Posts

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.

 

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.

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

Top 5 Summer Canal Boat Holidays

Narrowboat holidays offer families the chance to set off on a summer holiday adventure together – learning how to work the locks, navigate tunnels, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

Drifters offers the choice of over 580 boats from 45 bases across England, Wales and Scotland. All our operators provide hirers with life jackets and boat steering tuition at the start of their holiday. Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and pets are welcome aboard most hire boats.

Drifters’ prices in July and August start at £625 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £965 for a week.

Here are our Top 5 Summer Holidays Afloat:

1. Visit Georgian Bath Afloat – on a short break from Drifters’ base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal and reach the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath in seven hours, with just seven locks to negotiate along the way. As well as stunning architecture, great shopping and restaurants, Bath has many fantastic family attractions, including the Roman Baths, the best preserved ancient temple and baths in Northern Europe.

2. Complete the Warwickshire Ring – from our base at Coventry Canal Basin, cruising the Warwickshire Ring makes for an energetic week’s cruise or a leisurely two-week expedition. The ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours) takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; the pretty canal village of Braunston; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome flight of 21 locks at Hatton; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham City Centre.

3. Glide across the Stream in the Sky – At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering, offering canal boat holiday-makers panoramic views of the stunning Dee Valley below. On a short break from our base on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk, boaters can travel across the aqueduct and reach the pretty town of Llangollen, with Steam Railway and Horseshoe Falls.  On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can also reach Ellesmere, the Shropshire Lake District, teaming with wildlife and the pretty town of Whitchurch, offering a wealth of independent shops, cafes and restaurants.

4. Visit Skipton and its medieval castle – on a short break from our base at Barnoldswick, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (total journey there and back of 26 miles, 30 locks, 20 hours). This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town. Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England.

5. Explore the heart of the canal network – our canal boat hire base at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire offers a variety of routes through the heart of the canal network. For example, on a short break, boaters can reach the “chocolate box” pretty historic village of Stoke Bruerne, where little has changed since the heyday of the canals the first half of the 19th century, and a visit the Canal Museum to follow the story of the people who created and worked on the canals. On a week’s break from Braunston, boaters can tackle the Warwickshire Ring, travelling through Warwick and Birmingham and passing through 93 locks.