Drifters canal boat holidays (www.drifters.co.uk) picks seven wonders of the waterways, together with their nearest canal boat hire bases.
The first ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled half a century ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association and published in his book Know Your Waterways.
But Drifters’ list uses a combination of Aickman’s original list and a 2002 update, based on a poll of the public conducted by British Waterways (now The Canal & River Trust):
- The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct…carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres (126ft) high above the River Dee, the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest in Britain. It was built between 1795 and 1805, uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and 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, narrowboat holiday-makers literally feel like they are floating above the earth! Drifters has a canal boat hire base is at Trevor, just a stone’s throw from the aqueduct, with 2012 prices (including fuel) starting at £405 for a short break on a two-berth boat and £580 for a week’s holiday.
- 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 it reopened in 2002, following a restoration programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Drifters has a canal boat hire base at Anderton with 2012 prices starting at £580 for a short break and £885 for a week’s hire.
- 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 600 tonnes, including eight or more boats and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn – the same amount as it would take to boil eight household kettles. Drifters has two canal boat hire bases at the Falkirk Wheel, with 2012 prices starting at £554 for a short break and £852 for a week’s hire.
- 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 has a canal boat hire base at Bradford on Avon, a seven hour cruise from the base of the Caen Hill Flight. 2012 prices (including fuel) from Bradford on Avon start at £505 for a short break on a four berth boat, £720 for a week.
- 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. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Foulridge, some 30 miles away, where 2012 prices for a week’s break start at £640 (including fuel).
- The Standedge Tunnel…at over three miles long tunnelling 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. The Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001. Today’s boaters pass through the tunnel with a Canal & River Trust pilot, giving a vivid personal commentary. There is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Sowerby Bridge, some 20 miles away, where 2012 prices for a week’s break start at £530 (including fuel).
- 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. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Anderton, with 2012 prices starting at £580 for a short break on a four berth and £885 for a week’s hire.