Often said to be the first true canal in England, as well as the modern world, the historical Bridgewater Canal first opened in the early 1760s, connecting Manchester and Worsley. Later extensions provided access south to Runcorn and north to Leigh. It was once a major means of transportation in the Northwest of England, allowing goods to be moved between towns and cities with ease.
The canal’s primary purpose was to move coal from mines in Worsley to the industrial hub of Manchester. It was commissioned by Lord Francis Egerton, the Third Duke of Bridgewater and a man associated with ambitious canal projects. Built under the instruction of the famous engineer, James Brindley, the canal, along with its famous Barton Aqueduct over the River Irwell, inspired the creation of many more canals around the UK.
The Bridgewater Canal remains privately-owned, and is today a popular stretch of water for pleasure boats. Numerous operators rent vessels for different periods; you can enjoy a week’s holiday (or longer!) cruising the canal, or get a taste for barge life with a day rental.
Hire a boat for the day in Runcorn, CheshireA recommended operator for day-hire boats is Claymoore Canal Holidays, based in Preston Brook, Runcorn. They have two boats available for a day’s hire, the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon. Each boat can hold up to ten passengers, and has an on-board toilet, sink and seating. The Mock Turtle costs around 155 GBP (approximately 220 USD) for a day, whilst the Gryphon is a bit cheaper at around 120 GBP (approximately 170 USD) for a day.
We hired the Mock Turtle because we preferred the layout; rather than having a full cabin with large windows and seats in rows, like the Gryphon, it is only enclosed for half of the boat, and part of the cabin has canvas sides that can be rolled up, allowing even more open space. It has benches inside and a long work surface for food preparation.
Full safety and operational briefing given before departureWhen you arrive at the marina, you will be given detailed instructions and demonstrations about how to captain and moor the boat, along with safety details. You are not accompanied on your boat trip, so it is really important that you know how to stay safe on the waterways and how to handle the boat. Whilst the boats aren’t capable of reaching particularly fast speeds, it is possible (as we found out!) to get the vessel wedged sideways across the canal! Life jackets are available on request.
Enjoy the scenery of the lock-free section of canalA big benefit of starting your trip in Runcorn, and heading north along the Bridgewater Canal, is that there are no locks to navigate. All you really have to do is power and steer the boat, secure it to the banks if you want to get off and explore, and have fun!
In a day you can probably reach as far as Grappenhall (near Warrington) before turning around to return the boat on time. (Boats must be back by 5 pm at the latest.)
The canal is home to several species of fish, including carp, pike, roach, bream, and rudd, and you’ll see birds like ducks and moorhens swimming along the waters, as well as various small birds flying between the trees.
Stand outside on a sunny day, or perch on the boat’s edges, and relax as you journey along the calm waters and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. You could even clamber up onto the boat’s roof and sunbathe!
Visit local attractions and country pubsThere are several attractions within easy reach of the Runcorn to Grappenhall section of the Bridgewater Canal – why not tie your boat up and hop off to explore?
Norton Priory Museum and Gardens is an interesting religious site. You can see the remains of an old monastery, wander through the atmospheric undercroft, take a leisurely stroll through the pretty walled garden, and learn more about the priory’s history in the onsite museum.
Walton Hall and Gardens is home to lovely ornamental gardens, children’s play areas, a café, a small petting zoo, nature trails, golf facilities, and more.
Several quaint country pubs sit alongside the canal, perfect for a bite to eat or a relaxing drink. The Rams Head Inn in Grappenhall is particularly recommended. Pull up a seat and enjoy traditional pub fare, like fish and chips, pies, sandwiches, burgers, and sausage with mashed potato, as well as pizza, pasta, salad, and an assortment of global dishes. The outdoor seating is great for a warm sunny day. There is a small church next to the pub, which is worth a quick visit before clambering back onto your boat.
Have a floating party!
Pack plenty of food and drink to last throughout the day as, unless you plan to stop at a canal-side pub, there will be few opportunities to stock up once you’ve started your trip. Taking disposable barbecues to use on the grassy banks of the canal is a top way to add more fun to your day. Just remember though that at least one person needs to stay sober – it’s illegal to captain the boat whilst drunk.
Rent a boat for a day and have a ball travelling along the scenic Bridgewater Canal.
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