Watch out for Wildlife

Top 5 canal boat holidays for wildlife spotting in 2020

Britain’s 3,000-mile canal and river network provides great habitats for an abundance of wildlife species. Cruising gently through the countryside, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy spotting anything from ducks, moorhens, swans and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters, bats and water voles.  And even in city centres, waterways provide safe havens for a wide variety of plants and animals.

Drifters offers over 550 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  Here’s our guide to the best narrowboat holidays for wildlife spotting:

Spot Kingfishers on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Isolated from the main canal network, this beautiful waterway in South Wales meanders peacefully for 36 miles through the Brecon Beacons National Park, providing excellent habitat for many woodland and water birds, including kingfishers.

Usually glimpsed as a sudden flash of glistening blue, the ‘King of Fishers’ travels at lightning speeds catching several fish each day.  These colourful birds raise up to three broods every season and fiercely defend their territory at all times.  There are more than 80 species of kingfisher around the world, but only one is native to Britain. 

***On a short break (three or four nights), from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise to Llangynidr and back, enjoying dramatic views of the Usk Valley.  On a week’s break, boaters can cruise as far as the historic market town of Brecon. 

For more information about Drifters holidays in Wales go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-wales/

Watch out for Bats on the Caldon Canal

The 17-mile long Caldon Canal runs into the Peak District from the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent, to Froghall Wharf in the Staffordshire Moorlands.  Its stunning wooded sections, where it passes through the beautiful Churnet Valley, provide particularly rich habitat for bats.

There are 18 different kinds of bat in Britain, including Daubenton’s bats, also known as the ‘water bat’.  They use the canal and river network extensively for foraging and they can frequently be found roosting in hollowed out tree trunks and many of the 200 year old engineering structures, such as bridges and aqueducts, which were built alongside the canals themselves.

Bats can be spotted around dusk as they venture out to hunt their insect prey.  They use a highly sophisticated form of radar – high frequency squeak – which bounces off objects back to the bat. This tells it the size, location, velocity and even texture of whatever is in its path.

***On a short break from Drifters’ Peak District narrowboat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, canal boat holiday-makers can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal, reaching Cheddleton Flint Mill in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks and travelling just over 11 miles. 

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in central England https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-central-england/ 

Count Dragonflies on the Ashby Canal

A six-mile section of this peaceful waterway in Leicestershire is designated a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly

These colourful insects, whose origins began 300 million years ago, are voracious hunters.  They use the reed fringes of our canals and rivers as breeding and hunting grounds.  They are insects in the sub-order ‘Anisoptera’ meaning “unequal winged” as their hind wings are usually shorter and broader than their forewings.

***On a week’s holiday from our narrowboat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, boaters can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four there and four back) in around 32 hours.  This largely rural route takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal.  Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in central England https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-central-england/

Look out for Otters on the Montgomery Canal

This historic waterway runs for 38 miles between England and Wales.  Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on both sides of the border, and the entire length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, making it one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe. 

Currently only around half the Montgomery Canal is navigable, including a seven-mile section from its junction with the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire at Frankton Locks to Gronwyn Wharf.  Work is underway to restore a further section, extending this navigable stretch to Crickheath.  As part of this £4.2million project, which is expected to be completed next year, the Canal & River Trust, Shropshire Union Canal Society and other partners are constructing two nature reserves to ensure important local habitat is protected, including otters and water voles.  

Thanks to the work of conservationists, the UK’s population of otters is showing healthy signs of growth after its sad decline in the 1950’s.  Lakes, rivers and coastal areas are the otters’ natural habitats but these timid nocturnal creatures can also be seen hunting on quiet stretches of the canals.

***On a short break from our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk, it takes around eight hours to cruise to Gronwyn Wharf on the Montgomery Canal, travelling 15 miles and passing through 10 locks.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in Wales go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-wales/

Listen for Reed Bunting on the Droitwich Canals

Many birds live and nest amongst the reeds that line sections of our inland waterways, including the moorhen, coot, sage warbler and the chirruping reed bunting.  One of the best waterways to see these lively little birds, perched up high on reed tops singing at the top of their voices, are the Droitwich Canals in Worcestershire. These historic waterways offer a linear mosaic of habitats, including substantial reedbeds.

Reed buntings are sparrow-sized but slim with long, deeply notched tails.  The male has a black head with a white collar in the summer.  The black head becomes a dull brown in the winter.  Females have a brown head, buff throat and buff-coloured lines above and below their eyes.  Reed buntings feed on seeds and insects and they nest in a cup of grass and moss built on the ground, usually amongst reeds or grasses in a wet or marshy place.

***The Droitwich Canals can be reached on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat holiday rental base at Worcester on the River Severn.  The Droitwich Ring, a 21-mile, 33-lock canal boat holiday circuit which takes around 16 hours to navigate, takes in sections of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, as well as the Droitwich Barge and Junction canals.

Drifters’ 2020 hire prices start at £554 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £791 for a week.  Tuition is included in all Drifters holiday packages.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in central England go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-central-england/

Top 6 Bank Holiday Boating Breaks for Beginners

 

With a thriving 3,000-mile network of navigable inland waterways, the health benefits of spending time by the water proven and the merits of a lower carbon staycation, UK narrowboat holidays offer the perfect bank holiday getaway.

A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat and all our provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

Drifters offers over 550 boats for hire, operating from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales.  Narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate up to 12 people.  All are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

To celebrate the two May bank holidays, we’ve put together our top six short break narrowboat holidays for beginners:

  1. Complete the Droitwich Mini-Ring – the Droitwich Ring is the only canal boat holiday cruising circuit in Britain which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights).  When the restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, it reconnected the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, creating a 21-mile, 33-lock canal boat holiday circuit, which can be cruised in 16 hours from our narrowboat hire base on the River Severn at Worcester.  
  2. Glide along the Forth & Clyde to visit Glasgow – from our canal boat rental base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals and home to the magnificent Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful nine-hour cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the City of Glasgow – perfect for a three or four-night short break.  Along the way, you will travel 22 miles and pass through five locks.  This scenic route passes through Auchinstarry, the River Kelvin Valley with magnificent views of the Campsie Fells above, and the town of Kirkintillock.  There are moorings at Applecross Street Basin, with access to Glasgow’s wealth of museums, galleries and cultural centres, including the Hunterian Museum, home to one of Scotland’s finest collections.  
  3. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our barge hire base at Devizes in Wiltshire, boaters can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, on the edge of Bath City Centre.  The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, the route passes through the village of Seend with its popular canalside Barge Inn, the historic town of Bradford on Avon with its fascinating 14th century Tithe Barn, over the beautiful Avoncliff and Dundas Bath stone aqueducts.  Once at Sydney Wharf, you can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre to visit the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent and other World class attractions. 
  4. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man and regular street markets.  Along the way, you will pass through just six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall. 
  5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Ellesmere and back – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network.  The journey from our boat yard at Trevor near Llangollen in North Wales, to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners.  There are just four locks between Trevor and Ellesmere at the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, a journey which takes around seven hours.  And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below. 
  6. Cruise along the summit of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to enjoy remote beauty – from our canal boat hire base at Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire, it takes around four hours to gently cruise 10 miles to Bank Newton, passing through just three locks at Greenberfield.  Along the way, the route takes you through the village of East Marton with its popular Cross Keys pub and then on through the remotest and most beautiful stretch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, with just sheep and birds in all directions! 

 

Top 10 canal events in 2020

Crick Boat Show in Northamptonshire

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.

These events make great destinations for canal boat holiday-makers, so we’ve put together our Top 10 events for 2020, along with information on our nearest canal boat hire bases:          

  1. Easter Boat Gathering, 10-13 April – the annual Easter Boat Gathering at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, now in its 43rd year, marks the official start of the boating season.  Over the weekend, dozens of boats will moor up across the Museum’s seven-acre site and visitors can enjoy live music, workshop tours, historic boats and museum activities.  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat hire bases are at Bunbury and Anderton, both on the Shropshire Union Canal and
  2. St Richard’s Canal Festival, 7-10 May – this annual event, which takes place in Vines Park alongside the Droitwich Barge Canal, is organised by the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Society.  The event offers family entertainment, live music, boats, classic cars, art workshops, community stalls, a real ale bar and the annual ‘Great Droitwich Duck Race’ with over 1,000 plastic ducks competing.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental bases are Worcester and Stoke Prior.
  3. Rickmansworth Canal Festival, 16-17 May – celebrating canals, the community and the environment, the annual Rickmansworth Canal Festival attracts over 100 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.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston.
  4. Scottish Boat Rally, 23-24 May – Scottish Canals will host a Scottish Boat Rally on the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in the Scottish Lowlands as part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020.  Drifters nearest canal boat hire base is at Falkirk, where the two canals meet.
  5. Crick Boat Show, 23-25 May – 300 exhibitors will gather at Crick Marina on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal near Daventry to celebrate the canals and showcase thousands of inland waterways products and services.  Now Britain’s biggest inland waterways festival, the event offers visitors a fantastic day out by the water, with free boat trips, over 50 boats to look around, live music, children’s activities and a wide variety of food and drink stalls.  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat hire bases are at Gayton, Braunston and Market Harborough.
  6. Chester Dragon Boat Festival, 7 June – this annual and very colourful charity event on the River Dee in Chester sees over 20 dragon boat teams of up to 16 paddlers and a drummer battling to become the champions.  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat hire rental centres are Bunbury, Anderton and Brewood.
  7. Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, 7-12 July – every yearthousands of people descend on the pretty town of Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal to celebrate dance, music, costume and culture.  The Llangollen Eisteddfod is one of the world’s great musical and culture events with six days of world-class competitions and concerts featuring an array of international performers.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire bases are at Trevor, Chirk and Blackwater Meadow.
  8. Stratford River Festival, 6-7 July – this two-day free annual event offers visitors waterside family fun in Stratford-upon-Avon with music, a gathering of boats, craft and food stalls, family zone, charity stalls, illuminated boat parade and spectacular fireworks.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is on the Stratford Canal at Wotton Wawen.
  9. Stoke Bruerne Village at War, 12-13 September – 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.  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat hire bases are Gayton, Braunston and Rugby.
  10. Stone Food & Drink Festival, 19-20 September – 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.  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat rental bases are Great Haywood, Brewood and Peak District.
Magnificent cathedrals to visit

Magnificent cathedrals to visit on a canal boat holiday

There are over 3,000 miles of navigable rivers and canals to explore in Britain, and hundreds of cultural and historic destinations to visit while on a narrowboat holiday, including some of England’s most magnificent cathedrals. Here’s our guide to the top six cathedrals to visit on a canal boat holiday:
  1. Climb the Octagon Tower at Ely Cathedral – dating back to 1083, architecturally Ely Cathedral is outstanding due to its beauty, scale and famous central Octagon Tower with a lantern.  It is the only UK building to be listed as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Medieval World’, and visible for miles around, the Cathedral is often referred to as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.  When visiting the Cathedral you can climb the world famous Octagon Tower and the West Tower, visit the Lady Chapel and enjoy afternoon tea in the 11th century Undercroft.  On a four-night or week-long break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at March on the Fenland Waterways in Cambridgeshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach Ely in around nine hours, travelling 30 miles and passing through just three locks along the way. 
  2. Visit the Crypt at Worcester Cathedral – this ancient building rising majestically above the River Severn dates back nearly 1,000 years and is a major tourist attraction.  In the Cathedral’s Crypt, visitors can find an exhibition telling the story of the Cathedral and a display of The Worcester Pilgrim artefacts.  The Tower, with its 235 steps and spectacular views over the city, is usually open to climb on weekends and during school holidays.  Worcester and its Cathedral can be visited as part of the Stourport and Droitwich Ring canal boat holiday circuits, easily accessed from Drifters’ canal boat holiday hire bases at Worcester, Stoke Prior, Alvechurch and Tardebigge. 
  3. See the medieval choir stalls at Chester Cathedral – construction of this wonderful example of a medieval monastery began in 1092.  Within its walls lie treasures of national significance, including the finest medieval choir stalls in existence and the best Pre-Raphaelite mosaics in the country.  As well as services, the Cathedral hosts many special events each year, including talks, exhibitions and concerts.  There are Tower Tours offering the chance to climb the 216 steps of the 125ft high tower and enjoy panoramic views of Chester.  Setting off from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach Chester in around seven hours, passing through nine locks along the way.
  4. Listen to the bells ringing at Birmingham Cathedral – consecrated as the parish church of St Philip’s in 1715, this Grade I listed building is a rare and very fine example of English Baroque architecture.  The Cathedral houses a peal of 12 bells which are rung every Sunday and most Mondays by the St Martin’s Guild of Church Bell Ringers.  Birmingham Cathedral is home to a remarkable set of stained-glass windows designed by Birmingham born Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by the firm of William Morris & Co.  From Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to reach mooring in Birmingham City Centre.  From Drifters’ base nearby at Alvechurch, it takes around four hours.
  5. Admire one of the World’s largest tapestries at Coventry Cathedral – the Cathedral Church of St Michael was designed by Basil Spence and was consecrated in 1962.  Close by, the remains of the ‘old Cathedral’, destroyed by enemy air attack in the Second World War, have been preserved as a reminder of the folly and waste of war. Rather than a purely Church of England sacred space, Coventry’s new cathedral was intended as a space where people of all faiths could gather together.  The new Cathedral is home to some amazing works of art, including Graham Sutherland’s enormous ‘Christ in Glory’ tapestry and stunning stained glass windows by John Piper and John Hutton.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, it takes around eight hours to reach Coventry Basin.
  6. Look up at the remarkable vaulted ceiling in the Chancel of Oxford Cathedral – Christ Church Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford and one of the smallest cathedrals in the Church of England.  Unusually for a cathedral, its centre stalls face inwards in the ‘collegiate’ style.  Standing on the site of an ancient Saxon Church, the present Cathedral building was constructed 900 years ago as the monastery church for a community of Augustinian Canons.  Since 1546 it has held a dual function as both College Chapel and Cathedral.  It has beautiful stained glass windows, including the Jonah Window painted in the 1630s by the Dutch artist Abraham van Linge and the Becket Window dating back to 1320. Created in 1500, the Cathedral’s Chancel has a remarkable stone vaulted ceiling.  From Drifters narrowboat hire base at close to Oxford on the River Thames at Eynsham, it takes just under four hours to cruise to moorings close to Oxford City Centre.

 

Drifters creates pop-up fleet at Ashton

Top 6 Bank Holiday Boating Breaks

To celebrate the approaching Spring Bank Holiday Weekend, we’ve put together our top six short break narrowboat holidays:

  1. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Devizes in Wiltshire, boaters can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, on the edge of Bath City Centre.  The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, the route passes through the village of Seend with its popular canalside Barge Inn, the historic town of Bradford on Avon with its fascinating 14th century Tithe Barn, and passes over the beautiful Avoncliff and Dundas Bath stone aqueducts.  Once at Sydney Wharf, you can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre to visit the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent and other World class attractions. 
  2. Complete the Droitwich Mini-Ring – the Droitwich Ring is the only canal boat holiday cruising circuit in Europe which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights).  When the restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, it reconnected the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, creating a 21-mile, 33-lock canal boat holiday circuit, which can be cruised in 16 hours from Drifters’ base on the River Severn at Worcester.
  3. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our canal boat hire base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the stunning Pontcysyllte Aqueduct can be reached on a short break.  Standing at over 30 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure, which this year celebrates 10 years of World Heritage Status, consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 enormous hollow pillars.  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. 
  4. Steer gently through the countryside to Stone – from our canal boat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood, it takes five hours to reach the historic Shropshire market town of Stone.  Stone is renowned as the food and drink capital of Staffordshire, with regular markets, a good choice of restaurants and the annual Food & Drink Festival in October.  Along the way, there are just four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Woolpack at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.
  5. Potter through the Peak District – our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals in Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England.  Starting at the Etruria, 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. 
  6. Visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford – from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it’s a delightful six-hour, 17-lock cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon.  From there, it’s a short walk to the town’s restaurants, shops, markets, museums and theatres, including the 1,040 seat Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home to the Royal Shakespeare Company.