In the depths of winter

Winter on our waterways can be a homely time, whether you’re hibernating in a stove warmed cabin, holing up in a canalside pub or embarking on a cruise along quiet stretches of water

Winterising your narrowboat


Winter on the canals is a time for winding down; for slow ambles along the towpath and holing up in waterside pubs with roaring fires. Many people consider our waterways to be at their most peaceful and beautiful this time of year, when the glow of the low winter sun transforms the canal into a river of gold, its gleaming surface broken momentarily by the beating wings of a Bewick’s swan.

Putting your boat to bed
You may also notice it’s a time when many seasonal boaters ‘tuck in’ their narrowboats for the cold months ahead. During this extended period of time, especially in the winter months, a boat owner is required to fulfil a lengthy checklist to help protect their vessel against the damaging effects of harsh weather. Things like removing bedding and other soft furnishings from the interior to prevent damp and mould, and topping up the engine coolant with antifreeze will help bolster a narrowboat against plummeting temperatures, and save boaters a costly repair bill in spring. Read our guide to ‘winterising’ your narrowboat for more tips.

Keeping warm afloat
For those living on a narrowboat all year round, the general saying is ‘it’s business as usual’ for on-board housekeeping. Although, of course, you should make sure the boat is well-stocked with fuel, provisions and plenty of warm clothing, should you find yourself ‘iced in’ for a while. It’s advisable to get to know your local licensed fuel boats, keep an eye on winter stoppages in case your fuel delivery is delayed, and make sure your fire and carbon monoxide alarms inside your cabin are working properly. Click here for more tips on staying warm and safe on your boat this winter. Or for a heartening read, scroll through Peter Watts’ enchanting account of life aboard his boat in the coldest depths of the year.

Embark on a winter cruise
Nobody can deny the joys of a canal boat holiday in summer, but what better way to celebrate Christmas, New Year or even Valentine’s Day than on a winter cruise, when the waterways are quiet, and the lack of leaves on the trees magnificently enhances the rural views. Many boat hire firms have canal boats specially equipped for winter cruising, with extra bedding, central heating and solid fuel stoves, so keeping warm and cosy shouldn’t be a challenge. You can break up the journey visiting pretty villages, calling in for Sunday roast at a canalside pub, or, if the weather outside is simply too frightful, just stay wrapped up indoors with a blanket by the stove, watching winter wildlife – such as redwings, fieldfares and whooper swans – from your cabin window. Cup of hot toddy optional.

Cruising in winter can of course pose some risks, and boaters are encouraged to take extra care getting on and off the boat in icy conditions, and wear gloves when handling rope and frozen metal. Read more about cruising in winter here.

Gillie Rhodes