A family afloat in Yorkshire – spending quality time together

A recent survey suggested that the pace and pressures of 21st-century living are taking their toll, with families, on average, now spending fewer than seven hours of quality time together each week.

Heron Publications editor Mike Firth decided to do something to redress the balance by taking his family – and their dog – on a canal boat holiday in Yorkshire. Setting off from Drifters’ Sowerby Bridge narrowboat hire base:

Please excuse me if I nod off while writing this holiday feature. You see, I’m just back from a tranquil autumn midweek family break, cruising along the Rochdale Canal, travelling so steadily that we were often overtaken by ducks and geese.

It was peacefulness personified and a wonderful time of year to barge through the backwaters of the Pennines, with red, yellow and golden leaves reflected in the mirror of the waterway.

Wife Helen had often commented on how much she would enjoy holidaying on a cruise, but I could tell from the expression on her face that our starting point just up the M1 in West Yorkshire hadn’t quite been what she’d had in mind.

But, along with teenage daughter Olivia, we had watched the pre-holiday instruction DVD and also checked out the latest canal adventures of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, so we were ready, willing and able to take to the waterway.

After being given a thorough bow-to-stern introduction to our 48ft red and blue boat called ‘Norfolk’, we cruised gingerly out of the large Sowerby Bridge boatyard, heading westwards on the Rochdale Canal. But there was most certainly no gentle introduction to what would be our way of life for the next five days.

Waiting to greet us just around the corner was a dimly-lit, 114-yard, ‘L’-shaped tunnel, leading us through to the deepest lock ever dug in the UK.

However, we were delighted that at this stage we were still receiving assistance from our instructor (Thanks, Stan!) and even more pleased when we learned that this cavern of a lock came equipped with its own professional lock-keeper.

Once tens of thousands of gallons of water had lifted us all of 19ft 8in (6m), the huge gates ahead of us yawned wide apart and – now on our own – we tentatively moved ahead.

And this was the moment our holiday really began.
I mentioned that our family break was a peaceful affair – and so it was for me at the tiller. However, miles of total tranquility were punctuated by frantic activity and an adrenalin rush whenever we approached a lock. And this canal offered plenty of them.

Fortunately, Helen rose to the challenge of working them all and, with Olivia ensuring our ropes kept us steady, my role was to ensure the boat was kept away from the sides and also the dangerous lock cills.

With most of the locks wide enough for two boats, the workload – and conversation – was shared with other floating families.

The scenery was a mixture of glorious countryside, old stone mills and the backsides of industrial units, with walkers, cyclists and workers all offering cheery greetings from the towpath.

The canal was broad in most places, a tight squeeze in others, and I soon learned to keep to the centre of the water wherever possible, as in the edges it was often only a couple of feet deep. When something approached in the opposite direction – which thankfully only happened three or four times – the way of the water was to pass on the right-hand side.

Controlling the throttle and tiller soon became second nature and standing there with a bacon butty and mug of coffee was the perfect way to start each day.

Although this was late autumn, the boat was warm and comfortable. With two made-up double beds, a well-equipped kitchen, toilet, shower, central-heating, TV, hair-dryer and more storage room than we had imagined possible, there was also plenty of space for the three of us, plus Harry the Basset Hound. He was bemused as to why we had finally slowed down to his pace of life.

After a first-night mooring at Luddenden Foot – and a great take-away Indian meal – day two saw us progress up a series of locks to Hebden Bridge, entering the town by what appeared to be the back door.

With many fascinating shops, cosy cafes, great pubs, a lovely park and helpful Tourist Information Centre, we were all well taken with the place and celebrated with a hearty meal at the Shoulder of Mutton – recommended.

With no real timetable to stick to and no urgency whatsoever, day three saw us take on water supplies and pootle up a few more of the canal’s locks towards Todmorden where the moment I had secretly dreaded – performing a three-point turn with people watching from the towpath – passed off so smoothly that I wished I could have done it again!

So now we were on our return journey in an easterly and downwards direction and for some reason the lock manoeuvres were far smoother and speedier.

With plenty of Hebden Bridge still to explore, we decided to moor there again for the evening and spent our time on board playing board games and watching DVDs.

The weather was glorious on day four and as we reluctantly made our way back towards Sowerby Bridge, I spotted rabbits and squirrels beside the water and fed the crusts from my morning bacon sandwiches to grateful Mallards and Muscovy ducks.

There was a queue of half-a-dozen boats awaiting assistance from the lock-keeper at the mighty Tuel Lock, but no-one was in any rush and the delay provided all crews with a perfect opportunity to exchange stories and experiences.

We could have gone on to explore a little of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal, but instead decided to moor up for the night just below our final lock and head to the nearby Moorings pub to celebrate a wonderful family holiday.

Next morning we returned to base, commenting on what a revolutionary innovation canals and locks must have been more than two centuries ago, enabling all manner of goods to be transported from town to town, up and down hills. But where Pennine waterways such as the Rochdale Canal were once the domain of industry, nowadays they offer delightful pleasures for ramblers, walkers, day-trippers – and boating folk like us!

Top 12 facts about canal boats

1. Don’t call it a barge – as its name suggests, a narrowboat is not a barge as they are just seven feet wide and designed to fit Britain’s canal locks, while barges are at least twice as wide

2. Size matters – narrowboats range in length from 32ft to 70ft, and provide accommodation for between two and 12 people

3. Keep to the right when passing other boats – unlike cars on our roads, narrowboats move to the right when passing, otherwise it’s best to stay in the middle

4. You don’t need a licence to steer our boats – but all our canal boat hire operators provide expert tuition on arrival, as well as detailed information in advance of your narrowboat holiday

5. You can cook a proper meal – a gas oven, fridge, pots, pans, cooking utensils and crockery are all provided in the galley

6. You can bring your pet – up to two dogs or other pets are allowed on board many of our boats, and charges vary depending on the operator.

7. It’s nice and cosy on board – as all our boats have central heating, and some also have multi-fuel stoves

8. Toilets are fully flushing – our boats are fitted with flushing toilets and showers are fed by the boat’s hot water tank

9. There’s entertainment on board – all our boats have a TV, radio and DVD player, and many also have WiFi and we recommend bringing a pack of cards and some board games to play while on your canal boat holiday too

10. You can’t go over 1,000 watts – hairdryers, straighteners, phone and computer chargers, and other electrical appliances that use up to 1,000 watts can be used on board, but anything using above 1,000 watts won’t work

11. Special equipment is there for you – life jackets are available on request and many of our operators provide wet weather overalls for the helmsman

12. There’s a choice of stern – the backs of our boats have either a ‘cruiser stern’ or are ‘semi traditional’. The ‘cruiser stern’ gives you an open back deck, with room for a number of people to stand. While the ‘semi traditional’ gives a smaller rear deck with a seating area which can be enclosed with doors. Some people like having the larger deck for a number of people to congregate on, while others prefer the seating in the ‘semi traditional’ as it can be good for keeping dogs and children in a defined area.

Top 5 Christmas Canal Getaways

With frosty towpaths, peaceful rural retreats and historic waterside pubs, a narrowboat holiday on Britain’s canal network can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

Drifters offers winter cruising* from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug craft for two to family vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat or to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations in waterside towns and cities like Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

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

Drifters’ prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £535 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £825.

Here’s a list of our Top 5 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat:

1. Travel through remote Staffordshire Moorlands…from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, on a week’s break boaters can travel north up the Trent & Mersey Canal to connect with the Caldon Canal at Stoke on Trent, said to be one of the finest canals in Britain. From here, it’s a gentle 12-hour cruise along the 17-mile long Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin and back, travelling through beautiful countryside deep in the remote Staffordshire Moorlands. From the water meadows around Cheddleton to the dense woodlands of the Churnet Valley, and the urban landscapes of the Potteries to the windy moorlands near Denford, the scenery is ever-changing. Top mooring sites along the route include the Hollybush Inn at Denford and Froghall Basin.

2. Amble along the Ashby Canal to Market Bosworth…On a short break from our boat yard at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head north along the Oxford Canal to the outskirts of Coventry to reach the peaceful Ashby Canal to enjoy 22 miles of lock-free cruising. Along the way, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy visiting a series of historic canalside pubs, including the Rose & Castle at Ansty, The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction and The Lime Kilns at Watling Street, as well as visiting the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard lost his crown to Henry Tudor. On a week’s holiday, there’s time to travel further north along the Coventry Canal to the historic hatting town of Atherstone, with plenty of eateries to enjoy, including The Old Bakery.

3. Soar across the Stream in the Sky to Ellesmere…from our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, on a short break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Ellesmere and back, 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. Top mooring sites along the way include The Poacher’s Pocket pub at Gledrid and the head of the Ellesmere Arm provides good access to Ellesmere town, with its narrow winding streets and choice of eateries. On a week’s holiday from Trevor, boaters can travel on to Wrenbury, with its range of historic houses and the 16th century St Margaret’s Church overlooking the village green and canalside Dusty Miller pub in a converted corn mill.

4. Wend your way to Warwick…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, with a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall, ‘Stories with Santa’ in the Library and ‘A Winter Wedding’ in the Princess Tower. Top mooring sites along the way include Long Itchington with its choice of six pubs, including ‘The Duck on the Pond’ and the Blue Lias pub at the bottom of the Stockton flight.

5. Travel through Shakespeare country on the Stratford Canal…from our narrowboat hire centre at Stratford upon Avon, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise along the Stratford Canal to the village of Wootton Wawen, with its Yew Tree Farm Shopping Village, offering visitors a Farm Shop, Cowshed Café, antiques and crafts. And once back in Stratford, canal boat holiday-makers can take time to enjoy the historic town’s marvellous Christmas lights, markets, grottos, carol singers, traditional pubs, ghost walks, shops, Swan Theatre, cosy waterside restaurants and museums, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Top mooring sites along the way include the summit of the Wilmcote Flight for access to the village of Wilmcote, with Mary Arden Farm Museum and Mary Arden Inn.

*Please note some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network, but none of the following routes are scheduled to be affected over Christmas.

Top 10 Canal Boating Tips for Beginners

With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever, canal boat holidays are becoming increasingly popular and there are now more boats on the canal network than at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

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, so it’s easy to get afloat.

Here are our Top 10 canal boating tips for beginners to help smooth the waters:

1. Keep to the right – unlike cars on our roads, boats travel on the right side of our canals and rivers so when you meet another boat, keep to the right

2. Steering basics – push the tiller right to go left, and left to go right and put the engine in reverse to stop

3. Use your horn – to warn boats coming towards you when approaching sharp bends and as you enter a tunnel

4. Tunnel prep – switch on your headlight before entering a tunnel, if it’s a one-way tunnel, make sure there’s no boat inside and if you have to wait your turn, stay well clear of the entrance

5. Don’t speed – stick to the 4mph speed limit (you are going too fast if you are creating too much wash) and slow down before passing moored boats

6. Mooring etiquette – when mooring up at busy spots, make sure you don’t leave a big gap and never moor opposite winding holes, on bends, near to bridges, at water points (unless filling up) or on lock landings (unless waiting to lock through)

7. Share locks – always share a lock with other boats if possible to conserve water and always wait your turn

8. Keep the boat forward of the cill – the word ‘Cill’ and white lines are marked on the lock walls and warning signs are placed on lock gates to remind you to keep the boat forward of the top lock gate cill (step)

9. Close the gates behind you – take time to check all paddles and gates are shut after you’ve used a lock, unless you see another boat approaching, in which case leave the gates open to help them and don’t prepare locks ahead of you unless there’s nobody coming the other way

10. Get the Boater’s Handbook – the Canal & River Trust offers a free handbook to read and video to watch before going boating for the first time, offering advice on how to navigate the inland waterways safely https://www.drifters.co.uk/boating-video.html

Travelling along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Janie van de Pas, from the Dutch travel blog Britblog, recently took a mid-week break with a friend, travelling from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to Birmingham City Centre and back, aboard the 62ft six-berth ‘Wharfdale’.

Here’s a translated edit of her review:

Day 1 – Heading to Hopwood

There we were stuck in the middle of the channel.

“Everyone can do it” I was assured.

I called the canal boat hire base. “Hello, we just left and we are already stuck.”

“Are you at the tunnel?”

“No, not even at the bridge,” I say shamefully.

“We are coming”.

Within ten minutes someone from our canal boat rental company arrived to help us and after some forward and backwards movements we were free again.

So simple, we were being too careful.

Just over an hour before, we had arrived at the boat yard, two narrowboat novices.

Fortunately, after we had put our stuff on the canal boat, we got a thorough explanation. Although before leaving Holland we had watched the guide to narrowboating on YouTube, explaining the rules – there’s a world of difference between watching a movie and actually doing it.

Our instructor explained the gas, water, and the things to check and then we happily departed with our instructor accompanying us for a short while before we went on alone.

Until we got stuck…

After that, as the sun was shining we reached the first bridge (58) and tunnel (Shortwood). We were going well and our goal that day was to moor just after bridge 67 – not far away.

It is September and cold for the time of year, but with the hot rays on our skin it felt good to be outside.

It is quiet along the water, we met a fisherman and maneuvered neatly around. Cows, sheep and ducks looked suspiciously at us. Did they somehow know it’s our first time as skippers? When we passed, are they relieved, or was I just imagining that?

Half-way to our destination it started to rain.

With the cold wind I wondered why I wanted to do this. The unique experience? Bucket list?

Then we went through a beautiful valley – fortunately I could see it between all the rain drops.

As the end of our first day’s cruising was in sight, I was glad because of the cold, but apprehensive as we had to moor the boat. Slowly we approached the side.

To go to the right, you have to send the tiller left, and vice versa. We bumped the next boat which was embarrassing but once set for the night, we headed to The Hopwood House pub to warm up.

It’s a nice pub right on the water, where we were surrounded by chickens – on the wallpaper and decorations, but not on my plate – I went for the fish & chips.

Day 2 – Gas Street Basin

There’s no cloud in the sky. After a nice breakfast cooked on board we went on our way.

We passed Cadbury World, the chocolate factory of my dreams and reached Gas Street Basin by lunchtime, mooring ‘Wharfedale’ without any hassle, ready to take advantage of city centre dining and culture.

Day 3 – Dudley

It’s possible to continue on to Dudley via canal but we took a half-hour bus trip instead, heading to the Dudley Tunnel & Limestone Mines.

First we checked out the exhibition about the canal tunnels in Dudley and found out the mountain in Dudley was a major source of limestone and was excavated via a network tunnels.

After this we were given hard hats ready to go underground on a trip boat. Our skipper took us into the tunnel, where we were given an extensive explanation of its history and treated to a music and light show.

Next to Dudley Tunnel lies the Black Country Living Museum, connected via a bridge over the canal. Here we experienced village life in the industrial era of around 1830 – the time of coal and hard life, when smoke and smog in the sky darkened the country

At the Museum’s ‘Into the Thick’ exhibit, we explored a mine with a guide and some other non-claustrophobic visitors. Helmet on, flashlight and often having to bend (I’m glad I’m not that big), in 35 minutes we got to know a little of what it was like for the miners of 1850. Outside, we are glad to see daylight again, not able to understand how the miners worked 12-hour shifts down there.
After seeing cottages from 1840, 1845 and 1890, the sky opened, just in time for lunch – a Cornish pasty.

Next we visited the Victorian school, the candy shop and bakery. Then via the shipyard we come back to the houses and the pub, where it was time for a beer.

After the church, the pharmacy and other shops, our last stop was the steam engine, a replica of the first.

Day 4- Kings Norton

We began our journey back to the canal boat hire base. Engine on, breakfast, shower and off we went.

Although still fresh, it was nice on the back deck where we could enjoy the sunshine and the surrounding area.

We headed to Kings Norton for lunch and a water top-up. From our guide book we learnt there is a pub here and an interesting church, which we headed to first. The little church originates from Norman times, adapted by later renovations.

Across from the church is The Tudor Merchant’s House – a beautiful old half-timbered house, with a café. We were welcomed by a friendly man, who told us about the history of the building and the area.

We learnt that Kings Norton has a rich history. During the English Civil War, Prince Rupert of the Rhine rested with his men on Kings Norton Green on October 17, 1642. There they were surprised by a small group of Lord Willoughby of Parham’s soldiers. During the fighting, 50 of Prince Rupert’s men were killed and 20 were captured. Lord Willoughby lost 20 people and the graves are still in the church.

Queen Henrietta Maria slept in Kings Norton later in the civil war (1643), apparently in the Tudor Merchant’s House. She came with an army of about 5,500 men (from Yorkshire).

Back at the boat, after we filled her up with water, we continued on to Wast Hill Tunnel, which takes half an hour to travel through.

After the tunnel, we soon passed Hopwood House (where we stayed the first night), travelled through Alvechurch and the Shortwood Tunnel and reached the Old Wharf where our boating adventure began. Surprised that we are already there, we decide to carry on to the top of the Tardebigge Flight of locks for our last night.

We passed through Tardebigge Tunnel and reached the Top Lock – what a beautiful view?! With no less than 30 locks, which together drop boats by 67 metres, it’s the longest lock flight in the country.

That evening we cooked dinner on board for the first time – pasta carbonara. Lovely after our long journey that day.

Day 5 – Goodbye

After our last night on board, it was time to return ‘Wharfedale’ to her base.

First, however, we had to turn her around. I took the tiller and put the boat in reverse. After a few maneuvers, I managed to turn the narrowboat without hitting another boat and I was proud of myself.

Bucket list – going on a narrowboat? Surely everyone must!

 

Top 6 Halloween Destinations Afloat

With ghosts galore, 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.

Here’s our guide to the spookiest canal destinations:

1. Beware the blood stained 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 Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

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. Canal boat holiday-makers can hire a boat from our boatyard at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, reaching Chester in seven hours, and passing through nine locks.

3. Look out for the Monkey Man at Norbury – the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘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. Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.

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 2,795 metres long, 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…? From our base at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it’s an eight-hour, 13-lock journey to Stoke Bruerne, passing through the Blisworth Tunnel on the way.

5. Hear echoes of 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 in 12 hours, travelling 22 miles through 18 locks from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire.

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 UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries canal boat holiday-makers 38 metres high in the air above the River Dee. From our boatyard on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Aqueduct.

All aboard for autumn afloat

Pontycysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.

These colours are dramatically mirrored in the water and there’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way, including the arrival of flocks of birds in search of berries.  There are also foraging opportunities along the way – apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes all make fabulous ingredients for fresh fruit crumbles and drinks on board.

Our autumn prices start at £395 for a short break (three or four nights), £625 for a week.  Here are our Top 7 destinations for this autumn:

  1. 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, to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.
  2. Enjoy mountain views on the Mon & Brec…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 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 with some of the darkest night skies in Britain, it’s a perfect place for star gazing.
  3. Amble along the Ashby for some Tudor history…on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Stoke Golding, boaters can travel lock-free along the Ashby Canal to Snarestone and back. Rich in wildlife, the Ashby Canal winds peacefully through the countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length, and from Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field.  Here in 1485 the reign of Richard III ended and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.
  4. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge…from our boat yard 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. Take in stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside…on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Market Harborough on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, boaters can travel to the pretty village of Crick and back. The route takes holiday-makers through Foxton locks, with panoramic views of the Leicestershire countryside from the top.  At Foxton, there’s a tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift, an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once carried canal boats up and down the hill in giant bathtubs.  On a week’s holiday from Market Harborough, boaters can travel on to the “chocolate box pretty” canal village of Stoke Bruerne, with its Canal Museum and choice of pubs.
  6. Explore historic Bradford on Avon…on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back, enjoying beautiful views of the southern Cotswold hills, and passing through the historic town of Bradford on Avon. With architectural gems including the magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and striking Town Bridge over the River Avon, as well as many independent shops and places to eat, Bradford on Avon is a great place to stop-off at and explore along the way.  Once in Bath, boaters can moor up a short walk from the City Centre and visit some of the City’s world class attractions, including the Roman Baths.
  7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands…from Drifters’ 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.  On a week’s break, boaters can continue on to Edinburgh and moor up close to the City Centre to explore the Castle and Royal Mile.

Stan Cullimore’s River Thames Diary – it’s a lovely way to live

There’s a lot to be said for messing about in boats. Living life beyond the river banks. It’s a wonderful way to slow down and unwind. Which is why Mrs Cullimore and I recently decided to spend a week slowly chugging up and down the River Thames to Wallingford and back.

Setting off from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Eynsham near Witney, our home for the duration was the four-berth, 58ft narrowboat ‘Knighton’. With a solid double bed at one end, a delightful living room at the other and a bijou galley in the middle, it was perfect for seven days of relaxing adventures.

Here’s my Captain’s Log from what seemed like a Galaxy far, far away…

Day 1 – Eynsham to Godstow Abbey

Locks – 2
Miles – 4
Cruising hours – 2
Scenery – We’re in the heart of the country. Gently rolling away as far as the eye can see. Up ahead are glimpses of those dreaming spires of Oxford.
Pubs – The Trout. Great beer, friendly staff, lots of WiFi, all in all, delightful.
Highlight – After mooring up for the night and going for a stroll, we found a sign; “Be Your Beautiful Best” and decided to make it our motto for the week ahead.

Day 2 – Godstow Abbey to Oxford

Locks – 1
Miles – 2
Cruising hours – 1
Scenery – Wide open meadows give way to spiky castles on the skyline. If Willy Wonka did architecture, this is what he’d make. It’s fabulous.
Pubs – So many, it’s hard to choose. We ended up at The Punter, mainly because it was only a hop and a skip from where we moored for the night.
Highlight – Strolling into Oxford to explore, stopping for a coffee and finding a string quartet busking right next to us. Most excellent.

Day 3 – Oxford to Abingdon

Locks – 4
Miles – 8.5
Cruising hours – 3.5
Scenery – The countryside in this part of the world is very pretty. Gently folding hills, patchwork fields of yellow and green swaying in the breeze. Approaching Abingdon by river was like watching a picture postcard come to life.
Pubs – We moored just round the corner from The Broad Face. A lovely old pub built on the edge of the river, reached by a delightful stroll along the Thames Path.
Highlight – Making our way downstream from Oxford we found ourselves caught up among a crowd of rowers. Short boats, long ones and everything in between. They splashed and twirled their way round each other, like crazy boat-borne ballerinas.

Day 4 – Abingdon to Wallingford

Locks – 4
Miles – 13
Cruising hours – 4
Scenery – Another day, another lovely slice of countryside gliding past our windows. But the real stars of today’s journey were the houses dotted along the riverbank. We’ve left suburbia far behind. Some of the riverside mansions have boat sheds bigger than our house.
Pubs – We moored near the bridge opposite a road filled with friendly looking pubs, including the Old Post Office. Thought it would be rude to be this close and not drop in for a pint or two.
Highlight – We’ve seen lots of wildlife all week. Great to watch the Red Kites that have taken over the skies of Oxfordshire. When one of them swooped down to land beside the boat and take a drink from the river this afternoon, it was so exciting I forgot to take a picture.

Day 5 – back up to Abingdon

Locks – 4
Miles – 13
Cruising hours – 4.5
Scenery – We’re on our way back up river, however today, we’re feeling more relaxed, so made time to chat with some of the friendly lock keepers.
Pubs – Getting a bit sentimental we went back to the Broad Face.
Highlight – Chinooks. We saw loads of those enormous double ended military helicopters. Apparently, they’ve got a base somewhere down this way and to reach it from London, they follow the Thames to help them navigate.

Day 6 – Abingdon to Oxford

Locks – 4
Miles – 8.5
Cruising hours – 4
Scenery – Still on our way back and still enjoying the scenery in reverse.
Pubs – Went for a short stroll into Oxford and found The Jam Factory, a really nice place full of students who all wanted to make a fuss of our dog Mabel.
Highlight – The beautiful bridges of Oxford county. Whether they are built for trains, cars, people or bikes, made of stone, steel or wood, there’s something lovely about all of them.

Day 7 – Oxford to Eynsham

Locks – 3
Miles – 5
Cruising hours – 3
Scenery – The sun shone, the birds sang, everything in the waterside meadows looked green and pleasant.
Pubs – Stopped just short of the narrowboat hire base for our last night. Meant we didn’t have to travel far the next morning and we were very close to, The Talbot Inn where we headed for a last night pint. Very nice.
Highlight – One thing you notice when you’re on a boat, is how friendly everyone is. Doesn’t matter if they’re riding along on a boat, passing by on the towpath or just enjoying the view – everyone waves and says hello. It’s a lovely way to live.

Best Bank Holiday Boating Breaks

To celebrate the approaching August bank holiday, we’ve put together our top six short break narrowboat holidays:

1. Cruise peacefully along the Caldon Canal…from Drifters’ Peak District canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a trip along Wedgewood’s Caldon Canal is a great short break route for beginners. Originally built to transport porcelain, today the Caldon is one of the quietest and most picturesque canals in Britain. The canal branches off the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria near Stoke on Trent and travels 17 miles and 17 locks through the beautiful Churnet Valley to Froghall Wharf.

2. Remember the Romans in the City of Chester…from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, Chester is a lovely seven-hour cruise away. Famous for its Roman walls and Medieval architecture, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars and a huge variety of restaurants.

3. Amble along the Ashby…from Drifters’ base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. This picturesque canal with no locks, is perfect for beginners and passes close to the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard III died and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

4. Head to historic Warwick for some medieval splendour…from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just one day to cruise to the historic centre of Warwick. Here canal boat holiday-makers can take time to explore the magnificent Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience’, stopping off along the way at the village of Long Itchington, packed with pubs.

5. Wend your way to Worcester…From Drifters’ base at Stoke Prior on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it’s a 16-hour journey to the beautiful Cathedral City of Worcester and back, travelling through a total of 42 locks and 25 miles of tranquil countryside, including a section of the River Severn.

6. Toddle along to Todmorden and back…from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, a trip to historic Todmorden is the perfect short break destination. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, canal boat holiday-makers first pass through the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills, before reaching Todmorden. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

 

Top 5 Yorkshire Canal Boat Holidays

To celebrate Yorkshire Day (1 August), we’ve put together our Top 5 Yorkshire Canal Boat Holidays for 2017.

Prices from our Yorkshire bases start at £405 for a short break (three or four nights), £620 for a week on a boat for two people.

  1. 1. Travel one-way across the Pennines…Starting from Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Skipton, this week-long holiday is truly one of the great canal journeys, taking canal boat holiday-makers across the backbone of England. The scenery varies from the timeless calm of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal summit to the hubbub of the Leeds City Centre waterfront, and includes the Bingley Five Rise locks (one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways), and the opportunity to visit Sir Titus Salt’s World Heritage Status model town at Saltaire.

 

  1. Visit Skipton and its medieval castle…on a short break (three or four nights) from our Barnoldswick boatyard, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (travelling a total of 26 miles, 30 locks, 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.

 

  1. Toddle to Todmorden and back for some stunning Pennine scenery…on a short break (three or four nights) from our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal (20 miles, 34 locks, 16 hours). This historic town offers visitors fine Victorian architecture, plenty of pubs and restaurants, and a busy market.  Along the way, boaters pass through the beautiful Calder Valley village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes, and the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills, with an amazing variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs and a series of scenic waymarked walks.

 

  1. Cruise to Rishton and back for a trip through industrial history…on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Barnoldswick base, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel west along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Rishton and back (53 miles, 14 locks, 20 hours). The journey begins on the summit before plunging into Foulridge Tunnel, then down to Barrowford Locks.  After 20 miles on one level, boaters sail above Burnley’s rooftops on its famous embankment, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways.  The Weavers Triangle visitor centre at Burnley is a good place to visit before carrying on through largely open scenery and the historic town of Rishton, the first place calico cloth was woven on an industrial scale.  The trip includes spectacular views of the Lancashire Calder Valley and Pendle Hill, famous for its witches.

 

  1. Journey to the Hepworth Wakefield…on a mid-week break from our Sowerby Bridge yard, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Wakefield and back to visit the fabulous Hepworth Wakefield Art Gallery (40 miles, 52 locks, 22 hours). With moorings right outside, the Hepworth Wakefield is the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London, offering visitors over 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery spaces to explore. As well as works by Barbara Hepworth, visitors can enjoy seeing works from Tim Sayer’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary British art, amassed over the last 50 years, including works by Henry Moore, Naum Gabo, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Paul Nash, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.