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Visit a Christmas Market by canal boat

Drifters offers winter cruising* on the canals from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug narrowboats for two, to larger vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a self-catering rural retreat with stops at historic waterside pubs and visits to Christmas markets and fairs at canal and riverside towns and cities.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players.  Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.  We also offers boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Drifters’ winter 2021-22 cruising prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £775 for a week. Here are our Top 5 Christmas markets and fairs to visit afloat:

1. Visit Stratford on Avon’s Victorian Christmas Market

This award-winning event is scheduled to be held 9-12 December.  Stall holders dress in Victorian costumes and there’s a range of entertainment planned throughout the town, including live performances.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The journey takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside, passing through 17 locks along the way.

2. Moor up in Birmingham City Centre for the Frankfurt Christmas Market

From 4 November to 23 December, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will fill New Street and Victoria Square, with stalls offering a variety of tempting food and drink, traditional toys, ornaments and gifts. Departing from our narrow boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes around five hours to reach Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.  There are no locks to pass through along the way.

 3. Travel to the Leamington Christmas market

On Sunday 21 November Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market will offer over 60 stalls with goodies, unusual gifts, stocking fillers, decorations and artisan food and drink.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, it takes just under an hour to reach moorings close to Leamington Spa town centre.

4. Navigate to the Whitchurch Silk Mill Christmas Fair

On 4 and 5 December, the Whitchurch Silk Mill will host a weekend Christmas Fair with a variety of stalls in the Mill grounds.  From Drifters’ narrowboat hire centre on the Llangollen Canal at Blackwater Meadow, it takes around five hours to reach the historic market town of Whitchurch.  The journey travels 12 waterway miles through the Shropshire Lake District.

5. Moor up for a festive break in Bath

Bath’s Christmas programme this year includes festive stalls in Kingston Parade and Abbey Green and an artisan market in Queen Square.  There will also be an illumination trail of historic buildings and traditional Christmas celebrations around the Abbey Quarter.  From our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Monkton Combe, it takes around four hours to reach moorings in Bath City, passing through six locks along the way.

*Some routes are affected by the Canal & River Trust’s winter stoppage programme https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/report/winter-notices.pdf

Explore the waterways by canal boat this October Half Term

Canal boat holidays are great for families! They offer the chance to set off together on an adventure afloat, learning how to steer the boat, work the locks and stop at canalside attractions along the way.

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.  All our narrow boats are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

Here are Drifters Top 5 narrowboat holidays for beginners for the October Half Term holiday:

1. Travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse

On a short break from Drifters’ boat yard at Sowerby Bridge, you can travel to Brighouse and back. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, as well as great places to eat and shop. Along the way, you’ll pass through the historic market town of Elland and the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool.  The journey there and back travels 12 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around eight hours.

2. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District

From our narrow boat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, you can cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  The journey to Ellesmere takes around four cruising hours and there are no locks to pass through. Once at Ellesmere, there’s a choice of independent shops and restaurants, as well as gardens, woods and castle grounds to explore.

3. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

From our narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The journey travels 28 miles and passes through just four locks, perfect for a week away.  You’ll go up the North Oxford Canal, transferring on to the Coventry Canal at Hawksbury Junction.  The route will take you through the Northamptonshire countryside, and past a series of canalside pubs, including the Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

4. Navigate to Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man

On a week’s break departing from our Gailey base on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, you can cruise to Market Drayton and back.  The journey there and back cruises 68 miles, passes through 14 locks and takes around 30 hours.  Highlights include: the historic village of Brewood; walks at Belvide Reservoir; and cruising through deep wooded cuttings.  There’s a good choice of  canalside pubs along the way, including the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

5. Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a short break from our Devizes base in Wiltshire, you can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to moorings at Sydney Wharf.  The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, the route passes through a series of towns and villages with canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once at Sydney Wharf, you can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre to visit the Roman Baths and other World class attractions.

Top 9 Canal Boat Holidays for 2022

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

Drifters offers over 550 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  2022 hire prices start at £550 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £760 for a week.  Tuition is included in all Drifters holiday packages.

Here are Drifters’ Top 9 canal boat holidays for 2022:

1. Cruise to historic Shardlow

In Spring 2022, Drifters will open a new narrowboat hire base at Springwood Haven Marina on the Coventry Canal in Nuneaton.  On a week’s break from Springwood Haven, you can travel to the historic inland port of Shardlow and back.  The journey passes through Atherstone, across the Tame Aqueduct, through Fradley Junction, Alrewas, Branston and Burton-on-Trent, home of the National Brewery Centre. At Shardlow there are over 50 listed buildings, including the Salt Warehouse, housing Shardlow Heritage Centre.  The journey there and back passes through 58 locks and takes around 49 cruising hours.

2. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath

On a short break from our base at Devizes in Wiltshire, you can travel along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Sydney Wharf, on the edge of Bath.  The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, the route passes through the village of Seend with its canalside Barge Inn.  And the historic town of Bradford on Avon, with a choice of independent shops and restaurants.  The route also takes boaters over the beautiful Avoncliff and Dundas Bath stone aqueducts.  Once at Sydney Wharf, boaters can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre.

3. Navigate to Manchester and back

On a week’s break from our canal boat hire base at Acton Bridge, you can cruise to Manchester and back.  The journey allows you to enjoy time in the countryside as well as well as the City.  The route, which travels a total of 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops and eateries, and the historic village of Lymm.  On arrival in Manchester, there are places to moor at Castlefield Basin, within easy reach of City Centre attractions.  To visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

4. Visit Warwick Castle afloat

From our boat yard at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, you can cruise to Warwick and back.  The journey there and back takes around 14 hours, and passes through 40 locks (20 each way).  Overnight moorings are available close to Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon.

5. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From oure base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Along the way, you’ll pass through just six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs.  These include the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

6. Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Norbury

From our base at Autherley, on a short break you can cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Autherley and back.  This rural route, which is perfect for beginners, takes boaters through 15 miles of peaceful countryside.  It passes through just two locks and a series of pretty villages with canalside pubs. These include the Bridge Inn at Brewood and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Ashton.

7. Spot wildlife on the Ashby Canal

On a week’s holiday from our Braunston base, you can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back.  You will travel a total of 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four each way) in around 32 hours.  This largely rural route goes 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 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).  This recognises the diversity of the waterway’s plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, and rare native white-clawed crayfish.

8. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

Our base at Trevor on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is next to the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  From there, you can reach historic Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District on a short break.  Standing 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the canal in a cast iron trough, supported by 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, you feel like you are floating above the earth!

9. Cruise to Todmorden for stunning Pennine scenery

On a short break from our Sowerby Bridge base in West Yorkshire, you can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal. The journey, which travels a total of 20 miles, passes 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, you’ll pass through the beautiful Calder Valley village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes. And the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, with a variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs and a series of scenic waymarked walks.

10 Top Tips for Canal Boat Holiday Beginners

You don’t need to be an expert to hire a canal boat, and each year around one fifth of narrowboat hirers are new to the waterways. 

With Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways in great shape, there’s never been a better time to try a narrow boat holiday.

To help make your first canal boat holiday smoother, we’ve put together our Top 10 tips for beginners:

  1. Do some advance prep – boat steering tuition is provided as part of our holiday packages.  To get ahead of the game, take a look at the Canal & River Trust’s Boaters Handbook Video for some sound advice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXn47JYXs44
  2. Plan your route – the Canal & River Trust has interactive maps online to help you plan your narrowboat journey.  You can work out where to moor each night and canalside pubs to enjoy along the way.  It’s best not to be too ambitious so you can stay relaxed https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/planning-your-boat-trip
  3. Pet friendly – if you are bringing your dog, or you simply want a bit of extra outside space, opt for a cruiser stern narrowboat rather than a semi-traditional stern.
  4. Be greener – remember to pack your re-useable shopping bags, re-useable plastic bottles and coffee cups to help limit the amount of plastic used on your holiday afloat.
  5. Bring some on board entertainment – for cosy nights in, bring along some cards and board games, as well some DVD’s. TV reception isn’t always available on the canals and WiFi strength can vary too.
  6. Keep to the right – unlike cars on our roads, canal boats travel on the right side of our canals and rivers, so when you meet another boat, keep to the right.
  7. Watch out for the cill – when in a lock, make sure the boat is kept forward of the cill (step) inside the lock.  And check all paddles and gates are shut after you’ve used a lock, unless you see another boat approaching.
  8. Sharing is caring – if possible, always share a lock with other boats to save water.  And it means you can share the lock operating work too.
  9. Embrace the slower pace – there’s a 4mph speed limit on the canals, but you’re going too fast if you’re creating too much wash.  This disturbs wildlife, moored boats and anglers and it erodes the banks. So keep it slow and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life.
  10. Mooring etiquette – when mooring up at busy spots, make sure you don’t leave a big gap. And never moor opposite winding holes, on bends, near to bridges, on lock landings (unless waiting to lock through) or at water points (unless filling up).

 

Exploring the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton

Countryman Magazine editor Mark Whitley describes his recent Drifters narrow boat holiday, cruising the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton to Keynsham, via Bradford on Avon and Bath.

Created in the white heat of the Industrial Revolution, canals are nowadays places for pleasure and relaxation. One of the most popular canals is the Kennet & Avon Canal, and it’s a delight to explore by narrowboat.

I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Hilperton Marina, for a week-long cruise on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Day One – to Bradford on Avon

At the marina, we were given a tour and tuition for navigating the canal aboard the ‘African Swift’, a luxuriously fitted out narrow boat, with all the mod cons. Then, we were off!

It was a short trip for the first day. Around three miles, and an hour-a-bit, later, we were tackling our first lock at Bradford on Avon. We’re all fairly experienced narrowboaters, but even for first-timers the locks are nothing to get nervous about.  Just take your time, and there’s often a Canal & River Trust volunteer or fellow boater on hand to offer advice or a helping hand if needed. We moored up and went to the Lock Inn Café for our evening meal and a few drinks overlooking the canal.

Day Two – to Bath

After a leisurely brunch on board, we set off towards Bath.  We crossed the Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts – two of the most spectacular and impressive structures on the whole of the canal network. There are moorings below Sydney Wharf for those who want to walk into Bath City Centre on a short break from Hilperton.

But as we were experienced boaters and we were away for a week, we navigated on through the Bath locks to join the River Avon. After a few hair-raising moments when the river current caught the boat, we managed to moor up. The strong currents, and rapidly changing river levels especially when it’s raining, mean boating on the River Avon is often more suitable for experienced boaters.  We spent a very pleasant evening exploring Bath, one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the country.

Day Three – to Bitton

In the morning we continued on along the River Avon, and moored up on the floating pontoon alongside Bitton Picnic Area. From here it’s a short walk to Bitton Station, home of the Avon Valley Railway. This heritage railway runs trains most weekends, and we arrived on a ‘steam day’. There-and-back trip takes about an hour, and it’s a heart-gladdening experience. We overnighted at the pontoon, and enjoyed the peace and calm of the water.

Day Four – to Keynsham

We had planned to boat into Bristol, but, at Hanham Lock we phoned ahead to the Bristol lock keeper (as advised) and he suggested, as the river levels were very high following so much rain, we should avoid the tidal stretch of the River Avon. So, we erred on the side of caution and turned round to overnight at nearby Keynsham.

Day Five – back to Bath

A couple of us took the train into Bristol to visit the Floating Harbour and the SS Great Britain. Then in the afternoon, with everyone back on board, we returned along the River Avon to rejoin the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath.

Day Six – exploring Bath

We spent the day exploring the delights of Bath. It is a World Heritage site, so there is plenty to see and do. In glorious summer sunshine, we visited the Holbourne Museum, Pulteney Bridge, the Royal Crescent and the Abbey.  After drinks in the beer garden of the White Hart, we enjoyed a take-away curry from nearby Bikanos Indian Cuisine.

Day Seven – back to Bradford on Avon via Claverton Pumping Station

Around lunchtime reached moorings outside Claverton Pumping Station. This rare and remarkable surviving example of Georgian industrial technology is now run by the Claverton Pumping Station volunteers.  They maintain it as an industrial heritage museum, which is open to the public most weekends.

In the afternoon, we re-crossed Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts. Dundas Aqueduct is also the junction with the Somerset Coal Canal, and we enjoyed a pleasant short walk along its towpath to the café at Brassknocker Basin.

Then we continued to Bradford on Avon to stop overnight there again, visiting the Barge Inn this time.  This left us with just a short journey the next morning to return our boat at Hilperton Marina.

 

Cruising the Avon Ring

The Avon Ring is one of a dozen or so popular circular routes for narrowboat holiday-makers.

It covers a distance of 108 miles, passes through 130 locks and takes around two weeks to complete.  Sections of the Stratford Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal, River Severn and River Avon make up the route.

Drifters has canal boat hire bases on the ring route at Tardebigge, Alvechurch, Stoke Prior and Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, as well as Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

Starting from Tardebigge and travelling anti-clockwise round the Avon Ring, from abbeys and canalside pubs, to theatres and Tudor mansions, here’s a guide to the highlights:

The Tardebigge Flight

With 30 locks in just 2¼ miles it’s the longest lock flight in the country.  There are fantastic views of the Worcestershire countryside to enjoy as boaters descend, with popular Queen’s Head pub to enjoy between locks 29 and 28.  Drifters’ Stoke Prior base is halfway down the flight.

Hanbury Wharf

The Eagle & Sun pub at Hanbury is a popular staging post for narrowboat holiday-makers.  It’s on the junction where the Droitwich Junction Canal meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Diglis Basin

Opened in the 19th century to allow transhipment of cargoes between the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Two broad locks take boaters down into the River, operated by lock keepers.

The River Severn

With the distant outline of the Malvern Hills in overlooking this magnificent river takes boaters through miles of peaceful countryside.  Upton on Severn is a good place to moor, with plenty of shops and pubs.

Tewkesbury

This historic market town with its 12-century abbey, half-timbered buildings and historic pubs is a great place to visit, and it’s here that the River Severn meets the River Avon.

Pershore

One of the finest market towns in Worcestershire, Pershore offers lots of places to eat and shop, and a magnificent abbey to explore.

Evesham

Site of another famous abbey and plenty of pubs and cafes too.

Bidford

The seven arched medieval bridge at Bidford dates from 1482.  Look out for signage, as only one of the arches is suitable for boats to pass through.

Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare’s home town has a great choice of shops, pubs, cafes, museums and theatres.  Bancroft Basin right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the perfect place to moor up and explore the town.  The Basin connects the River Avon with the Stratford Canal.

Wilmcote Locks

The Stratford Canal is a narrow canal and the flight of 11 locks at Wilmcote take boaters up to the village of Wilmcote.  This historic village is home to Mary Arden’s Farm, one of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s museums and where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.

Edstone Aqueduct

The longest cast iron structure in England, the impressive Edstone Aqueduct offers great views of the surrounding Warwickshire countryside.

Wootton Wawen

There’s another smaller aqueduct here, a Drifters canal boat hire base here and the Yew Tree Farm farm shop and Cowshed Cafe.

Lowsonford

One of a series of quiet villages through which the Stratford Canal passes, Lowsonford is famous for its Fleur de Lys pub.

Lapworth Flight

Fifteen locks at Lapworth take boaters up hill to Hockley Heath, passing close to the National Trust’s Tudor mansion, Packwood House.  There’s a good choice of places to eat and drink at Hockley Heath, including a Chinese takeaway and the canalside Wharf pub.

King’s Norton Junction

After passing through Brandwood Tunnel and the stop lock with its guillotine-like gate hanging overhead, boaters reach the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at King’s Norton Junction.

Wast Hill Tunnel

Turning left at King’s Norton Junction, boaters soon encounter the 2,726 yard long Wast Hill Tunnel.  The journey through the tunnel, which is wide enough for two boats to pass, takes around 30 minutes.

Alvechurch

There’s a choice of canalside pubs here.  The Crown and the Weighbridge at Alvechurch marina, one of Drifters’ narrowboat hire bases.

Just under an hour later, boaters will be back at Tardebigge.

Top 9 Canal Boat Holidays for Autumn 2021

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.  And there’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including flocks of fieldfare and redwing searching for hawthorn berries.

Here are Drifters’ top nine narrowboat holiday destinations for autumn 2021:

1. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin, travelling 28 miles and passing through just four locks.  The journey takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal, transferring on to the Coventry Canal at Hawksbury Junction.  Along the way, boaters travel through the Northamptonshire countryside, passing a series of canalside pubs, including the popular Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

2. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal

From our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a seven-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The route, which is perfect for a short break, passes through the Warwickshire countryside, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way.  Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin and use it as a base to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.

3. Complete the Stourport Ring

On a week’s break from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, boaters can travel the popular Stourport Ring.  This circuit travels 74 miles and passes through 118 locks in around 44 cruising hours.  Highlights include: Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; and the Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks.

4. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

On a week’s break from our base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, boaters can reach the pretty town of Llangollen.  The journey takes 12 hours, passes through two locks, two tunnel and crosses over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  From there, boaters can enjoy amazing views across the Dee Valley and the Welsh Mountains.

5. Cruise to Manchester & back

On a week’s break from Acton Bridge, canal boaters can cruise to Manchester and back.  The route, which passes through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, travels 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) and passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at along the way, include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs, and the historic village of Lymm.  On arrival in Manchester, there are places to moor at Castlefield Basin, within easy reach of City Centre attractions. And to visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

6. Drift through the Calder Valley

On a short break from Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, boaters can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow

On a short break from Falkirk, boaters can experience a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands to the historic town of Linlithgow.  The route passes over the Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift), goes through two tunnels and crosses two aqueducts on the Union Canal.

8. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Along the way, boaters pass through miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs.  Pubs include the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

9. Cruise through the Bath Valley

On a short break from Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, boaters can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to Sydney Wharf takes just six hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts and passing through one lock.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once in Bath, boaters can moor up a short walk away from the centre of Bath.

Tips for narrowboat holiday-makers, come rain or shine

Nigel and Kathryn Crawford of MrandMrs50Plus.com recently enjoyed a Drifters narrowboat holiday, setting off from our canal boat hire base at Worcester.

The UK weather is a fickle thing.  A May weekend on the canals can throw just about everything at you in just three days.  On our recent Drifters narrowboat holiday we bounced from blazing hot sunshine to driving rain and hail within hours.

A canal holiday, however, is beautifully versatile.  All Drifters narrowboats have central heating, little sun decks at the bow, and many are equipped with umbrellas and waterproof clothing.  Despite everything the weather threw at us, it didn’t in any way spoil what was a thoroughly enjoyable few days.

Narrowboats are homely and well-equipped

There’s even something quite tranquil and relaxing about pottering along the canal in the pouring rain.  It’s a totally different take on the waterway environment. It’s important to remember to close the cabin door when it’s like that though, to make sure your duvet doesn’t get wet on the bed below!  Notwithstanding the meteorological challenges, the boats are comfy, homely and well-equipped.

Planning ahead

As experienced boaters we had planned our little trip before arriving at the Worcester Marina base. We bore in mind the location of public moorings, water points, winding points (turning areas) and how many locks we’d encounter on our route.  In our earliest narrowboat escapades, I think in retrospect we were a little over-eager in our planning. On more than one occasion we ended up having to cover unnecessarily long distances to get back to base on time.  Nowadays, we’re far more conservative, focusing just as much on the moored-up time as on the canal transit.

The Importance of Maps

We can’t stress how important having a good detailed canal map can be.  It really helps you to plan ahead and avoids stressful twilight searches for suitable mooring places or watering points.  We always buy and download digital pdf maps that we can view on pretty much any device.  We particularly like those from waterwayroutes.co.uk. They’re an invaluable part of any waterways holiday nowadays.

Make space for chill time

We found a lovely mooring near The Bridge pub at Tibberton and found lots to see and do up around Droitwich Spa.  One possibility that we had considered was doing the ‘Droitwich Ring’ but we decided that it was an optimistic challenge for a weekend hire.  We decided instead to re-trace our steps back down the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to give us more ‘chill time’. It was a short, but memorable weekend to keep the narrowboating flame burning.

Find out more about Kathryn and Nigel’s adventures afloat here https://mrandmrs50plus.com/narrowboating-with-drifters/

Top 9 Aqueducts to glide across on a narrowboat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile canal network is made up of thousands of historic structures.  From impressive flights of locks to soaring aqueducts, these engineering marvels are exciting focal points for canal boat holiday-makers today.

Aqueducts were originally invented by the Romans.  But the idea of a ‘canal in the sky’ was initially ridiculed by the canal builders.  They were concerned about the amount of masonry required to support the weight of the water above.  However, the engineers found a way and dozens of canal aqueducts went on to be constructed across the canal network.  They have survived to become some of the most iconic sights on our waterways.

To help plan your 2021 adventure afloat, we’ve listed the top nine aqueducts to glide across:

1. The Stream in the Sky in North Wales 

Standing 33 metres high above the Dee Valley, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales has UNESCO World Heritage Status.  Designed by Thomas Telford, its 305-metre long cast iron trough in which narrowboats float, is supported by 19 enormous hollow pillars.  Ox blood was added to the lime mortar used to bind the masonry together.  It was believed the blood of a strong animal would help strengthen the structure.  You can reach this aqueduct from our hire boat yards at Trevor, Chirk, Blackwater Meadow, Whitchurch, Wrenbury and Whixall.

2. Avoncliff Aqueduct in Somerset

Designed by canal engineer John Rennie, the beautiful Bath stone Avoncliff Aqueduct carries the Kennet & Avon Canal across the Avon Valley near Bath.  It is over 100 metres long and 18 metres wide.  You can reach this aqueduct on a canal boat holiday from our bases at Bath, Monkton Coombe, Bradford on Avon, Hilperton and Devizes.

3. Chirk Aqueduct on the Welsh border

Also part of the Llangollen Canal World Heritage site, the striking Chirk Aqueduct was completed in 1801.  It was designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford.  It is 220 metres long and carries the Llangollen Canal 21 metres high above the River Ceiriog, using 10 circular masonry arches.  You can easily reach the Chirk Aqueduct from our bases at Trevor, Chirk, Blackwater Meadow, Whitchurch, Wrenbury and Whixall.

4. The Iron Trunk Aqueduct in Buckinghamshire

This magnificent engineering structure was the world’s first wide canal cast iron trough aqueduct.  It takes the Grand Union Canal 12 metres high across the River Great Ouse, close to the village of Cosgrove.  It was built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, and is made up of two cast iron trough spans, with a single masonry pier.  Our nearest narrowboat hire base is a five hour cruise away at Gayton.

5. Dundas Aqueduct in Somerset

Another magnificent Bath stone aqueduct designed by John Rennie, this structure on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Bath was completed in 1810.  It’s designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument and connects the Kennet & Avon Canal to the Somerset Coal Canal.  You can easily be reach Dundas Aqueduct on a canal boat holiday from our bases at Bath, Monkton Coombe, Bradford on Avon, Hilperton and Devizes.

6. Edstone Aqueduct in Warwickshire

Carrying the Stratford Canal across three railway tracks, a minor road, a stream and a field, this 146 metre long structure is the longest cast iron aqueduct in England.  Completed in 1816, it was amongst the earliest prefabricated structures, made up of 35 separate sections bolted together.  Our nearest canal boat hire base is just under an hour away at Wootton Wawen.

7. The Lune Aqueduct in Lancashire

This Grade I listed iconic structure carries the Lancaster Canal 16 metres high above the River Lune.  It was designed by John Rennie and has five 21 metre high semi-circular arches.  The nearest Drifters’ base is a week’s cruise away at Acton Bridge on the River Weaver.

8. Nantwich Aqueduct in Cheshire

The Nantwich Aqueduct offers canal boat holiday-makers panoramic views across the historic market town of Nantwich.  This Grade II* listed historic structure carries the Shropshire Union Canal over the A534 Chester Road.  It was designed by the famous canal engineer Thomas Telford and completed 1826.  You can reach Nantwich Aqueduct in just two hours from our base at Bunbury.

9. Barton Swing Aqueduct in Greater Manchester

This Grade II* listed aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal.  It opened in 1893 and was the first and only swing aqueduct in the world.  Weighing 1,450 tonnes, the 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Our nearest base is a nine-hour cruise away at Acton Bridge.

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 www.canalrivertrust.org.uk