Enjoy a family day out boating on the canals

Best family days out boating on the canals

Drifters offers day boat hire from 20 places in England and Wales, offering the chance to enjoy a family day out boating on the canals.

Prices start at just £10 per person. Boats range in size and can accommodate between eight and 12 people. Full tuition is included so if you are new to narrow boating, you can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

All Drifters’ day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle, and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.  So you can plan a picnic afloat or stop off for lunch at a canalside pub along the way.

Here’s a guide to our best family days out boating on the canals:

1. Staffordshire: Navigate through the countryside to Hopwas

From Kings Orchard Marina, on the Coventry Canal near Lichfield, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals.  You can cruise through the Staffordshire countryside to Bonehill Bridge and back.  The route takes you through the villages Huddlesford, Whittington and Hopwas.  At Hopwas there are two pubs to choose from – the Tame Otter and the Red Lion.  The journey to Bonehill and back takes five and a half hours and there are no locks.  *Day boats ‘Happy Days’ and electric boat ‘Perfect Day’ can take up to 10 people. 

2. Worcestershire: Glide through the remains of the Forest of Arden

From Alvechurch on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals.  You can cruise north through the remains of the Forest of Arden to Kings Norton Junction and back.  There’s a choice of pubs to moor at along the way, including the Hopwood House at Hopwood.  The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2.5km long Wast Hill Tunnel.  *Day boat ‘Away Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  

3. Monmouthshire: Navigate to The Star Inn at Mamhillad in the Brecon Beacons

From Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals with incredible mountain views.  It takes around two-and-a-half-hours to cruise to cruise along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal to moorings close to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62.  *Day boats ‘Robin’ and Rooster’ can carry up to eight people each.  

4. Warwickshire: Cruise along the Stratford Canal to The Mary Arden Inn at Wilmcote

From Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford-Upon-Avon, you can head south to moorings close to the pretty village of Wilmcote to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way, and crosses over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with views across the Warwickshire countryside. *Day boats ‘Dolly’ and ‘Charlie’ can carry up to 10 people each. 

5. Wrexham: Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes less than 20 minutes to reach the UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels and another aqueduct to cross, before reaching the Bridge Inn at Chirk.  *Day boats ‘Jacob’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Lotty’ can carry up to 10 people each.  

6. Staffordshire: Navigate through Cannock Chase to the Wolseley Arms

You can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals from our day boat hire base Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford.  From there, you can cruise four miles, passing through two locks, to the historic market town of Rugeley.  The journey, which takes around two hours, passes the through the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It also passes the popular Wolseley Arms pub at Wolseley Bridge.  *Day boats ‘Daphne’ and ‘Abi’ can carry up to 10 people each.  

7. Wiltshire: Boat to Avoncliff Aqueduct and the Cross Guns pub

From Hilperton Marina on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, you can head west to the picturesque town of Bradford on Avon, home of the canalside Barge Inn. And on to Avoncliff Aqueduct for lunch at the Cross Guns.  The journey to Avoncliff and back takes around six hours and there’s just one lock to pass through each way. *Electric day boat ‘Great Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  

8. Cheshire: Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Bunbury

From our day boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Nantwich, you can cruise through the Cheshire countryside to Bunbury and back.  The journey passes Hurleston Junction and Hurleston Reservoir, and later, the Barbridge Inn at Barbridge Junction. You can stop there for lunch, or continue on to Bunbury, home to the Dysart Arms and Nags Head pubs.  The journey to Bunbury and back takes six hours and there are no locks. *Day boat ‘Jus-Today’ can carry up to 8 people.  

9. Northamptonshire: Cruise to the picturesque village of Napton-on-the-Hill

From our day boat hire centre at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals. You cruise to the historic village of Napton-on-the-Hill and back.  The journey, which takes around three hours, takes you through the Northamptonshire countryside and into Warwickshire.  Once at Napton, day you can moor up and walk into the village where there’s a choice of pubs, including the Kings Head.  *Day boat ‘Ouzel II’ can carry up to 12 people.  

10. Shropshire: Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to Ellesmere

From Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, you can reach the historic market town of Ellesmere.  The journey takes around two-and-a-half hours, cruising through eight miles of beautiful countryside.  You’ll pass Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park along the way.  *Day boat ‘Julia’ can carry up to 10 people.  

For more information about Drifters’ day boats go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/day-boats/

Visit a bluebell wood on a canal boat holiday

Bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday

Canals meander through some of Britain’s best loved countryside, and there are places where you can explore bluebell woods on a canal boat holiday.

The UK is home to almost half the world’s bluebells, and they are one of the nation’s favourite wildflowers.  Native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are an ancient woodland indicator.

The Woodland Trust says, “most flowering usually happens in April, so this is the best time to see that iconic carpet of blue.”

To celebrate, we’ve listed our top 7 beautiful bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday:

1. Copley Woods on the Calder & Hebble in West Yorkshire

The bluebells are stunning in the woods alongside the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Copley.  From our narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes just under 30 minutes by boat to reach Copley.

2. Coed Cefn at Crickhowell on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

This ancient woodland managed by the Woodland Trust has an iron age hill fort at its centre.  There’s a circular walk perfect for enjoying fantastic displays of bluebells in April and May.  From our base at Goytre in South Wales, it takes around five hours to reach Llangattock Wharf.  From there it’s a two-mile walk to Coed Cefn.

3. Chirk Castle Woods, close to the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham

Owned by the National Trust, the grounds of Chirk Castle include 480 acres of woodland and parkland.  There are carpets of bluebells, veteran trees and a section of the historic Offa’s Dyke trail to discover.  Setting out from our Chirk base on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 40 minutes to cruise to visitor moorings at Chirk Bank.  From there, it’s a 30-minute walk up to Chirk Castle to explore bluebell woods on a canal boat holiday.

4. Cliveden on the River Thames in Berkshire

Set high above the River Thames near Maidenhead, Cliveden has 375 acres of glorious gardens and woodlands to explore.  These include a magnificent carpet of bluebells alongside the beautiful tree-lined Green Drive.  From our canal boat hire base at Aldermaston, it’s a 14 hour journey to Cliveden Reach.

5. Packwood House near the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire

The National Trust’s magnificent Packwood House has 150 acres of parkland to explore, including an area of ancient woodland with bluebells.  From our base at Alvechurch, it takes around six hours to cruise to moorings on the Stratford Canal at Lapworth, close to Packwood House. From there you can walk to these bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday.

6. Savernake Forest on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

There are over 4,500 acres of woodlands to explore at Savernake Forest, and it’s a bluebell paradise in Spring. The Kennet & Avon Canal runs alongside the Savernake Forest, with bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday. From our Devizes base, it takes around 10 hours to reach the village of Wootton Rivers, a great starting point for a variety of walks around the Forest.

7. Skipton Castle Woods on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire

Skipton Castle Woods is a rare ancient woodland habitat cared for by the Woodland Trust. These woods close to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal are reputed to be one of the best places to spot bluebells in Yorkshire.  From our base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes just around four cruising hours to reach Skipton Castle.

Castles to visit on a narrowboat holiday in England and Wales

Castles to visit on a narrowboat holiday

There’s a great choice of castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday.

From prison cells and dungeon tours, to ramparts and banqueting halls, Britain’s beautiful castles bring history to life.

Here are our top five castles to visit on a narrow boat holiday:

1. Explore the 18th century prison cells at Oxford Castle & Prison

Cruising from our base at Oxford on the River Thames, it’s a tranquil three-hour cruise to moorings at Hythe Bridge, close to Oxford Castle.  The journey travels six miles and passes through three locks.  Oxford Castle was founded by the Norman baron Robert D’Oilly the elder in 1071, but most of the fortress was destroyed in the English Civil War. By the 18th century, the remaining buildings had become Oxford’s local prison.  Today, as well as exploring the castle’s tower, crypt and mound, visitors can take a guided tour of the prison and learn about the lives of the people who were held there.

2. See the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

You can visit Windsor Castle on a narrowboat holiday departing from Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire. It takes two days to reach Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.  The journey travels 39 miles and passes through 22 locks.  With 1,000 years of Royal history to discover, including Charles II’s magnificent State Apartments, Windsor Castle is packed with treasures from the Royal Collection.  The Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am, is a colour spectacle of British pageantry, with a continuing military purpose.

3. Climb the ramparts at Warwick Castle

From our Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it’s a seven-hour journey, passing through 20 locks, to reach Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon. This is an amazing castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday! Dating back to William the Conqueror, Warwick Castle has ramparts to climb, the spooky Castle Dungeon tour to experience, the Great Hall and Staterooms to explore, and the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval period to witness in the Kingmaker exhibition.  There are also soaring birds of prey and trebuchet firing displays to watch, landscaped gardens wonder through and regular special live action performances.

4. Find out about the siege at Skipton Castle

Cruising from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes around 3.5 hours to reach Skipton Castle.  This 900-year old fortress is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England. And it’s very close to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal so it’s a great castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday. Skipton Castle withstood a three-year siege during the English Civil War.  Today, visitors can climb from the depths of the Dungeon up to the top of the Watch Tower, and explore the magnificent Banqueting Hall, Kitchen, Bedchamber and Privy in between.

5. Discover murder holes at Chirk Castle

From Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 40 minutes to cruise to Chirk Bank visitor moorings.  From there, it takes around 30 minutes to walk up to Chirk Castle.  Owned by the National Trust, Chirk Castle is one of several medieval marcher fortresses built on the Welsh-English border to keep the Welsh under English rule.  Started in 1295, Chirk Castle had the most up-to-date defences of the time. These include round ‘drum’ towers that allowed archers a wide firing field, and created a ‘killing zone’ where the fields of fire overlapped.  Today, visitors can explore the Castle’s lavishly furnished rooms and Adam Tower, complete with two-level dungeons, medieval toilets and murder holes.  There are also 480 acres of parkland with walking trails to enjoy, and a glorious gardens to stroll through.

Best canal boat holiday cruising rings

Best canal boat holiday cruising rings

Canal boat holiday cruising rings offer journeys along several different waterways, taking in a huge variety of urban and rural landscapes.

Some canal boat holiday rings are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate.

Here’s a guide to our top 9 canal boat holiday rings and circuits:

1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours)

Starting from Worcester or Stoke Prior, this canal boat holiday ring is the only one that can be completed on a short break. It re-opened in 2011 following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals.  This reconnected the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Worcester. Highlights include: the historic Spa town of Droitwich; the Hanbury flight of locks; and Worcester cathedral.

2. The Outer Pennine Ring (192 miles, 248 locks, 130 hours)

Not for the faint-hearted nor inexperienced, this epic three-week journey can be undertaken from Sowerby Bridge or Silsden. It crosses the Pennines twice and includes Britain’s longest canal tunnel. It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Narrow, Ashton, Rochdale, Bridgewater, Leeds & Liverpool canals. And the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks. Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; and Manchester City Centre. Also the three-and-a-quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle; Bingley Five Rise locks; Skipton with its medieval castle; Leeds City Centre and waterside Royal Armouries Museum.

3. The Stourport Ring (74 miles, 118 locks, 44 hours)

Starting from Autherley, Stoke Prior, Gailey or Alvechurch, this offers an exhilarating and hugely popular week. The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line. The Stourport Ring visits three cities: Wolverhampton; Birmingham; and the ancient City of Worcester. Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindleyplace and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver with National Trust rock houses; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.

4. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours)

Starting from Bunbury, Wrenbury, Whitchurch, Anderton or Acton Bridge, this superb canal boat holiday ring goes through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. Highlights include: Anderton Boat Lift (also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’); Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall; Castlefield Basin; Manchester’s China Town; the Rochdale 9 locks; Buxworth Basin, Whaley Bridge and the glorious Top Lock at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal; the Cheshire Plain; and heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.

5. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours)

Starting from Napton, Stockton, Springwood Haven, Kings Orchard or Braunston the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in 10 days or two weeks. It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the Knowle Flight of five locks; the canal village of Braunston; Napton Junction; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.

6. Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours)

Starting from Napton, Autherley, Stoke Prior or Wootton Wawen, this canal boat holiday ring has 130 locks. Most people do this trip in 10 days or two weeks. The Avon Ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 locks at Tardebigge; and the 2,495-metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.

7. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours)

Departing from Autherley, Acton Bridge, Brewood, Great Haywood, Stoke-on-Trent, Whitchurch, Wrenbury, Nantwich or Gailey, this canal boat holiday ring is best done on a 10-day or two-week holiday. The four counties are Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire. The route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals. Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the 2,670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; deep cuttings on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Pottery Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; the waters at Tixall Wide; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.

8. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours)

From Autherley, Great Haywood, Kings Orchard or Gailey this exhilarating canal boat holiday ring is achievable in a week. The Ring takes in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals. Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin; 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; Dudley Zoo & Castle; Drayton Manor Park at Fazeley; the Staffs & Worcs Roundhouses; the waters at Tixhall Wide; Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction; 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

9. The Leicester/East Midlands Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours)

Departing from Napton, Braunston, Kings Orchard, Springwood Haven or Gayton this epic canal boat holiday ring is achievable in two weeks. The route cruises a mixture of non-tidal, broad and narrow canals, including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey canals, the Grand Union Leicester Line and the rivers Soar and Trent. Highlights include: Saddlington Tunnel; the Foxton Staircase of Locks; the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; Braunston canal village; Hillmorton Locks; 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry and views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

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.

Electric day boat hire on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

New electric day boat for hire at Hilperton

We’ve launched a new electric day boat at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire.

The 36ft ‘Great Day’ narrowboat accommodates up to ten people and 2024 day hire prices start at £99.

The boat has a toilet, indoor and outdoor seating and a kitchen area with induction hob, sink and microwave.  So on a day out boating on the Kennet & Avon Canal, you can pack a picnic afloat, or stop off at a canalside pub for lunch along the way.

Popular day boat destinations on the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton include:

  • Cruising to Avoncliff and back, enjoying spectacular views of the River Avon Valley and the Cotswold Hills, and cruising across the impressive Bath stone Avoncliff Aqueduct. The route passes a number of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff; and
  • Boating through the Wiltshire countryside to Seend Cleve and back, passing through the village of Semington and the historic entrance to the Wilts & Berks Canal.

Drifters also offers electric day boat hire at:

  • Springwood Haven on the Coventry Canal near Nuneaton in Warwickshire;
  • Kings Orchard Marina in the Coventry Canal near Lichfield in Staffordshire; and
  • New Mills Marina on the Peak Forest Canal in Derbyshire.

Drifters offers day boat hire from 20 locations across England and Wales.

For more information about Drifters day boat hire go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/day-boats/

Best bank holiday canal boat city breaks

Best bank holiday canal boat city breaks

Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways weaves through the countryside into some of our best-loved towns and cities.

To celebrate the forthcoming May bank holidays, we’ve published a guide to our most popular city breaks you can do on a short break:

Worcester

This beautiful Cathedral City on the River Severn is connected to the canal network at Diglis Junction.  Drifters offers canal boat holidays from Worcester Marina.  From there, you can complete the Droitwich Ring on a short break.  This 20-mile circuit takes you through Worcester along the River Severn, along the Droitwich Canals and a section of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.  There are 33 locks and it takes around 16 hours.

Bath

From Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal on the edge of the Cotswold Hills in Wiltshire, you can cruise to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath and back.  The six hour journey to Sydney Wharf on edge of the city centre travels nine miles through the Avon Valley, passing through three locks along the way.  You can moor up at Sydney Wharf and take a 15 minute into Bath City Centre to visit attractions including the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent.  You can also visit Bath on a short break from our bases at Devizes, Hilperton, Monkton Combe and Bath.

Edinburgh

On a four-night break from Falkirk where the Scottish Lowland canals meet, you can cruise to Edinburgh Quay and back.  The route starts at the site of the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift.  The journey along the Union Canal goes through the Falkirk Tunnel, across the magnificent Avon Aqueduct and through the villages of Linlithgow and Ratho.  Once in Edinburgh, you can moor up in Edinburgh Quay and walk into the City Centre to visit attractions including Holyrood Palace and Mary King Close.

Oxford

From our base on the River Thames, you can reach Oxford in around three and a half hours, passing through four locks along the way. There are places to moor up near Hythe Bridge, a short walk into the city centre.  Places to visit include Oxford Castle, the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum.

Cambridge

On a short break from our base on the River Ouse at Ely, you can cruise to the historic university city of Cambridge and back.  There are moorings just below Jesus Green Lock on the River Cam. From there, you can explore Cambridge, including King’s College Chapel and quaint streets filled with antique shops, museums, art galleries, restaurants and tearooms. The journey from Ely to Cambridge and Wicken Fen and back travels 38 miles, passes through six locks (three each way) and takes around 13 hours.

Click here to check availability and book, or call us on 0344 984 0322.

Travel through the Bingley Five Rise locks on a canal boat holiday

Bingley Five Rise Locks celebrate 250th anniversary

This year, the Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford in West Yorkshire will be 250 years old!

One of the greatest feats of canal engineering of its day, the Grade I listed Bingley Five Rise Locks opened on 21 March 1774. On that day, 30,000 people turned out to cheer their opening, and the local militia fired their field guns in salute.

The Canal & River Trust is holding a Bingley Five Rise Locks 250-year celebration on Saturday 23 March 2024, from 10am to 3pm.  The free family-friendly day will including lock keeper demonstations and talks by volunteers, boat trips along the canal, heritage talks and walks, a floating market, paddle sports sessions and Let’s Fish! taster sessions.

Drifters member Anglo Welsh will be exhibiting one of its widebeam boats from Silsden. Helen’s Drum will be moored alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal towpath at the top of the locks. Visitors will be able to tour the boat to see the facilities on board.

There’s more information about the Canal & River Trust’s Bingley Five Locks 250-year celebrations here

A wonder of the waterways

Considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, the five cavernous chambers raise (or lower) boats by 18 metres.  They open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom of the next. It takes boats around 45 minutes to go up the locks and 30 minutes to go down. Canal & River Trust lock keepers are on hand to help.

Five facts about Bingley Five Rise Locks and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

  1. At 127 miles, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the longest single canal in the country, crossing the Pennines and linking the wide waterways of Yorkshire with those of Lancashire and the River Mersey.
  2. Bingley Five Rise Lock staircase is the steepest lock staircase in Britain and is the most spectacular feature of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
  3. The locks are Grade I listed, meaning they are of exceptional interest both on an architectural and historical scale.
  4. The lock gates at Bingley are some of the tallest in the country. Each gate is unique and made using the same traditional methods as 250 years ago.
  5. At the top of the locks there’s a viewing area where you can take in the stunning views across the Aire Valley and the Five Rise Locks Café.

Canal boat holidays from Silsden

Drifters offers canal boat hire from Silsden, just six miles along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal from Bingley.  It takes around three and a half hours to cruise to the Five Rise Locks from Silsden, so it’s perfect for a relaxing short break.  On the way to Bingley from Silsden, you’ll pass through Stockbridge and Riddlesden, with the National Trust’s East Riddlesden Hall not far from the canal.  A few miles after Bingley, you’ll reach the UNESCO World Heritage town Saltaire, near Shipley.

On a week’s holiday from Silsden, you can continue to follow the Aire Valley to Leeds.  There you can moor up in Leeds Dock and visit the waterside Royal Armouries Museum and other city centre attractions.

For more information about visiting Bingley Five Rise Locks, go to Bingley | Places to visit | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)

Visit Stratford-upon-Avon on a canal boat holiday

Popular canal boat holiday destinations for overseas visitors

We’re proud to welcome many overseas visitors to experience a canal boat holiday on Britain’s historic network of inland waterways.  Most of our overseas visitors come from America, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and The Netherlands.

Our overseas visitors often want to visit some of Britain’s best-known historic towns and cities by canal boat.  We’ve published a guide to our most popular destinations with overseas visitors.

Shakespeare’s Stratford, England

From our canal boat rental base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, you can cruise to Stratford-upon-Avon and back.  This historic town is home to Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  It takes around six hours to cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford-upon-Avon.  Along the way you’ll go through 17 locks.

Historic pubs to enjoy include Mary Arden Inn at Wilmcote and The One Elm in Stratford-upon-Avon.

  • Wootton Wawen is a 25 min (17 miles) drive or taxi ride from Birmingham Airport.
  • It’s a 1hour 40min (93 miles) drive from London Heathrow Airport.

Warwick Castle, England

Said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, on a short break from our canal boat rental place at Stockton, you reach the historic town of Warwick and its castle on the River Avon in around seven hours, passing through 20 locks.  Along the way, you’ll pass through the historic village of Long Itchington and Royal Leamington Spa.

Historic pubs to visit include The Duck on the Pond at Long Itchington, The Newbold Comyn Arms at Leamington Spa and The Roebuck Inn in Warwick.

  • Stockton is a 35 minute (24 mile) drive or taxi ride from Birmingham Airport.
  • It’s a 1hour 30min (83 miles) drive from London Heathrow Airport.

Bath, England

From Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal on the edge of the Cotswold Hills in Wiltshire, you can cruise to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath and back, with its breath-taking Georgian architecture.  The journey to Bath travels nine miles through the beautiful Avon Valley, passing through three locks along the way.  The Journey to Bath and back takes around 11 hours.  You can moor up close to Sydney Wharf and take short walk into Bath City centre to explore the Roman Baths, Victorian Pump Rooms, Jane Austen Museum, Bath Abbey and breath-taking Royal Crescent.

Historic pubs to visit include ‘The Cross Guns at Avoncliff, The George at Bathampton and The Saracens Head in Bath.

  • Bradford on Avon is a 2hour 26min train journey or 1hour 40min (97 miles) drive from London Heathrow Airport
  • It’s a 1hour 9min train ride or a 46 min (26 miles) drive/taxi ride from Bristol Airport

We also offer canal vacations on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath, Monkton Combe, Hilperton, Devizes and Aldermaston.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, North Wales

Also known as The Stream in the Sky’, the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales is part of an 11-mile section of Llangollen Canal designated UNESCO World Heritage status in 2009.  On a short break from our canal boat rental base at Blackwater Meadow Marina, at Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, you can cruise the whole World Heritage section.  Your journey will include passing through Chirk, with medieval Castle upon the hill.  You’ll cruise across the magnificent Chirk Aqueduct with the railway viaduct alongside.  You’ll go through Chirk Tunnel, then Whitehouses Tunnel before reaching the Poncysyllte Aqueduct.  This incredible structure carries the canal 38 metres high above the River Dee on 19 massive stone pillars.  After the aqueduct, you can continue on to the beautiful town of Llangollen, nestled in the Berwyn Mountains.  Here you can moor up in Llangollen Basin and visit some of the town’s historic sites, including the Horseshoe Falls, Plas Newydd House, Dinas Bran Castle ruins and the Llangollen Steam Railway.  The journey from Blackwater Meadow to Llangollen and back travels 37 miles, passes through four locks (two each way) and takes around 16 hours.

Historic pubs to visit include the Bridge Inn at Chirk and The Sun Inn at Llangollen.

  • Ellesmere is a 1hour 4min (53 miles) drive/taxi ride from Manchester Airport
  • Or a 2hour 53min train ride or 1hour (51 miles) drive/taxi ride from Liverpool Airport

Drifters also offers canal vacations on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, Chirk, Whitchurch, Whixall and Wrenbury.

Edinburgh, Scotland

From our canal boat rental location at Falkirk where the Scottish Lowland canals meet, you can cruise to Edinburgh Quay and back on a four-night trip.  The route starts at the site of the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first rotating boat lift officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.  The journey to Edinburgh will take you along the Union Canal, through the Falkirk Tunnel, across the magnificent Avon Aqueduct and through the villages of Linlithgow with its Palace, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and the conservation village of Ratho.  Once in Edinburgh, you can moor up in Edinburgh Quay and walk into the City Centre to visit Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Mary King Close frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

Historic pubs to visit include The Four Marys in Linlithgow, The Bridge Inn at Linlithgow and Deacon Brodie’s Tavern in Edinburgh.

  • The Falkirk Wheel is a 1hour 34min train ride or a 30min (22 miles) drive/taxi ride from Edinburgh Airport

Oxford, England

The historic City of Oxford, also known as the City of Dreaming Spires, is famous for its University colleges, Bodleian Library, Carfax Tower, Ashmolean Museum, Natural History Museum and Oxford Castle.  From our canal boat rental place on the River Thames near Oxford, it takes around three-and-a-half hours to cruise through the Oxfordshire countryside to moorings on the edge of the city centre.  You’ll pass through four locks along the way.

Historic pubs to visit include The Trout Inn at Wolvercote and The Turf Tavern in Oxford.

  • Our Oxford canal boat rental base at Eynsham near Witney is a 56 min (52 mile) drive from London Heathrow Airport.
  • Or you can get a train from the Airport to Oxford (1hr 30min) and then it’s a 12 minute taxi ride to the boat yard.

Cambridge, England

From our canal boat rental location on the River Ouse at Ely, you can cruise to the world famous historic city of Cambridge and back.  On a short break, you can also reach the Wicken Fen wetland nature reserve.  In Cambridge, you can moor up just below Jesus Green Lock on the River Cam and explore Cambridge, including King’s College Chapel and quaint streets filled with antique shops, museums, art galleries, restaurants and tearooms. The journey from Ely to Cambridge and Wicken Fen and back travels 38 miles, passes through six locks (three each way) and takes around 13 hours.

Historic pubs to visit include The Eagle in Cambridge and The Prince Albert in Ely.

  • Ely is a 2hour 2min train journey from London Heathrow Airport or a 1 hour 37min (89 miles) drive
  • Or a 47 min train journey or 51 min (48 miles) drive/taxi ride from London Stansted Airport

To see our canal boat holiday guide for overseas visitors, answering frequently asked questions, go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/everything-americans-need-to-know-about-canal-boat-vacations-in-britain/

Canal boat rental information for American visitors to Britain

Everything Americans need to know about canal boat vacations in Britain

Here at Drifters we’re delighted to welcome aboard our canal boats many customers from the United States wanting to explore historic Britain.

To answer frequently asked questions, we’ve put together a guide to everything our American visitors need to know about our canal boat vacations and trips.

What’s so appealing about a canal boat vacation in Britain?

Cruising slowly through some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside and visiting some of our most popular historic destinations is a great way to see the country.  Travelling at just four miles per hour, you have time to take in the scenery and the wildlife.

What are the most popular trips and routes?

From historic sites, gardens and Royal residences, to world famous university cities and castles, you can visit some of Britain’s best-loved destinations on a canal boat vacation.

Drifters offers self-drive canal boat rental from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales, giving you access to hundreds of historic destinations and canalside pubs.

For example, on a short break (three or four nights), you can visit Shakespeare’s Stratford, the Georgian City of Bath, the University cities of Oxford and Cambridge, Edinburgh or the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

On a short break canal cruise, you will usually be ending up back at where you started your canal vacation.  On a longer holiday, you can travel round one of the canal circuits.

Where can I moor up?

It’s free and safe to moor up along the towpath on most of our inland waterways network, but don’t moor your boat within 50 metres of a lock or bridge.

We recommend using designated mooring areas where possible.  For example close to canalside pubs and other waterside destinations.

There are some specially designated visitor moorings at popular places where you may have to pay a small fee (for example at quays, marinas or harbours) and some limit your stay to 48 hours.

For more information about mooring your boat, go to Moorings | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)

What’s the best time of year to take a canal boat vacation?

Late spring (May), summer (June, July, August) and early autumn (September) are the best time to take a canal boat holiday vacation.  The weather is generally drier and the days are longer.  Though the British weather is notoriously unpredictable! We’d also suggest avoiding vacations in Scotland in June when the midges are out.

How do I get to the boat yard?

Our popular route guide tells you where the nearest airports and train stations are from our boat yards.  Our American visitors and their travel agents find the website Roam to Rio helpful when planning their journeys Rome2Rio: discover how to get anywhere. And Trainline is useful for booking rail tickets.

You can hire a car from the airport you arrive at or travel on from the airport by train and take a taxi to our boat yard.  We’ve provided travel information here for our most popular routes.

Do I need any expertise?

You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all our canal boat vacation operators offer tuition as part of their boat rental.

Where can I store my luggage?

Our narrowboats are just 6 feet 10 inches wide, but they do vary in length – from 48ft to 69ft.  The longer boats have more space to store your luggage.  Some of our boat yards will store extra luggage for you on request, or if you’ve hired a car you can leave your suitcases in there.

How big are the beds?

On many of our boats the beds are standard singles and doubles in size, but some of our boat rental companies offer extra wide beds and king sized beds.

How much headroom is there?

The standard height on board our narrowboats is around 6ft.  But some of our boats offer 6ft 4inch headroom.

Can I bring my sleep apnoea machine?

Many of our canal boats can charge a sleep apnoea machine that is used for comfort.  Please do mention this at the time of booking as the boat will need to have 240 volt inverter charging points.  However we can’t power sleep apnoea machines that are required for life-threatening conditions. You can however hire a portable/battery CPAP machine from the British Snoring Association: http://www.britishsnoring.co.uk/cpap_battery_rental.php

What should I pack?
  • We recommend packing all weather/waterproof clothing and deck shoes, pumps or sneakers
  • It’s a good idea to bring slippers or thick socks to wear on board
  • Bedding is provided
  • Towels are provided for all our overseas visitors
  • Our canal boats have well equipped kitchens with everything you need to cook with, including gas cookers with hob, oven and grill, cooking utensils, saucepans, plates, bowls, mugs, knives, forks, spoons, etc
  • The fridges are small so it’s best to buy smaller items and do regular top-up shops en-route
  • There isn’t any freezer space on board so don’t bring frozen food
  • We recommend bringing wine in a box/carton rather than a bottle
  • It’s useful to have a canal map to help plan your trip. You can usually buy one at the boat yard when you arrive to pick up your boat.  Or you can buy one online beforehand.  For example Amazon sells Nicholson’s and Pearson guides to individual canals.  The Canal & River Trust also has a free online route planner Planning your boat route | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)

For more information on what to pack go to What to pack for your canal boat holiday – Drifters

For a guide to our popular destinations for overseas visitors, go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/popular-canal-boat-holiday-destinations-for-overseas-visitors/