Tips for taking a narrowboat holiday with kids

Clare from the Mudpie Fridays blog enjoyed a Drifters narrowboat holiday on the Kennet & Avon Canal last year.

She travelled with her husband and two boys, aged seven and three.

On their weekend break, they began their journey at our canal boat hire base at Hilperton, near Trowbridge in Wiltshire.  They cruised west to visit the historic town of Bradford on Avon, passing through just one lock each way.

From mooring up and locks, to route maps and canal etiquette, Clare offers 10 tips for your first narrowboat holiday with kids

Go stargazing afloat

The Brecon Beacons National Park is an International Dark Sky Reserve.

On clear nights, stargazers can see the Milky Way, major constellations, star clusters, and even meteor showers.

Running through the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Monmouthshire & Brecon offers the chance to take a stargazing holiday afloat.  Narrowboat holiday-makers can set off from our Goytre base, near Abergavenny.

The canal stretches 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran.  As well as dark night skies, 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.

Route options

On a four night break from our narrowboat hire base at Goytre Wharf, you can cruise to Talybont-on-Usk and back.  The journey there and back covers a total of 38 miles.  It passes through 10 locks, and takes around 18 hours.

On a week away, you can continue on to Brecon, travelling a total of 51 miles, passing through 12 locks (six each way).  This takes around 24 cruising hours.

There are a number of recommended stargazing locations close to the canal.  These include Sugar Loaf Mountain near Abergavenny and Llangors Lake near Brecon.  The best times to go stargazing are the days before, during and soon after each new moon.

2021 celestial events to plan a stargazing holiday afloat

  • Lyrid Meteor Shower 22-23 April & International Dark Sky Week (19-25 April)
  • Eta Aquarid Meteors 6-7 May, made up of dust particles left by the Halley comet
  • Micro New Moon, 11 May
  • New Moon, 10 June
  • New Moon, 10 July
  • Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower, 28-29 July
  • New Moon, 8 August
  • New Moon, 7 September
  • New Moon, 6 October
  • Draconids Meteor Shower, 7 October
  • Orionids Meteor Shower, 21-22 October

2021 prices from Goytre start at £649 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for up to four people, £999 for a week. Price includes boat hire, damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet.  Fuel is extra, charged based on use, circa £10-15 per day.

This Dark Sky Calendar helps pinpoint the best nights to go star gazing

Wanderlust Magazine, November 2020

Sarah Baxter & Paul Bloomfield explore ‘Travel in a Brave New World’ in their ‘Travel Bubbles’ article.  This includes ‘Hope floats’ domestic holidays on the canals.

Daily Telegraph online, 28 October 2020

Emma Cooke and Paul Miles explore ‘Canal boat holidays: the best UK routes, from the Avon Ring to Welsh waterways’

OK! Magazine, 27 October 2020

‘Ghostly goings on’ lists the spookiest places along the canals

Experience winter cruising on the canals

Drifters offers winter cruising on the canals from a number of its bases.  Boats range from snug narrowboats for two, to family vessels for 12.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat.  You can stop off along the way at historic waterside pubs with roaring log fires.

Or visit exciting waterside destinations like Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

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.

Some of our narrowboat hire yards also offer boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Cheryl Howes, owner of Drifters operator Kate Boats, explains:

“Cruising is different in the winter.  People cover much less distance and it’s more about just enjoying being away from home.  And being completely isolated in the little bubble that is the boat.  It’s more about reading books, than going through lots of locks.

“The winter months are when the Canal & River Trust does most of its maintenance work.  This means some routes aren’t available, but there are always alternatives to choose from.

“Because boat hire is cheaper off season, people will often take a larger boat to give themselves a bit more space.  All our boats are centrally heated, so it’s always nice and cosy on board.  But you do need to wrap up warm when you are underway.  And the person at the tiller needs a supply of hot drinks to keep them going!

“Our boats have plenty of storage on board so you can bring lots of warm clothes. You just need to accept that with limited day length you aren’t going to get as far.  And some towpaths do get muddy.”

Drifters’ winter cruising prices start at £535 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £740 for a week.  Here are our Top 5 winter cruising destinations for 2020-21:

  1. Take a winter cruise through the Warwickshire countryside – from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, you can cruise to Warwick and back.  There you can explore the town’s stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon. Along the way, you will pass through the village of Long Itchington with a choice of pubs. Also the town of Leamington Spa.  The journey to Warwick travels 12 miles of waterway.  It passes through 22 locks and takes around eight hours. Alternatively, you can head to the pretty canal village of Braunston, where there’s a choice of pubs.  Along the way, you’ll pass through Braunston Tunnel, six locks and miles of peaceful countryside.

  2. Travel along the Oxford Canal to Napton – on a short break from our narrowboat hire centre on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, you can travel through the countryside to Napton.  You will travel along the Oxford Canal. The journey passes through just six locks (three each way).  It goes through the villages of Hillmorton and Braunston, with a choice of pubs.

  3. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District – from our narrowboat hire base at Blackwater Meadow on the Llangollen Canal you can travel to Whitchurch and back.  It’s perfect for a short break in the Shropshire countryside.  You will pass Blake Mere and Whixall Moss along the way. The journey travels 12 miles.  There are no locks but there are four moveable bridges and one tunnel to negotiate.  Once at Whitchurch, you can moor up and take time to explore this historic town.  It has a choice of independent shops and restaurants and way-marked circular walks.  There’s also the Brown Moss nature reserve and the award-winning Black Bear pub to visit. 

  4. Glide gently through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley – from our canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood you can cruise along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley.  This takes you through the Staffordshire countryside, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours. The journey travels 12 peaceful miles, with just five locks to negotiate along the way.  It goes past the Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.  It also passes the Wolseley Arms and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern.  At Fradley, you can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn.  You can also explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.

  5. Visit historic Chester afloat – from our base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley you can reach Chester in seven hours.  The cruise takes you through 12 miles of Cheshire countryside and through nine locks.  You can moor up at Northgate visitor moorings in the ancient city of Chester.  From there you explore the city and its Roman Walls, Cathedral and Chester Rows.

The Mail on Sunday, 25 October 2020

Caroline Hendrie suggests winter cruising on the canals in ‘Cast off for a tranquil potter along England’s waterways’

Daily Express, 24 October 2020

‘Popular haunts – brave ghosts, ghouls and walking spirits on our canals – if you dare’

The Sunday Post, 18 October 2020

Liz Kavanagh reviews her first narrowboat holiday, travelling along the Union Canal in Scotland in her article ‘Who needs wheels! Boats for beginners’.