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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 https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-north-east-england/

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 https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-scotland/

 

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 https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit/national-waterways-museum/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.

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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!

 

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

1. Visit Georgian Bath & find out what the Romans did for us!…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. Glide across the Stream in the Sky…At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering and offers the canal boat holiday-makers the ride of their lives! Even though boats travel at just four miles an hour, with not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure panoramic views of the stunning Dee Valley below, boaters literally feels like they are floating above the earth. Travelling along the Llangollen Canal offers the chance to experience one of the UK’s most stunning stretches of waterway, explore Shropshire’s mini lakes teeming with wildlife, visit medieval Chirk Castle and ride the Llangollen Steam Railway. Drifters has bases on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, Chirk, Wrenbury, Whitchurch and Blackwater Meadow.

3. Explore Skipton & its Medieval Castle…It takes 10 hours (16 miles, 15 locks) for boaters to reach the historic and vibrant market town of Skipton on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, perfect for a week’s holiday from Drifters’ base at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria. Extensive views of sheep country, stone walls, farm houses and the occasional village or small town can be seen along the way. Moorings are available in the town centre of town, where visitors can explore Skipton’s street markets, quirky shops, tea rooms, restaurants and 900 year-old castle.

4. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the incredible Falkirk Wheel on the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals in Scotland, Edinburgh is an 11-hour cruise away. Visitor moorings can be found at Edinburgh Quay, just five minutes from Princes Street. From there, it’s easy to access to the sights of Edinburgh, including the magnificent castle and fascinating Mary King’s Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

5. See the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum…Drifters’ base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford. Narrowboat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge in the city centre and use their boat as a base to explore. The incredible Pitt Rivers Museum, just one of many world-class attractions in Oxford, displays the University’s archaeological and anthropological treasures, including the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads from the Upper Amazon.

6. Travel to Chester by boat…Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire is just seven hours by boat from historic Chester. Founded as a Roman fort, with striking Medieval and Victorian architecture, Chester is said to be one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain. The City offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants and a series of festivals across the summer.

7. Enjoy the Pennines afloat…from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, a trip to historic Todmorden is the perfect short break destination. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, canal boat holiday-makers pass through the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

8. Travel to the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field & find out more about King Richard III…from Drifters’ base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. The canal passes close to the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard III died and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

9. Cruise to the home of the Gingerbread Man…Drifters’ base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, is a nine-hour cruise from the pretty market town of Market Drayton. Home of gingerbread for the last 200 years, nearly three-quarters of this Saxon settlement was destroyed by fire in 1651. The Buttercross in the centre of the town still has a bell at the top for people to ring if there’s ever another fire.

10. Potter through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside…Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is one of the most popular in the country. Not only is it centrally located and easy to get to (it’s just minutes away from junction 15a of the M1), but it also offers a great variety of cruising routes for boaters, whether novices or experienced navigators. On a week’s cruise, boaters can travel to the historic town of Market Harborough and back via the Foxton staircase of locks, with wonderful views of the Leicestershire countryside and the chance to find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift which once operated there.

Bank holiday boating - top 10 short breaks

Bank holiday boating – top 10 short breaks

To celebrate the May bank holiday, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 short breaks:

1. Visit the Giant Metal Spider…from our canal boat hire base at Anderton in Cheshire, boaters can travel along the Trent & Mersey Canal to medieval Nantwich, with its distinctive black and white architecture. At Anderton, the fascinating Victorian Boat Lift, which looks like a giant metal spider, transfers boats between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver.

2. Travel across the Stream in the Sky…from our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the picturesque town of Llangollen, with walking access to the famous Horseshoe Falls, is an eight-hour cruise away. The journey includes travelling across the awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which towers 38 metres high above the Dee Valley

3. Experience the Pennines afloat…from our base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, a trip to historic Todmorden is the perfect short break destination. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, canal boat holiday-makers first pass through the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills, before reaching Todmorden. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

4. Visit the World Heritage City of Bath…Bath City centre with its fabulous Georgian architecture, is a delightful seven-hour cruise from our Bradford on Avon boat yard on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire. Along the way narrowboat holiday-makers pass historic pubs, like The George at Bathampton (once a 12th century monastery), and a series of impressive canal structures, including Avoncliffe and Dundas aqueducts.

5. Journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal…from our Peak District base at Stoke on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a trip along Wedgewood’s Caldon Canal is a great short break route for beginners. Originally built to transport porcelain, today the Caldon is one of the quietest and most picturesque canals in Britain. The canal branches off the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria near Stoke on Trent and travels 17 miles and 17 locks through the beautiful Churnet Valley to Froghall Wharf.

6. Visit the Medieval City of Chester…from Bunbury boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, Chester is a lovely seven-hour cruise away. Famous for its Roman walls and Medieval architecture, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars and a huge variety of restaurants.

7. Amble along the Ashby…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. This picturesque canal with no locks, is perfect for beginners and passes close to the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard III died and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

8. Cruise into the heart of Birmingham & visit the Sea Life Centre…Brindleyplace is a five-hour lock-free cruise from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove. With more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin with easy access to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants.

9. Head for historic Braunston at the heart of the canals…from our base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it’s a peaceful day’s cruise to Braunston, passing through the rural villages of Weedon and Norton. Situated at the junction of the Oxford and Grand Union canals, Braunston is said to be ‘at the heart of the UK canal system’. The main village is on a hill above the canals, with plenty of pubs serving good food and a fish and chip shop.

10. Navigate the Droitwich Ring…our canal boat hire base on the River Severn at Worcester is on 21-mile long Droitwich Ring – the only cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break. The 16-hour journey, which includes 33 locks, takes boaters through the historic Spa town of Droitwich and along the River Severn, with stunning views of the Worcestershire countryside.

The A to Z of canal boat holidays

The 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, which looks like a giant iron spider, 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.

B is for Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, 17 miles from Leeds, 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 gate of the next.

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. The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810. By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.

D is for Docks – docks were built to accommodate ships and store cargoes and many can be visited by boat. Among the best known are London Docklands, once the busiest in the world and Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a World Heritage site, both now home to stylish restaurants, bars and attractions.

E is for Economy – over £1½ billion is spent by visitors to the waterways each year on goods and services, supporting 54,000 jobs, so a canal boat holiday helps support the local economy.

F is for Falkirk Wheel – said to be Scotland’s most exciting example of 21st century engineering, The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Standing at a height of 35 metres, it moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal, replacing a flight of 11 locks which had been dismantled in 1933. It can carry 600 tonnes, including eight or more boats and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn – the same amount as it would take to boil eight household kettles.

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

H is for History – the canals were built to transport goods and materials to support the Industrial Revolution. For example, the Duke of Bridgewater commissioned James Brindley to build the Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761 and moved the coal he mined from Lancashire to Manchester. Today, thousands of historic structures, many of them over 200 years old, make up the waterway system.

I is for Iron Trunk Aqueduct – built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, the Iron Trunk Aqueduct is a magnificent Georgian structure and an impressive example of canal engineering. Standing at over 10 metres high, its two cast iron troughs carry the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse between Wolverton and Cosgrove in Buckinghamshire.

J is for Jessop – William Jessop (1745-1814) was one of the great canal engineers and considered to be the greatest expert on canal and river navigations of his time. He was the engineer on the Grand Union, Rochdale and Llangollen canals. He was also responsible for the East India docks in London and dock improvements in Bristol.

K is for Kennet & Avon Canal – passing through spectacular scenery, the 87-mile long Kennet & Avon Canal is one of Britain’s most popular waterways. Linking the River Thames and the Bristol Avon, it travels through some of the nation’s best loved landscapes, including West Berkshire’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the southern tip of the Cotswolds.

L is for Locks – there are over 1,650 locks on the canal system, all enabling boaters to travel up and down hills. A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end. By emptying or filling that chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of canal.

M is for Mooring – the majority of our inland waterways offer boating holiday-makers free moorings, so boaters are free to choose where they stop for the night.

N is for Navigation – you don’t need a licence to skipper a canal boat and with around a fifth of hire boaters new to canal boat holidays each year, it’s easy to learn how to steer a boat and navigate the waterways.

O is for Oxford Canal – one of the oldest canals in Britain, the picturesque Oxford Canal meanders slowly through the countryside, passing through a series of pretty villages. The canal opened in sections between 1774 and 1790 with the purpose of bringing coal from the Coventry coalfields to Oxford and the River Thames.

P is for Pubs – there are hundreds of waterside pubs along Britain’s canals and rivers, many of them historic rural locals, so a watering hole is never far away.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the historic industrial rivers that criss-cross the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London were restored to full navigation as part of the creation of the London 2012 Olympic Park. This six mile network of hidden rivers is at the heart of the area’s revival and links iconic Olympic structures, like the Stadium, ArcelorMittal Orbit tower and Aquatics Centre.

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 everyday living.

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. Opening in 1811 as part of the Huddersfield Canal, it took the navvies 16 years to build, cutting through solid rock. The Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.

T is for Telford – another of the great canal engineers, Thomas Telford (1757-1834) worked with Jessop on the Llangollen Canal and was responsible for the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing 38 metres above the River Dee, when completed in 1805, it was the tallest canal boat crossing in the world. It uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth!

U is for Uttoxeter Canal – now derelict, this 13-mile extension to the still navigable Caldon Canal in Staffordshire opened in 1811 and ran through the beautiful Churnet Valley, connecting Froghall and Uttoxeter. As with many canals, the advent of the railways took away much of its business and sadly by 1850 it had closed. The canal is among hundreds across the country that are being restored by volunteers.

V is for Vole – best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, who famously pronounced ‘there is nothing half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’, water voles burrow into steep canal or riverside banks to form a complicated system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers. Sadly the water vole is now one of our most endangered species, mainly due to habitat loss and predation by American mink. To spot one, 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 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 over-looking the canal, designed by Lord Snowdon.

Get the family afloat this summer

Top 5 Easter canal boat holidays

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together – learn how to work the locks, navigate tunnels, speak the boating lingo, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

Easter prices start at £495 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £685 for a week.  Here are our top 5 destinations this Easter:

1. Boat to Birmingham & enjoy Cadbury World’s Easter Eggstravaganza…Perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our canal boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to celebrate an eggstra-special Easter at the canalside Cadbury World. With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre where over-night moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to Brindley Place. There’s plenty for families to see and do in Britain’s second city, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre or watch the West End smash hit show ‘Evita’, starring Wet Wet Wet singer Marti Pellow, at the Hippodrome.

2. Visit Georgian Bath and its Award-winning Egg theatre…on a short break narrowboat holiday from our  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 and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre, especially for children, young people and their families.

3. Enjoy an Easter Egg hunt at the Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum…close to J15a of the M1, Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is easy to get to and offers a great variety of routes. On a short break, boaters can travel south to Fenny Stratford and back, cruising through delightful countryside and the picturesque village of Stoke Bruerne, with its friendly waterside pubs and fascinating Canal Museum, offering Easter Egg Hunts 4-12 March. On a week’s cruise, canal boat holiday-makers can head to the historic town of Market Harborough via the Foxton staircase of locks, with wonderful views of the Leicestershire countryside and the chance to find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift which once operated there.

4. Take part in an Eggstraordinary Eggventure Trail at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History…our Oxford base at Eynsham on the River Thames is a three-hour cruise from Oxford, where boaters can find moorings within walking distance of city centre attractions. This Easter, visitors to the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History can Eggsplore the Museum with an eggciting egg-hunter’s trail. Other family-friendly attractions in Oxford include: climbing the 14th century Carfax Tower to take in a view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’; seeing the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum; touring the incredible Ashmolean Museum, with collections from the Neolithic era to the present day; discovering the real Harry Potter Hogwarts Hall at Christ Church College; and stocking-up on goodies in the Covered Market.

5. See Barbara Hepworth’s egg-like forms at the Hepworth Wakefield…Travelling gently along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation from our’ base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, it takes 12 hours to reach Wakefield, with moorings right outside The Hepworth Wakefield. This Easter visitors can enjoy the Museum’s free ‘Making a Modern Collection’ exhibition, featuring works by Barbara Hepworth, L S Lowry, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, as well as some special Easter family activities. Along the way, boaters can stop off at: the historic market town of Elland and enjoy at meal the Barge & Barrel gastro pub; historic Brighouse with markets, shops and places to eat; and Mirfield with medieval stocks and ducking stool.

Hire a canal boat for Mother's Day

Hire a canal boat for Mother’s Day

Why not spoil the hard-working Mum in your life with a relaxing day on the water, nourished by a posh picnic afloat or a pub lunch along the way.

We offer day boat hire at 12 of our bases, from less than £12 per person. Full tuition is included so those new to canal boating can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks. Boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here’s a list of our day boat hire centres, suggested routes and prices for 2015:

• Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – Our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales is a 20-minutes cruise from the World Heritage site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly one of the wonders of the waterways, offering stunning views of the Dee Valley below. Day boaters can reach the pretty mountain-side town of Llangollen in two hours. Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £110 for up to 10 people. £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – our base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, is next to the historic Anderton Boat Lift. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘the Cathedral of the canals’, looks like some giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal. From Anderton, the Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge) is an easy day trip away. This friendly, canalside pub offers home-cooked pub food and cask ales. ***Day boat hire from Anderton starts at £150 for up to 12 people.

• Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from our boat yard at Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. Day hire from Goytre starts at £90 for up to 12 people. £105 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Explore Shakespeare’s country – from our hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), and enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn. Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Wend your way through Wiltshire – from our canal boat hire base at Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire on the Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to waterside The Barge Inn at Seend, or head west to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning Tithe Barn and plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants to choose from. Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £105 for up to eight people. £130 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from our narrowboat hire base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, cruise north through open farmland to the pretty village of Ansty with its pottery and Rose & Castle pub. Or head south, travelling through quiet woodland to the village of Newbold, and enjoy home cooked food at the canalside Barley Mow pub. Day boat hire from Rugby starts at £150 for a boat for 12 people. £190 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Staffordshire delights – from our boat yard at Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Stafford, cruise to the historic market town of Rugeley and back, through several locks, past Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall and the delightful Wolseley Arms in Wolseley Bridge. The return journey takes six hours. Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union near Crewe, cruise south past Barbridge and Nantwich to Baddington Bridge. With no locks to negotiate and plenty of pubs en route, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat. Day boat hire from Bunbury starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from boating base at Tardebigge on the Worcs & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Alvechurch. The route is lock-free but there are three tunnels to pass through. Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

• Discover the beauty of Berkshire – Our base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire is now offering day boat hire. Boaters can travel east to Tyle Mill Lock in just over two hours, and take a ten-minute walk to The Spring Inn in the pretty village of Sulhamstead for lunch. Up to eight people can enjoy a day out on Aldermaston’s day boat ‘Wyvern’. Day hire prices start at £105 for a weekday, £130 for weekends and bank holidays.

• Visit Foxton Locks – from our boat yard at Union Wharf in Market Harborough it takes a pleasant two-and-a-half hours to cruise to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the Foxton Locks Inn. Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it. Day boat hire at Market Harborough starts at £140 during the week for up to 12 people, £180 at weekends and bank holidays.

Celebrity Canal Boaters

Drifters helps Julia Bradbury explore the Wonder of Britain

A brand new series for ITV celebrates some of the most impressive natural and manmade wonders that make Britain great, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales.

Julia Bradbury embarks on a stunning 12,000-mile journey around the country to some of Britain’s most spectacular locations and chooses some of the greatest assets she believes we should be most proud of.

The five-part series will begin on Tuesday 6 January at 9pm with a look at Britain’s beautiful buildings.

In the second instalment, which focuses on our industrial story, Julia will be seen cruising along the Llangollen Canal aboard a Drifters boat.

Rob Lawrence, Managing Director of Drifters’ group member Anglo Welsh, explains: “We were delighted to be involved in Julia’s exciting new television series which looks at different aspects of what makes Britain so great.

“During her investigation of our industrial past, where she looks at how our engineering achievements re-shaped the world, Julia took our aptly named Bond Class boat ‘Julia’ across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and amazed us all with her depth of knowledge of the structure and its history.”