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

Visit a National Park by Canal Boat

Top 10 Summer Canal Boat Holidays

Travelling through the countryside and waterside towns and villages at just four-miles-an-hour, canal boat holidays are the fastest way to slow down.

You don’t need a licence and it’s easy to learn how to steer a narrowboat.

Drifters offers 590 narrowboats for hire from 47 bases across England, Scotland and Wales. Our summer holiday prices for a short break on a boat for four people start at £715, and at £1,020 for a week.

Tuition is included in all our holiday packages and all our boats have heating, well-equipped kitchens, quality furnishings, flushing toilets, hot water, showers, TVs and DVD players, and many now have WiFi on board too.

Here are our top 10 summer destinations for 2018:

1. Journey One-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Skipton, this week-long holiday travelling across the backbone of England is truly one of the great canal journeys. The scenery varies from the timeless calm of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal summit to the hubbub of the Leeds City Centre waterfront, and includes the Bingley Five Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, and the chance to visit Sir Titus Salt’s World Heritage Status model town at Saltaire.

2. Cruise along the River Thames to Oxford – on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the River Thames at Eynsham near Witney, boaters can reach the beautiful City of Oxford in just three hours. Most of the locks on the Thames are manned so it’s a nice easy journey for beginners. Once in Oxford, canal boat holiday-makers can moor up just a short walk from the City Centre and take time to explore some of the its historic attractions, including the Bodleian Library with its stunning 17th century Schools Quadrangle.

3. Travel the Warwickshire Ring – On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston, boaters can travel the popular Warwickshire Ring, travelling 101 miles, through 94 locks in around 54 hours through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, with highlights including the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.

4. Glide across the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular on the network. On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Chirk, boaters can travel to the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen and back, with just four locks to go through and the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to glide across.

5. Travel along the peaceful Ashby Canal to Snarestone – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, boaters can travel up the North Oxford Canal to connect with the beautiful Ashby Canal. With no locks and mile-upon-mile of countryside to enjoy, this peaceful 22-mile long waterway passes the pretty town of Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where King Richard lost his crown to Henry Tudor. The journey there and back, travels 63 miles and with just one lock to pass through each way, it offers around 26 hours of tranquil countryside cruising.

6. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal, perfect for a four night mid-week break. The journey starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift) and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street and many of the City’s attractions, including Mary King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

7. Take the Grand Union Canal to Warwick Castle – on a short break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, boaters can reach the historic centre of Warwick in just six hours. Here canal boat holiday-makers can take time to explore this beautiful market town in the heart of England and its magnificent castle on the banks of the River Avon, said to be ‘Britain’s greatest medieval experience’.

8. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, next to the spectacular Caen Hill flight of locks, canal boat holiday-makers can travel west to the beautiful World Heritage Status City of Bath, famous for its stunning Georgian architecture and fascinating Roman Baths.

9. Complete the Birmingham Mini-Ring – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, narrowboat holiday-makers can complete the Birmingham Mini-Ring, travelling through 83 locks in around 35 hours. The route takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside and right into the heart of the City, where moorings at Gas Street Basin are close to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox Shopping Centre and other City Centre attractions

10. Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Shropshire, it takes around ten hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man – perfect for a short break. Along the way, boaters pass through a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

Spending time by the waterways makes you happier

Spending time by the waterways makes you happier

The Canal & River Trust, the charity that cares for the nation’s 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, has published research that shows spending time by the waterways can make you happier and improve your life satisfaction.

‘Assessing the wellbeing impacts of waterways usage in England and Wales’ reveals:

• the associated benefits of visiting a canal or river increase with the length of visit – with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of anxiety for longer trips;
• any visit to a waterway is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction;
• visiting regularly is associated with even higher levels of life satisfaction; and
• three-quarters of towpath users say they visit to ‘get away from it all and clear my head’ because they are ‘great places to relax and de-stress’

Canal boat holidays are often described as ‘the fastest way to slow down’ and the popularity of narrowboating has been fuelled by the waterways renaissance which has swept across the UK in the last 20 years, with over 200 new miles of waterways re-opened and over £1billion invested.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, says: “Our waterways are an amazing historic legacy for us all, and it is exhilarating to find that they can play such an important new role in our lives.”

Time to book that canal boat holiday?


Drifters' Top 10 Waterside Pubs

Drifters’ Top 10 Waterside Pubs

Hundreds of pubs can be found alongside Britain’s inland waterways, many of them historic rural locals offering the perfect place to eat, drink and relax on a canal boat holiday.

With names like the Lock, the Navigation, the Narrowboat and Bridge, canalside pubs often date back to the construction of the canals over 200 years ago, when they provided a place for navvies and canal builders to live, and later for the boatmen running cargoes.
To celebrate the lovely Spring weather, here at Drifters we’ve put together our Top 10 waterside pubs for 2018:

1. Watch out for dinosaurs at The Blue Lias – this historic pub on the Grand Union Canal near Stockton in Warwickshire, was named after the limestone and clay that is quarried locally and is derived from material laid down in the early Jurassic seas, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Blue Lias is eight locks and less than a mile away from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton Top Lock.

2. Try a pie at the Fleur De Lys – this pretty 17th century country pub in the Warwickshire village of Lowsonford has a lovely beer garden on the banks of the Stratford Canal and offers 11 different types of pie, all served with seasonal vegetables, chunky chips and gravy. The Fleur De Lys can be reached in just over three hours from our canal boat hire base at on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden.

3. Enjoy the riverside gardens at The Nag’s Head – this award-winning pub on the River Thames in Abingdon offers drinkers and diners a peaceful retreat in its riverside gardens, with classic British food locally sourced. It takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles, to reach Abingdon from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the River Thames near Oxford.

4. Take in the view at The Telford Inn – looking out across the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the historic Telford Inn on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor makes the most of it waterside position and views with plenty of outdoor seating. Food is served daily and all dishes are freshly prepared, including their choice of six kinds of burger and tasty Little Dragons children’s menu. The Telford Inn can be reached in less than two hours from our boat yard on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk.

5. Visit Neil Morrissey’s Plume of Feathers – this popular pub on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Barlastan in Staffordshire is part owned by ‘Men Behaving Badly’ star, Neil Morrissey. Visitors can sample some of Neil’s own beers and ales choose from a menu of homemade dishes made from fresh local ingredients. It takes just over three hours to reach Barlastan from our Peak District canal boat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent.

6. See the Cotswolds from The Cross Guns at Avoncliffe – this 17th century Wiltshire inn has idyllic riverside pub gardens offering panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds and the Kennet & Avon Canal crossing the river via the beautiful Avoncliffe Aqueduct. The Cross Guns serves a selection of British pub favourite food, local ales and cider and craft beer. It takes around an hour and a half, travelling four miles and passing through just one lock, to reach Avoncliffe from our narrowboat hire base at Hilperton, on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge.

7. Enjoy home cooked food at The Stubbing Wharf – as well as a canalside beer garden and an excellent choice of real ales, the Stubbing Wharf on the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge offers diners home cooked food, including traditional Sunday lunch roasts. Built soon after the completion of the Rochdale Canal in 1789 to serve the needs of travellers on both the canal and the turnpike road, its curious name derives from the ancient settlement of Stubbing, an Anglo-Saxon word for clearing where the tree stumps have been left. From our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes around five hours to reach Hebden Bridge, travelling seven miles and passing through 10 locks.

8. Sample locally brewed ales at The Olde Barbridge Inn – this historic pub on the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich sells a selection of local ales brewed at its own local brewery, and serves classic British food made with local produce. The Olde Barbridge Inn is an hour’s cruise from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury in Cheshire.

9. Walk in the footsteps of Harrison Ford at The Narrow Boat – with its tranquil canalside location and beer garden, the family owned Narrow Boat on the Llangollen Canal at Whittington offers hearty pub food and real ale. Visit here and you’ll be following in the foot-steps of Hollywood legend Harrison Ford, who enjoyed a meal and a pint or two of Wells Bombardier here as part of his canal boat holiday with Calista Flockhart in 2004. The Narrow Boat can be reached from our narrowboat hire base at Blackwater Meadow in just over an hour.

10. The George Inn at Bathampton – dating back to the 12th-century when it was part of a monastery for the Prior of Bath, the picturesque Grade II listed George Inn on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bathampton is packed with character. Its delightful waterside and rural setting make it a popular destination for canal boat holiday-makers. The George is just over a mile from our narrowboat rental base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath.

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2018

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2018

With boats travelling at a maximum speed of 4mph, and over 3,000 miles of navigable peaceful inland waterways to explore across Britain, canal boat holidays really are the fastest way to slow down.  From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore.

Drifters’ offers over 580 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales. 2018 hire prices start at £395 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £575 for a week. Tuition is included in all our holiday packages.

There are hundreds of routes and destinations to choose from, but to help plan your next boating adventure, here are our Top 10 narrowboat holidays for 2018:

1. Visit the newly reopened iconic Piece Hall in Halifax…on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, Salterhebble Basin on the Halifax Branch of the Calder & Hebble Navigation is a two mile cruise away. From there, it’s a two mile walk to Piece Hall, one of the most iconic heritage buildings in Britain. Once the centre of the global woollen trade, following a multi-million-pound transformation, this monumental Georgian structure with its immense, open air piazza is now home to a mix of independent bars, shops and cafes, and a seasonal programme of events.

2. See the pop-up art installations on the Droitwich Ring…as part of the Canal & River Trust’s Arts of the Waterways programme, the charity which cares for our canals and rivers is commissioning artists to produce dynamic temporary artworks and live events along the 21-mile long Droitwich Ring, for visitors to enjoy from March to September 2018. The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a canal boat holiday cruising ring that can be completed on a short break (three or four nights), travelling through 33 locks in around 15 hours from Drifters’ Worcester base.

3. Marvel at the Caen Hill Flight at Devizes…arguably the most impressive flight of locks on the UK waterway network, the spectacular 16 locks in a row climbing Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, forms the middle section of 29-lock flight stretching for two miles and raising the canal up by 237ft. The Caen Hill Locks were the final section of the canal to be completed in 1810 and one of the final sections to be restored before the re-opening of the Kennet & Avon Canal in 1990. From Drifters’ boatyard at Hilperton near Trowbridge, it’s a four-hour cruise, travelling seven miles, through seven locks, to reach Fox Hanger Wharf at the base of the Caen Hill Flight. It takes a further five hours to reach the top of the flight.

4. Follow the Lime Kiln Trail on the Mon & Brec…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park and is home to a series of historic lime kilns. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and a fascinating insight into the history of lime production, in an area where both limestone and coal were in plentiful supply. On a short break from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, with lime kilns to visit along the way at Goytre, Gilwern and Llangattock.

5. See the ancient topiary at Packwood House…From our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it’s a seven-mile, 31-lock and 10-hour journey through the Forest of Arden to Lapworth Lock No 6. From there it’s a half-mile walk to the National Trust’s beautiful timber-framed Tudor manor house, Packwood House, where, according to legend, the famous 350-year old trees in Packwood’s iconic Yew Garden represent the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.

6. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 1,000ft long structure consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 enormous hollow pillars. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.

7. Discover the story of the Staffordshire Hoard…from our Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s a five-hour (three-lock) journey to Gas Street Basin in the centre of Birmingham, a short walk from dozens of top attractions, including the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Here visitors can see the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found and learn about its warrior history. Hundreds of pieces from the Hoard are on show, along with hands-on displays exploring how these intriguing items were used, before they were buried some 1,400 years ago.

8. Cruise the Cheshire Ring for some stunning Pennine views…on a week’s break from our Anderton base on the Trent & Mersey Canal, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise the 97-mile, 92-lock Cheshire Ring in around 48 hours. This popular circuit takes six different waterways, the incredible Victorian Anderton Boat Lift and a complete range of canal scenery, including spectacular views of the Pennines from the Macclesfield Canal, gentle rolling Cheshire countryside on the Trent & Mersey Canal, and the lively city centre of Manchester on the Rochdale Canal.

9. Climb Edinburgh’s extinct volcano for stunning views of the city…From Drifters’ base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a week’s break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back. The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which lifts boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above. The 32-mile journey along the Union Canal to Edinburgh passes through three locks and takes around 11 hours. Once at there, boaters can moor up at Edinburgh Quay, and walk through Holyrood Park to the top of Arthur’s Seat for stunning views of the city below.

10. Pass through Blisworth Tunnel to reach the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne…on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise gently through the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside to the canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest on the network. Once in Stoke Bruerne, visitors can enjoy a choice of canalside pubs, woodland walks and browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum. The journey to Stoke Bruerne travels 30 miles, passing through 22 locks and takes around 19 hours.

Over 3,800 people got afloat at our National Open Day

A family afloat in Yorkshire – spending quality time together

A recent survey suggested that the pace and pressures of 21st-century living are taking their toll, with families, on average, now spending fewer than seven hours of quality time together each week.

Heron Publications editor Mike Firth decided to do something to redress the balance by taking his family – and their dog – on a canal boat holiday in Yorkshire. Setting off from Drifters’ Sowerby Bridge narrowboat hire base:

Please excuse me if I nod off while writing this holiday feature. You see, I’m just back from a tranquil autumn midweek family break, cruising along the Rochdale Canal, travelling so steadily that we were often overtaken by ducks and geese.

It was peacefulness personified and a wonderful time of year to barge through the backwaters of the Pennines, with red, yellow and golden leaves reflected in the mirror of the waterway.

Wife Helen had often commented on how much she would enjoy holidaying on a cruise, but I could tell from the expression on her face that our starting point just up the M1 in West Yorkshire hadn’t quite been what she’d had in mind.

But, along with teenage daughter Olivia, we had watched the pre-holiday instruction DVD and also checked out the latest canal adventures of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, so we were ready, willing and able to take to the waterway.

After being given a thorough bow-to-stern introduction to our 48ft red and blue boat called ‘Norfolk’, we cruised gingerly out of the large Sowerby Bridge boatyard, heading westwards on the Rochdale Canal. But there was most certainly no gentle introduction to what would be our way of life for the next five days.

Waiting to greet us just around the corner was a dimly-lit, 114-yard, ‘L’-shaped tunnel, leading us through to the deepest lock ever dug in the UK.

However, we were delighted that at this stage we were still receiving assistance from our instructor (Thanks, Stan!) and even more pleased when we learned that this cavern of a lock came equipped with its own professional lock-keeper.

Once tens of thousands of gallons of water had lifted us all of 19ft 8in (6m), the huge gates ahead of us yawned wide apart and – now on our own – we tentatively moved ahead.

And this was the moment our holiday really began.
I mentioned that our family break was a peaceful affair – and so it was for me at the tiller. However, miles of total tranquility were punctuated by frantic activity and an adrenalin rush whenever we approached a lock. And this canal offered plenty of them.

Fortunately, Helen rose to the challenge of working them all and, with Olivia ensuring our ropes kept us steady, my role was to ensure the boat was kept away from the sides and also the dangerous lock cills.

With most of the locks wide enough for two boats, the workload – and conversation – was shared with other floating families.

The scenery was a mixture of glorious countryside, old stone mills and the backsides of industrial units, with walkers, cyclists and workers all offering cheery greetings from the towpath.

The canal was broad in most places, a tight squeeze in others, and I soon learned to keep to the centre of the water wherever possible, as in the edges it was often only a couple of feet deep. When something approached in the opposite direction – which thankfully only happened three or four times – the way of the water was to pass on the right-hand side.

Controlling the throttle and tiller soon became second nature and standing there with a bacon butty and mug of coffee was the perfect way to start each day.

Although this was late autumn, the boat was warm and comfortable. With two made-up double beds, a well-equipped kitchen, toilet, shower, central-heating, TV, hair-dryer and more storage room than we had imagined possible, there was also plenty of space for the three of us, plus Harry the Basset Hound. He was bemused as to why we had finally slowed down to his pace of life.

After a first-night mooring at Luddenden Foot – and a great take-away Indian meal – day two saw us progress up a series of locks to Hebden Bridge, entering the town by what appeared to be the back door.

With many fascinating shops, cosy cafes, great pubs, a lovely park and helpful Tourist Information Centre, we were all well taken with the place and celebrated with a hearty meal at the Shoulder of Mutton – recommended.

With no real timetable to stick to and no urgency whatsoever, day three saw us take on water supplies and pootle up a few more of the canal’s locks towards Todmorden where the moment I had secretly dreaded – performing a three-point turn with people watching from the towpath – passed off so smoothly that I wished I could have done it again!

So now we were on our return journey in an easterly and downwards direction and for some reason the lock manoeuvres were far smoother and speedier.

With plenty of Hebden Bridge still to explore, we decided to moor there again for the evening and spent our time on board playing board games and watching DVDs.

The weather was glorious on day four and as we reluctantly made our way back towards Sowerby Bridge, I spotted rabbits and squirrels beside the water and fed the crusts from my morning bacon sandwiches to grateful Mallards and Muscovy ducks.

There was a queue of half-a-dozen boats awaiting assistance from the lock-keeper at the mighty Tuel Lock, but no-one was in any rush and the delay provided all crews with a perfect opportunity to exchange stories and experiences.

We could have gone on to explore a little of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal, but instead decided to moor up for the night just below our final lock and head to the nearby Moorings pub to celebrate a wonderful family holiday.

Next morning we returned to base, commenting on what a revolutionary innovation canals and locks must have been more than two centuries ago, enabling all manner of goods to be transported from town to town, up and down hills. But where Pennine waterways such as the Rochdale Canal were once the domain of industry, nowadays they offer delightful pleasures for ramblers, walkers, day-trippers – and boating folk like us!

Top 12 facts about canal boats

Top 12 facts about canal boats

1. Don’t call it a barge – as its name suggests, a narrowboat is not a barge as they are just seven feet wide and designed to fit Britain’s canal locks, while barges are at least twice as wide

2. Size matters – narrowboats range in length from 32ft to 70ft, and provide accommodation for between two and 12 people

3. Keep to the right when passing other boats – unlike cars on our roads, narrowboats move to the right when passing, otherwise it’s best to stay in the middle

4. You don’t need a licence to steer our boats – but all our canal boat hire operators provide expert tuition on arrival, as well as detailed information in advance of your narrowboat holiday

5. You can cook a proper meal – a gas oven, fridge, pots, pans, cooking utensils and crockery are all provided in the galley

6. You can bring your pet – up to two dogs or other pets are allowed on board many of our boats, and charges vary depending on the operator.

7. It’s nice and cosy on board – as all our boats have central heating, and some also have multi-fuel stoves

8. Toilets are fully flushing – our boats are fitted with flushing toilets and showers are fed by the boat’s hot water tank

9. There’s entertainment on board – all our boats have a TV, radio and DVD player, and many also have WiFi and we recommend bringing a pack of cards and some board games to play while on your canal boat holiday too

10. You can’t go over 1,000 watts – hairdryers, straighteners, phone and computer chargers, and other electrical appliances that use up to 1,000 watts can be used on board, but anything using above 1,000 watts won’t work

11. Special equipment is there for you – life jackets are available on request and many of our operators provide wet weather overalls for the helmsman

12. There’s a choice of stern – the backs of our boats have either a ‘cruiser stern’ or are ‘semi traditional’. The ‘cruiser stern’ gives you an open back deck, with room for a number of people to stand. While the ‘semi traditional’ gives a smaller rear deck with a seating area which can be enclosed with doors. Some people like having the larger deck for a number of people to congregate on, while others prefer the seating in the ‘semi traditional’ as it can be good for keeping dogs and children in a defined area.

Top 5 Christmas Canal Getaways

Top 5 Christmas Canal Getaways

With frosty towpaths, peaceful rural retreats and historic waterside pubs, a narrowboat holiday on Britain’s canal network can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

Drifters offers winter cruising* from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug craft for two to family vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat or to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations in waterside towns and cities like Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

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.

Drifters’ prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £535 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £825.

Here’s a list of our Top 5 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat:

1. Travel through remote Staffordshire Moorlands…from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, on a week’s break boaters can travel north up the Trent & Mersey Canal to connect with the Caldon Canal at Stoke on Trent, said to be one of the finest canals in Britain. From here, it’s a gentle 12-hour cruise along the 17-mile long Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin and back, travelling through beautiful countryside deep in the remote Staffordshire Moorlands. From the water meadows around Cheddleton to the dense woodlands of the Churnet Valley, and the urban landscapes of the Potteries to the windy moorlands near Denford, the scenery is ever-changing. Top mooring sites along the route include the Hollybush Inn at Denford and Froghall Basin.

2. Amble along the Ashby Canal to Market Bosworth…On a short break from our boat yard at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head north along the Oxford Canal to the outskirts of Coventry to reach the peaceful Ashby Canal to enjoy 22 miles of lock-free cruising. Along the way, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy visiting a series of historic canalside pubs, including the Rose & Castle at Ansty, The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction and The Lime Kilns at Watling Street, as well as visiting the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard lost his crown to Henry Tudor. On a week’s holiday, there’s time to travel further north along the Coventry Canal to the historic hatting town of Atherstone, with plenty of eateries to enjoy, including The Old Bakery.

3. Soar across the Stream in the Sky to Ellesmere…from our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, on a short break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Ellesmere and back, passing over the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 300 metres above the Dee Valley, with incredible views to enjoy. Top mooring sites along the way include The Poacher’s Pocket pub at Gledrid and the head of the Ellesmere Arm provides good access to Ellesmere town, with its narrow winding streets and choice of eateries. On a week’s holiday from Trevor, boaters can travel on to Wrenbury, with its range of historic houses and the 16th century St Margaret’s Church overlooking the village green and canalside Dusty Miller pub in a converted corn mill.

4. Wend your way to Warwick…from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore Warwick Castle decked out for Christmas, with a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall, ‘Stories with Santa’ in the Library and ‘A Winter Wedding’ in the Princess Tower. Top mooring sites along the way include Long Itchington with its choice of six pubs, including ‘The Duck on the Pond’ and the Blue Lias pub at the bottom of the Stockton flight.

5. Travel through Shakespeare country on the Stratford Canal…from our narrowboat hire centre at Stratford upon Avon, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise along the Stratford Canal to the village of Wootton Wawen, with its Yew Tree Farm Shopping Village, offering visitors a Farm Shop, Cowshed Café, antiques and crafts. And once back in Stratford, canal boat holiday-makers can take time to enjoy the historic town’s marvellous Christmas lights, markets, grottos, carol singers, traditional pubs, ghost walks, shops, Swan Theatre, cosy waterside restaurants and museums, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Top mooring sites along the way include the summit of the Wilmcote Flight for access to the village of Wilmcote, with Mary Arden Farm Museum and Mary Arden Inn.

*Please note some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network, but none of the following routes are scheduled to be affected over Christmas.

Top 7 ghostly going-ons on the waterways

Stan Cullimore’s River Thames Diary – it’s a lovely way to live

There’s a lot to be said for messing about in boats. Living life beyond the river banks. It’s a wonderful way to slow down and unwind. Which is why Mrs Cullimore and I recently decided to spend a week slowly chugging up and down the River Thames to Wallingford and back.

Setting off from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Eynsham near Witney, our home for the duration was the four-berth, 58ft narrowboat ‘Knighton’. With a solid double bed at one end, a delightful living room at the other and a bijou galley in the middle, it was perfect for seven days of relaxing adventures.

Here’s my Captain’s Log from what seemed like a Galaxy far, far away…

Day 1 – Eynsham to Godstow Abbey

Locks – 2
Miles – 4
Cruising hours – 2
Scenery – We’re in the heart of the country. Gently rolling away as far as the eye can see. Up ahead are glimpses of those dreaming spires of Oxford.
Pubs – The Trout. Great beer, friendly staff, lots of WiFi, all in all, delightful.
Highlight – After mooring up for the night and going for a stroll, we found a sign; “Be Your Beautiful Best” and decided to make it our motto for the week ahead.

Day 2 – Godstow Abbey to Oxford

Locks – 1
Miles – 2
Cruising hours – 1
Scenery – Wide open meadows give way to spiky castles on the skyline. If Willy Wonka did architecture, this is what he’d make. It’s fabulous.
Pubs – So many, it’s hard to choose. We ended up at The Punter, mainly because it was only a hop and a skip from where we moored for the night.
Highlight – Strolling into Oxford to explore, stopping for a coffee and finding a string quartet busking right next to us. Most excellent.

Day 3 – Oxford to Abingdon

Locks – 4
Miles – 8.5
Cruising hours – 3.5
Scenery – The countryside in this part of the world is very pretty. Gently folding hills, patchwork fields of yellow and green swaying in the breeze. Approaching Abingdon by river was like watching a picture postcard come to life.
Pubs – We moored just round the corner from The Broad Face. A lovely old pub built on the edge of the river, reached by a delightful stroll along the Thames Path.
Highlight – Making our way downstream from Oxford we found ourselves caught up among a crowd of rowers. Short boats, long ones and everything in between. They splashed and twirled their way round each other, like crazy boat-borne ballerinas.

Day 4 – Abingdon to Wallingford

Locks – 4
Miles – 13
Cruising hours – 4
Scenery – Another day, another lovely slice of countryside gliding past our windows. But the real stars of today’s journey were the houses dotted along the riverbank. We’ve left suburbia far behind. Some of the riverside mansions have boat sheds bigger than our house.
Pubs – We moored near the bridge opposite a road filled with friendly looking pubs, including the Old Post Office. Thought it would be rude to be this close and not drop in for a pint or two.
Highlight – We’ve seen lots of wildlife all week. Great to watch the Red Kites that have taken over the skies of Oxfordshire. When one of them swooped down to land beside the boat and take a drink from the river this afternoon, it was so exciting I forgot to take a picture.

Day 5 – back up to Abingdon

Locks – 4
Miles – 13
Cruising hours – 4.5
Scenery – We’re on our way back up river, however today, we’re feeling more relaxed, so made time to chat with some of the friendly lock keepers.
Pubs – Getting a bit sentimental we went back to the Broad Face.
Highlight – Chinooks. We saw loads of those enormous double ended military helicopters. Apparently, they’ve got a base somewhere down this way and to reach it from London, they follow the Thames to help them navigate.

Day 6 – Abingdon to Oxford

Locks – 4
Miles – 8.5
Cruising hours – 4
Scenery – Still on our way back and still enjoying the scenery in reverse.
Pubs – Went for a short stroll into Oxford and found The Jam Factory, a really nice place full of students who all wanted to make a fuss of our dog Mabel.
Highlight – The beautiful bridges of Oxford county. Whether they are built for trains, cars, people or bikes, made of stone, steel or wood, there’s something lovely about all of them.

Day 7 – Oxford to Eynsham

Locks – 3
Miles – 5
Cruising hours – 3
Scenery – The sun shone, the birds sang, everything in the waterside meadows looked green and pleasant.
Pubs – Stopped just short of the narrowboat hire base for our last night. Meant we didn’t have to travel far the next morning and we were very close to, The Talbot Inn where we headed for a last night pint. Very nice.
Highlight – One thing you notice when you’re on a boat, is how friendly everyone is. Doesn’t matter if they’re riding along on a boat, passing by on the towpath or just enjoying the view – everyone waves and says hello. It’s a lovely way to live.

Drifters' A to Z of canal boat holidays

Drifters’ A to Z of canal boat holidays

A is for Anderton Boat Lift – also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, this fascinating example of Victorian engineering provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation.

B is for Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers.

C is for 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 in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country.

D is for Docks – built to accommodate ships and store cargoes, such as London Docklands, once the busiest in the world and Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a World Heritage site.

E is for Everywhere – there are over 2,000 miles of navigable waterways to explore in Britain, and half the UK’s population lives within five miles of a navigable canal or river.

F is for Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift which stands 35 metre high and moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland.

G is for Gongoozling – the leisurely watching of boats, often passing through a lock, it’s thought the word may have arisen from the Lincolnshire dialect ‘gawn’ and ‘goozle’, both meaning to stare or gape.

H is for Heritage – canals were built to transport goods and materials to support the Industrial Revolution and are vital part of our nation’s industrial heritage.

I is for Iron Trunk Aqueduct – built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, this impressive 10-metre high structure carries the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse near Wolverton in Buckinghamshire

J is for Jessop – one of the great canal engineers who worked on the Grand Union, Rochdale and Llangollen canals.

K is for Kennet & Avon Canal – which travels 87 miles through spectacular scenery, linking the River Thames and the Bristol Avon.

L is for Locks – there are over 1,650 locks on the canal system, all enabling boaters to travel up and down hills.

M is for Mooring – along the length of the majority of our inland waterways boaters are free to choose where they stop to moor for the night.

N is for Navigation – another word for a canal and travelling by vessel, you don’t need a licence to skipper a canal boat and tuition is provided as part of canal boat hire packages.

O is for Oxford Canal – one of the oldest canals in Britain meandering slowly through the countryside, this canal opened in sections between 1774 and 1790 to transport coal from the Coventry coalfields to Oxford and the River Thames.

P is for Pubs – there are hundreds of waterside inns along Britain’s canals and rivers, many of them historic rural locals, so you’re never too far away from the next watering hole.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the six-mile network of historic industrial rivers that criss-cross the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London were restored to full navigation as part of preparation for the London 2012 Olympics.

R is for Relax – with canal and river speed limits of just 4mph, canal boat holidays are said to be the fastest way to slow down, relax and escape the stress of busy modern lives.

S is for Standedge Tunnel – at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18th and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.

T is for Telford – another of the great canal engineers, Thomas Telford worked with William Jessop on the Llangollen Canal and was responsible for the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

U is for Underwater – canals support a thriving underwater ecosystem of many varieties of fish, eels, invertebrates, larvae and underwater plants.


V is for Vole – best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, but sadly now one of our most endangered species, to spot a water vole look out for closely grazed ‘lawn’ areas, often covered with neat piles of chopped grass and listen for the ‘plop’ sound as they enter the water.

W is for Wildlife – waterways provide homes for large numbers of birds, plants and animals, including many protected species, like water voles, otters, bats and kingfishers, so there’s always something special to look out for.

X is for Station X – close to the Grand Union Canal at Fenny Stratford in Milton Keynes, Station X at Bletchley Park is where Britain’s wartime code breakers helped win the Second World War.

Y is for Yesteryear – with a much slower pace of life, a friendly camaraderie amongst boaters and a structure that hasn’t fundamentally changed for 200 years, the canals are often described as an escape to yesteryear.

Z is for Zoo – the Regent’s Canal passes alongside ZSL London Zoo, giving boaters the chance to spot a variety of exotic birds in the spectacular Northern Aviary, designed by Lord Snowdon.