Top 10 places to picnic on the canals

Top 10 places to picnic on the canals

Whether you are enjoying a canal boat holiday, or just planning a day out by the water, when the weather is good, it’s lovely to picnic by the water.

Here are some of our favourite canalside picnic spots, all perfect for watching the boats go by:

1. Tring Reservoirs, alongside the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire, are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are fantastic for bird watching, walking and angling. They consist of four reservoirs, including Wilstone Reservoir, famous for the first nesting in this country of black-necked grebes in 1918 and little ringed plovers in 1938. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is on the Grand Union Canal at Gayton, 19 hours away.

2. Foxton Locks, on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Leicestershire, are surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside and are recognised as one of the most important industrial heritage sites in Europe. The locks themselves consist of two staircases of five locks, which take an average of 45 minutes for a boat to negotiate. The water is controlled by paddles painted red or white. Reds fill the locks, white empties them. Foxton lock keepers advise narrowboat holiday-makers to open “Red afore white and you’ll be alright, white afore red and you’ll wish you were dead!“ Our nearest base is just five hours away at North Kilworth on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.

3. Stoke Bruerne, on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, is a picturesque village, home to the Canal Museum and east portal of Blisworth Tunnel. There are also waterside pubs to visit and a lovely woodland walk populated with sculptured wildlife to enjoy. Drifters’ nearest base is less than a mile away at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal.

4. Caen Hill Flight, on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. With 16 of the 29 locks stacked in a straight line up the hillside, it really is an impressive sight. It takes between five and six hours for a boat to travel the flight, giving plenty of “gongoozling” opportunities for picnickers. The flight is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and the sideponds and grassland alongside it are a haven for a rich variety of wildlife. Our nearest base is just five hours away at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

5. Hatton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal near Wariwck in Warwickshire, consists of 21 locks which raise the canal by 45 metres over two miles. Opened in 1799, they were widened in the 1930’s and reopened by an earlier Prince George, The Duke of Kent. Back then, the flight was known as the “stairway to heaven” because it led to Camp Hill where the workmen would receive their wages. Our nearest base is nine hours away at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal.

6. Froghall Wharf, at the end of the Caldon Canal near Cheadle in Staffordshire, is set within the beautiful Churnet Valley. At Froghall, there are a series of way-marked circular walks, leading visitors through woods, fields and charming villages with country pubs. Our nearest base is Peak District, 10 hours away at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals.

7. The Bingley Five Rise Locks, on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, is the steepest flight in the UK and holds the tallest lock gates in the country. The staircase of five locks raises the canal 18 metres and the locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next. There are places to picnic and a cafe with a cabinet of curiosities telling why the locks were built. Our nearest base is at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool, some 30 miles away.

8. Salterhebble Locks, on the Calder & Hebble Canal near Halifax, includes the electrically powered Salterhebble guillotine lock, one of only three functional guillotine locks on the network. The junction with the Halifax Arm is after Salterhebble Top Locks. The branch once climbed via 14 locks right into the centre of Halifax, but is now just 600 yards long. A footpath follows the line of the original canal into Halifax. Our nearest base is just one hour away at Sowerby Bridge, at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and the Rochdale Canal.

9. Stratford on Avon Canal Basin, at the junction of the River Avon and the Stratford Canal, is a buzzing focus for visitors to the town’s beautiful Bancroft Gardens. The Gardens occupy the site of former canal wharves, warehouses and a second canal basin which in 1902 was filled in. They are populated by a number of statues, including figures of the Shakespearean characters Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff and Prince Hal. Our nearest base is six hours away at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

10. Vines Park, on the newly restored Droitwich Canals in Worcestershire, offers three hectares of parkland to explore and an exciting wooden play area for children. Fifty years ago campaigning began to restore the Droitwich Canals and they finally reopened in 2011, reconnecting the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal through Droitwich. Our nearest base is just an hour away at Stoke Prior on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Spend August Bank Holiday Afloat

Spend August Bank Holiday Afloat

Canal boat holidays are great for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, work the locks, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

Our August bank holiday weekend canal boat hire prices start at £585 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £825 for a week. Here are our top ten August Bank Holiday destinations:

1. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from Drifters’ 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.

2. Enjoy an outdoor theatre performance in Chester…Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire is seven hours by boat from historic Chester. Famous for its Medieval architecture, city walls and Roman heritage, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award-winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants and from 5 July to 25 August, the City’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre is hosting productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cyrano de Bergerac and Othello.

3. See the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum…Drifters’ base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford. Canal boat 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.

4. Watch the Lion King at the Birmingham Hippodrome…With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre than by canal boat. Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge, and find centrally located over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin. There’s plenty for families to see and do there, including a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place and the chance to see the fantastic Lion King show at the Birmingham Hippodrome, showing there until 28 September 2013.

5. Experience 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.

6. Travel to Bosworth Field and 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.

7. Visit Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Blackbeard the Pirate…on a short break from Sydney Wharf in the centre of Bath, narrowboat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon and moor up in Bristol’s Floating Harbour. Once there, boaters can visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain and the new Blue Reef Aquarium to find out more about the city’s fascinating marine history, including Blackbeard the Pirate, said to have been born there. The journey to Bristol takes eight hours, passing through 13 locks.

8. Visit the Roman Baths in Bath…Drifters’ base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire is a day’s cruise from Bath City Centre. Canal boaters can moor-up close to Pulteney Bridge (reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), enjoy views of Bath’s fabulous Georgian architecture and visit the Roman Baths, one of 17 museums located within a square mile of this World Heritage Status city.

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. Swap the slow lane for a theme park…from Drifters’ Peak District base at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, it’s a 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall. From there, Alton Towers is a short bus ride away, so canal boat holiday-makers can swap the peace and quiet of the canal for an adrenaline-fuelled fun day out.

Enjoy a festival afloat this summer

Enjoy a festival afloat this summer

A series of exciting canalside events are taking place over the summer holidays, so enjoy some festival fun afloat on your next canal boat holiday.   From small-scale village festivals to world-class city attractions, here are our top five:

The Llangollen Eisteddfod, 9-14 July
The International Musical Eisteddfod at Llangollen on the Llangollen Canal is one of the world’s great musical events, bringing a fiesta of music, language, dance and colour and attracting thousands of people from around the world.
Six days of world-class competitions and concerts will end with a spectacular fireworks display.

Our nearest canal boat hire bases are at Trevor (just two hours away), Chirk (three hours away) and Blackwater Meadow (eight hours away).

IWA National Festival, 19-21 July
The Inland Waterway’s 2013 National Festival will take place at Cassiobury Park on the Grand Union Canal in Watford.  Crafts, food, real ale and boats galore (both new and used) will help to make this a festival to remember. The entertainment will include a flypast by a World War II Spitfire (circumstances permitting), a Victorian fairground, plus song and dance throughout.

Our nearest narrowboat holiday hire base is nine hours away on the Grand Union Canal in West London.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2-26 August
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival with more than 2,800 shows and 24,000 performers bringing their work to 270 venues across the city.  Among the shows with the broadest appeal is a stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption, based on the book that inspired the cult movie, starring comedian Omid Djilili and Dad’s Army’s Ian Lavender. Taggart star Blythe Duff will perform in Ciara, a new play by David Harrower, and Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan stars in the premiere of Dark Vanilla Jungle by Philip Ridley.  Big name comedians vying for audiences include Al Murray, Alexei Sayle, Sandi Toksvig, Ardal O’Hanlon, David Baddiel, Lucy Porter, Sean Hughes and Susan Calman.

Our base at the Falkirk Wheel on the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals is an 11-hour cruise away. Visitor moorings can be found at Edinburgh Quay, just five minutes from Princes Street in the city centre.

Cropredy Music Festival, 8-10 August
The annual Fairport’s Cropredy Convention takes place in the village of Cropredy, on the Oxford Canal near Banbury.
Widely acclaimed as the ultimate celebration of folk-rock, increasingly the tens of thousands of music-loving folkies who invade the normally tranquil village of Cropredy in North Oxfordshire for three days each August, are treated to a more eclectic range of music. Festival founders and rock-folk originators Fairport Convention are still the principal headliners, but the bill this year includes several distinctly non-folk performers, including the original shock-rocker Alice Cooper, 10cc, Levellers and Nik Kershaw.

Our nearest bases are at Oxford (seven hours away) and Napton (10 hours away).

Blisworth Canal Festival, 10-11 August
During the Blisworth Canal Festival, the village waterfront will be full of trade boats and stalls selling everything from cheese to boat oil. Two trip boats will be operating and the Funion Bargee will provide free supervised play sessions for children.  Seven village venues will offer a variety of exciting attractions including pony rides, a master blacksmith, a ‘have-a-go bell-tower!’, a variety of food outlets, wood carving, laser arena, bars, rural craft demonstrations, companion dog show, vintage caravans, WWII re-enactment, children’s fairground, chicken display, art gallery and Bistro. And on the Sunday, 10 local gardens will be open. There will also be free heritage walks and longer guided rambles, plus free live music to enjoy.

Our nearest base is round the corner at Gayton, or 12 hours away at Rugby.

Top 20 Canal Boat Names

Top 20 Canal Boat Names

With the help of the Canal & River Trust, Drifters has gathered a list of the top 20 most popular canal boat names:

1. Kingfisher 2. Dragonfly 3. Phoenix 4. Willow 5. Merlin 6. Poppy 7. Serenity 8. Tranquility 9. Serendipity 10. Sapphire  11. Dreamcatcher 12. Free Spirit 13. Blue Moon 14. Freedom 15. Narrow Escape 16. Grace 17. Bluebell 18. Andante 19. Heron 20. Kestrel

There are over 33,000 canal boats on Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, and 1,100 of them are available for holiday hire.

Tim Parker, Chairman of Drifters, says: “The most popular canal boat names reflect the gentle nature of our peaceful inland waterways and the wildlife that inhabits them.  Narrowboat holidays offer the chance to slow right down and escape the hectic pace of our everyday lives.  Holiday-makers can enjoy the quietness of our beautiful countryside when travelling rural stretches, as well as the attractions on offer in our vibrant waterside towns and cities.”

Overall, the number of boats on our inland waterways has increased by 40 per cent in the last 10 years.  According to the British Marine Federation’s latest ‘Watersports Participation Survey’, 287,000 people went canal boating last year and the numbers have increased by 23 per cent in the last five years.

Visit Warwick Castle by Canal Boat

Visit a castle on your next canal boat holiday

Narrowboat holidays are a great way to sightsee and there are hundreds of top historic attractions on, or close to, Britain’s 3,000-mile canal network.

We’ve listed of our top five favourite canalside castles to visit on your next holiday afloat, together with our nearest canal boat hire base.


Warwick Castle on the River Avon…said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, Warwick Castle was developed from an original castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068. If offers visitors the chance to explore its grand interiors, climb its impressive towers and ramparts and visit some of its special attractions, including the terrifying Castle Dungeon. There are also regular ‘Flight of the Eagles’ and ‘Mighty Trebuchet’ firing displays in the extensive castle grounds. Warwick Castle is a seven-hour cruise from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.

Chirk Castle on the Llangollen Canal…this magnificent medieval fortress at Chirk was completed in 1310 and is the last Welsh castle from the reign of Edward I still lived in today. Features from its 700 years include the medieval tower and dungeon, 17th century long gallery, grand 18th century state apartments, servants’ hall and historic laundry. It also boasts award-winning gardens and incredible views over the Cheshire and Salop plains. Drifters’ nearest base is at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham.

Windsor Castle on the River Thames… Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world and has been the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years. It is an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen and is still used regularly for ceremonial and State occasions. State Banquets are held in St George’s Hall, where a single table can seat 160 people. Windsor can be reached on a week’s holiday from our base is at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire.

Berkhamsted Castle on the Grand Union Canal…one of the oldest motte and bailey castles in England, the fascinating ruins of Berkhamsted Castle can be found close to the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire. When William the Conqueror was crowned King in 1066, he granted the Manor and Honour of Berkhamsted to his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, and work started on the castle. The castle went on to become the home of many key Royal figures, including The Black Prince from 1337. Berkhamsted can be reached on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ base at London on the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire.

Skipton Castle on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal…Over 900 years old, Skipton Castle in North Yorkshire is one of the most complete and best preserved castles in England. Visitors can explore every corner of this impressive castle, which withstood a three-year siege during the Civil War. They can explore the banqueting hall, kitchen, bedchamber and privy, and climb from the depths of the dungeon to the top storey of the watch tower. Skipton is 10 hours from our Foulridge base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria.