Top 11 Canal Boat Holidays for 2021

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, with the choice of hundreds of waterside destinations and historic canalside pubs to visit along the way.

Here are Drifters’ Top 11 canal boat holidays for 2021:

  1. Explore the Staffordshire countryside from Kings Orchard – in March 2021, Drifters will be opening a new narrowboat hire base at Kings Orchard Marina on the Coventry Canal near Lichfield in Staffordshire. On a short break from Kings Orchard, you can cruise to the beautiful wildlife rich Tixall Wide and back, passing through Fradley Junction, Rugeley, Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Great Haywood Junction along the way.  The journey there and back travels 32 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 16 hours.  On a week away, boaters can continue on from Tixall Wide to complete the Birmingham Ring, taking them on a waterway odyssey with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, including Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham and a series of canalside villages with historic canalside pubs.
  2. Look out for otters on the Montgomery Canal – this beautiful canal, which runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on both sides of the border. The entire length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, making it one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe, providing habitats for many types of plants and animals, including otters.  Currently only around half the Montgomery Canal is navigable, including a seven-mile section from its junction with the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire at Frankton Locks to Gronwyn Wharf.  Work is underway to restore a further section, extending this navigable stretch to Crickheath, due to be completed in 2021.  On a short break from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk, it takes around eight hours to cruise to Gronwyn Wharf on the Montgomery Canal, travelling 15 miles and passing through 10 locks.
  3. The Warwickshire Ring – from Drifters narrowboat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel round the popular Warwickshire Ring. The journey, which can be done in a week but is best savoured over 10 days or two weeks afloat, travels a total of 101 miles, passes through 94 locks and takes around 48 hours.  Passing through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, the route takes boaters along sections of 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 Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.
  4. Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Norbury – from Drifters narrowboat hire base at Autherley, on a short break canal boat holiday-makers can cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Autherley and back. The rural route takes boaters through 15 miles of peaceful countryside, passing through just two locks and a series of pretty villages with canalside pubs, including the Bridge Inn at Brewood and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Ashton.
  5. Navigate through the Pennines to East Marton – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Reedley in Lancashire, boaters can travel along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal into North Yorkshire, passing through Nelson and then Barrowford, with its fascinating Pendle Heritage Centre and popular village pub. The route then takes boaters through seven locks and the Foulridge Tunnel, then on to the market town of Barnoldswick, with plenty of places to eat.  After miles of peaceful countryside and the three locks at Greenberfield, the canal winds its way through hilly landscape into the village of East Marton, where there’s a choice of canalside pubs and the canal connects to the Pennine Way.  The journey there and back covers 28 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around 12 hours.
  6. Float through the Brecon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, with very few locks, this peaceful waterway offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, a series of villages with country pubs and a wealth of wildlife to watch out for along the way.   On a four night break from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.  The journey there and back covers a total of 38 miles, passes through 10 locks (five there and five back) and takes around 18 hours.
  7. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around 20 hours, travelling 27 miles through 53 locks to reach the historic town of Hungerford, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel up the spectacular flight of 16 locks in a row at Caen Hill (one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways) and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, passing close to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest.  Once at Hungerford, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy dining at a choice of pubs and browsing in dozens of antique shops.
  8. Glide along the Forth & Clyde to visit Glasgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the incredible Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful nine-hour cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the City of Glasgow – perfect for a short break. Along the way, boaters will travel 22 miles and will pass through five locks.  This scenic route passes through Auchinstarry, the River Kelvin Valley with magnificent views of the Campsie Fells above, and the town of Kirkintillock.  There are moorings at Applecross Street Basin, with access to Glasgow’s wealth of museums, galleries and cultural centres, including the Hunterian Museum, home to one of Scotland’s finest collections.
  9. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four there and four back) in 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, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles.  From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish.
  10. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ into the Shropshire Lake District – from Drifters’ base at Trevor on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough across 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.
  11. Cruise to Todmorden and back for some stunning Pennine scenery – 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 – a journey which travels a total of 20 miles, passing through 34 locks and takes around 16 hours. The historic town of Todmorden offers visitors fine Victorian architecture, plenty of pubs and restaurants, and a busy market. Along the way, boaters pass through the beautiful Calder Valley village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes, and the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills, with an amazing variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs and a series of scenic waymarked walks.

For information about visiting the canal network go to

Boating for beginners from Braunston

By Giselle Whiteaker

As soon as we board Selene at Drifters narrowboat hire base in Braunston, Northamptonshire, we fall in love. Despite being true to the name in narrowness, the narrowboat feels surprisingly spacious inside, with room to manoeuvre and clever touches, like a mobile folding table that can be used inside or outside. We find it hard to believe that we are being trusted to navigate the waterways with only a brief skippering lesson.

The first afternoon, we pass through one lock as practice then moor by the bank. We whip up a meal with the provisions we brought from home and have a leisurely evening, taking a stroll along the canal to the Admiral Nelson pub and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Come morning, I stroll down to The Boat Shop to fill in the gaps in our shopping list, picking up breakfast items and postcards of the area. A quick coffee and it is time to set off, with five locks immediately ahead. My boyfriend is stretching his memory to remember all of the steps to get us safely through the lock, but as it turns out, we have a little help. We pair up with another boat for this section, chatting over the decks as the water fills and empties, taking us up and away.

Waving farewell at the end of the section, we settle into a stretch of cruising, taking turns at the tiller as we glide through the greenery. Ducks frolic by the side of the banks and Weeping Willows dangle curtains towards the murky water. The sun does not come out to play, but the gentle chug of the engine, the light rustle of trees in the breeze, and the ripples cascading away from our passage more than make up for overcast skies.

Braunston Tunnel is one of the highlights of this route. It’s a little nerve wracking for novices – imagine coasting through cool, inky-blackness, a small section of wall illuminated by the boat’s light, heading for a small, light circle: the end of the tunnel, some 1.8 miles away. It’s mesmerising and there’s a thrill to reaching the end and popping back out into daylight.

A long stretch follows, where we simply enjoy being on the canal, waving merrily at other boaters as we pass. Canal-goers are an exceptionally friendly bunch.

Reaching the turn off to Leicester, we prepare for Buckby Locks, a flight of seven. There’s a brief wait as several boats queue to go through, but the joy of boating is that no-one is in a hurry. Again, we pair up with another boat, sharing the workload throughout the flight.

At the Bottom Lock, we moor for a celebratory, and very late, lunch. We haven’t decided where we will spend the night, so we scour the map, locating the winding holes, ready for turning back from whence we came tomorrow. We decide on Weedon Bec, a popular spot according to the neat line of boats by the bank. Too slow at decision-making, we continue past the epicentre, finding a quiet spot around a bend where we are the only boat.

We could probably walk along the towpath and find a charming riverside pub, but instead, we take a seat at Selene’s prow as the sun peeks out belatedly from behind a cloud. Glasses of wine in hand, we make a toast to doing it all again tomorrow, in reverse. We watch the ducks on the water, the birds flitting from tree to tree, and just occasionally, someone walking their dog. This is the life.

Act quickly if you want to enjoy a canal boat holiday

With the school holidays about to get underway, the Canal & River Trust, the charity that looks after 2,000 miles of waterways across England & Wales, is urging those looking to enjoy a holiday in the slow lane this summer to act quickly with bookings for canal boat holidays enjoying a huge resurgence as people look for the perfect family-friendly staycation.

Canal boat companies offering holidays are reporting very healthy bookings – with three of the largest, accounting for around half the canal boats available to hire, saying that bookings are up 240 per cent since government gave the go-ahead for holidays to resume.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, comments: “If you’re looking for a self-catering staycation this year, away from busy tourist areas, step aboard a canal boat. Canal boat holidays are a great opportunity to get back to what matters: spending time with family or friends, spotting wildlife and being as active as you like.”

Nigel Stevens, from Drifters, adds: “A canal boat holiday is the fastest way to slow down.  Families come together to operate locks and take turn to ‘captain’ the boat.  We’ve bases right across the country and boats that provide home-from-home luxury.  Anyone looking for a boat in the school holidays should get in quick, whilst those without school-age children can book now to secure their boat to benefit from canal cruising in the late summer sunshine in September and October.”

The data from Drifters, which looks at the three largest hire boat operators on the UK canal network, shows that since week commencing 21 June, when domestic holidays were given the go ahead to resume from 4 July, bookings have almost doubled over the equivalent period in 2019.  And during the two weeks after holidays were given the go ahead to resume, bookings increased by 240 per cent.

To check availability, go to or call us on 0344 984 0322.

Find out more about canals and rivers across the UK at


All aboard for Autumn afloat on the canals

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways, as they are 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 small mammals such as wood mice and bank voles stocking up on food before the winter.

Narrowboat holiday-makers can take all the supplies they need and have the freedom to moor up for the night alongside rural towpaths and canalside pubs offering take-outs.

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

Drifters narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate between two and 12 people.  All are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.  2020 hire prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £725 for a week.

Here’s a run down of our top nine canal boat holiday destinations for autumn 2020:

  1. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you 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, you 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.
  2. 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 base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a short break you 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, you can enjoy walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls and the Brecon Beacons.  The total journey there and back travels 36 miles, passing through 10 locks and takes around 18 hours.
  3. Glide across The Stream in the Sky from our canal boat rental base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can reach the pretty town of Llangollen in 12 hours with just two locks to pass through, perfect for a relaxing week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel through the Shropshire Lake District and over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as the Stream in the Sky.
  4. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base 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, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin, to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.
  5. Drift through the Calder Valley – on a short break from our canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you 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, you can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags
  6. Cruise through the Bath Valley – on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, you 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, you can moor up a short walk away from the centre of Bath.
  7. Complete the Stourport Ring – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, on a week’s break you can 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.  Highlights include: the Wolverhampton 21 locks; Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; the Stourport Basins; Kinver Edge and the National Trust’s famous rock houses; and the Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks, the longest in the country.
  8. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from our 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. 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, you can see the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch.
  9. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man – perfect for a mid-week break afloat. Along the way, you will pass through miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, a series of cuttings, six locks and a several villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

Quirky Canals

Britain’s 2,000-mile long and 200-year old canal network is a treasure trove of historic structures, many of them quirky and unorthodox.  It’s also a haven for wildlife, but not always what you might expect.

To celebrate the rich tapestry of canal history and habitat, we’ve put together our Top 10 Quirky Canal Facts:

  1. Terrapins – red-eared terrapins are now a common sight on England’s waterways, largely as a result of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles cartoon craze which began in the 1980’s.  Imported from the USA to be sold as pets, these terrapins can grow to the size of a dinner plate, making them less appealing and difficult to manage.  Consequently, they are often irresponsibly released into the wild and can be seen basking on dry land during sunny days.  At the moment it looks unlikely that they are breeding as terrapin eggs need to be incubated at 25 degrees Celsius for 60 days in order to hatch, but climate change may enable them to increase their numbers and potentially harm native animals.
  2. Lock cottages with barrel shaped roofs – the quirky lock cottages of the Stratford Canal have unusual barrel shaped roofs. It’s believed the canal builders chose this unusual style the mimic the shape of the canal bridges.
  3. Pill boxes along the K&A – visitors to the Kennet & Avon Canal, which connects the River Thames at Reading with the Bristol Avon at Bath, will notice a large number of pill boxes lining the waterway. Designed by the War Office, these fortifications were commissioned by General Sir Edmund Ironside, following the British Expeditionary Forces’ evacuation from Dunkirk, and the prospect of imminent German invasion.  Named GHQ Stop Line Blue, the canal was equipped to be a static defence line, with the pill boxes and trank traps manned by the Home Guard.  Some, including one at Garston Lock near Reading, have now been adapted to create homes for bats!
  4. Zebra mussels in the locks – these stripy little freshwater mussels originally arrived in Britain on the hulls of ships from Eastern Europe. They grow up to 5cm long and rapidly form large colonies, attaching themselves to almost any submerged hard surface, including lock gates and sluices.
  5. The Anderton Boat Lift – also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, this fascinating example of Victorian engineering, which looks like a giant iron spider perched on a hilltop, provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation. Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.
  6. The Roundhouse in Birmingham – this unique horseshoe shaped canal building in Birmingham City Centre is being transformed into a place to work, socialise and rest. The Grade II* listed building on the Birmingham Mainline Canal in the centre of Birmingham, dates back to 1874 and originally provided stables and stores for the Birmingham corporation.
  7. Snowdon’s Aviary at London Zoo – from Little Venice, where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal in London, the London Waterbus operates trip boats which take people along the Regent’s Canal and into London Zoo via a special waterside entrance. Along the way, boaters pass beneath Snowdon’s iconic Aviary constructed alongside the canal in 1964.  The Aviary is currently being transformed into a stunning walkthrough exhibit.
  8. Green canals – when summer temperatures soar, thick carpets of bright green duck weed can appear along sections of Britain’s canals, especially in London. While an individual piece of duck weed is no bigger than a ladybird, when they multiply into large numbers, they clog up canals, starving the water of oxygen and sunlight, and causing problems for some wildlife.  In the right conditions, a mass of duck weed can double in size every two or three days.
  9. The ghostly Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years. 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.  But over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second ghostly route emerging…
  10. The Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift – this extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering once operated next to Foxton Locks. Two counterbalanced caissons (giant bathtubs) that could each hold two narrowboats or one wide-beam barge, were built to slide up or down the hill on tracks.  They enabled boats to make the journey in just 12 minutes – nearly six times quicker than going through the locks.  Opened in 1900, sadly it was never a commercial success due to decreasing canal traffic and the fact that the Watford flight was never widened to take larger boats.  The plane was mothballed in 1911 and dismantled for scrap in 1928.


Top 7 cruises into the countryside for narrowboat holiday beginners

Following government guidance, Drifters operators are planning to restart their holidays on 4 July.

Our self-drive narrowboat holidays provide a floating holiday home for cruising through the countryside, watching out for wildlife and enjoying walks along towpaths and connecting footpaths along the way.

You can take all the supplies you need, and you have the freedom to moor up for the night alongside rural towpaths and canalside pubs offering take-outs.

A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat and all our operators provide boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.  Our narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate between two and 12 people.  They are all equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, ovens, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

2020 hire prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £725 for a week.

Here are our Top 7 countryside cruises into the countryside for narrowboat beginners:

  1. Bob gently along to Fradley Pool Nature Reserve – on a short break from our canal boat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can head south to Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey. The journey takes around five hours, travelling through 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside and passing through just five locks.  Along the way, the route takes you past the National Trust’s Shugborough Estate and Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  At Fradley, boaters can moor up to explore Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, a haven for many types of water and woodland birds.
  2. Cruise through the Worcestershire countryside to complete the Droitwich Mini-Ring – the Droitwich Ring is the only canal boat holiday cruising circuit in Britain which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). Cruising through the Worcestershire countryside along sections of the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, and the Droitwich canals, this 21-mile, 33-lock canal boat holiday circuit can be cruised in 16 hours from our narrowboat hire base on the River Severn at Worcester.
  3. Glide along the Oxford Canal to Rugby & back – from our canal boat rental base at Napton on the Oxford Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just over six hours to travel 15½ miles, and pass through three locks to reach the rural outskirts of Rugby. Along the way, boaters pass through just three locks and series of canalside villages, including Braunston and Hillmorton.
  4. Cruise the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse and back – on a short break (three or four nights) from our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, you can travel to Brighouse and back along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, places to eat and shops. Along the way, boaters pass through the historic market town of Elland and the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool, plus Dumb Steeple, thought to have been a landmark to guide travellers on their way across the moor and later a Luddite rallying point (12 miles, 20 locks, 8 hours return).
  5. Cruise into the Shropshire Lake District – from our narrowboat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, on a three-night weekend break, narrowboat holiday makers can cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to Ellesmere and back. On a four-night mid-week break, boaters can continue on to Chirk on the Welsh border, with its magnificent aqueduct, 459-yard long tunnel and magnificent Medieval Castle on the hill.
  6. Travel through the Wiltshire countryside to Bradford on Avon from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around six hours, travelling 10 miles and passing through seven locks to reach the historic town of Bradford on Avon, famous for its magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and Bath stone architecture. Along the way, you’ll pass through the villages of Seend, Semington and Hilperton, and beautiful stretches of Wiltshire countryside.
  7. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man. Along the way, boaters pass through miles of unspoilt Shropshire countryside, and a series of woodland cuttings.  There are just six locks to pass through each way.

Drifters boats star in ‘Celebrity Britain by Barge’

Canals are back on our screens with a new Channel 5 series ‘Celebrity Britain by Barge: Then & Now’. The series began on Friday 14 February, starring Bill Oddie, Anne Diamond, Jennie Bond and Pete Waterman aboard a number of Drifters’ narrowboats.

In the first episode, the celebrities travel along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal aboard ‘Worcester’ (shared by Jennie and Anne) and ‘Somerset’ (shared by Bill and Pete).

‘Worcester’, who normally operates out of Sowerby Bridge, is a 56ft narrowboat for up to five people. ‘Worcester’ has a variety of cabin configurations – two fixed doubles, or one fixed double and two fixed singles, or four fixed singles, plus a saloon convertible to one single. She has two toilets, a shower and a bath – which particularly impressed Anne and Jennie.

In the main boating season, the 56ft ‘Somerset’ operates out of Barnoldswick. She has fixed berths for up to four people, plus a saloon which can be converted to a double or two singles. The fixed berths can both be doubles, or they can all be singles, or a mixture. ‘Somerset’ has two toilets and a corner show cubicle.

Both boats have fully equipped kitchens, central heating, TV’s and DVD players.

The celebrities travel from Appleby Bridge to Skipton, stopping off along the way at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire to visit Salts Mill, once one of the largest textile factories in the world and now an art gallery and high-tech production line.

Along the way, with the help of Canal & River Trust lock keepers, they travel up the famous Bingley Five Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Jennie and Anne also visit Skipton Castle, while Pete and Bill speak to Diane Rollin, an ecologist with the Canal & River Trust, to find out more about the wildlife that lives on the waterway.

In Episode 2, the celebrities continue their journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. They travel through the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and meet a sheep farmer, connect with the Pennine Way (Britain’s oldest national trail), talk to a Canal & River Trust lock keeper dealing with an emergency repair to a lock and they boat through Foulridge Tunnel.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in the north east, go to

In Episode 3, to be broadcast this Friday (28 February) at 9pm, the action moves north to the Scottish Lowland Canals, and this time the celebrities are cruising aboard Drifters boats which are available to hire at our Falkirk canal boat hire base. The 62ft long ‘Princess 6’ narrowboat ‘Sarah’, sleeps up to six people, with flexible accommodation in two cabins, plus an optional extra double bed in the saloon. There are two shower rooms, a well-equipped galley, full central heating and a flat screen TV with Freeview and a DVD player.

In episode 3, the celebs travel along the Forth & Clyde Canal to visit the incredible Kelpies, the largest equine sculptures in the world, and learn about the role Clydesdale horses played on the waterway.

In episode 4 (to be broadcast Friday 6 March at 8.30pm), they travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel Boat Lift and head east along the Union Canal towards Edinburgh. Along the way they pass through the Falkirk Tunnel and learn about the ghost of Irish navvy William Burke, and they travel across the longest aqueduct in Scotland.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in Scotland go to


The History of canal boat holidays

Our rivers have been used for transport since prehistoric times, but it was the Industrial Revolution that created the need to move large quantities of raw materials, goods and commodities efficiently, and resulted in the construction on thousands of miles of canals across England, Wales and Scotland.

The history of inland waterways pleasure boat hiring started in the 1860’s when it became fashionable to take boat trips on the Norfolk Broads and the Thames.  By the late Victorian era, the Thames had entered what some authors have described as the ‘Golden Age’ for leisure.

In 1916, shipping agent Peter Bonthron published ‘My holidays on inland waterways’, detailing his 2,000-mile journey around Britain’s waterways at the beginning of the 20th century

But it was Tom Rolt’s book ‘Narrow Boat’, published in 1944 and describing his 400-mile journey aboard ‘Cressy’ along the network of canals in the Midlands, that is said to be ‘the book that saved Britain’s canals’.

‘Narrow Boat’ tells the story of how Rolt and his wife fitted out the boat as their home and celebrates the lives of the working boatmen, the canal craft and the timeless countryside they discovered on their travels.  The book was an instant success and has since inspired generations of boaters.

Although by the 1950’s commercial use of the canals was had significantly declined, as interest started to grow in using canals for leisure, a number of canal boat hire companies were established.  Many of the canal boats available for hire at this time were converted working boats but by the 1960’s more narrowboats were being specially constructed for the leisure hire trade.

Since the late 1990’s our inland waterways have entered a new ‘Golden Age’ of leisure use, with over 200 miles of waterways re-opened and over £1billion invested in their restoration and upkeep

There are now over 35,000 canal boats on our inland waterways, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution.  Over 1,000 of these are specially designed and constructed canal boat holiday hire boats with modern conveniences  – hot water, central heating, flushing toilets, well equipped kitchens with cookers, fridges, microwave ovens, televisions, DVD players and many now have Wifi too.

There are also a number of hotel boat operators, offering skippered and fully catered canal holidays.

For more information about the history of the canals, visit the Waterways Archive

Drifters' A to Z of canal boat holidays

Drifters’ A to Z of canal boat holidays

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

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

C is for Caen Hill Flight – with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Our Honeymoon Afloat

Our Honeymoon Afloat

Miranda Pennington and Helena Snowden recently Honeymooned on the Kennet & Avon Canal, travelling from Drifters’ base at Hilperton, near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, to Bath and back. Here’s their account:

We’ve just returned from the most beautiful and relaxing honeymoon on the Kennet & Avon canal. What an incredible experience for a novice couple – I’d never set foot on a canal boat before but my partner Miranda had done a couple of locks over the years!

Based on that knowledge, we actually picked a four berth for the two of us and our small dog, and it turned out to be the right decision. A full double bed made up the whole time, with a separate lounge and dining area for dinner and cards in the evening – not to mention our little table outside on the bow where we could watch the sun go down. And what a brilliant time of year to go – we saw new cygnets, herons, ducklings, not to mention all of the stunning scenery gently rolling by.

Day one – Monday 15 June

We left London for Drifters’ base canal boat holiday hire base at Hilperton on the Monday but, owing to all of the wedding shenanigans over the previous few days, we were a little late starting our car journey and thought we might not make the 5pm check-in time.

Miranda called Hilperton Marina, though, and they were absolutely lovely – not only accommodating our late arrival but also moving our boat – ‘Sedge Wren’ – from under the wharf into the evening sunlight so we could relax for the night there, rather than setting off on our travels at peak mooring time.

Day two – Tuesday 16 June

We had our induction with Nick the following morning, having stocked up on loads of food (and bubbles of course!) from the local supermarket. Then, with a strange combination of apprehensiveness and excitement, we set off. Our dog Twiggy wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first but soon took up position on the seat next to me while I was steering. She stayed there for most of the week, lounging in the sun while we did all the hard work. Only jumping off occasionally to run up to dogs on the towpath.

The boat’s fairly straightforward once you get your head around which way to move the rudder. Any kind of boating or rowing experience helps a great deal with it all –not least, knowing the rules of the river. It takes a little while to relax into it but everyone is very patient and polite. As one of the ladies on the first day said to us, “If anyone tries to rush you, tell them that if they’re in a hurry the M3 is just over there!” And she was right – not that you could see it or hear it once you’re on the canal. It’s a totally different world.

After our first hour, we arrived at Bradford on Avon lock, which is a double lock and quite busy. Thankfully, though, the Canal Trust volunteers were there to help and we went through alongside a workmen’s boat – they were lovely and gave us some tips as we set off on our way again.

We stopped for lunch after our first aqueduct (Avoncliff), which was very exciting. Then we continued to the second aqueduct (Dundas) and started to look for somewhere to moor up overnight. Not long after, we found a very quiet spot with an easy bank to pull up to and with permanent mooring fixings, even though we had been gearing ourselves up to use the pegs!

We had a really chilled evening, cooking in the well-equipped kitchen and dancing around with some red wine in the moonlight. We slept really well, a little sun-kissed by the hot June sun, which had bounced continuously off the river the whole of the day. And I totally forgot to mention the two swing bridges we’d been through – physically exhausting but really satisfying, with one of you unlocking and swinging the bridge while the other has to park up, go through and park up again single-handed. My competitive side had loved it!

Day 3 – Wednesday 17 June

We woke up fairly early and had breakfast before taking Twiggy for a quick walk by the Claverton pumping station and weir. A really beautiful spot and well worth a visit.

Then we set off for Bath, where we intended to spend the upcoming night. We’d really started to get the hang of things by now but we decided to turn before committing to the last four locks in Bath – we’ll save that for next time when we have one or two other people with us to help.

So we spent a really chilled day, pootling along and, as we got closer to Bath, the scenery really opened up and we could see all of the amazing Crescents for which Bath is so famous. As we got closer to Bath, we also experienced our first tunnels – Miranda loving the sound of the horn and the additional rules!

The turning point was really easy to find and a lovely old man popped his head out of a building to throw us some helpful hints. We did alright overall! Top tip: remember you can’t steer in reverse!

We found a lovely place to moor again, this time with the lovely views of Bath town that we’d just passed. What a privilege. We strolled down to The George at Bathampton for some afternoon drinks, as we’d been recommended to visit. But we discovered that they didn’t take dogs so carried on down to the Bathampton Mill pub – and, wow, what a location. If you fancy walking 10 minutes more, it’s well worth the trip. Great food great staff, great view. A really nice night again.

Day 4 – Thursday 18 June

We’d always planned a big day on our last day because someone we met had said the other direction from Hilperton towards Semington was also really beautiful. We decided to give it a whirl and, in six hours, managed to go back through the two aqueducts, two swing bridges and Bradford on Avon lock, and made it all the way to Semington, where we were extremely pleased to find one spare mooring before the next turning point and lock.

We settled in and then went to check out the Somerset Arms pub, which was an endearing pub close by. The food looked good there, although we didn’t stop to eat as we were finding cooking on the boat very enjoyable.

Day 5 – Friday 19 June

So, on our last day, we were up pretty early so we could tackle another turn and take the ‘Sedge Wren’ back to base in time for the handover. Cruising at that time of the morning on a relatively quiet section of the canal was so beautiful and peaceful – the perfect end to an excellent holiday.

We can’t wait to come again and with a bigger crew so we can get through more locks! Maybe not the Caen Hill locks up at Devizes though!