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Top 5 places to watch the sunset on a narrowboat holiday

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home.

You can explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, with the choice of hundreds of waterside destinations to visit along the way.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so you can plan your journey around your chosen mooring sites.  These can include canalside pubs, beauty spots and places to relax and enjoy a sundowner on deck.

To help you plan your next narrowboat holiday adventure, we’ve listed the top five places to watch the sunset afloat:

1. Tixall Wide in Staffordshire

From our canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, it takes just half an hour to cruise to Tixall Wide.  This beautiful lake on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal was created at the time of the construction of the canal.  It was designed to mitigate objections of the residents of Tixall Hall, who didn’t want the new canal to spoil their view.  Today it’s a peaceful haven for wildlife and the perfect place to watch the sun go down.

2. Lock 37 on the Rochdale Canal in Lancashire

From our narrowboat yard at Sowerby Bridge is at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and the Rochdale Canal.  From there, it takes around 13 hours (travelling 13 miles and passing through 35 locks) to reach West Summit Lock 37 on the Rochdale Canal.  This takes you high up in the Pennines. Here you can moor up before the lock to watch the sun go down.  And then take a short walk to the village of Summit and The Summit Inn.

3. Calcutt Locks in Warwickshire

From our narrowboat hire base at Stockton Top Marina on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just half an hour to reach the bottom of Calcutt Locks.  This is a great place to view the sunset over Stockton. From there, on a short break you can continue on to the pretty canal village of Braunston with a choice of pubs.  On a week away, you can continue on up the North Oxford Canal and on to the Ashby Canal.  From there, you can enjoy 23 miles of lock free cruising through the countryside.

4. Chirk Aqueduct in North Wales

From our narrowboat hire base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal, it takes half an hour to reach Chirk Aqueduct.  This carries boaters 21 metres high across the River Ceiriog and the English/Welsh border. There are moorings on the north side, perfect for looking out across the valley beyond.  On a short break from Chirk, you can continue on to cross the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  It stands 38 metres high across the Dee Valley.  Then you can cruise on to the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains.

5. Castleford Flood Lock in West Yorkshire 

From Sowerby Bridge, it takes around 15 hours to reach Castleford Flood Lock No.9 on the Aire & Calder Navigation. The journey travels 29 miles and passes through 31 locks. Along the way, you’ll travel along the Calder & Hebble Navigation through Elland, Brighouse, Mirfield and Wakefield.  Then you cane transferg onto the Wakefield section of the Aire & Calder Navigation.  Then cruise on to Castleford, the birthplace of the sculptor Henry Moore.

Top of the Rings

Top of the Rings

Cruising rings are popular with canal boat holiday-makers, offering journeys along several different waterways, taking in a huge variety of landscapes.

Some are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate. While others, like the Droitwich Ring, are easier and more suitable for narrowboat holiday beginners.

Here are our Top 9 cruising rings:

1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours): Starting from the Drifters’ narrowboat hire bases at Worcester or Stoke Prior, this cruising ring is the only one in Europe which can be completed on a short break. It re-opened five years ago following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals, which reconnected the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Worcester. Highlights include: the historic Spa town of Droitwich; the Hanbury flight of locks; and the beautiful City of Worcester with its stunning cathedral.

2. The Outer Pennine Ring (192 miles, 248 locks, 130 hours): not for the faint-hearted nor inexperienced, this epic three-week journey can be undertaken from Drifters’ bases at Sowerby Bridge or Barnoldswick. It crosses the Pennines twice and includes the passage of Britain’s longest canal tunnel. It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Narrow, Ashton, Rochdale, Bridgewater, Leeds & Liverpool canals; and the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks. Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; Manchester City Centre; and the awesome three and a quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle; Bingley Five Rise locks; Skipton with its medieval castle; Leeds City Centre and waterside Royal Armouries Museum.

3. The Stourport Ring (74 miles, 118 locks, 44 hours): Starting from our canal boat hire bases at Autherley, Stoke Prior, Tardebigge, Gailey or Alvechurch, this offers an exhilarating and hugely popular week. The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the 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 (with central moorings in Gas Street Station, close to shops, restaurants and museums); and the ancient City of Worcester. Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindleyplace and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver with National Trust rock houses; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.

4. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours): starting from the Drifters’ base at Anderton, Acton Bridge, Autherley or Peak District, this superb route takes narrowboat holiday-makers through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. Highlights include: the spectacular vertical Anderton Boat Lift, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’; Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall and its working Elizabethan Mill alongside the Bridgewater Canal; Castlefield Basin; Manchester’s China Town; the Rochdale 9 locks; Buxworth Basin, Whaley Bridge and the glorious Top Lock at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal; the Cheshire Plain; and heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.

5. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours): starting from Drifters’ bases at Stoke Golding, Stoke Prior, Napton, Coventry, Warwick, Stockton, Stretton, Braunston or Rugby, with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in two weeks. It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone, Hawkesbury Junction, one of the tightest turns on the system where the Oxford joins the Coventry; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the Knowle Flight of five locks; the pretty canal village of Braunston; Napton Junction; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.

6. Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from Drifters’ bases at Napton, Autherley, Stoke Prior, Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen, this World-famous journey includes 130 locks. Most people do this trip in a more leisurely 10 days or two weeks, but it is possible to do it in a week. The Avon Ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across Wawickshire and the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; Telford’s lofty Mythe Bridge; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 lock Tardebigge Flight, the longest in the country; and the 2495 metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.

7. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours): Starting from our bases at Autherley, Acton Bridge, Coventry, Brewood, Great Haywood, Peak District or Gailey, this ring is achievable on a week-long holiday. The four counties are Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and the route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals. Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the World famous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; extravagant cuttings and embankments on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Pottery Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the Ski Centre, China Gardens and Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; Churches Mansion; the waters at Tixall Wide on the Staffs & Worcs; the narrow canal at Autherley Junction; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.

8. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours): from Drifters’ bases at Autherley, Great Haywood, Coventry or Gailey this exhilarating ring is achievable in a week. The Ring takes in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals. Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin with access to city centre shops, restaurants and museums; 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; Dudley Zoo & Castle; Drayton Manor Park at Fazeley; the Staffs & Worcs Roundhouses; the waters at Tixhall Wide; Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction; 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

9. The Leicester Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours): from Drifters’ bases at Stoke Golding, Rugby, Napton, Coventry, Braunston, Stretton, Market Harborough or Gayton, this epic route is achievable in two weeks. The route cruises a mixture of non-tidal, broad and narrow canals, including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey canals, the Grand Union Leicester Line and the rivers Soar and Trent. Highlights include: the Saddlington Tunnel, a roost for bats on the Leicester Line; the Foxton Staircase of Locks and Museum dedicated to the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift which once carried boats up and down the hill in two giant bath tubs; the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; Braunston canal village; Hillmorton Locks; 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry and views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

BANK HOLIDAY BOATING – Our top 10 short breaks

One way journey across the Pennines

Starting from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge at the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, this week-long holiday covers 79 miles and 79 locks, and takes around 45 hours.

Truly one of the great canal journeys, it takes boaters across the backbone of England via Leeds and Skipton, plus two fantastic waterside galleries, and includes sections of the Calder & Hebble Navigation, Aire & Calder Navigation and Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

All the locks are wide. Between the summit at Leeds and Barnoldswick, boaters will ascend 400ft.

Day 1 (Monday) Sowerby Bridge to Elland (3 miles, 5 locks, 3 hours): Collect the boat at 1pm and sail down the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation, to the historic market town of Elland, with visitor moorings at the Wharf and a number of pubs too choose from, including the Barge & Barrel on Elland Wharf.

Day 2 (Tuesday) Elland to Broad Cut (14 miles, 19 locks, 9 hours): Journey on to Brighouse, an interesting town with food and craft markets, festivals, useful shops and places to eat – including The Richard Oastler in an imposing building which was once a Victorian chapel, complete with organ – as well as the eponymous brass band. After Brighouse, boaters leave the canal and drop into the River Calder. The river soon passes under a towering motorway viaduct, a reminder of the world left behind, on to Shepley Bridge then Broad Cut and moorings at the Navigation Inn.

Day 3 (Wednesday) Broad Cut to Leeds (21 miles, 11 locks, 9 hours): Continue on to Wakefield, with its new Barbara Hepworth museum, the Hepworth Wakefield with canal boat moorings right outside. Travel on along the River Calder to Stanley Ferry to see the aqueduct, a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge, built between 1836 and 1839 to take the Aire & Calder Navigation over the River Calder. Now on the Aire & Calder, a commercial waterway with electric locks and a wide channel, the journey continues on to Leeds and its regenerated waterfront. Moor at Leeds visitor moorings and visit the waterside Royal Armouries at Clarence Dock, Britain’s national museum of arms and armour, and one of the most important museums of its type in the world.

Day 4 (Thursday) Leeds to Apperley Bridge (8 miles, 13 locks, 6 hours): continue along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, quickly escaping the urban waterfront, passing through fields and woods, with spectacular views. The journey takes boaters past the historic Kirkstall Brewery, with a heritage stretching back to the 12th century when Cistercian monks founded an Abbey there. Once at Apperley Bridge, moor above or below Dobson Locks and choose from a number of pubs, including the historic Stansfield Arms which dates back to 1543.

Day 5 (Friday) Apperley Bridge to Riddlesden (10 miles, 16 locks, 8 hours): Continue west along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, stopping at Sir Titus Salt’s World Heritage Status model town at Saltaire with Salts Diner and impressive David Hockney gallery at Salts Mill. Continue on to the famous Bingley Five Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways and moor for the night at Riddlesden and choose between the Willow Tree Inn and Marquis of Granby pubs.

Day 6 (Saturday) Riddlesden to Gargrave (15 miles, 3 locks, 5 hours): continue along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal main line, passing Silsden, then through Skipton with its 900-year old castle – one of the most complete and best preserved castles in England. Then on to Gargrave visitor moorings for the night with a variety of pubs to choose from, including the Masons Arms.

Day 7 (Sunday) Gargrave to Barnoldswick (7 miles, 12 locks, 5 hours): climb through open countryside via the lock flights of Bank Newton and Greenberfield and overshoot the boatyard to moor for the night at the Anchor, Salterforth or Café Cargo at Foulridge, just by the tunnel.

Day 8 (Monday): turn around and head back to Lower Park Marina, Barnoldswick in time to vacate the boat by 9.30am.