Britain’s historic canal network was built to transport goods and materials, enabling Britain to become the first industrial power in the World. The 18th century saw a surge in canal building, with 44 Acts for new canals passed between 1791 and 1795 alone, and by 1850, approximately 4,800 miles of inland waterway had been constructed.
Today, our beautiful network of navigable waterways is mostly used for leisure, and has become a haven for wildlife. There are now 35,000 boats on our canal network, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution. But unlike the original working boats, the canal boats available to hire today are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons – central heating, hot water, TV, Wifi, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets. And some offer five star accommodation, with extras like King sized bed, baths and solid-fuel stoves.
Drifters offers the choice of over 550 boats from 45 bases across England, Wales and Scotland. Each year, canal anniversary celebrations remind us of the history of our waterways. Here’s our guide to the Top 5 canal anniversary celebrations for 2020:
- Celebrate 250 years since the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was authorised with a cruise into the Pennines – on the 19 May 1770, an act was passed which authorised the construction of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. At 127 miles long – linking the wide waterways of Yorkshire with those of Lancashire and the River Mersey – the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the longest single canal in the country. To celebrate, canal boat holiday-makers can take a short break (three or four nights) starting from our narrowboat hire base at Reedley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire, and travel north east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal into North Yorkshire. Along the way, the route passes through the villages of Nelson, Barrowford, Salterforth, Barnoldswick and Greenber Field. Once at East Marton, there’s a choice of canalside pubs and the canal connects to the Pennine Way just south of the village. The journey there and back covers 47 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 17½ hours.
- Celebrate 250 years since the first section of the Trent & Mersey Canal opened with a journey through the Staffordshire countryside– the Trent & Mersey Canal, which begins close to the River Mersey near Runcorn and finishes at its junction with the River Trent in Derbyshire, was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766. In 1770 the first sections of the Trent & Mersey Canal opened up – including Derwent Mouth to Shugborough in June, and Great Heywood to Weston in September. On a short break from our canal boat hire base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers cruise along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction. The journey takes around five hours, travelling 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside and passing through just five locks.
- Celebrate the bicentenary of the opening of the Regent’s Canal with a Capital cruise – on 1 August 1820 the Regent’s Canal opened between Camden and the Regent’s Canal Dock at Limehouse Basin. The Regent’s Canal was built to link the Grand Junction Canal’s Paddington Arm (which opened in 1801), with the Thames at Limehouse. Today, stretching close to nine miles with 12 locks, this quiet waterway offers visitors an oasis of calm in the Capital. From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Limehouse and back on a two week break. The journey, which travels a total of 192 miles, passes through 114 locks and takes around 80 cruising hours.
- Celebrate 300 years of River Weaver Navigation history – on 23 March 1720, the River Weaver Navigation Trustees were appointed by an Act to make the River navigable, initially for the transport of salt. Today the River Navigation stretches for 20 miles from Winsford in Cheshire to the Manchester Ship Canal at Runcorn, with five locks on its route. It connects to the Trent & Mersey Canal via the impressive Anderton Boat Lift, which lifts boats 50ft between the two waterways in two giant caissons. Salt mining subsidence has left lakes, known as flashes, where salty water is now home to coastal plants and a rich array of wildlife. On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Anderton, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise along the River Weaver to Runcorn and back, travelling a total of 30 miles and passing through 10 locks (five each way).
- Celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Grand Union Canal with a journey round the Warwickshire Ring – in 2020, the Grand Union Canal will celebrate 90 years since its formation, when eight independent waterways were merged. Stretching 137 miles through 166 locks, the Grand Union Canal was built to transport goods between London and Birmingham. From our narrowboat rental base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, boaters can access the Warwickshire Ring. Travelling sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals, this popular circuit covers 104 miles, passes through 120 locks and takes around 60 hours to navigate. It can be done in a week, but a 10-day or two-week break gives more time for sight-seeing. Destination highlights along the way include: the pretty canal village of Braunston; the awesome flight of 21 locks at Hatton; Warwick Castle, said to be Britain’s ‘Greatest medieval experience’; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin and Brindleyplace.