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. 
John Sargeant takes to the canals on ITV1

Top 9 recent screen moments for canals

From romantic waterside encounters to gritty urban scenes, Britain’s canals and rivers have featured in many movies and television shows over the years.

And recently, a number of television series have put canal boat holidays at very the centre of the action, with popular series like Tim and Pru’s ‘Great Canal Journeys’ and ‘Celebrity Carry on Barging’.

To celebrate canals on screen, we’ve put together our Top 9 waterway starring moments over the last 18 months:

1. Paddington 2 – Little Venice, where the Regents Canal meets the Grand Union, was the backdrop to a chaotic chase scene, with Paddington riding on the back of a dog in Browning’s Pool

2. Marcella – the Regent’s Canal in Camden provides the perfect place to dump a body in season two of BBC One’s hit thriller, starring Anna Friel

3. Building Britain’s Canals – historian Dan Jones explores the history of three of Britain’s most iconic canals (the Kennet & Avon, Grand Union and Leeds & Liverpool) in this Channel 5 series

4. Finding Your Feet – in this romantic comedy from director Richard Longcraine, starring Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, Josie Lawrence, John Sessions and Celia Imrie, Little Venice is home to Charlie’s narrowboat

5. Celebrity Carry on Barging – starring Lorraine Chase, Nigel Havers, Simon Callow and Debbie McGee, this four-part series on Channel 5 saw the celebrities pairing up to cruise and dine together

6. A Very English Scandal – this BBC drama, starring Hugh Grant as the MP Jeremy Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as his lover Norman Scott, includes a scene filmed at Hertford Lock on the River Lee

7. Swimming with Men – this film (to be released on 6 July) about an all-male group of synchronised swimmers, stars Rob Bryden and Charlotte Riley, and includes scenes filmed on a canal boat near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

8. Anchor & Hope – this comic drama by rising Spanish filmmaker Carlos Marques-Marcet, starring Game of Thrones star Oona Chaplin, is set on the Regent’s Canal in London

9. Great Canal Journeys – Channel 4’s popular series featuring Timothy West and Prunella Scales travelling by canal boat along waterways both in the UK and overseas, has so far run for eight series, with the very latest episode visiting the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in Wales

Top 10 Canal Events in 2018

Top 10 Canal Events in 2018

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.

Waterway events make great destinations for canal boat holiday-makers, so we’ve put together a list of the top 10 events for 2018, along with information on our nearest canal boat hire bases:

1. St Richard’s Canal Festival, 4-7 May – this annual event, which takes place in Vines Park alongside the Droitwich Barge Canal, will be extra special this year as the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Society will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the start of the restoration of the Droitwich Canals. 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.

2. IWA Canalway Cavalcade, 5-7 May – the Inland Waterway Association’s Canalway Cavalcade takes place at Little Venice, close to Paddington Basin in London. This unique waterways and community festival offers fun for all the family with a boaters’ gathering, pageant of boats, trade stalls, live music, kids’ activities, competitions, Morris Dancers, a real ale bar and variety of food stalls. Drifters’ nearest narrowboat hire bases are at Oxford and Aldermaston.

3. Rickmansworth Canal Festival, 19-20 May – celebrating canals, the community and the environment, the annual Rickmansworth Canal Festival attracts a spectacular array of 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. Crick Boat Show & Waterways Festival, 26-28 May – over 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, live music, children’s activities, arts and crafts stands and a wide variety of food and drink stalls. Drifters’ nearest narrowboat hire bases are at Gayton, Braunston and Market Harborough.

5. Chester Dragon Boat Festival, 10 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 and Brewood.

6. Edinburgh Canal Festival & Raft Race, 16 June – taking place at Edinburgh Quay on the Union Canal, this annual community event includes raft racing, music, stalls, kids activities, boat trips, canoe taster-sessions, water walkers, music, dance and food. Drifters’ nearest base is at Falkirk.

7. Stratford River Festival, 30 June-1 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 Wotton Wawen.

8. Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, 3-8 July – every year thousands of people from around the World 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.

9. Stoke Bruerne Village at War, 8-9 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, Stretton and Rugby.

10. Stone Food & Drink Festival, 5-7 October – 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.