Paddle power: soak up spectacular Scottish scenery on the Great Glen Canoe Trail

There are many adventures to be had on canals and rivers,writes Paul Miles

Our television screens have been awash with programmes about travelling along canals of late, a trend kick-started by Barging Round Britain with John Sergeant earlier in the year and climaxing with BBC4's much-talked-about, two-hour "slow television" narrowboat cruise, The Canal. Britain has more than 2,000 miles of navigable inland waterways; once a cutting-edge transport network of the Industrial Revolution, today these liquid highways offer a route to relaxation.

Grab a paddle

The Great Glen Canoe Trail is a challenging 60-mile paddle following a fault line that splits Scotland between Fort William and Inverness. Four long, narrow lochs line up end to end, linked by 20 miles of the man-made Caledonian Canal, designed by one of the 19th century's leading engineers, Thomas Telford.

It's not always a sedate paddle – waves on stretches of open water can be intimidating, and you have to carry canoes around canal locks – but for a week's epic adventure in spectacular scenery, it's worth it. Wilderness Scotland (01479 420 020; wildernessscotland.com) hosts guided canoe trails in May, July, August and September, camping on loch shores. From £625 for a five-day, four-night trip, including meals.

Take a walk

Meander (01543 473736; meanderholidays.co.uk) offers walking breaks alongside some of the country's most picturesque and historic stretches of canal.

Towpaths – where horses once plodded, pulling cargo-laden boats – are nearly all on the level, but to lighten the load further, Meander can arrange luggage transfers and B&Bs en route. A three-night, two-day 25-mile walking holiday on the Llangollen canal in north Wales, leading to Pontcysyllte, the highest, longest navigable aqueduct in the world, costs from £250pp.

wandering-duck.jpg
Make a splash: the 'Wandering Duck'

Work it

The restoration of our canals – many of which had become weed-choked ditches – is thanks to hard-working volunteers. The Waterway Recovery Group (01494 783 453; wrg.org.uk) holds sociable week-long camps where you can learn brick-laying and conservation techniques while restoring ancient bridges, locks and canal banks. For just £56 you'll have all meals and basic shared accommodation. At the end of your eight-hour working day the evening is yours to explore or join a group outing. In August, there are two weeks available on the pretty Ashby Canal in Leicestershire.

Do it yourself

If the idea of a narrowboat appeals, but you'd like a little more room, consider the oxymoron of a wide-beam narrowboat.

Topsy, on the Kennet & Avon, is a spacious and rather gorgeous 55ft-long steel boat full of sunlight and quirky touches, such as a record player and stash of vinyl. With two double rooms (and a spare sofa-bed), a full-size bath and log-burner, it is perfect for a family or an indulgent romantic break for two. Pootle along to Bradford-on-Avon, where the "boatman's breakfast" at The Lock Inn comes highly recommended. A three or four-night short break on Topsy costs from £1,035 in summer through Lazy Daze Cruises (07785 333 586; lazydazecruises.co.uk).

Sit back and relax

Daunted by the prospect of hiring and operating a boat yourself? Try a "hotel" narrowboat, where steering, locks and catering are taken care of. Wandering Duck (07584 122 614; wanderingduck.co.uk) bills itself as a "hostel" narrowboat, with eight guests sleeping in bunks in two cabins.

This year, Wandering Duck makes its first journey along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, from Manchester to Huddersfield. It's a 101-lock journey over the Pennines to the highest, longest, deepest tunnel on the waterways. Standedge Tunnel is three miles long and takes about two hours to squeeze through. The six-night Big Trip starts on 10 August and costs £450pp, including all meals.

Comments