Top 8 Easter Holidays Afloat

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together out in the open air, learning how to steer the boat and work the locks, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside attractions along the way.

Our 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, kitchens, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

Here are our top eight destinations for Easter 2020:

  1. Join the annual Easter Boat Gathering at Ellesmere Port – over the Easter Weekend (10-13 April), the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire celebrates the start of the Summer boating season with a large boat gathering, live music, workshop tours, historic boats and museum activities.  From our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it takes 10 hours to reach Ellesmere Port, travelling 21 miles through 12 locks, and passing through the ancient City of Chester along the way. 
  2. Travel round the Warwickshire Ring – On a week’s holiday from our narrowboat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, you can travel round the popular Warwickshire Ring, cruising 101 miles, through 94 locks in around 54 hours through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes.  Highlights include: the awesome Fight of 21 locks at Hatton with stunning views of the Warwickshire countryside; 1,000 years of history at Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon; Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin in the heart of Britain’s second city; the flight of 11 locks at Atherstone; and the pretty canal village of Braunston. 
  3. Visit the Edinburgh Science Festival – from our boat yard at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a mid-week (four night) or week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back.  The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which tranfers boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above.  Once in Edinburgh, boaters can moor up in Edinburgh Quay to enjoy the City’s attractions, including the annual Edinburgh Science Festival (4-19 April 2020), featuring almost 270 events over the course of two weeks, including family days out, hands-on activities and talks. 
  4. Take in a show at the Egg theatre in Bath – on a four-night mid-week break from our base at Devizes in Wiltshire, you can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, just a 15-minute walk from Bath City Centre.  The journey there and back travels 39 miles, takes around 19 hours and passes through 10 locks each way.  The route passes through the village of Seend with its popular canalside Barge Inn, and the historic town of Bradford on Avon with its fascinating 14th century Tithe Barn.  Once at Sydney Wharf, boaters can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into the centre of Bath to visit some of the City’s many attractions, including the Roman Baths, Royal Crescent and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre. 
  5. Visit the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World – perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to find handmade Easter eggs in the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World.  You can travel right into the heart of the City of Birmingham by canal boat, to over-night moorings in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace with plenty for families to see and do, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre and star gazing in the Planetarium at Birmingham’s Science Museum Thinktank. 
  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 take boaters 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! 
  7. Glide gently to Norbury and back – on a relaxing short break from our narrowboat rental base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction, you can travel north to the pretty village of Norbury.  This sedate journey takes around seven hours, passing through just two locks and travelling through 15 miles of peaceful countryside.  Along the way, the route takes narrowboat holiday-makers through the charming village of Brewood with its half-timbered cottages, attractive Georgian houses and choice of places to eat, including the canalside Bridge Inn.  The route also takes you past Belvide Reservoir near Brewood and Mottey Meadows Nature Reserve at Wheaton Ashton, both home to an abundance of wildlife.  Once at Norbury, you can moor up to enjoy a meal at the Old Wharf Tearoom or the Junction Inn. 
  8. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the pretty Eisteddford town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains can be reached on a short break.  Along the way, you cross the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, taking them 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, with amazing views of the surrounding mountains and countryside.  On reaching Llangollen, you can enjoy visiting the town’s independent shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as its Steam Railway and Horseshoe Falls. 

Celebrate a Canal Anniversary in 2020

Britain’s historic canal network was built to transport goods and materials, enabling Britain to become the first industrial power in the World.  The 18th century saw a surge in canal building, with 44 Acts for new canals passed between 1791 and 1795 alone, and by 1850, approximately 4,800 miles of inland waterway had been constructed.

Today, our beautiful network of navigable waterways is mostly used for leisure, and has become a haven for wildlife.  There are now 35,000 boats on our canal network, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution.  But unlike the original working boats, the canal boats available to hire today are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons – central heating, hot water, TV, Wifi, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets.  And some offer five star accommodation, with extras like King sized bed, baths and solid-fuel stoves.

Drifters offers the choice of over 550 boats from 45 bases across England, Wales and Scotland.  Each year, canal anniversary celebrations remind us of the history of our waterways.  Here’s our guide to the Top 5 canal anniversary celebrations for 2020:

  1. Celebrate 250 years since the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was authorised with a cruise into the Pennines – on the 19 May 1770, an act was passed which authorised the construction of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.  At 127 miles long – linking the wide waterways of Yorkshire with those of Lancashire and the River Mersey – the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the longest single canal in the country.  To celebrate, canal boat holiday-makers can take a short break (three or four nights) starting from our narrowboat hire base at Reedley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire, and travel north east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal into North Yorkshire.  Along the way, the route passes through the villages of Nelson, Barrowford, Salterforth, Barnoldswick and Greenber Field.  Once at East Marton, there’s a choice of canalside pubs and the canal connects to the Pennine Way just south of the village.  The journey there and back covers 47 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 17½ hours.
  2. Celebrate 250 years since the first section of the Trent & Mersey Canal opened with a journey through the Staffordshire countryside– the Trent & Mersey Canal, which begins close to the River Mersey near Runcorn and finishes at its junction with the River Trent in Derbyshire, was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766.  In 1770 the first sections of the Trent & Mersey Canal opened up – including Derwent Mouth to Shugborough in June, and Great Heywood to Weston in September.  On a short break from our canal boat hire base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers cruise along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction.  The journey takes around five hours, travelling 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside and passing through just five locks.   
  3. Celebrate the bicentenary of the opening of the Regent’s Canal with a Capital cruise – on 1 August 1820 the Regent’s Canal opened between Camden and the Regent’s Canal Dock at Limehouse Basin.  The Regent’s Canal was built to link the Grand Junction Canal’s Paddington Arm (which opened in 1801), with the Thames at Limehouse.  Today, stretching close to nine miles with 12 locks, this quiet waterway offers visitors an oasis of calm in the Capital.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Limehouse and back on a two week break.  The journey, which travels a total of 192 miles, passes through 114 locks and takes around 80 cruising hours.
  4. Celebrate 300 years of River Weaver Navigation history – on 23 March 1720, the River Weaver Navigation Trustees were appointed by an Act to make the River navigable, initially for the transport of salt.  Today the River Navigation stretches for 20 miles from Winsford in Cheshire to the Manchester Ship Canal at Runcorn, with five locks on its route.  It connects to the Trent & Mersey Canal via the impressive Anderton Boat Lift, which lifts boats 50ft between the two waterways in two giant caissons.  Salt mining subsidence has left lakes, known as flashes, where salty water is now home to coastal plants and a rich array of wildlife.  On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Anderton, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise along the River Weaver to Runcorn and back, travelling a total of 30 miles and passing through 10 locks (five each way). 
  5. Celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Grand Union Canal with a journey round the Warwickshire Ring – in 2020, the Grand Union Canal will celebrate 90 years since its formation, when eight independent waterways were merged.  Stretching 137 miles through 166 locks, the Grand Union Canal was built to transport goods between London and Birmingham.  From our narrowboat rental base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, boaters can access the Warwickshire Ring.  Travelling sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals, this popular circuit covers 104 miles, passes through 120 locks and takes around 60 hours to navigate.  It can be done in a week, but a 10-day or two-week break gives more time for sight-seeing.  Destination highlights along the way include: the pretty canal village of Braunston; the awesome flight of 21 locks at Hatton; Warwick Castle, said to be Britain’s ‘Greatest medieval experience’; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin and Brindleyplace. 

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.
The Union Canal in Scotland
Watch out for Wildlife

Top 5 canal boat holidays for wildlife spotting

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Celebrate Christmas on the Canals

Enjoy Christmas on the Canals

With quiet canals, frosty towpaths, historic waterside pubs and festive waterside destinations to enjoy, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network is a great way to get away this Christmas. 

Drifters offers winter cruising* from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug narrowboats for two to family vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat or to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations in exciting waterside destinations like Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players.  Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.  Prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £495 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £705.

Here are our Top 6 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat for 2019:

  1. Wend your way to Warwick for Christmas at the Castle – on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore its stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon.  Over Christmas, visitors the castle will find a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall, ‘Stories with Santa’ in the Library, ‘A Winter Wedding’ in the Princess Tower and a spectacular Winter Birds of Prey show.  Canalside pubs to enjoy along the way include the Blue Lias pub at the bottom of the Stockton Flight and the Cuttle Inn at Long Itchington.
  2. Soar across the Stream in the Sky to the Shropshire Lake District – from our canal boat hire base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Ellesmere and back, passing over the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 30 metres above the Dee Valley, with incredible views to enjoy.  Top mooring sites along the way include The Poacher’s Pocket pub at Gledrid and the Aqueduct Inn at Froncysyllte.  Once at Ellesmere, at the centre of the Shropshire Lake District, boaters can moor up to visit the town’s eateries, and the Mere with its Motte & Bailey Castle and Cremorne Gardens.
  3. Cruise gently through the countryside to Fradley – from our narrowboat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can head south, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours.  The journey passes through 12 peaceful miles of countryside, with just five locks to negotiate along the way.  Highlights along the way include The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the Wolseley Arms and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern.  At Fradley, boaters can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve. 
  4. Cruise to Stratford for festive celebrations in the home of the Bard –  it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise to Shakespeare’s Stratford from our narrowboat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire.  Once there, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford to enjoy festive fun in the home of Bard, including stunning Christmas lights, fantastic markets, atmospheric carol singers and performances of Shakespeare’s ‘King John’ at the Swan Theatre. 
  5. Travel into Birmingham for festive fun afloat – from our canal boat hire rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to cruise into the centre of Birmingham.  Once there, boaters can moor up in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace to enjoy Christmas in Birmingham, including ‘Snow White’ at the Hippodrome, The Big Wheel and Ice Rink at Centenary Square and the Frankfurt Christmas Market at Victoria Square (until 23 Dec).  
  6. Travel through the countryside to Coventry and back – from Drifter’s narrowboat hire centre on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the countryside along the North Oxford and Coventry canals to Coventry and back, passing through a series of canalside villages with traditional country pubs along the way. The journey there and back travels a total of 35 miles, passing through just two locks (one each way) and takes around 15 hours.  Once in Coventry, boaters can moor up in Coventry Basin to explore the City, including Christmas Carols at the magnificent Coventry Cathedral and ‘Puss in Boots’ panto fun at the Belgrade Theatre.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.

 

Take a Canal Boat Holiday this Halloween

Top 9 spooky destinations afloat

With ghosts galore, bats, toads, moths, spiders and frogs aplenty – as well as creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths – Britain’s 2,000-mile, 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.

Here’s a guide to Drifters’ spookiest destinations for Halloween 2019:

  1. Hear echoes of a killing at Kidsgrove – the Trent & Mersey Canal’s spooky 2,676-metre long Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal.  Harecastle Tunnel can be reached in around 12 hours (travelling 22 miles through 18 locks) from our canal boat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford. 
  2. Mind the Monkey Man at Norbury – the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘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.  Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from our base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours. 
  3. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  At 2,795 metres long, it’s one of the longest on the canal system.  When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major engineering challenge.  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 must have 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…?  The Blisworth Tunnel is less than an our away from our narrowboat hire base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire. 
  4. Steel yourself for a visit from the Viscount – Once a 13th century monastery, The George Inn at Bathampton is said to be haunted by the ghost of Viscount John Baptiste Du Barre, who mortally wounded in the last legal duel fought in Britain.  The Viscount was reputedly a decadent man who held lavish parties and enjoyed gambling.  Following an argument over a card game, a challenge was thrown down and on 18 November 1778, he and his opponent met on Claverton Down at dawn.  Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath is a 20-minute cruise from the George Inn. 
  5. Witness some ghostly goings-on at The Navigation Inn – the Navigation Inn on the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge dates back to the 15th century, and served travellers along the old salt road from Chester to York long before the canal was built.  According to the landlord, there’s plenty of supernatural activity in this ancient building, including noises in the cellar, clocks that mysteriously stop and spirits that appear in the kitchen.  The Navigation Inn is very close to our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge. 
  6. Beware the blood stained steps at Brindley Bank – the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins, who was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body flung into the canal.  Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported.  As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal, and it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones.  Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
  7. 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.  Canal boat holiday-makers can hire a boat from our canal boat yard at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, and reach Chester in seven hours, and passing through nine locks. 
  8. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights, gliding along the towpath by the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries canal boat holiday-makers 38 metres high in the air above the River Dee.  From narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Aqueduct.  
  9. Look out for the ghost of the lusty farm hand – originally an 18th century farm house, The Blue Lias pub on the Grand Union Canal at the bottom of the Stockton flight in Warwickshire, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a red-haired farm labourer who was murdered when the vengeful farmer returned home from market one day to find the labourer in bed with his wife.  The Blue Lias pub is just under a mile and eight locks away from our canal boat rental base at Stockton. 
Common pipistrelle, pipistrellus pipistrellus

 

Top 5 narrowboat holidays on the Grand Union Canal

Top 5 narrowboat holidays on the Grand Union Canal

Stretching 137 miles through 166 locks, the Grand Union Canal was built to transport goods between London and Birmingham.  This famous waterways, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2020, emerged as a result of the amalgamation of eight independent waterways, including the Grand Junction and Oxford canals. 

It cuts across the country from the River Thames at Brentford in London to the Digbeth Branch canal in the heart of Birmingham.  It’s most dramatic features include the impressive Iron Trunk Aqueduct carrying the canal over the River Ouse in Buckinghamshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel in Northamptonshire and the Hatton Flight of 21 Locks in Warwickshire. 

Drifters offers canal boat hire from four bases on the Grand Union Canal.  To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the formation of the Grand Union Canal, here are our Top 5 canal boat holidays on this famous waterway:

  1. Visit Warwick Castle afloat – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Stockton in Warwickshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the historic centre of Warwick in just eight hours and can moor up to explore the town’s magnificent castle on the banks of the River Avon.  Said to be ‘Britain’s greatest medieval experience’, the castle offers visitors a fantastic day out with Flight of the Eagles displays, the Kingmaker Exhibition, Horrible Histories Maze, The Castle Dungeon tour, the Mighty Trebuchet in action and costumed interpreters bringing history to life. The journey to moorings close to the Castle cruises 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.
  2. Travel the Warwickshire Ring – On a week’s holiday from our narrowboat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Warwick, boaters can travel the popular Warwickshire Ring, travelling 101 miles, through 94 locks in around 54 hours through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes.  Highlights along the way include the awesome Fight of 21 locks at Hatton, Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin in the heart of Britain’s second city, the flight of 11 locks at Atherstone and the pretty canal village of Braunston. 
  3. Pass through the Blisworth Tunnel to reach the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne – on a short break from our boat yard at Gayton, on the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal near Northampton, in just over an hour canal boat holiday-makers can cruise gently through the countryside to the canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest on the network.  Once in Stoke Bruerne, visitors can enjoy a choice of canalside pubs, woodland walks and browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum.  From there, boaters can through seven locks and on through the countryside to the village of Cosgrove, passing over the Great Ouse or Iron Trunk Aqueduct.
  4. Navigate to Aylesbury & back – on a week’s holiday from our canal boat rental base on the Northampton Arm at Gayton, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel 44 miles along the Grand Union Canal to Buckinghamshire’s county town of Aylesbury, home to an impressive new theatre and the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery.  Along the way, the route passes through Blisworth Tunnel, Stoke Bruerne, over the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, through the suburbs and parklands of Milton Keynes, and through Leighton Buzzard, before turning onto the Aylesbury Arm at Marsworth.   The journey from Gayton to Aylesbury and back travels a total of 88 miles (44 there and 44 back), passes through 82 locks and takes around 46 hours.
  5. Cruise the epic Leicester Ring – on a two-week break from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, boaters can tackle the mighty Leicester Ring, travelling along the Grand Union Canal, and transferring onto the Leicester Line at Norton Junction.  The circuit also uses stretches of the Rivers Soar and Trent, as well as sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford and Trent & Mersey canals.  Highlights include: Blisworth and Crick tunnels; the staircase of locks at Foxton; Leicester City Centre and Cathedral; Barrow-upon-Soar Deep Lock; the historic village of Shardlow; Fradley Junction with its nature reserve; the 11 locks at Atherstone; and the City of Coventry. Travelling from Braunston, the circuit covers 155 miles, passes through 100 locks and takes around 77 cruising hours.
Hatton Locks