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Go canal boating for a haunting Halloween afloat

With spooky tunnels, misty towpaths and plenty of ghosts, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.  Drifters’ narrow boat hire prices for boats for up to four people over Halloween start at £560 for a weekend break, £740 for a week.

Here’s a guide to our spookiest destinations for Halloween 2021:

  1. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  At 2,795 metres long, it’s one of the longest on the canal system.  When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major engineering challenge.  Teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men.  A new route for the tunnel was found and it finally opened on 25 March 1805.  Over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging.  But the tunnel runs straight through the hill so people must have seen the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel.  Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there…?  The Blisworth Tunnel is less than an hour away from Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire.  
  2. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen gliding along the towpath alongside the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. From Drifters’ base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Aqueduct.  On a short break from Trevor, canal boat holiday-makers can travel across the Aqueduct and on to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.
  3. Steel yourself for a visit from the Viscount – Once a 13th century monastery, The George Inn at Bathampton is said to be haunted by the ghost of Viscount John Baptiste Du Barre, who mortally wounded in the last legal duel fought in Britain. The Viscount was reputedly a decadent man who held lavish parties and enjoyed gambling.  Following an argument over a card game, a challenge was thrown down and on 18 November 1778, he and his opponent met on Claverton Down at dawn.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath is a 20-minute cruise from the George Inn.
  4. Hear echoes of a killing at Kidsgrove – the Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Harecastle Tunnel is an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Stoke on Trent.
  5. Witness some ghostly goings-on at The Navigation Inn – the Navigation Inn on the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge dates back to the 15th century.  It served travellers along the old salt road from Chester to York long before the canal was built. According to the landlord, there’s plenty of supernatural activity in this ancient building, including noises in the cellar, clocks that mysteriously stop and spirits that appear in the kitchen.  The Navigation Inn is very close to Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.
  6. Beware the blood stained steps at Brindley Bank – the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins.  She was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body flung into the canal. Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported.  As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal.  It is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones.  Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
  7. Get the chills in Chester – visit the City’s old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat and a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the City. Canal boat holiday-makers can hire a boat from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, and reach Chester in seven hours, and passing through nine locks.
  8. Mind the Monkey Man at Norbury – the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ haunts the Shropshire Union Canal at Bridge 39 near Norbury. This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century.  Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from our base at Brewood near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.

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

Multi-generational Narrow Boat Holiday Diary

Towpath Talk editor Janet Richardson recently enjoyed a four-night family break on a Drifters boat, hired from our Stockton base.  Here’s what Janet had to say about her ‘Far from the madding crowd’ multi-generational narrowboat holiday:

Day 1 – from Stockton to Napton Junction (3 miles, 3 locks)

In these days of staycations, families have taken to the British countryside for all sorts of different experiences.

We decided to take a three-generation narrowboat break – myself, my son-in-law and two grandsons.

So on August Bank Holiday Monday 2021, we arrived at Drifters operator Kate Boats’ Stockton base in Warwickshire.  Instructions had been emailed to us prior to arrival, so we knew what sort of procedures to expect.

There were already three cars ahead of us on the roadway down to the boatyard, but we were soon greeted by Mandy and shown where to park.

We quickly shipped all our luggage onto our floating home for the next four days – the 58ft Caroline Mary. Then we let the boys – Oliver 13 and Lewis 10 – explore inside, while Neil and I did the boat handover and tuition with Andrew from Kate Boats.

After a brief introduction, he gave us a checklist of everything to be aware of, such as location of the gas bottles, mooring pins, windlasses and electrical equipment.  He then gave us time to find everything and prepare any questions.

Andrew then showed us the daily checks and how to access the weed hatch if necessary.  He checked we had previous experience of going through locks before winding the boat for us so we were facing in the right direction.  He then accompanied us through the first bridge, where we dropped him off on the towpath.

We were then on our own with 58ft of narrowboat to steer – being sure to remain on tick-over when passing moored boats.

As we went through the three locks at Calcutt, I was very grateful to two female crew members from Eliana who reminded me how to operate the paddles.

We followed Eliana down to Napton Junction where they turned right to head south down the Oxford Canal, while we went left towards Braunston.

After a cheery wave goodbye, we started to look for a suitable spot to moor along the towpath, and soon found an ideal spot about 50 yards below a moored widebeam.

Preparing for our first night afloat, we soon became aware of what we had forgotten to bring! Neil and boys hadn’t got any towels, but I had bought a bath towel and a hand towel – something we were going to have to share! We also didn’t have much food as we had been anticipating eating at a pub, so we ended up with a scratch meal of sausage rolls and pot noodles. At least I had brought a bottle of wine to wash it down!

Having had a pleasant evening playing a board game, and then watching a movie we prepared to settle down for the night. Neil and Lewis occupied the two single bunks in the fore-end, Oliver the converted dinette in the middle and I slept on a single bunk in the saloon.

Away from any street lighting, it seemed very dark but very quiet – a restful end to a busy first day.

Day 2 – Napton Junction to Braunston Marina (5 miles, 0 locks)

It was lovely waking up in compete quiet – no traffic noise or the usual buzz from people going about their daily business.

Our first ‘visitors’ were a family of swans – cob, pen and four cygnets almost as big as their parents, but still with most of their ‘ugly duckling’ plumage. The boys wanted to give them some bread but I explained it wasn’t good for them, and we could try to pick up some duck feed somewhere along the route.

With no time constraints and just a leisurely cruise up to Braunston ahead, we enjoyed a breakfast which Neil conjured up from the contents of the fridge – bacon, egg, beans, tomatoes and bread – almost a full English!  Then we got underway.

The first point to show us exactly where we were on the map in the Nicholson’s ‘Birmingham & Heart of England’ guide, was the fairly sharp right-hand bend under Nimrod Bridge No 108, followed by a left-hander.

We were cruising through some lovely countryside, with cattle and sheep grazing and the only traffic we were aware of was going under the A475 at Bridge No 107. We passed the village of Lower Shuckburgh on the right, and then cruised along a straighter stretch of canal towards Flecknoe.

Some of the older oncoming boats we passed had the great ‘chug chug’ noise. We discovered later there had been a Russell Newbery Register gathering at Braunston over the Bank Holiday weekend.

There was another sequence of bends before the canal straightened up again after Bridge No 100. We knew then that we were approaching ‘civilisation’ as there were more moored boats, and the landmark spire of All Saints’ Church showed us we were nearing the historic canal village of Braunston.

I had been invited by Tim Coghlan to moor for the night at Braunston Marina so we could catch up on the latest news and features for Towpath Talk.  As we turned in under its famous Horseley Iron Bridge, we were met by Tim and directed to a pontoon.

Neil and the boys walked up into the village to visit the butcher’s and supermarket to stock up on supplies.  We then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon – taking the opportunity to pop into Tradline Ropes and Fenders and we also saw the bags of coal ready for loading on to Raymond and Sculptor for the annual Narrow Boat Trust Coal Run.

It was soon time to walk along the towpath up to Lock 3 of the Braunston flight as I had booked a table at the Admiral Nelson. We enjoyed a very tasty evening meal and walked back to our boat as dusk fell on the second day of our trip.

Day 3 – Braunston to the village of Napton on the Hill (6 miles, 0 locks)

After a leisurely breakfast, the boys went up the hill into the village for more supplies, while we prepared to head off on the next leg of our cruise.

After some manoeuvring between the moored boats along the pontoon, we were under the bridge and on our way to the Braunston Turn.

We decided not to try and push on further north up the Oxford Canal, which would put us under pressure when it was time to turn back.  So we turned left back the way we had come, and headed back towards Napton Junction.

We had been following another boat most of the way and they pulled in for a stop along a beautiful stretch of countryside just after Bridge 103. The boys were getting hungry so we decided to do likewise a little further along.

It was beautiful; all you could see was the rolling countryside to the east with fields of grazing sheep and cattle. Apart from the occasional boat coming past, there was no sound or sign of human life!

Much to Oliver’s delight, having bought a bag of duck feed from the dispenser at the lock beside the Admiral Nelson the previous evening, the family of three swans we had passed preening their feathers on the towpath swam into view.

The parents and well-grown cygnet stopped for a snack before heading on their way.  Then the boys and I went for a walk along the towpath, while our skipper had a power nap!

We were soon under way again and instead of turning right at Napton Junction, carried on up the Oxford Canal, aiming to wind before the Napton Flight and find a mooring for the night.

Having spotted some space along the moorings before Bridge 111, we decided to take advantage of the winding hole there.  It proved quite a challenge with our 58ft boat getting its fore-end stuck in the silt, and the stern almost jammed up against the towpath.  Neil had to use the boat pole to push us back.

Luckily a lovely couple from a moored narrowboat we had just passed came to our rescue with instructions from the bank.  This enabled us to complete the manoeuvre while a couple of boats behind us pulled in to wait.

They then helped us to moor just in front of their narrowboat Moondancer. The next morning they went on their way before we had chance to thank them again for their friendliness and help.

Opposite our mooring was a large stubble field with lots of ducks and geese feeding. We also watched what we thought was either a kestrel or a sparrowhawk hovering over the field, and swooping down for its prey several times.

As darkness fell we could see the lights from the village across the field and car headlights on the road leading up to it.

Day 4 – Napton on the Hill back to Stockton (4 miles, 3 locks)

As we prepared to set off on our return journey, another Kate Boats narrowboat Kate Elizabeth came past.  I asked them if they were heading towards Stockton and asked if we could share the locks.

We turned left back onto the Grand Union Canal at Napton junction.  Then cruised up to the Calcutt Locks where the Kate Elizabeth was waiting for a boat coming up the top lock.  We pulled in behind. The occupants were also three generations of a family – grandparents, parents and two children from Gloucester.  They had decided on a week’s holiday boating after a planned trip to Florida had been cancelled.

We stopped at lunchtime and took a walk, then decided to head back to Kate Boat’s base for our last night, so we were handy for the check-in the following morning.

We were lucky to get a space at the front of the moorings, and as the sun showed itself for the first time during the week we went across to the pub for a welcome drink in the garden and booked a table for an evening meal.

Day 5 – back home

It was early to rise ready to return the boat by 9.30am.  We had the bedding stripped and placed in the laundry bag provided and all our bags packed by 7am.  So we pulled over to a vacant space and transported all our luggage to the car.

It wasn’t too long before Mandy arrived and said they were expecting 14 boats in with 11 to go out – so a busy day ahead.

We said our goodbyes and headed home reflecting on what had been a most enjoyable break. Lewis said he liked stopping in a different place every night, while Oliver also said the travelling was the best bit. They had both also enjoyed seeing the wildlife – especially the ducks and swans.

The best part for Neil was steering the narrowboat, although he said he could do with a bit more practice at reversing. And me – the friendliness of everyone we came across, whether seasoned boaters or fellow holidaymakers, and the feeling of being far from the madding crowd.

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.

Visit Coventry on a canal boat holiday

This year’s City of Culture – Coventry – is a key destination on the midlands canal network, so it’s a great place to visit on a canal boat holiday.

The city, which led the way in the cloth and textiles trade, has its own canal.  The Coventry Canal runs 38 miles from Coventry Basin, up to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Fradley.  The first five and a half miles of the Coventry Canal between Coventry Basin and Hawkesbury Junction was designated a conservation area in 2012.

Special City of Culture events include a three-day music festival in July and the BBC spoken word festival in September.  The City’s many permanent attractions, include its famous Cathedral, St Mary’s Guildhall and Coventry Transport Museum.

To celebrate this year’s UK City of Culture, we’ve listed our Top 4 narrowboat holidays to Coventry:

1. Cruise the Coventry Canal from Kings Orchard in Staffordshire

From our new canal boat hire base at Kings Orchard it takes 16 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The journey travels 34 miles of the Coventry Canal and passes through 13 locks.  The route takes you through the Staffordshire countryside.  And it passes a series of canalside pubs, including The Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

2. Navigate the Oxford Canal from Braunston in Northamptonshire

From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  You’ll cruise 28 miles of waterway and pass through just four locks.  You’ll journey through the Northamptonshire countryside and past a series of canalside towns and villages, including Hillmorton and Rugby.

3. Travel to Coventry from Napton in Warwickshire

From our boat yard at Napton on the Oxford Canal, it takes 14 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The route navigates 33 miles of canals and passes through four locks.  You’ll travel through the countryside and past a series of canalside pubs, including the Royal Oak at Hillmorton.

4. Cruise to Coventry from Stockton in Warwickshire

From Stockton on the Grand Union Canal it takes 15 hours to reach Coventry.  You’ll travel along 36 miles of waterway, and pass through seven locks.  The route transfers onto the Oxford Canal at Napton Junction, and takes you through the countryside to Coventry.

For more information about Coventry UK City of Culture events, go to https://coventry2021.co.uk/

To book a mooring space in Coventry Basin, go to https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/planning-your-boat-trip/booking-your-passage-online or call The Canal & River Trust on 0303 040 4040.

Top 5 places to watch the sunset on a narrowboat holiday

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home.

You can explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, with the choice of hundreds of waterside destinations to visit along the way.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so you can plan your journey around your chosen mooring sites.  These can include canalside pubs, beauty spots and places to relax and enjoy a sundowner on deck.

To help you plan your next narrowboat holiday adventure, we’ve listed the top five places to watch the sunset afloat:

1. Tixall Wide in Staffordshire

From our canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, it takes just half an hour to cruise to Tixall Wide.  This beautiful lake on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal was created at the time of the construction of the canal.  It was designed to mitigate objections of the residents of Tixall Hall, who didn’t want the new canal to spoil their view.  Today it’s a peaceful haven for wildlife and the perfect place to watch the sun go down.

2. Lock 37 on the Rochdale Canal in Lancashire

From our narrowboat yard at Sowerby Bridge is at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and the Rochdale Canal.  From there, it takes around 13 hours (travelling 13 miles and passing through 35 locks) to reach West Summit Lock 37 on the Rochdale Canal.  This takes you high up in the Pennines. Here you can moor up before the lock to watch the sun go down.  And then take a short walk to the village of Summit and The Summit Inn.

3. Calcutt Locks in Warwickshire

From our narrowboat hire base at Stockton Top Marina on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just half an hour to reach the bottom of Calcutt Locks.  This is a great place to view the sunset over Stockton. From there, on a short break you can continue on to the pretty canal village of Braunston with a choice of pubs.  On a week away, you can continue on up the North Oxford Canal and on to the Ashby Canal.  From there, you can enjoy 23 miles of lock free cruising through the countryside.

4. Chirk Aqueduct in North Wales

From our narrowboat hire base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal, it takes half an hour to reach Chirk Aqueduct.  This carries boaters 21 metres high across the River Ceiriog and the English/Welsh border. There are moorings on the north side, perfect for looking out across the valley beyond.  On a short break from Chirk, you can continue on to cross the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  It stands 38 metres high across the Dee Valley.  Then you can cruise on to the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains.

5. Castleford Flood Lock in West Yorkshire 

From Sowerby Bridge, it takes around 15 hours to reach Castleford Flood Lock No.9 on the Aire & Calder Navigation. The journey travels 29 miles and passes through 31 locks. Along the way, you’ll travel along the Calder & Hebble Navigation through Elland, Brighouse, Mirfield and Wakefield.  Then you cane transferg onto the Wakefield section of the Aire & Calder Navigation.  Then cruise on to Castleford, the birthplace of the sculptor Henry Moore.

Sculpture on the canals

There are many engaging pieces of sculpture and public art to look out for along our waterways. Many of them celebrate their historic past and the wildlife that lives on the canals today.

Some of the most famous sculptures that have appeared on our waterways have been temporary installations.  For example, Antony Gormley’s striking cast-iron cube figure that watched over Ned’s Lock on the Stratford Canal at Lowsonford in 2015.

Here we’ve gathered together a list of sculptures permanently at home on Britain’s canal network, to watch out for on your next canal boat holiday:

Jack o’ the Locks, Sowerby Bridge Wharf in West Yorkshire

Sculpted by artist Richard Burnett in 2009, these two bronze life-size figures celebrate the industrial heritage of Sowerby Bridge, once the centre of the textile industry boom.  One of the figures is Richard Tiffany, the town’s lock keeper for many years.  By his side, helping him to push a lock gate is a young boy, modelled on Tiffany’s great grandson.

Drifters has a narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge wharf, which lies at the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation.

The Kelpies on the Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland

Standing at 30-metres high, the magnificent Kelpies are the largest pair of equine statues in the world.  Based on the heavy horses that once plied the canal towpaths, these mythical water horses stand at the gateway to the new extension to the Forth & Clyde Canal, taking it to Grangemouth.

Narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the Kelpies in around four hours from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Falkirk.

Opening the Lock Gate, City Road Basin in London

Sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley has been commissioned to create three bronze sculptures for the 250 City Road development, next to London’s Regent’s Canal.  Rank-Broadley is famous for his effigy of the Queen, which has appeared on all Commonwealth coins since 1998.  The first installation at City Road, which depicts two canal workers opening a lock gate, was unveiled at the entrance to the central plaza in March 2020.  It will be followed by a barge lady this summer, and a boat horse and his handler in 2023.

Drifters nearest canal boat rental base is on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Aldermaston, around 37 cruising hours away.

James Brindley, Coventry Basin

Often referred to as the ‘father of English canals’, canal engineer James Brindley is commemorated at Coventry Basin with a 7ft bronze statue.  Created by renowned sculptor James Butler, the sculpture portrays Brindley dressed in 18th century clothing, poring over canal plans at a desk.  The statue is one of 39 artworks by local artists along the Canal Art Trail, which runs for 5.5 miles from Coventry Basin to Hawkesbury Junction.

The nearest Drifters canal boat hire yard is on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, around seven cruising hours away.

The Dragonfly at Hatton in Warwickshire

This eye-catching stainless steel sculpture of a dragonfly has landed on a side pond above Lock 42, on the Hatton Flight of the Grand Union Canal.  The sculpture, which measures 6ft across, was created by the Welsh sculptor Gideon Peterson.  Early in his career, Peterson worked for Sir Anthony Caro.  The sculpture, which was commissioned by British Waterways in 2006, celebrates the wildlife of the waterways.

Canal boat holiday-makers can reach Lock 42 from Drifters narrowboat rental base at Warwick in around three and a half cruising hours.

The ‘Hawk/Creation’ at Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire

Sculpted by the artist Kenny Hunter in 2013, a cast iron hawk can be seen next to the Rochdale Canal at Mytholmroyd.  The work was inspired by the poem ‘Hawk Roosting’ by the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes.  Born in Mytholmroyd, Hughes spent his childhood years wandering the local fields and woods.

The nearest Drifters base is at Sowerby Bridge, around three cruising hours away.

‘Top of the locks’ narrowboat holiday destinations for 2021

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales.  Locks allow boats to travel up and down hills, and have been around for hundreds of years.

With around 35,000 boats licenced to cruise the canals, there are approximately 3.85 million lockages (uses of a lock) each year.

A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end, and canal boat holiday-makers follow a series of step-by-step tasks to use them.  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

From narrow and broad, to staircase and double, 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 Drifters’ canal boat holiday packages, and during the handover boat yard staff will usually guide hirers through their first lock.

Top 8 flights of locks

Here at Drifters’ we’ve put together our Top 8 flights of locks to celebrate these marvels of canal engineering:

  1. The Caen Hill Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal

One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the locks at Caen Hill are one of the most iconic sites on the waterway network.  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.  Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Devizes is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

  1. Marple Locks on the Peak Forest Canal

One of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks 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.  In fact the Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways.  It runs through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent is 32 miles and 14 locks away.

  1. The Tardebigge Flight on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

With 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks 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, near Bromsgrove.

  1. The Bingley 5 Rise on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

This spectacular staircase of five locks near Bradford is another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’.  The locks raise (or lower) 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.

  1. The Hatton Flight on the Grand Union Canal

This impressive flight of 21 locks was nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals.  The locks rise up 45 metres over two miles, and it takes boaters around four-and-a-half hours to travel through them.  Just below the Top lock, Hatton Locks Café provides welcome refreshment for narrowboat holiday-makers and the “gongoozlers” watching them!  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Warwick, just two miles and two locks from Hatton Bottom Lock.

  1. Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line

With countryside views all around, this flight of 10 locks 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.  Staircase 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 the locks.  Lock keepers are on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles.  Their mantra “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead” is helpful to keep in mind!  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is a 14 hour cruise away, on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston.


  1. Wolverhampton Locks on the Birmingham Main Line Canal

This flight of 21 locks rises boats up by 40 metres over one-and-three-quarter miles.  Travelling through these historic locks is one of the highlights for narrowboat holiday-makers travelling round the popular Stourport Ring.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is just 12 minutes away at Autherley.


  1. ‘Heartbreak Hill’ on the Trent & Mersey Canal

The Cheshire flight of 31 locks between Middlewich and Kidsgrove, raise the canal up 85 metres from the Cheshire Plains.  The locks have been renamed ‘Heartbreak Hill’ by generations of leisure boaters.  Because the locks are close enough for the crew to stay on the towpath, but far enough to require a lot of walking!  Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is three cruising hours away at Stoke on Trent.

Top 7 May Bank Holiday canal boat breaks for beginners

Narrowboat holidays provide a floating holiday home.  Cruising along at just four miles per hour, watching out for wildlife along the way, you can take all the supplies you need for an adventure afloat.

Drifters offers over 550 boats for hire, operating from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales.  Narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate up to 12 people.  All our boats are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers and flushing toilets.  Many now have WiFi too.

A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat, and all our operators provide boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.  To celebrate the two bank holidays in May, we’ve listed our top seven short break narrowboat holidays for beginners:

  1. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Home of the gingerbread man, Market Drayton has a choice of places to eat and regular street markets. Along the way, you will pass through six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.
  2. Drift through the Calder Valley – on a weekend break from our canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, you can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.
  3. Complete the Droitwich Mini-Ring – the Droitwich Ring is the only canal boat holiday cruising circuit in Britain which can be completed on a short break. The 21-mile route takes boaters through the Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the Droitwich canals. There are 33 locks to pass through and it takes around 16 hours.
  4. Glide along the Forth & Clyde to visit Glasgow – from our canal boat hire base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, it’s a peaceful nine-hour cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the City of Glasgow. Along the way, you will travel 22 miles and will pass through five locks.  This scenic route begins at the home of the magnificent Falkirk Wheel boat lift.  It then passes through Auchinstarry, the River Kelvin Valley with magnificent views of the Campsie Fells above, and the town of Kirkintillock.  Once at Glasgow, there are moorings at Applecross Street Basin, close to Glasgow’s wealth of cultural centres, including the Hunterian Museum.  
  5. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath – from our base at Devizes in Wiltshire, you can travel gently along the Kennet & Avon Canal to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, close to Bath City Centre. The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, you’ll passes through the village of Seend with its popular canalside Barge Inn.  And the historic town of Bradford on Avon with its fascinating 14th century Tithe Barn.  You’ll also pass over the beautiful Avoncliff and Dundas Bath stone aqueducts.
  6. Cruise to Warwick Castle and back – from our canal boat hire base 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), perfect for a long weekend away.  Overnight moorings are available close to Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience.
  7. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Ellesmere – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network. The journey from Drifters’ base at Trevor to Ellesmere and back takes boaters through four locks, and into the heart of the Shropshire Lake District. This journey takes around seven hours and includes the experience of travelling across the awesome UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’.

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.