Top of the Rings

…Drifters Waterway Holidays picks 10 of the best canal cruising rings

Cruising rings are popular with canal boat holiday-makers, offering journeys which travel along several different waterways and take in a huge variety of landscapes.

Some are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate.  While others, like the new Droitwich Ring, are easier and more suitable for beginners.

Drifters Waterway Holidays, which offers over 50 canal boats for hire from 36 locations across the country, has put together a list of its Top 10 Cruising Rings:
  1. 1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours): Starting from the Drifters’ bases at Worcester or Stoke Prior and ideal for beginners, this cruising ring is the only one in Europe which can be completed on a short break.  It opened up last year following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals, which now reconnect the River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: the historic Spa town of Droitwich; the Hanbury flight of locks; and the beautiful City of Worcester with its stunning cathedral.
    1. 2. The London Ring (44 miles, 25 locks, 18 hours): Starting from the Drifters’ base at Greenford in West London, this exciting journey for seasoned canal boaters is best done in a week, leaving plenty of time to enjoy London’s world-class museums, restaurants, theatres and shops.  The route takes you through the heart of London along the Grand Union and Regent’s canals, then onto the Thames via Limehouse Lock and back onto the Grand Union Canal at Brentford Lock.  Highlights include: Paddington Basin and Little Venice, Camden Lock and market, Victoria Park, Limehouse Basin, views of London’s major landmarks along the Thames (including the Tower of London, the Millennium Wheel and the Houses of Parliament) and the historic flight of locks at Hanwell.
    2. 3. The South Pennine Ring (71 miles, 197 locks, 80 hours): not for the faint-hearted, this epic two-week journey can be taken from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge.  It crosses the Pennines twice and includes passage of Britain’s longest canal tunnel.  It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Broad and Narrow canals, the Ashton and Rochdale canals.  Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; Manchester City Centre; and, one of the Seven Wonders of Waterways, the awesome three and a quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which, designed by Thomas Telford, cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle.
    3. 4. The Stourport Ring (74 miles, 118 locks, 44 hours):  Starting from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge, this offers an exhilarating and hugely popular week.  The route takes in the Staffs & Worcs Canal, the Worcs & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line.  The Stourport Ring visits three cities: Wolverhampton; Birmingham (with central moorings in Gas Street Station, close to shops, restaurants and museums); and the ancient City of Worcester.  Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindley Place and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.
    4. 5. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours): starting from the Drifters’ base at Anderton, this superb route takes you through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals.  Highlights include: the spectacular vertical Anderton Boat Lift, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’; Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall and its working Elizabethan Mill alongside the Bridgewater Canal; Castlefield Basin; Manchester’s China Town; the Rochdale 9 locks; Buxworth Basin, Whaley Bridge and the glorious Top Lock at Marple; and the Cheshire Plain and heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.
    5. 6. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours): starting from Drifters’ bases at Napton or Rugby, with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in two weeks.  It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals.  Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone, Hawkesbury Junction, one of the tightest turns on the system where the Oxford joins the Coventry; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the Knowle Flight of five locks; the pretty canal village of Braunston; Napton Junction; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.
    6. 7. Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen, this World-famous journey includes 130 locks.  Most people do this trip in a more leisurely 10 days or two weeks, but it is possible to do it in a week.  The ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcs & Birmingham Canal.  Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across Wawickshire and the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; Telford’s lofty Mythe Bridge; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 lock Tardebigge Flight, the longest in the country; and the 2495 metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.
      1. 8. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours):  Starting from Drifters’ bases at Brewood near Stoke on Trent or Great Haywood in Staffordshire, this ring is achievable on a week-long holiday.  The route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals.  Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the World famous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; extravagant cuttings and embankments on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the Ski Centre, China Gardens and Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; Churches Mansion; the waters at Tixall Wide on the Staffs & Worcs; the narrow canal at Autherley Junction; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.
      2. 9. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours): from Drifters’ base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire this exhilarating ring is achievable in a week.  The Ring takes in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals.  Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin with access to city centre shops, restaurants and museums; 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; Dudley Zoo & Castle; Drayton Manor Park at Fazeley; the Staffs & Worcs Roundhouses; the waters at Tixhall Wide; Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction; 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

10. The Leicester Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours): from Drifters’ base at Rugby on the Grand Union Canal, this epic route is achievable in two weeks.  The route cruises a mixture of non-tidal, broad and narrow canals, including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey canals, the Grand Union Leicester Line and the rivers Soar and Trent.  Highlights include: the Saddlington Tunnel, a roost for bats on the Leicester Line; the Foxton Staircase of Locks and Museum dedicated to the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift which once carried boats up and down the hill in two giant bath tubs; the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; Braunston canal village; Hillmorton Locks; 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry and views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

For more information about Drifters canal boat holidays call 0844 984 0322 or visit www.drifters.co.uk.

For more information about cruising rings visit www.waterscape.com

 

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