Why canal boats can be fun: Ellesmere Port Boat Museum with kids

“If you want to get soaked, go to the boat museum.”

That became our eldest’s motto during trips there in 2014. Not because we allowed them to fall into the canal, but because we chose rainy days for every visit. On one particularly torrential trip one of the shop assistants came out to the car with us, holding a big ‘Canal & River Trust’ umbrella over our heads.

But today the sun shone, and we were all looking forward to a rain-free day at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. To set the scene, they’ve put together an introductory video…

It’s safe to say that none of us is passionate about canals – the history, the construction, the boats, we can take them or leave them. But there are lots of things to like about the museum. Here are the top five things that we, and our two small kids, enjoyed today:

Porters Row Cottages

Easy to miss, these former canal workers’ homes have been refurbished in period style (1850, 1900s, 1930s, 1940s) and are tucked away behind the main museum. The different styles, and strange items like mangles and washtubs, were enough to hold the attention of our daughter (age 5) for about three minutes.

The real draw of the Porter’s Row Cottages is out through the back gates. Go out through the first couple of houses and you’ll find an assortment of old-fashioned toys in the yard: quoits, skittles, spinning tops, wooden horses, and tin cans to knock down with bean bags (a clear winner today).

At the rear of another of the cottages is a veg garden. It had been a communal garden for the original residents and is now looked after by volunteers at the museum.

Ellesmere Port Boat Museum Garden

Power Hall

The Power Hall is a room full of engines. If you know about engines then the technical stuff might interest you. All I know is this: some of the engines are small, and some are big. More importantly some are whirring around constantly, and some go when you press the button.

Children don’t need to debate the merits of diesel, or know the fundamentals of internal combustion. They know that if you press the button then the big, noisy, whirry engine will start to go, and it will be great fun. My kids love the Power Hall, solely because of the buttons.

Play Area

This is the main reason my kids like the museum. There is a big narrowboat made of soft play pieces, with barrels and boxes of goods to load aboard. They love taking it all apart and putting it back together, and diving off it head first. This bit is obviously in high demand on busy days.

Next to this there’s a room for younger kids, which is usually quieter. There is a drawing table, foam building blocks, standard stuff really. The best bits are a tunnel and a big box of squishy balls.


There are, obviously, loads of boats. The ones I’m referring to are those than you can get inside.

There’s one floating on the water that you can board, to have a look around the tiny sleeping and cooking area, and see the brightly painted panels. There’s another inside the museum which you can walk the full length of.

They even do boat trips. We haven’t been on one, but we saw one departing today and it appeared to be fairly popular.

Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

The Views

I’m sure my kids weren’t bothered, but the boat museum has a lot of fine views. Even in the car park you get an expansive vista of the River Mersey. Within the museum grounds you can see out across the Shropshire Union Canal and Manchester Ship Canal.

On a mild February day like today, with the bright sun shimmering across the canals and still a touch of wintery freshness in the air, watching the colourful boats bobbing in the water… It’s almost enough to make you see the appeal of it all.

Adam —

Anything we missed? Anywhere you’d like us to review? Let us know in the comments below.

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