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Gently winding your way along the canal, or wandering along the riverbank, exploring the English waterways by boat or foot is without a doubt an idyllic way to pass a restorative weekend. Taking in pretty villages, cosy pubs, charming towpaths and beautiful views, England has a fantastic canal and river network, from Gloucester to London, the Cotswolds to Bath.
For those looking to do something a little unusual, why not try a spot of fishing, rent a canal boat, or simply while away an afternoon alongside the riverside? Read on for our top four river or canal experiences, and some of our favourite riverside inns.
Anyone for fishing? England boasts some of the world's greatest chalkstreams - wide and shallow streams that flow through chalk hills towards the sea, known as ideal spots to catch trout. For those spending time in Hampshire, the River Test was where fly fishing was first invented, and has an abundance of river fish for fishing enthusiasts.
It's not just for those with a passion for fishing though, this beautiful stretch of river passes through some of Hampshire's most serene villages and is picture-perfect with its weeping willows and crystal-clear waters. Keep an eye out for watercress to forage, and a variety of wildlife including kingfishers, orchids and marsh harriers. Running alongside is the Test Way, a 44 mile long trail that traverses the chalk downs at Inkpen and continues on to Eling - a great way to explore the countryside by foot.
It's not far from one of our more rustic inns, the Bourne Valley Inn. With its contemporary cottage-style rooms, is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day on the river, before enjoying some locally-caught, fresh fish in the restaurant for dinner. Why not make a weekend of it and enhance your stay with an Epicurean Experience, from fly fishing to a tour of the Black Chalk Vineyard, there a number to choose from at the Bourne Valley Inn.
London might not come to mind immediately when thinking about serene surroundings, but if you're looking for a mini getaway from the city's hustle and bustle, head to the Regent's Canal. This atmospheric route, which connects the city from East to West, begins in trendy Camden Lock Market and weaves its way through the city until it reaches Little Venice near Paddington. En route it passes through a number of key sites, including the city parks, London Zoo and Lord's Cricket Ground.
Wander along the towpath, hire a boat for the afternoon, or better yet, get really up close to nature and spend the day cruising in a kayak. Leaving the canal at Little Venice, head to The Punchbowl, in nearby Mayfair. This Grade II listed tavern offers great food, fine local ales, exquisite whiskies and an extensive wine list. A great spot to re-hydrate after a day exploring the city's waterways.
Explore the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with a stay at the charming Trout at Tadpole Bridge. This 17th century inn has the river Thames right on its doorstep and really makes the most of its riverside location, with four moorings reserved for guests. It's perfectly positioned to explore the river by boat, or you can wander along the towpath, taking in the beautiful fields as you go. Rich in river wildlife due to its location in the upper Thames floorplain, look out for wildflowers and wading birds.
The waterway theme runs throughout the inn, with each stylish room named after a fishing fly, as well as having fabulous river views. For those who fancy the slow-paced serenity of the canal, you're not far from the Oxford Canal here, with a sleepy towpath boasting brilliant views across the rolling hills, and lined with cosy country pubs.
Few things are more picturesque than a quiet afternoon spent exploring England's canal network. The 87-mile Kennet and Avon Canal route, which links London to Bristol, has some stunning scenery, including the verdant fields of the Cotswolds and the charming tow paths that connect Bath and Bristol.
One particularly charming stretch of the route is the Kintbury Canal in Berkshire, packed full of prettily painted canal boats, colourful flowerpots and local wildlife, flora and fauna. It's a stone's throw away from The Dundas Arms, perfectly perched between the canal and the River Kennet. Its riverside location makes it a great spot to spend an afternoon - either stroll the tow path, take a boat trip, or how about indulging in a horse-drawn canal boat along the river and canal? You can jump on a horse-drawn boat at numerous points along the tranquil canal, or hop off for a spot of tea at one of the canal-side cafes or pubs.
Words: Anna Jamieson