We’ve worked with The Canal & River Trust (CRT) to produce a new training film to show new canal boat holiday-makers the ropes.
It’s a companion to the popular Boaters’ Handbook and contains lots of ‘getting started’ tips for narrowboat hirers and new boat owners, as well as important reminders to old hands about how to boat safely.
Sally Ash, head of boating at CRT, says: “We want new boaters to have a safe and enjoyable experience of the waterways. The friendly spirit that pervades the waterways means there is a lot of help available on the spot but it’s obviously a good idea for new boaters to build up their knowledge and confidence in other ways too. The film covers the fundamentals of boat handling, lock operation and general safety afloat.”
Customers booking with Drifters will be offered a free DVD. The 30-minute film is also available free to stream online via the CRT website and the free DVD can be ordered via the CRT on-line shop or by telephone 0303 040 4040.
1. Celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday…in 2014 it will be 450 years since the birth of the Bard and 50 years since the reopening of the Stratford Canal. It’s a picturesque six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon along the Stratford Canal from our base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley in Arden. Boaters can moor up in Stratford canal basin, a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums. 2014 canal boat hire prices from Wootton Wawen start at £465 for a short break (three or four nights) on a four berth boat, weekly hire from £660.
2. Travel along Scotland’s lowland canals…new for 2014, we will be offering Alvechurch Sanderling for hire from our Falkirk base – a 60ft wide beam boat with spacious accommodation for up to eight people. Holiday-makers can travel to through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first and only rotating boat lift) and on to the Union Canal, reaching Edinburgh in a day and a half. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions. 2014 Alvechurch Sanderling hire prices start at £825 for a short break, £1255 for a week.
3. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the Llangollen Canal’s incredible World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth. From our base at Trevor, close to the Aqueduct, holiday-makers can travel to the pretty towns of Llangollen and Ellesmere, taking in the Ellesmere Lakes (AKA the Shropshire Lake District) and Chirk, with its 900-year old Castle. 2014 hire prices from Trevor start at £465 for a short break on a boat for four, weekly hire from £660.
4. Celebrate the Cheshire Ring…After a series of canal restorations, the Cheshire Ring reopened 40 years ago, on 1 April 1974. Narrowboat holiday-makers can celebrate the anniversary by travelling round the canal ring from our base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal. This popular circuit includes sections of six canals, passing through Manchester City Centre and rural Cheshire, with stunning views of the Peak District and Cheshire Plain. It takes a week to complete, tackling 92 locks, travelling 97 miles in around 55 hours. Weekly hire on a boat for four from Anderton starts at £695.
5. Visit the Hepworth Museum in Wakefield…Travelling gently along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation from our base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, it takes 12 hours to reach Wakefield, with moorings right outside The Hepworth Wakefield. This inspiring new gallery explores the work of major contemporary artists in one of the UK’s largest purpose-built galleries outside London. 2014 hire prices from Sowerby Bridge start at £435 for a short break (three or four nights) on boat for four, weekly hire from £670.
6. Mark the bicentenary of Foxton Locks…2014 will see the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line. The Foxton flight consists of two ‘staircases’ of five locks with a pound (or layby) in the middle. The water in the locks is controlled by paddles painted red or white. Red paddles fill the locks, white paddles empty them. Once boaters have started the flight they must continue until they have finished. The lock keeper warns boaters to look carefully at the paddle colours and operate “red before white, you’ll be alright, white before red, you’ll wish you were dead!” Foxton, with its stunning views of the Leceistershire countryside, is five hours from our base at North Kilworth. In 2014, short breaks (three or four nights) on boats for four from North Kilworth start at £465, weekly hire from £660.
7. Travel to beautiful Bath…The World Heritage City of Bath is just six hours by canal boat from our base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon. Boaters can enjoy views of Bath’s fabulous Georgian architecture and moor up in the city centre, close the Pulteney Bridge to visit the City’s many attractions, including the Roman Baths. 2014 hire prices from Bradford on Avon start at £428 for a short break (three or four nights) on boats for four, weekly hire from £659.
8. Glide through the Brecon Beacons…the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of canal surrounded by quiet countryside to explore, with incredible mountain views. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, boaters can journey through the Brecon Beacons National Park from Brecon to Cwmbran, visiting the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle and picturesque Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls. 2014 short breaks on four berth boats from Goytre start at £429, weekly hire from £649.
9. Navigate Europe’s only short break canal circuit…The Droitwich Ring, which takes 16 hours to cruise, covering 21 miles and 33 locks, is the only ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break. Starting from our base at Worcester, boaters can visit the historic Spa town of Droitwich and enjoy stunning views of the Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn. 2014 short breaks on four berth boats from Worcester start from £389, weekly hire from £599.
10. Visit London afloat…from our West London base, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the heart of London along the Grand Union and Regent’s canals, to the Docklands at Limehouse Basin. The journey passes through picturesque Little Venice, Regent’s Park, London Zoo, Camden Lock, Kings Cross and Victoria Park. There are plenty of safe places to moor with easy access to London’s top attractions, theatres, restaurants and shops. 2014 short break prices from London start at £546 for a five-berth boat, weekly hire from £840.
A number of our canal boat hire bases offer winter canal boat holidays, giving boaters the chance to enjoy cosy evenings afloat, visit waterside pubs with roaring log fires, and wake-up to frosty towpaths and crisp clean air.
Whether it’s a snug boat for two or jolly boat for 10, celebrating Christmas or New Year afloat offers a great getaway.
It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base to enjoy new year celebrations in waterside destinations like Bath, Birmingham and Banbury.
All boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Some also have multi-fuel stoves. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.
Here’s a list of our bases offering winter cruising, with prices and routes for Christmas narrowboat holidays:
Travel to Bath along the Kennet & Avon Canal…our base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon offers the chance to cruise to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back. Cosy country pubs to enjoy along the way include the George Inn at Bathampton, once a 12th-century monastery, and the Cross Guns at Avoncliffe, with panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds. Christmas and New Year prices from Bradford on Avon start at £480 for short break (three or four nights) and £675 for a week on a boat for four.
Take a lock free journey to Birmingham…Birmingham is just a five-hour cruise away from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal – with no locks to negotiate. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to the bars, restaurants, shops and museums at Brindley Place. Christmas and New Year prices from Tardebigge start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights), and £790 for a week on a boat for four.
Navigate ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the awesome 300-metre long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carries the Llangollen Canal 40 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee. From our base at Trevor, right next to the aqueduct, the village of Llangollen is a two-hour cruise to the west and Ellesmere is a seven-hour journey to the east, passing through the beautiful Vale of Llangollen. Christmas and New Year prices from Trevor start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights), and £790 for a week on a boat for four.
Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…On a week’s cruise from our base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, boaters can head up the Trent & Mersey Canal to the Caldon Canal, and travel through the beautiful Churnet Valley. On a short break, canal boat holiday-makers can head to the town of Fazeley, via the pretty canal village of Fradley. Christmas and New Year prices from Great Haywood start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights), and £790 for a week on a boat for four.
Chug through rural Warwickshire…On a short break from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head south along the beautiful Oxford Canal to Braunston, winding through classic scenery, much of which hasn’t changed for centuries. On a week’s holiday, narrowboat holiday-makers can continue south to Banbury via Napton and Fenny Compton. Christmas and New Year prices from Stretton start at £505 for a short break (three or four nights) and £755 for a week on a boat for four.
As the deck scrubber I should never have been left in charge of our canal boat.
When I steered straight into a sandbank it was only Captain Alison’s skills that stopped us being marooned there with the rear of the boat sticking out overnight.
Bearing in mind that sandbanks were one of the things we were warned about on our lesson before setting off from the Anglo Welsh narrowboat holiday base at Bunbury, it wasn’t the greatest start.
But the rest of our time on our four-berth 58ft narrow boat, exploring Cheshire’s 200 miles of waterways was more plain sailing. I just had to remember that you steer right to go left and steer left to go right. And to stop the canal boat you have to put it into reverse.
Most canals and many rivers have a speed limit of 4mph so I couldn’t do that much damage. Could I? The narrowboats don’t have speedometers but why hurry on a holiday like this – even if your boat is called Rushton?
For safety reasons sailing is not allowed after dark but because of my steering we didn’t make it to one of the many canalside pubs in time for dinner. Thankfully we’d bought food at the Bunbury HQ so we didn’t go hungry.
The boat is also equipped with a TV and DVD so we weren’t sitting in the dark in moody silence either. We thought Alison’s daughter Gemma had broken the TV as it wouldn’t work after she’d used it. Eventually we figured out you have to keep the engine on to watch it.
We had some time to make up so at first light we got going again towards Chester. There are quite a few locks to negotiate but they are easy to work out. If you can’t manage, most narrowboaters are friendly and will help. As I was banned from steering it was down to me and Captain Alison’s husband Scott to open the lock gates to get to Chester.
You need to be patient when the sluices open to let water in. When the pressure is equal on both sides of the gate you can open them with ease. But when the narrowboat is in the lock don’t get the front or the back on the sill or you can end up with a tilted flooded boat. Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs – and if you follow the simple instructions you can avoid disaster.
As you pootle along the Shropshire Union Canal there’s not much to do but relax and admire the scenery – including lovely Beeston Castle.
This isn’t a holiday for you if you need to be on the go all the time – although there’s nothing stopping you walking beside the boat if you’re feeling energetic.
On reaching Chester on the third day after a great night’s sleep on the boat we saw some of the historic city from the water. You can go under Chester’s Bridge of Sighs. Condemned prisoners once crossed bridge from the jail to receive their last rites at a chapel.
After this you reach the Northgate Steps, a series of locks that take you down to Tower Wharf where we moored. Alison did a perfect 51-point turn to get us in the right direction for the next day.
As a treat for Gemma we took a bus to Chester Zoo, where you can see giraffes, elephants fruit bats and butterflies. I loved the chimpanzees. The attraction has one of the largest and most successful zoo groups of chimps.
In the evening after a quick drink in the Telford Warehouse next to the Tower Wharf we went for a meal in Upstairs at the Grill – a steakhouse with enough choice for the fussy vegetarian of the group (me).
The next day we made our return journey to the Bunbury base and took our time to explore more of the scenery. We watched deer lock horns on the hills near the canal – something we had never seen.
On the final day we were sad to say goodbye to our trusty boat. It really is another way of life and makes a very pleasant change from rushing everywhere on roads.
Gemma said: “We took the train to Chester then we went to Bunbury to get our boat. When we first got there I didn’t think I was going to like it but it was one of the best holidays I’ve had.
“To start off with I wasn’t really enjoying the boat but after a few hours I started to love it. It doesn’t travel fast so we got in to the city centre of Chester on our third day.
“I would love to go on another long boat trip. It’s so much fun.”
Some of our bases offer winter cruising and the opportunity to visit a waterside fireworks display afloat.
All our boats have central heating and some also have multi-fuel stoves. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.
Prices start at £385 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, weekly breaks from £575.
Here’s a guide to our top five waterside bonfire night celebrations:
Bath Rotary Club Fireworks Display, 2 November 2013…from Drifters’ base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon, central Bath is seven hours away. The Rotary Clubs annual fireworks display takes place at the Bath Recreation Ground, alongside the River Avon. Gates open at 6pm, fireworks begin at 7.30pm.
The Ultimate Fireworks Spectacular at Alton Towers, 8-10 November 2013…from Drifters’ base at Great Haywood on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal in Staffordshire, boaters can reach Froghall on the Caldon Canal in 22 hours. From there, Alton Towers theme park and its spectacular end of season fireworks show, is only a short bus ride away.
Ellesmere Bonfire Night, 5 November 2013…from Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal, Ellesmere and its beautiful series of lakes is just seven hours away.
Bonfire Night at the Black Country Museum, 5 November 2013…from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes eight hours to reach the Black Country Museum at Dudley. For the evening, the Museum’s canalside village will be lit up with atmospheric candle and gas-lights, there will be fire jugglers, musical entertainers and a Guy Fawkes Dramatic Performance. But no fireworks! The event starts at 6.30pm.
Warwick Town Bonfire & Fireworks, 2 November 2013…from Drifters’ base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, it takes 16 hours to reach the historic town of Warwick. The town’s annual bonfire event takes place at the Racecourse. Gates open at 5pm, display starts at 6.30pm.
Jayne Dawson wrote about her canal boat holiday with Shire Cruisers, part of the Drifters group. Her article was published in The Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 August 2013.
Sometimes you don’t have to go far to have an adventure. Thrilling times can be available to you practically on your doorstep, you just have to know where to look. I found such an adventure a mere 20 minutes or so from home.
In terms of distance I travelled a few, short, convenient miles – but in terms of experience I might as well have been in a different world.
The trip involved a narrowboat, the Rochdale Canal, and a female crew of five.
Narrowboats have an old-fashioned charm that attracts many. They are quaint, compact, portable, and slow. When you are driving a narrowboat, people walking on the towpath will overtake you. Two miles an hour is an acceptable speed, three miles an hour is really rather fast.
So a narrowboat holiday forces you to slow down, to experience the world differently. And those people walking on the towpath, they will chat to you, as will other boaters. The world of canals and narrowboats is a fun, sociable one. You are not just boarding a boat, you are entering a community.
Our entry into that community began at Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax, where we took charge of our boat, courtesy of Shire Cruisers.We arrived feeling, to be frank, a little nervous. There had been much discussion about our trip and much gung-ho talk, but come the day we were beginning to wonder just what we had taken on.
We need not have worried. Susan Stevens, who runs Shire Cruisers, took charge and calmly saw us through the formalities. All the crews taking boats out that day assembled in reception for a general talk on boats, canals and safety.
Another boat had been hired by seven men celebrating a 40th birthday, another by a couple and their two young children, and yet another by a young couple.
We were all raring to go, in a slightly worried sort of a way. After our talk we were left in the hands of Colin, who showed us round the boat. Ours was 52 feet long and was a miracle of clever design. There were four separate beds plus another that could be turned into a double, a kitchen equipped with cooker, microwave and all the kitchen equipment you could need, two toilets and a shower.
Next came the technical bit, with information on checking oil and water levels, filling up the water tank and switching gas tanks. Don’t worry, it’s all easy.
Then we were on to sailing – and locks. Ah yes. Locks. Some areas of the country don’t have them, but how boring that must be. Locks add spice to a canal trip, and they give you a great workout too. Locks enable a canal to travel through land that is not flat, basically, so the steeper the incline the more locks there will be.
Our journey was to be from Sowerby Bridge to Hebden Bridge, involving nine locks. By car this distance can be swallowed in minutes, by train it passes in a flash. It can be walked faster than a narrowboat can sail it, but that is not the point.
A narrowboat journey may not cover many miles, but it is epic, believe me. Our canal boat hire instructor Colin took us though the first three locks, including a manned lock that is twenty feet deep, and then left us to our own devices, so we moored for the night, ate a good meal and saved our strength.
The next day was impossibly, incredibly hot and sunny. The canal lay ahead of us glinting in the sun, the trees dipped vibrant leaves to the water, ducks and geese swam around us. Wind in the Willows came to mind. It did for a while, anyway.
Then we discovered why all-female crew is a novelty on a narrowboat trip: it is because there is manual labour to be done. Since my sister was at the tiller, it was my job, along with my daughter and niece, to work those locks.
By the time we had opened way to Hebden Bridge, we had a sense of real achievement. Yes, it was hard work, and yes, I had had to take a post-lock lie down after each lock towards the end, but it had also been a big, fun adventure. And journey’s end was the colourful, lively town of Hebden Bridge.
Hebden Bridge, once an old mill town, has become a magnet for those who want a more relaxed, alternative way of life, making it a fun destination. We headed for a central cafe to sit at an outside table, catch our breath and enjoy the sights.
Later, we ate a meal at a restaurant only yards from our moored boat and looked back on our day. After a night’s sleep, it was time to turn the boat, fill up the water tank, and head back down the canal.
We expected Sunday to be a breeze, we were a well-oiled team, we had the measure of those locks and nothing could go wrong…famous last words.
Our boat became grounded, a victim of the low water level after several weeks of dry weather and, in an effort to push it from the side, I ended up in the canal. It was only waist deep and only my dignity was hurt, but I had to get out pretty smartish to avoid any possible contact with the boat.
Falling in the canal isn’t to be recommended, but I was entirely unharmed and provided much hilarity for family and passers-by. We returned to Sowerby Bridge on Monday hardenerd adventurers, a slick, top team of canalboat cruisers-well almost.
All we know for certain is that we had had the time of our lives.
Winter cruising on Britain’s beautiful canal network offers the chance to enjoy the quiet calm of the countryside, cosy evenings afloat, waterside pubs with roaring log fires, frosty towpaths and crisp clean air.
All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Some also have multi-fuel stoves. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.
Prices start at £385 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, weekly breaks from £575.
Here’s a list of our canal boat hire bases offering winter narrowboat holidays:
Chug through rural Warwickshire…a week’s break from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby could take you to historic Warwick and back along the Grand Union Canal, via Braunston and Napton Junctions, with plenty of time to visit Medieval Warwick Castle. The journey takes a total of 30 hours cruising, with 26 locks along the way. On a short break, head south along the beautiful Oxford Canal to Braunston, winding through classic scenery, much of which hasn’t changed for centuries.
Travel to Bath along the Kennet & Avon Canal…our base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, offers the chance to cruise to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back. Cosy country pubs to enjoy along the way include the George Inn at Bathampton, once a 12th-century monastery, and the Cross Guns at Avoncliffe, with panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds.
Take a lock-free journey to Birmingham…boaters can reach central Birmingham in just a five hours from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal – with no locks to negotiate. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to the bars, restaurants, shops and museums at Brindley Place and the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres.
Navigate ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the awesome 300-metre long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carries the Llangollen Canal 40 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee. From our base at Trevor, right next to the aqueduct, a short break to Ellesmere and back offers the chance to navigate the aqueduct and to explore the beautiful Vale of Llangollen.
Visit the Medieval City of Chester…from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal, the ancient City of Chester is just a seven-hour journey through the Cheshire countryside. Medieval Chester boasts Roman tours, a vibrant market hall, an award-winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls and restaurants. Or head south from Bunbury to the historic market town of Middlewich in Cheshire, on the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Shropshire Union Canals.
Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…Our base at Great Haywood, at the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals in Staffordshire, offers a variety of routes. On a week’s cruise boaters can travel along the Shropshire Union Canal to historic Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man. On a short break, head through quiet countryside to the South Staffordshire village of Coven on the Staffs & Worcs Canal.
Here are our top five spooky destinations for the October half term holiday:
1. Visit the Haunted Castle…experience Warwick Castle at night and some special goulish goings-on as part of the castle’s Halloween event, 24 October to 2 November, including the mighty Trebuchet Fireball show. Drifters’ base at Napton on the North Oxford Canal is 10 hours from Warwick. October half term canal boat hire from Napton starts at £489 for a short break, £750 for weekly hire.
2. Step into the darkness at Chester Zoo…11,000 animals reside at this award-winning zoo, including over 300 bats. Celebrate Halloween in style by entering the Zoo’s Fruit Bat Forest and explore the darkness with free-flying bats all around. Narrowboat holiday-makers can reach Chester in seven hours from Drifters’ base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury. Short breaks from Bunbury during the October half term start at £645, weekly breaks from £920.
3. Take a ghost walk in Bath…walk through the ancient and mystical streets of the Roman City of Bath, learning of macabre goings-on, hauntings and tragic events of yester-year. Ghost walks take place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at 8pm, starting outside the Garricks Head pub. Bath City Centre is a two-hour cruise from Drifters Bath base. Short breaks from Bath during the October half term holiday start at £645, weekly breaks from £920.
4. Enjoy a Halloween Spooktakular at Cadbury World…During October half term Cadbury World on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal will be turned into a ghoulish site, with staff replaced by witches and vampires, plus a special Halloween X-factor style show. Boaters can reach Cadbury World in just three hours from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge. Short breaks from Tardebigge during the October half term start at £645, weekly breaks from £920.
5. Find out about witch burning at Edinburgh…Edinburgh Castle dominates Scotland’s capital city from its great rock. Battles and sieges were fought over it, royalty lived and died within its walls, and hundreds of supposed witches were burnt at the stake there. Edinburgh is an 11-hour cruise along the Union Canal from Drifters’ base at Falkirk. Short breaks from Falkirk during the October half term holiday start at £585, weekly breaks from £895.
Reputedly playing host to hundreds of ghosts, with bats and frogs aplenty, creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween afloat.
Drifters’ Halloween canal boat hire prices start at £489 for a short break and £750 for a week on a four berth.
Here are some of the spookiest places to go:
The Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including ‘The Monkey Man’ at Bridge 39 near Norbury. The hideous black, shaggy coated being is said to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century. And at Betton Cutting near Market Drayton a shrieking spectre has been seen and heard. See if you can spot them by heading north on narrowboat holiday from our base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire near Stafford. Weekly breaks on a boat for four from Brewood over Halloween start at £847, short breaks £508.
Get the chills in Chester by visiting the city’s old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat and a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the city. You can also visit The King’s Inn, believed to be haunted by three separate spirits. Hire a boat from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire and you can easily make it to Chester and back on a short break. Short breaks on a four berth from Bunbury over Halloween start at £645, weekly hire from £920.
Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire has spooked a number of boaters over the years. At 3,076 yards (2.81km) it’s one of the longest on the canal system. When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major feat of engineering. Teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men. A new route for the tunnel was found and it finally opened on 25 March 1805. Over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging. But the tunnel runs straight through the hill so people have must seen the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel. Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there?! Canal boat hire over Halloween from our Gayton base on the Grand Union Canal close to the Blisworth Tunnel starts at £585 for a short break and £895 for a week on a four berth.
At the Union Canal tunnel in Falkirk, Scotland, two walkers and their dogs were terrified by the apparition of a man who had been lured to the tunnel in the 1940s and viciously murdered after he had been unable to pay his gambling debt. And there are plenty of ghostly goings on in the historic city of Edinburgh, including the ghost of the Great Lafayette at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, a magician who was killed in a fire there. Canal boat hire on a four berth over Halloween from our Falkirk base starts at £522 for a short break and £802 for a week.
The Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and whose headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Canal boat hire over Halloween at our Peak District base on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire starts at £489 for a short break and £750 for a week on a four berth.
The Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights gliding along the towpath by the World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Canal boat hire over Halloween from our base at Trevor, right next to the Aqueduct, starts at £645 for a short break and £920 for a week on a four berth.
The spooky Standedge Tunnel in Yorkshire is the longest, highest and deepest canal on the UK canal system and certainly not for the feint hearted! Take a boat for a week from our base at Sowerby Bridge on the Calder & Hebble Navigation in West Yorkshire and cruise through the stunning Calder Valley, then onto the Huddersfield Broad Canal to Huddersfield. There you can moor the boat and switch to a train for a scenic rail trip to Marsden and the Standedge Tunnel Visitor Centre, which operates boat trips into the tunnel. Weekly hire from Sowerby Bridge over Halloween starts at £850 for a boat for four.
Sue hired her canal boat from Drifters’ Peak District base near Stoke on Trent in Staffordshire, at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals.
Do you want to take a trip back in time to a bygone era – but stay close to home?
Then a trip on one of Britain’s inland waterways could be for you. Canal boat cruising has certainly become more popular, whether just for a short break – or as a way of life.
Even Indiana Jones himself – Harrison Ford loves a canal boat holiday. Back in 2004, he was spotted cruising along the Llangollen Canal, in Shropshire, with girlfriend Calista Flockhart and son Liam.
And if it’s good enough for Indie, then it’s good enough for me.
We enjoyed a weekend away with Drifters Holidays, and chose to cruise the Caldon Canal between Stoke-on-Trent and Leek on the fringe of the Staffordshire moorlands.
The Caldon was built to supply the booming Potteries with materials such as limestone, flint, coal and iron ore, and opened 1779.
The managers of the Black Prince Marina, where we started our journey, were Barry and Angela from Ellesmere. They gave us suggestions for our route, before staff member Dave took us for a tour of our narrowboat ‘Kiera’.
He then took us up to the first lock to give us advice on how to operate them properly.
After a day of cruising we moored for the night at Endon Basin. With our picnic table and chairs set out on the grass, it was an idyllic setting between an old white bridge and the distant hills.
We watched the sun set to the birds’ dusk chorus and, as we finished our meal a gaggle of Canada Geese swam single file under the bridge towards us, followed by a family of ducks who bedded down for the night in the shadow of our barge.
There are plenty of pubs along the route but what could be nicer than an evening with nature, good food, friends and a bottle of red beside the boat before retiring to our comfy double bedrooms?
The clever design of the Shakespeare narrowboat means you can have twin or double beds with the lounge converted to two more beds.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast on the towpath, we were bound for Froghall.
Along the way we moored at Flint Mill, which is run by volunteers. It used to grind flint, delivered by canal boat from the South East to make the finer pottery made famous by Josiah Wedgwood.
When we arrived at the mill wheels were not moving but the volunteers soon put them to action and the complex came to life. With so much of the original machinery in place it was easy to imagine how it was once a hive of industry. Even the mill cottage was as it would have been at the time.
Later that day we arrived at one of the most picturesque parts of the canal, Hazelhurst, where the waterway branches into two, right to the Leek Arm and, to the left, towards the Froghall tunnel.
A succession of locks took us down into the beautiful Churnet Valley which also carries the Churnet Railway.
The canal narrowed quite alarmingly and, with high bracken and other water loving plants, it was like making our way through the jungle.
At the terminus of the railway is the Black Lion pub, which can be reached only by water, rail, on foot or bicycle. When we passed through it was thronged with visitors as it was the hottest day of the year so far.
With the pub on the one side and the railway station on the other, we glided under the platform itself, a strange feeling.
Soon we reached our destination, and had to turn around just yards from the tunnel. And so we made the return journey with an overnight stop close to the mill and another fine meal watching the sunset.
An early morning run the following day made me realise how short a distance you travel on the canal. A milepost told me it was 11 miles to Etruria, Stoke. I could have run there in a couple of hours.
Instead we took much of the day, with a leisurely brunch on the towpath.
We met some great people on our journey. They included a couple from Market Drayton who usually moor in Shropshire but were enjoying a two-week break in Staffordshire.
Then there was the couple who moved from New Zealand 18 months ago and live on the canal, staying two or three days at most in one place. The woman, a Brit married to a Kiwi, revealed just what a different lifestyle it is when I asked her what they did when they wanted to go further afield. “If it’s not far we walk or cycle, any further and we take the train or hire a car. It’s a much cheaper way of life than owning a house and a car,” she said.
Never again will I pooh-pooh a canal boat holiday. You encounter so many sights from your narrowboat, be it a family of tiny ducklings or a heron fishing, or the fascinating industrial architecture of the region.
Here in the Midlands we are fortunate to have so many inland waterways to explore, and from the Black Prince Marina you can be straight onto the Trent & Mersey Canal and enjoying the Four Counties Ring in no time at all.
I’ll certainly be back on board a barge sometime soon.