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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’

The Times, 17 October 2020

Helen Ochyra picks the ’25 best autumn breaks in the UK’ including ‘Canal cruising in Warwickshire’

A Narrowboat Holiday in Northamptonshire

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

The Grand Union Canal celebrated its 90th anniversary this year.  A good reason 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.  There we were warmly welcomed by Howard & Ann Davies of Napton Narrowboats.  Napton Narrowboats are part of the Drifters group of canal boat hire operators.

They introduced us to our home-from-home — ‘Caroline’, a Regency 4 class narrowboat.  She is 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.

The cruise to Braunston

Then we were off, beginning with a short section of the Oxford Canal.  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.  This ghostly figure of a Victorian canal worker is said to haunt the tunnel.

A night at Weedon

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.  We ate while admiring the sunset with a glass of wine in hand.

On to Stoke Bruerne

Monday morning we cruised leisurely on and then through the 2800-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.  Then we moored 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.  We then went on through the Northamptonshire countryside to Cosgrove. And then we cruised across the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, an exhilarating experience.

A night at Wolverton

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.

About turn

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

Overnight at Bugbrooke

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

Exploring Braunston

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.

Overnight at Napton

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

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