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Experience winter cruising on the canals

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

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat, with stops at historic waterside pubs with roaring log fires, or to 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, offering the chance for peaceful break afloat in the countryside.

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 aboard, making the most of 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, which 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 slightly 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 Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore its stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon. Along the way, boaters pass through the village of Long Itchington with a choice of pubs and Leamington Spa.  The journey to Warwick travels 12 miles of waterway, passes through 22 locks and takes around eight hours. Alternatively, winter cruisers can head to the pretty canal village of Braunston, where there’s a choice of pubs.  Along the way, boaters pass through the Braunston Tunnel and through six locks, as well as miles of peaceful countryside.
  2. Travel along the Oxford Canal to Napton – on a short break from Drifter’s narrowboat hire centre on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the countryside along the Oxford Canal to the pretty canal village of Napton. The journey passes through just six locks (three each way) and the canal village of Braunston, with a choice of pubs.
  3. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District – from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Blackwater Meadow on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, on a short break canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Whitchurch and back, passing Blake Mere and Whixall Moss along the way. The journey travels through 12 miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside.  There are no locks but there are four moveable bridges and one tunnel to negotiate.  Once at Whitchurch, boaters can moor up and take time to explore this historic town with a choice of independent shops and restaurants, way-marked circular walks, Brown Moss nature reserve and the award-winning Black Bear pub.
  4. Glide gently through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley – from Drifters’ canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can head south, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours. The journey passes through 12 peaceful miles of countryside, with just five locks to negotiate along the way.  Highlights along the way include The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the Wolseley Arms and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern.  At Fradley, boaters can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
  5. Visit historic Chester afloat – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley in Cheshire, it’s a seven-hour cruise through the Cheshire countryside to reach the ancient city of Chester. Along the way, boaters will cruise through 12 miles of countryside and pass through nine locks.  Once moored up at Northgate visitor moorings, narrowboat holiday-makers explore the city and its Roman Walls, Cathedral, Chester Rows and choice of places to eat.

Top 5 places to watch the sunset on a canal boat holiday

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, with the choice of hundreds of waterside destinations 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, including 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 the beautiful expanse of water on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal known as Tixall Wide. The lake was created at the time of the construction of the canal to mitigate objections of the residents of Tixall Hall, who didn’t want the new canal to spoil their view.  Today this beautiful stretch of water is 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 at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and the Rochdale Canal, it takes around 13 hours (travelling 13 miles and passing through 35 locks) to reach West Summit Lock 37 on the Rochdale Canal, high up in the Pennines. Here you can moor up before the lock to watch the sun go down and 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, 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, to 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, which 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 beautiful stone viaduct built alongside the aqueduct, and across to the valley beyond.  On a short break from Chirk, you can continue on from Chirk Aqueduct to cross the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, 38 metres high across the Dee Valley, and on to the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains.
  5. Castleford Flood Lock in West Yorkshire – from our canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes around 15 hours (travelling 29 miles and through 31 locks) to reach Castleford Flood Lock No.9 on the Aire & Calder Navigation. Along the way, you’ll travel along the Calder & Hebble Navigation through Elland, Brighouse, Mirfield and Wakefield, before transferring onto the Wakefield section of the Aire & Calder Navigation and on to Castleford, the birthplace of the sculptor Henry Moore.

A Narrowboat Holiday in Northamptonshire

Countryman editor Mark Whitley describes his latest canal boat holiday on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire

The Grand Union Canal celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, which is reason — if reason were needed —to enjoy its many delights by on a week’s narrowboat holiday.

So on a sunny Saturday, I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Napton Marina, where we are warmly welcomed by Howard & Ann Davies of Napton Narrowboats, part of the Drifters group of canal boat hire operators.

They introduced us to our home-from-home — ‘Caroline’, a Regency 4 class narrowboat, luxuriously fitted out with all the mod cons, including a rear deck folding table (perfect for alfresco dining). The boat yard staff give us an informative overview and tour of the boat. Then we were off, beginning with a short section of the Oxford Canal and a couple of hours later we reached the pretty canal village of Braunston for our first overnight stop.  We moored up alongside the Admiral Nelson pub, the perfect spot for a post-cruise drink or two on our first day.

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast, we were soon entering Braunston Tunnel. We kept a wary eye out for the Braunston boggart, the ghostly figure of a Victorian canal worker who is said to haunt the tunnel.

Six miles, seven locks and three hours peaceful cruising later, we moored up near Weedon Bec for the night. Jon, our resident chef for the week, rustled up a wonderful meal for us all to enjoy, while admiring the sunset with a glass of wine in hand.

Monday morning we cruised leisurely on and then through the 2800-metre long Blisworth Tunnel to moor up at Stoke Bruerne for lunch.  It’s a lovely spot to while away an hour or two. I enjoyed an ice cream while watching the canal traffic — it’s official, I’m a gongoozler!

In the afternoon we set off again, travelling through the flight of six locks at Stoke Bruerne, then on through the Northamptonshire countryside to Cosgrove, and across the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, an exhilarating experience.

Late afternoon, we moored up for the night near Wolverton. A couple of us headed off along the towpath to the local supermarket to replenish our supplies.

Tuesday, we turned around and headed back along the Grand Union Canal through Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth Tunnel and shortly after headed up the Northampton Arm, a lovely stretch of canal — though with 17 locks so we get plenty of lock practice!

Wednesday, we headed back re-join the mainline of the Grand Union again, and then cruised on overnight moorings at Bugbrooke, where the Wharf pub has a lovely beer garden overlooking the canal.

Thursday, we had another glorious day of boating and arrived back at Braunston by mid-afternoon. That left plenty of time to explore Braunston itself, where we found a couple of pubs, a village shop, a fish and chip take-away and a butcher’s.

Friday, we re-joined the Oxford Canal for the final leg of our journey, to overnight at Napton Bridge, the perfect spot to reflect back on a wonderful week exploring the Grand Union Canal.

Saturday, as we finally leave the boat, we’re already planning our next narrowboat adventure. We’ve got the boating bug, that’s for sure!

Top 8 Spooky Canal Destinations

With spooky tunnels, misty towpaths, bats, toads, spiders and plenty of ghosts, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.

Drifters’ narrowboat hire prices for boats for up to four people over Halloween start at £535 for a short break (three or four nights) and £740 for a week.  Day boat prices start at £99 per day.

Here’s a guide to our spookiest destinations for Halloween 2020:

  1. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights, gliding along the towpath alongside the UNESCO World Heritage 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.  Day boat hire is also available from Trevor, starting at £120 per day.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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, and 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.
  5. 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, who 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, and 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Mind the Monkey Man at Norbury – the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ 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  Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from Drifters’ base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.
  8. 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.  Day boat hire is also available from Gayton, starting at £129 per day.

     

    Boating for beginners from Braunston

    By Giselle Whiteaker

    As soon as we board Selene at Drifters narrowboat hire base in Braunston, Northamptonshire, we fall in love. Despite being true to the name in narrowness, the narrowboat feels surprisingly spacious inside, with room to manoeuvre and clever touches, like a mobile folding table that can be used inside or outside. We find it hard to believe that we are being trusted to navigate the waterways with only a brief skippering lesson.

    The first afternoon, we pass through one lock as practice then moor by the bank. We whip up a meal with the provisions we brought from home and have a leisurely evening, taking a stroll along the canal to the Admiral Nelson pub and enjoying the peace and quiet.

    Come morning, I stroll down to The Boat Shop to fill in the gaps in our shopping list, picking up breakfast items and postcards of the area. A quick coffee and it is time to set off, with five locks immediately ahead. My boyfriend is stretching his memory to remember all of the steps to get us safely through the lock, but as it turns out, we have a little help. We pair up with another boat for this section, chatting over the decks as the water fills and empties, taking us up and away.

    Waving farewell at the end of the section, we settle into a stretch of cruising, taking turns at the tiller as we glide through the greenery. Ducks frolic by the side of the banks and Weeping Willows dangle curtains towards the murky water. The sun does not come out to play, but the gentle chug of the engine, the light rustle of trees in the breeze, and the ripples cascading away from our passage more than make up for overcast skies.

    Braunston Tunnel is one of the highlights of this route. It’s a little nerve wracking for novices – imagine coasting through cool, inky-blackness, a small section of wall illuminated by the boat’s light, heading for a small, light circle: the end of the tunnel, some 1.8 miles away. It’s mesmerising and there’s a thrill to reaching the end and popping back out into daylight.

    A long stretch follows, where we simply enjoy being on the canal, waving merrily at other boaters as we pass. Canal-goers are an exceptionally friendly bunch.

    Reaching the turn off to Leicester, we prepare for Buckby Locks, a flight of seven. There’s a brief wait as several boats queue to go through, but the joy of boating is that no-one is in a hurry. Again, we pair up with another boat, sharing the workload throughout the flight.

    At the Bottom Lock, we moor for a celebratory, and very late, lunch. We haven’t decided where we will spend the night, so we scour the map, locating the winding holes, ready for turning back from whence we came tomorrow. We decide on Weedon Bec, a popular spot according to the neat line of boats by the bank. Too slow at decision-making, we continue past the epicentre, finding a quiet spot around a bend where we are the only boat.

    We could probably walk along the towpath and find a charming riverside pub, but instead, we take a seat at Selene’s prow as the sun peeks out belatedly from behind a cloud. Glasses of wine in hand, we make a toast to doing it all again tomorrow, in reverse. We watch the ducks on the water, the birds flitting from tree to tree, and just occasionally, someone walking their dog. This is the life.

    Celebrate Father’s Day with a relaxing day afloat

    Day boat hire on Britain’s peaceful network of inland waterways is a great way to celebrate Father’s Day (21 June), enjoying a relaxing day afloat on the first day of summer and stopping off for lunch and a pint at a canalside pub along the way.

    Drifters offers day boat hire from 17 boat yards across England and Wales, with prices starting from less than £10 per person.

    Full tuition is included so if you are new to canal boating, it’s a great way to get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.  All our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle, perfect for a picnic afloat, and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

    Here’s a list of our Top 10 day boat destinations for Dads:

    1. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, you can enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. ***‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, prices start from £137.
    2. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, you can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother. The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way, and crosses over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with beautiful views across the Warwickshire countryside. ***’Dolie’ and ‘Charlie’ can carry up to 10 people each, prices start at £99 weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
    3. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes less than 20 minutes to reach the World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers boaters stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels to pass through – Whitehouses and Chirk, as well as Chirk Aqueduct with a viaduct running alongside it.  It takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach Chirk and the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid.  ***‘Jacob’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Lotty’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire starts at £120, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
    4. Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug gently along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way. Once there, you can moor up and visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals.  And there are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ***’Daylark’ can carry up to 12 people, prices start at £129.
    5. Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, you can head west to the picturesque historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn. ***‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people, prices start at £122.
    6. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire to Hopwood – from Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Hopwood. The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2493-metre long Wast Hill Tunnel. ***‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £140.
    7. Glide along to the pretty village of Hillmorton – from Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, day boat hirer can enjoy a delightful seven-mile journey along the North Oxford Canal to the village of Hillmorton. The village offers the canalside Old Royal Oak to enjoy lunch and a flight of three locks for some gongoozling.  ***‘Water Ouzel’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire is £140, £175 on weekends and bank holidays.
    8. Cruise to Whitchurch for lunch at The Black Bear – from Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can head to the historic market town of Whitchurch. The lock-free journey, which takes just under two hours, travels through six peaceful miles of countryside.  Once at Whitchurch, you can moor up to explore the town with its half-timbered buildings, independent shops, way-marked circular walks, Brown Moss nature reserve and award-winning ‘Black Bear’ pub.  ***’Julia’ can carry up to 10 people, prices start at £99 weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
    9. Cruise through the Leicestershire countryside to Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line to the top of Foxton Locks, where you can enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, lunch at the historic waterside Foxton Locks Inn and a visit to the Foxton Inclined Boat Lift Museum to find out about the intriguing Victorian structure that once operated there. ***‘Moorhen’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £160, weekends & bank holidays from £210.
    10. Travel through the Staffordshire countryside to Rugeley – from Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford, you can cruise four miles, passing through two locks to reach the historic market town of Rugeley. The journey, which takes around two hours, passes the National Trust’s stunning Shugborough Estate, the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre and the popular Wolseley Arms pub at Wolseley Bridge.  ***‘Daphne’ and ‘Abi’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire starts at £99, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

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

     

    Top 6 Canal Mysteries

    Top 6 Canal Mysteries

    Britain’s 2,000-mile long and 200-year old canal network is a treasure trove of historic structures, a haven for wildlife and is steeped in folklore and mystery. 

    To celebrate the rich tapestry of canal history and habitat, here at Drifters we’ve put together our Top 6 Canal Mysteries for visitors and holiday-makers to explore:

    1. Why was the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift a white elephant?  Next to Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, visitors will find a tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift – an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there.  When engineers began working on the construction of the Grand Union Canal, Benjamin Bevan solved the major challenge of raising the canal 75ft up a steep escarpment at Foxton with two flights of five staircase locks, completed in 1814.  However, by the end of the 19th century, as a result of competition from the railways, commercial traffic on the canals was in significant decline.  In 1893, local factory owners and boat companies encouraged the Grand Junction Canal Company to make improvements so that the canal could take larger boats and better compete with the railways.  Plans were approved for the plane in 1897 and building work began.  Two counterbalanced caissons (giant bathtubs) that could each hold two narrowboats or one wide-beam barge, were built to slide up or down the hill on tracks.  They enabled boats to make the journey in just 12 minutes – nearly six times quicker than going through the locks.  Opened in 1900, sadly it was never a commercial success due to decreasing canal traffic and the fact that the Watford flight was never widened to take larger boats.  The plane was mothballed in 1911 and dismantled for scrap in 1928. *Drifters nearest canal boat holiday starting points are at Market Harborough and Braunston.
    2. Why are there pill boxes along the K&A?  When walking along the towpath or cruising along in a boat, visitors to the Kennet & Avon Canal, which connects the River Thames at Reading with the Bristol Avon at Bath, will notice a large number of pill boxes lining the waterway.  Designed by the War Office, these fortifications were commissioned by General Sir Edmund Ironside, following the British Expeditionary Forces’ evacuation from Dunkirk, and the prospect of imminent German invasion.  Named GHQ Stop Line Blue, the canal was equipped to be a static defence line, with the pill boxes and trank traps manned by the Home Guard.  *Drifters offers canal boat hire on the Kennet & Avon Canal from Aldermaston (near Reading), Devizes, Hilperton (near Trowbridge), Bradford on Avon and Bath.
    3. Why do canals sometimes turn green?  When summer temperatures soar, thick carpets of bright green duck weed can appear along sections of Britain’s canals, especially in London.  While an individual piece of duck weed is no bigger than a ladybird, when they multiply into large numbers, they clog up canals, starving the water of oxygen and sunlight, and causing problems for some wildlife.  In the right conditions, a mass of duck weed can double in size every two or three days.  The weed also accumulates litter, can be problematic for boats, and dogs and other animals have been known to mistake it for grass and end up in the water.  When the duck weed takes hold, the Canal & River Trust deploys weed clearing machines and the charity has installed a bubble barrier in on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal to help keep litter and duck weed in check.
    4. Why have some people seen a second route in the Blisworth Tunnel?  On the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  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.  But over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging.  As the tunnel runs straight through the hill, the only explanation is that these people must have seen the ghostly flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel. *Drifters nearest canal boat hire starting points are at Rugby, Stretton, Braunston, Stockton and Napton.
    5. Why are there Terrapins on our canals?  Red-eared terrapins are now a common sight on England’s waterways, largely as a result of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles cartoon craze which began in the 1980’s.  Imported from the USA to be sold as pets, these terrapins can grow to the size of a dinner plate, making them less appealing and difficult to manage.  Consequently, they are often irresponsibly released into the wild and can be seen basking on dry land during sunny days.  At the moment it looks unlikely that they are breeding as terrapin eggs need to be incubated at 25 degrees Celsius for 60 days in order to hatch, but climate change may enable them to increase their numbers and potentially harm native animals. *Terrapins are regularly seen at Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, at Fradley Junction where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Our nearest canal boat hire bases are at Great Haywood and Stretton.
    6. Why is the Hatton Flight also known as the Stairway to Heaven? The spectacular Hatton Flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, raises or lowers boats by 146 feet across two miles.  The men and women who operated the working boats which carried cargoes on the canal, knick-named the Hatton flight ‘The Stairway to Heaven’, because of the hard work involved in the long ascent, and the subsequent easy run to Camp Hill where they were paid. *Our nearest canal boat holiday starting points are at Stockton, Warwick and Wootton Wawen.

     

     

    drifters

    Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019

    From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore hundreds of waterside destinations and enjoy taking refreshment at historic canalside pubs.

    Here are Drifters’ Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019:

    1. Go star gazing on the Mon & Brec – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, said to have some of some of the highest quality dark skies, perfect for star gazing. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain. On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails and eateries, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.

    2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday you can travel to Leicester and back. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encountering 24 locks, and passing through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy, including The Three Horseshoes at Wistow, and the canalside Navigation Inn at Kilby. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for exploring local attractions, including the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains.

    3. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around 20 hours, travelling 27 miles through 53 locks to reach the historic town of Hungerford, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel up the spectacular flight of 16 locks in a row at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, passing close to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest. Once at Hungerford, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy dining at a choice of pubs and browsing in dozens of antique shops.

    4. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes canal boat holiday-makers up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish.

    5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Llangollen and back – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the stunning hill surrounded town of Llangollen, can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough holding the canal across iron arched ribs and 19 enormous hollow pillars. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.

    6. Cruise the Birmingham mini-ring – with more canals than Venice, travelling by boat is the best way to tour Britain’s vibrant second City. On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Tardebigge boat yard on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, canal boat holiday-makers can travel the Birmingham Mini-Ring, cruising for 27 hours and passing through 49 locks. The route begins by passing through the remains of the Forest of Arden, with quiet villages and historic waterside pubs to enjoy along the way, and then heads right into the heart of Birmingham. Here boaters can moor up and explore some of the City’s top attractions, including the Thinktank Science Museum and Mailbox Shopping Centre. Travelling out of Birmingham on a different canal, the route connects with the Grand Union Canal and the journey becomes gradually more rural again as it loops back round through Lapworth and along part of the Stratford Canal.

    7. Travel one-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge or Ashton-under-Lyne, this week-long epic journey takes around 40 cruising hours, travelling 33 miles and passing through 97 locks. If beginning at Sowerby Bridge, the route first travels down the Calder & Hebble Navigation past Brighouse, then after a short river section the journey switches onto the Huddersfield Broad, taking boaters into Huddersfield City Centre. After that the canal goes up the Colne Valley into the hills and on to the villages of Slaithwaite, then Marsden, before reaching the summit over 644 feet above sea level and the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel. The passage of boats through the incredible three-and-a-quarter mile long tunnel is guided by Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers. After the tunnel, the canal descends quickly through the Diggle Flight and into the Saddleworth villages, before reaching the centre of Stalybridge, and finally Ashton.

    8. Navigate the Droitwich Ring – setting off from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Worcester on the beautiful River Severn, canal boat holiday makers can navigate the Droitwich Ring, the only waterway cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a 21-mile loop with 33 locks along the way, that can be completed in just less than 15 hours.

    9. Potter through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break. The route begins by passing over the 35-metre high Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, and on through miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries.

    10. Glide through the Peak District to Cheddleton and back – on a short break from Drifters’ Peak District narrowboat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, you can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal, reaching Cheddleton Flint Mill in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks and travelling just over 11 miles. As the Caldon Canal leaves Stoke, it begins to pass through gently rolling hills and wooded areas, past old mills and then alongside the stunning River Churnet. At Denford, the Hollybush Inn is popular with boaters and at Consall Forge, the secluded Black Lion pub serves good food and real ales.

    Ten good reasons to take a canal boat holiday.

    Top 10 Museums to visit afloat

    Britain’s beautiful 2,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers passes through some of our most vibrant towns and cities, with exciting world-class Museums to visit along the way.

    Here are our Top 10 museums to visit afloat in 2019:

    1. Visit the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich, it takes around three-and-a-half hours, travelling nine miles and passing through just two locks, to reach Hack Green visitors moorings – just a short walk from the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker Museum. Once one of the nation’s most secret defence sites, this fascinating blast-proof underground bunker would have been the centre of Regional Government had nuclear war broken out. Decommissioned in 1993, today it offers visitors the chance to see the government’s preparations for nuclear war as well as the largest public display of nuclear weapons in Europe.

    2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday boaters can travel to Leicester and back to visit the exciting new King Richard III Visitor Centre. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encounters 24 locks, and passes through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy along the way. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for a foray to the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre, which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains under a Leicester car park five years ago.

    3. See T-rex skeletons at the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum – from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base on the River Thames at Eysnham near Witney, boaters can reach moorings in the centre of Oxford in just three hours, passing through four locks along the way. From there, the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum is short walk away. Housed in a stunning Victorian neo-Gothic building, the Museum is home to an internationally significant collection of natural history specimens, including T-rex skeletons, the Oxford Dodo, whale skeletons, British bird displays, dinosaur fossils and the 4.5 billion-year-old Nantan meteorite.

    4. Visit the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds – from our canal boat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, it takes 17 hours, passing through 28 locks to reach the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds Dock – perfect for a week afloat. Home to the national collection of arms and armour, there are thousands of objects from across the world to admire across nine galleries, including Henry VIII’s ‘Horned Helmet’, a long bow from the wreck of the Mary Rose and the ‘Swords of Middle Earth’ based on the prop weapons used in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ movies.

    5. Head to the Roman Baths Museum in Bath – from our canal boat holiday base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Hilperton, it’s a four-hour journey, travelling 11 miles and passing through one lock to moorings at Sydney Gardens. From there, it takes just 15 minutes to walk into the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath, home to the Roman Baths, once one of the greatest religious spas of the ancient world. Here visitors can visit the Sacred Spring, Roman Temple and Roman Bath House and, with the help of costumed interpreters, learn about the people of Aquae Sulis (the Roman name for Bath) and their goddess Minerva.

    6. Step back in time at the National Waterways Museum – from our boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury, on a week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Cheshire countryside and the ancient City of Chester to reach the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. The journey takes around 11 hours, travels 21 miles and passes through 16 locks. Once at Ellesmere Port, boaters can moor up and take time to explore the Museum’s historic boat collection, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, which all bring the past vividly to life.

    7. Marvel at the medieval splendour of Warwick Castle – cruising from our canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just over seven hours to reach moorings close to Warwick Castle, perfect for a short break afloat. This incredible 1,000-year-old 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 among the fantastic choice of things to see and do.

    8. Take a cultural cruise to Wakefield – on a mid-week or week-long break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Wakefield and back to visit the fabulous Hepworth Wakefield Museum. The journey travels 40 miles, through 52 locks and takes around 22 hours. The Gallery, which has moorings right outside, offers visitors over 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery spaces. As well as showcasing the extraordinary work by the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth, visitors to the Hepworth Wakefield can see works by Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Paul Nash, John Nash, David Nash, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.

    9. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Mary King Close in Edinburgh – from our narrowboat hire base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is an 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal, perfect for a four night mid-week break. The cruise starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift) and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a short walk from the Royal Mile where the Mary King Close Museum takes visitors back in time to explore Edinburgh’s only preserved 17th century street and follow in the footsteps of its former residents.

    10. Discover the Gothic elegance of Plas Newydd House Museum – from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham, North Wales, it takes just two hours to reach the beautiful Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, home to the remarkable Plas Newydd House Museum & Gardens. In the late 18th century this fascinating stone built house was turned into gothic fantasy by Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, known as “The Ladies of Llangollen”. Today visitors can enjoy exploring the property’s enchanting gardens and gazing at the fascinating stained glass and elaborately carved oak interiors.

    Top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners

    With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever and the health benefits of spending time by the water proven, narrowboat holidays are becoming increasingly popular.

    You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all Drifters’ operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

    Today’s narrowboats are fully equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

    So if you are planning to pack up and ship out on an adventure afloat, take a look at our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners to help you learn the ropes:

    1. Cruise to the bright lights of Birmingham – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’. It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages. Once in the centre of Birmingham, narrowboat holiday-makers can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre and other city centre attractions.

    2. Love the Llangollen – 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 near Llangollen to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. There are just four locks between Trevor and the beautiful Meres, a journey which takes around seven hours. And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.

    3. Potter through the Peak District – our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals near Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break.

    4. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, narrowboaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.

    5. Visit Georgian Bath – from our base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a delightful six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, canal boat holiday makers can use their boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.

    6. Take a rural route to Braunston – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through pretty wooded countryside and a series of sleepy villages with rural waterside pubs, including Newbold and Hillmorton.

    7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal. The journey, perfect for beginners on a mid-week or week-long break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift – and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Mark King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

    8. Steer gently through the countryside to Stone – from our base at Great Haywood it takes just five hours of gentle cruising along the Trent & Mersey Canal to reach the historic Shropshire market town of Stone. Stone is renowned as the food and drink capital of Staffordshire, with regular markets, a good choice of restaurants and the annual Food & Drink Festival in October. Along the way, there are just four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Woolpack at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.

    9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales – the journey from our narrowboat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes 13 hours and passes through three locks each way. The route takes boaters through the historic town of Skipton, with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands managed by the Woodland Trust. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms, easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.

    10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our canal boat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for canal boat holiday beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one on the way, one on the way back), this gentle journey through the Shropshire countryside passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green and transfers boaters onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction. On reaching the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered houses cottages and attractive Georgian houses, visitors have a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.