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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.

Celebrate Mother’s Day Afloat

Day boat hire on Britain’s peaceful network of inland waterways is a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day.

You can enjoy slow time together, watching out for Spring wildlife and blossom on the trees.  And you can pack a picnic or stop off for lunch at a canalside pub along the way.

Drifters offers day boat hire from 17 boat yards across England and Wales.  Prices start from less than £10 per person.

Full tuition is included, so it’s a great way to get the hang of navigating the canals.  All our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle.  Most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here’s a guide to our Top 11 day boat destinations for Mums in 2020:

  1. Cruise through the Staffordshire countryside for a pub lunch at Hopwas. From our new day boat hire centre at Kings Orchard, you can cruise through the countryside to Bonehill Bridge. The route takes you through the villages of Huddlesford, Whittington and Hopwas.  At Hopwas there are two pubs to choose from, the Tame Otter and the Red Lion.  The journey to Bonehill and back takes five and a half hours and there are no locks. 
    ***Day boat ‘Happy Days’ can take up to 10 people.  2021 prices start at £137.

  2. Boat through the Berkshire countryside to The Spring Inn. From our day boat hire base at Aldermaston, you can cruise to Tyle Mill Lock and back. The journey travels two miles and passes through three locks. It takes around one and a half hours.  From there, it’s a short walk to the popular Spring Inn gastropub in Sulhamstead.
    ***‘Hey Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  2021 prices start at £129 per day.

  3. Explore Shakespeare’s country. From Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, you can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote. Here you can enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn or visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way.  It takes you across the impressive Edstone Aqueduct, with beautiful views of the Warwickshire countryside. ***Day boats ‘Dolly’ and ‘Charlie’ take up to 10 people each.  2021 prices per boat are £99 weekdays, £150 on weekends and bank holidays.

  4. Cruise through the countryside to Hillmorton.  From our day boat hire base at Braunston, it takes three hours to reach the canalside village of Hillmorton. The journey travels seven miles of the North Oxford Canal.  There are lovely views of the countryside to enjoy along the way.  At Hillmorton there’s a choice of pubs – the canalside Old Royal Oak or the Stag & Pheasant in the village. 
    ***Day boat ‘Ouzel II’ can carry up to 12 people.  Weekday hire is £140, and £175 on weekends and bank holidays.

  5. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ in North Wales. From our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal, it takes 20 minutes to reach the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing at over 38 metres high, this incredible structure offers boaters stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, there are two tunnels to pass through.  Plus another magnificent aqueduct at Chirk.  In total, it takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid. 
    ***Day boats ‘Jacob’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Lotty’ take up to 10 people each.  2021 prices per boat are £120 weekdays, £180 on weekends and bank holidays.

  6. Cruise along the Grand Union Canal to Stoke Bruerne. From our day boat centre at Gayton near Northampton, it takes an hour to reach the pretty village of Stoke Bruerne. Along the way, you’ll pass through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.  Stoke Bruerne is home to Canal Museum, where stories, films and collections provide a fascinating look at the history of our canals.  And there are plenty of places to eat, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café.
    ***‘Daylark’ can carry up to 12 people.  2021 prices start at £129.

  7. Glide through the Brecon Beacons. Cruise from Goytre Wharf on the Monmouth & Brecon Canal to enjoy incredible mountain views. From there, it takes two-and-a-half-hours to reach the village of Mamhillad.  You’ll find the popular Star pub a short walk from bridge 62.
    ***‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people. 2021 day boat hire prices start at £139.

  8. Travel along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bradford on Avon. From Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge, you can head west to the picturesque town of Bradford on Avon. This historic town on the edge of the Cotswolds has a great choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn.
    ***‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people.  2021 day hire starts at £122.

  9. Travel through leafy rural Worcestershire. From Tardebigge near Bromsgrove, you can cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, passing through the remains of the Forest of Arden. Historic pubs along the way include the family-friendly Hopwood House at Hopwood.  There are no locks, but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2493-metre long Wast Hill Tunnel.
    ***Day boat ‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people.  2021 weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays are £150.

  10. Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to Whitchurch. On a day afloat from our day boat hire base at Whixall in Shropshire, you can reach the historic market town of Whitchurch. The lock-free journey, which takes just under two hours, travels six miles of the Llangollen Canal. Once at Whitchurch, you can moor up to explore the town.  Here there are independent shops, way-marked circular walks and a choice of places to eat. 
    ***Day boat ‘Julia’ can take up to 10 people.  2021 prices are £99 on a weekday, £150 on weekends and bank holidays.

  11. Travel along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Rugeley. From Drifters’ boat yard at Great Haywood near Stafford, you can cruise to the market town of Rugeley. This four mile journey passes through two locks, and takes around two hours. Along the way, you’ll pass the National Trust’s Shugborough Estate.  Plus the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre and Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 
    ***Day boats ‘Daphne’ and ‘Abi’ can carry up to 10 people each.  Weekday hire from Great Haywood is £99, £150 on weekends and bank holidays.

Visit an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by canal boat

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways flow through some of our most beautiful and unspoilt countryside.  This includes many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).  So a canal boat holiday is a great way to explore the countryside.

From gliding through the Vale of Pewsey, to cruising through Cannock Chase, here’s our Top 6 AONB cruises:

  1. Explore the Staffordshire countryside & Cannock Chase

    On a short break from our new narrowboat hire base at Kings Orchard on the Coventry Canal, you can cruise to the wildlife rich Tixall Wide and back.  Along the way you’ll pass through Cannock Chase AONB. The journey there and back travels 32 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 16 hours.

  2. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford

    From our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, on a week away, you can cruise to the historic town of Hungerford.  You’ll pass through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs AONB. The journey there and back takes around 40 hours, travelling 54 miles through 106 locks.

  3. Navigate along the Pennine Summit to Barrowford

    From our narrowboat hire base at Barnoldwick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal you can travel Barrowford.  This is close to Pendle Hill and the Forest of Bowland AONB. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, passes through six locks and takes around eight hours.

  4. Cruise to the Aylesbury Vale

    On a week’s break from our canal boat hire base at Gayton Marina on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, you can travel south to the Aylesbury Arm. This will take you into the Vale of Aylesbury, part of the Chilterns AONB. The journey to Aylesbury, which passes through Stoke Bruerne, travels 44 miles, passes through 41 locks and takes around 22 hours.

  5. Float through the Dee Valley in North Wales

    From our canal boat rental base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal, you can float through the Dee Valley AONB.  On a short break, you can reach the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen. Along the way the route passes over the UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The journey to Llangollen and back takes around eight hours, travelling 14 miles, with no locks.

  6. Take a Thames boating holiday to the edge of the Cotswolds

    On a four-night break from our narrowboat rental base on the River Thames at Oxford, you can reach the pretty market town of Lechlade. This is in an AONB on the edge of the Cotswolds. The route passes through 22 miles of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire countryside.  It takes you past Kelmscott Manor, once the Cotswold retreat of William Morris.  It passes through 14 locks (seven each way) , and takes around 17 hours.

 

 

Day boat hire on the Grand Union Canal

Travel blogger Katya describes her family day out on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire.  She and her family travelled aboard our self-drive day boat ‘Day Lark’.

Narrowboat ‘Day Lark’ can take up to 10 people.  She is based at our Gayton canal boat hire base, near Northampton.

Like many families this summer, they were looking for different ways to spend time outdoors.  And they wanted to explore the countryside.

In her blog, Katya describes their boat and the facilities on board.  She also describes the tuition they had before they set off and their journey.

Katya says hiring a boat for the day was a great way to try out this activity.  She also says “a boat holiday is a great solution in the time of the pandemic”.  She explains it is “hired by a single household and you are able to enjoy a bit of exploration without depending on other people.”

To read her full review, go to http://katyaandkids.com/2020/09/30/family-day-out-with-narrow-boat/

For more information about Drifters’ day boat hire, go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/day-boats/

A weekend narrowboating on the Grand Union Canal

The October Half Term break gave our little family – Mum, Dad, 12-year old son and Patch the Fox Terrier – the chance to spend the weekend away in the Warwickshire countryside.

We picked up our beautiful boat for up to six people, ‘Isabella’, from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton.  This hire boat yard is on the Grand Union Canal near Leamington Spa.  Drifters’ operators Kate Boats and Anglo Welsh both hire canal boats out of Stockton.

Boat Handover

We were sent a video in advance giving us information about how to operate the boat: https://www.kateboats.co.uk/sendout-video/

On the day we were given a handover in person and the opportunity to be taken through a lock.  We’ve been boating before.  So after going through the safety and operation procedures on board, we set off down the Grand Union Canal towards Napton.

Lock sharing at Calcutt Locks

Everyone had a go at steering during the two miles of cruising through the countryside before we reached our first lock.  Another hire boat joined us in the locks, so we shared the work between our two crews.  Our lock companions were seasoned boaters and were heading off for a two week break around the Warwickshire Ring.

Dinner at the Kings Head

Soon after the locks, we reached Napton Junction, where the Grand Union Canal merges with the Oxford Canal.  Here we moored up for the night just as dusk was approaching.  We walked along the towpath and into the village of Napton to enjoy dinner at the Kings Head pub.  We enjoyed pizza, a burger and a sizzling Thai chicken dish, followed by cheesecake and chocolate pudding.

We’d brought a torch to help us find our way back to our boat in the dark.  There’s no WiFi on board Isabella and the mobile phone signal in rural Warwickshire comes and goes.  While that’s alarming for a 12-year old, for us parents it was a great escape and a good excuse to play card games and chat instead.

A visit to the canal village of Braunston

The next morning we cruised on to the pretty canal village of Braunston in the heart of the canal network.  The journey was lock free and took us about two hours.  The wind was quite strong, especially in the more open stretches of the canal.  But we managed to keep the boat going in the right direction!  We passed fields with cows and sheep, and we saw lots of swans, ducks, moorhens and coots on the water.

At the junction where the main line of the Grand Union Canal meets the Oxford Canal, we turned right towards London.  A left turn would have taken us towards Rugby on the North Oxford Canal.

We turned the boat around at the entrance to Braunston Marina and then moored up for a coffee at the Gongoozler’s rest café boat.  We also topped up our boat with water from the water point close to the Marina entrance.

Then we set off on foot to explore the village of Braunston, including the High Street at the top of the hill.  Here there’s a village shop, pub and fish & chip shop.  Then we walked back down to the canal to have lunch at the Admiral Nelson pub, next to Lock 3.  This was perfect for gongoozling, the canal term for watching people and boats go through locks.  The food and service were excellent, with some great vegetarian choices, and well as burgers.

The return journey

As we only had two nights afloat, we cruised back the way we came and moored up north of Calcutt Locks.  The wind was strong, but the sun was shining and we went through the locks with another boat again.

We returned the boat to the boat yard the next morning and headed home feeling revitalised from all the fresh countryside air.  We have some lovely memories of the sights and sounds of canal environment and a family adventure afloat.

Wanderlust Magazine, November 2020

Debbie Walker lists the ‘Top 10 Canal Boat adventures for beginners’

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.

Daily Express, 24 October 2020

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