Fifteen of the best canal walks
These great routes have been picked for their scenery, wildlife and history.
Walks in England
Walks in Wales
Walks in Scotland
Walks in Northern Ireland
Regent’s Canal, London
Walk length: 8.5 miles
London boasts more than 100 miles of canals, but few of them are as picturesque as this 8.5-mile stretch from Little Venice to Limehouse. From Paddington station, head north west up Westbourne Bridge. As soon as you pass under the Westway, veer right down Westbourne Terrace Road and keep going until you hit the canal. As you head from here to Limehouse, you’ll pass waterside cafés, a floating art gallery and London Zoo. Keep an eye out for the canal’s rich wildlife – bats, buzzards, coots and kingfishers are regularly spotted in the area.
The Kennet and Avon Canal, Wiltshire
Walk length: 4.5 miles
There’s a fantastic circular route along this historic canal, starting at the Sydney Gardens in Bath. Walk southwards down the Kennet and Avon Canal, passing the grade II-listed Cleveland House and an elaborately decorated pumphouse chimney located beside the towpath at Abbey View lock. When you hit the River Avon, take a right turn and carry on walking until you reach Pulteney Bridge. Turn right again, and head back to the starting point at Sydney Gardens.
Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Walk length: 3 miles
Connecting the cities of Liverpool and Leeds, this canal is 127 miles in length, but you don’t have to walk all of it! There’s a popular three-mile walk from Saltaire station to Bingley ‘Five Rise’ – five locks built in a staircase formation, known as the wonder of the waterways. Start at Saltaire station and head down Victoria Street in the direction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Cross the footbridge that spans the canal and take an immediate left down a steep slope. Face the water and turn right. After a couple of miles of walking, you’ll reach the ‘Five Rise’.
Coventry Canal Art Trail
Walk length: 5 miles
The Coventry Canal Art Trail takes in 39 artworks en route from the city centre to the bustling boating settlement of Hawkesbury Junction. Park your car in central Coventry (free parking is available off St Nicholas Street or Leicester Row) and begin your walk from the canal basin, where shops and restaurants cluster around the terminus of the Coventry Canal. As you walk the five miles from here to Hawkesbury Junction, you’ll encounter a sculpture of the canal engineer James Bindley, alongside mosaics and handcrafted furniture.
If you don’t fancy walking back, hop on the number 20 or 50 bus from Longford, near Hawkesbury Junction. These run every 15 minutes and take you back to Coventry in less than 20 minutes.
Nantwich and Acton
Walk length: 5 miles
Taking in country lanes, public footpaths and canal towpaths, this circular five-mile walk ticks off some of the most historic and picturesque areas of Cheshire. The terrain is fairly level, although you will have to negotiate 12 gates and two stiles as you make your way from Nantwich to Acton.
More information about the walk
Hatton Lock Flight, Warwickshire
Walk length: 1.5 miles
Part of the Grand Union Canal, the historic Hatton Lock Flight is known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as it offers stunning views across to Warwick Cathedral. There are plenty of well-established circular routes in the area, starting from as little one and a half miles in length.
The Grand Union Canal
Walk length: 8 miles
Stretching 147 miles from west London to Birmingham, this is officially the UK’s longest canal. Walking all of it might be out of the question, but there’s a manageable 8-mile section connecting Hemel Hempstead and Tring stations. Take the road immediately opposite Hemel Hempstead station (Fishery Road) and walk down it for about 100m until you reach a bridge. Turn left down onto the towpath and walk eight miles to Tring, taking in ducks, geese and swans along the way.
Guildford to Godalming
Walk length: 5 miles
Covering the southern part of the River Wey, this walk begins in the busy centre of Guildford and travels five miles to the pretty town of Godalming. From Guildford town centre, head down to the bottom of the High Street, passing the Star Inn on your left and Wagamama’s on your right. When you reach the bridge, cross it and then immediately turn left. Face the river and turn right. You are now on the canal path. On your way to Godalming, you may be be able to spot carp in the water and warblers in the sky. If you’re feeling energetic, there’s also the opportunity to climb Chinthurst Hill halfway along. Walk this Wey, indeed.
Peak Forest Canal
Walk length: 15 miles
The Peak Forest Canal starts just east of Manchester and finishes at the edge of the Peak District. For much of its length, it runs alongside the River Goyt, a haven for plants and wildlife. The canal also takes in some manmade delights, including the Marple Aqueduct and the Bugsworth Basin. Start out from Marple Sation, take a right down Brabyn’s Brow and walk for about 300 metres until you hit the canal. Turn left along it and follow it 15 miles to Whaley Bridge. For those looking for shorter walks, the stations of Furness Vale (5 miles) and Chinley (8 miles) – both located close to the canal – provide easy exit points.
Llangollen Canal, Wales
Walk length: 6 miles
The Llangollen Canal’s combination of beautiful countryside and impressive engineering makes it one of the UK’s most iconic waterways. Its centrepiece is a 126ft-high aqueduct, which spans 1,000 feet across the vale of Llangollen. Start at the picturesque Horseshoe Falls, walk along the winding Dee Valley and end up at the aqueduct, known as a ‘stream through the skies’. If you're really lucky you might spot one of the otters that live alongside the canal.
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
Walk length: 2 miles
Looking to get off the beaten track? Then this is the canal walk for you. Winding through the Brecon Beacons, it can rightfully claim to be one of the UK’s most beautiful canals, taking in mountains, river valleys and woodland.
The complete towpath stretches for more than 30 miles, but there’s an accessible two-mile section from Brecon Wharf that follows the canal as far as Brynich Lock and back. A small car park is located at Brecon Wharf, where there is a ramp onto the towpath. The start of the trail is narrow and uneven in places, but it soon widens out into a cycle path. Pedestrians have priority, but do keep an eye out for speeding cyclists.
Union Canal, Edinburgh
Walk length: 8 miles
The Union Canal connects Edinburgh and Falkirk. It’s 35 miles in length and takes in a variety of historic buildings such as Linlithgow Palace – birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots – as well as wildlife such as herons and kingfishers. A pleasant eight-mile walk begins at the Edinburgh Quay, accessed at the junction of Fountainbridge and Gardner’s Crescent through a pedestrian walkway next to Cargo Bar. From there, it’s eight miles to the west to the village of Ratho, where you can jump on a number 12 bus, which will have you back in Edinburgh in 50 minutes.
Caledonian Canal, Inverness
Walk length: 7 miles
Scotland’s great canal boasts many fabulous walks, but this one, beginning in the west end of Inverness, is one of the more accessible and provides wonderful views of the River Ness.
The route begins at Whin Park car park. Walk up some wooden steps to join the towpath of the Caledonian Canal and turn left along it, taking in narrowboats and wildlife along the way. After three miles, you’ll meet the historic locks at Dochgarroch. Cross over the locks to the north side of the canal. At one point, the main path heads left away from the canal. Don’t take it. Stick, instead, to the smaller path along the canal-side. Cross the Tomnahurich swing bridge and then immediately turn right down a small road (not the towpath). This will bring you back to Whin Park car park.
Forth and Clyde canal
Length: up to 35 miles
The Forth and Clyde Canal crosses Scotland’s central belt, from the Forth estuary at the River Carron to the Bowling Basin on the River Clyde, taking in the Falkirk Wheel en route. It’s 35 miles long, so if you wanted a real challenge you could walk the whole thing, perhaps in two days with an overnight stop at Kilsyth, the midpoint.
And of course you don't have to trek its full length in order to appreciate its beauty and wildlife while getting health benefits at the same time. You could start at Stockingfield Junction in Maryhill, Glasgow, and head either towards Kilsyth (12 miles) or west towards Bowling (10 miles). But you can turn back whenever you feel like it.
Newry Canal Way
Walk length: 18 miles
This 18-mile section runs from Newry to Portadown. It takes in the industrial buildings and rolling countryside of south-east Ulster, while offering walkers the chance to see a wide variety of birds and aquatic life. Highlights include visiting Moneypenny’s Lockhouse, a restored 18th-century lock-keeper’s house; grabbing a bite to eat at Scarva Visitors’ Centre; and watching the flocks of swans at Acton Lake.
Coalisland canal, County Tyrone
Length: 4.5 miles
The canal starts near the centre of Coalisland, near Dungannon, and runs to The Point where it meets the Blackwater river. There are seven locks to see, including a staircase lock, and one stretch where the towpath runs between the canal and the river. Be aware that there are three roads to cross along the route.
More information about the walk
For more routes and information
England and Wales: Canal & River Trust or 0303 040 4040.
Northern Ireland: Walk Northern Ireland or 028 9030 3930.
Scotland: Scottish Canals or 0141 332 6936.