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Staycation | 5 of the best boat, train and bike tours in the UK for all the family

There’s a certain charm and simplicity to a touring holiday in the UK, especially if you’re going away with kids. And this summer, there’s the added appeal that it’s the perfect way to be socially distanced in your ‘bubble’ and see lots of different places without having to go through an airport.  

Whether it’s by boat, train or bike, the very means of transport on a touring holiday is in itself a large part of the attraction and provides endless fascination for kids of all ages. Many touring holidays are self-guided, so you’ve got the support of the tour operator but the independence and freedom of travelling alone. It’s a brilliant balance. 

Multi-day touring holidays work especially well if the grandparents are coming along too for a multi-generational trip. Grandma and grandad can play at being the captain and first mate of the ship, while you curl up with a good book and a glass of wine. What’s not to like?! 

Here are our favourite boat, bike and train multi-day tours in the UK, and they all still have availability for this summer.

Boating on the Caledonian Canal, Scottish Highlands

Sunset over loch in Scotland

Stretching from east coast to west coast across Scotland, the Caledonian Canal is a 62-mile-long marvel of engineering along the length of the Great Glen. A straight line from Fort William to Inverness, it certainly makes navigating a boat easy. Just pay a bit more attention when you come to one the four lochs on the route – particularly as one of them is home to the Loch Ness Monster.  

Hire a boat from Le Boat’s base at Laggan and you and your family can explore this stretch of wilderness to your heart’s content, choosing between itineraries lasting three or seven nights. Opt for around two to four hours of cruising a day and you’ll have plenty of time to explore Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness, or see the Glennfinnan Railway, the Jacobite steam train used in the Harry Potter films. 

Travel the full length of the canal and you’ll soon become dab hands at navigating locks, there’s 29 of them along the route, including Neptune’s Staircase with its set of eight. 

A brilliant way to maintain a family bubble, Le Boat’s boats have fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms, and first timers need not worry – no licences or experience are needed to drive Le Boat’s fleet; a full boat handling demonstration is given before departure. 

Details: Seven nights departing from Laggan with Le Boat on a Kingfisher Whs boat sleeping four starts from £923, excluding running costs, travel to Laggan, mooring fees, boat damage waiver and food and drink. More info here

Taking the train in the Welsh Highlands and Snowdonia

Choo choo! All aboard the oldest, cutest steam railway in the world! Take the kids on a three-night trip to Snowdonia, completely by train – depart from your closest rail station and travel to Porthmadog, on the edge of Snowdonia, then spend three days exploring Wales’ biggest (and highest) National Park, all by train. 

Ffestiniog Travel has been putting train travel itineraries together since 1974, and suggestions for activities include a return journey on the Ffestiniog Railway, the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway. Travel 13½ miles from the harbour in Porthmadog to the slate-quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, climbing over 700 feet from sea level into the mountains, past lakes and waterfalls, round tight bends and even a complete spiral as the steam train clings to the side of the mountain. 

There’s also time to take a ride on the Welsh Highland Railway, the UK’s longest heritage railway, which runs for 25 miles through the stunning Aberglaslyn Pass to Caernarfon (don’t miss a trip to its castle), as well as visit Zip World Bounce Below, a subterranean playground of zip lines and trampolines among the slate caverns. 

Details: A three-night break for a family of four (two adults and two children aged four to 15), starts from £980, staying at the three-star Royal Sportsman Hotel with bed and breakfast, and including return train travel from London Euston (rail tickets from any UK station can be quoted for), and return trips on the Ffestiniog Railway, Welsh Highland Railway and Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. More info here.  

Canal boating through Warwickshire

Castles and canals go hand in hand on the Warwickshire Ring of waterways, a network of historic canals through the Midlands. Hop on board a Black Prince narrowboat at Napton and set off on one of its newly created routes for families, taking in Warwick Castle, Cadbury World and Drayton Manor Park & Zoo. Opt for a 14-day cruise and you’ll also have time for a detour to Stratford-on-Avon. 

Black Prince has narrowboats sleeping from two to four people up to 10, and all the boats come with fully equipped kitchens, showers, mobile Wi-Fi and lots more creature comforts, and before setting off everyone receives a British Marine Federation-approved coaching session to learn how to drive the boat, what to do at locks and how to stay safe. 

Make sure to get your copy of Black Prince’s new Towpath Activity Guide, created with family adventurer David Mellor, before you set off – it’s full of ideas for adventures on and off the boat. 

Details: A 14-night break for four starts from £3,848, excluding diesel. More info here

A traffic-free cycling jolly through the Chilterns

Pedal off with the family into the gorgeous countryside of the Chilterns on an easy-going cycling jaunt put together by the boutique cycling specialist The Carter Company. Designed for little legs, the four-night holiday features lots of self-guided cycling along cycle paths, bridleways and canal towpaths, covering a very manageable nine to 12 miles a day all on on traffic-free, gentle and flat paths. 

Starting from Aston Clinton, attractions along the way include the pretty village of Wendover, with its chocolaterie and English cheese shop, the Roald Dahl Experience at Aylesbury, and Waddesdon Manor National Trust Estate

Details: From £452 per person, based on two adults and one child sharing a room, including bike hire, bed and breakfast accommodation in small hotels and inns, luggage transfer between hotels, GPS navigation, and entry to Roald Dahl’s Children’s Gallery and Waddesdon Manor grounds. More info here. 

A grand train tour of Scotland 

Tailor Made Rail's Grand Tour of Scotland

A must for Harry Potter fans is Tailor Made Rails’ Grand Tour of Scotland. While the Hogwarts Express may travel by steam (and a little magic) from platform 9 and three quarters at London King’s Cross, us muggles can follow its tracks along arguably the most scenic rail route in the United Kingdom, the West Highland Line. 

The stunning journey stretches from Glasgow to Malaig, a tiny fishing port in the Highlands, crossing Harry Potter’s Glenfinnan Viaduct on the way. It’s just one of the scenic train journeys in Tailor Made Rail’s nine-night Grand Tour of Scotland itinerary, which finishes in Edinburgh and takes in the Isle of Skye, the Grampians and Fort William too. 

Details: From £949 per person including all rail journeys (price quoted from London King’s Cross; departure from any UK train station is available), and bed and breakfast accommodation. More info here.

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