Our Favourite Books Set on the Waterways

12th October 2023

Anyone who has spent an afternoon relaxing on the waterways will be able to understand why they’ve become inspiration for great works of literature over the years. Both in classic literature, contemporary fiction and even children’s books. In this article, we’ll explore some of the books we recommend as essential reading for your next canal boat holiday.  

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

First on our list is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. The classic children’s novel is set in the English countryside and is heavily inspired by life on the waterways. Published in 1908, the novel is considered a children’s classic and has been adapted on the big screen, television and on stage. 

What is The Wind in the Willows about?

The Wind in the Willows is a tale of friendship and adventure. Following friends Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger, who live on the banks of the River Thames. When Toad gets into trouble for reckless driving, his friends must band together to save him.  

The inspiration for The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows is inspired by Grahame’s own experiences and observations of life in the  Thames Valley and on River Thames itself. Kenneth Grahame spent most of his childhood growing up on the banks of the river, and his love for the waterways and the surrounding landscapes is evident throughout the book. 

The waterways are home to a range of wildlife and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot some of the novel’s characters such as water voles, badgers and toads on your canal boat holiday. And, while you’re on the waterways, you’ll be able to indulge in some of their favourite pastimes including boating, picnicking and exploring the countryside.  

Explore the Thames with ABC Boat Hire

If you’re ready for your own adventure, the Limehouse and return from Aldermaston Wharf is a 10 night trip that takes you along the River Thames past Henley and Marlow and then on to London by boat.  

Three Men and a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Three Men and a Boat, otherwise known as Three Men and a Boat (to say nothing of the dog!), first published in 1889 is a hilarious travelogue that has been adapted multiple times across TV and film. Most recently, it has become the basis of the travel show Three Men in a Boat, starring Griff Rhys Jones, Dara O Briain and Rory McGrath.  

What is Three Men and a Boat about?

The book takes readers on a journey along the River Thames from Kingston Upon Thames, to Oxford and Return. The book was intended to be a serious travel guide. However, a number of incidents turn the book into a comedy that has been praised in modern times for its ability to remain fresh and witty.  

Some of the key moments include where the men are unable to decide what to pack and end up bringing a number of unnecessary items including a banjo. And, another incident is when the men get lost in Hampton Court Maze and resort to a number of absurd tactics to find their way out. 

Oxford and Return with ABC Boat Hire

Fans of the show, and of the novel can reenact a similar experience on the Oxford and Return from Aldermaston Wharf, taking you on much of the same route travelled by the Three Men in a Boat, from the comfort of a narrowboat. The route takes 7 nights, where you can cruise down the River Thames between Reading Oxford. Many of the pubs and other places in the book, remain unchanged since the book was published in 1889.  

Canal Dreams by Iain Banks

Changing genre, if psychological thrillers are more your cup of tea. Canal Dream’s does not fail to disappoint. Published in 1989, Canal Dreams combines elements of political drama with thriller. 

What is Canal Dreams about?

The story follows protagonist Hisako Onoda, a talented cellist who embarks on a solo journey along the canal system in Japan. The trip is meant to be peaceful and reflective but takes a dark turn when Hisako’s boat is hijacked by terrorists.  

The canals play a role in the novel’s plot development and include metaphorical elements, as the canal represents the twists and turns of the protagonist's life.  

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the setting of some of these books, why not explore our featured routes? Or for more information get in touch with our helpful team today. 

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