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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Top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners

With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever and the health benefits of spending time by the water proven, narrowboat holidays are becoming increasingly popular.

You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all Drifters’ operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

Today’s narrowboats are fully equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

So if you are planning to pack up and ship out on an adventure afloat, take a look at our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners to help you learn the ropes:

1. Cruise to the bright lights of Birmingham – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’. It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages. Once in the centre of Birmingham, narrowboat holiday-makers can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre and other city centre attractions.

2. Love the Llangollen – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network. The journey from Drifters’ base at Trevor near Llangollen to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. There are just four locks between Trevor and the beautiful Meres, a journey which takes around seven hours. And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.

3. Potter through the Peak District – our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals near Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break.

4. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, narrowboaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.

5. Visit Georgian Bath – from our base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a delightful six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, canal boat holiday makers can use their boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.

6. Take a rural route to Braunston – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through pretty wooded countryside and a series of sleepy villages with rural waterside pubs, including Newbold and Hillmorton.

7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal. The journey, perfect for beginners on a mid-week or week-long break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only 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 five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Mark King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

8. Steer gently through the countryside to Stone – from our base at Great Haywood it takes just five hours of gentle cruising along the Trent & Mersey Canal to reach the historic Shropshire market town of Stone. Stone is renowned as the food and drink capital of Staffordshire, with regular markets, a good choice of restaurants and the annual Food & Drink Festival in October. Along the way, there are just four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Woolpack at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.

9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales – the journey from our narrowboat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes 13 hours and passes through three locks each way. The route takes boaters through the historic town of Skipton, with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands managed by the Woodland Trust. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms, easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.

10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our canal boat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for canal boat holiday beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one on the way, one on the way back), this gentle journey through the Shropshire countryside passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green and transfers boaters onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction. On reaching the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered houses cottages and attractive Georgian houses, visitors have a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

Miranda Krestovnikoff on her canal boat holiday in Wales

Miranda Krestovnikoff, TV presenter and president of the RSPB, describes her recent Drifters canal boat holiday on the Mon & Brec Canal in South Wales:

It’s been several years since we’ve ventured out on the canals. On our last trip, a few years back, we chose to go in late October as it was half term. My long lasting memory was how cold it was. This year we hit the July heatwave and were thankful of the shade of the woodland we floated through, as the sun was so hot. It couldn’t have been more different!

We spent five days on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, travelling from Goytre Wharf to Talybont-on-Usk and back – a most scenic and tranquil route through breath-taking scenery, made even more beautiful by the fact that many parts of the canal are elevated and the views are just spectacular.

Arriving Monday lunchtime, we all boarded in a rush. Kids eager to grab the best bed, me trying to figure out where to put all our stuff and the dog clearly very unhappy. She’s not a water dog, although she had been on a few boats before. Tail between her legs, she looked at me – very put out.

Keen to get going, we cast off. I had forgotten how slowly it all went.

“Chugging” is the only speed you can really go at. You just accept that it is going to take ages to get from A to B. So you can’t fight it, you just need to let the canal take over and breathe….

Nothing could be done fast and most things had to be left to chance – which is calming and frustrating all at once. I’m a planner so I like to have my days and trips mapped out. Here there is only one option – to go forward until you get to where you want to stop….

Once we had woken up the next morning, everything seemed different. We had left our busy lives behind and entered the “canal zone” – ready to take in the scenery, the wildlife, peace and tranquillity that you can only get from being a long way for roads and cities.

Even the dog had stopped pacing backwards and forwards and whining, as she had done on the first day. She stopped looking longingly at the towpath, looking for an opportunity to jump off and was happily sleeping with the kids at the bow as they sat whittling hazel twigs.

I sat at the back with my husband, drinking tea and just watching everything floating by. Rustles in the reeds could have been a water vole or even otter, but were more often than not a lost duckling, separated from mum by this 48 foot barge gliding through its home. Sorry!

Life was still and calm. The kids were occupied and we could watch the wildlife. Moving so slowly, you don’t really disturb it. Herons merely glanced at us from their perches as we slid by underneath them. Kingfishers darted past – a flash of colour and then they were gone. At night we moored up in the woods, listening to the tawny owls hunting with their new fledglings, bats flew past as we took the dog out for a last walk before bed and all was so utterly still. It was perfect.

I loved the people that we met, too. Obviously similar types to us – walkers, cyclists, kayakers, paddle boarders and people just enjoying life on the water. Conversations at lochs resulted in the exchange of information about local pubs, interesting walks and how best to try and turn this big beast of a barge around when we got halfway! People were quiet and considerate at night and I slept so well from a combination of fresh air, good food and peace.

It was the ultimate getaway. We returned our narrowboat recharged and relaxed. The children had learnt about lochs, and helming a huge boat, whittled more hazel sticks than I care to imagine and played a lot of cards. We didn’t use the TV or the WiFi (although they were available). We just enjoyed being a family, together. Even the dog didn’t even want to leave. Now… when can we book up next…?

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Posted in boating boating holidays canal boat holidays narrowboat hire narrowboat holidays Short breaks by pressguru. Comments Off on Miranda Krestovnikoff on her canal boat holiday in Wales

Top of the locks

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales, all enabling boats to travel up and down hills.

These structures have been around for hundreds of years but can be daunting for canal boat holiday newcomers, especially when there are lots of them in quick succession.

Fortunately there’s no mystery to using locks – just a series of step-by-step tasks. A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end. By emptying or filling the chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of waterway.

There are many different kinds of locks, but they all on work on a similar principle. With the lock gates closed, boaters should open the sluices (paddles) to let the water in or out and when the water level under the boat is the same as the level it’s moving to, the boat can move in or out of the lock.

Some locks are operated by boaters, others by lock-keepers. Tuition is included in all Drifters canal boat holiday packages, and during the handover procedure boat yard staff will usually take canal boat holiday-makers through their first lock.

Here at Drifters’ we’ve put together our Top 6 flights of locks to celebrate these marvels of canal engineering:

1. Caen Hill – One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the flight of locks at Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire has to be one of the most iconic sites on the waterway network. With 29 locks spread out over two miles, raising the canal by 72 metres, it takes around six hours to passage through. The 16-lock section clustered together up the hill is truly a magnificent site. Drifters’ Devizes narrowboat hire base is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

2. Tardebigge – with 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Worcestershire is the longest on the inland waterways system. In total, the locks raise and lower boats 67 metres and it takes around five-and-a-half hours to travel through them. In recognition of the effort it takes, the Canal & River Trust issues certificates to boaters rising (or lowering) to the challenge. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at the top of the flight at Tardebigge Wharf.

3. Bingley 5 Rise – another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this spectacular staircase of five locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom of the next, and it takes around one-and-a-half hours to work through. The size of the chambers can be intimidating even for experienced boaters, but friendly lock-keepers are on hand to help. Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is 25 miles and 20 locks away at Barnoldswick.

4. Hatton – nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals, this impressive flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire raises boats up 45 metres over two miles, and takes around four-and-a-half hours to travel through. Just below the Top lock, boaters will find the popular Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment and usually plenty of “gongoozlers” watching boats passing through the locks too! Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Warwick, just two miles and two locks from Hattton Bottom Lock.

5. Foxton – surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, this set of 10 locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal raises boats up 23 metres in just a quarter-of-a-mile. Foxton Locks is the longest set of staircase locks in the UK – where the locks open directly one from another so that the top gate of one forms the bottom of the next – and they are designated a Grade II Listed structure. It takes around 45 minutes to pass through and there are lock keepers on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles – “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead.” Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is just two and a half hours away at Market Harborough.

6. Marple – one of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks on the stunning Peak Forest Canal at Marple raise boats by 64 metres over just one mile. The locks are built of local stone and are mostly tree-lined, giving the canal a lovely secluded feeling. In fact the Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Drifters’ Peak District canal boat hire base is 32 miles and 14 locks away from the bottom of the Marple Flight.

Enjoy Christmas on the canals

With frosty towpaths, cosy fires and historic waterside pubs, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network can be 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 narrowboats 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 base to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations in exciting waterside destinations like Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

All Drifters’ 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 £649 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £860.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.

Here’s our Top 5 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat for 2018:

1. Wend your way to Warwick for Christmas at the Castle – on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore its stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon. Over Christmas, visitors the castle will find a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall, ‘Stories with Santa’ in the Library, ‘A Winter Wedding’ in the Princess Tower and a spectacular Winter Birds of Prey show. Top mooring sites along the way include Long Itchington with its choice of six pubs, including ‘The Duck on the Pond’ in the village and the Blue Lias pub at the bottom of the Stockton flight.

2. Amble along the Ashby Canal to Snarestone on the edge of the National Forest – on a week’s break from Drifters’ base 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, and from there 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. At the village of Snarestone, located on the edge of the National Forest, the Globe Inn 19th century coaching inn, offers an open fire classic British menu using local ethical ingredients. The journey there and back, travels 63 miles and with just one lock to pass through each way, it offers around 26 hours of tranquil countryside cruising.

3. Soar across the Stream in the Sky to Llangollen – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Blackwater on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to the Eistedfordd town of Llangollen 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 Aqueduct Inn at Froncysyllte. Once at Langollen, boaters can enjoy walks through dramatic scenery, a ride on a steam train or a visit to the National Trust’s Plas Newydd Georgian manor house.

4. Explore Stratford and Shakespeare country afloat – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stratford upon Avon, it’s a picturesque five-hour cruise along the Stratford Canal to the little 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. Along the 14-mile return journey, boaters encounter 32 locks.

5. Cruise gently through the countryside to Fradley – from our canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can head south, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours. The journey passes through 12 peaceful miles of countryside, with just five locks to negotiate along the way, passing The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern. At Fradley, boaters can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.

Top 8 October Half Term Canal Boat Holidays

Narrowboat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, learning how to navigate the waterways and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside pubs and attractions along the way.

So if you are thinking of packing up and shipping out this October half term, take a look at our top 8 destinations, all suitable for beginners:

1. Glide through the Usk Valley to Brecon and back – the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a week’s break boaters can cruise through the wooded Usk Valley to the pretty market town of Brecon and back. Along the way, boaters can stop off at Llanfoist to take the old tramway into the Black Mountains, the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls. The total journey there and back travels 51 miles, passing through 12 locks and takes around 25 hours.

2. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our narrowboat boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, right next to the spectacular Caen Hill flight of locks, canal boat holiday-makers can travel west to the beautiful World Heritage Status City of Bath, famous for its stunning Georgian architecture. Along the way, boaters travel across two magnificent aqueducts crafted out of Bath stone and can enjoy stopping off at some excellent canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend, the Lock Inn at Bradford upon Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Arriving at Sydney Gardens just outside Bath City Centre, boaters can find quiet moorings just a 15-minute walk from Bath’s major attractions. The journey to Bath takes around nine hours, travelling 19 miles and passing through eight locks.

3. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from our boat yard at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers 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 boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, boaters can transfer onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds peacefully through countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length. 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 historic Yorkshire mill town of Hebden Bridge…on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours. Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and markets as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

5. Explore Birmingham by boat – with more canals than Venice and incredible canalside regeneration areas like Brindleyplace, there’s no better way to explore Birmingham than by boat. From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to reach City Centre moorings at Gas Street Basin, the perfect base for exploring the many attractions of Britain’s vibrant Second City, including the fantastic Thinktank Science Museum. With no locks along the way, it’s a great route for beginners to enjoy testing the waters.

6. Potter to Sale and back via Lymm – from our canal boat hire base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, it takes around eight peaceful hours, travelling 22 miles and passing through just one lock to reach Sale Bridge. Along the way, narrowboat holiday-makers encounter the 1,133-metre long Preston Tunnel and cruise along a section of the Bridgewater Canal, which passes through the pretty town of Lymm.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow and back – from Drifters’ canal boat hire 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 – perfect for a short break (three or four nights). The route starts with a journey through the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift which replaced a flight of 11 locks and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, plus 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, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

8. Travel across the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular on the network. On a short break from our canal barge hire base at Trevor, boaters can travel seven peaceful miles to Ellesmere and back, with just two locks to pass through and the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with stunning views of the Dee Valley below to travel across. Once at Ellesmere, boaters can explore the famous Mere with its historic castle, woodland paths and fascinating wildlife.