Remember life before Pokemon Go

_HOD2908 (2)The Sun’s Fabulous Magazine Features Director, Claie Wilson recently took a Drifters holiday along the Kennet & Avon Canal, with husband James and sons Sam, 10, and Jake, seven.

THE PAD – Despite being just 66ft long, our six-berth narrowboat called ‘Ross’s Gull’ is anything but cramped, with two – yes, two – bathrooms, a fully functioning kitchen, dining area, two sleeping quarters, leccy, heating and even (whisper it) WiFi.

EXPLORE – Take the 16-mile round trip from picturesque Aldermaston Wharf near Reading to the historic market town of Newbury. Although you can get there and back in just 40 minutes in the car, on water it’s an idyllic 10 hours of cruising through countryside. With 20 locks en route and a couple of bridges thrown in, there’s plenty to keep idle hands busy – even those belonging to little iPad addicts. Come evening, we’ve earned every single calorie at dinner and the kids are so worn out they sleep like a dream!

REFUEL – Moor for your first or last evening at Woolhampton, less than two hours down the river from Aldermaston Wharf. There, head to The Rowbarge pub for a much-deserved glass of Pinot and delicious beer-battered cod, chips and mushy peas, £13.45. Plus, they have plenty of board games. One place worth stepping on dry land for is the amazing ‘Tea Shop By The Canal’ next to Newbury Marina. It serves delicious pastries, and has waterside alfresco seating. Another pit stop either way is The Swan in Thatcham. Expect traditional pub grub from £7.95 – Wiltshire ham, eggs and chips, anyone? For little ones, there’s jelly and ice cream for only £1.35. It also has a massive beer garden, so the kids can run around and – along with a weekend on the water – remember what life was like before Pokémon Go.


Celebrate National Parks Week Afloat


Taking a canal boat holiday is a great way to explore some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, including a number of our National Parks.

Pottering along at just four mph, it’s easy to unwind and take in the scenery.

To celebrate National Parks Week (24-30 July), we’ve put together our Top 3 National Park canal boat holidays:

  1. Travel through the Yorkshire Dales to Skipton – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (total journey there and back of 26 miles, 30 locks, 20 hours). This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of the Yorkshire Dales – sheep, farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England.  On a week’s break from Barnoldswick, hire-boaters can travel on to Sir Titus Salt’s Model Town of Saltaire, designated a World Heritage Status destination.
  2. Glide around the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views.  From our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with wonderful walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.  Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m.  On a short break from Goytre, boaters can travel lock-free to Llangynidr and back, stopping off at village pubs along the way, including the Lion Inn at Govilon. 
  3. Potter around the Peak District – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Peak District base, at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals near Stoke on Trent, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the Peak District to the terminus of the beautiful Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge. The route goes through the Harecastle Tunnel, joining the Macclesfield Canal at Hardings Wood and then travelling through Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple, before turning onto the Peak Forest Canal.  On a short break, boaters can travel along the Caldon Canal through the stunning Churnet Valley to Froghall and back.

Drifters Top 5 Summer Canal Boat Holidays

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Narrowboat holidays are great for families – giving the chance to set off together on a micro-adventure afloat, learning how to work the locks and speak the boating lingo, as well as spot wildlife and explore waterside attractions along the way.

It’s easy to learn how to steer a narrowboat and you don’t need a licence.  Tuition is included as part of all our holiday packages.

All our narrowboats are modern with heating, well-equipped kitchens, quality furnishings, flushing toilets, hot water, showers, TVs and DVD players, and many now have WiFi on board too.

Our short break summer holiday prices on a boat for four people start at £625, £965 for a week.

Here are our top five summer holidays afloat for 2017:

  1. Glide across the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular on the network. From our canal boat hire base at Chirk, the journey to the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for families, with four locks to go through and the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to pass over, offering incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.
  2. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal, perfect for a gentle week away. The journey starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift) and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho.  Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street and many of the City’s, Mary King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.
  3. Cruise along the River Thames to Oxford – from our narrowboat hire base on the River Thames at Eynsham near Witney, it’s a peaceful three-hour journey to the beautiful City of Oxford. Most of the locks on the Thames are manned so it’s a nice easy journey for beginners.  Once in Oxford, moor up close to the City Centre and take time to explore some of the its historic attractions, including Oxford Castle, an 11th century motte-and-bailey castle and the Bodleian Library with its stunning 17th century Schools Quadrangle.  On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday makers can continue travelling east along the Thames to Henley, passing through Abingdon and Wallingford along the way.
  4. Journey One-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Skipton, this week-long holiday is truly one of the great canal journeys, taking boaters across the backbone of England. The scenery varies from the timeless calm of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal summit to the hubbub of the Leeds City Centre waterfront, and includes the Bingley Five Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, and the opportunity to visit Sir Titus Salt’s World Heritage Status model town at Saltaire.
  5. Take the Grand Union Canal to Warwick Castle – from our boat yard at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just one day to cruise to the historic centre of Warwick. Here canal boat holiday-makers can take time to explore the magnificent Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon, said to be ‘Britain’s greatest medieval experience’.  On a week’s holiday, boaters can cruise the Warwickshire Ring, travelling 101 miles, through 94 locks in around 54 hours through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, with highlights including the pretty canal village of Braunston, the awesome flight of 21 locks at Hatton and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.


Hire a canal boat for Father’s Day


Day boat hire on the canals offers the chance to treat Dads with a fun day out on the water, nourished by a pint and a pub lunch along the way.

We now offer day boat hire at 18 of our bases.  Full tuition is included so if you are new canal boating, we’ll help you to get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

Our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here’s a list of our day boat hire centres, routes and prices for 2017:

1. Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from Drifters’ new canal boat hire base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way. Once there, moor up and take time to visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals.  There are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ****Day boat hire aboard Gayton’s new day boat ‘Daylark’ which can carry up to 12 people, starts at £130 on a weekday, £165 on weekends and bank holidays

2. Head out into open countryside on the Coventry Canal – from Drifters’ base at Coventry Basin, day boaters can travel north out of the city past the Ricoh Stadium and out into the open countryside, reaching Hawkesbury Junction in around two peaceful hours. Here The Greyhound pub offers a great place to stop for lunch or dinner if you’ve opted for evening hire.  ****’Mole Valley’ can take up to 12 passengers, weekday hire starts at £180, weekends and bank holidays it’s £210.
3. Historic pubs in the heart of the canal network – from Drifters’ base at Braunston on the North Oxford Canal in Northamptonshire, day boat hirers can enjoy lock-free boating and a choice of historic canalside pubs. The quiet village of Hillmorton is a delightful seven-mile, three-hour cruise away, where boaters can stop for lunch at the canalside Old Royal Oak, or take a short stroll into the village to the Stag & Pheasant.  Alternatively, head south along the Oxford Canal to Napton on the Hill for lunch in the village at The Crown or King’s Head Inn, or canalside at The Folly.  Again this journey is lock free and takes around two hours. ****Weekday boat hire from Braunston on ‘Water Ouzel’, which can carry up to 12 people, is £135, £170 on weekends and bank holidays.
4. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it’s a 20-minute cruise to the World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly one of the wonders of the waterways, offering stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  Day boaters can reach the pretty mountain-side town of Llangollen in two hours. ****Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £120 for up to 10 people, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
5. Catch a lift on the lowland canals in Scotland – from Falkirk at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in Scotland, day boat hirers can travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel, the World’s first rotating boat lift and along the Union Canal to Polmont, where they can moor up and enjoy a short walk to The Claremont Inn. Or continue on to the canalside Bridge 49 café bar and bistro, next to Causewayend Marina. ****Day boat hire on the ‘Jaggy Thistle’ which can carry up to eight passengers, is £220, Friday to Sunday.
6. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – Drifters’ base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, is next to the historic Anderton Boat Lift. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘the Cathedral of the canals’, looks like some giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal.  From Anderton, the canalside Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge), offering home-cooked pub food and cask ales, is an easy day trip away. ****Day boat hire from Anderton starts at £99 for up to 12 people.
7. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. ****Day hire from Goytre starts at £99.
8. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), and enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm. ****Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
9. Wend your way through Wiltshire – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to the waterside Barge Inn at Seend, or head west to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, cafes and restaurants. ****Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £99 on a boat for 10 people.
10. Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, cruise north through open farmland to the pretty village of Ansty with its pottery and Rose & Castle pub. Or head south, travelling through quiet woodland to the village of Newbold, and enjoy home cooked food at the canalside Barley Mow pub.  ****Day boat hire from Rugby starts at £180 for a boat for 12 people, £220 on weekends and bank holidays, £200 on weekdays in July and August.
11. Chug along the Staffs & Worcs Canal – from Great Haywood on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal near Stafford, cruise to the historic market town of Rugeley and back, through several locks, past Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall and the delightful Wolseley Arms at Wolseley Bridge. The journey there and back takes a total of six hours.  ****Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
12. Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Crewe, cruise north past Barbridge and Nantwich to Baddington Bridge. With no locks to negotiate and plenty of pubs en route, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat.  ****Day boat hire from Bunbury starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
13. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from Tardebigge on the Worcs & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Hopwood. The route is lock-free but there are three tunnels to pass through, including Wast Hill Tunnel. ****Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
14. Discover the beauty of Berkshire – from Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire, day-boaters can travel east to Tyle Mill Lock in just over two hours, and take a ten-minute walk to The Spring Inn in the pretty village of Sulhamstead for lunch. Up to eight people can enjoy a day out on Aldermaston’s day boat ‘Wyvern’.  ****Day hire at Aldermaston starts at £125 on a weekday, £150 weekends & bank holidays
15. Visit Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the historic Foxton Locks Inn. Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Victorian Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it.*****Day boat hire at Market Harborough starts at £150 during the week for up to 12 people, £200 at weekends and bank holidays.
16. Enjoy a Shropshire rural idyll…from Whitchurch in rural Shropshire, day boaters can head west along the beautiful Llangollen Canal, reaching Whixall Mosses National Nature Reserve in two hours. For a longer journey, continue on to Bettisfield Mosses, travelling through unspoilt countryside straddling the Welsh borders.  There are no locks, but there are four easily-operated lift bridges along the way. ****Day boat hire at Whitchurch starts at £99 per day for 10 people.
17. Perfect picnicking on the Llangollen Canal…from Blackwater Meadow on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, day boaters can head east to Whixall Moss, one of Shropshire’s truly remote wild places, and a mecca for a diversity of wildlife with plenty of lovely places to picnic. Or head West, passing a series of farms, small villages and distant hills, to the Narrowboat Inn at Whittington, with Real Ale and a delightful canalside garden. ****Day boat hire at Blackwater Meadow starts at £99 per day for 10 people. 
18. Travel through the Forest of Arden to King’s Norton Junction – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Alvechurch near Bromsgrove, it’s a peaceful five mile, lock-free journey along the beautiful Worcester & Birmingham Canal to King’s Norton Junction, where this waterway meets the Stratford Canal. Day boaters can moor up along the way to enjoy a meal at the family-friendly Hopwood House pub at Hopwood, specialising in rotisserie chicken.  The journey to King’s Norton takes around two hours and passes through sections of woodland and through the 2,726-yard long Wast Hill Tunnel, one of the longest on the canal system.****‘Away Day’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire is £110, weekends & bank holidays £140

Top 5 half term holidays afloat

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Canal boat holidays are great for families – take off together on a micro-adventure afloat, learning how to work the locks and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside attractions along the way.

It’s easy to learn how to steer a narrowboat and you don’t need a licence.  Tuition is included as part of all our holiday packages.

All our boats are modern narrowboats with heating, well-equipped kitchens, quality furnishings, flushing toilets, hot water, showers, TVs and DVD players, and many now have WiFi on board too.

Many of our boats are now discounted for the approaching May half term holiday, so take a look at our top five holidays for families for inspiration:

  1. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and some of our best night skies for star gazing.  From our base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a short break (three or four nights) boaters can cruise to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with wonderful walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn and passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle and a series of villages with canalside pubs along the way.  On a week’s break, canal boat holiday-makers can continue on to Brecon, to visit its cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture.
  2. Boat lock-free to Birmingham and back – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between Drifters’ base at Alvechurch on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, and moorings Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre, it’s a great trip for newcomers to canal boat holidays.  It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, passing through four tunnels and past Cadbury World along the way. On a week’s holiday, boaters can complete the Black Country Ring, travelling through 80 locks and passing the Black Country Living Museum and Dudley Tunnel & Limestone Mines, as well as through a series of pretty canalside villages, with country pubs and walks to enjoy along the way.
  3. Potter through the Peak District – from our Peak District canal boat hire base at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, a journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England and an easy introduction to canal boating for beginners. Starting at the National Garden Festival site, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin back is a perfect a short break.
  4. Travel across soaring aqueducts to Georgian Bath – from our canal boat hire base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a six-hour, one-lock cruise away. The route passes through Bradford upon Avon with its stunning 14th century Tithe Barn and over two soaring Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of historic waterside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliffe and the George at Bathampton.  Once there, canal boat holiday makers can moor up close to Sydney Gardens and use their canal boat as a base to enjoy all that the World Heritage Status City of Bath has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum, shops and restaurants.
  5. Take a rural cruise to Braunston & back – from our boatyard at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal near Northampton, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 17-mile cruise away, passing through the quiet Northamptonshire countryside with 13 locks and a series of villages with family-friendly pubs along the way, including Bugbrooke and Weedon. On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can continue on to Warwick to enjoy a visit to the town’s incredible Castle, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience.  This journey travels 36 miles and passes through 38 locks.


Over 3,800 people got afloat at our National Open Day

Open Day 2017 Sowerby Bridge low resHere at Drifters we are delighted to announce that over 3,800 people enjoyed a free canal boat trip at one of our open day events held on Sunday 23 April 2017.

The event, which was supported by the Canal & River Trust, offered narrowboat holiday taster sessions at 19 of our canal boat hire bases across England and Wales. 

Tim Parker, Chairman of Drifters Waterway Holidays, says:

“Once again, we are absolutely delighted with the response to our National Open Day, with close to 5,000 people visiting our 19 events across England and Wales, and over 3,800 of those enjoying a free mini boat trip.  

“The lovely spring weather helped draw people to the water, plus the profile of canals continues to be boosted with TV programmes like ‘Celebrity Carry on Barging’ and ‘Great Canal Journeys’.

“It’s absolutely vital that we attract newcomers to the canals with taster events like these, so that more people discover the joys of a canal boat holiday and the beauty of our inland waterways.  We hope the thousands of people who visited our open day events come back to the canals again soon. 

“Our open days with free boat trips are only once a year, but we are always happy to see people at our boatyards to chat about boats, routes and holidays.

“And if you attended one of our events, thank you for coming along and please do post a photo of your trip on our Facebook page for the chance to win a day afloat” 

We will soon be announcing the date of next year’s National Open Day.  Watch out for details here on our website.

The first thing you notice is the quiet


Trevor Davies recently reviewed his Drifters canal boat holiday in the Daily Mirror (8 April 2017), setting off from our canal boat hire base Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

I always fancied walking the Pennine Way but when I looked into it, I realised that was perhaps a bit ambitious.

And then I found out you could cruise along it in a barge.

The Leeds & Liverpool canal meanders, climbs and tunnels 127 miles through the backbone of England.

Timeless scenery

Its journey reveals both timeless scenery and the era of industrial revolution that forged its place on the landscape in brick and iron.

My family and I joined Shire Cruises to spend a weekend on a narrowboat, discovering all the canal has to offer – its pleasant views, villages, pubs and, as we soon found out, a whole new way of life.

The first thing you notice as you load your stuff on the 56ft craft is the quiet – ducks and swans gliding along the canal, diverting their course for the occasional boat softly chugging along at 4mph.

Welcome peace

It was a welcome peace – away from city life and its traffic – which was shattered only by us. Well me, actually.

Navigating our way from Barnoldswick to Gargrave, four miles from Skipton, North Yorks, was not easy, at first. After a thorough guide to the boat and its operations, we were accompanied by Matt, after casting off and moving into forward gear.

He explained: “There are no brakes. You have to put it into reverse to slow down to a halt. And the barge won’t steer unless it is in forward.”

“Oh,” I thought.

“It’s a good job the owner wasn’t in,” he said after my first collision with another barge, stationary at its mooring. “He wouldn’t have been happy about that, probably would have shouted and called you all sorts,” he added.

“Still, no damage done?” I said, attempting a gruff Yorkshire attitude.

After taking us through the first three locks, telling us how to wind open the sluices of the giant gates before pushing them to the side and motoring in, we were on our own

The panic on our faces before the next likely collision was noticed by the seasoned hand on the tiller of the barge coming towards us. “Oh no, it’s another boat,” he laughed, mocking us as we narrowly avoided him.

L-plates on the bow

We might as well have had L-plates on the bow.

But it was a balmy Friday evening in the Yorkshire Dales and soon we began to relax.

Our first destination was East Marton, five miles away – although it seemed a lot further to novice navigators like us.

We were told we could moor virtually anywhere on the towpath for the night, by banging in two giant steel stakes and tying up.

The Cross Keys pub

But East Marton, close to where the Pennine Way joins the canal, had all the amenities we needed – a pub called the Cross Keys, which had a highly recommended restaurant.

To minimise the number of locks, engineers built the canal along contours of the hills to stay at the same level. The first three locks had lowered us some 135 feet, but we were still cruising along at 459ft above sea level.

The twists and turns of the waterway give you an ever-changing view over a lot of rolling green hills, home to sheep and cows. And on the horizon stand the taller, brooding peaks of the dales.

A unique perspective

It’s a unique perspective, and you start to daydream about living the good life on a canal boat.

Congratulating ourselves on just one slight scrape going round a hairpin bend, the famous double bridge of the Pennine Way came into view and we had reached our destination.

East Marton was a safe place to moor, but we still locked up before going to the pub. The Cross Keys is a good 50ft above the canal and from the garden we enjoyed a local pint as we admired our nifty bit of parking achieved with ropes, a pole, forward and reverse gears, and virtually no shouting.

A boat like ours, which sleeps six, with kitchen, good shower and two toilets, will cost between £30,000 and £50,000 to buy. There’s everything you need, including microwave, TV and central heating, all running off the mains charged by the barge’s diesel engine, which needs to be on for a few hours a day to keep all systems up and running. All you need is to top up with water and fuel along the route.

A seductive lifestyle

It’s a seductive alternative lifestyle for some. At the pub we met two couples coming up for retirement who were using the holiday to see if they wanted to invest in a boat and fully explore the 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales.

It’s free to moor in places, where you can stay for up to two weeks, so the costs are low. Of 33,000 boats on our waterways, 26% are now primary residences. That’s up 16% in 10 years, according to the Canal and River Trust, the charity that maintains the routes. But we were warned, there are plenty of places to avoid mooring up overnight.

One couple, who had been holidaying on the canals for 28 years, told us: “Don’t stay in Leeds.”

But we were only here for the weekend and would make Gargrave after tackling six locks the next day.

The biggest Yorkshire puddings

The food in the Cross Keys was well worth the trip and we made a booking for Sunday lunch for what we were told are the biggest Yorkshire puddings in the county.

After a tiring first day we slept soundly on the barge – and no need for the central heating. We didn’t even hear the rain.

The next morning we cast off for Gargrave, pursued by swans, trying to grab some of our breakfast on the patio at the stern.

It was a bit of a slog going down he six locks at Newton Bank, but we were assisted by an energetic keeper, giving us instructions and warning us about boats coming the other way.

Gargrave was a welcome sight, sandwiched between the canal and the River Aire. We moored up for the night and headed off into the village for an excellent meal at the Bollywood Cottage restaurant.

Beautiful countryside

Over dinner, I asked my daughters, aged 21 and 23, about the trip. I wasn’t sure it would be their thing, imagining it might be a bit too quiet. But they assured me they loved the serene, slow pace through the beautiful countryside.

And they were both amazed that we were getting a superb 4G phone signal. By the time we headed back we felt like professionals and everyone was at home with their hand on the tiller.

A peaceful escape afloat

Aberdeen low resSteve Newman recently wrote about his narrowboat holiday, departing from our Falkirk canal boat hire base on the Scottish Lowland canals, in Horse & Countryside Magazine…

I’ve often used the expression ‘I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole’, so when the day came that one was thrust into my hands and I was told to use it and ‘be quick about it’, my initial over-riding feeling was bemusement.

Canal boat holidays had always had a certain appeal for me and my wife, and after watching a few episodes of Timothy West and Prunella Scales pottering about in their series Great Canal Journeys, we decided it looked easy enough.

Hiring a narrowboat

So, with many a light-hearted boating quip, we ‘plunged’ into it by hiring a narrow boat for long weekend from Drifters’ member ABC Boat Hire who have boats and routes all over the country.

Arriving at the marina, we were presented with our boat and realised that two and half tons of wood and metal totalling sixty feet in length may not be as easy to control as we’d imagined. Driving in London at rush hour suddenly seemed very easy.

After a panic when we couldn’t find any saucepans (we later found them stored in the oven), we started loading essential supplies. A word of advice here – if you’re taking wine on board, do use boxes, they’re easier to store and they bounce, which bottles don’t.

You get the choice before you go of how you want your narrowboat laid out bedroom-wise, a double bed and/or singles. These boats can take up to eight people in theory, but it could be a bit of a squash – we found the accommodation ideal for four people with four single beds in two bedrooms.

Introductory talk

So, after a good introductory talk from the staff at the marina where we learned how to fill up water, check for weed around the propeller, how to operate the cooker, toilets, and showers and pump out the bilge each morning, we settled down in the cabin.

As well as an onboard ‘in-flight guide/ handbook’ which tells you everything you could want to know about the boat and your trip, you are also sent a canal cruising guide in advance of your trip which explains all about the aqueducts, lock gates and tunnels on the canal. We were given a Skippers’ Guide as well, which included a canal map which we found incredibly helpful.

After few days afloat I became an expert at using my bargepole, whether it was to ward us off canal banks or lock gates or even, as on one memorable occasion, attempting a bit of impromptu pole vaulting! Still you do get a certain feeling of superiority when members of the public are watching you thinking you’re an old hand at this game.

Enjoying our holiday

I have to say I really enjoyed this holiday. Once you figure out that if you want to go in one direction you need to push the tiller the opposite way, you get quite confident.

However, it doesn’t pay to get too complacent, as we often managed to scrape bridge piers and walls. We were actually quite worried when we saw all the scuff marks and dents on the hull, but we noticed every other boat had them too so we didn’t feel too bad!

Chugging sedately along

The one thing I found so unforgettable was how peaceful it all was. Sedately chugging along at two miles an hour, it was easy to talk to people walking on the towpath or in other boats as we passed by.

When we got better at mooring up at night and felt safe, a pleasant conversation over a glass of wine as the sun went down was the perfect end to the day.

Cooking onboard

All four of us were surprised at how easily we produced a curry night from what appeared at first to be a small kitchen, but we soon realised it was more than adequate and how easily things were stored or converted to suit what we wanted to do.

Apparently even London and Birmingham are wonderful to cruise through as are many of our other cities and towns. The stunning views we got as we passed over aqueducts and the cold eeriness of the tunnels made each day so different.

Loving the wildlife

My wife, Caroline, particularly loved the flowers and the wildlife. In places the canal banks were inaccessible to humans and remained untouched so they were alive with colour, covered with orchids, flag irises, marsh marigolds and many more plants that would make a botanist tremble with excitement.

Swans and kingfishers came to say hello and many a fish jumped out of the water nearby, either trying to catch a fly or escape something lurking below. As the branches curved down to kiss the water the reflections made some lovely sights along the way.

We learned so much on our first time on board, and I’d love to take another trip. Just be careful, though, it’s very addictive I even came to be very possessive about my barge pole.

Before you go
• Visit the Inland Waterways site, which gives you so much information which we found really useful,
• Pack wet weather clothes. Most boats will provide waterproofs for two but it’s better to be dry than wet.
• Do invest in some deck shoes or sailing footwear so you have plenty of grip on the deck.
• Take some board games – you could well pass through areas where there is no mobile or WiFi signal. Most boats have a TV/DVD player, but personally we enjoyed being away from those aspects of modern life and found a pub near most places we moored up for the night!
• If you’re on a narrow boat holiday with friends, chose them very carefully. Being cooped up in such a small space can be great but it can also get a bit fraught!

Top 7 Easter Canal Boat Breaks

©CRT_1150 -DSC_4058Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together – learning how to work the locks and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside attractions along the way.


Here are our top six destinations for Easter 2017:

  1. Visit the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World – Perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to find handmade Easter eggs in the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World. With more canals than Venice, boaters can travel right into the heart of the City where over-night moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace with plenty for families to see and do, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre or ‘Billy Elliot’ at the Hippodrome.
  2. Join the Easter Boat Gathering at the National Waterways Museum – over the Easter Weekend, the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire celebrates the start of the Summer boating season with a large boat gathering and Sea Shanty Festival. From Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it’s a 10-hour journey to Ellesmere Port (travelling 21 miles through 12 locks), where canal boat holiday-makers can moor up and join the celebrations.
  3. Take in a show at the Egg theatre in Bath – on a short break from our base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal, reaching Bath Top Lock in just six hours. From there, it’s a short walk to Georgian Bath’s City Centre attractions, including the Roman Baths and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre.
  4. Get up to some Monkey Business at the National Museum of Scotland – from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a mid-week (four night) or week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back. The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which lifts boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above.  Once in Edinburgh, narrowboat holiday-makers can moor up in Edinburgh Quay to enjoy the City’s attractions, including the National Museum of Scotland’s magnificent ‘Monkey Business’ exhibition (on until 23 April 2017), exploring the world of primates, from the tiny mouse lemur to the mighty gorilla.
  5. Wend your way to Warwick Castle – said to be Britain’s greatest Medieval experience, Warwick Castle is a leisurely day’s cruise from our Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire. Canal boat holiday-makers can moor up in the centre of Warwick to explore the Castle and other historic attractions in this charming county town, including the striking 14th and 15th century timber-framed buildings of Lord Leycester Hospital and the beautiful spring flowers at the Victorian Hill Close Gardens.
  6. Enjoy an Easter Egg Hunt at the Black Country Living Museum – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Alvechurch base, on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s a seven-hour (three-lock) journey to Birmingham’s Black Country Living Museum, where visitors can take part in a ‘m-egg-a hunt’ across the Museum’s 26-acre site, exploring shops and houses to solve clues. Other special activities for Easter include traditional egg rolling competitions, eggy craft activities, freshly baked hot cross buns from the bakery and traditional street games, including hopscotch, skipping and hoop rolling.
  7. Explore ‘Everything comes from the Egg’ – Stephen Turner’s touring Exbury Egg exhibition is on display at Stanton Low Park on the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes, 3 April to 14 May 2017. Stephen – AKA ‘the man who lives in an egg’ – works in a range of media, including video, performance, sculpture, drawing and painting.  Canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Milton Keynes on a week’s holiday setting out from our narrowboat hire bases at Gayton or Braunston.


Drifters’ Top 5 Literary Escapes Afloat

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VisitEngland has declared 2017 as the “Year of Literary Heroes” – recognising the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, 20 years since the first Harry Potter book, and other publishing phenomena that have helped put England on the map.

To celebrate, we’ve put together our Top 5 Literary escapes afloat:

  1. Explore Ted Hughes’ Calderdale by canal – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel along the Rochdale Canal to Todmorden and back, exploring the beautiful Calder Valley and passing through Mytholmroyd, where Ted Hughes played as a child, and Hebden Bridge, where Sylvia Path is buried. The journey there and back travels 20 miles of waterway, passing through 34 locks, and takes around 16 hours.
  2. Find out about Jane Austen in Georgian Bath – on a short break from our canal boat hire base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, it’s a delightful six-hour journey along the picturesque Kennet & Avon Canal to Bath Top Lock and back. Here canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up and walk 15 minutes to Bath City centre, where they can visit the Jane Austen Centre to find out about the writer and the City that inspired ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’, and enjoy a truly elegant afternoon tea at the Regency Tea Rooms.
  3. Mark the 150th anniversary of Arnold Bennett’s birth with cruise through the Potteries – from our base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, it takes around 10 hours, travelling through 18 locks to reach Stoke-on-Trent, where events and exhibitions are being staged throughout the year to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Enoch Arnold Bennett. A prolific writer with close ties to the Potteries, Bennett’s novels include ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, which told the social and industrial history of the local people.  On a week’s holiday, boaters can continue on from Stoke to complete the Four Counties Ring, which passes through Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands, travelling a further 90 miles, through 76 more locks, and cruising for another 45 hours.
  4. Celebrate 80 years of The Hobbit with a journey through Tolkien country – Published in 1937 to wide critical acclaim, the popularity of JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ endures. Tolkien spent much of his childhood exploring the village of Sarehole (now Hall Green), Moseley Bog, the Malvern Hills, and nearby Bromsgrove, Alcester and Alvechurch.  From Drifters’ base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Alvechurch, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through some of the landscapes that inspired Tolkien’s masterpiece.  On a short break, travel along beautiful tree-lined waters to the village of Lapworth and back, perfect for canal boat holiday beginners.  On a week’s holiday, more experienced boaters can tackle the Stourport Ring, travelling 74 miles through 118 locks in around 45 hours.  To celebrate 80 years since the book’s publication, Drifters will gift a copy of The Hobbit to customers quoting “Tolkien” when booking a boat departing from Alvechurch in 2017.  Please note this offer won’t be applied retrospectively.
  5. Unearth infamous pirate lairs in Bristol – from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Hilperton near Trowbridge, Bristol’s Floating Harbour is a two-day cruise away, travelling 30 miles along the Kennet & Avon Canal and the Bristol Avon, passing through Bradford on Avon and the City of Bath. Once there, canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up and take time to discover Bristol’s exciting maritime history with a guided Pirate Walk, encountering Long John Silver’s treasure chest in the smuggler’s cave, Treasure Ireland’s Spy Glass Inn and Pirate Captain Blackbeard’s lair.