The A to Z of canal boat holidays

A is for Anderton Boat Lift – also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, this fascinating example of Victorian engineering, which looks like a giant iron spider, provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation. Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.

B is for Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.

C is for Caen Hill Flight – with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country. The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810. By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.

D is for Docks – docks were built to accommodate ships and store cargoes and many can be visited by boat. Among the best known are London Docklands, once the busiest in the world and Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a World Heritage site, both now home to stylish restaurants, bars and attractions.

E is for Economy – over £1½ billion is spent by visitors to the waterways each year on goods and services, supporting 54,000 jobs, so a canal boat holiday helps support the local economy.

F is for Falkirk Wheel – said to be Scotland’s most exciting example of 21st century engineering, The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Standing at a height of 35 metres, it moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal, replacing a flight of 11 locks which had been dismantled in 1933. It can carry 600 tonnes, including eight or more boats and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn – the same amount as it would take to boil eight household kettles.

G is for Gongoozling – the leisurely watching of boats, often passing through a lock. The word may have arisen from the Lincolnshire dialect – ‘gawn’ and ‘goozle’, both meaning to stare or gape.

H is for History – the canals were built to transport goods and materials to support the Industrial Revolution. For example, the Duke of Bridgewater commissioned James Brindley to build the Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761 and moved the coal he mined from Lancashire to Manchester. Today, thousands of historic structures, many of them over 200 years old, make up the waterway system.

I is for Iron Trunk Aqueduct – built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, the Iron Trunk Aqueduct is a magnificent Georgian structure and an impressive example of canal engineering. Standing at over 10 metres high, its two cast iron troughs carry the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse between Wolverton and Cosgrove in Buckinghamshire.

J is for Jessop – William Jessop (1745-1814) was one of the great canal engineers and considered to be the greatest expert on canal and river navigations of his time. He was the engineer on the Grand Union, Rochdale and Llangollen canals. He was also responsible for the East India docks in London and dock improvements in Bristol.

K is for Kennet & Avon Canal – passing through spectacular scenery, the 87-mile long Kennet & Avon Canal is one of Britain’s most popular waterways. Linking the River Thames and the Bristol Avon, it travels through some of the nation’s best loved landscapes, including West Berkshire’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the southern tip of the Cotswolds.

L is for Locks – there are over 1,650 locks on the canal system, all enabling boaters to travel up and down hills. A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end. By emptying or filling that chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of canal.

M is for Mooring – the majority of our inland waterways offer boating holiday-makers free moorings, so boaters are free to choose where they stop for the night.

N is for Navigation – you don’t need a licence to skipper a canal boat and with around a fifth of hire boaters new to canal boat holidays each year, it’s easy to learn how to steer a boat and navigate the waterways.

O is for Oxford Canal – one of the oldest canals in Britain, the picturesque Oxford Canal meanders slowly through the countryside, passing through a series of pretty villages. The canal opened in sections between 1774 and 1790 with the purpose of bringing coal from the Coventry coalfields to Oxford and the River Thames.

P is for Pubs – there are hundreds of waterside pubs along Britain’s canals and rivers, many of them historic rural locals, so a watering hole is never far away.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the historic industrial rivers that criss-cross the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London were restored to full navigation as part of the creation of the London 2012 Olympic Park. This six mile network of hidden rivers is at the heart of the area’s revival and links iconic Olympic structures, like the Stadium, ArcelorMittal Orbit tower and Aquatics Centre.

R is for Relax – with canal and river speed limits of just 4mph, canal boat holidays are said to be the fastest way to slow down, relax and escape the stress of everyday living.

S is for Standedge Tunnel – at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18th and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system. Opening in 1811 as part of the Huddersfield Canal, it took the navvies 16 years to build, cutting through solid rock. The Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.

T is for Telford – another of the great canal engineers, Thomas Telford (1757-1834) worked with Jessop on the Llangollen Canal and was responsible for the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing 38 metres above the River Dee, when completed in 1805, it was the tallest canal boat crossing in the world. It uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth!

U is for Uttoxeter Canal – now derelict, this 13-mile extension to the still navigable Caldon Canal in Staffordshire opened in 1811 and ran through the beautiful Churnet Valley, connecting Froghall and Uttoxeter. As with many canals, the advent of the railways took away much of its business and sadly by 1850 it had closed. The canal is among hundreds across the country that are being restored by volunteers.

V is for Vole – best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, who famously pronounced ‘there is nothing half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’, water voles burrow into steep canal or riverside banks to form a complicated system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers. Sadly the water vole is now one of our most endangered species, mainly due to habitat loss and predation by American mink. To spot one, look out for closely grazed ‘lawn’ areas, often covered with neat piles of chopped grass and listen for the ‘plop’ sound as they enter the water.

W is for Wildlife – waterways provide homes for large numbers of birds, plants and animals, including many protected species, like water voles, otters and kingfishers, so there’s always something special to look out for.

X is for Station X – close to the Grand Union Canal at Fenny Stratford in Milton Keynes, Station X at Bletchley Park is where Britain’s wartime code breakers helped win the Second World War.

Y is for Yesteryear – with a much slower pace of life, a friendly camaraderie amongst boaters and a structure that hasn’t fundamentally changed for 200 years, the canals are often described as an escape to yesteryear.

Z is for Zoo – the Regent’s Canal passes alongside ZSL London Zoo, giving boaters the chance to spot a variety of exotic birds in the spectacular Northern Aviary over-looking the canal, designed by Lord Snowdon.

Great Canal Journeys returns to our screens

On Sunday 15 March at 8pm, the second series of ‘Great Canal Journeys’ begins on Channel 4, starring self-confessed ‘canal nuts’ Timothy West and Prunella Scales.

Last year, to mark their golden wedding anniversary, they let the world in on their secret and were filmed travelling along four different canals for the first series of ‘Great Canal Journeys’.

It proved to be an entirely charming insight into their hobby, but also their longstanding love affair and thankfully they have returned for more!

Timothy West, who has just entered his ninth decade, said in a recent article in the Daily Mail about the new series, “We’re both getting on a bit now,” and Pru added, “We are determined to make the most of what we love while we can.”

This time the couple are filmed undertaking four new journeys, the first of them along the Oxford Canal (aboard a Drifters boat), where they took their very first boating holiday as a family nearly 40 years ago.

As well as meeting up with their elder son, the actor Sam West, and the author Philip Pullman, Pru looks for tell-tale signs of water voles on the Oxford Canal with the Berks, Bucks & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.

The second episode, on 22 March, will see them travel through London by canal, again on a Drifters boat. For the third, on 29 March, they will be in France, and for the fourth and final episode, on 5 April, they will be in Scotland.

Top 5 Easter canal boat holidays

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together – learn how to work the locks, navigate tunnels, speak the boating lingo, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

Easter prices start at £495 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £685 for a week.  Here are our top 5 destinations this Easter:

1. Boat to Birmingham & enjoy Cadbury World’s Easter Eggstravaganza…Perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our canal boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to celebrate an eggstra-special Easter at the canalside Cadbury World. With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre where over-night moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to Brindley Place. There’s plenty for families to see and do in Britain’s second city, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre or watch the West End smash hit show ‘Evita’, starring Wet Wet Wet singer Marti Pellow, at the Hippodrome.

2. Visit Georgian Bath and its Award-winning Egg theatre…on a short break narrowboat holiday from our  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 and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre, especially for children, young people and their families.

3. Enjoy an Easter Egg hunt at the Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum…close to J15a of the M1, Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is easy to get to and offers a great variety of routes. On a short break, boaters can travel south to Fenny Stratford and back, cruising through delightful countryside and the picturesque village of Stoke Bruerne, with its friendly waterside pubs and fascinating Canal Museum, offering Easter Egg Hunts 4-12 March. On a week’s cruise, canal boat holiday-makers can head to the historic town of Market Harborough 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.

4. Take part in an Eggstraordinary Eggventure Trail at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History…our Oxford base at Eynsham on the River Thames is a three-hour cruise from Oxford, where boaters can find moorings within walking distance of city centre attractions. This Easter, visitors to the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History can Eggsplore the Museum with an eggciting egg-hunter’s trail. Other family-friendly attractions in Oxford include: climbing the 14th century Carfax Tower to take in a view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’; seeing the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum; touring the incredible Ashmolean Museum, with collections from the Neolithic era to the present day; discovering the real Harry Potter Hogwarts Hall at Christ Church College; and stocking-up on goodies in the Covered Market.

5. See Barbara Hepworth’s egg-like forms at the Hepworth Wakefield…Travelling gently along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation from our’ base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, it takes 12 hours to reach Wakefield, with moorings right outside The Hepworth Wakefield. This Easter visitors can enjoy the Museum’s free ‘Making a Modern Collection’ exhibition, featuring works by Barbara Hepworth, L S Lowry, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, as well as some special Easter family activities. Along the way, boaters can stop off at: the historic market town of Elland and enjoy at meal the Barge & Barrel gastro pub; historic Brighouse with markets, shops and places to eat; and Mirfield with medieval stocks and ducking stool.

Hire a canal boat for Mother’s Day

Why not spoil the hard-working Mum in your life with a relaxing day on the water, nourished by a posh picnic afloat or a pub lunch along the way.

We offer day boat hire at 12 of our 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 also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

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

• Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – Our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales is a 20-minutes 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.

• 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 some giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent and 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.

• Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from our boat yard 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.

• Explore Shakespeare’s country – from our hire 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.

• Wend your way through Wiltshire – from our canal boat hire 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 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.

• Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from our narrowboat hire 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 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.

• Staffordshire delights – from our boat yard 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 return journey takes six hours. Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

• 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.

• Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from boating 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. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

• 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.

• Visit Foxton Locks – from our boat yard 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.

John Sargeant takes to the canals on ITV1

In a new eight-part ITV1 series Barging Around Britain, John Sergeant sets off on a voyage along Britain’s canals, exploring their extraordinary stories.

Drifters operators were involved in the making of the series, including: Shire Cruisers on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and Aire & Calder Navigation; Black Prince on the Grand Union, Trent & Mersey, Llangollen and Kennet & Avon canals; and Anglo Welsh on the Grand Union Canal.

John says: “Canals changed the map of Britain. They were the motorways of the age. Now, it was easy to transport goods in bulk across the country and for the first time, towns could become home to new industries.”

John’s voyage takes him from the gentle downs of Somerset in the south to the spectacular Caledonian Canal, running coast to coast in Scotland.

In episode one, he journeys across the Pennines on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which runs for 127 miles and was to give the textile industry of Leeds a direct route to the docks of Liverpool.

John says: “This canal took 40 years to build. It could have been completed much sooner, money troubles got in the way, and we had to see off Napoleon at Waterloo. But these things happen, and in 1816 this great route across the Pennines was up and running.”

Barging Around Britain starts on Friday 13 February at 8pm on ITV1 and runs for eight weeks.

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Hire a love boat for Valentine’s Day

Cosy double berths, frosty towpaths and quiet moorings make canals the perfect Romantic hideaway and a number of our bases offer winter cruising, giving couples the chance to escape aboard their very own ‘love boat’ for Valentine’s Day.

Once afloat, cuddle up for a romantic evening afloat, or stop-off at historic country pubs with roaring log fires.

Our narrowboats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons, including central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Many now have Wifi too. Some boats also have their own multi-fuel stove, so whatever the weather it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Here’s a list of our boat yards offering Valentine’s cruising and ideas of where to go:

Enjoy the classic English countryside of the Oxford Canal…On a short break from our base at 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. Once there, enjoy a special Valentine’s menu at the Blue Ball pub. On a week’s holiday, continue south to Banbury via Napton and Fenny Compton.

Propose along the ‘Stream in the Sky’…the awe-inspiring 300metre-long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which soars nearly 40 metres high above the rushing waters of the River Dee, is truly one of the wonders of the waterways. And what a place to propose?! From our canal boat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, right next to the aqueduct, a short break to Ellesmere and back, offers the chance to travel over the aqueduct and explore the beautiful Vale of Llangollen and Shropshire Lake District. On a week’s break, boater’s can reach the Shropshire market town of Whitchurch, home to J B Joyce, the oldest clock makers in the world.

Head for the bright lights of Birmingham…the vibrant City of Birmingham with central moorings in Gas Street Basin, next to Brindley Place, is just a five-hour cruise away from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove. With no locks to negotiate, there’s plenty of time to cuddle-up together at the tiller!

Cruise along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal…from our base at Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, on the edge of the Cotswolds, boaters can reach moorings at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight in Devizes eight hours, with a choice of cosy rural pubs along the way, including the Barge Inn at Seend.

Potter through rural Leicestershire…our base at Union Wharf in Market Harborough offers the chance to explore the beautiful Leicestershire countryside afloat and a bottle of sparkling wine is included for Valentine’s Day bookings. On a short break, couples can reach the pretty village of Crick, travelling along the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal. On a week’s holiday, they can reach Braunston.

Wend your way through rural Warwickshire…from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can reach Hatton on a short break, passing through a series of pretty canal villages along the way, including Lapworth. Here, the Punchbowl English country pub, with a real log fire, is offering a special Valentine’s Day menu. On a week’s break from Wootton Wawen, boaters can head to historic Warwick and visit Warwick Castle, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience.

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Top 10 canal & river events in 2015

Britain’s canals and rivers host hundreds of exciting events each year, bringing people to the waterways and celebrating the things that make them special.

Here’s our pick of the best events to head for in 2015:

1. Crick Boat Show & Waterways Festival, 23-25 May 2015…over 200 exhibitors will gather at Crick Marina on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal near Daventry, showcasing thousands of inland waterways products and services. The event celebrates the canals and offers an exciting programme of family entertainment, including boat trips, live music, children’s activities, arts and crafts stands and a wide variety of food and drink stalls. Our nearest bases are at Gayton, North Kilworth and Market Harborough.

2. St Richards Boat & Car Festival, 1-4 May 2015…this annual event, which takes place in Vines Park alongside the Droitwich Barge Canal, with a celebration of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal’s Bicentenary. The event offers family entertainment, live music, boats, classic cars, markets, duck races and a real ale bar. Our nearest bases are Worcester, Stoke Prior and Tardebigge.

3. IWA Canalway Cavalcade, 2-4 May 2015…the Inland Waterway Association’s Canalway Cavalcade takes place at Little Venice in London. This unique waterways and community festival offers fun for all the family with a boaters’ gathering, pageant of boats, trade stalls, live music, kids’ activities, competitions, Morris Dancers, a real ale bar and variety of food stalls. Our nearest base is on the Grand Union Canal in West London.

4. Stoke Bruerne Village at War, 12 September 2015…organised by the Friends of the Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum, the annual vintage themed Village at War event takes people back to the 40’s with live music, tea dances, vintage fashion shows, a Black Market, tanks and other military vehicles, re-enactments and displays. Historic boats are on show, including the Museum’s own restored narrowboat ‘Sculptor’, which saw action in London as a fire boat during the Blitz. Our nearest bases are Gayton, Stretton, North Kilworth and Rugby.

5. Stratford River Festival, 4-5 July 2015…organised by the Stratford & Warwick Waterways Trust, this event offers free family fun in Stratford-upon-Avon with music, a gathering of boats, craft and food stalls, family zone, charity stalls, an illuminated boat parade and spectacular fireworks display. Our nearest base is on the Stratford Canal at Wotton Wawen.

6. Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, 7-12 July 2015…thousands of people from around the world descend on the pretty town of Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal each year to celebrate dance, music, costume and culture. The Llangollen Eisteddfod is one of the world’s great music and culture events with six days of world-class competitions and concerts featuring an array of international performers. Our nearest bases are Trevor, Chirk and Blackwater Meadow.

7. Stone Food & Drink Festival, 2-4 October 2015…Staffordshire’s biggest celebration of all things gastronomic takes place at the Georgian market town of Stone on the Trent & Mersey Canal. As well as a range of themed food marquees, the festival hosts demonstrations by top chefs, a beer festival, live music, gourmet dining in the pop-up restaurant, street food and a farmers’ market. Our nearest bases are Great Haywood, Brewood and Peak District.

8. Rickmansworth Canal Festival, 16-17 May 2015…celebrating canals, the community and the environment, the 22nd Rickmansworth Canal Festival attracts a spectacular array of canal boats from across the country. Occupying part of the Aquadrome and the Grand Union Canal towpath between Stockers Lock and Batchworth Lock, the event hosts a range of music, performing arts, displays, presentations, traders and catering. Our nearest base is on the Grand Union Canal in West London.

9. Chester Dragon Boat Festival, 21 June 2015…this annual and very colourful charity event on the River Dee in Chester sees over 10 dragon boat teams of up to 16 people and a drummer battling to become the champions. Our nearest bases are Bunbury and Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal.

10. Edinburgh Canal Festival, 27 June 2015…taking place at Lochrin Basin, at the Edinburgh end of the Union Canal, this community event includes free boat trips, canoe taster-sessions, children’s entertainment, music, dance and food. Our nearest base is at Falkirk.

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Drifters helps Julia Bradbury explore the Wonder of Britain

A brand new series for ITV celebrates some of the most impressive natural and manmade wonders that make Britain great, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales.

Julia Bradbury embarks on a stunning 12,000-mile journey around the country to some of Britain’s most spectacular locations and chooses some of the greatest assets she believes we should be most proud of.

The five-part series will begin on Tuesday 6 January at 9pm with a look at Britain’s beautiful buildings.

In the second instalment, which focuses on our industrial story, Julia will be seen cruising along the Llangollen Canal aboard a Drifters boat.

Rob Lawrence, Managing Director of Drifters’ group member Anglo Welsh, explains: “We were delighted to be involved in Julia’s exciting new television series which looks at different aspects of what makes Britain so great.

“During her investigation of our industrial past, where she looks at how our engineering achievements re-shaped the world, Julia took our aptly named Bond Class boat ‘Julia’ across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and amazed us all with her depth of knowledge of the structure and its history.”

Celebrate the Worcester & Birmingham Canal’s Bicentenary

…travel along this beautiful historic waterway, from the cathedral City of Worcester, through the green hills of Worcestershire to the vibrant centre of Birmingham

In 2015 it will be 200 years since the Worcester & Birmingham Canal opened. This popular 29-mile long historic waterway starts in Worcester as an off-shoot of the River Severn, and ends in Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.

The canal climbs 130 metres from Worcester to Birmingham. It has 58 locks along its length, including 30 at Tardebigge – one of the largest lock flights in Europe.

Construction of the canal began in 1792 from the Birmingham end, and the final section was completed in December 1815. A major user of the canal in its freight-carrying heyday was the canalside Cadbury chocolate factories at Bournville and Blackpole.

Today, holiday-makers can explore this beautiful historic waterway by canal boat, starting at Drifters’ Worcester base and reaching City centre moorings in Gas Street Basin in around 22 hours.

Beginning their journey with views of Worcester Cathedral, boaters pass Diglis Basin and soon reach open countryside. After a series of locks, including the Offerton Flight of six, the canal passes beneath the busy M5 motorway.

Next it’s the 230-yard long Dunhamsptead Tunnel and then Hanbury Junction, where the Droitwich Junction Canal connects with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
The National Trust’s Hanbury Hall can be reached by a pleasant walk across the fields from Astwood Bottom Lock and the village of Hanbury itself is said to be the real-life counterpoint of Radio 4’s Ambridge, home of The Archers.

Two smaller flights of locks follow before holiday-makers reach the base of the Tardebigge flight, with 30 locks over two miles, making it the longest in the country.
It was at Tardebigge Wharf at the top of the flight – with its dry dock, maintenance yard, workers cottages and historic warehouse – that Tom Rolt first met Robert Aickman, a union which led to the creation of the Inland Waterways Association, the driving force behind the restoration of the canal network.

Next the canal passes through the Lickley Hills using three long tunnels: Tardebigge the 580-yard long Tardebigge Tunnel; 613-yard Shortwood Tunnel; and Wasthill Tunnel, the longest at 2,726 yards.  This stretch also passes beneath the M42 and runs close to the Upper and Lower Bittell Reservoirs, built to feed the canal and once regularly visited by a young Bill Oddie.

Boaters next reach Kings Norton Junction, where the Worcester & Birmingham meets the Stratford Canal under permanently open guillotine gates.
Then on through the 105-yard long Edgbaston Tunnel and across the Holliday Street Aqueduct.

Finally, at its northern end, the canal joins the Birmingham Main Line at Gas Street Basin. Here traditional narrowboats and elegant black and white iron footbridges now sit alongside modern bars and restaurants and the City’s Mailbox luxury shopping centre.

Drifters also has bases on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge, Alvechurch and Stoke Prior, all close to Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. And the Worcester & Birmingham Canal forms part of both the popular Avon and Stourport Cruising Rings.

2015 prices from Worcester start at £368 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £560.

Try canal boating for free at Drifters National Open Day Event

On Sunday 19 April 2015, Drifters is offering people the chance to try canal boating at 22 of its narrowboat hire bases across England and Wales.

The free taster sessions, which are supported by the Canal & River Trust, will include boat tours, holiday discounts and free trips on skippered boats.

Details of what each site is offering is published here  No booking is required.

Tim Parker, Chairman of Drifters, says: “Britain’s beautiful 2,000-mile canal and river network is a haven for wildlife and travelling at just 4mph, canal boat holidays are often described as ‘the fastest way to slow down.

“Our holidays offer families the chance to set off on an adventure together, learn how to work the locks, spot wildlife and visit waterside attractions along the way.

“Over 370,000* people go canal boating each year and we hope our free taster sessions will introduce many more people to the joys of a holiday afloat on our wonderful inland waterways.”


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