Top 8 Easter destinations afloat

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families – offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, 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.

Drifters’ prices this Easter start at £495 for a short break on a boat for four people, £775 for a week.

Here are our top eight destinations for Easter 2018:

1. 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 Drifters’ 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 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 the Planetarium at Birmingham’s Science Museum Thinktank.

2. Join the Easter Boat Gathering at the National Waterways Museum – over the Easter Weekend, the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire celebrates the start of the Summer boating season with a large boat gathering and Sea Shanty Festival. From Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it’s a 10-hour journey to Ellesmere Port (travelling 21 miles through 12 locks), where canal boat holiday-makers can moor up and join the celebrations, passing through the historic City of Chester along the way.

3. Take in a show at the Egg theatre in Bath – on a short break from Drifters’ base at Hilperton near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, boaters can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal, passing through Bradford on Avon and reaching Bath Top Lock in just seven 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 where each evening from 29 March to 8 April a different selection of new plays written and performed by local adults and children will be performed as part of the theatre’s ‘Out of Your Mind’ event.

4. Go on an Easter Egg Hunt at Kinver Edge – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s a 20-hour, 37-mile, 32-lock journey to Kinver on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal. Kinver Edge offers visitors miles of wildlife-rich health land and woods to explore, and over the Easter weekend, starting from the site’s ancient Rock Houses, the National Trust is hosting daily Easter Egg Hunts. Kinver is on the route of the Stourport Ring, which can be navigated on a week’s holiday from Tardebigge, travelling a total of 76 miles via Birmingham, Kidderminster, Stourport and Worcester.

5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the incredible 1,000ft long Pontcysyllte Aqueduct consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 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. On a week’s holiday, boaters can also head east along the Llangollen Canal to Ellesmere and the historic town of Whitchurch.

6. See a T-Rex skeleton at the National Museum of Scotland – from our boat yard at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a mid-week (four night) or week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back. The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which lifts boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above. Once in Edinburgh, narrowboat holiday-makers can moor up in Edinburgh Quay to enjoy the City’s attractions, including the National Museum of Scotland’s Natural World Gallery with stuffed and model animals from around the world and a recreated Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.

7. Wend your way to Warwick Castle – said to be Britain’s greatest Medieval experience, Warwick Castle is a leisurely day’s cruise from Drifters’ Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire. Once there, canal boat holiday-makers can moor up in the centre of Warwick to explore the Castle and enjoy some of the special events planned there for Easter to celebrate the 950th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s motte and bailey castle, including the new ‘Conqueror’s Fortress’ interactive exhibition exploring the castle’s fascinating founding story and ‘Knight’s School’ where visitors can learn tactical defence skills.

8. Star Gaze in the Brecon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, now officially an International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only five in the world. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, a series of historic village pubs to visit along the way and dark skies perfect for star-gazing and seeing the Blue Moon on 31 March. On a short break from Drifters’ 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 and Star inns.

Ten reasons to take a canal boat holiday

With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever, narrowboat 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 reasons to take a canal boat holiday:

1. The fastest way to slow down – with speed limits of 4mph and hundreds of miles of tranquil unspoilt countryside to cruise through, stress levels are immediately reduced on a narrowboat holiday, as a whole new steadier pace of life takes over

2. Escape the screen – there’s plenty to keep idle hands busy – helping to steer and maintain the boat, work the locks and plan the route – so iPad addicts are happy to take a break from their screens

3. Freedom – the majority of our inland waterways offer boating holiday-makers free moorings, so, glass of wine in hand, you are free to choose wherever you stop for the night

4. Fitness – working the locks, exploring local towns and villages, cycling the towpaths and being out in the fresh air are all the ideal antidote to stuffy gyms and office blues

5. The greener way – as soon as you swap your car for a boat, you’ll be using a third of the fuel and emitting a sixth of the pollution

6. Pubs galore – with hundreds of waterside pubs, a watering hole is never far away, many of them historic waterside inns

7. You can bring your pet – pets are welcome on almost all our boats, and as well as dogs, we’ve welcomed many other kinds of pets, including rabbits, hamsters, caged birds, goldfish and tortoises

8. History is all around – thousands of historic structures make up the waterway system, including the soaring majesty of the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales and the awesome three-mile-long Standedge Tunnel deep beneath the Pennines

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

10. It’s a home from home – our floating holiday homes offer all the essential mod cons, including central heating, hot water, well equipped kitchens, TVs, DVD players, showers, flushing toilets and many now have WiFi too.

Top 4 Romantic Destinations Afloat

Cosy double berths, quiet moorings and historic canalside pubs with roaring log fires make canals the perfect Romantic hideaway.

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

Today’s canal boats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons, including central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players, and many now have Wifi too. So whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Here are Drifters’ Top four romantic destinations for Valentine’s 2018:

1. Propose across the ‘Stream in the Sky’ – the awe-inspiring 300 metre-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 Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, close to the aqueduct, a short break to Frankton Junction and back offers the chance to explore the beautiful Vale of Llangollen and stop off at cosy country pubs along the way, like the Poacher’s Pocket at Gledrid.

2. Visit Georgian Bath and its romantic Pulteney Bridge – from our narrowboat hire centre on the Kennet & Avon Canal in the World Heritage Status City of Bath, it takes two hours, passing through six locks, to reach city centre moorings close to the romantic Pulteney Bridge. Together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Pulteney Bridge is one of the World’s most beautiful bridges, and is one of only a handful of historic bridges in the world with shops built into it. Bath offers a huge variety of places restaurants for romantic dining, including the ‘Sotto Sotto’ costy Italian restaurant set in one of Bath’s many underground vaults.

3. Potter through the rural ‘heart of the canal network’ – from Drifters’ boat yard in the historic canal village of Braunston at the heart of the canal network, on a short break (three or four nights) couples can cruise gently through the Northamptonshire countryside to the pretty village of Crick and back, stopping off at rural locals along the way, including The New Inn at Buckby Wharf, serving traditional British pub food. On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can continue on to Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside all around.

4. Cruise lock-free through the Warwickshire countryside – on a short break from canal boat yard at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes seven peaceful hours, passing through the beautiful Warwickshire countryside and remnants of the ancient Forest of Arden, to reach the village of Hockley Heath on the Stratford Canal. With no locks along the way, there’s plenty of time to stand together at the tiller, watching the world go by. Once at Hockley Heath, couples can moor up to enjoy a drink at The Wharf Tavern and take a stroll to the pretty red brick church of St Thomas.

*NB Winter stoppages affect some routes

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2018

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 to explore.

Drifters’ offers over 580 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales. 2018 hire prices start at £395 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £575 for a week. Tuition is included in all our holiday packages.

There are hundreds of routes and destinations to choose from, but to help plan your next boating adventure, here are our Top 10 narrowboat holidays for 2018:

1. Visit the newly reopened iconic Piece Hall in Halifax…on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, Salterhebble Basin on the Halifax Branch of the Calder & Hebble Navigation is a two mile cruise away. From there, it’s a two mile walk to Piece Hall, one of the most iconic heritage buildings in Britain. Once the centre of the global woollen trade, following a multi-million-pound transformation, this monumental Georgian structure with its immense, open air piazza is now home to a mix of independent bars, shops and cafes, and a seasonal programme of events.

2. See the pop-up art installations on the Droitwich Ring…as part of the Canal & River Trust’s Arts of the Waterways programme, the charity which cares for our canals and rivers is commissioning artists to produce dynamic temporary artworks and live events along the 21-mile long Droitwich Ring, for visitors to enjoy from March to September 2018. The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a canal boat holiday cruising ring that can be completed on a short break (three or four nights), travelling through 33 locks in around 15 hours from Drifters’ Worcester base.

3. Marvel at the Caen Hill Flight at Devizes…arguably the most impressive flight of locks on the UK waterway network, the spectacular 16 locks in a row climbing Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, forms the middle section of 29-lock flight stretching for two miles and raising the canal up by 237ft. The Caen Hill Locks were the final section of the canal to be completed in 1810 and one of the final sections to be restored before the re-opening of the Kennet & Avon Canal in 1990. From Drifters’ boatyard at Hilperton near Trowbridge, it’s a four-hour cruise, travelling seven miles, through seven locks, to reach Fox Hanger Wharf at the base of the Caen Hill Flight. It takes a further five hours to reach the top of the flight.

4. Follow the Lime Kiln Trail on the Mon & Brec…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park and is home to a series of historic lime kilns. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and a fascinating insight into the history of lime production, in an area where both limestone and coal were in plentiful supply. On a short break from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, with lime kilns to visit along the way at Goytre, Gilwern and Llangattock.

5. See the ancient topiary at Packwood House…From our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it’s a seven-mile, 31-lock and 10-hour journey through the Forest of Arden to Lapworth Lock No 6. From there it’s a half-mile walk to the National Trust’s beautiful timber-framed Tudor manor house, Packwood House, where, according to legend, the famous 350-year old trees in Packwood’s iconic Yew Garden represent the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.

6. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 1,000ft long structure consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 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.

7. Discover the story of the Staffordshire Hoard…from our Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s a five-hour (three-lock) journey to Gas Street Basin in the centre of Birmingham, a short walk from dozens of top attractions, including the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Here visitors can see the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found and learn about its warrior history. Hundreds of pieces from the Hoard are on show, along with hands-on displays exploring how these intriguing items were used, before they were buried some 1,400 years ago.

8. Cruise the Cheshire Ring for some stunning Pennine views…on a week’s break from our Anderton base on the Trent & Mersey Canal, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise the 97-mile, 92-lock Cheshire Ring in around 48 hours. This popular circuit takes six different waterways, the incredible Victorian Anderton Boat Lift and a complete range of canal scenery, including spectacular views of the Pennines from the Macclesfield Canal, gentle rolling Cheshire countryside on the Trent & Mersey Canal, and the lively city centre of Manchester on the Rochdale Canal.

9. Climb Edinburgh’s extinct volcano for stunning views of the city…From Drifters’ base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a week’s break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back. The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which lifts boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above. The 32-mile journey along the Union Canal to Edinburgh passes through three locks and takes around 11 hours. Once at there, boaters can moor up at Edinburgh Quay, and walk through Holyrood Park to the top of Arthur’s Seat for stunning views of the city below.

10. Pass through Blisworth Tunnel to reach the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne…on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise gently through the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside to the canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest on the network. Once in Stoke Bruerne, visitors can enjoy a choice of canalside pubs, woodland walks and browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum. The journey to Stoke Bruerne travels 30 miles, passing through 22 locks and takes around 19 hours.

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.