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Done the London tours? – check. Tower of London? – check. Churchill’s bunker? – check. British museums?—check. Everything to be seen on a brief stay in London. So What Now?
Pay attention to the boat traffic on the Themes, the river running through London. Occasionally passing through are long, narrow cabin boats that are, appropriately, called narrowboats. It turns out that these are the motorhomes of the canal network. The British people do like boats and enjoy cruising their 2,000 miles of freight canals left over from 1800's.
The canal system is now managed for public benefit by the Canal River Trust; see the canal network.
How to Get on the Canals
My experience was in the countryside about 1 hour by train outside of London. It is easy to take a train from London to Napton and there step aboard your vacation narrowboat. Get it stocked with food in advance for a small fee. The boats are steel hull with bumpers so when I delivered a glancing blow on a bridge support it didn't hurt anything. Think bumper cars at the carnival. Start the little diesel engine and off you go at just a few miles per hour. Ahead unfolds another England of waterside communities, boat-based restaurants, waterwheel powered factories, and fantastic views. Importantly, you will have time to take it all in at boat speed.
Popular spots alongside the canal get taken early in the season by liveaboarders, so expect to walk a ways to get a beer at the picturesque canal pub. Everyone encountered is friendly as they are co-members in this canal-life club. Even the "slow down" shouted at me for rocking the adjacent boats included a friendly wave.
It is possible to board your boat in other regions of England and see the beautiful scenery without so many boaters on the outskirts of London. Take a look at the Leeds area, for example.
Napton Narrowboats provided my boat and their location is well situated to follow up the canals with a car trip to famous Oxford and all its classic architecture. This Napton location is on the "Oxford Canal", but the route out to all the canals is through the Grand Union Canal towards Rugby. On the way, is the fun of taking the boat through the canal locks and running the gates operation yourself. The days of a lockmaster family living at the lock are long past, but the quaint old cottage remains. Follow the posted directions and it is easy.
Enjoyable side trips
Cotswolds and Oxford tours are best arranged through a guide. Search "Cotswolds+tours" for a list of knowledgeable guides. Try to decide on your interests so to get what you came for – the subject matter in the area can be broad and range from gardens, lovely estates, unique rock walls, thatched roofs, or the spot of a public witch burning. The best stops can be arranged with a little preview of historical or architectural interests.
Henry VIII tours will include Hampton Court Palace, which is not far from Oxford. Henry spent much time here and there remain in the architecture decorations reminders of his love interests. The palace itself is simply striking to view from the entrance road and builds anticipation for viewing a small part of the life of Henry.
If Henry could have done so, perhaps wife #4, Anne of Cleves, he would have been sent her home to her Duchy of Cleves on the Lower Rhine by the next jet. Flying out of the Heathrow airport is easy as it is close by to Hampton Court if making this the last stop on a wonderful trip.