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 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

The perfect introduction to narrowboating

As well as travelling the Stourport Ring this summer, two years ago The Countryman magazine editor Mark Whitley took a canal boat holiday with Drifters on the Llangollen Canal. This time heading out from our narrowboat hire base at Trevor, here’s Mark’s review:

The Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the landscape of Britain, and central to this was the development of canal network. Between 1760 and 1830 over a thousand miles of canals were built across Britain, providing a new means of inland transport and helping to shape the landscape of today.

The coming of the railways and then the development of road transport led to the gradual demise of the canal network, and by the mid-20th century it might have been regarded as being in terminal decline.

It was the voluntary sector that helped bring the canal network back to life, through organisations like the Inland Waterways Association (founded in 1946) and seminal figures like Tom Rolt, who in 1946 wrote Narrowboat, “a long, delicious hymn to the waterways [and] the book that, more than any other, made the modern canal possible” according to poet Jo Bell.

In more recent years the canal network has been undergoing a renaissance as it finds a new role as a place for leisure activities, whether that be strolling along a towpath or enjoying a canal boat holiday.

One of the most beautiful and most popular canals in Britain, an exploration of the Llangollen Canal is the perfect introduction to the pleasures of Britain’s waterways.

Starting at Trevor Basin near Llangollen, a there-and-back trip to Ellesmere takes three or four days by boat, and takes in some of the best sights of this World Heritage site; a day’s excursion could take in a trip to Llangollen and back, or crossing the ‘Stream in the sky’.

The Llangollen Canal was constructed between 1793 and 1805 as part of a wider plan for linking the River Severn to the River Mersey, and to service the coalfields, iron fields and limestone workings in the borderlands of England and Wales.

This was where Thomas Telford, then aged 36, cut his teeth as an engineer. The 11-mile stretch of the Llangollen Canal is now a World Heritage site because of the feats of construction that Telford created here, including Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Chirk Tunnel, Chirk Aqueduct and Whitehouse Tunnel.

“In this beautiful landscape, Telford created dramatic structures that were really challenging in engineering terms,” says Kate Lynch, heritage adviser for the Canal & River Trust.

“If you think that the canal took 10 years to build, all by hand (there was no heavy earth-moving equipment or anything like that), and during that time only one worker died — that’s incredible.”

Our exploration starts at Drifters’ boat yard at Trevor Basin where staff member Rob Southan gives us an informative and helpful overview of narrowboat Henley’s fixtures and fittings, and instruction in boat handling and steering, then we are ready to set off towards Ellesmere.

And what a start to our journey: crossing the ‘Stream in the sky’. The stunning structure of the Pontcysyllte (pronounced ‘Pont-cuss-ulth-teh’) Aqueduct was built in 1805 by Thomas Telford to carry the canal at a dizzying 126 feet high across the River Dee. Telford channelled the canal through an iron trough just 5′ 3” deep, made in sections jointed together with flannel dipped in boiling sugar, and supported on 18 elegant stone pillars spanning a total of 1,000 feet.

On one side is a towpath and cast-iron handrail (note the grooves on the first upright made by the ropes of the horse-drawn barges years ago); on the other side, nothing but spectacular views over the treetops and then the river below.

A stroll along the towpath is exciting enough, but crossing the aqueduct by boat for the first time is an exhilarating experience, if a little nerve-wracking — as you approach, the cast-iron trough looks too narrow for the boat and, once crossing, there seems to be nothing between the side of the boat and the valley far below. Those of a nervous disposition might like to remain below deck during the crossing, but do try to take in the views through the windows.

Once across the aqueduct, it’s time to practise one’s boat-handling skills. The narrowboat is 60ft long and, steering from the stern end, the bow looks to be a long way away. The narrowboat’s pivot point is in the middle, which takes a little getting used to, but we bear in mind Rob of Anglo Welsh’s advice that “slow and steady are the key” as we progress through Whitehouse Tunnel and Chirk Tunnel (459 yards long and taking ten minutes to go through) to Chirk Aqueduct. This aqueduct is spectacular in its own right, particularly with the railway viaduct running alongside.

One option is to moor up at Chirk Basin, between the tunnel and aqueduct, and explore Chirk and its castle. We decide instead to moor up for the evening alongside the Poacher’s Inn, a little further on.

The next day dawns bright and early as we cast off and head towards Ellesmere, about five hours’ steady cruising. On the next stretch we encounter our first locks, but there’s no need to be nervous as there are usually other canal boaters on hand to offer advice and lend a hand (literally); they are a friendly lot on the waterways. Soon we are mooring up at Ellesmere, opposite Beech House (built by Telford in 1806), with plenty of time left in the day to explore the handsome town of Ellesmere and its Mere, the largest of the nine glacial meres in north Shropshire.

We return to Trevor Basin, again crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (it’s just as impressive an experience the second time), to continue on to Llangollen. This section of the canal is very narrow, and one section is one-way traffic only, so it’s advisable for one of the party to disembark and walk ahead to check for oncoming traffic.

Some of the bridges run at an angle to the canal, creating a tight dogleg that really tests one’s boat-handling skills.

Mooring up at Llangollen Basin or on the canalside (with lovely views over the town), we can take a horse drawn boat or stroll along the towpath to explore the final stretch of the canal, passing the Eisteddfod site and the Motor Museum (well worth a visit,) to finally arrive at something rather unusual: the birthplace of a canal. For it was here that Telford built the Horseshoe Falls at Llantysilio to divert part of the River Dee to form the start of the Llangollen Canal.

The canal was actually saved from closure due to an interesting quirk of history: it also supplied drinking water for Crewe and Nantwich along this arm of the canal. There’s actually quite a strong current because of this pull of water, which you can feel as you navigate the canal, particularly on the stretch between Trevor Basin and Llangollen.

Returning to Trevor Basin, I meet and chatted with Brian Gore and Ruth Pease, experienced boaters but here on their first canal boat holiday, who tell me about their time on the canal.

“Seeing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct for the first time is a little like seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” Brian says. “You have seen it in photos and on film so it is familiar, but when you actually see it in the flesh there is that same ‘Wow!’ moment. When you are crossing way above the treetops, the sensation is more akin to being in a light aircraft than a canal boat — scarily exhilarating.

“The scenery on the stretch from Trevor Basin to Llangollen is stunning with long-distance views of the hills, and wildlife is much in evidence — we even saw a family of weasels playing on the canal bank.

“Being courteous and slowing right down when passing moored boats was usually rewarded by a cheery wave of thanks. Some of these boats are people’s homes and needed to be respected as such.”

“Your hire boat quickly starts to feel like home and, on a personal level, we’ll be reluctant to hand it back.”

Britain’s waterways have so much to offer, and thankfully their future looks promising as they continue to navigate the transition from industrial to leisure usage, aided by the Canal & River Trust and companies like Drifters.

“Though there aren’t cargo boats on the canal network and it is mostly used for leisure nowadays, this is still a working, living heritage here – one you can experience,” Canal & River Trust heritage adviser Kate Lynch concludes.

More about The Countryman magazine at or follow Mark on Twitter @countrymaned

Steering round the Stourport Ring

Mark Whitley, editor of Countryman Magazine recently reviewed his trip around the Stourport Ring, departing from our Stoke Prior base.

‘Britain’s canals were born in the Industrial Revolution and originally served the country’s economic needs, but nowadays serve as places for recreation and pleasure.

The Stourport Ring is one of a number of waterways leisure networks across the country. This 76-mile route visits some of the most beautiful and interesting places in Middle England, via the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, Birmingham Canal Navigation, Dudley and Stourbridge canals, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and a stretch of the River Severn.

The 30-mile-long Worcester and Birmingham Canal was built between 1794 and 1815 as a faster, more direct and more economic route for the burgeoning West Midlands industries to transport their goods to the River Severn and onwards to the Bristol Channel ports.

One commodity transported by canal was salt, from the Stoke Prior saltworks, developed in the mid-19th century by ‘Salt King’ John Corbett and which at their peak produced more than 160,000 tons of salt per year.

The saltworks have gone, and nowadays Stoke Prior is home to the boatyard of (Drifters’ member) Black Prince Holidays, which offers narrowboats for hire.

“The Stourport Ring is one of the most popular routes for canalboat holiday-makers setting off from our Stoke Prior base,” explains Leighton Jones, managing director of Black Prince Holidays. “Travelling at just four miles per hour through mile upon mile of tranquil countryside, the Stourport Ring offers a wonderful mix of rural and urban landscapes.”

Setting off anti-clockwise on the Stourport Ring from Stoke Prior, one soon encounters one of the canal boaters’ rites of passage: the Tardebigge Flight. This series of 30 locks in quick succession raises the canal more than 200 feet in just four miles.

Thankfully, Tom Houston and Kevin Jones are on hand to help if needed. Tom and Kevin are Canal & River Trust volunteer lock keepers on the Tardebigge Flight. (Nationally, there are around 2,500 willing and dedicated Canal & River Trust volunteers.)

Tom is an experienced boater who wanted to keep in contact with the boating community after retirement; Kevin, also retired, “wanted to keep myself active,” as he explains, “and when I saw some Trust volunteers in action on the locks at Stourton, I thought ‘That looks good’.”

“As custodians of the waterways the Trust likes us to engage with the public,” Tom explains, “to show that everyone — boaters and bikers and walkers and fishermen — can all share and enjoy our waterways.”

“Volunteering benefits the Trust, it benefits me, and we are offering a useful service to people,” Kevin adds.

Having negotiated the Tardebigge Flight, we pass through Wast Hill Tunnel (the longest on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, at 2,726 yards) before continuing northwards along a stretch with several literary connections: St Nicholas Parish Church in Kings Norton is where Rev W Awdry (author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books) was curate during the Second World War; and Sarehole Mill Museum celebrates J R R Tolkein and his links to the area.

There is a particular pleasure in travelling right into the centre of a major city like Birmingham by boat. “You cannot help but think that of all the British cities to see virtue in revitalising their canals, Birmingham has made the best fist of it,” argues canal boating expert Michael Pearson.

The Stourport Ring now heads north-west the New Main Line, built in 1825-9 by Thomas Telford, before turning southwards through Netherton Tunnel. Opened in 1858, this was the last canal tunnel built in Britain, and at 3,027 yards is the fourth longest navigable canal tunnel in country.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the wonderfully named Bumble Hole — formerly dotted with coalmines but now a Local Nature Reserve — where the Stourport Ring now follows the Dudley and Stourbridge canals, then the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal, en route to the River Severn.

The Dudley and Stourbridge canals were built to serve the local industries such as ironworks, coalmines and glassmaking, and a reminder of the region’s industrial heyday is soon passed: Red House Glass Works, a distinctive cone-shaped, 100-feet high kiln dating from 1788-94 which is now the home to a glassmaking heritage centre.

These days the canals are peaceful wildlife havens for bird species including chiffchaffs and willow warblers, coot and moorhens; in summer the wildflower-lined canal banks are buzzing with insects; and at dusk, bats flit up and down the waterways.

Moored up at Merry Hill (site of the former Round Oak steelworks), are novice canal boaters Jude Crighton and Mick Leadbetter (and Border collie Bronwen) who are enjoying their first journey round the Stourport Ring.

“It’s been a great experience,” Jude says. “When I fell into the canal trying to retrieve Bronwen, I felt like I had become a true boatswoman!”
“And I no longer count sheep at night,” Mick jokes, “I count locks.”

As real ale aficionados they will be making a pilgrimage to the nearby Vine pub (better known as Bull and Bladder), the brewery tap of Bathams, family brewers for five generations.

The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, opened in 1772, was built by the pioneering canal engineer James Brindley as a ‘contour canal’; its sinuous course takes advantage of the local topography as we make our way southwards, through Kidderminster to Stourport on Severn.

Stourport Basins, linking the Staffs & Worcs with the River Severn, was part of Joseph Brindley’s ‘Grand Cross’ master plan to create Britain’s first national transport network, with canal networks linking the rivers Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames, and thence to seaports and the international markets. The five canal basins (built between 1771 and 1812) transformed Stourport into one of the busiest inland ports in the country.

The three- or four-hour journey down the River Severn is not to be hurried. All too soon the approach to Worcester is marked by a magnificent view of the cathedral. The city is famous for Worcester Porcelain (first made here in 1751) and Lea & Perrins sauce (its secret recipe dating from 1837); was the site of the first and last battle in the Civil War; and is home to the tomb of King John (in the cathedral) and the world’s oldest surviving newspaper (Berrow’s Worcester Journal, first published in 1690).

Diglis Basins link the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, and the canal soon brings us back to Stoke Prior, and journey’s end.

Nick Worthington, Canal & River Trust waterway manager, says:
“The Stourport Ring is a wonderful example of a waterway that embraces beautiful countryside, vibrant cities and unique historic structures.”’

Top 6 Halloween Destinations Afloat

With ghosts galore, bats and frogs aplenty, creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.

Here’s our guide to the spookiest canal destinations:

1. Beware the blood stained steps at Brindley Bank – the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins, who was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body flung into the canal. Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported. As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal, and it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones. Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

2. Get the chills in Chester – visit the City’s old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat and a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the City. What’s more, the King’s Inn, an old coaching house, is believed to be haunted by three separate spirits. Canal boat holiday-makers can hire a boat from our boatyard at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, reaching Chester in seven hours, and passing through nine locks.

3. Look out for the Monkey Man at Norbury – the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ at Bridge 39 near Norbury. This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century. Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.

4. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years. At 2,795 metres long, it’s one of the longest on the canal system. When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major feat of engineering. Teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men. A new route for the tunnel was found and it finally opened on 25 March 1805. Over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging. But the tunnel runs straight through the hill so people have must seen the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel. Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there…? From our base at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it’s an eight-hour, 13-lock journey to Stoke Bruerne, passing through the Blisworth Tunnel on the way.

5. Hear echoes of a killing at Kidsgrove – the Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Harecastle Tunnel can be reached in 12 hours, travelling 22 miles through 18 locks from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire.

6. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights, gliding along the towpath by the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries canal boat holiday-makers 38 metres high in the air above the River Dee. From our boatyard on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Aqueduct.

All aboard for autumn afloat

Pontycysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales

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

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

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

  1. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal…from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre, to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.
  2. Enjoy mountain views on the Mon & Brec…the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, boaters can journey through the wooded Usk Valley, visiting historic market towns like the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle and picturesque Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls.  And with some of the darkest night skies in Britain, it’s a perfect place for star gazing.
  3. Amble along the Ashby for some Tudor history…on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Stoke Golding, boaters can travel lock-free along the Ashby Canal to Snarestone and back. Rich in wildlife, the Ashby Canal winds peacefully through the countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length, and from Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field.  Here in 1485 the reign of Richard III ended and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.
  4. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge…from our boat yard at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey there and back covers 14 miles, 20 locks and takes around 11 hours
  5. Take in stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside…on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Market Harborough on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, boaters can travel to the pretty village of Crick and back. The route takes holiday-makers through Foxton locks, with panoramic views of the Leicestershire countryside from the top.  At Foxton, there’s a tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift, an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once carried canal boats up and down the hill in giant bathtubs.  On a week’s holiday from Market Harborough, boaters can travel on to the “chocolate box pretty” canal village of Stoke Bruerne, with its Canal Museum and choice of pubs.
  6. Explore historic Bradford on Avon…on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back, enjoying beautiful views of the southern Cotswold hills, and passing through the historic town of Bradford on Avon. With architectural gems including the magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and striking Town Bridge over the River Avon, as well as many independent shops and places to eat, Bradford on Avon is a great place to stop-off at and explore along the way.  Once in Bath, boaters can moor up a short walk from the City Centre and visit some of the City’s world class attractions, including the Roman Baths.
  7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands…from Drifters’ base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow. Here, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.  On a week’s break, boaters can continue on to Edinburgh and moor up close to the City Centre to explore the Castle and Royal Mile.

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

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

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

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

Day 1 – Eynsham to Godstow Abbey

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

Day 2 – Godstow Abbey to Oxford

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

Day 3 – Oxford to Abingdon

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

Day 4 – Abingdon to Wallingford

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

Day 5 – back up to Abingdon

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

Day 6 – Abingdon to Oxford

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

Day 7 – Oxford to Eynsham

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

Best Bank Holiday Boating Breaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Top 5 Yorkshire Canal Boat Holidays

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

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

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


  1. Visit Skipton and its medieval castle…on a short break (three or four nights) from our Barnoldswick boatyard, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (travelling a total of 26 miles, 30 locks, 20 hours). This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England.


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


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


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

Celebrate National Parks Week Afloat


Taking a canal boat holiday is a great way to explore some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, including a number of our National Parks.

Pottering along at just four mph, it’s easy to unwind and take in the scenery.

To celebrate National Parks Week (24-30 July), we’ve put together our Top 3 National Park canal boat holidays:

  1. Travel through the Yorkshire Dales to Skipton – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (total journey there and back of 26 miles, 30 locks, 20 hours). This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of the Yorkshire Dales – sheep, farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England.  On a week’s break from Barnoldswick, hire-boaters can travel on to Sir Titus Salt’s Model Town of Saltaire, designated a World Heritage Status destination.
  2. Glide around the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views.  From our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with wonderful walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.  Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m.  On a short break from Goytre, boaters can travel lock-free to Llangynidr and back, stopping off at village pubs along the way, including the Lion Inn at Govilon. 
  3. Potter around the Peak District – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Peak District base, at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals near Stoke on Trent, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the Peak District to the terminus of the beautiful Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge. The route goes through the Harecastle Tunnel, joining the Macclesfield Canal at Hardings Wood and then travelling through Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple, before turning onto the Peak Forest Canal.  On a short break, boaters can travel along the Caldon Canal through the stunning Churnet Valley to Froghall and back.