Vacationing on a Canal Boat in England and Wales

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 23, 2008

Q. Two couples want to take a canal boat vacation in the United Kingdom next spring. We like the idea of leisurely daylight travel between close-together towns and villages, then sleeping on the boat moored. Any recommendations for a route, a boat charter company and a land-based tour afterward?

Erik Funk, Falls Church

A. You've got the "leisurely" part right: Canal boats travel at a stately 5 mph through the British countryside. You won't cover much ground, but a self-drive boating holiday is a delightfully low-key way to see the country, with a chance to explore waterside villages, pubs, castles and cathedrals as you glide along. Since you're the pilot, there's no set schedule, and you can tie up anytime you want to bike, sketch, fish or take a walk. No experience is required; instructions are provided by the charter company.

Of the United Kingdom's 2,000 miles of man-made waterways, Wales's Llangollen Canal is particularly scenic, says Jeremy Viray, a spokesman for VisitBritain, the U.K. tourism office. He suggests starting off in the town of Trevor in northeast Wales, just west of the English border.

Nearby is the famous (and beautiful) Pont Cysyllte Aqueduct, an engineering marvel designed in 1795 to join the Llangollen and Shropshire Union canals.

Float back toward Trevor and see more of the Welsh countryside, then cross into England, stopping at the market towns of Whitchurch and Ellesmere, which date to Anglo-Saxon times.

Britain Afloat (, a consortium of charter companies, is a good place to start your search. Weekly rates range from about $1,050 to $1,800 for a group of four and include fuel, tax and linens. There's also a damage-waiver fee of $70. Many charter companies also offer optional insurance.

When you're ready to muck about on land, you could do a lot worse than the town of Llangollen, inevitably described as "bustling."

Its big-deal attraction is the medieval Castell Dinas Bran, a.k.a. Crow Castle, set high on a hill above the Dee Valley. The Holy Grail is supposed to have been taken there for safekeeping in the 1st century A.D. You can explore the Welsh countryside by riding the Llangollen Railway, whose restored steam engines travel between Llangollen and the town of Carrog.

By the way, the average temperature in northeast Wales in April is 50, so dress in layers. Also note that there's a 40 percent chance of rain every day at that time of year.

My husband and I are traveling by train from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to Sacramento. Do you tip on a train where you'll be sleeping in a roomette, with meals provided? And whom do you tip?

Judy Antonioli, Hamilton, Va.

Whether you tip, and how much, is entirely up to you. But as a general guide:

· Tip red caps $1 a bag.

· Tip sleeping-car attendants between $5 and $10 per night per passenger.

· Tip your waiter as you would in any restaurant, about 15 to 20 percent of what the meal would have cost separately.

The conductor and dining-car steward don't accept gratuities, says Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero.

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