Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways

The list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled 66 years ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA).  These amazing structures are still functioning today and make great destinations for canal boat holiday-makers.

Here’s a list of the Seven, with our nearest Drifters narrow boat hire base:

1. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the River Dee, the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain.  Built between 1795 and 1805, it has 18 magnificent stone piers, supporting a 307-metre long trough for the canal to run through.  Drifters has a canal boat hire base at Trevor, just a five-minute cruise from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

2. The Anderton Boat Lift

Also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, this extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.  In 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close.  But after a Heritage Lottery Funded restoration, it reopened in 2002.  Drifters has a narrowboat hire base at Anderton, right next to the Lift.  The Canal & River Trust also operates a trip boat there.

3. The Caen Hill Flight

With 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes is visually the most impressive in the country.  The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810.  Sadly by 1950 they had become derelict, but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Devizes is at the base of the flight.

4. The Bingley Five-Rise Locks

Completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers.  The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.  Drifters’ nearest narrow boat hire base is 25 miles away at Barnoldswick.  With 15 locks to pass through along the way, the journey to Bingley takes around 14 hours.

5. The Standedge Tunnel

Tunnelling for over three miles beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.  Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build and opened in 1811.  In the 20th century, the Huddersfield Canal fell into disrepair, becoming un-navigable by 1948.  But after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.  Today narrow boat holiday-makers need to book their passage through with a Canal & River Trust chaperone.  There’s also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Sowerby Bridge, 20 miles and 65 locks away. The journey to Standedge takes around 21 hours (three days).

6. Barton Swing Aqueduct

Built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening.  In 1863, when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct.  The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Acton Bridge, on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire. From there, it takes around nine hours, travelling 26 miles and through just one lock, to reach the Barton Swing Aqueduct.

7. The Burnley Embankment

Also known as ‘The Straight Mile’, the mile-long Burnley Embankment carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over 18 metres high across part of the town.  It offers boaters breath-taking panoramic views of the Calder Valley and surrounding countryside.  Though costly and difficult to build, the Burnley Embankment, which spans the Calder Valley, avoided the need for a series of locks. Designed by Robert Whitworth, the embankment was built between 1796 and 1801.  It involved the mammoth task of transporting (by horse and cart) around half a million tons of earth from the nearby canal cutting at Whittlefield and tunnel at Gannow.  Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Barnoldswick is just 11 miles away from Burnley.  There are seven locks to pass through and it takes around five hours.

Visit the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Afloat

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will take place 28 July to 8 August 2022.  With more canals than Venice, Birmingham is a fantastic city to visit by canal boat, and many of games venues are very close to a canal.  These include:

  • Birmingham Arena next to the Birmingham Canal Old Line;
  • Alexander Stadium next to the Tame Valley Canal at Perry Barr.
  • Sandwell Aquatics Centre close to the Tame Valley Canal;
  • Edgbaston Stadium close to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal;
  • Coventry Stadium and Arena close to the Coventry Canal;
  • Cannock Chase Forest alongside the Trent & Mersey Canal at Rugeley;
  • St Nicholas Park in Warwick close to the Grand Union Canal;
  • Victoria Park in Leamington Spa close to the Grand Union Canal; and
  • Smithfield on the Digbeth Branch of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.

Drifters has a great choice of canal boat hire bases in the West Midlands.  To celebrate, we’ve listed out Top 5 Commonwealth Games narrow boat holidays for 2022:

  1. Travel the Birmingham Ring from Tardebigge – this ring takes boaters into the heart of Birmingham, travelling sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Old Main Line, Tame Valley Canal and Wyrley & Essington Canal. The ring itself covers 45 miles and 49 locks, but from Drifters base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, the total miles travelled will be 74 and it will take around 37 cruising hours.
  2. Navigate the Warwickshire Ring from Stockton – this popular circuit travels a total of 101 miles, passes through 94 locks and takes around 48 hours. It take boaters along sections of the Grand Union Canal (passing through Leamington Spa and Warwick), the Coventry Canal and Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.
  3. Boat to Coventry Basin from Braunston – from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin, travelling 28 miles and passing through just four locks. The journey takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal, before joining the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction.  It pass through a series of towns and villages, including Hillmorton and Rugby.
  4. Cruise to Cannock Chase from Great Haywood – from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford, Rugeley and Cannock Chase are less than two hours cruise away. The journey navigates five miles of the Trent & Mersey Canal and passes through two locks.
  5. Reach Perry Barr from Alvechurch – it takes around 11 hours, travelling 25 miles and passing through eight locks to reach Perry Barr First Flight Top Lock No 1 from Drifters base at Alvechurch. The journey begins on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, transferring onto the Birmingham Canal Navigations at Worcester Bar.

For more information about visiting the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, go to

Go canal boating for a haunting Halloween afloat

With spooky tunnels, misty towpaths and plenty of ghosts, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.  Drifters’ narrow boat hire prices for boats for up to four people over Halloween start at £560 for a weekend break, £740 for a week.

Here’s a guide to our spookiest destinations for Halloween 2021:

  1. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  At 2,795 metres long, it’s one of the longest on the canal system.  When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major engineering challenge.  Teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men.  A new route for the tunnel was found and it finally opened on 25 March 1805.  Over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging.  But the tunnel runs straight through the hill so people must have seen the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel.  Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there…?  The Blisworth Tunnel is less than an hour away from Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire.  
  2. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen gliding along the towpath alongside the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. From Drifters’ base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Aqueduct.  On a short break from Trevor, canal boat holiday-makers can travel across the Aqueduct and on to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.
  3. Steel yourself for a visit from the Viscount – Once a 13th century monastery, The George Inn at Bathampton is said to be haunted by the ghost of Viscount John Baptiste Du Barre, who mortally wounded in the last legal duel fought in Britain. The Viscount was reputedly a decadent man who held lavish parties and enjoyed gambling.  Following an argument over a card game, a challenge was thrown down and on 18 November 1778, he and his opponent met on Claverton Down at dawn.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath is a 20-minute cruise from the George Inn.
  4. Hear echoes of a killing at Kidsgrove – the Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Harecastle Tunnel is an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Stoke on Trent.
  5. Witness some ghostly goings-on at The Navigation Inn – the Navigation Inn on the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge dates back to the 15th century.  It served travellers along the old salt road from Chester to York long before the canal was built. According to the landlord, there’s plenty of supernatural activity in this ancient building, including noises in the cellar, clocks that mysteriously stop and spirits that appear in the kitchen.  The Navigation Inn is very close to Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.
  6. Beware the blood stained steps at Brindley Bank – the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins.  She was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body flung into the canal. Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported.  As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal.  It is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones.  Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
  7. Get the chills in Chester – visit the City’s old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat and a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the City. Canal boat holiday-makers can hire a boat from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, and reach Chester in seven hours, and passing through nine locks.
  8. Mind the Monkey Man at Norbury – the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ haunts the Shropshire Union Canal at Bridge 39 near Norbury. This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century.  Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from our base at Brewood near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.

Visit a Christmas Market by canal boat

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

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a self-catering rural retreat with stops at historic waterside pubs and visits to Christmas markets and fairs at canal and riverside towns and cities.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players.  Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.  We also offers boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Drifters’ winter 2021-22 cruising prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £775 for a week. Here are our Top 5 Christmas markets and fairs to visit afloat:

1. Visit Stratford on Avon’s Victorian Christmas Market

This award-winning event is scheduled to be held 9-12 December.  Stall holders dress in Victorian costumes and there’s a range of entertainment planned throughout the town, including live performances.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The journey takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside, passing through 17 locks along the way.

2. Moor up in Birmingham City Centre for the Frankfurt Christmas Market

From 4 November to 23 December, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will fill New Street and Victoria Square, with stalls offering a variety of tempting food and drink, traditional toys, ornaments and gifts. Departing from our narrow boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes around five hours to reach Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.  There are no locks to pass through along the way.

 3. Travel to the Leamington Christmas market

On Sunday 21 November Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market will offer over 60 stalls with goodies, unusual gifts, stocking fillers, decorations and artisan food and drink.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, it takes just under an hour to reach moorings close to Leamington Spa town centre.

4. Navigate to the Whitchurch Silk Mill Christmas Fair

On 4 and 5 December, the Whitchurch Silk Mill will host a weekend Christmas Fair with a variety of stalls in the Mill grounds.  From Drifters’ narrowboat hire centre on the Llangollen Canal at Blackwater Meadow, it takes around five hours to reach the historic market town of Whitchurch.  The journey travels 12 waterway miles through the Shropshire Lake District.

5. Moor up for a festive break in Bath

Bath’s Christmas programme this year includes festive stalls in Kingston Parade and Abbey Green and an artisan market in Queen Square.  There will also be an illumination trail of historic buildings and traditional Christmas celebrations around the Abbey Quarter.  From our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Monkton Combe, it takes around four hours to reach moorings in Bath City, passing through six locks along the way.

*Some routes are affected by the Canal & River Trust’s winter stoppage programme

Multi-generational Narrow Boat Holiday Diary

Towpath Talk editor Janet Richardson recently enjoyed a four-night family break on a Drifters boat, hired from our Stockton base.  Here’s what Janet had to say about her ‘Far from the madding crowd’ multi-generational narrowboat holiday:

Day 1 – from Stockton to Napton Junction (3 miles, 3 locks)

In these days of staycations, families have taken to the British countryside for all sorts of different experiences.

We decided to take a three-generation narrowboat break – myself, my son-in-law and two grandsons.

So on August Bank Holiday Monday 2021, we arrived at Drifters operator Kate Boats’ Stockton base in Warwickshire.  Instructions had been emailed to us prior to arrival, so we knew what sort of procedures to expect.

There were already three cars ahead of us on the roadway down to the boatyard, but we were soon greeted by Mandy and shown where to park.

We quickly shipped all our luggage onto our floating home for the next four days – the 58ft Caroline Mary. Then we let the boys – Oliver 13 and Lewis 10 – explore inside, while Neil and I did the boat handover and tuition with Andrew from Kate Boats.

After a brief introduction, he gave us a checklist of everything to be aware of, such as location of the gas bottles, mooring pins, windlasses and electrical equipment.  He then gave us time to find everything and prepare any questions.

Andrew then showed us the daily checks and how to access the weed hatch if necessary.  He checked we had previous experience of going through locks before winding the boat for us so we were facing in the right direction.  He then accompanied us through the first bridge, where we dropped him off on the towpath.

We were then on our own with 58ft of narrowboat to steer – being sure to remain on tick-over when passing moored boats.

As we went through the three locks at Calcutt, I was very grateful to two female crew members from Eliana who reminded me how to operate the paddles.

We followed Eliana down to Napton Junction where they turned right to head south down the Oxford Canal, while we went left towards Braunston.

After a cheery wave goodbye, we started to look for a suitable spot to moor along the towpath, and soon found an ideal spot about 50 yards below a moored widebeam.

Preparing for our first night afloat, we soon became aware of what we had forgotten to bring! Neil and boys hadn’t got any towels, but I had bought a bath towel and a hand towel – something we were going to have to share! We also didn’t have much food as we had been anticipating eating at a pub, so we ended up with a scratch meal of sausage rolls and pot noodles. At least I had brought a bottle of wine to wash it down!

Having had a pleasant evening playing a board game, and then watching a movie we prepared to settle down for the night. Neil and Lewis occupied the two single bunks in the fore-end, Oliver the converted dinette in the middle and I slept on a single bunk in the saloon.

Away from any street lighting, it seemed very dark but very quiet – a restful end to a busy first day.

Day 2 – Napton Junction to Braunston Marina (5 miles, 0 locks)

It was lovely waking up in compete quiet – no traffic noise or the usual buzz from people going about their daily business.

Our first ‘visitors’ were a family of swans – cob, pen and four cygnets almost as big as their parents, but still with most of their ‘ugly duckling’ plumage. The boys wanted to give them some bread but I explained it wasn’t good for them, and we could try to pick up some duck feed somewhere along the route.

With no time constraints and just a leisurely cruise up to Braunston ahead, we enjoyed a breakfast which Neil conjured up from the contents of the fridge – bacon, egg, beans, tomatoes and bread – almost a full English!  Then we got underway.

The first point to show us exactly where we were on the map in the Nicholson’s ‘Birmingham & Heart of England’ guide, was the fairly sharp right-hand bend under Nimrod Bridge No 108, followed by a left-hander.

We were cruising through some lovely countryside, with cattle and sheep grazing and the only traffic we were aware of was going under the A475 at Bridge No 107. We passed the village of Lower Shuckburgh on the right, and then cruised along a straighter stretch of canal towards Flecknoe.

Some of the older oncoming boats we passed had the great ‘chug chug’ noise. We discovered later there had been a Russell Newbery Register gathering at Braunston over the Bank Holiday weekend.

There was another sequence of bends before the canal straightened up again after Bridge No 100. We knew then that we were approaching ‘civilisation’ as there were more moored boats, and the landmark spire of All Saints’ Church showed us we were nearing the historic canal village of Braunston.

I had been invited by Tim Coghlan to moor for the night at Braunston Marina so we could catch up on the latest news and features for Towpath Talk.  As we turned in under its famous Horseley Iron Bridge, we were met by Tim and directed to a pontoon.

Neil and the boys walked up into the village to visit the butcher’s and supermarket to stock up on supplies.  We then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon – taking the opportunity to pop into Tradline Ropes and Fenders and we also saw the bags of coal ready for loading on to Raymond and Sculptor for the annual Narrow Boat Trust Coal Run.

It was soon time to walk along the towpath up to Lock 3 of the Braunston flight as I had booked a table at the Admiral Nelson. We enjoyed a very tasty evening meal and walked back to our boat as dusk fell on the second day of our trip.

Day 3 – Braunston to the village of Napton on the Hill (6 miles, 0 locks)

After a leisurely breakfast, the boys went up the hill into the village for more supplies, while we prepared to head off on the next leg of our cruise.

After some manoeuvring between the moored boats along the pontoon, we were under the bridge and on our way to the Braunston Turn.

We decided not to try and push on further north up the Oxford Canal, which would put us under pressure when it was time to turn back.  So we turned left back the way we had come, and headed back towards Napton Junction.

We had been following another boat most of the way and they pulled in for a stop along a beautiful stretch of countryside just after Bridge 103. The boys were getting hungry so we decided to do likewise a little further along.

It was beautiful; all you could see was the rolling countryside to the east with fields of grazing sheep and cattle. Apart from the occasional boat coming past, there was no sound or sign of human life!

Much to Oliver’s delight, having bought a bag of duck feed from the dispenser at the lock beside the Admiral Nelson the previous evening, the family of three swans we had passed preening their feathers on the towpath swam into view.

The parents and well-grown cygnet stopped for a snack before heading on their way.  Then the boys and I went for a walk along the towpath, while our skipper had a power nap!

We were soon under way again and instead of turning right at Napton Junction, carried on up the Oxford Canal, aiming to wind before the Napton Flight and find a mooring for the night.

Having spotted some space along the moorings before Bridge 111, we decided to take advantage of the winding hole there.  It proved quite a challenge with our 58ft boat getting its fore-end stuck in the silt, and the stern almost jammed up against the towpath.  Neil had to use the boat pole to push us back.

Luckily a lovely couple from a moored narrowboat we had just passed came to our rescue with instructions from the bank.  This enabled us to complete the manoeuvre while a couple of boats behind us pulled in to wait.

They then helped us to moor just in front of their narrowboat Moondancer. The next morning they went on their way before we had chance to thank them again for their friendliness and help.

Opposite our mooring was a large stubble field with lots of ducks and geese feeding. We also watched what we thought was either a kestrel or a sparrowhawk hovering over the field, and swooping down for its prey several times.

As darkness fell we could see the lights from the village across the field and car headlights on the road leading up to it.

Day 4 – Napton on the Hill back to Stockton (4 miles, 3 locks)

As we prepared to set off on our return journey, another Kate Boats narrowboat Kate Elizabeth came past.  I asked them if they were heading towards Stockton and asked if we could share the locks.

We turned left back onto the Grand Union Canal at Napton junction.  Then cruised up to the Calcutt Locks where the Kate Elizabeth was waiting for a boat coming up the top lock.  We pulled in behind. The occupants were also three generations of a family – grandparents, parents and two children from Gloucester.  They had decided on a week’s holiday boating after a planned trip to Florida had been cancelled.

We stopped at lunchtime and took a walk, then decided to head back to Kate Boat’s base for our last night, so we were handy for the check-in the following morning.

We were lucky to get a space at the front of the moorings, and as the sun showed itself for the first time during the week we went across to the pub for a welcome drink in the garden and booked a table for an evening meal.

Day 5 – back home

It was early to rise ready to return the boat by 9.30am.  We had the bedding stripped and placed in the laundry bag provided and all our bags packed by 7am.  So we pulled over to a vacant space and transported all our luggage to the car.

It wasn’t too long before Mandy arrived and said they were expecting 14 boats in with 11 to go out – so a busy day ahead.

We said our goodbyes and headed home reflecting on what had been a most enjoyable break. Lewis said he liked stopping in a different place every night, while Oliver also said the travelling was the best bit. They had both also enjoyed seeing the wildlife – especially the ducks and swans.

The best part for Neil was steering the narrowboat, although he said he could do with a bit more practice at reversing. And me – the friendliness of everyone we came across, whether seasoned boaters or fellow holidaymakers, and the feeling of being far from the madding crowd.

Explore the waterways by canal boat this October Half Term

Canal boat holidays are great for families! They offer the chance to set off together on an adventure afloat, learning how to steer the boat, work the locks and stop at canalside attractions along the way.

A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat, and all Drifters operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.  All our narrow boats are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

Here are Drifters Top 5 narrowboat holidays for beginners for the October Half Term holiday:

1. Travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse

On a short break from Drifters’ boat yard at Sowerby Bridge, you can travel to Brighouse and back. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, as well as great places to eat and shop. Along the way, you’ll pass through the historic market town of Elland and the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool.  The journey there and back travels 12 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around eight hours.

2. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District

From our narrow boat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, you can cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  The journey to Ellesmere takes around four cruising hours and there are no locks to pass through. Once at Ellesmere, there’s a choice of independent shops and restaurants, as well as gardens, woods and castle grounds to explore.

3. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

From our narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The journey travels 28 miles and passes through just four locks, perfect for a week away.  You’ll go up the North Oxford Canal, transferring on to the Coventry Canal at Hawksbury Junction.  The route will take you through the Northamptonshire countryside, and past a series of canalside pubs, including the Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

4. Navigate to Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man

On a week’s break departing from our Gailey base on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, you can cruise to Market Drayton and back.  The journey there and back cruises 68 miles, passes through 14 locks and takes around 30 hours.  Highlights include: the historic village of Brewood; walks at Belvide Reservoir; and cruising through deep wooded cuttings.  There’s a good choice of  canalside pubs along the way, including the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

5. Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a short break from our Devizes base in Wiltshire, you can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to moorings at Sydney Wharf.  The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, the route passes through a series of towns and villages with canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once at Sydney Wharf, you can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre to visit the Roman Baths and other World class attractions.

Exploring the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton

Countryman Magazine editor Mark Whitley describes his recent Drifters narrow boat holiday, cruising the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton to Keynsham, via Bradford on Avon and Bath.

Created in the white heat of the Industrial Revolution, canals are nowadays places for pleasure and relaxation. One of the most popular canals is the Kennet & Avon Canal, and it’s a delight to explore by narrowboat.

I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Hilperton Marina, for a week-long cruise on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Day One – to Bradford on Avon

At the marina, we were given a tour and tuition for navigating the canal aboard the ‘African Swift’, a luxuriously fitted out narrow boat, with all the mod cons. Then, we were off!

It was a short trip for the first day. Around three miles, and an hour-a-bit, later, we were tackling our first lock at Bradford on Avon. We’re all fairly experienced narrowboaters, but even for first-timers the locks are nothing to get nervous about.  Just take your time, and there’s often a Canal & River Trust volunteer or fellow boater on hand to offer advice or a helping hand if needed. We moored up and went to the Lock Inn Café for our evening meal and a few drinks overlooking the canal.

Day Two – to Bath

After a leisurely brunch on board, we set off towards Bath.  We crossed the Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts – two of the most spectacular and impressive structures on the whole of the canal network. There are moorings below Sydney Wharf for those who want to walk into Bath City Centre on a short break from Hilperton.

But as we were experienced boaters and we were away for a week, we navigated on through the Bath locks to join the River Avon. After a few hair-raising moments when the river current caught the boat, we managed to moor up. The strong currents, and rapidly changing river levels especially when it’s raining, mean boating on the River Avon is often more suitable for experienced boaters.  We spent a very pleasant evening exploring Bath, one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the country.

Day Three – to Bitton

In the morning we continued on along the River Avon, and moored up on the floating pontoon alongside Bitton Picnic Area. From here it’s a short walk to Bitton Station, home of the Avon Valley Railway. This heritage railway runs trains most weekends, and we arrived on a ‘steam day’. There-and-back trip takes about an hour, and it’s a heart-gladdening experience. We overnighted at the pontoon, and enjoyed the peace and calm of the water.

Day Four – to Keynsham

We had planned to boat into Bristol, but, at Hanham Lock we phoned ahead to the Bristol lock keeper (as advised) and he suggested, as the river levels were very high following so much rain, we should avoid the tidal stretch of the River Avon. So, we erred on the side of caution and turned round to overnight at nearby Keynsham.

Day Five – back to Bath

A couple of us took the train into Bristol to visit the Floating Harbour and the SS Great Britain. Then in the afternoon, with everyone back on board, we returned along the River Avon to rejoin the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath.

Day Six – exploring Bath

We spent the day exploring the delights of Bath. It is a World Heritage site, so there is plenty to see and do. In glorious summer sunshine, we visited the Holbourne Museum, Pulteney Bridge, the Royal Crescent and the Abbey.  After drinks in the beer garden of the White Hart, we enjoyed a take-away curry from nearby Bikanos Indian Cuisine.

Day Seven – back to Bradford on Avon via Claverton Pumping Station

Around lunchtime reached moorings outside Claverton Pumping Station. This rare and remarkable surviving example of Georgian industrial technology is now run by the Claverton Pumping Station volunteers.  They maintain it as an industrial heritage museum, which is open to the public most weekends.

In the afternoon, we re-crossed Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts. Dundas Aqueduct is also the junction with the Somerset Coal Canal, and we enjoyed a pleasant short walk along its towpath to the café at Brassknocker Basin.

Then we continued to Bradford on Avon to stop overnight there again, visiting the Barge Inn this time.  This left us with just a short journey the next morning to return our boat at Hilperton Marina.


Top 5 narrow boat holidays for the August Bank Holiday

Narrow boat holidays provide a floating holiday home.  Cruising along at just four miles per hour, watching out for wildlife along the way, you can take all the supplies you need for an adventure afloat.

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

To celebrate the approaching August bank holiday, we’ve listed our top five short break narrow boat holidays:

1. Enjoy the remote countryside of Airedale afloat

On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Barnoldswick in Lancashire, you can cruise to Gargrave and back.  There’s stunning wild and remote scenery to enjoy along the way, as well as village pubs.  The journey there and back travels 16 miles, passes through 26 locks and takes around 12 hours.

2. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District

On a mid-week break from our canal boat hire at Wrenbury Mill on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  The journey there and back travels 39 miles, passes through 20 locks and takes around 22 hours.

3. Navigate to Chester and back for some Roman history

On a short break from our narrow boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, you can travel to the ancient City of Chester.  The route takes you through beautiful unspoilt countryside.  You’ll pass by the ruins of Beeston Castle and the village of Christleton along the way.  The journey there and back travels 24 miles, passes through 18 locks and takes around 14 hours.

4. Explore Birmingham by canal

From our canal boat hire base at Alvechurch on the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can cruise into the centre of Birmingham.  The route begins through open countryside, passing a series of rural canalside pubs.  Gradually the scenery becomes more urban as you travel right into the heart of Birmingham City Centre.  Moorings for visiting narrow boats are available in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace.  The journey there and back travels 22 miles, and takes around 10 hours.  There are no locks so it’s good route for beginners.

5. Drift through the Calder Valley

From our boat yard at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  The journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, you can moor up in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, and hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags

Cruising the Avon Ring

The Avon Ring is one of a dozen or so popular circular routes for narrowboat holiday-makers.

It covers a distance of 108 miles, passes through 130 locks and takes around two weeks to complete.  Sections of the Stratford Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal, River Severn and River Avon make up the route.

Drifters has canal boat hire bases on the ring route at Tardebigge, Alvechurch, Stoke Prior and Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, as well as Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

Starting from Tardebigge and travelling anti-clockwise round the Avon Ring, from abbeys and canalside pubs, to theatres and Tudor mansions, here’s a guide to the highlights:

The Tardebigge Flight

With 30 locks in just 2¼ miles it’s the longest lock flight in the country.  There are fantastic views of the Worcestershire countryside to enjoy as boaters descend, with popular Queen’s Head pub to enjoy between locks 29 and 28.  Drifters’ Stoke Prior base is halfway down the flight.

Hanbury Wharf

The Eagle & Sun pub at Hanbury is a popular staging post for narrowboat holiday-makers.  It’s on the junction where the Droitwich Junction Canal meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Diglis Basin

Opened in the 19th century to allow transhipment of cargoes between the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Two broad locks take boaters down into the River, operated by lock keepers.

The River Severn

With the distant outline of the Malvern Hills in overlooking this magnificent river takes boaters through miles of peaceful countryside.  Upton on Severn is a good place to moor, with plenty of shops and pubs.


This historic market town with its 12-century abbey, half-timbered buildings and historic pubs is a great place to visit, and it’s here that the River Severn meets the River Avon.


One of the finest market towns in Worcestershire, Pershore offers lots of places to eat and shop, and a magnificent abbey to explore.


Site of another famous abbey and plenty of pubs and cafes too.


The seven arched medieval bridge at Bidford dates from 1482.  Look out for signage, as only one of the arches is suitable for boats to pass through.

Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare’s home town has a great choice of shops, pubs, cafes, museums and theatres.  Bancroft Basin right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the perfect place to moor up and explore the town.  The Basin connects the River Avon with the Stratford Canal.

Wilmcote Locks

The Stratford Canal is a narrow canal and the flight of 11 locks at Wilmcote take boaters up to the village of Wilmcote.  This historic village is home to Mary Arden’s Farm, one of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s museums and where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.

Edstone Aqueduct

The longest cast iron structure in England, the impressive Edstone Aqueduct offers great views of the surrounding Warwickshire countryside.

Wootton Wawen

There’s another smaller aqueduct here, a Drifters canal boat hire base here and the Yew Tree Farm farm shop and Cowshed Cafe.


One of a series of quiet villages through which the Stratford Canal passes, Lowsonford is famous for its Fleur de Lys pub.

Lapworth Flight

Fifteen locks at Lapworth take boaters up hill to Hockley Heath, passing close to the National Trust’s Tudor mansion, Packwood House.  There’s a good choice of places to eat and drink at Hockley Heath, including a Chinese takeaway and the canalside Wharf pub.

King’s Norton Junction

After passing through Brandwood Tunnel and the stop lock with its guillotine-like gate hanging overhead, boaters reach the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at King’s Norton Junction.

Wast Hill Tunnel

Turning left at King’s Norton Junction, boaters soon encounter the 2,726 yard long Wast Hill Tunnel.  The journey through the tunnel, which is wide enough for two boats to pass, takes around 30 minutes.


There’s a choice of canalside pubs here.  The Crown and the Weighbridge at Alvechurch marina, one of Drifters’ narrowboat hire bases.

Just under an hour later, boaters will be back at Tardebigge.

Tips on how to have good narrowboating manners

The waterways look set to be very busy this summer, so it’s more important than ever to have good boating manners.

Tuition is included in all our holiday packages.  During your boat handover, as well as showing you how to operate your boat, our boat yard staff will explain the rules and how to navigate the waterways in a considerate way.

Here are our tips on how to share the space and be kind:

Considerate mooring

  • Be considerate to householders and moorers in nearby boats – avoid running your engine to charge your batteries or make hot water between 8pm and 8am, keep the music and TV volume down, and don’t come home late from the pub talking loudly. Sound travels amazingly well over water.
  • Shuffle up and share at visitor moorings – don’t leave big gaps between boats when you moor up
  • Don’t moor up next to locks, bridges or bends – this makes navigating the canals harder for others
  • Keep reasonable cruising hours – try not to push the envelope on cruising times. So don’t set off too early or carry on too late.  We suggest mooring up by around 6pm.

Watch your speed

  • Keep your speed in check – the maximum speed on our waterways is 4mph. Ways to check you aren’t speeding, include making sure you aren’t creating breaking wash, and someone walking reasonably briskly on the towpath should be able to overtake you.
  • Don’t rock the boat – slow right down to tick-over when passing moored boats, so you don’t cause unnecessary movement and tipping
  • Don’t bang into other boats – however narrow the channel or strong the wind, you really shouldn’t biff other boats. If you do misjudge it, and someone yells at you, don’t make it worse by answering back.  Just say you are sorry.

Take steps to save water

  • Share locks whenever possible
  • Make sure you close all lock gates and gate paddles
  • When you moor for the night in a short length between two locks, check that all the paddles on the lock below you really are fully closed.  Otherwise you’ll end up having to call the Canal & River Trust out in the middle of the night when the water has gone down and your boat is tilting. 

There’s more information on boating etiquette in The Boaters’ Handbook and video