The UK canal network is a marvelous and tranquil way to explore England and parts of Wales. You travel at a sedate and relaxing pace through beautiful countryside, stunning towns and villages and magnificent cities.
The canal network encompasses much of England from Lancaster in the north to Bristol in the south. Many of the country’s finest cities are along the route – if you can find your way past the hundreds of tempting canal side pubs and cafes along the way – allowing you easy access to many of the greatest tourist atractions in the world. So how do you know where to go and what to see?
You need a canal map.
There are literally hundreds of options available to you broadly split into three categories; online mapping software, offline mapping software and traditional paper maps and guides.
There are numerous sites offering static maps of some or all of the canals on the network. There are also a small which provide route planners and calculators. Unfortunately web based information is sometimes difficult – or impossible – for you to access when you need it… when you are actually on your boat on a canal. You have to resort to printing what you THINK you will need for your journey. Surely the solution then is to take printed maps with you?
PRINTED MAPS AND GUIDES
They are handy, you can keep them in your pocket or close at hand when you’re at the helm and there’s a wide choice available. Arguably the most comprehensive of these are the Nicholson guides to the canal network. If you want a guide to the whole network though you will have to purchase all seven guides at roughly fifteen pounds each.
Although canal map guides in general and Nicholson’s in particular offer you a great deal of information about the canals and points of interest along the way, they have three distinct disadvantages compared to digital canal maps.
1. Quickly Out Of Date: Paper maps cannot be updated with new information once printed. This means that if the publisher adds a new point of interest to the map (a new marina, pump out service, restrition etc) you won’t know about it until you buy the revised version, usually at least a year later.
2. Limited Space For Information Display: All of the map maker’s information has to be displayed on or near the map. So, unless the information is printed in a font too small for you to read, only a little of the available information can be displayed.
3. Cumbersome: If you want detailed maps of the whole canal network, you will have to buy the publisher’s full set. You will have at least half a dozen different maps or guides (which are immediately out of date) to clutter up the limited space on board.
The solution is a comprehensive, constantly updated digital map that works even when you don’t have an internet connection (which can be far too often on the cut).
OFFLINE DIGITAL MAPS
Offline digital canal maps offer you all of the advantages of both online digital maps and printed maps and guides. You have access to almost unlimited information which is often regularly updated. You can load the map onto a laptop notebook or PDA so it’s quick and easy to access when you are on your travels.
I have a comprehensive review on my web site of what is widely considered the best digital map available for the British, Irish and French canal networks. The version covering all English and Welsh canals has over 56,000 points of interest including medical facilities, shopping, eating and drinking, places to visit and, of course every bridge, lock, water point, pump out station and marina along the way.
The software will also link to your GPS device so that you can see EXACTLY where you are on the network and track your progress as you travel. The application also allows you to plan and calculate your route including miles to travel, locks to negotiate (and place to stop for a pint and a bite to eat).
If you want to know exactly where you are on the waterways and what’s around you, a digital canap map is a must.