Walk This Way - Canal Strolls
At Salt-Water Sandals HQ we believe life is better by the water. Walking near water is thought to relieve stress and aid relaxation and many people are discovering the benefits of their own local waterways during these difficult times. You can find a UK map of canals and details on towpaths and access points in your area at Canal and River Trust. For information relating to the canals of Europe check out Eurocanals. Here we look at 7 of the best canal walks across the UK and EU, but in light of current circumstances, please check government advice and be sure it's safe to travel before visiting any of these destinations.
Man-made waterways in antiquity were mainly built for irrigation purposes, the oldest channels date to 4000 BC in Mesapotamia. Much later on, the great age of canal building began in the late 18th century as a means of transporting goods and people. However, the arrival of the railways meant that canals became less economic and today most are used only for pleasure boats. Towpaths are as much a part of the waterways network as the canals themselves and provide excellent walking opportunities - with the reduced chance of getting lost it’s possible to completely relax and enjoy the unfolding scenery, a glorious mixture of architecture and water life.
Oude Delft, Delft
You can’t really mention canals without thinking of Amsterdam but there are several other places in the Netherlands that incorporated canals into the original city planning and we think the historic, university town of Delft deserves a place on the list. The city centre is one of the prettiest of all Dutch cities, a classic grid of canals lined with lime trees and bursting with wildlife due to the lack of traffic and pollution. Well known for Delft Blue Pottery and its connection to the Golden Age painter Vermeer, it’s also a fabulous place for a waterside walk. The oldest canal in Delft is the Oude Delft (Old Delft) and the city has expanded around it for 750 years. A good place to start your stroll is at the Oostpoort gate, the 15th century entrance to the old town, and follow the canal as it flows gently past pretty red brick and pastel painted buildings reflecting in the waters. Look out for the Oude Kerk, the church built in 1246 with its wonky tower (it leans because the heavy stones of the tower were too heavy for the former canal that it was partly built on top of), and the flamboyant hop merchant’s house of 1520. Cross the bridge at Perperstraat and from here soak up the history and wander at will.
Landwehr Canal, Berlin
Berlin is not famous for being a water city but when you look at a map you’ll see an extensive network of canals running off the River Spree. These were built in the 19th century as the city grew and transport by water became more important. The Landwehr Canal is one of the most beautiful strolls you can take in Berlin. As it flows through the heart of the city from Neukölln to Kreuzberg you feel the true rhythm of the place. Kreuzberg was once Berlin’s poorest neighbourhood as it straddled both East and West Berlin and its central location was a disadvantage but it’s now become the epicentre of Berlin’s unique style. There are quieter sections in Tiergarten Park and busier hangouts in Kreuzberg. We recommend starting with a breakfast at Hallescheshaus General Stores in Hallesches Tor before walking the south side of th canal, crossing at Osthafen and strolling back on the north side. Look out for the modernist architecture of the Bauhaus Archive, street art, flea markets and flower stalls all set beneath weeping willows and cherry trees. Benches, bocce courts and beer gardens invite you to sit and linger.
Canal de Briare, The Loire Valley
Canal de Briare is the oldest canal in France and one of the first to be built in Europe. Construction started in 1604 and for centuries it was a lifeline for Paris linking the waters of the Seine and the Loire. A beautiful 35 mile stretch of water between Montargis and Briare this canal is one for the engineering enthusiasts. Using a new lock system the canal was able to rise and fall through the landscape. At Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses it was necessary to build a staircase of 7 locks in order to navigate the topography. Although no longer in use, this section can still be seen today. And with all this walking you’ll need to stock up on treats - look out for the famous Mazet Praline and Chocolate shop in Montargis where they still use the original recipe of the founder Leon Mazet who opened the shop in 1903. The Canal culminates with the Pont Canal de Briare, a technical masterpiece that was built from steel to make it easier for barge traffic to cross the Loire. Gustave Eiffel of Tower fame designed this magnificent bridge, bordered by 72 lampposts and decorated pillars, it’s quite something to walk across. For more info check out French Waterways.
The Grand Canal, Dublin
There’s an abundance of water in Ireland and endless beauty to discover along its waterways. The Grand Canal connects Dublin in the East to the River Shannon in the West. The last working cargo barge passed along the canal in 1960. At 82 miles it’s more than a stroll, the full route takes around 5 days to complete but public transport options are good and there are plenty of towns and villages along the way from which to explore and sample smaller sections. As it winds its way through Dublin the canal offers close access to museums, galleries and vibrant city life. Starting at the Grand Canal Dock, it’s a 9 mile walk that takes you past some very pretty locks, the Patrick Kavanagh statue (he wrote the poem ‘Lines written on a seat on the Grand Canal’) and the Guinness Brewery. The scenery changes after the Lucan Bridge and from here a stroll on its banks offers peaceful, rural countryside, much of it untouched by modern agriculture. Expect to see carefully restored lock keeper cottages, marvel at the engineering of its locks (there are 43 in total!) and stop for a rest in a cosy pub. For more info you can look at Waterways Ireland.
The Oxford Canal, Oxford
The Oxford Canal is a contour canal which means it follows the contours around the hills as opposed to creating cuttings and embankments. As a result, the course of the canal is super windy. It travels from the delightful university city of Oxford to the three spires of Coventry, a total 75 miles of stunning scenery, country estates and great water side pubs. In Oxford special measures are in place to protect the endangered water vole so keep your eyes peeled for this important colony. We love the pretty canal side village of Thrupp where rose covered terrace houses line the towpath, perfect for a Sunday stroll with afternoon tea at Annie's Tearoom.
The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, Usk Valley
Following the line of the idyllic Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, unconnected to the rest of the British waterways network, is one of the most peaceful waterways in Wales and often voted Britain’s prettiest canal. Starting at the Brecon basin, it is possible to walk the entire Taff trail, some 50 miles all the way to the capital, Cardiff. But a gentle day’s stroll along the ‘Mon & Brec’ (as its known locally) is a treat for any walker. Small villages and ancient trees are dotted along the tow path plus lime kilns and old workings from Wales’s industrial past. Wildlife abounds from buzzards and herons to dragon flies and red kites. Along any stretch you can expect to see boats chugging peacefully along, waterside meadows and breath-taking views. You’ll find numerous canal side cafes and a choice of great pubs along the way in Brecon or Llangynidr (our favourite is The Bear Hotel in Crickhowell). There are several excellent circular walks which take in the canal listed on Visit Monmouthshire.
The Caledonia Canal, Inverness
The Caledonia Canal is a 60 mile coast to coast waterway built by Thomas Telford to eliminate the hazardous journey around the far North of Scotland. Considered by many to be one of the greatest waterways of the world, it provides superb walking territory and majestic scenery as it slices through the length of the Great Glen. The towpath and waterway are enjoyed by a wide variety of users from anglers and canoeists to walkers and horse riders which means there’s always something to see. A nice easy section we recommend for a stroll is the towpath from Inverness to the lochs at Dochgarroch returning on the far bank. It’s about 7 miles and should take around 3-4 hours to complete. With awesome views over the canal and the River Ness to the hills above Loch Ness it’s easy to see why they call it the Great Glen. Go to Scottish Canals for more info.