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! 

 

Narrowboat hirers overwhelmingly recommend boating holidays

Narrowboating on the Mon & Brec Canal in South Wales

The Canal & River Trust, the charity that looks after 2,000 miles of waterways across England & Wales, has published research showing that nine out of ten people (88 per cent) who hired a canal boat last year were ‘very satisfied’ with a further eight per cent saying they were ‘satisfied’.

And the quintessentially British pastime caught the imagination of hirers, with 98 per cent recommending their summer holiday to family and friends.

Matthew Symonds, national boating manager for the Canal & River Trust, says: “As we all become increasingly aware of the impact we’re making on the planet, the Canal & River Trust is urging people to ditch flying overseas for a relaxing low-carbon adventure on the nation’s waterways.

“We are delighted to report that last summer’s hire boaters were overwhelmingly happy with their holiday choice and would recommend their holiday to others.  When you visit a canal or get behind the tiller, it’s not surprising why.  The nation’s waterways flow through some of the country’s most breath-taking countryside, bringing you face to face with some amazing wildlife and passing by the doorsteps of hundreds of historic waterside pubs and restaurants.

“The combination of a relaxing yet active holiday appeals to families, while for those looking to enjoy the tranquillity of the waterways, it is a unique way to see Britain from a different perspective.  Whatever the motivation, it looks like hire boating is as popular as ever.”

Ed Helps, from the management board at trade association British Marine, says: “With around 1,000 canal boats available to hire from over 50 locations around the country, there are hundreds of narrowboat holiday routes and destinations to choose from. 

“From the rural Llangollen Canal in North Wales with its world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to stretches of canal that take boaters right into the heart of vibrant cities like Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Oxford and Bath, canals offer holiday-makers the chance to slow right down and explore some of the nation’s best countryside and waterside destinations.

“It’s easy to learn how to steer a narrowboat.  Holidaymakers get a good handover with all the information they need for a safe and enjoyable trip when they pick up their boat.”

The Trust’s online survey taken by 171 boating holiday-makers was promoted through postcards distributed by volunteer lock keepers and some hire boat operators between May and October 2019.

For more information about the Canal & River Trust, go to https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/

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. 

Exploring the beautiful Mon & Brec

By The Countryman editor Mark Whitley

Boating on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Britain’s canals were a product of the Industrial Revolution, built to serve the country’s economic needs, but in recent decades the canal network’s primary purpose has changed from industry to leisure, and nowadays canals are places for recreation and exploration — especially by boat.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal (known affectionately as the ‘Mon & Brec’) is one of our most beautiful and peaceful waterways. It meanders through the South Wales countryside for 35 miles between Brecon and Cwmbran.  Built as a ‘contour’ canal, it winds along above the wooded Usk Valley, with panoramic views across the valley to the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.

The Mon & Brec is currently inaccessible from any other waterway and, being a rural canal, it does not pass through any large towns or cities, and so remains totally unspoilt.  A boat trip along the Mon & Brec is perfect for narrowboat novices, particularly over a week.  It’s lovely and quiet, thee plenty of places to stop en route and there are only six locks along the entire length of the waterway. 

The Mon & Brec was originally two separate canals — the Monmouthshire Canal, and the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, both built in the 1790’s to transport iron, coal and lime. The two canals were finally linked at Pontymoile in 1812, with the amalgamation of both canals in 1865 as the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. The stretch of the Mon & Brec still navigable nowadays is mostly the former Brecknock & Abergavenny. And a very picturesque stretch it is, too — though there are still reminders of the canal’s industrial heyday.

Day 1: Goytre Wharf–Gilwern – 8.5 miles, 3 hours’ boating (all times approx)

My exploration of the Mon & Brec began on a summer Friday afternoon at Drifters’ narrowboat hire base Goytre Wharf.  Goytre Wharf itself is well worth exploring, either before or after your narrowboat trip.  There is an exceptionally well-preserved set of limekilns.  The legacy of the Mon & Brec’s role in the lime industry is impressive, with seven sets of kilns still in existence.  Other reminders of the canal’s industrial heritage include an aqueduct and Machine Cottage. There is also a heritage centre, shop and café.

At the boat yard, the helpful and friendly staff welcome me and my two companions, and give us a helpful overview of the well-appointed narrowboat which will be our home-from-home for the next week.

Before long we’re setting off and enjoying a pleasant cruise past Llanfoist and Govilon to our planned overnight stop at Gilwern, where we moor up and head off to the nearby Beaufort Arms for a well-earned drink or two, before returning to our boat for a home-cooked meal and a relaxing night’s sleep.

Day 2: Gilwern—Llangattock; 3.5 miles, 1.5 hours

There isn’t much boating planned for today, so we enjoy a leisurely breakfast before continuing on Llangattock, our next overnight stop. We decide to moor up at Bridge 106 for lunch, then head off on foot over the bridge and up an easy-to-follow footpath to the hamlet of Llanelli and its medieval church. From here, there are panoramic views back down over the canal and the Usk Valley to the Black Mountains.

Once back on board, we continue to Llangattock. An easy half-mile walk downhill through Llangattock (look out for the footpath past the church which goes through fields) leads to the attractive town of Crickhowell, where a 17th-century bridge spans the River Usk. Alongside is the Crickhowell Bridge Inn, a perfect spot to while away a warm summer’s evening.

Day 3: Llangattock–Talybont; 8.5 miles, 5 locks, 5 hours

From Llangattock, we continue on to Llangyndir Locks, a flight of five locks which lift the canal 50 feet.  These are the only locks we’ll encounter en route.  Navigating a lock is easy – just take your time, be guided by any volunteer lock-keepers on duty and “Imagine a bath with a plug and taps at both ends, which you have to empty and fill” (which is the best description I was ever given).

We continue to our overnight stop at Talybont. It’s a beautiful spot, with the classic combination of canal, spectacular views and canalside pubs, and we decide to change our plans and stop off here on our return journey — a decision we reach over drinks in the White Hart Inn … or maybe it was in the beer garden of the Star Inn?

Day 4: Talybont—Brecon; 6.5 miles, 2 hours

Our exploration of the Mon & Brec reaches its halfway point at journey’s end: Brecon, where the canal terminates.  We moor up at the canal basin in plenty of time to fully explore this attractive market town.  As a first-time visitor, I’m impressed with Brecon.  It’s a thriving place, with lots of history and a good selection of shops to stock up on supplies.  For our evening meal we decide to eat out at the Clarence pub, close to the canal basin.

Day 5: Brecon—Talybont; 6.5 miles, 2 hours

It’s deja vu today, albeit in reverse, as we begin our return journey with a pleasant couple of hours’ boating back to Talybont.  Since we’ve already done this stretch, it’s a chance to relax even more and enjoy the rich diversity of wildlife and wildlife habitats — all indicative of a healthy ecosystem.

Day 6: Talybont—Llangattock; 8.5 miles, 5 locks, 5 hours

Going down! Today we navigate Llangyndir Locks again, descending this time.  Our overnight stop is Llangattock, as on our outward journey.

Day 7: Llangattock—Goytre Wharf; 12 miles, 5 hours

This is the longest day in terms of miles navigated, since we plan to boat all the way back to Goytre Wharf today, so that we are right next to the marina for departure day tomorrow morning.  The other option would be to stop overnight a little way from the marina and boat in the next morning, but we prefer to do it this way, based on our previous boating experiences.

Day 8: Disembarking

We disembark in the morning, well before the 10am cut-off point, and load up the car, sad to depart after such an enjoyable adventure.  Beautiful countryside, diverse wildlife habitats, impressive architectural remains, and an excellent selection of places to eat and drink — an exploration of the Mon & Brec has much to recommend it.

http://www.countrymanmagazine.co.uk/

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.

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.
Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2015

Exploring the Ashby Canal

by Mark Whitley, editor of The Countryman magazine

Friday

It’s a sunny afternoon at Drifters’ Rugby Wharf narrowboat hire base, as I meet up with friends Jude, and John & Lynne. We’re here for a week-long exploration of the local canal network – our ultimate destination, the Ashby Canal.

But first, an introduction to our new home-from-home for the week: Silver Gull, a 66ft narrowboat which can sleep up to six people in some style. Our guide is Ian, who shows us through the boat; explains the practicalities of live-aboard; and teaches us the basics of narrowboat navigation. Jude and I have been on canal boat adventures before, but John and Lynne are first timers so it’s great to have this overview from an experienced boat hand.

We’re soon en route, joining the Oxford Canal towards Coventry. We decide to moor up overnight at Ansty, where we enjoy a relaxing drink or two in the canalside Rose & Castle pub before returning to the boat for a delicious home-cooked meal (courtesy of John’s culinary skills) and a restful night’s sleep.

Saturday

After a hearty cooked breakfast, we cruise at a leisurely pace on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal via the only lock we’ll encounter; it’s a good opportunity to show boating newbies John and Lynne how a lock works in practice. “Imagine a bath with a plug and taps at both ends, which you have to empty and fill,” is the best description I can give them.

We continue into Coventry and moor up at Coventry Basin, where John, Lynne and I head off to explore Coventry. As a first-time visitor, I’m impressed by Coventry. We explore the cathedral (old and new) and art gallery, and check out the outdoor market before returning to the boat.

We return back to Hawkesbury Junction, our overnight stop, and The Greyhound, a homely and welcoming canalside pub. After a relaxing drink or three (though who’s counting?), and another scrumptious home-cooked meal back on board, we talk over the day’s events before turning in for the night.

Sunday

Another beautifully sunny day beckons as we head northwards along the Coventry Canal before shortly joining the Ashby Canal. I’d already got some inside info on the canal from the experts: “Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal,” Haley Hadley of Drifters Waterways Holidays says. “This peaceful, lock-free canal winds gently through stunning countryside for 22 miles from Marston Junction – where it joins the Coventry Canal – to Snarestone.

“A narrowboat is a lovely way to experience the best of what the Ashby Canal has to offer. Travelling at such a leisurely pace, you soon become at one with the natural world. The six-mile stretch of the canal from Carlton Bridge to Snarestone is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life.”

The Ashby Canal is peaceful indeed, and boating along it is a pleasure. We spot water voles on more than one occasion as we cruise to our overnight stop at Stoke Golding.

Later, as we’re sitting in the beer garden of The George & Dragon, I come up with a plan: instead of John cooking the evening meal yet again, I send him to The Mango Tree, an Indian restaurant next door, to get a takeaway menu. We choose our pakoras and curries and naans, John nips back with the order and asks for it to be ready an hour later, which is just time for another leisurely drink, before we’re all heading back to the boat, down village streets and across fields, our takeaway order carried shoulder-high.

Monday

We’re all getting used to boating life now, so it’s an early start as we continue northwards along the Ashby Canal to Snarestone Wharf, and journey’s end, for this section of our boating adventures, at least. During the 20th century, mining subsidence near Measham gradually resulted in the closure of the northern stretch of the canal, and since 1967 the terminus of the navigable canal has been here.

The Ashby Canal Association (ACA) has a shop and information point at Snarestone, which is where I meet the association’s chairman, Peter Oakden. The ACA was formed in 1966, Peter tells me, “born out of a concern caused by the progressive closure of the northern section of the canal”. Since then the ACA has been actively involved in the conservation and restoration of this northern most section of the canal, with the ultimate aim of making it navigable once again.

There’s a winding hole (a widened area of a canal) where we can turn the boat round and start our return journey along the Ashby Canal, back to our overnight stop at Shackerstone.

Tuesday

From Shackerstone it’s just a few miles to Market Bosworth, where we moor up for lunch before heading off to explore this appealing market town. John and Lynne decide to walk the short distance to Bosworth Field, the site in 1485 of the last battle in the Wars of the Roses, then continue on to Sutton Cheney Wharf, where we’ll meet them at the boat later.

At Bosworth Marina I meet with Samantha Bucknell, the Canal & River Trust’s ecologist and environmental scientist for this region, to learn more about why the Ashby Canal is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts. “The Ashby Canal is a stronghold for the water vole,” Sam explains, “and there is also a good population on the Coventry and Oxford canals, especially at Hawkesbury Junction.”

Back on board, we cruise to Sutton Cheney Wharf to pick up John and Lynn — not forgetting to make use of the water point. The overnight stop at Stoke Golding was so popular on the outward journey, we decide to the same on the return: a few drinks, and a takeaway curry – sorted! The George & Dragon at Stoke Golding even sells free-range eggs (proper free range, too – the hens are kept in a corner of the beer garden), so I buy some for our breakfast the next morning.

Wednesday

Another glorious day (we’ve really been blessed by great weather), as we retrace our route along the Ashby Canal to rejoin the Coventry Canal and continue to our overnight stop at Hawkesbury Junction.

Thursday

After a hearty cooked breakfast, it’s an early start as we rejoin the Oxford and head south-eastwards, and homewards, towards Rugby. For our last night, we decide to moor up just past Newbold Tunnel (just 250 metres long, and one of only two similarly short tunnels navigated en route) where there’s a lovely canalside pub, the Barley Mow, an ideal place to spend a leisurely evening talking about our canal boat adventures.

Friday

It’s just a short distance from Newbold back to Rugby Wharf, and we (albeit reluctanctly) hand back Silver Gull and return to dry land. As we each go our separate ways, John and Lynne tell me that as canal boat holiday first-timers they’ve have a wonderful time and can’t wait to experience it again. So, I’d better get planning our next narrowboat holiday adventure – with Drifters of course!


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.