boat and your trip.
The canal was built to follow a
seventy-three metre contour along its thirty-two mile length and winds through
beautiful lowlands scenery before leading directly into the heart of Edinburgh.
It should take you about four days to get to Edinburgh but this is your holiday
and you can take it as slowly or as quickly as you like. You don’t even have to
go all the way as there are turning places before many of the bridges where you
can turn the boat around and start making your way back.
The beauty of this holiday is you take it as you want so we chugged on from Falkirk until we came to ‘The Secret Basin’ and berthed there over night. It has a very narrow entrance and we had to do a fair bit of manoeuvring with me in the bow using the barge pole to push us off to get in but we were so chuffed as we berthed up.
So our first night was spent in the basin
with a hot meal, dominoes and wee dram or two, the boat has a TV at each end, a
DVD player and a pack of cards but other games are a good idea to bring with
Getting out in the morning was a bit more
convoluted, again with me using the pole with the resident house boat owners
watching us carefully so we didn’t crash into them but soon we were on our way
Around about 11 the ancient town of
Linlithgow appeared on our left with its amazing crown of thorns church spire
and spectacular palace of the Kings of Scotland. We were getting good at
mooring now so we locked the boat up and spent a couple of hours exploring.
Cruising on we spent an enjoyable time
chatting and waving to people of all ages on the tow path, others tending their
allotments joined in and sharing experiences with passing boats. It doesn’t pay
to get complacent and stop concentrating for a moment however and once or twice
we found ourselves bumping into the canal banks or bridges.
Wildlife in the form of swans and other
water birds followed us and in places the banks are lined with a riot of
colour. Yellow flag iris, purple orchids, red and white dog rose and many other
species all shining brightly in the sunlight.
A couple of hours brought us to bridge No
32 at Winchburgh where the guide told us there were a pub and a takeaway. Both
the moorings were empty so we went up to Bridge 33 with its 21 metre wide turning
space and after what seemed a 47 point
turn with yours truly again using the pole to help we started travelling back
An hour later found us sitting in the Tally
Ho pub about a ten minute walk from the mooring. A couple of pints later on
returning to the moorings we found we had company as ‘Florence’ had moored alongside
You’ll find mooring spots along the canal one of the most useful is at Bridge 55 which is only a two minute walk from Tesco where we stocked up on essentials and spent our last night.
Talking of essentials if you’re taking wine
onboard take boxes rather than bottles, they’re easier to store and don’t
break. The waste bins in Tesco also came in handy before we returned to Falkirk
Marina to hand the boat back.
If there’s one thing I remember about this journey it’s the reflections in the water. In places the canal becomes completely enveloped by woodland when the reflections of the trees and bridges in the still water are simply beautiful and you can’t resist taking pictures.
To get the full experience you also need to
do two things after you handed the boat back.
Do have a look at Segway Tours who provide exciting
off-road guided tours to the top of the Falkirk Wheel and beyond.
Their guides take you through the basic
manoeuvres and steer you through winding woodland paths and off-road tracks to
discover breathtaking views and historic scenery including the remains of the
Roman fort above the wheel.
Also you simply must go and visit The Kelpies, two 30-metre high horse-head sculptures, standing
next to a new extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal. The Kelpies are the
largest equine sculptures in the world and are a monument to horse powered
heritage across Scotland.
If you thought the Falkirk wheel was something else wait until you stand under these two beauties. Mind you they’ve inspired me to go back and may get another narrow boat holiday and cruise in between them!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends ABC Boat Hire