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All aboard for an Autumn canal boat holiday

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.

Narrowboats are like floating holiday cottages, with everything holiday-makers need on board for a self-catering adventure afloat.

Autumn 2022 hire prices start at £561 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £865 for a week.

Here’s a guide to Drifters’ top seven canal boat holiday destinations for Autumn 2022:

1. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From our canal boat hire base at Autherley on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 12 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man.  Along the way, you’ll pass through 26 miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, seven locks, and a series of wooded canal cuttings, now havens for wildlife.  The route passes through the historic villages of Brewood, Wheaton Aston and Gnosall. And a series of canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Aston.  There are nature reserves to visit at Wheaton Aston (Mottey Meadows), Norbury (Loynton Moss), and Brewood (Belvide Reservoir).  The journey to Market Harborough and back takes around 24 hours, perfect for a relaxed week away.

2. Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a four-night mid-week break from our Devizes base on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, you can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to Sydney Wharf takes around 10 hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts and passing through 10 locks.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  There are moorings a short walk from Bath City Centre at Sydney Wharf.

3. Explore Skipton and its medieval castle

On a short break from our Barnoldswick base, you can head east along he Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton.  The journey there and back travels 26 miles, passes through 30 locks (15 each way) and takes around 20 cruising hours.  This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale.  There are extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, you can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle.

4. Cruise to Manchester

On a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge, you 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, you can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

5. Travel along the Stratford Canal to Stratford upon Avon

From our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The route, which is perfect for a short break, passes through 17 locks.  Along the way, you’ll cruise through the Warwickshire countryside, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way.  Once at the birthplace of the Bard, there are over-night moorings in Bancroft Basin.  This is perfect to use as a base to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants, theatres and museums.

6. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

On a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Wrenbury Mill on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to the pretty town of Llangollen.  The journey takes 19 hours, passes through 12 locks and two tunnels. It crosses the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’, with amazing views across the Dee Valley and the Welsh Mountains.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Ratho

From our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful eight-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic village of Ratho.  The route to Ratho travels 24 miles, passes through three locks, two tunnels and over two aqueducts.  It also passes close to the historic town of Linlithgow, home to the ruins of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

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. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Practice good 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).

8. Opt for a pet friendly stern

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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

 

Top of the Locks 2022

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales, all enabling boats to travel up and down hills.

There’s no mystery to using locks – just a series of step-by-step tasks.  A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end.  By emptying or filling the chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of waterway.

There are many different kinds of locks, but they all on work on a similar principle.  With the lock gates closed, boaters should open the sluices (paddles) to let the water in or out.  When the water level under the boat is the same as the level it’s moving to, the boat can move in or out of the lock.

Some locks are operated by boaters, others by lock-keepers.  Tuition is included in all our canal boat holiday packages.  During your handover procedure, boat yard staff will usually be able to take you through your first lock.

To celebrate these marvels of canal engineering, we’ve put together a guide to the Top 7 lock flight destinations for 2022 narrow boat holidays:

1. Caen Hill in Wiltshire

Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  With 29 locks spread out over two miles, raising the canal by 72 metres, it takes around six hours to passage through.  The 16-lock section clustered together up the hill is truly a magnificent site, and one of the most iconic on the waterway network.  Drifters’ Devizes narrowboat hire base is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

2. Wigan in Lancashire

This epic flight of 21 locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is said to be one of the most fearsome on the waterways.  Descending 70 metres in less than two miles, it takes around five hours to pass through all the locks.  The flight travels through New Springs, a suburb of Wigan which was once an industrial hub with collieries and ironworks lining the canal.  Today it’s a post-industrial landscape of waste ground, modern housing and terraced streets.  From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick, it takes around 19 cruising hours to reach Wigan Top Lock Junction, travelling 48 miles and passing through 20 locks.

3. Tardebigge in Worcestershire

With 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is the longest on the inland waterways system.  In total, the locks raise and lower boats 67 metres and it takes around five-and-a-half hours to travel through them.  In recognition of the effort it takes, the Canal & River Trust issues certificates to boaters rising (or lowering) to the challenge.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at the top of the flight at Tardebigge Wharf.

4. Bingley 5 Rise in West Yorkshire

Another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this spectacular staircase of five locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, 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 of the next.  It takes around one-and-a-half hours to work through.  The size of the chambers can be intimidating even for experienced boaters, but friendly lock-keepers are on hand to help.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is 25 miles and 20 locks away at Barnoldswick. The journey takes around 14 and a half hours.

5. Hatton in Warwickshire

The Hatton Flight on the Grand Union Canal was nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals.  This impressive flight of 21 locks raises boats up 45 metres over two miles, and takes around four-and-a-half hours to travel through.  Just below the Top lock, you’ll find the popular Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is eight cruising hours away at Stockton.  The journey travels 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.

6. Foxton in Leicestershire

Surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, this set of 10 locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal raises boats up 23 metres in just a quarter-of-a-mile.  Foxton Locks is the longest set of staircase locks in the UK, and is designated a Grade II Listed structure.  In staircases, the locks open directly one from another so that the top gate of one forms the bottom of the next.  It takes around 45 minutes to pass through. There are lock keepers on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles, “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead.”  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is around 13 cruising hours away at Braunston.  The journey to Foxton Top Staircase travels 27 miles and passes through 13 locks.

7. Marple in Cheshire

One of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple raise boats by 64 metres over just one mile.  The locks are built of local stone and are mostly tree-lined, giving the canal a lovely secluded feeling.  The Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Drifters’ Stoke on Trent canal boat hire base is around 19 cruising hours away from Marple Bottom Lock.  The journey there travels 32 miles and passes through 14 locks.

 

 

Boris the lizard enjoys a canal boat holiday

Gareth Butterfield recently took a Drifters’ press trip on the Coventry Canal, setting off from our new canal boat hire base at Springwood Haven Marina.  Gareth was joined by this wife, their two dogs and Boris the Bearded Dragon.  Gareth describes their pet-friendly staycation afloat:

“And there was me thinking it was a cheeky request, “Can I take a lizard on board?” I sheepishly asked the nice people at Springwood Haven Marina, a few weeks before we were due to rent a narrowboat for a midweek.

“Yes, no problem,” was essentially the reply, as if it was a perfectly normal thing to ask.

“I’ve since learned Drifters canal boat hire operators, including ABC Boat Hire, have always been very open to the idea of pets joining their owners on board. And it’s a good job, because along with my wife’s six-year-old Bearded Dragon, we took our two dogs. And we all loved it. Even the lizard.

“Travelling with a lizard does bring a few complications.

“Bearded Dragons are cold-blooded, so they need to be kept warm. That’s easy when it’s sunny, but when they’re not able to bask in the sunshine they need to be under a heat lamp.

“Our portable vivarium was set up during the pandemic so we could take Boris with us in our motorhome, but it slotted in nicely on shelf in the boat’s bedroom. The boat’s batteries weren’t troubled even slightly by the 100w basking light.

“As a rule, Boris is very docile, and he happily sits and watches the world go by while we travel with him. He loves the motorhome, and he took to the boat like, er, a lizard to water.

“We had a nice, sunny start to the week. 

“Boris happily sat out on my wife’s chest while we cruised up the Ashby Canal. Then, when the weather turned colder, he quickly established his favourite spot inside was on the back of the sofa, cosying up to his hot-water bottle.

“Lizards like to climb, and Boris loves having a view out of the window so this was a perfect vantage point.

“The dogs were much happier to be outside on the stern with me while we were cruising, even when temperatures plummeted.

“They loved watching out for ducks, swans and geese, and there were plenty of opportunities to stop and give them a walk up and down the towpath.

“If you’re anything like me and my wife, you’ll know how nice it is to share your holiday experiences with your pets, and watching them adapt to a new environment like a boat is endlessly entertaining.

“We went to great lengths to ensure Boris could join us on motorhome trips, but bringing him on a boat felt like a leap into the unknown. But it was made very easy for us, and turned into a great experience.

“We can’t wait to do it again. And we’ll definitely bring Boris with us.”

Top 8 waterside museums to visit on a canal boat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers is home to dozens of waterside museums and attractions, many of them linked to our nation’s industrial past.

To celebrate, we’ve published a guide to the Top 8 waterside museums to visit afloat in 2022:

  1. The Black Country Living Museum

Famous as a filming location for The Peaky Blinders, this 26-acre open air museum on the Birmingham Canal Navigations, gives visitors an insight into life in one of the world’s most heavily industrialised landscapes.  From our narrow boat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge, it takes around eight hours to cruise to the Birmingham Black Country Museum.  The journey travels 23 miles and passes through three locks.

  1. The Leeds Industrial Museum

Next to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Canal Road in Leeds, this museum explores the inventions that shaped Leeds, from Scootacars to steam engines, and space food to Spirograph.  It takes around 26 hours to cruise to the Leeds Industrial Museum from our canal boat hire base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Barnoldswick.  The journey travels 40 miles and passes through 38 locks.

  1. The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port

On the banks of the Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal, this museum brings together a unique fleet of historic boats, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, with rich collections and archives, to tell the story of Britain’s canals.  It takes around 11 hours to cruise to the National Waterways Museum from our boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury.  The journey travels 21 miles and passes through 16 locks.

  1. The Hepworth Wakefield Museum

This modern gallery on the banks of the Calder & Hebble Navigation showcases the extraordinary work by the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. There are also works on display by Henry Moore, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.  It takes around 22 hours to reach the Hepworth Wakefield Museum from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.

  1. Warwick Castle

This incredible medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon offers a fantastic day out, with Flight of the Eagles displays, Horrible Histories Maze, Kingmaker exhibition, towers and ramparts to climb, the Castle Dungeon tour and Mighty Trebuchet firing spectacle. It takes around eight hours to reach moorings close to Warwick Castle from our canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.  The journey travels 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.

  1. The Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne

On the banks of the Grand Union Canal in Northampton, this quirky little museum in a historic tells the story of Britain’s canals through archive films, models and artefacts.  It takes around one and a half hours to reach the Museum from our canal boat hire rental at Gayton.  The route takes boaters through the Blisworth Tunnel, which at 3,076 yards long is the third longest on the canal network and takes 30 minutes to cruise through.

  1. The Anderton Boat Lift

Connecting the River Weaver Navigation and the Trent & Mersey Canal, the Anderton Boat Lift and its museum, tell the story of this incredible Victorian structure, nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’.  It takes around 21 hours to reach Anderton Boat Lift from our base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal. The journey cruises 21 miles and passes through eight locks.  Drifters also has a hire boat base next to the Lift.

  1. We The Curious in Bristol

Part of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, ‘We The Curious’ is a science centre and educational charity with interactive displays, a planetarium and exhibitions. It takes around eight hours to cruise there from our canal barge rental base at Bath.  The journey cruises 17 miles along the Kennet & Avon Canal and Bristol Avon, and passes through 13 locks.

Top 6 short breaks for the Jubilee Weekend

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend (3-5 June), offers the chance to explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways by canal boat.

Over the course of her reign, Her Majesty The Queen has made a number of visits to the waterways, and iconic waterside attractions.

Drifters Waterway Holidays (drifters.co.uk) offers over 550 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  2022 hire prices over the Jubilee Weekend and Half Term holiday start at £985 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £1,365 for a week.

To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Drifters’ has listed its Top 6 short break canal boat holidays for the Jubilee Weekend:

1. Travel through the Falkirk Wheel and on to Edinburgh

From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel, officially opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 2002, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal.  The journey, perfect for four-night mid-week break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Once through the Wheel, boaters continue navigating through the Scottish Lowlands, passing through the villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho.  Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, a five-minute walk from Princes Street.

2. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath

On a short break from our narrow boat hire base at Devizes in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Sydney Wharf, on the edge of Bath City Centre.  Drifters’ Devizes canal boat hire base is at the bottom of the magnificent flight of locks at Caen Hill, officially reopened by The Queen in 1990.  One of the locks is named in her honour.  The journey to Bath travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.

3. Cruise to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port

From our boat yard at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it takes 10 hours to reach Ellesmere Port.  In 1979, The Queen visited the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, and boarded a historic working boat.  The journey to Ellesmere Port takes 10 hours, travelling 21 miles and passing through 12 locks.  The route takes boaters through the ancient City of Chester along the way.

4. Navigate to Stratford upon Avon’s Swan Theatre

From Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Once there, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin close the town’s famous Swan Theatre, visited by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986.

5. See the largest pair of equine statues on the planet – at 30-metres high, the magnificent Kelpies stand at the gateway to the new extension to the Forth & Clyde Canal, opened by The Queen in 2017. The Queen Elizabeth II Canal links the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Firth of Forth.  Based on the heavy horses that one plied the canal towpaths, the Kelpies form part of a new 350-hectare Helix park at the end of the canal extension at Grangemouth.  From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Falkirk, boaters can reach the Kelpies in around four hours, cruising four miles and passing through 14 locks.

6. Visit Coventry Cathedral by canal boat 

From our narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach moorings in Coventry Basin.  From there, it’s a short walk to Coventry Cathedral visited by The Queen in 1981, for a special re-dedication service to mark the Royal British Legion’s Diamond Jubilee. Travelling 28 miles and passing through just four locks, the journey to Coventry takes boaters through a series of canalside towns and villages, including Hillmorton and Rugby.

 

 

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.

Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a canal boat holiday

One of the things that make our canals and rivers so special, is the wildlife that lives in and beside them.

You can spot anything from ducks, moorhens and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters and water voles. Even in the heart of our towns and cities, you can get close to nature on a canal or river.

Many areas of the Canal & River Trust’s canals and rivers in England and Wales have been designated as important nature sites, including 63 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and over 1,000 wildlife conservation sites.

To celebrate, we’ve listed our Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a 2022 narrow boat holiday:

  1. Bittell Reservoir, Worcestershire

Built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Bittell Reservoir at Barnt Green is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to over 200 species of water bird.  Boaters can reach the Bittell Arm in just 40 minutes from Drifters’ narrowboat boat hire base at Alvechurch, and in two hours from Tardebigge.

  1. Llangattock, Powys

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal follows the line of the Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is home to an abundance of wildlife.  For example, along the length passing through the village of Llangattock, there are kingfishers, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies to look out for, as well as bats at dusk.  Boaters can reach Llangattock Wharf in around four-and-a-half hours from our’ canal boat rental base at Goytre.

  1. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, Staffordshire

At Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal, Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including ducks, swans and bats.  There are sculpture trails, places to picnic, and a choice of places to eat and drink.  It takes around one-and-a-half hours to reach Fradley from Drifters’ base at Kings Orchard Marina, or six hours (passing through five locks) from Great Haywood.

  1. Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire

This tranquil SSSI stretch of the Ashby Canal offers the chance to spot freshwater mussels, rare native white-clawed crayfish, water shrew, dragonflies, damselflies, and a variety of water birds. Boaters can reach Sutton Cheney visitor moorings in around six hours from Drifters’ base at Kings Orchard Marina, and in around 16 hours (passing through four locks) from Braunston.

  1. Caen Hill, Wiltshire

The Caen Hill flight of locks at Devizes, is not only one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, it’s also an important place for wildlife.  The Jubilee Woodland is providing more habitat for woodland birds, and the side ponds provide habitat for fish, water birds, water voles, otters and the rare chaser dragonfly.  Drifters’ Devizes canal boat hire base is at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight, and our base at Hilperton is four-and-a-half hours away, with seven locks to pass through.

  1. Gronwyn Wharf, Montgomery Canal

The Montgomery Canal runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, and is one of the most important canals in country for nature.  Much of it is designated a SSSI, and the Welsh section is of international significance with a Special Area of Conservation designation for its aquatic plants.  Otters and water voles have been spotted there, and several nature reserves border the canal.  Boaters can cruise to Gronwyn Wharf from a number of Drifters bases, including Blackwater Meadow (six hours, eight locks away) and Whixall (10 hours, eight locks away).

  1. Consall Forge, Staffordshire

The 17-mile long Caldon Canal runs from Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent to the edge of the Peak District at Froghall Wharf.  Travelling alongside the River Churnet through woodlands and moorlands, boaters can look out for kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent, boaters can reach Consall Forge, next to Consall Nature Park in around nine hours, passing through 16 locks.

  1. Marple Locks, Derbyshire

The flight of 16 locks at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal are one of the steepest in Britain, and from there boaters can enjoy magnificent views of the Peak District.  Surrounded by beautiful countryside, including stretches of ancient woodland, there are many types of woodland bird to look out for, as well as bats.  From Drifters’ base at Stoke on Trent it takes around 16 hours, passing through 13 locks, to reach Marple Junction.  And from Bunbury it takes around 29 hours, passing through 48 locks.

  1. Ellesmere, Shropshire

The Mere at Ellesmere is packed with wildlife, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins, ringed plovers, curlews, greenshanks and herons. There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground.  Drifters’ narrow boat hire base at Blackwater Meadow Marina is on the edge of Ellesmere, and Chirk is just four hours and two locks away.

  1. Bingley, West Yorkshire

The fields either side of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Bingley, close to the Bingley Five Rise Lock Staircase, are full of wild flowers.  There are walking trails and places to eat, drink and picnic.  From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, it takes around 14 hours to reach Bingley, passing through 15 locks.

Celebrate 20 years since Anderton Boat Lift reopened

Next year, the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire will celebrate 20 years since the completion of its restoration in 2002.

Nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, and listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, Anderton lifts barges 50 feet from the River Weaver Navigation to the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Boat lifts are faster and more water efficient than lock flights, and Anderton is the world’s oldest operational boat lift.  The Anderton Boat Lift was designed by canal engineer Edwin Clark and originally opened in 1875.  The imposing iron structure is 60 feet high, 85 feet long and 49 feet wide.  It lifts boats up and down between the two waterways in two giant tanks.  Each tanks weighs 252 tonnes when full of water and is big enough for two narrowboats or one barge.

The Lift operated until 1983, when serious deterioration of the structure was discovered.  By 2001, £7million had been raised to fund its restoration and in 2002 the lift reopened.

To celebrate 20 years since the restoration, we’ve listed our Top 5 narrow boat holidays which include the chance to take a passage through the Lift:

  1. Take a short break to the Lift from Bunbury

From our canal boat hire base at Bunbury in Cheshire, it takes nine hours, passing through 10 locks to reach Anderton Boat Lift.  The journey begins on the Shropshire Union Canal and transfers onto the Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich Junction.

  1. Cruise to Barbridge via the Lift from Acton Bridge

On a four night break from our narrow boat hire base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire, boaters can reach Barbridge via the Anderton Boat Lift.  The journey there and back cruises 42 miles, passes through 16 locks and takes around 21 hours.

  1. Navigate to Nantwich from Anderton

On a four night mid-week break setting off from our boat yard at the bottom of the Anderton Boat Lift, canal boat holiday-makers can reach Nantwich.  The journey takes boaters down the Trent & Mersey Canal to Middlewich, and then on to the Shropshire Union Canal to Nantwich.  The journey there and back travels 46 miles, passes through 16 locks and takes around 21 cruising hours.

  1. Complete the Cheshire Ring

On a very active week, or a more relaxed 10-day or two-week break from Acton Bridge, boaters can complete the Cheshire Ring.  The route, which travels 97 miles, passes through 92 locks and takes around 56 cruising hours, takes boaters past the Anderton Boat Lift. The Cheshire Ring takes canal boat holiday-makers along sections of the Trent & Mersey, Bridgewater, Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest canals.

  1. Boat to Anderton from Whixall

Boaters can reach Anderton on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Whixall Marina on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal.  The route transfers onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Hurleston Junction and onto the Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich Junction.  The journey there and back, including going up and down the Lift, travels 82 miles, passes through 54 locks and takes around 48 cruising hours.

For more information about the Anderton Boat Lift, and to book your passage through the Lift, visit https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit/anderton-boat-lift-visitor-centre/boating-through-anderton-boat-lift or call 0303 0404 040.

Exploring the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire

Last month, Elaine Wilson of Eccentric England enjoyed a weekend away on the Grand Union Canal.

Travelling with her friend Julie, she set off from our Stockton base, and travelled to Napton and Braunston.  She talks about the people they met, the places they ate and the features aboard their boat.

To read Elaine’s review, go to https://eccentricengland.co.uk/home/canal-boat-kateboats/