Bank holiday rural retreats on the Llangollen Canal

Bank holiday rural retreats on a canal boat

Our beautiful canals take you through some of Britain’s best loved countryside, offering perfect bank holiday rural retreats.

There are places to moor up your canal boat in quiet backwaters.  And the chance to visit historic country pubs and farm shops.

Here’s a list of our top 5 bank holiday boating rural retreats:

1. Napton, Oxford Canal in Warwickshire

From our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal it’s a two-hour cruise through the countryside to Napton.  Here, close to the canal a herd of water buffalo can often be seen grazing.  In 1999, the Buffalo Farm at Chapel Green started milking 20 water buffalo, and now the herd is 300 strong.  Napton Village Stores sells the farm’s Buffalo burgers, sausages, meatballs, steaks and ice cream.  They also sell veg boxes, homemade meals, cider and homemade cakes.

2. Great Haywood, Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire

Our base at Great Haywood offers a great bank holiday rural retreat in the Staffordshire countryside. On a weekend break, you can cruise along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal to Tixall Wide. This beautiful lake is a peaceful haven for wildlife and a great escape into the country.  The journey takes just half an hour. Before setting off, the Canalside Farm Shop at Great Haywood is perfect for stocking up on local food.  The shop sells a variety of produce sourced from local farms, including homemade sausages, fruit, vegetables, free range eggs and baked products.

3. Llangynidr, Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in South Wales

The beautiful Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. The waterway offers the chance to escape to the country and experience incredible mountain views.  On a weekend’s break from Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back.  The route goes through a series of small villages with historic pubs, including the Lion Inn at Govilon.

4. Stoke Golding, Ashby Canal in Leicestershire

From Springwood Haven, it takes around six hours to cruise to the historic village of Stoke Golding. This bank holiday rural retreat takes you through the Leicestershire countryside along the Ashby Canal.  There are no locks along the way. Stoke Golding has one of the most beautiful churches in England and a choice of pubs, including the White Swan. Before setting off, you can stock up on local produce at the Poplars Farm shop and café near Nuneaton. The shop sells fruit, vegetables, honey, local cheese, eggs, poultry and jams.

5. Chirk, Llangollen Canal in Shropshire/North Wales

On a weekend break from Blackwater Meadow you can cruise through the Shropshire countryside to Chirk and back.  The journey there and back takes around 11 hours and there are only two locks to go through each way.  You’ll travel across the stunning Chirk Aqueduct, crossing the border from England to Wales.  Then on through Chirk Tunnel to Chirk Marina, where you can moor up to visit the National Trust’s Chirk Castle.  There’s a café at the castle, and choice of canalside pubs, including The Bridge at Chirk Bank.

Best canal boat holidays for beginners

Best canal boat holidays for beginners

With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever and the health benefits of spending time by the water proven, narrowboat holidays are becoming increasingly popular.

You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all Drifters’ operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their canal boat holiday hire.

Today’s narrowboats are fully equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

So if you are planning to pack-up and ‘ship-out’ on an adventure afloat, take a look at our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners to help you learn the ropes:

1. Cruise to the bright lights of Birmingham

Boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by canal boat. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novices to ‘dip their toe in the water’. Cruising along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes just five hours to reach Birmingham.  The first half of the journey passes through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages, and a series of canal tunnels, before becoming increasingly urban. Once in the centre of Birmingham, you can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox and other city centre attractions.

2. Love the Llangollen

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

3. Potter through the Peak District

Our base at Stoke on Trent, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, offers a fantastic way to experience the Peak District. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, it’s a gentle 11-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin.  The route passes through 17 locks and travels 17 miles.  Pubs to enjoy along the way include the Black Lion at Consall Forge and The Boat Inn at Basford Bridge.

4. Glide through the Brecon Beacons

Isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can cruise to Brecon and back. Along the way, you’ll pass through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.

5. Visit Georgian Bath

From our base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, moorings close to Bath City Centre are a six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks and crosses two stunning Bath stone aqueducts.  You’ll also pass a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff and the Barge Inn at Seend. Once at Sydney Wharf on the edge of Bath City Centre, you can use your boat as a base to explore the City, including the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent.

6. Take a rural route to Braunston

From our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful three-hour cruise away. There are only three locks along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside. Pubs to enjoy include the Kings Head at Napton and the Admiral Nelson at Braunston.

7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh

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

8. Steer gently through the countryside to Stone

From our base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal it takes around 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 four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Saracen’s Head at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.

9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales

The journey from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes around seven hours and passes through three locks. You’ll pass through Skipton with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms. And it’s easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.

10. Boat to historic Brewood and back

The journey to Brewood and back from our base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one each way), this gentle journey through the Shropshire countryside passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green.  And transfers boaters onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction. On reaching the historic village of Brewood, there’s a choice of places to eat, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

Best canal boat holidays for spotting wildlife

Best narrowboat holidays for wildlife spotting

Cruising gently through the countryside, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy spotting a variety of wildlife.  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 our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can cruise to Llangynidr and back, enjoying dramatic views of the Usk Valley.  On a week’s break, you 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.  Stretching from the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent, to Froghall Wharf in the Staffordshire Moorlands.  With stunning wooded sections, where it passes through the beautiful Churnet Valley, providing 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.  They can frequently be found roosting in hollowed out tree trunks and many of the bridges and aqueducts, built alongside the canals.

Bats can be spotted around dusk as they venture out to hunt their insect prey.  They use a highly sophisticated form of radar – a 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 our Stoke on Trent narrowboat hire base, you can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal.  You can reach 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).  This  recognises 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, you can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back.  On this journey, you will travel 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four there and four back) in around 32 hours.  This largely rural route takes you up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby.  Then 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.  It is 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. This includes 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.  The project is expected to be completed this year.  As part of this project, the Canal & River Trust, Shropshire Union Canal Society and other partners are constructing two nature reserves to ensure important local habitat is protected.  This includes habitat for water voles and otters.  

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.  This route travels 15 miles and passes 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.  These include 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. These historic waterways in Worcestershire 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.  These are usually amongst reeds or grasses in a wet or marshy place.

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

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 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 Mother’s Day with a relaxing day afloat

Day boat hire on Britain’s peaceful network of inland waterways is a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day, enjoying slow time together watching out for Spring wildlife, blossom on the trees and lambs in the fields, and stopping off for lunch at a canalside pub along the way.

Drifters offers day boat hire from 18 boat yards across England, Scotland and Wales, with prices starting from less than £10 per person. 

Full tuition is included so if you are new to canal boating, it’s a great way to get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.  All our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge. 

Here’s a list of our Top 10 day boat destinations for Mums in 2020:

  1. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way, and crosses over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with beautiful views across the Warwickshire countryside. ***Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  2. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our day boat hire base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes less than 20 minutes to reach the World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers boaters stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels to pass through – Whitehouses and Chirk, as well as Chirk Aqueduct with a viaduct running alongside it.  It takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach Chirk and the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid.  ***Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £120 for up to 10 people, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
  3. Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from Drifters’ day boat hire base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug gently along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way.  Once there, day-boaters can moor up and visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals.  And there are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ***Day boat hire aboard ‘Daylark’ which can carry up to 12 people, starts at £140 on a weekday, £175 on weekends and bank holidays.
  4. Catch a lift on the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland – from Falkirk at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in Scotland, day boat hirers can travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel, the World’s first rotating boat lift and along the Union Canal to Polmont, where they can moor up and enjoy a short walk to The Claremont Inn.  Or continue on to the canalside Bridge 49 café bar and bistro, next to Causewayend Marina. ***Day boat hire on the ‘Jaggy Thistle’ which can carry up to eight passengers, is £250, Friday to Sunday.
  5. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, boaters can enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. ***‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, prices start at £137.
  6. Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, day boaters can head west to the picturesque historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn. ***‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire starts at £122, weekends & bank holidays £159.
  7. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire to Hopwood – from Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Hopwood.  The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2493-metre long Wast Hill Tunnel. ***‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £140.
  8. Cruise to Whitchurch for lunch at The Black Bear – from Drifters’ day boat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, boaters can head to the historic market town of Whitchurch.  The lock-free journey, which takes just under two hours, travels through six peaceful miles of countryside.  Once at Whitchurch, day boaters can moor up to explore the town with its half-timbered buildings, independent shops, way-marked circular walks, Brown Moss nature reserve and award-winning ‘Black Bear’ pub.  ***Day boat hire from Whixall aboard ‘Julia’ is priced at £99 for up to 10 people on a weekday, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  9. Cruise through the Leicestershire countryside to Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line to the top of Foxton Locks, where day boaters can enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, and lunch at the historic waterside Foxton Locks Inn.  Once at Foxton, day boaters can also walk along to the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks to watch canal boats pass through and visit the Foxton Inclined Boat Lift Museum to find out about the intriguing Victorian structure that once operated there. ***‘Moorhen’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £160, weekends & bank holidays from £210.
  10. Travel through the Staffordshire countryside to Rugeley – from Drifters’ boat yard at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford, day boaters can cruise four miles, passing through two locks to reach the historic market town of Rugeley.  The journey, which takes around two hours, passes the National Trust’s stunning Shugborough Estate, the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre and the popular Wolseley Arms pub at Wolseley Bridge.  ***Day boats ‘Daphne’ and ‘Abi’ can carry up to 10 people each.  Weekday hire from Great Haywood starts at £99, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

Top 6 waterways on screen destinations

Celebrity 5 Go Barging

Britain’s thriving 3,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers have featured in many movies and television shows over the years.

Recently, a number of television series have put canal boat holidays at the centre of the action, with popular series like ‘Great Canal Journeys’ and ‘Celebrity 5 Go Barging’.

To celebrate canals on screen, we’ve put together our Top 6 waterways on screen destinations:

  1. Take a Peak at the Peaky Blinders – the Black Country Museum in Birmingham is the office home of the BBC’s epic gangster drama, the Peaky Blinders.  Many scenes for all five series were filmed at the 26-acre Museum, including Tommy Shelby’s iconic walk past the firing furnaces in series one and in season three, the Museum’s St James’s School is the setting for the murder of Father Hughes in the nail biting season finale.  From our canal boat hire base at Alvechurch on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s an eight hour, three-lock journey to moorings outside the Black Country Living Museum. 
  2. Follow in the wake of Celebrity 5 Go Barging – last autumn, five celebrities took to the canals for a four part series on Channel 5.  In the first episode, Shaun Williamson, Michael Buerk, John Prescott, Anita Harris and Amanda Barrie set off from Drifters Peak District narrowboat hire base in Stoke on Trent and travelled along the beautiful Caldon Canal.  This mostly rural waterway, takes boaters through the beautiful Churnet Valley, to enjoy quiet countryside, watching out for wildlife and a series of popular canalside pubs.  On a short break from Drifters’ Peak District base, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Flint Mill and back in around 21 hours, cruising for 23 miles and passing through 24 locks (12 each way).
  3. Visit Oxford like a gyptian – Philip Pullman’s fascinating boat-dwelling ‘gyptian’ characters are brought vividly to life on screen in the BBC’s recent adaptation of his ‘The Northern Lights’ novel. And Oxford’s stunning Bodleian Library features in many ‘His Dark Materials’ scenes. From our narrowboat hire base at Eynsham on the River Thames near Oxford, canal boat holiday-makers can take to the water like gyptians, reaching city centre moorings at Hythe Bridge in just three hours.  From there, it’s just a short walk to the Bodleian Library and many other famous historic sites and museums.
  4. Cruise to Little Venice, site of a dramatic chase scene in Paddington 2 – Little Venice, where the Regents Canal meets the Grand Union, was the backdrop to a chaotic chase scene in Paddington 2, with Paddington riding on the back of a dog in Browning’s Pool.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Little Venice and back on a two week break.  The journey takes boaters along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Reading, transfers onto the Thames and passes, through Marlow, Bray, Windsor, Hampton Court, Richmond and then transfers onto the Grand Union Canal at Brentford.  There and back, boaters will cruise a total of 178 miles in around 70 hours, passing through 92 locks.
  5. Zomboat the Birmingham Mini Ring – the six-part zombie apocalypse series Zomboat! premiered last autumn on ITV2, telling the story of sisters Kat and Jo attempting to escape the carnage in Birmingham by canal boat.  On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, boaters can travel the Birmingham Mini Ring, taking them right into the heart of Birmingham.  The total journey travels 45 miles, passes through 49 locks and takes around 27 hours.
  6. Cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct for a Great Welsh Adventure – last autumn, Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards took to the canals of North Wales for his ‘Great Welsh Adventure’, chronicled on the BBC in four episodes.  Gareth set off from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal.  From there, it takes around six hours to reach the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysytlle Aqueduct, which Gareth travels across in episode one.

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.

Top 10 canal boat holidays 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 a great holiday experience.

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

If you’re planning to pack up and ship out to learn the ropes of a narrowboat holiday adventure in 2020, here’s a list of our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners:

  1. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park.  This quiet waterway, which with very few locks is nice and easy for beginners, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, dark night skies for star gazing, plenty of wildlife to watch out for and a series of village pubs to enjoy along the way.  On a week’s holiday from our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you 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. 
  2. Cruise to the bright lights of Birmingham – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water.  And with no locks between our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’.  It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages.  Once in the centre of Birmingham, you can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre and other city centre attractions. 
  3. Boat into the Pennines – starting from our base at Reedley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire, you can travel north east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal into North Yorkshire, passing through Nelson, Barrowford, Salterforth, Barnoldswick and Greenber Field along the way.  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.
  4. Float gently along to Fradley – on a short break from our canal boat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can head south to Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey.  The journey takes around five hours, travelling through 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside and passing through just five locks.  At Fradley, you can moor up to visit the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn, and take a wander around the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
  5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network.  The journey from our narrowboat hire base at Trevor near Llangollen to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners.  There are just four locks between Trevor and 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 World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.
  6. Potter through the Peak District – Drifters’ 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 eight-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Cheddleton Flint Mill is perfect for beginners on a short break.  The route, which passes through 12 locks, takes you out into open countryside, through Denford with its popular Hollybush Inn and on to Cheddleton with its Flint Mill Museum, Black Lion pub and Old School Tearooms.
  7. Visit Georgian Bath – from our canal boat hire base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a delightful six-hour cruise away.  The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once in Bath, you can use your canal boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.
  8. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from our canal boat hire base at Braunston, you 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 follows a section of the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and then joins the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction.  Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashby Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles.  A six mile section of this rural waterway is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the importance of its wildlife, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish. 
  9. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from our boat yard at Falkirk,Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal.  The journey, perfect for beginners on a mid-week or week-long break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift – and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho.  Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Mary King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.
  10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our narrowboat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for narrowboat holiday beginners.  Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one on the way, one on the way back), this gentle journey through the Shropshire countryside passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green and transfers boaters onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction.  On reaching the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered houses cottages and Georgian houses, visitors have a good choice of places to eat, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

Top 5 Narrowboat Holidays on the Shropshire Union Canal

Stretching from Ellesmere Port in Cheshire the North to Autherley Junction near Wolverhampton in the South, the 77-mile long largely rural Shropshire Union Canal is often simply called ‘The Shroppie’.

There are 47 locks along the main line, four along the Middlewich Branch and three on the River Dee Branch. With long stretches of pure countryside, the Shropshire Union Canal is great for getting close to nature – especially the canal’s deep mossy cuttings where the flashing blue of a kingfisher in flight can frequently be glimpsed.

The northern section, which runs through the gently rolling Cheshire landscape, is a wide waterway, while the arrow-straight southern section features fewer locks, long embankments, cuttings and grand bridges.

Here are Drifters’ Top 5 canal boat holidays on the Shropshire Union Canal for 2020:

  1. Cruise to the ancient City of Chester – On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley in Cheshire, canal boat holiday-makers can head north to the historic City of Chester.  This 12-mile journey through the rolling Cheshire countryside takes seven hours, passing through 18 locks. Places to stop along the way include English Heritage’s Beeston Castle & Woodland Park, the famous Cheshire Ice Cream farm at Tattenhall and Christleton with its popular ‘Ring ‘o’ Bells’ pub.  Once at Chester, boaters can enjoy exploring this fascinating Roman City, including its Amphitheatre, Museum, City Walls, Chester Rows, Cathedral, Castle, racecourse and award-winning zoo.
  2. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our boat yard 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 – perfect for a mid-week afloat.  Along the way, boaters pass through 21 miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, passing through six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.  Once at Market Drayton, boaters can enjoy picking up supplies at the Wednesday Cheshire market and admiring the town’s beautiful architecture.
  3. Navigate the Black Country Ring from our narrowboat rental base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire, on a week’s break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel round the Black Country Ring, cruising 85 miles and passing through 81 locks in around 47 hours.  Highlights along the way include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin close to Brindleyplace; the 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; the waters at Tixhall Wide; the 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 locks at Farmer’s Bridge.  As well as cruising a south along the Shropshire Union Canal to connect with the Black Country Ring, the circuit takes in sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals.
  4. Cruise to Norbury and back – on a relaxing short break from our narrowboat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction, boaters 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 boaters past Belvide Reservoir near Brewood and Mottey Meadows Nature Reserve at Wheaton Ashton, both home to an abundance of wildlife. Once at Norbury, boaters can enjoy a meal at the Old Wharf Tearoom or the Junction Inn.
  5. Travel the Four Counties Ring – on a 10-day or two-week holiday from our narrowboat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union in Cheshire, canal boat holiday-makers can tackle the Four Counties Ring.  From Bunbury, this popular circuit, which passes through Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and the West Midlands, travels 114 miles, through 96 locks and takes around 58 hours.  As well as a section of the Shroppie and its Middlewich Branch, it navigates parts of the Trent & Mersey Canal, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Wardle canals. Highlights include: the Harecastle Tunnel; the flight of 15 locks at Audlem; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; Wedgewood Pottery in Stoke on Trent; the Roman town of Middlewich; the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall; and the Elizabethan Churche’s Mansion house.