Top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners

With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever and the health benefits of spending time by the water proven, narrowboat holidays are becoming increasingly popular.

You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all Drifters’ operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

Today’s narrowboats are fully equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

So if you are planning to pack up and ship out on an adventure afloat, take a look at our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners to help you learn the ropes:

1. Cruise to the bright lights of Birmingham – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’. It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages. Once in the centre of Birmingham, narrowboat holiday-makers can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre and other city centre attractions.

2. Love the Llangollen – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network. The journey from Drifters’ base at Trevor near Llangollen to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. There are just four locks between Trevor and the beautiful Meres, a journey which takes around seven hours. And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.

3. Potter through the Peak District – our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals near Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break.

4. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, narrowboaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.

5. Visit Georgian Bath – from our base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a delightful six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, canal boat holiday makers can use their boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.

6. Take a rural route to Braunston – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through pretty wooded countryside and a series of sleepy villages with rural waterside pubs, including Newbold and Hillmorton.

7. 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. The journey, perfect for beginners on a mid-week or week-long break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift – and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Mark King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

8. Steer gently through the countryside to Stone – from our base at Great Haywood it takes just five hours of gentle cruising along the Trent & Mersey Canal to reach the historic Shropshire market town of Stone. Stone is renowned as the food and drink capital of Staffordshire, with regular markets, a good choice of restaurants and the annual Food & Drink Festival in October. Along the way, there are just four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Woolpack at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.

9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales – the journey from our narrowboat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes 13 hours and passes through three locks each way. The route takes boaters through the historic town of Skipton, with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands managed by the Woodland Trust. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms, easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.

10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our canal boat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for canal boat holiday beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one on the way, one on the way back), this gentle journey through the Shropshire countryside passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green and transfers boaters onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction. On reaching the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered houses cottages and attractive Georgian houses, visitors have a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2018

Top of the locks

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales, all enabling boats to travel up and down hills.

These structures have been around for hundreds of years but can be daunting for canal boat holiday newcomers, especially when there are lots of them in quick succession.

Fortunately there’s no mystery to using locks – just a series of step-by-step tasks. A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end. By emptying or filling the chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of waterway.

There are many different kinds of locks, but they all on work on a similar principle. With the lock gates closed, boaters should open the sluices (paddles) to let the water in or out and when the water level under the boat is the same as the level it’s moving to, the boat can move in or out of the lock.

Some locks are operated by boaters, others by lock-keepers. Tuition is included in all Drifters canal boat holiday packages, and during the handover procedure boat yard staff will usually take canal boat holiday-makers through their first lock.

Here at Drifters’ we’ve put together our Top 6 flights of locks to celebrate these marvels of canal engineering:

1. Caen Hill – One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the flight of locks at Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire has to be one of the most iconic sites on the waterway network. With 29 locks spread out over two miles, raising the canal by 72 metres, it takes around six hours to passage through. The 16-lock section clustered together up the hill is truly a magnificent site. Drifters’ Devizes narrowboat hire base is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

2. Tardebigge – with 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Worcestershire is the longest on the inland waterways system. In total, the locks raise and lower boats 67 metres and it takes around five-and-a-half hours to travel through them. In recognition of the effort it takes, the Canal & River Trust issues certificates to boaters rising (or lowering) to the challenge. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at the top of the flight at Tardebigge Wharf.

3. Bingley 5 Rise – another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this spectacular staircase of five locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, 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 of the next, and it takes around one-and-a-half hours to work through. The size of the chambers can be intimidating even for experienced boaters, but friendly lock-keepers are on hand to help. Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is 25 miles and 20 locks away at Barnoldswick.

4. Hatton – nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals, this impressive flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire raises boats up 45 metres over two miles, and takes around four-and-a-half hours to travel through. Just below the Top lock, boaters will find the popular Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment and usually plenty of “gongoozlers” watching boats passing through the locks too! Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Warwick, just two miles and two locks from Hattton Bottom Lock.

5. Foxton – surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, this set of 10 locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal raises boats up 23 metres in just a quarter-of-a-mile. Foxton Locks is the longest set of staircase locks in the UK – where the locks open directly one from another so that the top gate of one forms the bottom of the next – and they are designated a Grade II Listed structure. It takes around 45 minutes to pass through and there are lock keepers on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles – “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead.” Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is just two and a half hours away at Market Harborough.

6. Marple – one of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks on the stunning Peak Forest Canal at Marple raise boats by 64 metres over just one mile. The locks are built of local stone and are mostly tree-lined, giving the canal a lovely secluded feeling. In fact the Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Drifters’ Peak District canal boat hire base is 32 miles and 14 locks away from the bottom of the Marple Flight.

Top 8 October Half Term Canal Boat Holidays

Top 8 October Half Term Canal Boat Holidays

Narrowboat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, learning how to navigate the waterways and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside pubs and attractions along the way.

So if you are thinking of packing up and shipping out this October half term, take a look at our top 8 destinations, all suitable for beginners:

1. Glide through the Usk Valley to Brecon and back – the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a week’s break boaters can cruise through the wooded Usk Valley to the pretty market town of Brecon and back. Along the way, boaters can stop off at Llanfoist to take the old tramway into the Black Mountains, the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls. The total journey there and back travels 51 miles, passing through 12 locks and takes around 25 hours.

2. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our narrowboat boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, right 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. Along the way, boaters travel across two magnificent aqueducts crafted out of Bath stone and can enjoy stopping off at some excellent canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend, the Lock Inn at Bradford upon Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Arriving at Sydney Gardens just outside Bath City Centre, boaters can find quiet moorings just a 15-minute walk from Bath’s major attractions. The journey to Bath takes around nine hours, travelling 19 miles and passing through eight locks.

3. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from our boat yard at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, boaters can transfer onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds peacefully through countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field. Here in 1485 the reign of Richard III ended and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.

4. Visit the historic Yorkshire mill town of Hebden Bridge…on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours. Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and markets as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

5. Explore Birmingham by boat – with more canals than Venice and incredible canalside regeneration areas like Brindleyplace, there’s no better way to explore Birmingham than by boat. From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to reach City Centre moorings at Gas Street Basin, the perfect base for exploring the many attractions of Britain’s vibrant Second City, including the fantastic Thinktank Science Museum. With no locks along the way, it’s a great route for beginners to enjoy testing the waters.

6. Potter to Sale and back via Lymm – from our canal boat hire base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, it takes around eight peaceful hours, travelling 22 miles and passing through just one lock to reach Sale Bridge. Along the way, narrowboat holiday-makers encounter the 1,133-metre long Preston Tunnel and cruise along a section of the Bridgewater Canal, which passes through the pretty town of Lymm.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow and back – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break (three or four nights). The route starts with a journey through the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift which replaced a flight of 11 locks and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, plus miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

8. Travel 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 our canal barge hire base at Trevor, boaters can travel seven peaceful miles to Ellesmere and back, with just two locks to pass through and the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with stunning views of the Dee Valley below to travel across. Once at Ellesmere, boaters can explore the famous Mere with its historic castle, woodland paths and fascinating wildlife.

Top 9 Halloween destinations afloat

Top 9 Halloween destinations afloat

With ghosts galore, bats, toads, moths, spiders and frogs aplenty – as well as creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths – Britain’s 2,000-mile, 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.

Here’s a guide to our spookiest destinations for Halloween 2018:

1. Look out for the ghost of the lusty farm hand – originally an 18th century farm house, The Blue Lias pub on the Grand Union Canal at the bottom of the Stockton flight in Warwickshire, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a red-haired farm labourer who was murdered when the vengeful farmer returned home from market one day to find the labourer in bed with his wife. The Blue Lias pub is just under a mile and eight locks away from our canal boat rental base at Stockton.

2. 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’ narrowboat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath is a 20-minute cruise from the George Inn.

3. 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 can be reached in around 12 hours (travelling 22 miles through 18 locks) from our canal boat rental base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford.

4. 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, and 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 our canal boat yard at Sowerby Bridge.

5. 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, who 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, and it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones. Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from our narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

6. 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.

7. Look out for the Monkey Man at Norbury – the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ 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 boat yard at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.

8. 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 have must 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 our canal boat hire base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire.

9. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights, gliding along the towpath by the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries canal boat holiday-makers 38 metres high in the air above the River Dee. From our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

All aboard for autumn afloat on the canals

All aboard for autumn afloat on the canals

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the vibrant colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways – dramatically mirrored in the water.

There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including flocks of fieldfare and redwing searching for hawthorn berries, and wood mice and bank voles stocking up on food before the winter.

There are also foraging opportunities for people along the way – apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes all make fabulous ingredients for fresh fruit crumbles and drinks on board.

Here are Drifters’ top seven destinations this autumn:

1. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, boaters can transfer onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds peacefully through countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field. Here in 1485 the reign of Richard III ended and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.

2. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal – from our boat yard at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way – perfect for a short break. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre, to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Tudor World.

3. Float through the Brecon Beacons to Taylbont-on-Usk – the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our narrowboat hire base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a short break (three or four nights) boaters can journey through the wooded Usk Valley to Talybont-on-Usk, visiting villages and historic market towns along the way, including the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle. Once at Talybont-on-Usk, boaters can enjoy walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls and a choice of pubs, including the Star Inn and the White Hart Inn. The total journey there and back travels 36 miles, passing through 10 locks and takes around 18 hours. .

4. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours. Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and markets as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

5. Explore Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back, enjoying beautiful views of the southern Cotswold hills along the way. The journey to Sydney Wharf takes just six hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts, passing through one lock and several canalside pubs, including the popular Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, boaters can moor up and it’s a short walk to the City Centre to visit some of the City’s world class attractions, including the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent.

6. Complete the Stourport Ring – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, on a week’s break narrowboat holiday-makers canal travel the popular Stourport Ring, travelling a total of 74 miles and passing through 118 locks, which takes around 44 hours). The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line. The Stourport Ring visits three cities – Wolverhampton, Birmingham and the ancient City of Worcester. Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindleyplace and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver with access to the National Trust’s famous rock houses; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow and back – from our canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break (three or four nights). The route begins passing over the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift which replaced a flight of 11 locks and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, plus miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

 

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.

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.

Drifters' Top 5 new canal boats for hire in 2018

Drifters’ Top 5 new canal boats for hire in 2018

There are now over 30,000 canal boats on our inland waterways, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution, and half a century after the 1968 Transport Act officially recognised Britain’s canal network as a major leisure resource, the popularity of canal boat holidays continues to increase.

Today’s canal boats for hire are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons – central heating, hot water, TV, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets. To create ever higher standards of accommodation, the length of boat per berth is increasing and new canal boats for hire are arriving on the network with extras like baths, drinks fridges, larger showers, solid-fuel stoves, King-sized beds and WiFi.

Here are our top five new narrowboats available for hire in 2018:

1. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ aboard ‘Lily’ – the brand new luxury four-berth ‘Lily’ Heritage class boat is now available to hire from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Trevor, on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales. This 66ft long semi-traditional stern narrowboat offers ‘heritage’ features, including a Belfast sink, port holes and a solid fuel stove in the saloon, alongside modern home comforts, including two showers and two toilets, two double beds (which can be made into twin beds) in separate cabins, LED lighting, full radiator central heating and WiFi. ***ROUTES – on a short break from Trevor, canal boat holiday-makers can travel across the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a pioneering masterpiece of engineering. Standing at 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 307-metre long structure offers stunning views of the valley below. ***PRICES for ‘Lily’ start at £740 for a short break, or £1,060 for a week. Price includes bed linen, towels, cancellation protection, first pet, parking and tuition on arrival. A £50 non-refundable damage waiver and fuel deposit (£50 for a short break, £90 for a week) are extra. Fuel charge is based on use, circa £10-15 per day.

2. Travel to Georgian Bath and back aboard ‘Darwin’s Fox’ – from our canal boat hire base at Foxhangers on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes, this season the new 65ft ‘Darwin’s Fox’, with accommodation for up to seven people, takes to the water. This luxury canal boat is perfect for two couples or small families wanting the greatest amount of privacy and comfort aboard a narrowboat. It has a central saloon and open plan galley, with the two permanent sleeping cabins privately positioned at either end of the boat. The rear double can be converted from a standard double into a king size bed and the forward cabin has a range of flexible sleeping configurations. ‘Darwin Fox’ has central heating, a 240v electrical system, fully equipped galley including a microwave and extra drinks fridge. There are TV’s in each cabin, the saloon, the master double and secondary cabin/media room where a single bed converts into a desk and TV. ***ROUTES – from Foxhangers, canal boat holiday-makers can travel west to the World Heritage Status City of Bath, famous for its stunning Georgian architecture and fascinating Roman Baths, or head east to the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, travelling up the spectacular Caen Hill flight of locks, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’. ***PRICES for ‘Darwin’s Fox’ start at £1,098 for a week. Price includes damage waiver, diesel and gas for cooking, bed linen and towels, car parking, tuition and buoyancy aids. Pets are charged at £30 each.

3. Enjoy stunning Pennine scenery aboard ‘Lincoln’ – this 46ft cosy narrowboat for two launches this season from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire. ‘Lincoln’ offers canal boat holiday-makers a fixed double cabin (plus convertible single bed in the saloon), an extra-large shower, LED lighting, central heating, radio CD player with 4 speakers, Bluetooth, USB, iPod and Android, TV/DVD, hairdryer, 240v electrical system, a well-equipped galley with hob and fitted oven and grill, microwave, fridge and dining table. ***ROUTES – On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal, passing through the beautiful Calder Valley and stunning Pennine scenery along the way. ***PRICES for ‘Lincoln’ start at £485 for a short break, £745 for a week. Price includes damage waiver, cruising guide, comprehensive instruction, fuel, gas, parking, buoyancy aids, bed linen and first pet.

4. Visit historic Warwick aboard the spacious ‘Harry Hudson’ – new for the 2018 season, the 70ft ‘Harry Hudson’ has accommodation for up to six people, with two fixed doubles (one of which can also be set up as two fixed singles), each with an en suite toilet and shower room. The spacious lounge can also be made up as either twin singles or a large double. ‘Harry Hudson’ has a fully equipped galley, with a full sized gas cooker, fridge, microwave, and plenty of worktop space. The spacious lounge is equipped with TV, DVD, radio with CD player. There are 3-pin sockets throughout the boat, and a USB charging point. ***ROUTES – on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Long Itchington and back, with plenty of historic canalside pubs to enjoy a along the way. On a week’s holiday, canal boat hirers can complete the Warwickshire Ring, passing through the centre of Birmingham as well as the beautiful Warwickshire countryside. ***PRICES for ‘Harry Hudson’ start at and £720 for a short break (three or four nights), £1,000 for a week. Price includes diesel, gas, car parking, tuition on arrival, buoyancy aids and bed linen. A non-refundable compulsory damage waiver is extra, and pets are charged at £25 each.

5. Step aboard the new Warbler at Worcester and complete the Mid-Worcestershire Ring – a brand new 69ft ‘Warbler’ narrowboat, with accommodation for up to eight people, will be available to hire from Drifters’ canal boat hire centre at Worcester from this July. The ‘Warbler’ has three flexible layout cabins (all with wider beds), two bathrooms, LED lighting throughout, two TV’s, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining table and a front deck table too. ***ROUTES – from Worcester on the River Severn, canal boat holiday-makers can complete the Mid-Warwickshire Ring on a short break, travelling 21 miles, through 33 locks in around 16 hours, stopping off to enjoy ‘The Ring’ series of art installations taking place there this year. On a week’s holiday, boaters can complete the longer Stourport Ring, travelling through Wolverhampton, Birmingham and the mighty Tardebigge Flight of locks. ***PRICES for the Warbler start at £999 for a short break (three or four nights), £1,599 for a week. Price includes damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet. Fuel is extra, circa £10-15 per day. A fuel deposit of £50 is taken for short breaks, £90 for a week’s hire.

 

 

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!