Celebrate Christmas Afloat

With frosty towpaths, cosy fires and traditional pubs, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

Eight of our canal boat hire bases offer winter cruising, giving canal boat holiday-makers the chance to enjoy cosy evenings afloat, visit waterside pubs with roaring log fires, and wake-up to frosty towpaths and crisp clean air.

Whether it’s a snug boat for two or a family affair for six, celebrating Christmas or New Year afloat offers a great getaway. It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat or to enjoy new year celebrations in waterside towns and cities like Bath, Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Our prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £550 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £785.

Here’s a list of our bases offering winter cruising:

1. Chug through rural Warwickshire…on a short break from Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head south along the beautiful Oxford Canal to Braunston, winding through classic scenery, much of which hasn’t changed for centuries. On a week’s holiday, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel on to Leamington Spa and Warwick.

2. Visit the ‘chocolate box pretty’ canalside village of Stoke Bruerne…from Rugby on the North Oxford Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can choose from a number of routes, including a trip through rural Northamptonshire to the idyllic village of Stoke Bruerne. With two popular historic village pubs, a curry house, tranquil countryside walks and the Canal Museum – packed with canal artefacts, stories and films – there’s plenty of hospitality and tranquillity to enjoy.

3. Navigate ‘The Stream in the Sky’…from our Trevor hire base in the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome 300-metre long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries the canal 40 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee, is just a few minutes away. On a short break, boaters can cruise west to the Eistedfodd town of Llangollen and east to Ellesmere, also known as the Shropshire Lake District.

4. Moor-up in Stratford upon Avon…it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon from our base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire. Boaters can moor up in Stratford canal basin, a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums.

5. Take a lock free journey to Birmingham…Birmingham is just a five-hour cruise away from our Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal – with no locks to negotiate. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to the bars, restaurants, shops and museums at Brindley Place and the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres.

6. Travel to Georgian Bath along the Kennet & Avon Canal…our base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire offers the chance to cruise to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back. Cosy country pubs to enjoy along the way include the George Inn at Bathampton, once a 12th-century monastery, and the Cross Guns at Avoncliffe, with panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds.

7. Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…from Great Haywood, at the junction of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals in Staffordshire, a variety of routes are available. On a week’s cruise, canal boat holiday-makers can head up the Trent & Mersey Canal to the Caldon Canal, and travel through the beautiful Churnet Valley. Those on a short break can head to the town of Fazeley, via the pretty canal village of Fradley on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

8. Cruise through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside…on a short break from the historic market town of Market Harborough on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, narrowboat holiday-makers can potter through rural Leicestershire and Northamptonshire to the pretty villages of Crick or Welford. On a week’s break, they can continue on to Stoke Bruerne.

Top 7 ghostly going-ons on the waterways

With regular ghost sightings, 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.

From shaggy coated beings to shrieking boggarts, we’ve put together a guide to the spookiest spots:

1. Towpath terrors in West London…between 6pm and 8pm on 31 October, expect to get properly spooked on a free ghost walk along the canal near Paddington. Ducking cobwebs and bats, you’ll creep along the towpaths of Little Venice listening to history and hearsay about local navvies, murders and hauntings. Come dressed appropriately!

2. Experience the chilling history of Standedge Tunnel…from 26 to 31 October, Halloween Week at Standedge Tunnel & Visitor Centre on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Marsden is offering a series of special events, including spooky boat trips into the dark and gloomy tunnel. At 3.25 miles long, Standedge is the longest on the canal network, and over its 200-year history it has witnessed some gruesome events. As well as tales of leggers who were crushed between boats and navvies dying in explosions, the story of the restless ghost of the poor 15-year old Matilda Crowther, murdered there in 1935, offers visitors a particularly chilling watery tale.

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

4. Look out for the Monkey Man on the Shroppie…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. This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century. Head north from our base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire near Stafford.

5. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel…on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years. At 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…? Our nearest base is at Gayton Martina, less than a mile from Blisworth Tunnel’s north portal.

6. A Killing at Kidsgrove…the Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Our nearest bases are at Stoke on Trent and Great Haywood.

7. An Aqueduct Apparition…the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights gliding along the towpath by the World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Our nearest bases are at Trevor and Chirk.

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Picture Perfect – Stan Cullimore’s Mon & Brec Diary

Someone once told me that the Monmouth & Brecon is the prettiest stretch of canal in the UK. Hmm. Can’t leave an extravagant claim like that untested. So, Mrs Cullimore and I decided to go and see for ourselves. Test the waters, if you will.

We arrived at Goytre Wharf one afternoon and I have to say, it was a picture perfect place to start. Before setting off, we strolled in the sunshine, took in the views and visited the cafe for a cup of tea and cake. No sense in rushing, is there? Slowing down, that’s what canal boat holidays are all about.

Onboard, Nathan showed us round our home for the week, ‘Red Poll Finch’ – a lovely boat with a fixed double bed, airy living area and galley at the back. We then set off for seven days of hard research, or, as my wife put it, “a delightfully relaxing week afloat”.

To help us decide if it really was the loveliest part of the canal system, I kept a diary. Question is, after reading it, do you think this week long holiday is the very best canal journey around? Or can you think of a better bit of British canal? If so, do please let me know. I’m always up for a bit of research. Especially if it involves time afloat.

Day 1 – Goytre Wharf to Govilon
Bridges – 24
Locks – 0
Miles – 7
Hours Cruising – 3.5
Scenery – you’re in the heart of the countryside. On one side, there are wooded banks sloping down towards the canal. On the other side some delicious views of the valley below. At times the landscape clears and you get gorgeous views of the Brecon Beacons up ahead. That’s where we’re going and I can’t wait.
Provisions – stopped at Govilon. Village stores are well stocked and very friendly. Picked up bacon, fruit and lots more besides.
Pubs – two to choose from. We went to the Lion Inn. Great beer, friendly landlord, food looked lovely, all in all, delightful.
Highlight – sleeping in a warm, cosy bed with sweet dreams all night long. Bliss. If only Mabel the dog hadn’t got there first.

Day 2 – Govilon to Llangattock
Bridges – 29
Locks – 0
Miles – 6
Hours Cruising – 3.5
Scenery – more glimpses of the beacons brooding over the hedgerows, cloaked in cloud, looking muscular, mean and moody. Bit like Clint Eastwood used to be, really. The weather pulled off the difficult trick of raining, even as the sun shone. Was strange but lovely.
Provisions – stopped at Llangattock and strolled into Crickhowell. It’s a sweet market town with a bit of something for everyone. My favorite was the Adventure shop, though my wife preferred Nicholls, the gift shop. Great place to pick up supplies.
Pubs – lots of them, spoilt for choice. Went to the Bridge End Inn and had our dinner in the beer garden overlooking the River Usk. Great beer, great food, fantastic views. Love it.
Highlight – strolling over the ancient stone bridge into town and seeing people swimming in the waters below. They waved and suggested I took a photo. So I did.

Day 3 – Llangattock to Talybont-on-Usk
Bridges – 25
Locks – 5
Miles – 7.5
Hours Cruising – 5
Scenery – closer to the mountains now. Looking bigger and better. Feels like a landscape out of a fairytale. Keep on expecting to see a knight in shining armor cantering along the towpath. But all we see are lots of kids getting into kayaks. They seem very happy, mind.
Provisions – Talybont has a good village stores right next to the canal with a cafe attached. Genius.
Pubs – we moored the boat between two pubs and went to the White Hart Inn. A good choice – excellent range of beers and the food was just what the doctor ordered.
Highlight – an early evening stroll past fields filled with swallows, flitting about at knee height in search of their supper. Explains the sign we’d seen, asking us to avoid disturbing their nests.

Day 4 – Talybont-on-Usk to Pencelli & back to Talybont
Bridges – 26
Locks – 0
Miles – 4.5
Hours Cruising – 3
Scenery – the canal glides through a corridor of lovely trees for most of the way. Meant we could take in the towpath traffic. Lots of walkers, bikers, joggers and hikers. Everyone on water or land was very friendly. As they have been all week.
Provisions – Back for another visit to the Talybont village stores for supplies. Mission accomplished.
Pubs – we moored the boat in the same place as before, between two pubs. Went to the Star Inn. Very lovely indeed with a few interesting local ales on tap.
Highlight – Did a short day on the boat so we could take the dog for a walk along the towpath. Went past one of the wooden benches that are dotted along the canal and I realised there is map of the waterway carved into them. Who’d have thought it? Furniture that is both comfy and informative.

Day 5 – Talybont-on-Usk back to Llangattock
Bridges – 27
Locks – 5
Miles – 8
Hours Cruising – 4.5
Scenery – obviously, we’re on our way back the same way we came earlier in the week. But somehow the scenery looks even more impressive this time around. It’s just lovely, basically.
Provisions – Really excited to go back to Crickhowell for our shopping needs and more besides. It’s a really friendly little town, complete with ruined castle.
Pubs – getting a bit sentimental we went back to the Bridge End Inn to sit in the beer garden and watch the river again. Good place to chill out and count the arches in the bridge. Different number on each side, apparently.
Highlight – Mabel the dog. She is in doggy heaven all day, every day on this holiday. On the towpath she meets lots of other dogs to play with. On the boat she spends every minute of cruising time quivering with excitement. Sitting at the back sniffing the air as if it is the sweetest treat imaginable.

Day 6 – Llangattock to Golivon
Bridges – 17
Locks – 0
Miles – 3
Hours Cruising – 2
Scenery – still on our way back and enjoying the scenery in reverse. Today, the mountains were mainly misty and magnificent. And the slow motion, salmon pink, sunset was just about perfect.
Provisions – Didn’t need anything today, though the village shop in Govilon was still there just in case.
Pubs – making a habit of returning to old haunts we went back to the Lion Inn at Govilon. Great beer, very friendly people so we ate there. Had the best fish and chips I’ve had for weeks. I defy anyone to eat an entire portion without needing a lie down afterwards.
Highlight – there have been lots of things to look at as we drift slowly along all week. Birds, squirrels, all sorts of wildlife. And trees, obviously. But today’s tip of the topmost, literally, was a Giant Redwood tree right next to the bank. It was both enormous and totally unexpected. Wanted to give it a hug but my arms just weren’t big enough.

Day 7 – Golivon to Llanover
Bridges – 18
Locks – 0
Miles – 5
Hours Cruising – 3
Scenery – scenery is idyllic as ever. Seriously, the whole week has been one long journey through paradise. No wonder this area is a national park.
Provisions – Didn’t find any shops or places to buy stuff today. But no worries, we had plenty onboard.
Pubs – No pubs either. Still, it gave us an excuse to cook some food on the boat and drink some of the local beers we found in Crickhowell. Cheers.
Highlight – driving the boat along under cute stone bridges, checking out the view and drinking a freshly brewed coffee that my lovely wife made. Just being here, basically. Another perfect week on a canal boat, the best way to de-stress, chill out and relax that I know. All at slower than walking speed. Perfect.

One way journey across the Pennines

Starting from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge at the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, this week-long holiday covers 79 miles and 79 locks, and takes around 45 hours.

Truly one of the great canal journeys, it takes boaters across the backbone of England via Leeds and Skipton, plus two fantastic waterside galleries, and includes sections of the Calder & Hebble Navigation, Aire & Calder Navigation and Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

All the locks are wide. Between the summit at Leeds and Barnoldswick, boaters will ascend 400ft.

Day 1 (Monday) Sowerby Bridge to Elland (3 miles, 5 locks, 3 hours): Collect the boat at 1pm and sail down the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation, to the historic market town of Elland, with visitor moorings at the Wharf and a number of pubs too choose from, including the Barge & Barrel on Elland Wharf.

Day 2 (Tuesday) Elland to Broad Cut (14 miles, 19 locks, 9 hours): Journey on to Brighouse, an interesting town with food and craft markets, festivals, useful shops and places to eat – including The Richard Oastler in an imposing building which was once a Victorian chapel, complete with organ – as well as the eponymous brass band. After Brighouse, boaters leave the canal and drop into the River Calder. The river soon passes under a towering motorway viaduct, a reminder of the world left behind, on to Shepley Bridge then Broad Cut and moorings at the Navigation Inn.

Day 3 (Wednesday) Broad Cut to Leeds (21 miles, 11 locks, 9 hours): Continue on to Wakefield, with its new Barbara Hepworth museum, the Hepworth Wakefield with canal boat moorings right outside. Travel on along the River Calder to Stanley Ferry to see the aqueduct, a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge, built between 1836 and 1839 to take the Aire & Calder Navigation over the River Calder. Now on the Aire & Calder, a commercial waterway with electric locks and a wide channel, the journey continues on to Leeds and its regenerated waterfront. Moor at Leeds visitor moorings and visit the waterside Royal Armouries at Clarence Dock, Britain’s national museum of arms and armour, and one of the most important museums of its type in the world.

Day 4 (Thursday) Leeds to Apperley Bridge (8 miles, 13 locks, 6 hours): continue along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, quickly escaping the urban waterfront, passing through fields and woods, with spectacular views. The journey takes boaters past the historic Kirkstall Brewery, with a heritage stretching back to the 12th century when Cistercian monks founded an Abbey there. Once at Apperley Bridge, moor above or below Dobson Locks and choose from a number of pubs, including the historic Stansfield Arms which dates back to 1543.

Day 5 (Friday) Apperley Bridge to Riddlesden (10 miles, 16 locks, 8 hours): Continue west along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, stopping at Sir Titus Salt’s World Heritage Status model town at Saltaire with Salts Diner and impressive David Hockney gallery at Salts Mill. Continue on to the famous Bingley Five Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways and moor for the night at Riddlesden and choose between the Willow Tree Inn and Marquis of Granby pubs.

Day 6 (Saturday) Riddlesden to Gargrave (15 miles, 3 locks, 5 hours): continue along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal main line, passing Silsden, then through Skipton with its 900-year old castle – one of the most complete and best preserved castles in England. Then on to Gargrave visitor moorings for the night with a variety of pubs to choose from, including the Masons Arms.

Day 7 (Sunday) Gargrave to Barnoldswick (7 miles, 12 locks, 5 hours): climb through open countryside via the lock flights of Bank Newton and Greenberfield and overshoot the boatyard to moor for the night at the Anchor, Salterforth or Café Cargo at Foulridge, just by the tunnel.

Day 8 (Monday): turn around and head back to Lower Park Marina, Barnoldswick in time to vacate the boat by 9.30am.

 

Top 7 canal boat holidays for beginners

With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever, and a series of celebrities endorsing the relaxing benefits of a canal boat holiday on our TV screens, narrowboat holidays are becoming increasingly popular.

You don’t have to be an expert and you don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat, so around a fifth of hire boaters are new to the experience each year.

All our operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of the holiday package and you don’t have to give up the comforts of home – today’s narrowboats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have wifi too.

Here are Drifters’ top seven canal boat holidays for beginners:

1. The bright lights of Birmingham…boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’. It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages. Once in the centre of Birmingham, narrowboat holiday-makers can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindley Place, the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants.

2. Loving the Llangollen…passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network. The journey from Drifters’ base at Trevor near Llangollen to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. There are just four locks between Trevor and the beautiful Meres, a journey which takes around seven hours. And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.

3. Potter through the Peak District…our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals near Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. Starting at the National Garden Festival site, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break.

4. Glide through the Breacon Beacons…isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, narrowboaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.

5. Visit Georgian Bath…from our base at Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, in the southern foothills of the Cotswolds, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a seven-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The George at Bathampton. Once in Bath, canal boat holiday makers can use their canal boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum, cathedral, shops and eateries.

6. A rural cruise to Braunston…from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through pretty wooded countryside and a series of sleepy villages with rural waterside pubs, including Newbold and Hillmorton.

7. Experience the Edinburgh Festival afloat…from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal. The journey, perfect for beginners on a mid-week or week-long break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift – and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Mark King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

Shire Cruisers Shortlisted for Yorkshire Tourism Award

Drifters’ member Shire Cruisers is one of nearly 100 businesses – and the first ever canal boat holiday provider – to be shortlisted for Yorkshire Tourism’s White Rose Awards.

Covering 16 categories, the White Rose Awards – the UK’s largest celebration of tourism – include the best Yorkshire attractions, hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and pubs.

Colin Mellor, Chair of the White Rose Award Judges, said: “Every year, the field of entries seems to get stronger and stronger and this year’s awards are certainly no exception.

“We’ve had a record number of entries, almost a third of which are first time entrants, which is a real testament to the growing tourism offering in Yorkshire.”

Shire Cruisers, which has bases at Sowerby Bridge, at the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, and on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Barnoldswick, has been nominated along with five other companies under the ‘Self-catering’ category.

Nigel Stevens, owner and operator of Shire Cruisers, says: “We are absolutely delighted to have been shortlisted for a White Rose Award for the first time. Yorkshire is a wonderful place to visit, with a thriving £7billion tourist industry, employing almost a quarter of a million people.

“Shire Cruisers is a small family-run business and we are very proud to be able to offer visitors to Yorkshire the opportunity to explore this beautiful county by canal boat.

“Yorkshire’s secret waterways offer a new discovery round every corner, with amazing scenery, friendly people, welcoming pubs, history all around, walks up the hills – there’s so much to see and enjoy.

“This nomination recognises our fantastic staff, who take a huge amount of care to ensure our canal boat holiday-makers have a wonderful experience.”

 

Our Honeymoon Afloat

…Miranda Pennington and Helena Snowden recently Honeymooned on the Kennet & Avon Canal, travelling from Drifters’ base at Hilperton, near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, to Bath and back. Here’s their account:

We’ve just returned from the most beautiful and relaxing honeymoon on the Kennet & Avon canal. What an incredible experience for a novice couple – I’d never set foot on a canal boat before but my partner Miranda had done a couple of locks over the years!

Based on that knowledge, we actually picked a four berth for the two of us and our small dog, and it turned out to be the right decision. A full double bed made up the whole time, with a separate lounge and dining area for dinner and cards in the evening – not to mention our little table outside on the bow where we could watch the sun go down. And what a brilliant time of year to go – we saw new cygnets, herons, ducklings, not to mention all of the stunning scenery gently rolling by.

Day one – Monday 15 June

We left London for Drifters’ base canal boat holiday hire base at Hilperton on the Monday but, owing to all of the wedding shenanigans over the previous few days, we were a little late starting our car journey and thought we might not make the 5pm check-in time.

Miranda called Hilperton Marina, though, and they were absolutely lovely – not only accommodating our late arrival but also moving our boat – ‘Sedge Wren’ – from under the wharf into the evening sunlight so we could relax for the night there, rather than setting off on our travels at peak mooring time.

Day two – Tuesday 16 June

We had our induction with Nick the following morning, having stocked up on loads of food (and bubbles of course!) from the local supermarket. Then, with a strange combination of apprehensiveness and excitement, we set off. Our dog Twiggy wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first but soon took up position on the seat next to me while I was steering. She stayed there for most of the week, lounging in the sun while we did all the hard work. Only jumping off occasionally to run up to dogs on the towpath.

The boat’s fairly straightforward once you get your head around which way to move the rudder. Any kind of boating or rowing experience helps a great deal with it all –not least, knowing the rules of the river. It takes a little while to relax into it but everyone is very patient and polite. As one of the ladies on the first day said to us, “If anyone tries to rush you, tell them that if they’re in a hurry the M3 is just over there!” And she was right – not that you could see it or hear it once you’re on the canal. It’s a totally different world.

After our first hour, we arrived at Bradford on Avon lock, which is a double lock and quite busy. Thankfully, though, the Canal Trust volunteers were there to help and we went through alongside a workmen’s boat – they were lovely and gave us some tips as we set off on our way again.

We stopped for lunch after our first aqueduct (Avoncliff), which was very exciting. Then we continued to the second aqueduct (Dundas) and started to look for somewhere to moor up overnight. Not long after, we found a very quiet spot with an easy bank to pull up to and with permanent mooring fixings, even though we had been gearing ourselves up to use the pegs!

We had a really chilled evening, cooking in the well-equipped kitchen and dancing around with some red wine in the moonlight. We slept really well, a little sun-kissed by the hot June sun, which had bounced continuously off the river the whole of the day. And I totally forgot to mention the two swing bridges we’d been through – physically exhausting but really satisfying, with one of you unlocking and swinging the bridge while the other has to park up, go through and park up again single-handed. My competitive side had loved it!

Day 3 – Wednesday 17 June

We woke up fairly early and had breakfast before taking Twiggy for a quick walk by the Claverton pumping station and weir. A really beautiful spot and well worth a visit.

Then we set off for Bath, where we intended to spend the upcoming night. We’d really started to get the hang of things by now but we decided to turn before committing to the last four locks in Bath – we’ll save that for next time when we have one or two other people with us to help.

So we spent a really chilled day, pootling along and, as we got closer to Bath, the scenery really opened up and we could see all of the amazing Crescents for which Bath is so famous. As we got closer to Bath, we also experienced our first tunnels – Miranda loving the sound of the horn and the additional rules!

The turning point was really easy to find and a lovely old man popped his head out of a building to throw us some helpful hints. We did alright overall! Top tip: remember you can’t steer in reverse!

We found a lovely place to moor again, this time with the lovely views of Bath town that we’d just passed. What a privilege. We strolled down to The George at Bathampton for some afternoon drinks, as we’d been recommended to visit. But we discovered that they didn’t take dogs so carried on down to the Bathampton Mill pub – and, wow, what a location. If you fancy walking 10 minutes more, it’s well worth the trip. Great food great staff, great view. A really nice night again.

Day 4 – Thursday 18 June

We’d always planned a big day on our last day because someone we met had said the other direction from Hilperton towards Semington was also really beautiful. We decided to give it a whirl and, in six hours, managed to go back through the two aqueducts, two swing bridges and Bradford on Avon lock, and made it all the way to Semington, where we were extremely pleased to find one spare mooring before the next turning point and lock.

We settled in and then went to check out the Somerset Arms pub, which was an endearing pub close by. The food looked good there, although we didn’t stop to eat as we were finding cooking on the boat very enjoyable.

Day 5 – Friday 19 June

So, on our last day, we were up pretty early so we could tackle another turn and take the ‘Sedge Wren’ back to base in time for the handover. Cruising at that time of the morning on a relatively quiet section of the canal was so beautiful and peaceful – the perfect end to an excellent holiday.

We can’t wait to come again and with a bigger crew so we can get through more locks! Maybe not the Caen Hill locks up at Devizes though!

 

Top 6 Autumn Breaks Afloat

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

And there are plenty of foraging opportunities along the way – narrowboat holiday-makers can look out for apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes and make freshly-picked fruit crumbles on board.

Our top six destinations for this autumn are:

1. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal…from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and town’s shops, restaurants and museums.

2. Explore the Pennines by canal boat…from our base at Sowerby Bridge at the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, a trip to the historic market town Todmorden is the perfect short break destination. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, narrowboat 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.

3. Enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside…Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. The Foxton flight can be reached in five hours from our base at North Kilworth. From the top of the Foxton staircase of locks, boaters can enjoy panoramic views of the Leicestershire countryside and check out the tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift, an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there.

4. Wend your way through Wiltshire…the historic town of Bradford on Avon can be reached on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, with beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside to enjoy along the way. Bradford on Avon is an architectural treasure chest, with gems including the magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and striking Town Bridge over the River Avon.

5. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands…from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow. Here, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

6. Explore the Brecon Beacons afloat…the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible mountain views. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, boaters can journey through the Brecon Beacons National Park from Brecon to Cwmbran, visiting the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle and picturesque Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls.

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

1. Visit Georgian Bath & find out what the Romans did for us!…on a short break from Drifters’ base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal and reach the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath in seven hours, with just seven locks to negotiate along the way. As well as stunning architecture, great shopping and restaurants, Bath has many fantastic family attractions, including the Roman Baths, the best preserved ancient temple and baths in Northern Europe.

2. Glide across the Stream in the Sky…At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering and offers the canal boat holiday-makers the ride of their lives! 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. 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 medieval Chirk Castle and ride the Llangollen Steam Railway. Drifters has bases on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, Chirk, Wrenbury, Whitchurch and Blackwater Meadow.

3. Explore Skipton & its Medieval Castle…It takes 10 hours (16 miles, 15 locks) for boaters to reach the historic and vibrant market town of Skipton on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, perfect for a week’s holiday from Drifters’ base at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria. Extensive views of sheep country, stone walls, farm houses and the occasional village or small town can be seen along the way. Moorings are available in the town centre of town, where visitors can explore Skipton’s street markets, quirky shops, tea rooms, restaurants and 900 year-old castle.

4. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from Drifters’ canal boat hire 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.

5. See the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum…Drifters’ base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford. Narrowboat 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.

6. Travel to Chester by boat…Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire is just seven hours by boat from historic Chester. Founded as a Roman fort, with striking Medieval and Victorian architecture, Chester is said to be one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain. The City offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants and a series of festivals across the summer.

7. Enjoy 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.

8. Travel to the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field & 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.

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. Potter through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside…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. 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.

Hire a canal boat for Father’s Day

Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, famously pronounced ‘there is nothing half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’.

Day boat hire on the canals offers the chance to treat Dads with a fun day out on the water, nourished by a pint and a pub lunch along the way.

Drifters offers boat hire from 11 of its bases, from less than £12 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 and most day boats also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here’s a list of our day boat hire centres and prices for 2015:

1. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales is a 20-minute cruise from the World Heritage site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly one of the wonders of the waterways, offering stunning views of the Dee Valley below. Day boaters can reach the pretty mountain-side town of Llangollen in two hours. *** Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £110 for up to 10 people. £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

2. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – our base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire is next to the historic Anderton Boat Lift. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘the Cathedral of the canals’, looks like a giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal. From Anderton, the Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge) is an easy day trip away. This friendly, canalside pub offers home-cooked pub food and cask ales. ***Day boat hire from Anderton starts at £150 for up to 12 people.

3. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from our base at Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. *** Day hire from Goytre starts at £90 for up to 12 people. £105 on weekends and bank holidays.

4. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), and enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn. *** Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

5. Wend your way through Wiltshire – from our base at Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire on the Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to the waterside Barge Inn at Seend, or head west to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning Tithe Barn and plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants to choose from. *** Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £105 for up to eight people. £130 on weekends and bank holidays.

6. Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, cruise north along the North Oxford Canal through open farmland to the pretty village of Ansty with its pottery and Rose & Castle pub. Or head south, travelling through quiet woodland to the village of Newbold, and enjoy home cooked food at the canalside Barley Mow pub. *** Day boat hire from Rugby starts at £150 for a boat for 12 people. £190 on weekends and bank holidays.

7. Staffordshire delights – from our base at Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Stafford, cruise to the historic market town of Rugeley and back, through several locks, past Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall and the delightful Wolseley Arms in Wolseley Bridge. The whole journey takes six hours. *** Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

8. Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from our 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. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

9. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from our 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 Weighbridge pub 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. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

10. Discover the beauty of Berkshire – our base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire is now offering day boat hire. Boaters can travel east to Tyle Mill Lock in just over two hours, and take a ten-minute walk to The Spring Inn in the pretty village of Sulhamstead for lunch. Up to eight people can enjoy a day out on Aldermaston’s day boat ‘Wyvern’. *** Day hire prices start at £105 for a weekday, £130 for weekends and bank holidays.

11. Visit Foxton Locks – from our base at Union Wharf in Market Harborough it takes a pleasant two-and-a-half hours to cruise to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the Foxton Locks Inn. Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it. *** Day boat hire at Market Harborough starts at £140 during the week for up to 12 people, £180 at weekends and bank holidays.