Drifters to open new base at Whixall

From 5 April 2019, Drifters member Anglo Welsh Waterway Holidays will begin offering narrowboat hire from Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire.

From Whixall Marina, deep in the Shropshire countryside, it takes just 30 minutes to reach the main line of the Llangollen Canal – one of the most popular on the network and home to the amazing Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary of World Heritage Status.  

From Whixall canal boat holiday-makers can choose from a fantastic range of routes, from short, lock-free cruising breaks perfect for beginners, to epic journeys around challenging circuits for more experienced boaters.

As well as choice of six standard boats, Drifters will be offering four luxury canal boats for hire from Whixall, including the new 10-berth ‘Gemini’, the four-berth ‘Aquila’, six-berth ‘Perseus’ and 12-berth ‘Andromeda’.

The 41-mile long Llangollen Canal crosses the border between England and Wales, and links the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen in Denbighshire with the Shropshire Union Canal, just north of Nantwich in Cheshire. 

Ten years ago, an 11-mile section of the Llangollen Canal from Gledrid Bridge to the Horseshoe Falls in Llangollen (including the stunning Pontcysyllte and Chirk aqueducts), was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, joining an elite club of 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.

Since then, visitor numbers have quadrupled and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct has become a media star, visited by a variety of TV programmes, including ‘Bargain Hunt’, ‘Antiques Road Trip’, ‘Lost Railway Walks’ and ‘Escape to the Country’.

Soaring 38 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was built by the great canal engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop between 1796 and 1805, to enable slate and limestone to be moved from quarries in North Wales to the Midlands and beyond.  Supported by 18 giant pillars, it’s the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain, carrying a 307-metre long iron water trough, which holds 1.5 million litres of water and allows passage for a single narrowboat, as well as a towpath for pedestrians.

On a short break from Whixall, boaters can head west along the Llangollen Canal to Ellesmere and the Shropshire Lake District, or travel on to Chirk with its magnificent aqueduct, 459-yard long tunnel and choice of canalside pubs.

On a week’s holiday, boaters can continue to head west along the Llangollen Canal to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and travel on to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. 

Heading east, in around four hours boaters can reach the historic town of Whitchurch, and from there, they can reach Hurleston Junction, where the Llangollen meets the Shropshire Union Canal, in around nine hours. 

If on a week’s holiday from Whixall, narrowboat holiday-makers can then head on from Hurleston Junction to Nantwich, Market Drayton or Chester, and on a 10-day or two-week break, it’s possible to travel on around the popular Four Counties Ring. sdlocke

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Celebrate Mother’s Day Afloat

This year Mothering Sunday coincides with the start of British Summer Time (Sunday 31 March 2019), so what better way to celebrate than by taking to the water for a relaxing day afloat on a canal boat, stopping off at a pub for lunch along the way.

Drifters offers day boat hire from 16 boat yards across England, Scotland and Wales, with prices starting from less than £10 per person. 

Full tuition is included so if you are new to canal boating, it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water and get the hang of 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 Drifters’ Top 9 day boat destinations for Mums in 2019:

  1. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way, and crosses over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with beautiful views across the Warwickshire countryside. ****Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  2. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it’s a 20-minute cruise to the World Heritage status 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.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels to pass through – Whitehouses and Chirk, as well as Chirk Aqueduct with a viaduct running alongside it.  It takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach Chirk and the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid.  Alternatively, day boaters can head in the other direction and reach the pretty mountain-side town of Llangollen in just two hours. ****Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £120 for up to 10 people, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
  3. Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from Drifters’ day boat hire base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug gently along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way.  Once there, day-boaters can moor up and visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals.  And there are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ****Day boat hire aboard ‘Daylark’ which can carry up to 12 people, starts at £130 on a weekday, £165 on weekends and bank holidays.
  4. Catch a lift on the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland – from Falkirk at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in Scotland, day boat hirers can travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel, the World’s first rotating boat lift and along the Union Canal to Polmont, where they can moor up and enjoy a short walk to The Claremont Inn.  Or continue on to the canalside Bridge 49 café bar and bistro, next to Causewayend Marina. ****Day boat hire on the ‘Jaggy Thistle’ which can carry up to eight passengers, is £220, Friday to Sunday.
  5. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – Drifters’ 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 canalside Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge), offering home-cooked pub food and cask ales, is an easy day trip away. ****‘Daydream’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £150, weekends & bank holidays £180.
  6. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, boaters can enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. ****‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, weekday hire from £130, weekends & bank holidays £150.
  7. Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, day boaters can head west to the picturesque historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn. ****‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire starts at £105, weekends & bank holidays £130.
  8. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from Tardebigge on the Worcester & 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 Hopwood.  The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2493-metre long Wast Hill Tunnel. ****‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £140.
  9. Cruise through the Leicestershire countryside to Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the historic waterside Foxton Locks Inn for a pub lunch or drink.  Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Victorian Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it. ****‘Moorhen’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £150, weekends & bank holidays from £200.

Top 6 Canal Mysteries

Britain’s 2,000-mile long and 200-year old canal network is a treasure trove of historic structures, a haven for wildlife and is steeped in folklore and mystery. 

To celebrate the rich tapestry of canal history and habitat, here at Drifters we’ve put together our Top 6 Canal Mysteries for visitors and holiday-makers to explore:

  1. Why was the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift a white elephant?  Next to Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, visitors will find a tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift – an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there.  When engineers began working on the construction of the Grand Union Canal, Benjamin Bevan solved the major challenge of raising the canal 75ft up a steep escarpment at Foxton with two flights of five staircase locks, completed in 1814.  However, by the end of the 19th century, as a result of competition from the railways, commercial traffic on the canals was in significant decline.  In 1893, local factory owners and boat companies encouraged the Grand Junction Canal Company to make improvements so that the canal could take larger boats and better compete with the railways.  Plans were approved for the plane in 1897 and building work began.  Two counterbalanced caissons (giant bathtubs) that could each hold two narrowboats or one wide-beam barge, were built to slide up or down the hill on tracks.  They enabled boats to make the journey in just 12 minutes – nearly six times quicker than going through the locks.  Opened in 1900, sadly it was never a commercial success due to decreasing canal traffic and the fact that the Watford flight was never widened to take larger boats.  The plane was mothballed in 1911 and dismantled for scrap in 1928. *Drifters nearest canal boat holiday starting points are at Market Harborough and Braunston.
  2. Why are there pill boxes along the K&A?  When walking along the towpath or cruising along in a boat, visitors to the Kennet & Avon Canal, which connects the River Thames at Reading with the Bristol Avon at Bath, will notice a large number of pill boxes lining the waterway.  Designed by the War Office, these fortifications were commissioned by General Sir Edmund Ironside, following the British Expeditionary Forces’ evacuation from Dunkirk, and the prospect of imminent German invasion.  Named GHQ Stop Line Blue, the canal was equipped to be a static defence line, with the pill boxes and trank traps manned by the Home Guard.  *Drifters offers canal boat hire on the Kennet & Avon Canal from Aldermaston (near Reading), Devizes, Hilperton (near Trowbridge), Bradford on Avon and Bath.
  3. Why do canals sometimes turn green?  When summer temperatures soar, thick carpets of bright green duck weed can appear along sections of Britain’s canals, especially in London.  While an individual piece of duck weed is no bigger than a ladybird, when they multiply into large numbers, they clog up canals, starving the water of oxygen and sunlight, and causing problems for some wildlife.  In the right conditions, a mass of duck weed can double in size every two or three days.  The weed also accumulates litter, can be problematic for boats, and dogs and other animals have been known to mistake it for grass and end up in the water.  When the duck weed takes hold, the Canal & River Trust deploys weed clearing machines and the charity has installed a bubble barrier in on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal to help keep litter and duck weed in check.
  4. Why have some people seen a second route in the Blisworth Tunnel?  On the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major engineering challenge.  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.  But over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging.  As the tunnel runs straight through the hill, the only explanation is that these people must have seen the ghostly flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel. *Drifters nearest canal boat hire starting points are at Rugby, Stretton, Braunston, Stockton and Napton.
  5. Why are there Terrapins on our canals?  Red-eared terrapins are now a common sight on England’s waterways, largely as a result of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles cartoon craze which began in the 1980’s.  Imported from the USA to be sold as pets, these terrapins can grow to the size of a dinner plate, making them less appealing and difficult to manage.  Consequently, they are often irresponsibly released into the wild and can be seen basking on dry land during sunny days.  At the moment it looks unlikely that they are breeding as terrapin eggs need to be incubated at 25 degrees Celsius for 60 days in order to hatch, but climate change may enable them to increase their numbers and potentially harm native animals. *Terrapins are regularly seen at Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, at Fradley Junction where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Our nearest canal boat hire bases are at Great Haywood and Stretton.
  6. Why is the Hatton Flight also known as the Stairway to Heaven? The spectacular Hatton Flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, raises or lowers boats by 146 feet across two miles.  The men and women who operated the working boats which carried cargoes on the canal, knick-named the Hatton flight ‘The Stairway to Heaven’, because of the hard work involved in the long ascent, and the subsequent easy run to Camp Hill where they were paid. *Our nearest canal boat holiday starting points are at Stockton, Warwick and Wootton Wawen.


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Top 5 Easter Canal Boat Breaks

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together out in the open air, learning how to work the locks and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside attractions along the way.

Here are our top five destinations for Easter 2019:

  1. Glide through the Brecon 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, dark skies perfect for star-gazing and a series of historic village pubs to visit along the way.   On a short break from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, passing the Lion Inn at Govilon and the Bridge End Inn at Llangattock.  On a week’s break, boaters can travel on to Brecon, passing through Talybont-on-Usk with its popular White Hart Inn.
  2. Take in a show at the Egg theatre in Bath – on a short break from our canal boat hire base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal for nine miles, reaching moorings Bath Top Lock in around six hours, with just one lock to pass through.  From there, it’s a short walk to Georgian Bath’s City Centre attractions, including the Roman Baths and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre.  Before returning to base, boaters need to travel through Bath Top Lock and the next lock in the flight to turn their boat around between locks 11 and 12.
  3. Visit the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World – perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our canal boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to find handmade Easter eggs in the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World.  With more canals than Venice, boaters can travel right into the heart of the City of Birmingham, where over-night moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace with plenty for families to see and do, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre and star gazing in the Planetarium at Birmingham’s Science Museum Thinktank.
  4. Visit Skipton and its medieval castle – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Barnoldswick, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back, travelling a total of 26 miles, through 30 locks, in around 20 hours.  This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England, and its extensive woodlands. On a week’s break, boaters can travel on along the side of the Aire Valley to Bingley.
  5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our canal boat hire base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the pretty Eisteddford town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains can be reached on a short break, with the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to travel across along the way.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 300-metre long structure consists of a cast iron trough supported by 18 enormous pillars.  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.  On reaching Llangollen, nestled in the hills, boaters can enjoy visiting the town’s independent shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as its Steam Railway and Horseshoe Falls.  On a week’s break, boaters can also travel east to Ellesmere and Whitchurch.


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Top 10 nautical phrases

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

To celebrate the new year, we’ve put together our favourite everyday phrases with nautical origins to ‘Chew the Fat’ over on your next adventure afloat:

1. Barge in (queue jump) – barge has two nautical meanings: a flag officer’s boat; or a flat-bottomed workboat which is hard to manoeuver – hence ‘barge in’. 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 (not moored) – 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 (end of a long and difficult process) – 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 (fee paid to hired murderer) – 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 navvies 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.

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Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore hundreds of waterside destinations and enjoy taking refreshment at historic canalside pubs.

Here are Drifters’ Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019:

1. Go star gazing on the Mon & Brec – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, said to have some of some of the highest quality dark skies, perfect for star gazing. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain. On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails and eateries, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.

2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday you can travel to Leicester and back. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encountering 24 locks, and passing through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy, including The Three Horseshoes at Wistow, and the canalside Navigation Inn at Kilby. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for exploring local attractions, including the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains.

3. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around 20 hours, travelling 27 miles through 53 locks to reach the historic town of Hungerford, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel up the spectacular flight of 16 locks in a row at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, passing close to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest. Once at Hungerford, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy dining at a choice of pubs and browsing in dozens of antique shops.

4. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes canal boat holiday-makers up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish.

5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Llangollen and back – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the stunning hill surrounded town of Llangollen, can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough holding the canal across iron arched ribs and 19 enormous hollow pillars. 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.

6. Cruise the Birmingham mini-ring – with more canals than Venice, travelling by boat is the best way to tour Britain’s vibrant second City. On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Tardebigge boat yard on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, canal boat holiday-makers can travel the Birmingham Mini-Ring, cruising for 27 hours and passing through 49 locks. The route begins by passing through the remains of the Forest of Arden, with quiet villages and historic waterside pubs to enjoy along the way, and then heads right into the heart of Birmingham. Here boaters can moor up and explore some of the City’s top attractions, including the Thinktank Science Museum and Mailbox Shopping Centre. Travelling out of Birmingham on a different canal, the route connects with the Grand Union Canal and the journey becomes gradually more rural again as it loops back round through Lapworth and along part of the Stratford Canal.

7. Travel one-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge or Ashton-under-Lyne, this week-long epic journey takes around 40 cruising hours, travelling 33 miles and passing through 97 locks. If beginning at Sowerby Bridge, the route first travels down the Calder & Hebble Navigation past Brighouse, then after a short river section the journey switches onto the Huddersfield Broad, taking boaters into Huddersfield City Centre. After that the canal goes up the Colne Valley into the hills and on to the villages of Slaithwaite, then Marsden, before reaching the summit over 644 feet above sea level and the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel. The passage of boats through the incredible three-and-a-quarter mile long tunnel is guided by Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers. After the tunnel, the canal descends quickly through the Diggle Flight and into the Saddleworth villages, before reaching the centre of Stalybridge, and finally Ashton.

8. Navigate the Droitwich Ring – setting off from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Worcester on the beautiful River Severn, canal boat holiday makers can navigate the Droitwich Ring, the only waterway cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a 21-mile loop with 33 locks along the way, that can be completed in just less than 15 hours.

9. Potter through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break. The route begins by passing over the 35-metre high Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, and on through miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries.

10. Glide through the Peak District to Cheddleton and back – on a short break from Drifters’ Peak District narrowboat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, you can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal, reaching Cheddleton Flint Mill in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks and travelling just over 11 miles. As the Caldon Canal leaves Stoke, it begins to pass through gently rolling hills and wooded areas, past old mills and then alongside the stunning River Churnet. At Denford, the Hollybush Inn is popular with boaters and at Consall Forge, the secluded Black Lion pub serves good food and real ales.

Canal Boat Holiday Bucket List

The ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled over 60 years ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association, and published in his book ‘Know Your Waterways’. Here at Drifters, we’ve added the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland (which opened in 2002) to make the perfect Canal Boat Holidays Bucket List:

1. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres (126ft) high above the River Dee, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain. Built between 1795 and 1805, it has 18 magnificent stone piers, supporting a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth! Drifters has a canal boat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, just a five-minute cruise from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

2. The Anderton Boat Lift – also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ this extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres (50ft) from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal. Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats. In 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but after a Heritage Lottery Funded restoration, it reopened in 2002. Drifters has a narrowboat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Anderton, right next to the Lift.

3. The 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. The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810. By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990. Drifters’ Devizes canal boat hire base is at the base of the flight.

4. The Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next. Our nearest canal boat hire base is on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Silsden, a distance of six miles away. With five locks to pass through along the way, the journey to Bingley takes around four-and-a-half hours.

 

 

 

5. The Standedge Tunnel – tunnelling for over three miles beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18 and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system. Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build, opening in 1811. In the 20th century, the Huddersfield Canal fell into disrepair, becoming un-navigable by 1948, but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001. Today narrowboat holiday-makers need to book their passage though with a Canal & River Trust, and there is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end. Our nearest base is at Sowerby Bridge, on the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal, 20 miles and 65 locks away. The journey to Standedge takes around 21 hours (three days).

6. Barton Swing Aqueduct – originally built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening. But when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct in 1893. The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal. Our nearest base is at Acton Bridge, on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire. From there, it takes around nine hours, travelling 26 miles and through just one lock, to reach the Barton Swing Aqueduct.

7. The Burnley Embankment – also known as ‘The Straight Mile’, the mile-long Burnley Embankment carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over 18 metres (60ft) high across part of the town, offering boaters breath-taking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Though costly and difficult to build, the Burnley Embankment, which spans the Calder Valley, avoided the need for a series of locks which would have slowed cargo-carrying boats down. Designed by Robert Whitworth, the embankment was built between 1796 and 1801 and involved the mammoth task of transporting (by horse and cart) around half a million tons of earth from the nearby canal cutting at Whittlefield and tunnel at Gannow. Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Barnoldswick is just 11 miles away from Burnley, which with seven locks to pass through, takes around five hours.

8. The Falkirk Wheel – built as part of the Millennium Link project to restore the canals linking the east and west coasts of Scotland, The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Standing at a height of 35 metres, it moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal, replacing a flight of 11 locks which had been dismantled in 1933. It can carry up to 600 tonnes (eight or more boats) and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn – the same amount it takes to boil eight kettles. Drifters offers canal boat rental at Falkirk, right next to the Wheel.

Top 10 Museums to visit afloat

Britain’s beautiful 2,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers passes through some of our most vibrant towns and cities, with exciting world-class Museums to visit along the way.

Here are our Top 10 museums to visit afloat in 2019:

1. Visit the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich, it takes around three-and-a-half hours, travelling nine miles and passing through just two locks, to reach Hack Green visitors moorings – just a short walk from the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker Museum. Once one of the nation’s most secret defence sites, this fascinating blast-proof underground bunker would have been the centre of Regional Government had nuclear war broken out. Decommissioned in 1993, today it offers visitors the chance to see the government’s preparations for nuclear war as well as the largest public display of nuclear weapons in Europe.

2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday boaters can travel to Leicester and back to visit the exciting new King Richard III Visitor Centre. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encounters 24 locks, and passes through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy along the way. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for a foray to the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre, which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains under a Leicester car park five years ago.

3. See T-rex skeletons at the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum – from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base on the River Thames at Eysnham near Witney, boaters can reach moorings in the centre of Oxford in just three hours, passing through four locks along the way. From there, the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum is short walk away. Housed in a stunning Victorian neo-Gothic building, the Museum is home to an internationally significant collection of natural history specimens, including T-rex skeletons, the Oxford Dodo, whale skeletons, British bird displays, dinosaur fossils and the 4.5 billion-year-old Nantan meteorite.

4. Visit the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds – from our canal boat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, it takes 17 hours, passing through 28 locks to reach the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds Dock – perfect for a week afloat. Home to the national collection of arms and armour, there are thousands of objects from across the world to admire across nine galleries, including Henry VIII’s ‘Horned Helmet’, a long bow from the wreck of the Mary Rose and the ‘Swords of Middle Earth’ based on the prop weapons used in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ movies.

5. Head to the Roman Baths Museum in Bath – from our canal boat holiday base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Hilperton, it’s a four-hour journey, travelling 11 miles and passing through one lock to moorings at Sydney Gardens. From there, it takes just 15 minutes to walk into the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath, home to the Roman Baths, once one of the greatest religious spas of the ancient world. Here visitors can visit the Sacred Spring, Roman Temple and Roman Bath House and, with the help of costumed interpreters, learn about the people of Aquae Sulis (the Roman name for Bath) and their goddess Minerva.

6. Step back in time at the National Waterways Museum – from our boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury, on a week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Cheshire countryside and the ancient City of Chester to reach the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. The journey takes around 11 hours, travels 21 miles and passes through 16 locks. Once at Ellesmere Port, boaters can moor up and take time to explore the Museum’s historic boat collection, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, which all bring the past vividly to life.

7. Marvel at the medieval splendour of Warwick Castle – cruising from our canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just over seven hours to reach moorings close to Warwick Castle, perfect for a short break afloat. This incredible 1,000-year-old medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon offers a fantastic day out, with Flight of the Eagles displays, Horrible Histories Maze, Kingmaker exhibition, towers and ramparts to climb, the Castle Dungeon tour and Mighty Trebuchet firing spectacle among the fantastic choice of things to see and do.

8. Take a cultural cruise to Wakefield – on a mid-week or week-long break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Wakefield and back to visit the fabulous Hepworth Wakefield Museum. The journey travels 40 miles, through 52 locks and takes around 22 hours. The Gallery, which has moorings right outside, offers visitors over 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery spaces. As well as showcasing the extraordinary work by the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth, visitors to the Hepworth Wakefield can see works by Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Paul Nash, John Nash, David Nash, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.

9. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Mary King Close in Edinburgh – from our narrowboat hire base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is an 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal, perfect for a four night mid-week break. The cruise starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift) and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a short walk from the Royal Mile where the Mary King Close Museum takes visitors back in time to explore Edinburgh’s only preserved 17th century street and follow in the footsteps of its former residents.

10. Discover the Gothic elegance of Plas Newydd House Museum – from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham, North Wales, it takes just two hours to reach the beautiful Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, home to the remarkable Plas Newydd House Museum & Gardens. In the late 18th century this fascinating stone built house was turned into gothic fantasy by Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, known as “The Ladies of Llangollen”. Today visitors can enjoy exploring the property’s enchanting gardens and gazing at the fascinating stained glass and elaborately carved oak interiors.

Try canal boating for free at our National Open Day

On Sunday 7 April 2019, we are once again offering people the chance to try canal boating for free at 19 of our boat yards across England and Wales.

The taster sessions, run with support from the Canal & River Trust, will be on from 11am to 4pm and will include free short trips on skippered narrowboats, as well as boat tours and holiday discounts. People of all ages are encouraged to take part and no advanced booking is required.

Tim Parker, chairman of Drifters, explains: “Travelling at just 4mph through peaceful countryside, sleepy villages and vibrant waterside towns and cities, canal boat holidays are often described as ‘the fastest way to slow down’.

“Each year around 400,000 people enjoy holidaying on Britain’s canal network and last year, around 3,000 people got afloat at our one of our National Open Day events. We look forward to welcoming thousands more visitors this year for the chance to find out what makes canal boat holidays so special.”

Gareth Stephens, National Boating Business Manager at the Canal & River Trust, adds: “We believe that waterways have the power to make a real difference to people’s lives. Spending time by water makes us all healthier and happier and early research is showing evidence of this.
“Thousands of people already enjoy boating holidays on our beautiful 2,200-mile network of inland waterways, and these free canal boat taster sessions are a great way to see if this sort of holiday could be for you.”

Further details of the open days and visiting the canal network can be found at www.drifters.co.uk/openday

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Pacific Yachting reviews the Llangollen

Cherie Thiessen of the Canadian Pacific Yachting Magazine took a week long canal boat holiday with Drifters in September, describing it as ‘…the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure’.

Travelling along the Llangollen Canal from our canal boat hire base at Whitchurch (run by ABC Boat Hire), here are some of things she said about their trip in her article published in Pacific Yachting Magazine’s November 2018 issue.

‘This scenic canal route, leaving from Whitchurch, England, and arriving in Llangollen, Wales, features the highest aqueduct in Britain at 38 metres (stretching 306 metres across the sky). It also boasts three one-way tunnels with no traffic lights, the longest Tunnel being Chirk at 420 metres.  If that’s not enough, there are also 67 bridges…’

‘In Llangollen…we walk an eight-kilometre route that takes us to the Horseshoe Falls, an expansive semi-circular weir on the River Dee, which provides water for the canal. Then we walk on the remains of the early 13th century abbey of Valle Crucis (1201), a majestic ruin in the pastures, brooded over by hilly fields and verdant countryside…’

On day 5 ‘We say a reluctant goodbye to Llangollen…and turnaround…to complete the 77-kilometre-round-trip route, already relishing the beauty of Blake Mere and George’s Wood beyond; the nature reserve, the undulating pastures, peat mosses and moors and the towering oak trees.  Yew, beech and ash festooned with rampant ivy also jostle for space at the canal while hawthorn and rosehip bushes push to the bank. Then the views of Shropshire farmland will emerge, with pheasants ducking in and out of pastures speckled with sheep and cows.’

‘No one goes to the UK without setting foot in a pub, right? So three nights of the seven find us raising glasses of apple cider or ale…before we tuck into our fish ‘n’ chips, shepherd’s pie or scampi and chat to the locals.’

‘We all enjoy checking out the markets…overjoyed with the variety of cheeses’ and ‘grab up pork pies and sausage rolls.’

In Whitchurch ‘we supped well at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, dating back to the 18th century, an inn and pub lovingly restored by its owners, Maureen and David Wiles…’

‘How many places can you cruise where you can gaze at the sky, rub against history, test your steering skills and tie up in natural solitude?’

‘What to bring – Non nylon work gloves make handling the lines and windlass a whole lot easier and keep your hands warm. Bring non-slip waterproof shoes and slip-ons for inside the boat. While ABC provides rain jackets for two as well as a large umbrella, you should bring rain pants and hats and warm clothing, and good flashlights or headlights for scouting out the tunnels.’

‘Provisioning – pubs and restaurants are plentiful but for the first afternoon and next morning you will need your own food.  We stocked up at large nearby supermarkets at Whitchurch, Ellesmere and Llangollen.’

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