Take a spooky canal boat holiday this Halloween

Reputedly playing host to hundreds of ghosts, with 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 afloat.

Drifters’ Halloween canal boat hire prices start at £489 for a short break and £750 for a week on a four berth.

Here are some of the spookiest places to go:

The Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including ‘The Monkey Man’ at Bridge 39 near Norbury. The hideous black, shaggy coated being is said to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century. And at Betton Cutting near Market Drayton a shrieking spectre has been seen and heard. See if you can spot them by heading north on narrowboat holiday from our base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire near Stafford. Weekly breaks on a boat for four from Brewood over Halloween start at £847, short breaks £508.

Get the chills in Chester by visiting 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. You can also visit The King’s Inn, believed to be haunted by three separate spirits. Hire a boat from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire and you can easily make it to Chester and back on a short break. Short breaks on a four berth from Bunbury over Halloween start at £645, weekly hire from £920.

Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire has spooked a number of boaters over the years. At 3,076 yards (2.81km) 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?! Canal boat hire over Halloween from our Gayton base on the Grand Union Canal close to the Blisworth Tunnel starts at £585 for a short break and £895 for a week on a four berth.

At the Union Canal tunnel in Falkirk, Scotland, two walkers and their dogs were terrified by the apparition of a man who had been lured to the tunnel in the 1940s and viciously murdered after he had been unable to pay his gambling debt. And there are plenty of ghostly goings on in the historic city of Edinburgh, including the ghost of the Great Lafayette at Edinburgh Festival Theatre, a magician who was killed in a fire there. Canal boat hire on a four berth over Halloween from our Falkirk base starts at £522 for a short break and £802 for a week.

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 whose headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Canal boat hire over Halloween at our Peak District base on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire starts at £489 for a short break and £750 for a week on a four berth.

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 World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Canal boat hire over Halloween from our base at Trevor, right next to the Aqueduct, starts at £645 for a short break and £920 for a week on a four berth.

The spooky Standedge Tunnel in Yorkshire is the longest, highest and deepest canal on the UK canal system and certainly not for the feint hearted! Take a boat for a week from our base at Sowerby Bridge on the Calder & Hebble Navigation in West Yorkshire and cruise through the stunning Calder Valley, then onto the Huddersfield Broad Canal to Huddersfield. There you can moor the boat and switch to a train for a scenic rail trip to Marsden and the Standedge Tunnel Visitor Centre, which operates boat trips into the tunnel. Weekly hire from Sowerby Bridge over Halloween starts at £850 for a boat for four.

Why are boating holidays so special?

Spending quality time on board

In July we sent our newsletter subscribers a short survey and asked why canal boat holidays are so special.

Well done to 97% of respondents who correctly said ‘No’, you don’t need a licence to drive a canal boat.

The same number of people said they think narrowboat holidays are good for families and 96% said they would recommend them to their friends.

Most of our respondents (97%) also believe canal boat holidays are good for your health and 95% agreed they are the fastest way to slow down.

A quarter of our those who completed our survey said they had been on a canal boat holiday this year – or were planning to go later in the year.

We also had many insightful answers to our question, ‘Why are boating holidays special?’

Our competition winner’s answer was: Boating holidays are special because they allow you quality time to spend with the people you love whether that be family or friends, allowing you to experience new places together and provide the fun, group bonding task of getting there! Boating holidays take you back to basics and bring you closer to nature, allowing you to appreciate the important things in life, the ones you love.

Here are just a few of our other favourites:
*World of waterways, waiting to be explored, home from home living….in the great outdoors. Pretty villages, quaint places to stop. Once you come on board, you won’t want to get off!

*Cruise the waterways at a walking pace, discovering and visiting a brand new place! Mooring up for a lunchtime break, feeding the ducks swimming in the wake! A canal break is the break for me, So I can spend quality time with my family.

*My best holidays were spent on a boat, Sometimes with the weather I had to wear a coat, My childhood memories are all there, Floating on the water with no cares, Over aqueducts miles in the air, To see the scenery I would stop and stare. Time has no barrier as you will find, On a boat you are one of a kind, Meeting people whom live on a boat, Life is tranquil and no words are spoke, Wild animals you can see, and sometimes they would stop and look at me.

*I could caravan but I would be stuck, I would camp but I would be covered in muck! I could fly away abroad to the sun, but I would have to leave my dog behind being glum! So I would choose a boating holiday every time, sitting on the roof and drinking wine, while on the move around the UK, stopping here and there discovering new places to stay. Exploring the canals of beautiful Britain, doesn’t matter if it’s raining we can just sit in. Pop the kettle on and admire the view, waving at the ducks while sat on the loo. There is something for everyone so no need to pretend, making memories to last forever with my family and friends.

*Being afloat in a narrow boat gives you time to think with a relaxing drink. As the world drifts by, land water and sky, is all one can see and where I love to be.

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Top 10 places to picnic on the canals

Whether you are enjoying a canal boat holiday, or just planning a day out by the water, when the weather is good, it’s lovely to picnic by the water.

Here are some of our favourite canalside picnic spots, all perfect for watching the boats go by:

1. Tring Reservoirs, alongside the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire, are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are fantastic for bird watching, walking and angling. They consist of four reservoirs, including Wilstone Reservoir, famous for the first nesting in this country of black-necked grebes in 1918 and little ringed plovers in 1938. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is on the Grand Union Canal at Gayton, 19 hours away.

2. Foxton Locks, on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Leicestershire, are surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside and are recognised as one of the most important industrial heritage sites in Europe. The locks themselves consist of two staircases of five locks, which take an average of 45 minutes for a boat to negotiate. The water is controlled by paddles painted red or white. Reds fill the locks, white empties them. Foxton lock keepers advise narrowboat holiday-makers to open “Red afore white and you’ll be alright, white afore red and you’ll wish you were dead!“ Our nearest base is just five hours away at North Kilworth on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.

3. Stoke Bruerne, on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, is a picturesque village, home to the Canal Museum and east portal of Blisworth Tunnel. There are also waterside pubs to visit and a lovely woodland walk populated with sculptured wildlife to enjoy. Drifters’ nearest base is less than a mile away at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal.

4. Caen Hill Flight, on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. With 16 of the 29 locks stacked in a straight line up the hillside, it really is an impressive sight. It takes between five and six hours for a boat to travel the flight, giving plenty of “gongoozling” opportunities for picnickers. The flight is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and the sideponds and grassland alongside it are a haven for a rich variety of wildlife. Our nearest base is just five hours away at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

5. Hatton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal near Wariwck in Warwickshire, consists of 21 locks which raise the canal by 45 metres over two miles. Opened in 1799, they were widened in the 1930’s and reopened by an earlier Prince George, The Duke of Kent. Back then, the flight was known as the “stairway to heaven” because it led to Camp Hill where the workmen would receive their wages. Our nearest base is nine hours away at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal.

6. Froghall Wharf, at the end of the Caldon Canal near Cheadle in Staffordshire, is set within the beautiful Churnet Valley. At Froghall, there are a series of way-marked circular walks, leading visitors through woods, fields and charming villages with country pubs. Our nearest base is Peak District, 10 hours away at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals.

7. The Bingley Five Rise Locks, on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, is the steepest flight in the UK and holds the tallest lock gates in the country. The staircase of five locks raises the canal 18 metres and the locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next. There are places to picnic and a cafe with a cabinet of curiosities telling why the locks were built. Our nearest base is at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool, some 30 miles away.

8. Salterhebble Locks, on the Calder & Hebble Canal near Halifax, includes the electrically powered Salterhebble guillotine lock, one of only three functional guillotine locks on the network. The junction with the Halifax Arm is after Salterhebble Top Locks. The branch once climbed via 14 locks right into the centre of Halifax, but is now just 600 yards long. A footpath follows the line of the original canal into Halifax. Our nearest base is just one hour away at Sowerby Bridge, at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and the Rochdale Canal.

9. Stratford on Avon Canal Basin, at the junction of the River Avon and the Stratford Canal, is a buzzing focus for visitors to the town’s beautiful Bancroft Gardens. The Gardens occupy the site of former canal wharves, warehouses and a second canal basin which in 1902 was filled in. They are populated by a number of statues, including figures of the Shakespearean characters Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff and Prince Hal. Our nearest base is six hours away at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

10. Vines Park, on the newly restored Droitwich Canals in Worcestershire, offers three hectares of parkland to explore and an exciting wooden play area for children. Fifty years ago campaigning began to restore the Droitwich Canals and they finally reopened in 2011, reconnecting the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal through Droitwich. Our nearest base is just an hour away at Stoke Prior on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Spend August Bank Holiday Afloat

The Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

Canal boat holidays are great for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, work the locks, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

Our August bank holiday weekend canal boat hire prices start at £585 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £825 for a week. Here are our top ten August Bank Holiday destinations:

1. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from Drifters’ base at the incredible Falkirk Wheel on the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals in Scotland, Edinburgh is an 11-hour cruise away. Visitor moorings can be found at Edinburgh Quay, just five minutes from Princes Street. From there, it’s easy to access to the sights of Edinburgh, including the magnificent castle and fascinating Mary King’s Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

2. Enjoy an outdoor theatre performance in Chester…Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire is seven hours by boat from historic Chester. Famous for its Medieval architecture, city walls and Roman heritage, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award-winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants and from 5 July to 25 August, the City’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre is hosting productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cyrano de Bergerac and Othello.

3. See the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum…Drifters’ base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford. Canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge in the city centre and use their boat as a base to explore. The incredible Pitt Rivers Museum, just one of many world-class attractions in Oxford, displays the University’s archaeological and anthropological treasures, including the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads from the Upper Amazon.

4. Watch the Lion King at the Birmingham Hippodrome…With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre than by canal boat. Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge, and find centrally located over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin. There’s plenty for families to see and do there, including a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place and the chance to see the fantastic Lion King show at the Birmingham Hippodrome, showing there until 28 September 2013.

5. Experience the Pennines afloat…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 pass through the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

6. Travel to Bosworth Field and find out more about King Richard III…from Drifters’ 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.

7. Visit Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Blackbeard the Pirate…on a short break from Sydney Wharf in the centre of Bath, narrowboat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon and moor up in Bristol’s Floating Harbour. Once there, boaters can visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain and the new Blue Reef Aquarium to find out more about the city’s fascinating marine history, including Blackbeard the Pirate, said to have been born there. The journey to Bristol takes eight hours, passing through 13 locks.

8. Visit the Roman Baths in Bath…Drifters’ base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire is a day’s cruise from Bath City Centre. Canal boaters can moor-up close to Pulteney Bridge (reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), enjoy views of Bath’s fabulous Georgian architecture and visit the Roman Baths, one of 17 museums located within a square mile of this World Heritage Status city.

9. Cruise to the home of the Gingerbread Man…Drifters’ base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, is a nine-hour cruise from the pretty market town of Market Drayton. Home of gingerbread for the last 200 years, nearly three-quarters of this Saxon settlement was destroyed by fire in 1651. The Buttercross in the centre of the town still has a bell at the top for people to ring if there’s ever another fire.

10. Swap the slow lane for a theme park…from Drifters’ Peak District base at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, it’s a 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall. From there, Alton Towers is a short bus ride away, so canal boat holiday-makers can swap the peace and quiet of the canal for an adrenaline-fuelled fun day out.

Enjoy a festival afloat this summer


Dancers at the Llangollen Eisteddfod

 A series of exciting canalside events are taking place over the summer holidays, so enjoy some festival fun afloat on your next canal boat holiday.   From small-scale village festivals to world-class city attractions, here are our top five:

The Llangollen Eisteddfod, 9-14 July
The International Musical Eisteddfod at Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal is one of the world’s great musical events, bringing a fiesta of music, language, dance and colour and attracting thousands of people from around the world.
Six days of world-class competitions and concerts will end with a spectacular fireworks display.

Our nearest canal boat hire bases are at Trevor (just two hours away), Chirk (three hours away) and Blackwater Meadow (eight hours away).

IWA National Festival, 19-21 July
The Inland Waterway’s 2013 National Festival will take place at Cassiobury Park on the Grand Union Canal in Watford.  Crafts, food, real ale and boats galore (both new and used) will help to make this a festival to remember. The entertainment will include a flypast by a World War II Spitfire (circumstances permitting), a Victorian fairground, plus song and dance throughout.

Our nearest narrowboat holiday hire base is nine hours away on the Grand Union Canal in West London.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2-26 August
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival with more than 2,800 shows and 24,000 performers bringing their work to 270 venues across the city.  Among the shows with the broadest appeal is a stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption, based on the book that inspired the cult movie, starring comedian Omid Djilili and Dad’s Army’s Ian Lavender. Taggart star Blythe Duff will perform in Ciara, a new play by David Harrower, and Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan stars in the premiere of Dark Vanilla Jungle by Philip Ridley.  Big name comedians vying for audiences include Al Murray, Alexei Sayle, Sandi Toksvig, Ardal O’Hanlon, David Baddiel, Lucy Porter, Sean Hughes and Susan Calman.

Our base at the Falkirk Wheel on the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals is an 11-hour cruise away. Visitor moorings can be found at Edinburgh Quay, just five minutes from Princes Street in the city centre.

Cropredy Music Festival, 8-10 August
The annual Fairport’s Cropredy Convention takes place in the village of Cropredy, on the Oxford Canal near Banbury.
Widely acclaimed as the ultimate celebration of folk-rock, increasingly the tens of thousands of music-loving folkies who invade the normally tranquil village of Cropredy in North Oxfordshire for three days each August, are treated to a more eclectic range of music. Festival founders and rock-folk originators Fairport Convention are still the principal headliners, but the bill this year includes several distinctly non-folk performers, including the original shock-rocker Alice Cooper, 10cc, Levellers and Nik Kershaw.

Our nearest bases are at Oxford (seven hours away) and Napton (10 hours away).

Blisworth Canal Festival, 10-11 August
During the Blisworth Canal Festival, the village waterfront will be full of trade boats and stalls selling everything from cheese to boat oil. Two trip boats will be operating and the Funion Bargee will provide free supervised play sessions for children.  Seven village venues will offer a variety of exciting attractions including pony rides, a master blacksmith, a ‘have-a-go bell-tower!’, a variety of food outlets, wood carving, laser arena, bars, rural craft demonstrations, companion dog show, vintage caravans, WWII re-enactment, children’s fairground, chicken display, art gallery and Bistro. And on the Sunday, 10 local gardens will be open. There will also be free heritage walks and longer guided rambles, plus free live music to enjoy.

Our nearest base is round the corner at Gayton, or 12 hours away at Rugby.

Top 20 Canal Boat Names

Holiday makers enjoying Anglo Welsh's Romney

With the help of the Canal & River Trust, Drifters has gathered a list of the top 20 most popular canal boat names:

1. Kingfisher 2. Dragonfly 3. Phoenix 4. Willow 5. Merlin 6. Poppy 7. Serenity 8. Tranquility 9. Serendipity 10. Sapphire  11. Dreamcatcher 12. Free Spirit 13. Blue Moon 14. Freedom 15. Narrow Escape 16. Grace 17. Bluebell 18. Andante 19. Heron 20. Kestrel

There are over 33,000 canal boats on Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, and 1,100 of them are available for holiday hire.

Tim Parker, Chairman of Drifters, says: “The most popular canal boat names reflect the gentle nature of our peaceful inland waterways and the wildlife that inhabits them.  Narrowboat holidays offer the chance to slow right down and escape the hectic pace of our everyday lives.  Holiday-makers can enjoy the quietness of our beautiful countryside when travelling rural stretches, as well as the attractions on offer in our vibrant waterside towns and cities.”

Overall, the number of boats on our inland waterways has increased by 40 per cent in the last 10 years.  According to the British Marine Federation’s latest ‘Watersports Participation Survey’, 287,000 people went canal boating last year and the numbers have increased by 23 per cent in the last five years.

Celebrity Canal Boaters

Over a quarter of a million people enjoy canal boating every year on Britain’s peaceful network of canal and rivers, including a number of celebrities.

Last month, the BBC’s outdoor girl Julia Bradbury enjoyed a trip on a canal boat at the Crick Boat Show & Waterways Festival. Julia said:“I thoroughly enjoyed exploring some of Britain’s canals for my Canal Walks series. They cut a sedate path through some of the country’s finest scenery.”

Hollywood hero Harrison Ford, his wife Calista Flockhart and her son Liam, took a holiday on the Llangollen Canal in Wales in 2004. In a recent interview on the subject, Harrison said: “there’s nothing quite like it to slow your life down and I do it a lot.”

In 2010, Pirates of the Caribbean star Kiera Knightley rented a canal boat on a canal in London’s East End to use as a romantic weekend hideaway with boyfriend Rupert Friend. A neighbour interviewed by Marie Claire magazine said: “they like nothing better than strolling along the canal hand in hand and going to the chippy for a fish supper.”

The Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey enjoyed a weekend canal boating on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Bradford on Avon in 2008. According to the Moonraker Narrowboat Company, “he had so much fun, he ended up skipping some appointments in London to stay longer.”

David Suchet CBE, best-known for playing Poirot and a great supporter of the canals, spent the first five years of his marriage to actress Sheila Ferris, living on a narrowboat. He has taken regular holidays on the canals ever since and says: “I think it’s the independence that canal life affords you, the views of the countryside, the peace and the privacy.”

Timothy West CBE and Prunella Scales CBE, both renowned actors from stage and screen, have enjoyed many holidays on their own narrowboat. West said in a 2009 Daily Telegraph interview: “A canal boat holiday was a particular blessing when the children were younger because they got so wonderfully tired working the locks and swing bridges that they’d be exhausted by six and drop straight off to sleep, leaving us free to sit down and open a bottle of wine.”

Stan Cullimore, guitarist and singer with the 80s indie pop band The Housemartins, has taken several canal boat holidays in the last year. He says: “being on the canals is like going back to the 50s – everyone is just so nice to each other, and so helpful.”

BBC’s The One Show presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff took a holiday with her family on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon last autumn. Of canal boats, she says: “the moment you set foot on them, your pulse seems to slow and you relax as the pace is snail-like and there is nothing you can do to hurry things along.”

Veteran television presenter John Craven OBE, and Friend of the Canal & River Trust, says: “Over the years I have explored many canals. I grew up visiting the Five Rise flight of locks at Bingley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and taking a narrowboat across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct left me lost for words.”

Acclaimed British actor Timothy Spall OBE and his wife Shane bought a narrowboat in 1997 and explored the canal network for a number of years, before swapping it for the seafaring Princess Matilda in 2004.

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.

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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.