Top 5 epic canal boat journeys

Britain’s 2,000-mile canal network offers a huge variety of canal boat holiday routes, from easy short breaks with no locks through to epic journeys around cruising rings, which take weeks and involve a lot of locks!

Weekly hire in 2015 starts at £480 and Drifters operators usually offer discounts on the second week of hire.

Here are our top five epic journeys to inspire:

1. The South Pennine Ring (71 miles, 197 locks, 80 hours): not for the faint-hearted, this epic two-week journey can be taken from our 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.

2. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours): starting from our’ base at Anderton, this superb route takes canal boat holiday-makers through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. It can be done in a week but it’s easier in two. 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’.

3. The Leicester Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours): from our 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; the 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry with views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

4. The Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from our bases at Tardebigge, Wootton Wawen, Worcester or Alvechurch, this World-famous journey negotiates 130 locks. Most people tackle this trip over 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.

5. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours): starting from our 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 with one of the tightest turns on the system where the Oxford joins the Coventry; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the tricky 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.

Celebrate Christmas on the Canals

Britain’s canals can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

Six 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 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 to enjoy new year celebrations in waterside towns and cities like Bath, Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

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

Prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £585 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £840.

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

Travel to Bath along the Kennet & Avon Canal…our base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon 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. Christmas and New Year prices from Bradford on Avon start at £725 for short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four and £1,010 for a week on a boat for four.

Chug through rural Warwickshire…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. On a week’s holiday, narrowboat holiday-makers could travel to Stratford upon Avon and back, passing through Warwick and Leamington Spa. Christmas and New Year prices from Stretton start at £585 for a short break (three or four nights) and £895 for a week on a boat for four.

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. Christmas and New Year prices from Tardebigge start at £680 for a short break (three or four nights), and £945 for a week.

Navigate ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the awesome 300-metre long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carries the Llangollen Canal 40 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee. From our base at Trevor, next to the aqueduct, the village of Llangollen is a two-hour cruise to the west and to the east, Ellesmere is a seven-hour journey through the beautiful Vale of Llangollen. Christmas and New Year prices from Trevor start at £680 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for two, and £945 for a week.

• Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…our base at Great Haywood, at the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals in Staffordshire, offers a variety of routes. 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. Christmas and New Year prices from Great Haywood start at £775 for a short break (three or four nights), and £1,085 for a week on a boat for six.

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. Christmas and New Year prices from Wootton Wawen start at £605 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £840.

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2015

With boats travelling at a maximum speed of 4mph, a canal boat holiday really is the fastest way to slow down. There are over 3,000 miles of peaceful canals and rivers to explore across Britain – from rural retreats to vibrant city centres.

Drifters offers over 500 boats for hire from 37 canal boat hire locations across England, Scotland and Wales. 2015 hire prices currently start at £368 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £480 for a week.

Here are our Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2014:

1. Celebrate the Worcester & Birmingham Canal’s Bicentenary…in 2015 it will be 200 years since the popular Worcester & Birmingham Canal opened. This 29-mile long waterway starts in Worcester, as an off-shoot of the River Severn, and ends in Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham. It has 58 locks along its length, including 30 at Tardebigge, one of the largest lock flights in Europe. A major user of the canal in its freight-carrying heyday was the Cadbury chocolate factories at Bournville and Blackpole. Today, narrowboat holiday-makers can explore this beautiful historic waterway by canal boat, starting at our Worcester base and reaching City centre moorings in Gas Street Basin, with easy access to the City’s Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants, in around 22 hours.

2. Enjoy a journey through the Yorkshire countryside to the famous Bingley 5-rise locks…from our Sowerby Bridge base it takes a week to travel to the Bingley 5-rise locks and back, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next. The journey from Sowerby Bridge starts with a cruise along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation, passing through Elland, Brighouse and Shepley Bridge. Then on through Wakefield, with moorings available right outside the Barbara Hepworth museum, then on to Stanley Ferry to see the aqueduct, which looks like a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now onto the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks and on to Leeds, passing the Royal Armouries Museum. Next boaters join the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, travelling through fields and woods and enjoying spectacular views of old West Riding industry and passing through Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating model town at Saltaire, with Italianate mills and Hockney Museum. After several staircase locks along the way, boaters reach the famous Five Rise Locks at Bingley. The total journey there and back travels 110 miles, passes through 118 locks and takes 54 cruising hours.

3. Experience the Edinburgh Festival afloat…Edinburgh Quay is a day and a half’s journey from our base at Falkirk, on the Lowland Canals in Scotland. The journey starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first and only rotating boat lift) and then on to the Union Canal, passing through 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 and Festival events. In 2015, the Edinburgh International Festival dates will run from 7-31 August, coinciding for the first time with the Fringe events. Highlights include a staging of Ivo van Hove’s Antigones, starring Juliette Binoche and a stripped-down production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro by Iavn Fischer and the Budapest festival orchestra. 

4. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the Llangollen Canal’s incredible World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. It consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 hollow pillars. Each span is 16-metres wide. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth. From Drifters’ base at Trevor, close to the Aqueduct (which will celebrate its 210th birthday in 2015), holiday-makers can travel to the pretty towns of Llangollen and Ellesmere, visiting the Horseshoe Falls at Llangollen, the Ellesmere Lakes, teaming with wildlife and Chirk, with its 900-year old Castle.

5. Visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park & enjoy the Rugby World Cup afloat…Some of the matches for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be held at the Olympic Stadium, on the banks of the River Lea. It takes around nine hours to reach Three Mills at the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from our canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm in West London. The journey passes through picturesque Little Venice, Regent’s Park, London Zoo, Camden Lock, Kings Cross and Victoria Park. There are plenty of safe places to moor along the way, with easy access to London’s top attractions, theatres, restaurants and shops. The first Olympic Stadium match takes place on Weds 23 September, France vs Romania.

6. Cruise the Caen Hill Flight, 25 years after it was restored…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. From our base at Hilperton near Trowbridge it takes less than four hours to reach the base of the Caen Hill Flight. The journey through the locks takes around five hours and it’s not long before boaters reach the beautiful Vale of Pewsey and the ancient Savernake Forest.

7. See the newly cleaned dinosaurs at the Oxford Museum of Natural History…the Oxford University Museum of Natural History reopened in 2014 after a £2million project to fix its leaking roof. Over 8,500 Victorian glass tiles were individually removed and resealed and a mass specimen cleaning project was undertaken, including all the big dinosaurs! Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, this fascinating Museum now holds the University’s internationally significant collections of geological and zoological specimens, including the Oxfordshire dinosaurs and the Dodo. Our Oxford base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from the City centre, where canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge and use their boat as a base to visit the Museum and explore the City.

8. Visit Bristol’s vibrant Floating Harbour…from our Sydney Wharf base in the centre of Bath, canal boat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon, reaching Bristol’s exciting Floating Harbour in eight hours. Over 200 years ago, 80 acres of tidal river was impounded in Bristol, allowing visiting ships to remain afloat all the time. The Harbour grew as a busy commercial port. Today leisure boaters can enjoy moorings there and use it as a base to visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain, the Blue Reef Aquarium and the @Bristol science centre with its Planetarium and hundreds of hands-on exhibits to explore.

9. Potter through the Peak District…Our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, offers the perfect way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. The gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break. On a week’s break, boater’s can travel to Whaley Bridge at the end of the Peak Forest Canal and back, passing through Harecastle Tunnel, Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple.

10. Glide through the Breacon Beacons…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views. From our base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, boaters 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. Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m.

Chill out on a canal boat holiday this Halloween

Reputedly playing host to hundreds of ghosts, with bats and frogs aplenty, creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween afloat.

Here are a few of the spookiest places to go:

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. And The King’s Inn, an old coaching house, is believed to be haunted by three separate spirits. Travel from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, reaching Chester in seven hours, passing through nine locks.

• Watch 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.

Ghost Tunnel…Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, close to our Gayton base, 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…?

Tunnel Terror on the Union Canal in Scotland…two walkers and their dogs were terrified by the apparition of a man who had been lured to the Union Canal tunnel at Falkirk in the 1940s and viciously murdered after he had been unable to pay his gambling debt. Our Falkirk base is very close to this tunnel.

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 whose headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Travel there from our Peak District base on the Trent & Mersey near Stafford.

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 base at Trevor is just 20 minutes from the Aqueduct.

Top 5 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 – look out for apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes and make freshly-picked fruit crumbles on board.

Here are our top five destinations this autumn:

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 forgaging 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. 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 flight, 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 August bank holidays afloat

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

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

Here are our top 10 August Bank Holiday destinations for 2014:

1. Visit the magnificent Horseshoe Falls…from our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the picturesque town of Llangollen with walking access to the famous Horseshoe Falls, is an eight-hour cruise away. The journey includes traversing the awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which towers 38 metres high above the Dee Valley.

2. See the tigers at London Zoo…from our base on the Grand Union Canal in West London, ZSL London Zoo can be found alongside the Regent’s Canal, just a five-hour cruise away. Narrowboat holiday-makers can explore the world’s oldest scientific zoo and head to Tiger Territory to see the three Sumatran tiger cubs born there in February.

3. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift 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.

4. See the freshly cleaned dinosaurs at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History…this fascinating museum reopened earlier this year after a £2million project to fix its leaking roof. Over 8,500 Victorian glass tiles were individually removed and resealed and a mass specimen cleaning project was undertaken, including all the big dinosaurs! Our Oxford base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from the City centre where canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge and use their boat as a base to visit the Museum and explore the City.

5. Watch Wicked at the Birmingham Hippodrome…With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre than by canal boat. Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our base at Tardebigge, and find centrally located over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin. There’s plenty for families to see and do there, including a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place and the chance to see the acclaimed musical ‘Wicked’ at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

6. Enjoy the Pennines afloat…from our base at Sowerby Bridge on 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, 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.

7. Travel to Bosworth Field and find out more about King Richard III…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal makes a great 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.

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

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

10. Swap your canal boat for a steam train…from our Peak District base at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, it’s a gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin. From there, it’s a short walk to Froghall Station and the opportunity to take a steam train ride on the Churnet Valley Railway.

Top 10 reasons to take a canal boat holiday

Canal boating on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

1. It’s the fastest way to slow down – with speed limits of 4mph and hundreds of miles of tranquil unspoilt countryside to cruise through, stress levels are immediately reduced on a narrowboat holiday and a whole new much steadier pace of life takes over

2. Freedom to explore – the majority of our inland waterways offer boating holiday-makers free moorings, so, glass of wine in hand, you are free to choose wherever you lay your boat for the night

3. Keep up your fitness – working the locks, exploring local footpaths, historic sites, towns and villages, cycling the towpaths and standing at the tiller enjoying the fresh air are all the ideal antidote to stuffy gyms and office blues

4. The greener way – a canal boat holiday is estimated to be some 20 times better for the planet than spending two hours flying for a holiday overseas and as soon as you swap your car for a boat, you’ll be using a third of the fuel and emitting a sixth of the pollution

5. Pubs galore – with hundreds of waterside pubs, a watering hole is never far away, many of them historic rural locals

6. History is all around – thousands of historic structures make up the waterway system, including: the soaring majesty of the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; the extraordinary Anderton Boat Lift, also known as “The Cathedral of the Canals”; and the awesome three-mile long Standedge Tunnel cutting through the Pennines

7. Watch out for wildlife – waterways provide homes for large numbers of birds, plants and animals, including many protected species – the water vole, otter and kingfisher, so there’s always something special to look out for

8. All the comforts of home – today’s canal boats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons – central heating, hot water, TV, showers, flushing toilets, and some now have Wifi too

9. Help keep the local economy afloat – £1½ billion is spent by visitors to the waterways each year on goods and services, supporting over 54,000 jobs

10. Try something new – with around a fifth of canal boat hire boaters new to the market each year, it’s easy to learn how to steer a boat and navigate the waterways.

Canal boat holidays are great for pets

Canal boat holidays are perfect for dogs, with plenty of towpath walks, dog-friendly canalside pubs and other dogs to meet along the way.

And as well as hundreds of dogs, Drifters canal boat hire operators have accommodated many other kinds of pets aboard their floating holiday homes, including rabbits, hamsters, caged birds, a goldfish and a tortoise.

Drifters director Nigel Stevens explains: “Narrowboats provide a floating holiday home so it is possible to take all sorts of pets on the canals. Most of our operators charge a supplement for a pet of between £25 and £35, but some allow the first pet to go free, so it can work out a lot cheaper to bring your pet along on your holiday and let them enjoy the cruise too!”

Here are our top five canal boat holiday destinations for animal lovers:

1. Visit the Sea Life Centre at Brindleyplace…With over 60 displays of freshwater and marine life, the Sea Life Centre at Brindleyplace in Birmingham is a fantastic destination for animal lovers. Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our base at Tardebigge, and find centrally located over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin. 2014 prices from Tardebigge start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £790 for a week.

2. Get close to the tigers at ZSL London Zoo…the world’s oldest scientific zoo is right next to the Regent’s Canal in Regent’s Park and is now home to two critically endangered Sumatran tigers and their three cubs. From our West London base on the Grand Union Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can reach the Zoo in just five hours. 2014 hire prices from London start at £594 for a short break on a five berth boat, weekly hire from £963.

3. See David Hockney’s Dachshunds at Saltaire…canal boat holiday-makers can reach Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating model town on a week’s narrowboat holiday from our base at Sowerby Bridge. Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the woollen industry. Salts Mill has a number of galleries, including the stunning David Hockney Gallery showing both permanent and temporary collections of the Bradford-born artist’s work, including prints of some of the portraits he has made of his beloved Dachshunds, Stanley and Boogie. 2014 weekly hire from Sowerby Bridge starts at £530 for a two berth boat.

4.Watch Rooney the penguin in training at Chester Zoo…famous for its medieval architecture and city walls, Chester is also home to an award-winning zoo with over 11,000 animals to see. Each year the Zoo’s keepers name their baby penguins after a particular theme and this time round they’ve been named after English World Cup stars, past and present. Rooney the penguin, who hatched in spring, has been moved into a nursery at the zoo to learn how to swim, hunt and feed, along with classmates Gerrard, Banks and Moore. Chester is a seven-hour cruise from our Bunbury base on the Shropshire Union Canal. 2014 prices from Bunbury start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £790 for a week.

5. Admire the Kelpies at Falkirk…towering a colossal 30 metres above the Forth & Clyde Canal, The Kelpies horse statues form a dramatic gateway to the canal entrance at Falkirk. Constructed of structural steel with a stainless steel outer skin, each of the Kelpies weighs over 300 tonnes. They are the centrepiece of The Helix park and serve as a monument to horse powered heritage across Central Scotland. 2014 prices from our base at Falkirk start at £499 for a short break (three or four nights) on a four berth boat, weekly hire from £913.

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

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

Drifters offers a huge range of family canal boat holidays, with school summer holiday prices starting at £635 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £895 for a week.

All our canal boat hire 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 of our boats.

1. 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. We have bases on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, Chirk, Wrenbury, Whitchurch and Blackwater Meadow.

2. 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 our 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.

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

4. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from our 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…our base on the beautiful River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford. Boaters 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 shrunken heads from the Upper Amazon.

6. Travel to Chester by boat…our 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. Visit the city’s vibrant market hall, award-winning zoo, racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants or one of a series of festivals held there across the summer.

7. Enjoy the Pennines afloat…from our base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, a trip to historic Todmorden is the perfect short break destination. Climbing through woods, 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 Bosworth Field and find out more about King Richard III…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. The canal passes close to the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard III died and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

9. Cruise to the home of the Gingerbread Man…our 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 and 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…our 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.

Drifters’ top 5 canalside pubs

There are hundreds of lovely waterside pubs across the canal network but we’ve put together a list of our top 10:

1. The George at Bathampton is on the Kennet & Avon Canal just half an hour by boat from our canal boat hire base at Bath and two-and-a-half hours from Bradford on Avon. Once a 13th-century monastery, The George is described by the Cool Canals ‘Pub Days Out’ guide as “a vision of Olde England in a building packed with character…priest holes, low ceilings, creaking beams, nooks and crannies and real fires to snuggle up to, give this pub special cosiness.” Part of the Chef & Brewer group, it offers an extensive menu and a range of pub drinks, including cask ale.

2. The Narrowboat Inn at Whittington is a great place to stop-off at on a canal boat holiday on the Llangollen Canal, departing from our Trevor, Chirk, Whitchurch or Blackwater Meadow bases.  It has a lovely canalside beer garden and offers hearty pub food. Visit here and you’ll be following in the foot-steps of Hollywood legends Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, who enjoyed a meal and a pint or two of Wells Bombardier here as part of their canal boat holiday on the Llangollen back in 2004.

3. The Leigh Arms at Little Leigh is on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire and is a pleasant one-hour cruise from our base at Anderton. This friendly canalside pub offers home-cooked pub food and cask ales. There’s a children’s play area in the pub garden and dogs are welcome in the snug area. The Leigh Arms also offers a varied programme of events.

4. The Fleur de Lys at Lowsonford is a great place to eat and specialises in pies. It’s a three-and-a-half hour cruise from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire. This unspoilt 17th century country pub has low ceilings with oak beams, open fires, real ales, pub games (including a free skittle alley) and cosy and relaxed atmosphere. The pub building was originally a row of three cottages and a barn, which once doubled as the village mortuary. The ghost of Abigail, a frail little girl from the 1800’s, is said to haunt the upper back room.

5. The Foxton Locks at Foxton is a two-and-a-half hour journey from our Market Harborough base and five hours cruise from North Kilworth. This historic family and dog-friendly pub has pretty views, serves traditional pub food and cask ales and offers a large canalside garden. It’s nestled at the bottom of the famous Foxton locks staircase and is close to the Foxton Inclined Plane Museum.