Waving at canal boats as they float past or enjoying a riverside oasis with a drink in hand is a great British pastime. And we’re spoilt for choice. A network of towpaths along historic waterways provide the perfect setting for pubs to serve thirsty lock keepers, locals and tourists alike. Here are a few gems, perfect for going al-fresco on a warm summer’s day or retreating to during a winter walk.
Savernake's Royal Forest, Wiltshire
Pass through an ancient forest beside a tranquil canal
The waterway: Kennet and Avon Canal
The watering hole: The Royal Oak, Wootton Rivers
Near Marlborough, Wiltshire and situated on the north-east edge of Salisbury Plain, Savernake Forest was a royal hunting ground before the Norman Conquest as it consists of 2,300 acres (931.5 ha) of mixed woodland. This section of the Kennet and Avon Canal, from Bath to Newbury, was opened in 1810, providing a link between the ports of Bristol and London. The Royal Oak is a quaint 16th Century timbered and thatched inn which boasts a varied menu.
Photo: Towpath at Kennet and Avon Canal
Regent’s Park to Little Venice, West London
Plenty of boats but not a gondola in sight
The waterway: Regent’s Canal
The watering holes: The Lansdowne and The Engineer, Primrose Hill
This route goes through Regent's Park to the viewpoint of Primrose Hill, and along Regent's Canal – which opened in stretches from 1816 to 1820 – ending up in Little Venice. Little Venice was reportedly so named as it’s where three waterways meet, but you can expect narrow boats rather than gondolas. It is, however, charming in its own way and beautifully scenic. There are two fine eateries on the east side of Primrose Hill: The Lansdowne and The Engineer. The success of The Lansdowne rests on the quality of its generously portioned food, which is freshly prepared on the premises using organic or free-range ingredients whenever possible. The fortnightly-changing menu at The Engineer has inspired homemade dishes, using organic or free-range meats.
Photo: Little Venice, West London
Three Mills and the canals, East London
A peaceful haven for walkers and wildlife in the heart of the capital
The waterways: Hertford Union Canal and Limehouse Cut Canal
The watering hole: The Grapes, Limehouse
In the mid-19th century the River Lea was lined with flourishing industries, as the Hertford Union and the Limehouse Cut canals linked the river to the Regent's Canal. The Grapes is just off the route in Limehouse, near the Thames, maintains old-fashioned values offering the best cask-conditioned ales in the atmospheric bar downstairs. The tiny restaurant upstairs serves fresh fish, sandwiches and salads.
Henley and the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, Warwickshire
Earthworks and timber-framed houses
The waterways: Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and the River Alne
The watering hole: The Crabmill, Preston Bagot
Henley has a superb collection of 15th-, 16th- and 17th-Century timber-framed houses. The gentle walk goes from the picturesque village, over the earthworks of Beaudesert Castle returning via the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal and the River Alne. Opened in 1816, the canal runs for 25 miles from Birmingham to the river in Stratford-upon-Avon. It passes through Preston Bagot, where the 15th-Century Crabmill offers a stylish menu. For a lunchtime snack try a tasty croque monsieur or panini.
Photo: The Crabmill, Preston Bagot
The Antonine Wall and the Forth and Clyde Canal, North Lanarkshire
Walk in the footsteps of the Romans
The waterway: Forth and Clyde Canal
The watering hole: Castlecary House Hotel, Castlecary
Before the Forth and Clyde Canal was built, merchants had to sail nearly 310 miles round the coast of Scotland to get from west to east. When the canal was completed, the journey was reduced to 35 miles. Building started in 1768 and finished in 1790, following the Roman Antonine Wall. Commissioned by the Governor of Britain, Lollius Urbicus, in AD 142, the Antonine Wall, much like the more famous Hadrian's Wall further south, was intended to keep northern tribes out of Roman territory and named after the Roman Emperor at the time Antoninus Pius.
Refreshments are available in Kilsyth, but 4 miles east along the canal (you can drive via the A803) the family-run Castlecary House Hotel serves home-cooked food with bar meals ranging from rustic chicken and vegetable cassoulet to steak pie. Another few miles further east along the canal or wall brings you to a walk around the impressive Falkirk Wheel.