A two hundred year old canal

It is quite hard for us to imagine what life must have been like two hundred years ago. There were few roads – only muddy tracks. No railways, either. So, when the Industrial Revolution started, the real problem facing those who wanted to take advantage of it was how to move the raw materials from where they were extracted from the ground to the rapidly-growing industrial centres. The answer presented itself in the form of canals.

In Wales, in what is now the Brecon Beacons National Park, limestone was brought from the hills by horse tramway to the canal to be processed in kilns then loaded onto boats for transport to the docks at Newport.

Now, just 200 years later, this canal is celebrating its bicentenary and is still in use, but for a very different purpose. Today, the canal finds itself at the centre of a National Park, and is used exclusively for pleasure by narrowboats.

The canal, now known as the Monmouth & Brecon Canal, is a great place to take a canal boat holiday. The canal runs for almost all of its length through the Brecon Beacons National Park, with wonderful views over the valley of the River Usk and the peaks of the Beacons and the Black Mountains.

It’s not a long canal, and there are relatively few locks, so it can hardly be beaten for a relaxing, scenic boating holiday. Drifters have a hire boat base at Goytre, near Pontypool, from which you can hire a narrowboat any time from March to October, and it is one of our most popular holiday bases.

There will be celebrations at various points along the canal this year to mark the bicentenary, but it will be just as pretty next year.

As well as winding its way through a magnificent landscape, the canal is tree-lined for much of its length, so it is very green and there are banks of wild flowers in many places. Because this canal runs mainly through unspoilt countryside, there is always plenty of wildlife, including herons fishing in the canal and red kites soaring overhead.

All our canals can be described as scenic, but it would be hard to find one to rival the Monmouth & Brecon for sheer wonderful beauty. It never disappoints, and many people return to it time and again as the best place to unwind on holiday.

The Droitwich Canal

The Droitwich Canal is now celebrating its first full year since re-opening to navigation.

So, it’s still a bit of an unknown to most people on the canals – this makes it rather exciting. Droitwich Spa is just north of Worcester and it’s easy to get to from several Drifters bases (Alvechurch, Tardebigge, Stoke Prior and Worcester).

We stock a really detailed guide book to the Droitwich canal, which answers any questions about the new route. It’s a bit of an adventure to go on any ‘new’ canal, so there’s a buzz in the air when you meet other boaters around Droitwich.

There’s a bit of everything on the short canal, including a staircase lock, unique lock side ponds, a tunnel under a motorway, a canalised river section – and the historic old salt town of Droitwich.

Before restoration, the canal bed was largely dried up, and formed the largest reed bed in Worcestershire. Some of the reeds have been kept lining the banks of the canal, which gives you a great chance to see some quite rare birds in amongst the reeds as you cruise by. Also, a vast new reed bed has been created just beside the canal which now forms a nature reserve where several rare species have taken up residence.

The opening of the Droitwich canal has resulted in the creation of a new cruising ring – known as the Mid-Worcestershire Ring.  This also involves part of the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. This makes a great short break narrowboat or canal boat holiday from any of the nearby Drifters bases, and you can be one of the first to enjoy it.

Top of the Rings

…Drifters Waterway Holidays picks 10 of the best canal cruising rings

Cruising rings are popular with canal boat holiday-makers, offering journeys which travel along several different waterways and take in a huge variety of landscapes.

Some are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate.  While others, like the new Droitwich Ring, are easier and more suitable for beginners.

Drifters Waterway Holidays, which offers over 50 canal boats for hire from 36 locations across the country, has put together a list of its Top 10 Cruising Rings:
  1. 1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours): Starting from the Drifters’ bases at Worcester or Stoke Prior and ideal for beginners, this cruising ring is the only one in Europe which can be completed on a short break.  It opened up last year following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals, which now reconnect the River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: the historic Spa town of Droitwich; the Hanbury flight of locks; and the beautiful City of Worcester with its stunning cathedral.
    1. 2. The London Ring (44 miles, 25 locks, 18 hours): Starting from the Drifters’ base at Greenford in West London, this exciting journey for seasoned canal boaters is best done in a week, leaving plenty of time to enjoy London’s world-class museums, restaurants, theatres and shops.  The route takes you through the heart of London along the Grand Union and Regent’s canals, then onto the Thames via Limehouse Lock and back onto the Grand Union Canal at Brentford Lock.  Highlights include: Paddington Basin and Little Venice, Camden Lock and market, Victoria Park, Limehouse Basin, views of London’s major landmarks along the Thames (including the Tower of London, the Millennium Wheel and the Houses of Parliament) and the historic flight of locks at Hanwell.
    2. 3. The South Pennine Ring (71 miles, 197 locks, 80 hours): not for the faint-hearted, this epic two-week journey can be taken from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge.  It crosses the Pennines twice and includes passage of Britain’s longest canal tunnel.  It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Broad and Narrow canals, the Ashton and Rochdale canals.  Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; Manchester City Centre; and, one of the Seven Wonders of Waterways, the awesome three and a quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which, designed by Thomas Telford, cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle.
    3. 4. The Stourport Ring (74 miles, 118 locks, 44 hours):  Starting from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge, this offers an exhilarating and hugely popular week.  The route takes in the Staffs & Worcs Canal, the Worcs & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line.  The Stourport Ring visits three cities: Wolverhampton; Birmingham (with central moorings in Gas Street Station, close to shops, restaurants and museums); and the ancient City of Worcester.  Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindley Place and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.
    4. 5. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours): starting from the Drifters’ base at Anderton, this superb route takes you through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals.  Highlights include: the spectacular vertical Anderton Boat Lift, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’; Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall and its working Elizabethan Mill alongside the Bridgewater Canal; Castlefield Basin; Manchester’s China Town; the Rochdale 9 locks; Buxworth Basin, Whaley Bridge and the glorious Top Lock at Marple; and the Cheshire Plain and heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.
    5. 6. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours): starting from Drifters’ bases at Napton or Rugby, with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in two weeks.  It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals.  Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone, Hawkesbury Junction, one of the tightest turns on the system where the Oxford joins the Coventry; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the Knowle Flight of five locks; the pretty canal village of Braunston; Napton Junction; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.
    6. 7. Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen, this World-famous journey includes 130 locks.  Most people do this trip in a more leisurely 10 days or two weeks, but it is possible to do it in a week.  The ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcs & Birmingham Canal.  Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across Wawickshire and the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; Telford’s lofty Mythe Bridge; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 lock Tardebigge Flight, the longest in the country; and the 2495 metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.
      1. 8. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours):  Starting from Drifters’ bases at Brewood near Stoke on Trent or Great Haywood in Staffordshire, this ring is achievable on a week-long holiday.  The route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals.  Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the World famous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; extravagant cuttings and embankments on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the Ski Centre, China Gardens and Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; Churches Mansion; the waters at Tixall Wide on the Staffs & Worcs; the narrow canal at Autherley Junction; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.
      2. 9. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours): from Drifters’ base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire this exhilarating ring is achievable in a week.  The Ring takes in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals.  Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin with access to city centre shops, restaurants and museums; 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; Dudley Zoo & Castle; Drayton Manor Park at Fazeley; the Staffs & Worcs Roundhouses; the waters at Tixhall Wide; Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction; 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

10. The Leicester Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours): from Drifters’ base at Rugby on the Grand Union Canal, this epic route is achievable in two weeks.  The route cruises a mixture of non-tidal, broad and narrow canals, including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey canals, the Grand Union Leicester Line and the rivers Soar and Trent.  Highlights include: the Saddlington Tunnel, a roost for bats on the Leicester Line; the Foxton Staircase of Locks and Museum dedicated to the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift which once carried boats up and down the hill in two giant bath tubs; the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; Braunston canal village; Hillmorton Locks; 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry and views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

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

For more information about cruising rings visit www.waterscape.com


Visit Oxford by Canal Boat

Oxford is one of Britain’s most popular tourist destinations and is packed with fascinating museums (many of them free to visit), world-famous historic buildings, mouth-watering restaurants, ancient pubs and fantastic shops.

Hire a canal boat from Drifters’ base at Eynsham on the River Thames near Witney and you could be moored up in Oxford City Centre in just three hours.

From here you can use your canal boat holiday home as a base to enjoy all that Oxford has to offer – from climbing the beautiful 14th century Carfax Tower to take in a view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’, seeing the witch in a bottle at the Pitt Rivers Museum, visiting the remains of the dodo at the University Museum of Natural History, touring the incredible Ashmolean Museum to stocking up on goodies in the Covered Market, lunching at the Trout at Wolvercote, a favourite Inspector Morse pub and discovering the real Harry Potter Hogwarts Hall at Christ Church College.

On a week’s narrowboat holiday, you could continue along the Thames to Wallingford and Henley or transfer to the Oxford Canal and head to Banbury.

Short breaks from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Oxford start at £330, including fuel, weekly breaks from £470.

For more information about visiting Oxford go to www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com


Visit the Stratford-Upon-Avon Literary Festival by Canal Boat

With visitor moorings right in the centre of town, Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden, offers the chance to visit the 2012 Stratford-Upon-Avon Literary Festival by canal boat.

Headline speakers at this year’s event, taking place 22 April to 7 May, include Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy, Iain Banks, Jeremy Paxman, PD James, Jenni Murray and Simon Armitage.

Stratford is just a six-hour cruise along the beautiful Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen.  The town offers canal boat holiday-makers a diverse range of shops and restaurants, quaint side streets and beautiful open parklands along the River Avon.

As well as visiting the town’s annual Literary Festival, boaters can moor up and take time to explore the Shakespeare scene, including the famous Swan Theatre, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

During the time of the Festival, a week’s narrowboat holiday for four people starts at £615 and short breaks are available from £431.  For more information about Drifters canal boat holidays call 0844 984 0322.

For Festival tickets call 01789 207100.


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Take to the water this summer for some holiday fun afloat with Drifters Waterway Holidays and choose from over 500 boats from 35 locations.

From lazing on the Llangollen to bobbing through Bath, Britain’s 3,000 mile canal and river network offers the fastest way to slow down.

And there are plenty of exciting family attractions to visit along the way, including the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham, SS Great Britain in Bristol, Waterworld near Stoke on Trent and Sir Titus Salt’s model town at Saltaire.

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to:

*escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the school run and slow right down to four miles per hour;

*work together as a team to master navigation skills and operate the locks;

*learn the boating lingo – ‘windlass’, ‘winding hole’ and ’tiller’, to name but a few;

*spot wildlife, including the flashing blue of the kingfisher and ‘plop’ of the watervole;

*dust-off long neglected cards and board games for cosy onboard evening entertainment;

*explore mile upon mile of traffic-free towpaths by foot or by bike; and

*breathe in plenty of fresh air, resulting in a peaceful night’s sleep.

Here are some ideas for summer cruising.

***Bath and Bristol on the Kennet & Avon Canal…a short break from Drifters’ base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Sydney Wharf in the centre of the beautiful World Heritage City of Bath could take you to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning Tithe Barn, used for many a costume drama film set.  While a week’s cruise could take you east as far as the base of the awesome 29 lock Caen Hill flight at Devizes.

Alternatively, head west to Bristol’s Floating Harbour and visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain, the new Blue Reef Aquarium, Bristol Zoo or one the city’s many galleries and museums.  The journey can be done on a short break, with 16 hours of cruising and a total of 26 locks to negotiate there and back.

Summer Holiday breaks from Bath start at £650 for a short break and £930 for a week on a four berth boat.

Cruise through the scenic heartland of Worcestershirea short break from Drifters’ base in the beautiful city of Worcester, where the River Severn meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, is the perfect place to begin a cruise along the new 21-mile Mid-Worcestershire Mini Ring.  The newly restored Droitwich Junction and Barge canals, which were built to carry salt from Droitwich Spa, have created the only loop in Europe that can be completed in a long weekend.  It takes around 16 hours to cruise the ring, negotiating 33 locks.

School Summer Holiday breaks from Worcester start at £740 for a short break and £1135 for a week on a four berth boat.

Visit the Peak District Afloatfrom Drifters’ Peak District base at Etruria, on the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals near Stoke on Trent, the Four Counties Ring is one of the most popular weekly breaks.  Predominantly rural, it travels stretches of the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals.  Its highlights include: the world famous 2670 metre long Harecastle Tunnel; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; the Wedgewood Visitor Centre; stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the Ski Centre, China Gardens and Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; Churches Mansion; the wildlife haven of Tixall Wide; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.  The beautiful and peaceful Caldon Canal is a popular destination for short breaks from Drifters’ Peak District base.

School Summer Holiday breaks from the Peak District start at £667 for a short break and £1026 for a week on a four berth boat.

Explore the Pennines Afloata short break from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal in Yorkshire, could take you along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, navigating 20 miles and 32 locks.  Hebden Bridge is an historic mill town nestled in a fork in the hills, with houses piled tier upon tier.  Visit its excellent shops and take a walk up the valley to crags, trees and stunning views of the moors above.  Todmorden boasts fine Victorian buildings, including the Town Hall and a lively market and offers many places to eat and drink.

A week’s trip from Sowerby Bridge could take you to the famous Bingley Five Rise of locks, via Leeds and Sir Titus Salt’s Italianate mills and model town at Saltaire, with its David Hockney Gallery.

School Summer Holiday breaks from Sowerby Bridge start at £650 for a short break and £1120 for a week on a four berth boat.

Lock free cruising & the bright lights of Birminghama short break from Tardebigge could take you along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to Birmingham and back, with just ten hours cruising and no locks to negotiate.  Stop off at the delicious Cadbury World then travel on to moorings in Gas Street Basin, close to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, city centre museums and the Bullring and Mailbox shopping centres.

Summer Holiday breaks from Tardebigge start at £650 for a short break and £930 for a week on a four berth boat.

Visit the “Stream in the Sky”…Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal offers the chance to experience one of the UK’s most stunning stretches of waterway and to navigate the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – an incredible feat of engineering standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley.  You may be travelling at just four miles an hour, but with not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure your views of the stunning Dee Valley 126ft below, you will literally feel like you are floating above the earth!

Summer Holiday breaks from Trevor start at £650 for a short break and £930 for a week on a four berth boat.

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


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…from Gun salutes at Edinburgh Castle to picnics in the park in Bath, Britain’s waterside towns are hosting a variety of events to celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Drifters Waterway Holidays (www.drifters.co.uk) is offering some fantastic UK breaks on our peaceful inland waterway network over the extended bank holiday weekend for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (2-5 June 2012).

Many of our waterside towns and cities will be hosting special Diamond Jubilee events, so why not join in the celebrations afloat.

Canal boat holidays are great for families, offering the chance to work the locks together, navigate tunnels, learn the boating lingo, spot wildlife, sample family-friendly waterside pubs and explore mile upon mile of traffic-free towpaths.

Drifters members (www.drifters.co.uk) offer the choice of over 500 boats from 35 bases across the country.  All its 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.

Here are some ideas for a Diamond Jubilee Weekend afloat:

***Visit Bath by canal and join in the Queen’s Jubilee Picnic in the Park…from Drifters’ base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal, the beautiful World Heritage City of Bath is just over seven hours cruise away.  Visitor moorings are available in the heart of the City, providing the perfect base to enjoy all that Bath has to offer, including free celebrations taking place in the City’s Victoria Park on 5 June.  The Queen’s Jubilee Picnic in the Park will feature performances from the Bath Philharmonic Orchestra and ABBA tribute act Bjorn Again.  Other special Jubilee celebrations in Bath include limited edition Teddy Bears on sale at the Highgrove Shop and a special exhibition of stage and film costume celebrating the history of British Rulers at the Fashion Museum.

Short breaks from Bradford on Avon over the Diamond Jubilee Weekend start at £590, weekly cruises from £840.

***Travel to Worcester to pick up some commemorative china…Drifters’ base at Stoke Prior on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is an eight-hour cruise from the beautiful Cathedral City of Worcester.  The Cathedral City is set to host a series of events marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, including music and fireworks in Brinton Park from 7pm on 4 June.  You could also visit Worcester’s fascinating Porcelain Museum, with collections dating back to 1751, and pick up some of Royal Worcester’s stunning Queen’s Diamond Jubilee collection as a souvenir.  And Stoke Prior has a four-berth boat named ‘Elizabeth’ to help you get into the spirit of things!

Short breaks from Drifters’ base at Stoke Prior over the Diamond Jubilee Weekend start at £700, weekly cruises from £1030.

***Hear the guns salute at Edinburgh Castle…Drifters’ base at Falkirk on the Union Canal is a day and a half’s peaceful cruise away from Edinburgh.  Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street.  A series of events to mark the Jubilee are planned in Edinburgh, including a gun salute by the 105th Regiment Royal Artillery at Edinburgh Castle at 12 noon on Saturday 2 June, marking the Anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation and a Beacon lighting event on Monday 4 June.

Short breaks from Drifters’ Falkirk base over the Diamond Jubilee Weekend start at £1000, weekly cruises from £1535.

***Jubilee Celebrations at Abingdon’s Abbey Gardens…from Drifters’ base on the River Thames at Eynsham near Oxford, Abingdon is approximately just a day’s cruise away.  Abingdon is planning a series of events to mark the Diamond Jubilee, including a Dance Festival on Saturday 2 June, Proms in the Park on Sunday 3 June and a Beacon lighting event on Monday 4 June.

Short breaks from Drifters’ Oxford base over the Diamond Jubilee Weekend start at £590, weekly cruises from £840.

***Visit the Royal Pageant at Windsor, 10-13 May…Drifters’ base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire is offering 10 per cent off one and two week breaks starting on 5 May to celebrate the Royal Pageant taking place at Windsor, 10-13 May 2012.  Aldermaston is a three-day cruise from Windsor, with 21 locks to negotiate along the way.  The Diamond Jubilee Pageant will take place in the grounds of Windsor Castle over three days.  The event aims to take spectators on a “journey around the world” and will feature 500 horses and 800 performers, in military and equestrian displays.

Short breaks from Drifters’ Aldermaston base in May start at £600, weekly cruises from £920.

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


Drifters Day Boats

Day boats are a great option for those thinking of a waterway holiday but wanting a taster session first, or for people just looking for peaceful day out on the water.

Drifters offers day boat hire at a number of its bases, from as little as £11 per person.

Boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle so boaters can enjoy a picnic afloat or head for a waterside pub.  Most day boats also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.  Full tuition is included.

Here’s a list of Drifters’ day boat hire centres:

  • Visit ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from the Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales it’s just 20 minutes cruising to the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  At over 38 metres high (126ft) and 305 metres long (1000 ft), the World Heritage Status Aqueduct offers a fantastic waterway adventure.  You may be travelling at just four miles an hour, but with not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure your views of the stunning Dee Valley 126ft below, you will literally feel like you are floating above the earth!  Day boat hire for up to 10 people from Trevor costs £110 Monday to Friday and £140 at weekends/bank holidays.
  • Take a cruise in Bath – from Drifters’ base at Sydney Wharf in the World Heritage City of Bath you can 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.  Day boat hire for up ten people from Bath costs £120 on a weekday and £165 at weekends/bank holidays.
  • Wend your way through Wiltshire – from Drifters’ base at Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire, also on the Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to Seend where you’ll find The Barge Inn or head West to Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns pub at Avoncliffe Aqueduct.  Prices here are £105 midweek and £130 at weekends/bank holidays for boats which carry 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 its well known Rose & Castle pub.  Or head south and travel through quiet woodland, through Newbold Tunnel to the village of Newbold with several pubs to choose from.  Day boat hire from Rugby starts at £130 for a boat for eight on a weekday, £170 at weekends and on bank holidays.  Or try a boat for 12 for £150 on weekdays and £190 at weekends/bank holidays.
  • Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy beautiful countryside and diverse scenery and cruise to the Horse & Jockey pub with children’s play area in less than three hours.  Goytre means ‘place in the woods’ and the wharf was once used to supply coal to the nearby estate.  You can find out more about the history of the wharf through interactive displays on site.  Day hire for a boat for 12 starts at £90 for a weekday, £115 for a weekend/bank holiday.
  • 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 Wilcote and back (2.5 hours each way), or a more challenging cruise to Lowsenford and back, negotiating a total of 16 locks, with the opportunity to stop for an hour at the Fleur de Lis pub (3.5 hours each way).  A day boat for ten people from Wootton Wawen costs £99 on weekdays, £120 at weekends & bank holidays.
  • 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 Shrugborough Hall and over an aqueduct.  There are many pubs to choose from in Rugeley itself or stop enroute at Bridge 70 at the delightful Wolseley Arms in Wolseley Bridge.  Day boat hire from Great Haywood for ten people is £99 on weekdays and £120 at weekends & bank holidays.
  • 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 enroute, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat.  Day boat from for ten people from Bunbury is £99 on weekdays and £120 at weekends & bank holidays.
  • Visit 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 pubs along the way including The Crown at Alvechurch and the Hopwood House at Hopwood.  The route is lock three but three tunnels form part of the navigation.  Day boat hire for ten people from Tardebigge is £99 on weekdays and £120 on weekends & bank holidays.
  • Enjoy the beautiful Leicestershire countryside – from Drifters’ base at North Kilworth on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal near Welford, cruise north to the top of the impressive Foxton Locks staircase with stunning views of the surrounding Leicestershire countryside and Foxton Locks pub.  Or, if you’ve packed a picnic, you could head south through a totally rural and peaceful section of the network.  Day hire from North Kilworth for ten people costs £110 on weekdays and £140 at weekends & bank holidays.


The East Anglian Fen District

For a totally different experience, Drifters are offering boating holidays from a brand new base this year in the East Anglian Fens. At Ely, on the River Great Ouse, there is now the chance to sample some new waters.

The River Great Ouse is navigable from Bedford to Denver, and passes many delightful towns and villages. For example, Godmanchester with its exquisite Chinese Bridge, Ely with its unique and wonderful cathedral, and Hemingford Grey church has a story to tell involving hurricanes.

The tributaries of the Great Ouse are also wonderful places to visit.

Brandon Creek passes through completely unspoilt countryside, far from any roads, and the wildlife is correspondingly special.

Cambridge has a wonderful array of old colleges and other buildings to see and is easily accessible by way of the River Cam.

These are all quiet cruises, with few other boats to be seen, but travelling through lovely pristine countryside punctuated by lovely old water mills and historic villages.

Bedford is a bustling town at the head of navigation, and well worth a visit, as are St. Neots and Huntingdon.

As these waters are all rivers rather than canals, locks are less frequent, but there are pubs and villages scattered along the banks at regular intervals.

At Ely, the unique wooden lantern tower of the cathedral is not to be missed at the start or end of your holiday.

Public transport is available to Ely, which is on a direct line from London, despite being at the heart of the Fens.

Ely, who name mean ‘Isle’, stands out from the surrounding landscape and was once home to the Fen Tigers, fiercely independent residents of this part of East Anglia. Now, the locals are much more friendly.

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Canal and River Trust

Creating a new waterways charity

The calm waters of our inland waterways are currently experiencing their biggest shake-up for 60 years, as the UK Government prepares to entrust the waterways of England and Wales to the nation.

From April 2012, a new charity, the Canal & River Trust will take on the guardianship of not just British Waterways’ 2,200 miles of canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs, but also the waterways, museums and archives of The Waterways Trust.  Subject to funding the Government intends to transfer a further 600 miles of rivers from the Environment Agency to the new Trust in 2015.

The Canal & River Trust will be a new, independent guardian of the historic waterways of England and Wales and will hold the waterways in trust for the nation in perpetuity.  The new body is backed by waterway supporters and businesses.  It will give local people a greater role in the running of their local canal or river, and a chance to put the funding of the network on a more stable footing.  This can only be a good thing for the many millions of people who enjoy holidaying on our inland waterways, live on or next to a canal or river or regularly walk or run on a towpath..

The Canal & River Trust will be backed through a long-term contract with Government and a major property endowment.  Excitingly it will also be able to grow new sources of income such as donations and legacies, with 100% of voluntary income being ploughed back into improvements on the canal bank.

There is still much to be done between now and April next year, and the Transition Trustees are deep in negotiation with Government to ensure the new Trust is given a viable funding package from the start.  All in all, these are exciting times for the waterways and a chance to build a really bright future.

In the last century the hire boat industry was at the forefront of the rehabilitation of our wonderful waterways, from national disgrace to national treasure.  The countless individuals and families who have discovered canal boating – the ‘fastest way of slowing down’ – have helped to give the waterways a new lease of life and made them what they are today.  We all look forward to the playing our part in the next chapter of the waterways remarkable history.