Top 5 epic canal boat journeys

Britain’s 2,000-mile canal network offers a huge variety of canal boat holiday routes, from easy short breaks with no locks through to epic journeys around cruising rings, which take weeks and involve a lot of locks!

Weekly hire in 2015 starts at £480 and Drifters operators usually offer discounts on the second week of hire.

Here are our top five epic journeys to inspire:

1. The South Pennine Ring (71 miles, 197 locks, 80 hours): not for the faint-hearted, this epic two-week journey can be taken from our 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.

2. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours): starting from our’ base at Anderton, this superb route takes canal boat holiday-makers through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. It can be done in a week but it’s easier in two. 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’.

3. The Leicester Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours): from our 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; the 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry with views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

4. The Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from our bases at Tardebigge, Wootton Wawen, Worcester or Alvechurch, this World-famous journey negotiates 130 locks. Most people tackle this trip over 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.

5. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours): starting from our 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 with one of the tightest turns on the system where the Oxford joins the Coventry; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the tricky 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.

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