We have 7 new bases for 2016

Union Canal Carriers baseWe’ve added seven new departure points to our canal boat hire offering, giving our customers booking narrowboat holidays in 2016 the choice of 45 starting points and 588 boats across England, Scotland and Wales.

Kate Boats at Warwick, Union Canal Carriers at Braunston, Ashby Boats at Stoke Golding near Nuneaton, Valley Cruises at Stratford Upon Avon and Coventry Canal Basin, and Napton Narrowboats at Napton Marina and Autherley Junction, have joined existing Drifters members Anglo Welsh, Black Prince, Countrywide Cruisers, Rose Narrowboats, Shire Cruisers and ABC Boat Hire.

Tim Parker, Chairman of Drifters, explains: “We are delighted to welcome five new members to the Drifters stable, adding seven bases and over 100 boats to our offering, and providing many more route options for our customers.

“With these new members, Drifters now offers over 60 per cent of the available narrowboats for hire in England, Scotland and Wales. By working together, Drifters members can shout louder to promote canal boat holidays, share best practice and help each other to adapt to changes in legislation. Together we are stronger!”

Canal boat holidays have been enjoying a resurgence in recent years, with Drifters members reporting a 12 per cent increase in bookings in 2015, compared to the 2014 season. Close to 400,000 people go canal boating each year and according to research*, the numbers have increased by 23% since 2009.

Drifters 2016 hire prices start at £395 for a short break, £575 for a week. Narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate up to 12 people.

Go with the flow

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Anna Selby wrote about her holiday with Drifters’ member Black Prince in Take a Break Magazine, 1 February 2016:

Step onto a narrowboat and your stresses will melt away like the ripples on the water…

Picture a rural scene – wildlife, weeping willows, pretty country inns and gardens meandering down to the water’s edge, and somewhere you can never go faster than four miles an hour.

As an antidote to the stresses of modern life, the waterways of Britain could be just the thing.

Until a couple of decades ago, our canals’ long service as a transport system had been largely forgotten. They were neglected, overgrown, and the final resting place of supermarket trolleys. Now they’ve had a new lease of life and the narrowboats that used to carry everything from coal to fine china have been turned into holiday homes.

Very appealing they are too, like floating dolls’ houses, but with everything you might need, right down to an iPod charger. We picked our vessel up at Black Prince Narrowboat Holidays, in Stoke Prior, near Worcester. She was called Eider, and positively gleamed in dark blue, burgundy and cream.

After a short lesson in lock management, we were off along a tranquil waterway. Reeds rustled by the banks, families of ducks and swans bobbed past, pretty villages appeared across the fields and a kingfisher flashed into the trees.

I could almost feel the tensions easing away. Surely it must be time for a gin and tonic? But no. While much of canal boating is gentle and relaxed, there are moments of frenzied activity that require focus – and these occur when you arrive at locks…

Effectively a staircase made of water, the process is simple but hard work. The lock has to be opened using a windlass – a giant key you turn like mad – to winch up the paddle that allows water into the chamber. Then you have to push open the massive gate to the let the boat in. I did as the engineer suggested and pushed with my back, and suddenly I understood where the phrase ‘putting your back into it’ came from! If you fret about not getting to the gym while you’re on holiday, this is one vacation where you don’t need to give it a moment’s thought.

Having said that, help is usually at hand, and you’ll find yourself instantly part of a community. Other narrowboats leave locks open for you and there are gatekeepers ready to assist. Everyone chats, from boaters to fishermen to dog walkers. It’s a lovely vibe.

After dinner at a canalside pub, we drank hot chocolate in the narrowboat’s cosy kitchen before falling into a deep sleep.

The next morning we set off early in an autumnal mist. Being September, there was fruit everywhere – blackberries you could reach from the boat, crab apples and sloes. Trees formed green tunnels overhead and we went through a real one, so dark we needed the boat’s headlamp.

Passing fields of sheep and horses, it felt like another world, a different time. Then all of a sudden, the canal would pass under the M25 or a train would speed by and noisily remind us we were in the 21st century.

The landscape kept changing and we went through reed beds so dense, it was like something out of the film The African Queen. Then suddenly we were on the outskirts of Worcester, where terraced streets ran down to the water’s edge and people strolled with their Sainsbury’s bags along the towpath.

We moored up away from town and in the evening swallows swooped over the water, while herons flapped their great grey wings and flew away to roost. We sat on the prow and watched the stars come out – what was that about stress again?

6 reasons to visit the K&A

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Kate from Chat Magazine recently reviewed her Drifters holiday on the Kennet & Avon Canal – here’s what she had to say:

1. Learn a new skill! We’d never been on a boating holiday before but hire company Drifters helped us plan a simple route – from Bradford on Avon in Wilts to Bath in Somerset – and back, and showed us how to pilot our narrowboat. Other boaters were really helpful when we got stuck, too!

2. They say a canal boat holiday’s the slowest way to relax. Travelling at 2mph through beautiful countryside, we had to agree! Even in a few hairy moments, it was hard to feel stressed.

3. It’s a home away from home. Our boat Ella was beautiful. Inside we had comfy sleeping quarters and modern bathrooms, plus a roomy kitchen-diner – we made a cooked brekkie every morning!

4. There’s masses of wildlife. We especially loved the ducklings. As soon as we moored, they’d swim up, quacking away, and looking for a snack. Totally cute!

5. It’s never boring. After mooring at the end of each day, we explored and managed to find a different pub for supper. We especially enjoyed local treats, such as Wiltshire ham and chips.

6. You get the best of town and country. After arriving in Bath, we got to walk around the city and take in the sights. Then we had the pleasure of boating back to the base in Bradford on Avon, while gazing at the rolling hills. Bliss!

Hire a canal boat for Mother’s Day

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Day boat hire on the canals offers the chance to spoil hard-working Mums with a relaxing day afloat, nourished by a posh picnic afloat or a pub lunch along the way.

We offer day boat hire from 11 of our bases, with prices starting at less than £10 per person.

Full tuition is included so it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water and have a go at steering, mooring-up and working the locks.

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

Here’s a list of our day boat hire centres open for Mother’s Day in 2016:

1. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales is a 20-minutes cruise from the World Heritage site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly one of the wonders of the waterways, offering stunning views of the Dee Valley below. Day boaters can reach the pretty mountain-side town of Llangollen in two hours. ***Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £120 for up to 10 people weekdays, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.

2. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – our base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, is next to the historic Anderton Boat Lift. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘the Cathedral of the canals’, looks like some giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal. From Anderton, the Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge) is an easy day trip away. This friendly, canalside pub offers home-cooked pub food and cask ales. ***Day boat hire from Anderton starts at £150 for up to 12 people weekdays, £180 on weekends and bank holidays.

3. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from our base at Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. ***Day hire from Goytre starts at £110 for up to 12 people weekdays, £130 on weekends and bank holidays.

4. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), and enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn. ***Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

5. Wend your way through Wiltshire – from our base at Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire on the Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to waterside The Barge Inn at Seend, or head west to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning Tithe Barn and plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants to choose from. ***Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £105 for up to eight people, weekdays, £130 on weekends and bank holidays.

6. Staffordshire delights – from our base at Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Stafford, cruise to the historic market town of Rugeley and back, through several locks, past Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall and the delightful Wolseley Arms in Wolseley Bridge. The return journey takes six hours. ***Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

7. Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union near Crewe, cruise south past Barbridge and Nantwich to Baddington Bridge. With no locks to negotiate and plenty of pubs en route, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat. ***Day boat hire from Bunbury starts at £99 for up to 10 people weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

8. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcs & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Alvechurch. The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through. ***Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

9. Visit Foxton Locks – from our base at Union Wharf in Market Harborough it takes a pleasant two-and-a-half hours to cruise to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the Foxton Locks Inn. Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it. ***Day boat hire at Market Harborough starts at £150 during the week for up to 12 people, £200 at weekends and bank holidays.

Top 8 canal events in 2016

Crick Boat Show Marina (low res)Britain’s canals and rivers host hundreds of exciting events each year, bringing people to the waterways and celebrating all the things that make them special.

Here’s our pick of the best events in 2016:

1. Crick Boat Show, 28-30 May 2016…over 200 exhibitors will gather at Crick Marina on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal near Daventry, showcasing thousands of inland waterways products and services. The event will offer an exciting programme of family entertainment, including boat trips, live music, food and drink stalls, plus special talks and displays celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of canal engineer James Brindley. Our nearest bases are at Gayton, North Kilworth and Market Harborough.

2. Saltaire World Heritage Day, 16-17 April 2016…ride the historic Shipley Glen Tramway, enjoy guided trails, Saltaire Stories, exhibitions celebrating the bicentenary of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and family activities at Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating World Heritage Status town at Saltaire on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, near Bradford. Our nearest bases are at Barnoldswick and Sowerby Bridge.

3. St Richards Boat & Car Festival, 30 April–2 May 2016…this annual event takes place in Vines Park alongside the Droitwich Barge Canal and offers family entertainment, live music, boats, classic cars, markets, duck races and a real ale bar. Our nearest bases are Worcester, Stoke Prior and Tardebigge.

4. IWA Canalway Cavalcade, 30 April-2 May 2016…the Inland Waterway Association’s Canalway Cavalcade takes place at Little Venice in London. This community festival offers fun for all the family with a pageant of boats, trade stalls, live music, kids’ activities, competitions, Morris Dancers, a real ale bar and variety of food stalls. Our nearest bases are at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal and Oxford on the River Thames.

5. Stratford River Festival, 2-3 July 2016…the Stratford & Warwick Waterways Trust put on a free family event in Stratford-upon-Avon each year, with music, craft and food stalls, family zone, charity stalls, an illuminated boat parade and spectacular fireworks display. Our nearest base is on the Stratford Canal at Wotton Wawen.

6. Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, 5-10 July 2016…thousands of people from around the world descend on the pretty town of Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal each year to celebrate dance, music, costume and culture. With six days of world-class competitions and concerts with performers from around the globe, the Llangollen Eisteddfod is one of the world’s great music and culture events. Our nearest bases are Trevor, Chirk and Blackwater Meadow.

7. The Great British Food Festival, 9-10 July 2016…head to this event to find over 80 top local producers, stunning hot food, real ale and wine bars, craft and gift stalls, activities and rides for the kids, live music and top chef demos including Great British Bake Off finalist Luis Troyano, all in the stunning surrounds of the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall, on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford. Our nearest bases are at Great Haywood, Brewood and Peak District.

8. Rickmansworth Canal Festival, 21-22 May 2016…this community and environment event attracts a spectacular array of canal boats from across the country. Occupying part of the Aquadrome and the Grand Union Canal, visitors can enjoy music, performing arts, displays, presentations, traders and catering. Our nearest base is at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire.

Top 6 Romantic Destinations Afloat

ww_27759Cosy double berths, frosty towpaths and quiet moorings make canals the perfect Romantic hideaway.

We offer winter cruising and romantic boats for two from a number of our bases, giving couples the chance to escape on board their very own ‘love boat’.

Once afloat, lovers can cuddle up for a romantic evening afloat, or stop-off at historic country pubs with roaring log fires.

Today’s canal boats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons, including central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Many now have Wifi too and some also have their own multi-fuel stove. So whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

It’s free to moor almost everywhere on the waterway network, so a canal boat could provide the perfect romantic hide-away in the countryside miles from anywhere, or a base to explore exciting waterside destinations like Stratford upon Avon or Birmingham.

Here are our top six romantic destinations on the canals:

1. Propose along the ‘Stream in the Sky’…the awe-inspiring 300metre-long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which soars nearly 40 metres high above the rushing waters of the River Dee, is truly one of the wonders of the waterways. And what a place to propose?! From our canal boat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, close to the aqueduct, a short break to Ellesmere and back, offers the chance to explore the beautiful Vale of Llangollen and Shropshire Lake District.

2. Travel to Stratford upon Avon, home of the Bard…from Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire, Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare, is a six-hour cruise, giving boaters plenty of time to “whisper sweet nothings” along the way. There are moorings in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the famous Swan Theatre and the town’s waterside restaurants, perfect for a candlelit dinner for two.

3. Potter through rural Leicestershire to the heart of the canal network…our base at Union Wharf in Market Harborough offers the chance to explore the beautiful Leicestershire countryside afloat. On a short break, couples can reach the pretty village of Crick, on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, stopping off at rural locals along the way. On a week’s holiday, they can reach Braunston at the heart of the canal network.

4. Enjoy classic English countryside on the Oxford Canal…On a short break from our Stretton-under-Fosse base 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, canal boat holiday-makers can continue south to Banbury, via the canalside villages of Napton and Fenny Compton.

5. Chug through rural Warwickshire…From Drifters’ Rugby base on the North Oxford Canal in Warwickshire, boaters can travel along quiet rural waterways to the pretty village of Crick, passing through the “chocolate box” village of Stoke Bruerne, with canalside pubs, a curry house and quaint Canal Museum. On a week’s break they can complete the Warwickshire Ring, and include a visit to Birmingham’s City Centre to buy expensive presents for each other at The Mailbox!

6. Travel to Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man…our base at Great Haywood on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, on a week’s holiday boaters can reach Market Drayton where the first recorded mention of gingerbread being made was in 1793. Steeped in history, with lively street markets and beautiful architecture, Market Drayton is a great place to celebrate St Valentine’s Day. On a short break from Great Haywood, boaters can travel to the village of Fazeley, passing the National Trust’s Shugb

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2016

With boats travelling at a maximum speed of 4mph and over 3,000 miles of navigable peaceful inland waterways to explore across Britain, canal boat holidays really are the fastest way to slow down.

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home and base to explore.

Here are our top 10 holidays for 2016:

1. Celebrate the Leeds & Liverpool Canal’s Bicentenary…in 2016 it will be 200 years since the magnificent Leeds & Liverpool Canal was completed. Linking the cities of Liverpool and Leeds, at 127 miles long the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway. Leaving Liverpool, the canal passes through East Lancashire then crosses the Pennine countryside and picturesque villages on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, before reaching Leeds. Along the way, boaters pass Sir Titus Salt’s World Heritage Status model town at Saltaire and the spectacular Bingley 5-Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Canal boat holiday-makers can take a one-way trip across the Pennines starting at our base at Sowerby Bridge and ending at Barnoldswick. The week-long journey travels 79 miles, through 79 locks and takes about 45 hours.

2. Navigate the Cheshire Ring…starting from the Drifters’ base at Anderton, this superb cruising ring, which in 2016 celebrates 40 years since its restoration, travels 97 miles, through 92 locks and takes around 55 hours to cruise. The journey takes boaters 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 its heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.

3. Cruise through Shakespeare country…in 2016 it will be 400 years since the death of the Bard. Mark this anniversary with a cruise through Shakespeare country, starting with a picturesque six-hour journey to Stratford upon Avon from Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire – perfect for a short break. Boaters can stop off along the way to visit Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote where Shakespeare’s mother grew up, and once in Stratford, moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums.

4. Explore the River Thames & visit Oxford afloat…Drifters’ Oxford base is a tranquil three-hour cruise along the River Thames from the City centre, where canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge and use their boat as a base to the explore ‘the city of dreaming spires’. New for 2016, the luxurious 12-berth ‘Andromede’ has extra room to relax outside and more space to chill out inside, plus Wifi and a large TV – perfect for extended family holidays or a city break afloat for groups of girls or boys.

5. Travel Brindley’s Trent & Mersey…2016 will mark the 300th anniversary since birth of James Brindley, one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century. Brindley worked on the construction of a number of canals, including the Trent & Mersey Canal, the country’s first long distance canal stretching 94 miles from the River Trent at Derwent Mouth in Derbyshire to the River Mersey via the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook in Cheshire. Canal boat holiday-makers can celebrate Brindley’s birth with a journey on the Trent & Mersey, starting at our base at Acton Bridge in Cheshire. On a short break, boaters can head south to Middlewich, travelling through glorious Cheshire countryside or on a week’s break continue on to the medieval City of Chester, one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain.

6. See the largest pair of equine statues on the planet…at 30-metres high, the magnificent Kelpies stand at the gateway to the Forth & Clyde Canal in Glasgow. Based on the heavy horses that one plied the canal towpaths, these mythical water horses are an extraordinary site and form part of a new 350-hectare park at the end of the Forth & Clyde Canal near Grangemouth. From Drifters’ base at Falkirk, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the Kelpies on a short break, and also enjoy a turn through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift.

7. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ and visit the Eisteddfod…the Llangollen Canal’s incredible World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. It consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 hollow pillars. Each span is 16-metres wide. 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 Drifters’ base at Chirk, canal boat holiday-makers can travel across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and on to the pretty town of Llangollen to visit the famous Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod 5-10 July 2016, where each year around 4,000 performers and 50,000 visitors converge to sing and dance.

8. Float along to the Roman Baths in Bath…on a short break from Drifters’ base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal and reach the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath in seven hours, with just seven locks to negotiate along the way. As well as stunning Georgian architecture, great shopping, museums and restaurants, Bath is home to the award winning Roman Baths, site of one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world and the perfect place to find out exactly what the Romans did for us.

9. Head to the historic heart of the canal network…from our canal boat hire base at Stretton under Fosse, on a short break boaters can cruise along the North Oxford Canal through delightful Northamptonshire countryside to historic Braunston. This pretty village on a hill, which lies at junction of the Grand Union and Oxford canals, thrived for over 150 years as an important stop-off point for canal traders carrying goods from the Midlands to London. Today Braunston is a popular place to visit with a good choice of canalside pubs and the UK’s largest annual historic narrowboat rally, 24-25 June 2016.

10. Glide through the Breacon Beacons…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views. From Drifters’ base Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, boaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn. Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m.

Discovering a more tranquil way of life

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Cheryl Roberts recently wrote about her Drifters holiday on the Llangollen Canal in Club Life Magazine – finding life on the water relaxing, surprisingly luxurious and a little magical…

Setting off

In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful Welsh countryside, there is a piece of architecture ranked by UNESCO as a wonder on a par with the Pyramids. And I am navigating a 15-tonne canal barge along it.

Opened in 1805, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct took 500 men ten years to build and was considered one of the major engineering successes of the 19th century. A sheer drop from the Aqueduct down to the Dee Valley 100 feet below means small children, dogs and those afraid of heights are advised to take refuge inside the boat as it crosses.

It’s this mix of iconic architecture and beautiful scenery that make the Llangollen Canal the most popular stretch of canal in the UK, with over 400 boats a day using it in summer.

Friday

Our trip had begun in Chirk, a small town less than a mile from the English/Welsh border.

Chirk Marina, with its whitewashed office and collection of canal barges has a charming, quaint feel and without even stepping on a boat there is a welcome sense of time slowing down.

For the next four days I am to be in charge of Chloe, a 58-foot red and blue narrowboat. Inside, Chloe is like a compact, well-maintained modern home with two single beds, two bathrooms, double-bed, a lounge area with TV and radio and a kitchen complete with full size gas oven and fridge-freezer. And, most importantly for my gentle autumn adventure, central heating.

I am shown the ropes by Vick, a former engineer, who took early retirement 14 years ago to live in his barge in the Marina, and after a ‘driving lesson’ lasting a couple of hours I have two key points to remember: 1) Check every morning to see if water has got into the bilge (The lowest inner part of a ship’s hull) and activate the bilge pump if necessary. 2) Turn on the stern gland greaser – like a tap – at night, to ensure the shaft between the engine and propeller is kept watertight. The responsibility is exciting.

Soon we are out on the water where, initially, steering feels counter-intuitive: you push the tiller left to go right and visa versa. To brake, you put the boat in reverse – and there is no steering in reverse. The anxiety I felt before my driving test comes flooding back. But the pace on the canal is calm. The speed limit is 4mph: hard to judge without a speedometer, though the fact that people strolling along the towpath are gaining ground on us, suggests there is little danger of exceeding it.

Black Prince, the boat company, have given us an itinerary including suggested stops for lunch and dinner, and our first stop is to be The Poachers Pocket pub, 90 minutes away. Just 20 minutes in and the first challenge awaits: the narrow single lane, 1,200 feet, ‘Darkie Tunnel’. As instructed we turn on the headlight and sound the horn twice to alert on-comers, and happily get through in one piece, with the odd unavoidable bump on the side.

Next we encounter Chirk Aqueduct, built in 1805 by Thomas Telford and William Jessop. At 70ft high this offers us stunning views over the woodlands of the Ceiriog Valley once described by Lloyd George as “a little bit of heaven on earth”.

After a long day, our meal at the Poachers Pocket of roasted chicken, corn on the cob and homemade coleslaw followed by gingerbread cheesecake is very welcome and good value for £15 per head including a drink.

In our absence the central heating has been working perfectly and Chloe is warm and cosy when we return for our first night onboard.

Saturday

After a leisurely on-board breakfast and a shower – hot, pressurized, a relief – it’s time to start the five-hour cruise to Llangollen. For a couple of hours we meander through overarching trees and open farmland before arriving at the big draw: “the stream in the sky” – the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

The Aqueduct’s 19 graceful arches span 1007 feet across the Dee Valley and with the canal’s narrow iron banks negating any real need to steer, there is plenty of time – for those who do have a stomach for heights – to enjoy the green open views of the Dee valley and the white waters of the river below.

Every section of the canal has a unique set of requirements that keep things interesting for the inexperienced boater. The final couple of miles leading to Llangollen has several one-way sections, one being 500 metres long so a messenger has to go ahead on foot to give the all clear using a mobile phone.

The small market town of Llangollen itself is strikingly built around the rushing waters of the River Dee against the backdrop of the Berwyn mountains, making it a popular tourist destination in peak months. From the town’s beautiful stone bridge, we watch nervous kayakers take on the rapids below.

Llangollen has plenty of cafes, restaurants and local craft shops and it’s easy to while away a few hours here. Follow up with dinner at the Corn Mill restaurant with its views over the river. Set over three floors, the restaurant has been converted in keeping with its former life, with the working mill wheel being a focal point. Our meal of scallops (£10.95) and steak and ale pie (£14) was excellent.

It is often booked up so worth phoning ahead.

Sunday

Llangollen marks the end of the canal for motorised boats but there is an extra mile-and-a-half stretch leading to the Horseshoe Falls, the weir that feeds the canal. Horse-drawn boats take visitors on this final stretch as the canal is not wide enough for motorised boats to turn around.

Half way to the Falls, just off the tow-path, is the Llangollen Motor Museum, a privately owned collection of around 60 cars, bikes and memorabilia. Among the motorbikes are names that bring back memories of ‘British Bikes’. The Norton, the Triumph, the Ariel, the Sunbeam and the B.S.A as well as the Ner-A-Car, a 1920s motorcycle that was marketed as being a low-cost alternative to a car to appeal to both men and women. The cars range from a retro-futuristic 1980’s Sinclair C5 with a maximum speed of 15mph to a magnificent E-type Jaguar, and a Standard 16. Also included is a 1961 Gilbern GT – one of only 1005 of the sports cars produced in Wales between 1959 and 1974, when the company ceased trading.

After a nostalgic couple of hours at the Museum it’s time to head back to Chirk. All boats hired for the weekend are due back by 9.30am on a Monday and we end up travelling in the twilight hours (not advised) getting back safe and sound so we can moor up for our final night just outside the Marina.

Monday

“I would never live in a house again,” says Andy from Black Prince Holidays as we disembark from Chloe for the last time. His enthusiasm for life on the water is shared by all the Chirk Marina staff. After a fantastic long weekend chugging along the Llangollen canal it’s easy to see why. We have had a taste of a more tranquil way of life and are looking forward to getting behind the tiller for longer next time.

After the pace of life on the water for the last four days, going back to driving a car is a strange experience. Before Llangollen, I thought of myself as a little impatient on the roads; now, travelling at 20mph seems more than adequate. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Getting the hang of it on the Llangollen

Copy of PontycysyllteAqueduct2Amber Graafland wrote about her first narrowboat holiday in the Daily Mirror, published 17 October 2015:

After an Acme course in canal cruising and narrowboat maintenance Mark, the man from Drifters boat hire base, asked: “Any questions?” Trying to sound nonchalant, I replied: “Er, how do we know if we’re going too fast?” With a furrowed brow, he replied: “You’ll see waves. You don’t want waves.” Well that told me then.

Setting off along the Llangollen Canal from Cheshire towards North Wales, all I could think about was how I hadn’t really taken in much of what I had just been told. And I couldn’t shake off the uncomfortable feeling that I probably should have taken a lot more information on board (see what I did there?). How hard can it be, I naively wondered.

Anyway, with a month’s supply of food and enough tea to sink a ship (you drink a LOT of tea on a canal trip), we were off. We were late so the sun was setting and the light really was beautiful. We had a blissful one-and-a-half hours of no locks, and as we headed towards the Wrexham border with the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct ahead of us, the world was our oyster. The crew of the 66ft six-berth Yellow Legged Gull barge, me and Justin and the kids Rudy and Georgia, were happy and everything was tranquil. What we had forgotten, of course, was the million or so locks and lifting bridges ahead of us.

Things got more interesting when we checked the map and realised it was going to be pretty impossible to reach our target of the three-chamber staircase lock at Grindley Brook by nightfall. Thanks to tonsillitis and a Holy Communion party we were a day late. Mark, if you’re reading this, we only made waves for this first stretch and it was kind of an emergency. I had been told by friends who had barge form that the holiday would be very relaxing. They explained the slowness of the journey (speed limit 4mph) would impart a sense of calm. ‘’Who’s heard of canal rage?” they joked.

Well, all I can say is that there was mutiny on our boat from day one. After that peaceful initial period we began to ‘lock back in anger’. To start, we passed the first boat we met on the wrong side (I am positive we were told to stay left). Then we crashed, then nearly hit another boat. At Grindley Brook I was relieved to learn the slightly daunting three chamber staircase has a lock keeper. This lock can get busy – expect traffic jams – and is tricky to navigate.

Thanks to the Great Canal Journeys TV series we were pretty clued up on all things canal-related. But sadly, Timothy West and Prunella Scales we weren’t. These two acting legends made it look so easy. I’d like to know their secret – I suspect it was wine. Thanks to eight-year-old Rudy, who had just completed canals as part of his school project, we were regaled with canal facts. Did you know the canals were brought from back from the brink, and the rebirth of the canals as highways for leisure is one of the quiet success stories of modern Britain?

And did you know that this was done by volunteers who, over half a century, surrendered evenings and weekends to rebuild collapsed banks and clear junk from choked locks? The result is a network of waterways more than 2,000 miles long and home to 35,000 licensed craft and visited by 200,000 people a year.

Passing through the Chirk Tunnel was a highlight for the kids. It’s 1,380ft long so pretty spooky, damp and smelly. It’s only designed for a single narrow boat so it takes a bit of planning. Not our strong suit. Obviously the most important thing is to moor up and check no one is coming from the other side.

When the coast’s clear it’s a scramble for the entrance, with your light on (very exciting) so your boat can be seen by another at the other end. It all sounds simple enough but this, not surprisingly, is the point where things are most likely to go wrong. Thankfully, and even more surprisingly, it was a doddle for us.

Our main aim was to reach the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on day three and we made up for lost time and did it. At 1,008ft long and with 18 pillars it carries the canal 126ft above the River Dee near Chirk. If you’re scared of heights it’s not ideal as one side has no barriers and there’s a sheer drop. The view is spectacular but you feel very exposed, as if you could quite simply fall off the side. Breathtaking views but a very strange experience. This is a very pretty part of the canal and we moored at Froncysyllte for lunch. If you have time, visit Chirk Castle.

At this point we turned around. I’d like to apologise now to the couple who were having a quiet lunch and witnessed this. The trouble started when we got the barge stuck trying to turn. MY FAULT apparently, although I’m sure I was making lunch when it happened (the galley is excellent, as are the bathrooms and bedrooms). Turning is not to be taken lightly and you’d be well advised to only attempt this at an official turning point: 66ft boat + canal less than 66ft wide = domestic discord.

However, the silver lining in the canal cloud is that by the time you DO turn round and head for home, you’ll have got the hang of it. It was pretty much plain sailing all the way back to the Cheshire boatyard and, thanks to Georgia, 12, we made light work of the locks and lifting bridges. The way back was relaxing and the kids said (thanks to less shouting) they loved it.

My advice to Drifters: it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put the number of a good relationship councillor in the manual…more useful than the number for a pump-out station. And my advice to anyone thinking of booking: pack a very warm coat and lots of tea.

Shire Cruisers Highly Commended in Yorkshire Tourism Awards

Drifters’ member Shire Cruisers was given special recognition at Yorkshire Tourism’s White Rose Awards on 9 November, being ‘Highly Commended’ under the ‘Self-catering’ category.

The awards are the biggest tourism awards in the UK and have been recognising tourism stars for more than 25 years

Shire Cruisers was one of nearly 100 businesses – and the first ever canal boat holiday provider – to be shortlisted this year.

Sir Gary Verity, Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “This year’s entries were of a particularly high standard and your success is a significant achievement. Each year we see standards across all tourism sectors rising considerably and this is what makes Yorkshire such a much visit destination.

“The judges wanted to recognise the experience, skills and dedication of one finalist in the ‘Self-catering’ category and have made a High Commended award.  Congratulations to Shire Cruisers.”

The judges commented: “Shire Cruisers is a 20-person company that offers the chance to spend time exploring the region’s secret waterways.  With 35 years’ experience under their belt, and 19 boats available to hire, skilled instructors ensure that guests are well prepared for their time afloat.”

Nigel Stevens, owner and operator of Shire Cruisers, added: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this award.  Shire Cruisers is a small family-run business with canal boat hire bases at Sowerby Bridge and Barnoldswick.  We are very proud to be able to offer visitors to Yorkshire the opportunity to explore this beautiful county by canal boat.

“This award recognises our fantastic staff, who take a huge amount of care to ensure our canal boat holiday-makers have a wonderful experience.  And I’d also like to thank the Canal & River Trust and Calderdale Council who work so hard to look after the canals our customers love.”