Top 8 Waterside Destinations for 2017

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Britain’s 2,000 mile network of navigable inland waterways transports canal boat holiday-makers through rural idylls with wooded glades, sweeping farmland and sleepy villages to exciting towns and cities with world-class waterside attractions.

Here’s a list of our Top 8 waterside destinations for 2017:

  1. 1. Warwick Castle – said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, the magnificent Warwick Castle next to the River Avon, is just a short riverside walk from the Grand Union Canal. Developed from the original castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068, Warwick Castle offers visitors a fantastic day out with ramparts to climb, flight of the eagles displays, mighty trebuchet firing, the Horrible Histories Maze, The Castle Dungeon, daily history team tours and 64 acres of landscaped gardens to explore.  From our Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, Warwick can be reached in seven hours, passing through 20 locks.
  2. The Hepworth Wakefield – this beautiful gallery alongside the Calder & Hebble Navigation boasts the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London, with over 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery spaces. Exhibiting rarely seen works by Barbara Hepworth, as well as Tim Sayer’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary British art, including works by Henry Moore, Naum Gabo, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Paul Nash, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro, this exciting gallery also hosts changing exhibitions by world-famous artists.  From our Sowerby Bridge base at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire, it’s an 11-hour cruise to Wakefield, travelling 20 miles and passing through 26 locks.
  3. The Shugborough Estate – from Drifters’ Peak District base at Stoke on Trent, Shugborough Hall on the banks of the Trent & Mersey Canal is a peaceful 11-hour cruise away, travelling 19 miles through 18 locks. Once the home of Lord Patrick Lichfield, this Georgian Manor house with magnificent riverside grounds, said to have an association with the legendary ‘Holy Grail’, is now the UK’s only Complete Working Historic Estate, with working kitchens, dairy, water mill, brewhouse and farm.  As one of just 20 Rare Breeds Survival Trust Farms in the UK, Shugborough is also home to a number of breeds rarer than the Giant Panda, including Boreray sheep and Middle White Pigs.
  4. The Black Country Living Museum & Dudley Tunnel – from Drifters’ Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s an eight-hour, three-lock journey to the Black Country Living Museum. Visitors to this 26-acre open-air museum can step back in time with costumed characters to meet, period shops and houses to explore, forge demonstrations to watch, a coal mine to descend into, fun fair rides to enjoy, traditional fish and chips to eat and vintage vehicles to travel on.  And just across the canal, the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust operates regular boat trips into the spectacular limestone tunnels under Castle Hill.
  5. National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port – from Drifters’ Anderton base at the junction of the River Weaver and Trent & Mersey Canal, it’s a 21-hour journey along 44 miles of waterway, travelling through 22 locks, to reach the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. Here canal boat holiday-makers can explore historic working docks, boats, warehouses, forge, pump house, stables and workers cottages, where homes from the 1830s, 1900s, 1930s and 1950s are recreated, and costumed characters tell stories of the workers lives.
  6. SS Great Britain – from Drifters’ base on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Bath, Bristol’s Floating Harbour is a 10-hour, 13 lock journey away. From here, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the Great Western Dockyard, home to Brunel’s masterpiece the SS Great Britain.  This former passenger steamship was once the world’s first great luxury liner, launched in 1843 by the Great Western Steamship Company for their transatlantic service between Bristol and New York.  Today visitors to this museum ship can explore the decks and be transported by sights, sounds and even smells of life at sea.
  7. The Royal Armouries – our National Museum of Arms and Armour is on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Leeds Dock. Visitors can explore collections from across the world and throughout time in six themed galleries, including medieval horse armour in the War Gallery, Henry the VIII’s incredible Foot Combat Armour in the Tournament Gallery, elephant and Samurai armour in the Oriental Gallery, and the Swords of Middle Earth display based on the weapons in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.  From our Sowerby Bridge base in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can reach Leeds in 19 hours, travelling 38 miles through 39 locks.
  8. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre – the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, alongside the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon, can be reached in six hours, travelling along the Stratford Canal from Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden. With over 1,000 seats held within this stunning Grade II listed building, the Shakespeare Theatre is the place to see the Bard’s plays.  2017 performances will include Anthony & Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus.

 

 

A Bonnie Boating Adventure

Helix Towpath Launch The opening of a new towpath along the Forth & Clyde Canal extension and the completion of a £1.3 million project paths throughout Scotland's canal network. A Partnership between scottish Canals, Sustrans, Falkirk Council, Glasgow City Council and West Lothian Landfill Trust has seen more than 10 kilometers upgraded at seven locations across Scotland in the past year to an all weather surface. More info from Josie Saunders, Scottish Canals josie.saunders@scottishcanals.co.uk m: 07881 816283

Natalie Croft reviewed her first hire boat holiday in Waterways World (July 2016).  She took her trip with Drifters, visiting giant horses, a landmark boat-lift and Scotland’s only canal museum…

Peering over the barriers of the M9 in a taxi from Edinburgh Airport, the Kelpies were our first view of Scotland’s waterways – and I don’t think it could have been more awe-inspiring.

A one-hour flight, followed by a 30-minute cab, ride brought us from the East Midlands to Helix Park, where the sculptures stand.  Nearly 100ft tall and glinting in the sunlight, the giant horses provided a dramatic backdrop to our lunch at the Helix visitor centre.

But our hire-boat was waiting for us four miles along the Forth & Clyde at the Falkirk Wheel. The words “strongly recommend you take the bus” spoken to us by the helpful visitor centre receptionist were somehow forgotten by the time we left the building.

Perhaps it was the glorious weather, or maybe the mythological power of the water kelpies that lured us along the towpath. Nonetheless, we, luggage in tow, continued on foot to the Falkirk Wheel.

The wide Forth & Clyde passes quietly past industrial units and slowly rises through Falkirk before the Wheel emerges around a final bend on the outskirts of the town. Exhausted, we plonked ourselves down in the café. On reflection, a walk between the Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel would be best tackled downhill, in the opposite direction to the way we headed. And without a suitcase.

Joining the Union

‘Florence’, a 62ft narrowboat and new arrival to the Black Prince hire-boat fleet, was to be our home for the weekend. We were briefed in great detail by the firm’s engineer, Kenny, who spent an hour explaining everything from the water pump to the weed hatch. He also gave us a few hints on planning our onward journey, advising on the best places to moor and, equally importantly, where to find good pubs.

Paperwork signed, we started the engine. My partner Chris took charge of the tiller and I headed to the bow in preparation for the first challenge: Golden Jubilee Lock. All locks on the Scottish canals are operated by lock-keepers – so no paddle-winding or gate-heaving to worry about. Instead, a crew member at each end of the boat is required to wrap a line around one of the poles located at intervals along the chamber to steady the craft as the water rises or falls.

In truth, our first lock experience and our entry onto the Falkirk Wheel (with Kenny there to guide us) was a blur. Once on it, however, and with a few minutes to breathe, we looked out over the beautiful Scottish Lowlands as the wheel slowly turned, taking us 115ft up to join the Union Canal.

Left to our own devices now, we exited the wheel straight into Roughcastle Tunnel. At less than 500ft long, it was over in a blink and we soon emerged to tackle the final two locks of our outward journey.

We slipped through Top Lock 1 with no problems but on entering Top Lock 2, I, standing rope in hand at the bow, was confronted by a heavy flow of water leaking through the gates ahead. The boat rammed unintentionally into the cill and I ended up getting my first shower of the holiday.

Seemingly amused by our inexperience, the lock-keepers were in no hurry to advise Chris that I was getting drenched and that he should reverse the boat. Sopping from the neck down, I reminded myself that these were the only locks on the Union Canal.

Bow duties over for the time being, I squelched out of my sodden shoes and started through the boat to join Chris at the tiller. Shattered glass glinting from the galley floor forced me to replace my soaking footwear – a broken wine glass and our dented pride were, thankfully, the only casualties of our canal holiday and those were over and done within the first few hours.

Tunnel apprehension

There was just one more structure to negotiate before we could begin to relax: Falkirk Tunnel. At over 2,000ft long it appeared a sinister prospect and we’d been warned that overhead leaks were likely – there was no point me changing into dry clothes yet!

Headlamp lit and horn beeped, we approached the entrance and soon realised that the structure, with its substantial lighting and towpath, was far from foreboding – in fact, it proved a really fun experience.

After emerging on the other side we took a moment to properly look around us. Up in the hills, you’re a world away from the modernity of the Wheel, with its clean lines and dramatic architecture. The narrow Union Canal snakes between farmland, with thick weeds desperately trying to reclaim the water from the boats.

After several miles the trees morphed into new builds and warehouses and we spotted a lone pontoon after Redding Bridge – our first stop. We drifted up to the pontoon and moored with some skill (i.e. neither of us fell in), trying out our best hitches.

With nothing but a single energy bar on board, convenience was paramount: a 24-hour supermarket in one direction and a recommended pub in the other meant this was an excellent place to overnight. Positioned opposite our mooring was a juvenile prison, but the huge concrete wall that separated us from the inmates looked substantial enough.

After a well-earned meal we waddled back to ‘Florence’ and were pleased to see the ropes had held tight. We locked ourselves in and, exhausted by the day’s events, let the calls from our neighbouring convicts lull us into a dreamless sleep.

On to Linlithgow

Peeking out of the curtain on waking confirmed we were still safely moored. The extra thick duvet was difficult to surrender, but the lure of the canal ahead was too much to risk the snooze alarm.

Our morning journey to Linlithgow was punctuated only by bridges, the Avon Aqueduct and a canalside bistro. The sun teased us for an hour but soon buried itself behind thick cloud, leaving us to shiver together at the tiller between regular doses of tea. A few quaint cottages indicated that we were nearing our destination, Manse Road Basin, where we chose an empty mooring and tied up.

A short walk took us onto the main road through Linlithgow, where we found a great selection of cafés, pubs and shops. We had a short, but necessary, diversion into an artisan chocolate shop before settling on a café for lunch.

With a mere 24 hours left to return to the Wheel for our booked slot, there wasn’t much opportunity to hang around and explore the town. An extended stay would have permitted a visit to Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, overlooking Linlithgow Loch.

We did, however, have time to take in Scotland’s only canal museum – at less than 15ft2 it didn’t take long. Located in Manse Road Basin, the museum is run by the Linlithgow Union Canal Society volunteers and houses a small selection of canal artefacts and pictures, which provide a brief, but fascinating insight into the country’s working waterways past.

Winding hole woes

Continuing our eastward journey in the early afternoon, we were soon studying the map for a suitable winding hole. At 62ft ‘Florence’ would be too long for most, but keen to get back to Linlithgow before sundown we naively picked one marked 55ft, remarking as we approached that it looked big enough.

The theory of turning a boat seems simple. However, our first attempt, in the blustery climes of the Lowlands and with no clear strategy, resulted in an argument nearing epic proportions. Realising that we weren’t getting anywhere with each other, or with turning the boat around, we continued – at opposite ends of the boat.

The next winding hole big enough for our boat was ten bridges away – plenty of time to make friends again over hot tea and biscuits. And with mossy, fern-strewn woodland surrounding us on both sides, it was one of the loveliest parts of our trip.

Just after Bells Mill Bridge we turned the boat with relative ease and began our return. It was on this jaunt back to Linlithgow that we passed the first moving boat of our entire journey. A scattering of moored craft had been spotted but we’d thus far had the route to ourselves.

Relaxing having conquered the winding hole, we continued onwards to Linlithgow and moored near Manse Road Basin. That evening we enjoyed an on board meal prepared in the boat’s small but well-equipped galley.

Back to Falkirk

We arose early on Sunday morning, stuffed some breakfast down our necks and prepared to top up our water tank. We had moored not far from a water point but on unravelling the hose found it was about 1ft too short.

While preparing to nudge ‘Florence’ along the bank, another hire-boat jumped to the front of the queue – with four competent crew aboard they were quick to move on. Feeling like amateurs, we muddled through re-mooring and filling up with water before heading off.

With the sun now making an appearance, by early afternoon we’d passed through the chilly Falkirk Tunnel and, with plenty of time until we needed to be at the lift, moored for an afternoon drink near Greenback Aqueduct. Sitting out on the well deck with blue skies overhead and mug of tea in hand, I couldn’t help but think that life doesn’t get much better.

After phoning ahead to confirm our passage through the Wheel, we steeled ourselves and unmoored. In complete contrast to our outward journey, negotiating the Top Locks on the way back was straightforward and dry. The lock keepers were chatty and genuinely helpful – although on day three at the helm, Chris was starting to master manoeuvres like a seasoned pro. As such, we sailed through the locks, Roughcastle Tunnel and into the Wheel without incident.

Audience

Reaching the bottom of the Wheel it was clear that the combination of glorious sunshine, narrowboats and the unique boat-lift is a real draw for local residents. We’d already had plenty of friendly waves and cheery hellos along our journey, for, although boats are few and far between on the Union Canal, walkers, cyclists and dog-owners make excellent use of the towpath.

This, however, was something else. We exited the wheel, sunglasses firmly in place to avoid eye contact with our audience, and made our way into the final lock of the weekend, feeling like our every move was being scrutinised.

Back on the Forth & Clyde Canal, a short hop to Lock 16 provided room to turn. Spotting a space at the end of the hire-base pontoon, we moored up and paused for 10 minutes to regain our composure. We spent our final evening dining at a restaurant just a few minutes away, on the other side of the canal.

On returning to the boat we bumped into the water point queue-jumpers from earlier that day. Chatting until the sun went down, it appeared they were, in fact, complete novices, who at several points during the weekend had got themselves stuck while attempting to turn and had a rather spectacular prang in front of a substantial audience.

Exchanging stories of our waterborne weekends made us realise that, however inept we thought we were, there are other hire-boaters who feel exactly the same way.

On handing the keys over to the Black Prince team on Monday morning, the boating part of our holiday was officially over. Back on land we instantly became gongoozlers, eagerly photographing the Wheel in action, but now more careful not to intimidate the boaters cruising through.

A lazy lunch and a walk up to Roughcastle Tunnel for a final chance to soak in the sun-drenched Lowlands concluded our long weekend in Scotland.

Reflections

As first-time hirers, we were delighted with our slightly unusual choice of the Union Canal. The Falkirk Wheel and Falkirk Tunnel were truly exhilarating, while, beyond the town, the quiet, lock-free route proved the perfect waterway training ground, allowing us to relax and gain confidence at the tiller – something we might not have had the luxury of doing on the Shroppie or Llangollen canals.

Our only regret is that we didn’t have more time to visit the towns en route and explore the entire canal as far as its Edinburgh terminus. But this is something we intend to rectify – we are already planning a return journey to Scotland with the intention of arriving at its capital by boat, and also taking the Forth & Clyde to Glasgow. Caledonia and its canals are definitely for us.

Drifters’ A to Z of canal boat holidays

bingleyfiverise-low-resA is for Anderton Boat Lift – also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, this fascinating example of Victorian engineering provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation.

B is for Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers.

C is for Caen Hill Flight – with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country.

D is for Docks – built to accommodate ships and store cargoes, such as London Docklands, once the busiest in the world and Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a World Heritage site.

E is for Everywhere – there are over 2,000 miles of navigable waterways to explore in Britain, and half the UK’s population lives within five miles of a navigable canal or river.

F is for Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift which stands 35 metre high and moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland.

G is for Gongoozling – the leisurely watching of boats, often passing through a lock, it’s thought the word may have arisen from the Lincolnshire dialect ‘gawn’ and ‘goozle’, both meaning to stare or gape.

H is for Heritage – canals were built to transport goods and materials to support the Industrial Revolution and are vital part of our nation’s industrial heritage.

I is for Iron Trunk Aqueduct – built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, this impressive 10-metre high structure carries the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse near Wolverton in Buckinghamshire

J is for Jessop – one of the great canal engineers who worked on the Grand Union, Rochdale and Llangollen canals.

K is for Kennet & Avon Canal – which travels 87 miles through spectacular scenery, linking the River Thames and the Bristol Avon.

L is for Locks – there are over 1,650 locks on the canal system, all enabling boaters to travel up and down hills.

M is for Mooring – along the length of the majority of our inland waterways boaters are free to choose where they stop to moor for the night.

N is for Navigation – another word for a canal and travelling by vessel, you don’t need a licence to skipper a canal boat and tuition is provided as part of canal boat hire packages.

O is for Oxford Canal – one of the oldest canals in Britain meandering slowly through the countryside, this canal opened in sections between 1774 and 1790 to transport coal from the Coventry coalfields to Oxford and the River Thames.

P is for Pubs – there are hundreds of waterside inns along Britain’s canals and rivers, many of them historic rural locals, so you’re never too far away from the next watering hole.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the six-mile network of historic industrial rivers that criss-cross the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London were restored to full navigation as part of preparation for the London 2012 Olympics.

R is for Relax – with canal and river speed limits of just 4mph, canal boat holidays are said to be the fastest way to slow down, relax and escape the stress of busy modern lives.

S is for Standedge Tunnel – at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18th and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.

T is for Telford – another of the great canal engineers, Thomas Telford worked with William Jessop on the Llangollen Canal and was responsible for the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

U is for Underwater – canals support a thriving underwater ecosystem of many varieties of fish, eels, invertebrates, larvae and underwater plants.

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V is for Vole – best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, but sadly now one of our most endangered species, to spot a water vole look out for closely grazed ‘lawn’ areas, often covered with neat piles of chopped grass and listen for the ‘plop’ sound as they enter the water.

W is for Wildlife – waterways provide homes for large numbers of birds, plants and animals, including many protected species, like water voles, otters, bats and kingfishers, so there’s always something special to look out for.

X is for Station X – close to the Grand Union Canal at Fenny Stratford in Milton Keynes, Station X at Bletchley Park is where Britain’s wartime code breakers helped win the Second World War.

Y is for Yesteryear – with a much slower pace of life, a friendly camaraderie amongst boaters and a structure that hasn’t fundamentally changed for 200 years, the canals are often described as an escape to yesteryear.

Z is for Zoo – the Regent’s Canal passes alongside ZSL London Zoo, giving boaters the chance to spot a variety of exotic birds in the spectacular Northern Aviary, designed by Lord Snowdon.

Top 8 Narrowboat Holidays for Novices

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Each year, around one fifth of canal boat hirers are newcomers. A licence isn’t required to steer a narrowboat and all our operators provide boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

Here’s a list of our top eight canal boat holidays for beginners:

1. Discover the Breacon Beacons afloat – the beautiful Mon & Brec Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, meandering from 35 miles from Brecon to the Pontymoile Basin. This quiet waterway, with very few locks is nice and easy for beginners and offers holiday-makers incredible mountain views and some of the darkest night skies in Britain. From our canal boat hire base Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s holiday boaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Govilon, Georgian Crickhowell, Llangynidr and Talybont-on-Usk.

2. Amble along the Ashby – a sedate journey along the 22 mile-long lock-free Ashby Canal is perfect for narrowboat holiday novices. On a short break from our base at Stoke Golding, boaters can amble quietly along past the historic market town of Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where in 1485 Richard III lost his crown to Henry Tudor. Then on to the pretty village of Shackerstone with its steam railway, before turning back to Stoke Golding again.

3. Visit Edinburgh afloat – from our base at Falkirk, it’s a peaceful 33-mile, 11-hour journey along the Scottish Lowland’s Union Canal to Edinburgh Quay, perfect for a week away afloat. The journey starts with a trip through the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, the incredible Falkirk Wheel. Next boaters pass over the magnificent Almond Aqueduct and then on through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, close to the City’s tourist attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish National Gallery.

4. Enjoy Birmingham by canal – With no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, and City Centre moorings at Gas Street Basin, just a stone’s throw from Brindleyplace, a trip to Birmingham is great for newcomers. It takes five hours to reach Gas Street Basin, passing through four tunnels along the way and past popular waterside pubs, like the Hopwood House at Hopwood.

5. Experience the lovely Llangollen Canal – from our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal, the peaceful journey to the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. As well as the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte and Chirk aqueducts to pass over, there are just four locks to pass through and views to die for.

6. Journey through the Peak District – from our Peak District narrowboat hire base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals at Etruria near Stoke on Trent, a journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal offers a lovely 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, it’s a gentle 12-hour cruise along the Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin back, perfect for a short break.

7. Wonder at the World Heritage City of Bath – from our base at Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, in the southern foothills of the Cotswolds, Georgian Bath is a six-hour, one-lock cruise away. The route passes over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of historic waterside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliffe. Once there, canal boat holiday makers can 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, the Holburne Museum, eateries and shops.

8. Cruise through the countryside to Braunston – from our base at Stretton on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks on this route so it’s an easy short break for first timers. The journey meanders through scenic wooded countryside and a series of quiet villages with rural pubs, including the Barley Mow at Newbold and Royal Oak at Hillmorton.

Top 10 Christmas breaks on the canals

brindley-place-birmingham-low-resCruising gently through quiet countryside and stopping off at rural local pubs along the way, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

We offer winter breaks* from a number of our bases, giving you the chance to enjoy snug evenings afloat, visit waterside pubs with roaring log fires, and wake up to crisp clean country air.

And whether it’s a cosy boat for two or a family affair for eight, celebrating Christmas or New Year afloat also offers the chance to visit some of Britain’s most exciting waterside towns and cities, including Bath, Birmingham, Chester, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players and some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi, so whatever the weather, it’s always warm and cosy on board.

Here’s a run-down of our Top 10 Christmas breaks afloat:

1. Enjoy the Christmas cheer in Chester – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it’s a seven-hour, nine-lock journey to the historic walled City of Chester. With Christmas markets and parades, carols at Chester Cathedral and the magical ‘Lanterns at Chester Zoo’ event, Chester is a great place to celebrate Christmas.

2. Take in a Christmas Show in Birmingham – Birmingham City centre moorings at Gas Street Basin can be reached in just five hours from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. With its dazzling Frankfurt Christmas Market, ice rink, big wheel, Bull Ring and Mailbox shopping centres and Christmas shows, including ‘Dick Whittington’ at the Hippodrome, Birmingham is a great place to get Christmassy.

3. Meander along the South Oxford Canal – from Drifters’ base at Clifton-on-Dunsmore, near Rugby, on a week’s break boaters can travel along the rural South Oxford Canal, passing Cotswold stone canalside villages with a choice of historic canalside pubs. On a short break, boaters can reach Gayton on the Grand Union Canal, passing through the delightful canal village of Braunston with its famous tunnel.

4. Wend your way to Warwick Castle – from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore Warwick Castle decked out for Christmas, including a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall and Story Time with Santa in the Red Drawing Room.

5. Travel through Shakespeare country – on a short break from our base at Stratford upon Avon, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the Warwickshire countryside along the beautiful Stratford upon Avon Canal to Lapworth and back, stopping off at cosy country pubs along the way, including The Mary Arden at Wilmcote, also home to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s ‘Mary Arden’s Farm’. On a week’s break, boaters can continue on to Warwick.

6. Visit the ‘chocolate box pretty’ canalside village of Stoke Bruerne…from Drifters’ base at Rugby on the North Oxford Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can choose from a number of routes, including a trip through rural Northamptonshire to the lovely village of Stoke Bruerne. With two popular historic village pubs, a curry house, tranquil countryside walks and the Canal Museum packed with canal artefacts, stories and films, there’s plenty of Christmas hospitality to enjoy.

7. Cruise through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside…on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base in the historic market town of Market Harborough on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, narrowboat holiday-makers can potter through rural Leicestershire to the pretty villages of Crick or Welford, passing through Foxton Locks with magnificent views of the Leicestershire countryside. On a week’s break, they can continue on to Stoke Bruerne.

8. Glide across the Stream in the Sky…from Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, on a short break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Chirk and back on a short break, passing over the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 300 metres above the Dee Valley, with incredible views to enjoy. On a week’s holiday from Trevor, boaters can travel on to Wrenbury and back.

9. Travel to Georgian Bath – Drifters’ base at the historic town of Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal 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. Once in Bath, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy the City’s beautiful Christmas lights, services at Bath Abbey, world class Museums and a fantastic choice of shops and restaurants.

10. Chug through rural Warwickshire – On a short break from Drifters’ 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 travel on to Leamington Spa and Warwick.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work

 

 

Top 7 ghostly goings-on on the waterways

Tony Lenten's Family

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.

From shaggy coated beings to shrieking boggarts, we’ve put together our Top 7 spookiest spots:

1. Be stunned at Standedge Tunnel…at 3.25 miles long, Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Marsden is the longest on the canal network, and over its 200-year history it has witnessed some gruesome events. As well as tales of leggers who were crushed between boats and navvies dying in explosions (it took 17 years to build the tunnel), the story of the restless ghost of the poor 15-year old Matilda Crowther, murdered there in 1935, offers visitors a particularly chilling watery tale. Standedge Tunnel can be reached as part of a one-way one-week trip from our base at Sowerby Bridge.

2. Get the chills in Chester…visit 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. What’s more, the King’s Inn, an old coaching house, is believed to be haunted by three separate spirits. Hire a boat from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, reaching Chester in seven hours, passing through nine locks.

3. Look out for the Monkey Man on the Shroppie…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. This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century. Head north from Drifters’ base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire near Stafford.

4. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel…on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel 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…? Blisworth Tunnel can easily be reached from our bases at Braunston, Stockton, Rugby, Clifton-on-Dunsmore, Stretton or Gayton.

5. Hear about a Killing at Kidsgrove…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 his headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Harecastle Tunnel can be reached on a short break from our bases at Great Haywood and Peak District.

6. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition…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. The Aqueduct can be reached on a short break from our bases at Trevor, Chirk and Blackwater Meadow.

7. Beware the bloody steps at Brindley Bank…the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins, who was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body flung into the canal. Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported. As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal and it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones. Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from our base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Babies Afloat

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Narrowboat holidays are often said to be the best way to relax – and parents with babies probably need the chance to do that more than most.

Canal boats are like floating holiday cottages, with all the comforts of home on board.

Drifters’ six-berth family boat ‘Lucy May’, which operates out of our Stockton canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal near Rugby, has some extra adaptations specifically for babies.

As well as a large well-equipped galley (including a microwave), full central heating, lounge with television and DVD player, fixed double bedroom and a bathroom with a small bath, ‘Lucy May’ has a second bedroom at the front with a single bed and full sized cot, plus stair gates in the lounge area.

The dining table in the lounge area can also be converted into a double bed, so ‘Lucy May’ offers a chance to invite a grandparent or two along to lend a hand.

During the day, chug gently along the Grand Union Canal through the beautiful Warwickshire countryside, passing picturesque canalside towns, villages and pubs. By night, moor up for a cosy evening on board, with the boat gently rocking both baby and you to sleep.

On short break, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise from Stockton through quiet countryside to Warwick, Napton or Braunston. On a week’s break, they can travel on to Stratford upon Avon, Foxton or Banbury.

2016 prices for ‘Lucy May’ start at £500 for a short break (three-night weekend or four-night midweek), £790 for a week. ‘Lucy May’ is also available to hire by the week over the winter months, including Christmas.

Narrowboating in Cheshire

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‘Cruising the UK’s canal network is the best way to relax’, says Neil Hudson of the Yorkshire Evening Post after taking a short break canal boat holiday from Drifters’ Anderton base earlier this month…

We’re on holiday and doing about 4mph through the outskirts of Manchester. It’s swelteringly hot, the kids have nothing to do and we’re not entirely sure where we’re going.

In any normal circumstances, this should be a recipe for disaster but as we approach the M56 near Anderton, things could not be better.

You see, we’re not in a car. We’re on a narrowboat, which means while we can sense stressed-out motorists crawling by bumper-to-bumper on the congested trunk road overhead, we’re about as far from it as you could be.

In a just a few short moments, the pent-up animal growl of near stationary vehicles is replaced by bird song and the gentle, almost peaceful, rumble of our own engine.

On either side are fields, one yellow as spun gold, stems of unharvested corn swaying gently in the light summer breeze and on the opposite bank, sloping off toward a shimmering light blue ribbon of water snaking its way along the valley bottom, a tangle of hedgerows march down between fields of emerald, olive and chartreuse.

In fact, even as I write this review, I’m struggling to think of anything more relaxing than gently steering your narrowboat through genuinely beautiful stretches of English countryside. It’s idyllic. It’s verging on Shakespearean.

We hired our 40ft narrowboat from Anderton Marina on the Monday for four nights. After watching an obligatory safety video which shows you a few dos and don’ts associated with narrowboating, such as how to navigate a lock and what to do when you encounter a tunnel, we were taken through the various procedures associated with the boat. Like how to start it, how to stop it, where to fill it up with water and what to do if it breaks down (god forbid).

After that and being shown where the lifejackets were, we were pretty much off. Pulling out of the marina was, perhaps, the scariest moment of all. It’s not every day you take control of a vehicle whose front end is more than the length of a double-decker bus away and given your main method of controlling this is the rudder paddle, it takes a bit of getting used to.

Luckily, it’s something you can pick up in just a few hundred yards and as the boat only travels at about 4mph anyway, so long as you keep an eye on where the nose is headed, the just falls into line.

The Trent and Mersey Canal at Anderton is close to the River Weaver and, indeed, is linked to it via the three-storey tall Victorian boat lift, which is still in use today and is one of those feats of engineering from bygone times one can only marvel at.

We were heading toward the town of Lymm, which was to be our turning point but within just a few hours, we decided to pull up and have something to eat. There are thousands, of miles of canals criss-crossing the UK and part of the joy of cruising along them is you can stop pretty much anywhere. Our first pitstop, we found a nice spot between two fields in the middle of nowhere, steered the front of the boat toward the shore, hammered in a couple of poles and tied up.

The other thing a narrowboat holiday does for you is really open your eyes to the wondrous beauty we have in this country. This hidden network of tranquil waterways is an undervalued asset and even when they venture near the urban sprawl, they remain resolutely part of the countryside, wreathed as they are in aged hedges and unkempt grass verges. It’s almost a land that time forgot, which makes rediscovering them all the more rewarding.

Top 7 Autumn Breaks Afloat

ABC four berth (low res)A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways, where the colours are dramatically mirrored in the water.

There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including the arrival of flocks of fieldfare and redwing arriving in October to search out the hawthorn berries in our hedgerows and small mammals like wood mice and bank voles, busily stocking up on berries before the winter.

And there are plenty of foraging opportunities along the way – narrowboat holiday-makers can look out for apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes and make freshly-picked fruit crumbles and drinks on board.

Here are our top seven autumn destinations:

1. Star gaze at Talybont-on-Usk…the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, boaters can journey through the the wooded Usk Valley, visiting historic market towns like the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle and picturesque Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls and some of the darkest night skies in Britain, perfect for star gazing.

2. Amble along the Ashby…on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Stoke Golding on the pretty Ashby Canal, boaters can travel lock-free to Snarestone and back, passing close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, which ended the reign of Richard III and led to Henry Tudor becoming Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs. The hawthorn bushes at Stoke Golding are said to be where Richard’s crown was discovered following the battle. Rich in wildlife, the tranquil Ashby Canal winds peacefully through the countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length and from Snarestone to Carlton Bridge, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

3. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal…from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and town’s shops, restaurants and museums.

4. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge…from our base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey there and back covers 14 miles, 20 locks and takes around 11 hours.

5. Enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside…Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, can be reached on a short break from our base at Market Harborough. From the top of the Foxton staircase of locks, boaters can enjoy panoramic views of the Leicestershire countryside and check out the tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift, an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there.

6. Step back in time in Bradford on Avon…the historic town of Bradford on Avon can be reached on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, with beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside and southern Cotswold hills to enjoy along the way. Bradford on Avon is an architectural treasure chest, with gems including the magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and striking Town Bridge over the River Avon. The town has many independent shops and places to eat, including the canalside Barge Inn and Mr Salvat’s 17th century Coffee Room, where customers are served by staff in period clothes.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow…from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow. Here, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

Top 10 nautical phrases

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As we were once a great sea-faring nation, much of our everyday language is peppered with nautical references.

We’ve put together our favourite everyday phrases with nautical origins to ‘Chew the Fat’ over on your next adventure afloat:

1. Barge in – barge has two nautical meanings: a flag officer’s boat; or a flat-bottomed workboat which is hard to manoeuver – hence ‘barge in’. Please note, narrowboats are often referred to as barges, but this isn’t correct – narrowboats are just 6ft 10 to 7ft wide, while canal barges are at least 14ft 6inches beam. Nor are they longboats…

2. Adrift – from the Middle English drifte (to float), sailors used the word to describe anything missing or come undone. From this came drifter, a person without purpose or aim in life, then the wholly relaxing Drifters Waterway Holidays!

3. Bitter End – the end of the anchor line was secured to a bitt (sturdy post) on the deck. The line was let out to set the anchor, but if the water was deeper than anticipated, the rope would pay out to the bitter end…

4. Blood Money – originally known as bounty money, this was the financial reward for sinking an enemy ship. The amount was based on the number of crew members killed.

5. Chewing the Fat (friendly conversation) – it took a lot of chewing to make the seaman’s daily ration of tough, salt-cured beef or pork edible.

6. Clean Slate (starting anew) – before computers, courses and distances were recorded on a slate. At the end of each watch, these were added to the ship’s log and the slate wiped clean ready for the next watch.

7. Cranky (irritable) – a crank was an unstable sailing vessel (usually a result of faulty design, lack of ballast or cargo imbalance), that would heel too far in the wind.

8. Cut of his jib (judging a person by outward appearance) – this term originated in the 18th century when sailing navies could identify the nationality of a vessel by the shape of its jib (triangular sail at the front of the boat), long before her colours could be seen.

9. Down the hatch (a toast) – has its origins in sea freight where cargoes were lowered into the hatch.

10. Fly-by-Night (here today, gone tomorrow) – originally referred to an easily set extra sail, used temporarily when running before the wind.