Visit a castle on your next canal boat holiday

Narrowboat holidays are a great way to sightsee and there are hundreds of top historic attractions on, or close to, Britain’s 3,000-mile canal network.

We’ve listed of our top five favourite canalside castles to visit on your next holiday afloat, together with our nearest canal boat hire base.

 

Warwick Castle on the River Avon…said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, Warwick Castle was developed from an original castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068. If offers visitors the chance to explore its grand interiors, climb its impressive towers and ramparts and visit some of its special attractions, including the terrifying Castle Dungeon. There are also regular ‘Flight of the Eagles’ and ‘Mighty Trebuchet’ firing displays in the extensive castle grounds. Warwick Castle is a seven-hour cruise from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.

Chirk Castle on the Llangollen Canal…this magnificent medieval fortress at Chirk was completed in 1310 and is the last Welsh castle from the reign of Edward I still lived in today. Features from its 700 years include the medieval tower and dungeon, 17th century long gallery, grand 18th century state apartments, servants’ hall and historic laundry. It also boasts award-winning gardens and incredible views over the Cheshire and Salop plains. Drifters’ nearest base is at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham.

Windsor Castle on the River Thames… Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and has been the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years. It is an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen and is still used regularly for ceremonial and State occasions. State Banquets are held in St George’s Hall, where a single table can seat 160 people. Windsor can be reached on a week’s holiday from our base is at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire.

Berkhamsted Castle on the Grand Union Canal…one of the oldest motte and bailey castles in England, the fascinating ruins of Berkhamsted Castle can be found close to the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire. When William the Conqueror was crowned King in 1066, he granted the Manor and Honour of Berkhamsted to his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, and work started on the castle. The castle went on to become the home of many key Royal figures, including The Black Prince from 1337. Berkhamsted can be reached on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ base at London on the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire.

Skipton Castle on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal…Over 900 years old, Skipton Castle in North Yorkshire is one of the most complete and best preserved castles in England. Visitors can explore every corner of this impressive castle, which withstood a three-year siege during the Civil War. They can explore the banqueting hall, kitchen, bedchamber and privy, and climb from the depths of the dungeon to the top storey of the watch tower. Skipton is 10 hours from our Foulridge base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria.

Hire a canal boat for Father’s Day

 

Pubs and boats – sound like a good combination for a Father’s Day treat?

Most Dads would agree there’s nothing quite like messing about in boats, so why not hire a canal boat for the day and plan a visit to a pub along the way.

Drifters offers day boat hire at nine of its bases, from less than £10 per person. Full tuition is included so those new to canal boating can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

Boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle so the boating party can enjoy a picnic afloat or head for a waterside pub. Most day boats also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here’s a list of Drifters’ day canal boat hire centres and prices for 2013:

Staffordshire delights – from Drifters’ base at Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Stafford, the recommended day boat cruise is a six-hour journey to the historic market town of Rugeley and back through several locks, past Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall. Stop at Shugborough for a picnic in the grounds, visit a pub in Rugeley or stop at the delightful ‘Wolseley Arms’ in Wolseley Bridge. Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people.

Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union near Crewe, cruise south past Barbridge and Nantwich to Baddington Bridge. With no locks to negotiate and plenty of pubs ‘en route’, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat. Day boat hire from Bunbury starts at £99 for up to 10 people.

Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge on the Worcs & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly ‘Hopwood House’ at Alvechurch. The route is lock-free but there are three tunnels to pass through. Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people.

Visit ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from the Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales it’s just 20 minutes by boat to the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (AKA ‘The Stream in the Sky’), offers a fantastic waterway adventure. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the Dee Valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth! Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £110 for up to 10 people.

Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the way to the ‘Horse & Jockey’ pub. Goytre means ‘place in the woods’ and the wharf was once used to supply coal to the nearby estate. Interactive displays on site tell visitors more about the wharf’s history. Day hire from Goytre starts at £90 for up to 12 people.

Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, you can choose between an easy day cruising to Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), or a more challenging cruise to Lowsonford and back, negotiating a total of 16 locks, with the opportunity to stop for an hour at the ‘Fleur de Lys’ pub, famous for its pies (3.5 hours each way). Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people.

Take a cruise in Bath – Drifters’ base at Sydney Wharf in the World Heritage City of Bath offers the chance to sample a scenic cruise on one of Britain’s most popular waterways, the Kennet & Avon Canal. Head east to Bathampton and make the historic ‘George Inn’, a vision of Olde England and once a 12th century monastery, your lunchtime destination. Or head west into Bath City Centre, with fantastic views of its beautiful Georgian architecture. Day boat hire from Bath starts at £120 for up to 10 people.

Wend your way through Wiltshire – from Drifters’ base at Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire on the Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to waterside ‘The Barge Inn’ at Seend or head West to Bradford on Avon and the ‘Cross Guns’ pub at Avoncliffe Aqueduct, with fantastic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds. Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £105 for up to eight people.

Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from Drifters’ base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, cruise north through open farmland to the pretty village of Ansty with its pottery and ‘Rose & Castle’ pub. Or head south, travelling through quiet woodland and Newbold Tunnel to the village of Newbold with several pubs to choose from. Day boat hire from Rugby starts at £150 for a boat for 12 people.

Get the family afloat this summer

Narrowboat holidays offer families the chance to set off on an adventure together – learning how to work the locks, navigate tunnels, speak the boating lingo, spot wildlife, explore mile upon mile of traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

All our operators provide hirers with life jackets and boat steering tuition. Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and dogs are welcome aboard most boats.

Here are some ideas for family canal boat holiday destinations this summer:

Explore the markets of Skipton…On a week’s holiday from our base at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria, boaters can reach the historic and vibrant market town of Skipton on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

On the way, enjoy extensive views of sheep country, stone walls, farm houses and the occasional village or small town.

It takes ten hours to travel the 16 miles and 15 locks to Skipton, where you can find moorings in the centre of town and explore the medieval castle, street markets, quirky shops, tea rooms and restaurants.

Visit Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Blackbeard the Pirate…on a short break from Sydney Wharf in the centre of the beautiful World Heritage City of Bath, canal boat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon to moor up in Bristol’s Floating Harbour.

There you can visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain, as well as the new Blue Reef Aquarium and find out more about the city’s fascinating marine history, including Blackbeard the Pirate, said to have been born there.

The journey from Bath to Bristol takes eight hours, passing through 13 locks.

Watch the Lion King at the Birmingham Hippodrome…Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham City Centre in just five hours from our base at Tardebigge. Centrally located over-night moorings can be found at Gas Street Basin.

Birmingham offers plenty for families to see and do including a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, shopping at the Mailbox and Bullring or a visit to the fantastic Lion King show, on at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 29 June to 28 September.

Meander down the Oxford Canal…one of the oldest in the country, the pretty Oxford Canal follows the contours of the land. From our base at Napton on the North Oxford Canal in rural Warwickshire, it takes a week to travel to Oxford and back on a boating holiday.

Along the way, you pass through Banbury and some lovely canalside villages, including Thrupp, Lower Heyford and Shipton-on-Cherwell, with stone built houses, cosy pubs, ancient churches and village greens.

There are centrally located moorings in Oxford, giving boaters the chance to visit some Oxford’s world famous sites, including the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum.

Travel to Chester by boat…Our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire is just seven hours by boat away from historic Chester.

Famous for its Medieval architecture and city walls, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award-winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants and a series of festivals across the summer.

Visit a National Trust property on your canal boat holiday

There are dozens of National Trust properties within easy reach of our canals and rivers, making them great places to stop-off at on your narrowboat holiday.

We’ve put together a list of our top 10, together with Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base:

The Rock Houses at Kinver Edge on the Staffs & Worcester Canal…Kinver’s famous Holy Austin Rock Houses near Stourbridge were inhabited until the 1950’s and give an atmospheric glimpse into a bygone age.  The woodland sandstone ridge out which the houses are built, offers dramatic views across surrounding counties.  Drifters’ nearest hire base is at Gailey on the Staffs & Worcester Canal.

Knot garden at Little Moreton Hall on the Macclesfield Canal…this iconic Tudor Manor House in Congleton offers an insight into life in the 1600s and its manicured knot garden grows herbs and vegetables used by the Tudors for their cooking and medicines.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Stoke on Trent (Peak District) on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

William Morris interiors at Wightwick Manor on the Staffs & Worcester Canal…described as ‘the haven of a romantic industrialist’, this beautiful timber-framed house in Wolverhampton has stunning interiors decorated with the designs of William Morris and his Arts & Crafts contemporaries.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcester Canal.

Timber-frames at Greyfriars House close to the River Severn…this late Medieval merchant’s house and walled garden in Worcester city centre was rescued from demolition after the Second World War and has been carefully restored and refurbished.  The closest Drifters’ base is at Worcester on the River Severn.

700 years of history at Chirk Castle on the Llangollen Canal…this magnificent medieval fortress at Chirk was completed in 1310 and is the last Welsh castle from the reign of Edward I still lived in today.  Features from its 700 years include the medieval tower and dungeon, 17th century Long Gallery, grand 18th century state apartments, servants’ hall and historic laundry.  It also boasts award-winning gardens and incredible views over the Cheshire and Salop plains.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal.

Profumo Affair links at Cliveden on the River Thames at Maidenhead…a country retreat on a grand scale, Cliveden’s magnificent gardens and breath-taking views have been admired for centuries.  Once the glittering hub of society and visited by virtually every British Monarch since George I, Cliveden was renowned for hosting exclusive parties and political gatherings, and later became infamously associated with the Profumo Affair.  Today visitors can explore the stunning gardens, peaceful woodlands and Thames riverbank.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Aldermaston on The Kennet & Avon Canal.

Notable topiary at Packwood House on the Stratford Canal…originally built in the 16th century, the interiors of this timber-framed Tudor house at Lapworth were extensively restored between the First and Second World Wars by Graham Baron Ash to create a fascinating 20th century evocation of domestic Tudor architecture.  Its gardens have fine herbaceous borders and a famous collection of yews.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Exquisite embroideries at East Riddlesden Hall on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal…this 17th century manor house at Keighley was a hive of farming activity for generations.  It has a cosy lived-in feel with exquisite embroideries and blackwork, plus oak furniture and pewter on show.  Drifters nearest base is at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

18th century gardens at Hanbury Hall on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal…built in 1701 by Thomas, Vernon, a lawyer and whig MP for Worcester, Hanbury Hall near Droitwich Spa is a beautiful country house with 20 acres of recreated early 18th century gardens and 400 acres of parkland.  Drifters’ closest base is at Stoke Prior on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Holy Grail connections at Shugborough Hall on the Staffs & Worcester Canal…Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire is set in 900 acres of stunning parkland and riverside gardens.  This rare survival of a complete estate, with all major buildings including the fine Georgian Mansion House, servants’ quarters, model farm and walled garden, is rumoured to have connections to the Holy Grail.  Drifters’ nearest base is just five minutes away at Great Haywood.

 

Culture on the Canals

There are dozens of fantastic art and historic centres on or very close to Britain’s 3,000 mile canal and river network.

We’ve put together a list of our top five cultural destinations to head for on your narrowboat holiday, together with our nearest canal boat hire base.

***The Swan Theatre in Stratford…Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley in Arden is a six hour cruise from Stratford-on-Avon and its world-famous riverside Swan Theatre.  The theatre’s 2013 summer season includes productions of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and ‘As You Like It’.

***The David Hockney Gallery at Saltaire…canal boat holiday-makers can easily reach Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating model town on a week’s narrowboat holiday from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge.  Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the woollen industry.  Salts Mill has a number of galleries, including the stunning David Hockney Gallery showing both permanent and temporary collections of the Bradford-born artist’s work.

***The Theatre Royal in Bath…Drifters’ base at Bradford on Avon is just a seven-hour cruise from Bath City centre, where narrowboat holiday-makers can find convenient moorings.  Over 200 years old, the World Heritage City of Bath’s beautiful Georgian theatre is one of the country’s best-loved.  Diana Quick is currently starring in ‘The American Plan’ and The Moscow City Ballet is performing there until 17 March.

***The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford…Drifters’ base at Oxford on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford City Centre, home of the Ashmolean Museum.  Founded in 1683, and extensively refurbished in 2007, it is Britain’s first public museum and home to the University of Oxford’s world-class collections of art and archaeology.  The Ashmolean has a series of permanent exhibition galleries, including a fascinating and significant collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts.  Its 2013 exhibition programme has opened with ‘Xu Bing’s Landscape Landscript’, showing landscapes by one of China’s most exciting and innovative artists working today.

***Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire…Drifters’ base at Great Haywood on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal near Stafford, is just a short cruise or walk from Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Estate, now owned by the National Trust.  Set in 900 acres of stunning parkland and riverside gardens, it is a rare survival of a complete estate with all major buildings including the fine Georgian Mansion House, servants’ quarters, model farm and walled garden. Visitors can explore the Mansion’s state rooms and private apartments of the Earls of Lichfield, see costumed characters in the servant’s quarters and farmstead make cheese, beer and bread and find out about the estate’s rumoured connections to the Holy Grail.

BANK HOLIDAY BOATING – Our top 10 short breaks

With two bank holidays on the horizon, we’ve put together an inspirational list of our top ten short break canal boat holidays:

Enjoy the Pennines afloat…from our 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 and fields, canal boat holiday-makers 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.

***Short break canal boat hire from Sowerby Bridge in May starts at £430.

Visit the Medieval City of Chester…from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, Chester is a lovely seven-hour cruise away.  Famous for its Medieval architecture and city walls, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bards, shopping malls and a huge variety of restaurants.

***Short break canal boat hire from Bunbury in May starts at £595.

Find out more about the ‘car park king’ Richard III…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination.  The canal 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.  King Richard’s body was recently found beneath a Leicester car park.

***Short break canal boat hire from Stretton in May starts at £495.

Cruise into the heart of Birmingham…Brindley Place is just a five-hour cruise from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove.  With more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water.  City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin with easy access to the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants.

***Short break prices from Tardebigge in May start at £595.

Visit Braunston canal village at the heart of the canals…from our base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it’s a peaceful day’s cruise to Braunston, passing through the villages of Weedon and Norton.  Situated at the junction of the Oxford and Grand Union canals, Braunston is said to be ‘at the heart of the UK canal system’.  The main village is high on a hill above the canals, with plenty of pubs serving good food and a fish and chip shop.

***Short break prices from Gayton in May start at £745.

Navigate the Droitwich Ring…our base at Worcester on the River Severn is on 21-mile long Droitwich Ring – the only cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break.  The 16-hour journey, which includes 33 locks, takes boaters through the historic Spa town of Droitwich and along the River Severn, with stunning views of the Worcestershire countryside.

***Short break prices from Worcester in May start at £645.

Enjoy the beautiful Llangollen Canal…from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the picturesque town of Llangollen with walking access to the famous Horseshoe Falls, is an eight-hour cruise away.  The journey includes traversing the awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which towers 38 metres high above the Dee Valley.  Definitely not for the feint-hearted!

***Short break prices from Chirk in May start at £574.

Cruise to trendy Camden Lock…from our base on the Grand Union Canal in West London, Little Venice and Paddington Basin are just a four-hour cruise away.  From here narrowboat holiday-makers can use their canal boat as a base to visit some of the Capital’s attractions.  And just one hour further along the Regent’s Canal, boaters will reach Camden Lock, London’s most popular open air market area with vibrant shopping and entertainment areas, live music, comedy, cafes and bars.

***Short break prices from London in May start at £723.

Experience the World Heritage City of Bath…Bath City centre with its fabulous Georgian architecture, is a delightful seven-hour cruise from our base at Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire.  Along the way boaters pass fascinating historic pubs, like The George at Bathampton (once a 12th century monastery) and a series of impressive canal structures, including the Avoncliffe and Dundas aqueducts.

***Short break prices from Bradford on Avon in May start at £595.

Journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal…from our base at Stoke on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a trip along Wedgewood’s Caldon Canal is the perfect short break route.  One of the quietest and most picturesque canals in Britain, the Caldon Canal was originally built to transport porcelain.  It 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.

***Short break prices from Stoke in May start at £574.

 

Year of the Snake

Year of the Snake

Chinese New Year will be celebrated by a third of the world’s population on Sunday (10 February) and this year is the year of the Snake.

To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of serpent-related canal boat holiday destinations:

Look out for our native grass snake…from April to September, narrowboat holiday-makers in England and Wales might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of our native grass snake.

Grey/green in colour, the grass snake is a shy, placid, sun-loving creature that enjoys basking on grassy banks on warm summer days.  River banks, ponds and ditches are their preferred habitats, although they will also make a home of hedgerows, meadows and woodland margins.

If frightened, the grass snake will either turn and run or ‘play dead’, an impressive performance that can involve the snake writhing onto its back and lolling its tongue out of its mouth.

Be amazed by the black mamba at London Zoo…the world’s oldest scientific zoo is right next to the Regent’s Canal in Regent’s Park, so even if you don’t moor up and visit, you can still see some of the animals as you cruise by.

London Zoo’s Reptile House (which features in the opening scene of the first Harry Potter film), is home to some of the biggest and most venomous snakes on earth, including a black mamba.

Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is on the Grand Union Canal in West London, just a four and a half hour cruise away

See the venomous king cobra at West Midlands Safari Park…the venom from a single bite of a king cobra is strong enough to kill an elephant.  But the main source of food for these feared animals is other snakes, making them cannilbalistic as well as deadly!

To reach the West Midlands Safari Park, narrowboat holiday-makers can moor up in Kidderminster on the Staffs & Worcester Canal and take a 10 minute taxi ride to the zoo.  Kidderminster is a seven-hour cruise from Drifters’ base at Worcester.

Marvel at the reticulated pythons at Chester Zoo…famous for its medieval architecture and city walls, Chester is also home to an award-winning zoo with over 8,000 animals to see.  The Zoo’s impressive reptile collection includes two enormous reticulated pythons, the longest species of snake in the world.

Medieval Chester is just seven hours from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal.

See stuffed snakes at the Natural History Museum at Tring…snakes are included in an incredible array of over 4,000 stuffed animals on display at the Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire.  This fascinating collection, which was gifted to the nation in by the Rothschild family 1937, was put together by the scientist, collector and founder of the Museum,  Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild.

Tring is close to the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire, so canal boat holiday-makers can moor close by at Bulbourne and walk to Tring town centre, just over a mile away.

Visit the boa constrictors at Dudley Zoological Gardens…Eighteen months ago reptile keepers at Dudley Zoo were surprised by the birth of 19 boa babies in their Reptile House.  These large non-venous snakes from Central and South America kill their food by constriction.  The babies have now been re-homed but their parents are still in residence.

Dudley Zoo is about an eight-hour cruise from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge.  Moor up on the Dudley Canal at the Black Country Living Museum and it’s a five-minute taxi ride to the Zoo.

Discover the mythology of snakes at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford…there are many representations of serpents in the extraordinary collection of objects from lost cultures held by the Pitt Rivers Museum.

For example, the Court Art of Benin collection from southern Nigeria, has a number of artefacts depicting snakes.  In Benin cosmology, snakes symbolize the power of Osun, the god of nature.  The python is also a symbol of Olokun, the god of water and it is said that pythons are sent by Olokun to punish wrongdoing.

Drifters has a base at Eynsham on the River Thames, just a three-hour cruise from moorings close to Oxford City Centre.

Swap theme park thrills for animal magic at Drayton Manor Zoo…part of the Drayton Manor Family Theme Park, Drayton Manor Zoo at Tamworth in Staffordshire is home to one of the largest collections of snakes in Britain.

Drifters’ base at Great Haywood is a 12-hour cruise and short taxi ride away.

See Taiwan beauty snakes at Edinburgh Zoo…as well as being home to the UK’s only giant pandas, Edinburgh Zoo offers visitors the chance to see Taiwan beauty snakes.  These large snakes are colourful with beautifully patterned bodies.  They are seen as a delicacy in their native country and are often found in the food markets and menus of Taiwanese restaurants, as well as being used in traditional medicine.

Edinburgh, with centrally located moorings at Edinburgh Quay, is a day and a half’s cruise along the Union Canal from Drifters’ base at the Falkirk Wheel.  There’s a frequent bus service to the Zoo from the City Centre.

Visit the rattlesnakes at Bristol Zoo…the reptile house at Bristol Zoo is home to a variety of snake species, including the Aruba Island rattlesnake.  Belonging to the family of vipers, there are only about 230 of these critically endangered animals left in the wild.

Drifters’ base at Bath on the Kennet & Avon Canal is an eight hour journey away from Bristol Floating Harbour.  Bristol Zoo Gardens is in Clifton, a short taxi or bus ride away.

RURAL SPRING BREAKS ON THE CANALS

Spring is a great time of year to take to the water as the countryside bursts into new life – trees come into leaf, birds nest and spring flowers emerge on the towpath.

Canal boat holidays offer the chance to see the abundance of wildlife that lives in and around our beautiful 3,000 mile inland waterway network.  From kingfishers, cuckoos and swans to bats, water voles and otters, there’s always something special to look out for.

Drifters’ Spring canal boat hire prices start at £355 for a short break (3 or 4 nights) and £545 for a week on a boat for four.

Here’s our top 10 rural journeys for this Spring:

***Travel to the Shropshire Lake District…from Drifters’ bases at Trevor, Chirk or Whitchurch on the incredibly beautiful Llangollen Canal, the Ellesmere Lakes (also known as The North Shropshire Lake District) are reachable on a short break.  Made up of nine glacial meres, these lakes and their surrounding woodlands are a nature lover’s paradise.

***Journey through the Leicestershire Countryside and visit Foxton Locks…from Drifters’ base at North Kilworth on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal narrowboat holiday-makers can reach Foxton Locks on a short break, enjoying magnificent views of the Leicestershire countryside.

***Cross the Pennines on a canal boat…from Drifters’ bases at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria or Sowerby Bridge on the Calder & Hebble Navigation in Yorkshire, narrowboat hirers can cross the backbone of England in a week and travel through the heart of West Riding, immersed in timeless scenery.

***Cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey…the pretty canalside village of Pewsey in Wiltshire is reachable on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ bases on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Hilperton or Bradford on Avon.  The canal cuts through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, which is an area of lower lying ground separating the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain to the south from the Malborough Downs to the north and is part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

***Glide through 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 has very few locks and incredible mountain views.  Drifters has a base here at Goytre Wharf, close to Abergavenny.

***Take a short break on Wedgwood’s Caldon Canal…one of the quietest and most picturesque canals in Britain, the Caldon Canal is a branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal originally built to transport porcelain.  The waterway travels 17 miles from its junction with the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stoke on Trent, through the beautiful Churnet Valley to Froghall Wharf.  Drifters’ base at Stoke on Trent in Staffordshire is ideally placed for canal boat hirers to enjoy a short break on the Caldon.

***Meander along the Oxford Canal…Drifters’ base at Napton in Warwickshire is at the head of the predominantly rural Oxford Canal.  One of the earliest built, the canal follows the contours of the land, meandering its way south to Oxford through pretty villages like Shipton-on-Cherwell with stone built houses, cosy pubs, ancient churches and village greens.

***Visit the Scottish Lowlands by boat…from Drifters’ base at Falkirk the stunning Scottish Lowlands can be explored by canal boat.  Boaters heading east to Edinburgh must first travel through the magnificent Falkirk Wheel boat lift, built at the intersection of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals as part of the Millennium Link project to restore the waterways linking the east and west coasts of Scotland.  Once through the Wheel, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the peaceful Union Canal, passing through the pretty canal villages of Ratho and Linlithgow and reaching Edinburgh in a day and a half.

***Enjoy the rural Ashby Canal…from Drifters’ base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, boaters easily can travel to the peaceful and entirely rural Ashby Canal.  Originally built to move coal and limestone from the Ashby Woulds, the canal passes close to the historic market town of Market Bosworth, the famous Battlefield of Bosworth and a number of cosy country pubs.

***Wonder at West Berkshire’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty…Drifters’ base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal offers canal boat holiday-makers the chance to cruise through parts of the North Wessex Downs – one of the largest tracts of chalk downland in southern England and perhaps one of the least affected by development.  A four night mid-week break gives enough time to cruise to Hungerford and back, passing through Newbury and the pretty village of Kintbury along the way.

 

Visit a Waterway Museum

To find out more about the fascinating history of our canal network, including the people who built and worked on it, why not visit a waterway museum on your canal boat holiday.

We’ve listed our favourite museums and visitor attractions, together with the nearest Drifters canal boat hire base.

The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port

History comes to life at the National Waterways Museum on the banks of the Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal in Cheshire, with extensive in-door displays, boat trips and historic buildings.

Designed by Thomas Telford under the direction of William Jessop, the docks at Ellesmere Port were still in use as late as the 1950’s.  Visitors to the museum can walk round its locks, docks and warehouses and visit its forge, stables and workers cottages.

The Museum is also home to the waterways archive and a unique fleet of historic working boats, cared for by the Heritage Boatyard team.  It offers an exciting programme of events, featuring everything from beer festivals to historic boat rallies.

Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is a ten-hour cruise away at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire.  Prices start at £465 for a short break and £660 for a week.

The London Canal Museum

Housed in a former ice warehouse on the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross, The London Canal Museum tells the story of London’s canals, the cargoes carried, the people who lived and worked on the waterways and the horses that pulled their boats.

Visitors can peer down into the huge Victorian ice well used to store ice imported from Norway by ship and canal boat.  The warehouse was built in 1862-3 for Carlo Gatti, the famous ice cream maker so the Museum also features the history of the ice trade and ice cream.

Drifters’ nearest base on the Grand Union Canal in West London is a six-hour cruise away.  2013 prices start at £525 for a short break and £808 for a week.

The Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne

Set in the beautiful village of Stoke Bruerne alongside the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, The Canal Museum is a treasure trove of stories, displays, films and collections about our waterways.

Housed on two floors of a historic corn mill, the museum provides an excellent overview of the history of Britain’s canals.

Visitors can find out about the great engineers and navvies who created the canals, and the boat families, ‘leggers’ and lock keepers who lived and worked on them.

Examples of canal crafts, traditional clothing and specialist tools are on display, as well as models of working boats, Claverton Pumping Station and the Foxton Inclinded Plane boat lift.

Drifters’ nearest base is just an hour away on the Grand Union Canal at Gayton.  Prices start at £455 for a short break and £695 for a week.

Gloucester Waterways Museum

The Waterways Museum at Gloucester is housed in a Grade II listed warehouse at the heart of the City’s fine Victorian docks, beside the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and River Severn.

It is home to historic boats, real working engines, intricate models, objects designated of national importance, interactive displays, archive films and trip boats.

Through a series of galleries, the Museum sheds light on all aspects of our waterways.  For example, ‘Trade and The Docks’ captures the atmosphere of a working warehouse and shows the role played by docks and canals in the British Empire and Industrial Revolution.

While ‘The Story of Canals’ gives a fascinating overview of the people who created, worked and lived on the canals.

Drifters’ nearest base is at Worcester, a 10-hour cruise along the River Severn.  Prices start at £355 for a short break and £545 for a week.

The Standedge Tunnel

Tunnelling three and a quarter miles beneath the Pennines, Standedge is the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in Britain.

It took the navvies 16 years to build, cutting through solid rock to connect Marsden in West Yorkshire with Diggle in Greater Manchester in 1811.

The story of this incredible feat of 18 and 19th century engineering is told at the Standedge Tunnel visitor centre at Marsden, where a trip boat also operates.

Narrowboat holiday-makers can book a passage through the tunnel with a Canal & River Trust pilot, giving a vivid personal commentary.

Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is 20 miles away at Sowerby Bridge.  Prices for a week’s break start at £515 (including fuel).

The Anderton Boat Lift

No description can adequately convey the sheer scale of this engineering feat, designed by Edwin Clark.

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.  It consists of two huge counterbalanced water tanks, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats, held within a giant three-storey-high iron spider-like construction.

The Operations Centre at Anderton tells the story of the lift, with interactive displays.  Narrowboat hirers can book a passage through in advance through their hire company.

Drifters has a base at Anderton, with 2013 prices starting at £455 for a short break and £695 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 was 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.

The Falkirk Wheel visitor centre vividly tells the story of the canals and the Wheel.

Drifters has two canal boat hire bases at the Falkirk Wheel, with 2013 prices starting at £446 for a short break and £686 for a week’s hire.

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.

The Five Rise Café has a cabinet of curiosities which explains why the canal and locks were built.  There’s also a Family Trail to follow and a Smartphone App to download with videos and real stories about the locks.

Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is 30 miles away at Foulridge.  2013 prices for a week’s break start at £515 (including fuel).

Foxton Inclined Plane Museum

The Foxton Inclined Plane was short-lived but fascinating example of Victorian ingenuity.

The Foxton staircase of locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal was built in 1810.  A trip through the locks takes about 45 minutes, rising 75ft and uses 25,000 gallons of water.  Only narrowboats can travel through.

Towards the end of the 19th century, with the coming of the railways, canal carrying companies wanted to use bigger boats to take coal from the North to the London factories.  Grand Junction Canal Company engineer Gordon Cale Thomas put forward the idea of a unique boat lift which consisted of two huge tanks of water linked by wire rope.

A steam driven winch at the top wound the rope on to one side of its drum and simultaneously let it off the other, raising and lowering the tanks.  Two narrowboats or one barge could fit in each tank.

The lift, which opened in 1900, reduced the journey time up or down the hill to 12 minutes and used considerably less water.

Sadly, with the reduction in traffic on the canals, the lift was mothballed in 1911 to save money and in 1928 the machinery was sold for scrap.

The Foxton Inclined Plane Trust runs a small museum in the lift’s former boiler house at Foxton Locks which tells the story of the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane.

Drifters’ nearest base is a five-hour cruise away at North Kilworth.  2013 prices start at £465 for a short break or £660 for a week.

ENJOY AN ADVENTURE AFLOAT AT EASTER

…and visit waterside attractions along the way, including Cadbury World, the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, National Garden Festival, SS Great Britain, Standedge Tunnel and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Drifters is offering some fantastic UK family canal boat hire breaks on our beautiful inland waterway network at Easter, with prices starting at just £536 for a short break and £825 over the Easter weekend on a boat for four.

Canal boat holidays offer families the chance to set off on an adventure together – learning how to work the locks, navigate tunnels, speak the boating lingo, spot wildlife, explore mile upon mile of traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions.

All our operators provide hirers with life jackets and boat steering tuition.  Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and dogs are welcome aboard most hire boats.

Many canalside attractions will be hosting special Easter events, so why not pack up and ship out for some Easter holiday fun afloat.

Here are some ideas for a family adventure afloat at Easter:

***Visit the Peak District and National Garden Festival Site…Drifters base at Stoke on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal is on the National Garden Festival Site with its exciting Water World, dry ski-slope, multi-screen cinema, ten pin bowling and shopping centre.

This canal boat hire base offers a huge variety of routes for both beginners and experienced boaters.

On a short break travel through the stunning Churnet Valley along the Caldon Canal and head to the Churnet Valley railway and the Black Lion Pub at Consall Forge.

On a week’s break, travel the 111 mile long Four Counties Ring, stopping off along the way at the Wedgewood Factory, Lord Lichfield’s historic working estate at Shugborough Hall and Churche’s Mansion – the stunning timber framed Elizabethan Mansion House in Nantwich.

Short breaks on a boat for four from Stoke on Trent over Easter start at £536, weekly hire from £825.

***Visit the home of Cadbury’s Chocolate and the bright lights of Birmingham…Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge, stopping off along the way to sample the delights of Cadbury World.

With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre where over-night moorings are available in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindley Place.

There’s plenty for families to see and do in Birmingham, including a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, shopping at the Mailbox and Bullring or take in a show at one of the City’s theatres, museums or art galleries.

Short breaks on a boat for four from Tardebigge over Easter start at £595, weekly breaks from £855.

***Visit Bath and Bristol on the Kennet & Avon Canal…a short break from Sydney Wharf in the centre of the beautiful World Heritage City of Bath could take narrowboat holiday-makers to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning Tithe Barn, used for many a costume drama film set.

Or hirers can head west to Bristol’s Floating Harbour and visit Brunel’s masterpiece – the SS Great Britain and the new Blue Reef Aquarium.  The journey to Bristol takes eight hours, passing through 13 locks.

Easter short breaks on a boat for four from Bath start at £680, weekly cruises from £970.

***Travel across the Stream in the Sky…At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (AKA ‘The Stream in the Sky’) on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering and offers the canal boat ride of your life!

Even though boats travel at just four miles an hour, with not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure panoramic views of the stunning Dee Valley below, boaters literally feels like they are floating above the earth.

And travelling along the Llangollen Canal offers the chance to experience one of the UK’s most stunning stretches of waterway, explore Shropshire’s mini lakes teeming with wildlife, visit historic Chirk Castle and ride the Llangollen Steam Railway.

Short breaks on a boat for four from Trevor at Easter start from £590, weekly cruises from £840.

***Visit the Pennines afloat, the incredible Standedge Tunnel and Selby Abbey…Hire a boat for a week from Sowerby Bridge on the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation in Yorkshire and cruise through the stunning Calder Valley, then onto the Huddersfield Broad to Huddersfield.

Once in Huddersfield, narrowboat holiday-makers can moor their boat and switch to a train for a short but scenic rail trip to Marsden and the Standedge Tunnel Visitor Centre.

At 3.25miles long, Standedge is the highest, longest and deepest canal on the UK canal system.  An engineering marvel, carved through hard millstone grit, the tunnel runs beneath the Pennines from Marsden in Yorkshire to Diggle in Lancashire.  Navigating the tunnel is a specialist one-way trip for experienced boaters only but the visitor centre at Marsden offers fantastic guided boat trips in a glass topped boat.

Once back on board their hire boat in Huddersfield, boaters can head back down to the Calder & Hebble to the ancient town of Selby, with its beautiful abbey and vibrant Monday market, before heading back to Sowerby Bridge.

Short breaks on a boat for four from Sowerby Bridge over Easter start at £590, weekly hire from £910.

***Explore the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire…Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is one of the most popular in the country.  Not only is it centrally located and easy to get to (it’s just minutes away from junction 15a of the M1), but it also offers a great variety of cruising routes for boaters, whether novices or experienced navigators.

A short break (four nights) could take boaters south to Fenny Stratford and back, cruising through miles of delightful countryside.  On the way canal boat holiday-makers pass through the picturesque village of Stoke Bruerne, with its friendly waterside pubs and fascinating Canal Museum housed in an old corn mill.

On a week’s cruise, boaters can travel to the historic town of Market Harborough and back via the Foxton staircase of locks, with wonderful views of the Leicestershire countryside and the chance to find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift which once operated there.

Short breaks on a boat for four from Gayton over Easter start at £655, weekly breaks from £995.

For more information about Drifters boating holidays call 0844 984 0322 or visit www.drifters.co.uk

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For Drifters press enquiries contact Debbie Walker on 01628 635831/077486 40577 walker.debbie@sky.com