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Go canal boating for a haunting Halloween afloat

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

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

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

Visit a Christmas Market by canal boat

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

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a self-catering rural retreat with stops at historic waterside pubs and visits to Christmas markets and fairs at canal and riverside towns and cities.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players.  Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.  We also offers boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Drifters’ winter 2021-22 cruising prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £775 for a week. Here are our Top 5 Christmas markets and fairs to visit afloat:

1. Visit Stratford on Avon’s Victorian Christmas Market

This award-winning event is scheduled to be held 9-12 December.  Stall holders dress in Victorian costumes and there’s a range of entertainment planned throughout the town, including live performances.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The journey takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside, passing through 17 locks along the way.

2. Moor up in Birmingham City Centre for the Frankfurt Christmas Market

From 4 November to 23 December, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will fill New Street and Victoria Square, with stalls offering a variety of tempting food and drink, traditional toys, ornaments and gifts. Departing from our narrow boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes around five hours to reach Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.  There are no locks to pass through along the way.

 3. Travel to the Leamington Christmas market

On Sunday 21 November Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market will offer over 60 stalls with goodies, unusual gifts, stocking fillers, decorations and artisan food and drink.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, it takes just under an hour to reach moorings close to Leamington Spa town centre.

4. Navigate to the Whitchurch Silk Mill Christmas Fair

On 4 and 5 December, the Whitchurch Silk Mill will host a weekend Christmas Fair with a variety of stalls in the Mill grounds.  From Drifters’ narrowboat hire centre on the Llangollen Canal at Blackwater Meadow, it takes around five hours to reach the historic market town of Whitchurch.  The journey travels 12 waterway miles through the Shropshire Lake District.

5. Moor up for a festive break in Bath

Bath’s Christmas programme this year includes festive stalls in Kingston Parade and Abbey Green and an artisan market in Queen Square.  There will also be an illumination trail of historic buildings and traditional Christmas celebrations around the Abbey Quarter.  From our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Monkton Combe, it takes around four hours to reach moorings in Bath City, passing through six locks along the way.

*Some routes are affected by the Canal & River Trust’s winter stoppage programme https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/report/winter-notices.pdf

Exploring the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton

Countryman Magazine editor Mark Whitley describes his recent Drifters narrow boat holiday, cruising the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton to Keynsham, via Bradford on Avon and Bath.

Created in the white heat of the Industrial Revolution, canals are nowadays places for pleasure and relaxation. One of the most popular canals is the Kennet & Avon Canal, and it’s a delight to explore by narrowboat.

I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Hilperton Marina, for a week-long cruise on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Day One – to Bradford on Avon

At the marina, we were given a tour and tuition for navigating the canal aboard the ‘African Swift’, a luxuriously fitted out narrow boat, with all the mod cons. Then, we were off!

It was a short trip for the first day. Around three miles, and an hour-a-bit, later, we were tackling our first lock at Bradford on Avon. We’re all fairly experienced narrowboaters, but even for first-timers the locks are nothing to get nervous about.  Just take your time, and there’s often a Canal & River Trust volunteer or fellow boater on hand to offer advice or a helping hand if needed. We moored up and went to the Lock Inn Café for our evening meal and a few drinks overlooking the canal.

Day Two – to Bath

After a leisurely brunch on board, we set off towards Bath.  We crossed the Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts – two of the most spectacular and impressive structures on the whole of the canal network. There are moorings below Sydney Wharf for those who want to walk into Bath City Centre on a short break from Hilperton.

But as we were experienced boaters and we were away for a week, we navigated on through the Bath locks to join the River Avon. After a few hair-raising moments when the river current caught the boat, we managed to moor up. The strong currents, and rapidly changing river levels especially when it’s raining, mean boating on the River Avon is often more suitable for experienced boaters.  We spent a very pleasant evening exploring Bath, one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the country.

Day Three – to Bitton

In the morning we continued on along the River Avon, and moored up on the floating pontoon alongside Bitton Picnic Area. From here it’s a short walk to Bitton Station, home of the Avon Valley Railway. This heritage railway runs trains most weekends, and we arrived on a ‘steam day’. There-and-back trip takes about an hour, and it’s a heart-gladdening experience. We overnighted at the pontoon, and enjoyed the peace and calm of the water.

Day Four – to Keynsham

We had planned to boat into Bristol, but, at Hanham Lock we phoned ahead to the Bristol lock keeper (as advised) and he suggested, as the river levels were very high following so much rain, we should avoid the tidal stretch of the River Avon. So, we erred on the side of caution and turned round to overnight at nearby Keynsham.

Day Five – back to Bath

A couple of us took the train into Bristol to visit the Floating Harbour and the SS Great Britain. Then in the afternoon, with everyone back on board, we returned along the River Avon to rejoin the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath.

Day Six – exploring Bath

We spent the day exploring the delights of Bath. It is a World Heritage site, so there is plenty to see and do. In glorious summer sunshine, we visited the Holbourne Museum, Pulteney Bridge, the Royal Crescent and the Abbey.  After drinks in the beer garden of the White Hart, we enjoyed a take-away curry from nearby Bikanos Indian Cuisine.

Day Seven – back to Bradford on Avon via Claverton Pumping Station

Around lunchtime reached moorings outside Claverton Pumping Station. This rare and remarkable surviving example of Georgian industrial technology is now run by the Claverton Pumping Station volunteers.  They maintain it as an industrial heritage museum, which is open to the public most weekends.

In the afternoon, we re-crossed Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts. Dundas Aqueduct is also the junction with the Somerset Coal Canal, and we enjoyed a pleasant short walk along its towpath to the café at Brassknocker Basin.

Then we continued to Bradford on Avon to stop overnight there again, visiting the Barge Inn this time.  This left us with just a short journey the next morning to return our boat at Hilperton Marina.

 

Top 9 Canal Boat Holidays for Autumn 2021

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.  And there’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including flocks of fieldfare and redwing searching for hawthorn berries.

Here are Drifters’ top nine narrowboat holiday destinations for autumn 2021:

1. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin, travelling 28 miles and passing through just four locks.  The journey takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal, transferring on to the Coventry Canal at Hawksbury Junction.  Along the way, boaters travel through the Northamptonshire countryside, passing a series of canalside pubs, including the popular Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

2. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal

From our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a seven-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The route, which is perfect for a short break, passes through the Warwickshire countryside, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way.  Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin and use it as a base to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.

3. Complete the Stourport Ring

On a week’s break from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, boaters can travel the popular Stourport Ring.  This circuit travels 74 miles and passes through 118 locks in around 44 cruising hours.  Highlights include: Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; and the Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks.

4. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

On a week’s break from our base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, boaters can reach the pretty town of Llangollen.  The journey takes 12 hours, passes through two locks, two tunnel and crosses over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  From there, boaters can enjoy amazing views across the Dee Valley and the Welsh Mountains.

5. Cruise to Manchester & back

On a week’s break from Acton Bridge, canal boaters can cruise to Manchester and back.  The route, which passes through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, travels 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) and passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at along the way, include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs, and the historic village of Lymm.  On arrival in Manchester, there are places to moor at Castlefield Basin, within easy reach of City Centre attractions. And to visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

6. Drift through the Calder Valley

On a short break from Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, boaters can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow

On a short break from Falkirk, boaters can experience a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands to the historic town of Linlithgow.  The route passes over the Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift), goes through two tunnels and crosses two aqueducts on the Union Canal.

8. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Along the way, boaters pass through miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs.  Pubs include the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

9. Cruise through the Bath Valley

On a short break from Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, boaters can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to Sydney Wharf takes just six hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts and passing through one lock.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once in Bath, boaters can moor up a short walk away from the centre of Bath.

Top 6 Summer 2021 Narrowboat Holidays

Canal boat holidays offer a great self-catering holiday option for families, with the chance to set off together on an outdoor adventure afloat.

There are over 3,000 miles of inland waterways to explore, with hundreds of waterside destinations.  From pubs, cafes and shops, to museums and nature reserves, there’s always something special to plan at stop at.

Drifters offers 550 self-drive narrowboats for hire from 45 locations across England, Wales and Scotland.  Summer holiday prices start at £965 for a short break (three or four nights) and £1,335 for a week on a boat for four people.

Drifters’ director Nigel Stevens explains: “Today’s narrowboats for hire offer all the mod cons of home.  This includes central heating, hot water, TV, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets.  Some also offer extras, like wider beds, larger showers, solid-fuel stoves and Wifi.

“You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat, and tuition is included in all our holiday packages.

“Around 350,000 people enjoy narrowboating each year.  With the current focus on domestic holidays, we are looking forward to welcoming more people to the waterways this year.”

  1. Cruise to Manchester & back

On a week’s break from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to Manchester and back, enjoying time in the countryside as well as well as the City.  The route, which travels a total of 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at along the way, include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs, as well as the historic village of Lymm.  On arrival in Manchester, there are places to moor at Castlefield Basin, within easy reach of City Centre attractions. And to visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal closeby.

  1. Navigate the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bath

On a short break from Drifters canal boat hire base at Hilperton, boaters can travel to Bath and back.  The route travels a total of 25 miles, passes through 6 locks and takes around 13 hours.  Along the way, the canal takes holiday-makers past a series of canalside pubs, including The Barge in at Seend, The Boat House at Bradford on Avon, the Cross Guns at Avoncliff and the George at Bathampton.  There are overnight moorings close to Sydney Gardens, a short walk from Bath City Centre.

  1. Travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse

On a short break from Drifters’ boat yard at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Brighouse and back. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, as well as great places to eat and shop. Along the way, boaters pass through the historic market town of Elland and the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool.  The journey there and back travels 12 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around eight hours.

  1. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From Drifters’ base at Trevor on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, can be reached on a short break (three or four nights).

  1. Cruise through the countryside to Banbury & back

On a week’s holiday from Drifters narrowboat hire base at Stockton canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the peaceful Oxford Canal to Banbury and back.  The journey there and back cruises 50 miles, passes through 50 locks and takes around 29 hours.  It passes through a series of villages with pubs, including the Folly Inn at Napton, the Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton and the Red Lion at Cropredy.

  1. Boat to the ancient City of Chester

On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley in Cheshire, canal boat holiday-makers can head north to the historic City of Chester.  This 12-mile journey through the rolling Cheshire countryside takes seven hours, passing through 18 locks.  Once in Chester, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy some of this ancient city’s best loved attractions, including Britain’s most complete Roman and medieval walls, the Tudor open-air galleries, and Chester Zoo which celebrates its 90th birthday this year.

For more information about Drifters boating holidays call 0344 984 0322 or visit https://www.drifters.co.uk/.

For information about visiting the canal network go to https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/

Enjoy a day out boating this Spring

Day boat hire on your local canal is a great way to enjoy the countryside this Spring.

We offer 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, you can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

Drifters day boats are available to hire to single households from 29 March. From 17 May, the rule of six or two households is likely to apply. And from 21 June, there will hopefully be no social distancing restrictions.

Our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle, perfect for a picnic afloat.  Most of our day boats also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.  And when pubs reopen, you can plan a stop for refreshment at a canalside pub.

Top 7 day boat destinations for Spring 2021

Glide through the Brecon Beacons

From Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, boaters can enjoy incredible mountain views.  It takes two-and-a-half-hours to reach the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. ***‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, prices start from £137.

Explore Shakespeare’s country afloat

From Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote.  Here you can enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn or the Masons Arms.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way.  Along the way you’ll cross over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with beautiful views across the Warwickshire countryside.

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 38m above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there’s another aqueduct and two tunnels to pass through, before reaching the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid.

Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon

From Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, day boaters can cruise west along the Kennet & Avon Canal to the picturesque town of Bradford on Avon.  Here, there’s a striking 14th century Tithe Barn and choice of pubs and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn.

Tunnel through rural Worcestershire

From Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can cruise to Kings Norton Junction.  There’s a choice of pubs to moor at along the way, including The Crown at Alvechurch.  The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including Wast Hill Tunnel, which is nearly 2.5km long.

Cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District

From Whixall Marina on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, day boaters can head to the historic town of Ellesmere and back.  The journey takes around two-and-a-half hours, passing Bettisfield Windmill, Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park along the way.  Once at Ellesmere, you can moor up and explore the famous Mere with its historic castle, woodland paths and fascinating wildlife.

Travel through the Staffordshire countryside to Rugeley

From Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford, day boaters can cruise to Rugeley and back.  The journey travels four miles and passes through two locks.  It takes around two hours, passing the through Cannock Chase along the way.  And the popular Wolseley Arms pub at Wolseley Bridge.

‘Top of the locks’ narrowboat holiday destinations for 2021

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

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

A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end, and canal boat holiday-makers follow a series of step-by-step tasks to use them.  By emptying or filling the chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of waterway.

There are many different kinds of locks

From narrow and broad, to staircase and double, there are many different kinds of locks.  But they all on work on a similar principle.  With the lock gates closed, boaters should open the sluices (paddles) to let the water in or out.  When the water level under the boat is the same as the level it’s moving to, the boat can move in or out of the lock.

Some locks are operated by boaters, others by lock-keepers.  Tuition is included in all Drifters’ canal boat holiday packages, and during the handover boat yard staff will usually guide hirers through their first lock.

Top 8 flights of locks

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

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

One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the locks at Caen Hill are one of the most iconic sites on the waterway network.  With 29 locks spread out over two miles, raising the canal by 72 metres, it takes around six hours to passage through.  The 16-lock section clustered together up the hill is truly a magnificent site.  Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Devizes is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

  1. Marple Locks on the Peak Forest Canal

One of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks at Marple raise boats by 64 metres over just one mile.  The locks are built of local stone and are mostly tree-lined, giving the canal a lovely secluded feeling.  In fact the Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways.  It runs through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent is 32 miles and 14 locks away.

  1. The Tardebigge Flight on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

With 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks is the longest on the inland waterways system.  In total, the locks raise and lower boats 67 metres, and it takes around five-and-a-half hours to travel through them.  In recognition of the effort it takes, the Canal & River Trust issues certificates to boaters rising (or lowering) to the challenge.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at the top of the flight at Tardebigge Wharf, near Bromsgrove.

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

This spectacular staircase of five locks near Bradford is another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’.  The locks raise (or lower) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers.  The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom of the next.  It takes around one-and-a-half hours to work through.  The size of the chambers can be intimidating even for experienced boaters, but friendly lock-keepers are on hand to help.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is 25 miles and 20 locks away at Barnoldswick.

  1. The Hatton Flight on the Grand Union Canal

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

  1. Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line

With countryside views all around, this flight of 10 locks raises boats up 23 metres in just a quarter-of-a-mile.  Foxton Locks is the longest set of staircase locks in the UK and is designated a Grade II Listed structure.  Staircase locks open directly one from another, so that the top gate of one forms the bottom of the next.  It takes around 45 minutes to pass through the locks.  Lock keepers are on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles.  Their mantra “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead” is helpful to keep in mind!  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is a 14 hour cruise away, on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston.


  1. Wolverhampton Locks on the Birmingham Main Line Canal

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


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

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

Top 7 May Bank Holiday canal boat breaks for beginners

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

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

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

  1. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Home of the gingerbread man, Market Drayton has a choice of places to eat and regular street markets. Along the way, you will pass through six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.
  2. Drift through the Calder Valley – on a weekend break from our canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, you can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.
  3. Complete the Droitwich Mini-Ring – the Droitwich Ring is the only canal boat holiday cruising circuit in Britain which can be completed on a short break. The 21-mile route takes boaters through the Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the Droitwich canals. There are 33 locks to pass through and it takes around 16 hours.
  4. Glide along the Forth & Clyde to visit Glasgow – from our canal boat hire base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, it’s a peaceful nine-hour cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the City of Glasgow. Along the way, you will travel 22 miles and will pass through five locks.  This scenic route begins at the home of the magnificent Falkirk Wheel boat lift.  It then passes through Auchinstarry, the River Kelvin Valley with magnificent views of the Campsie Fells above, and the town of Kirkintillock.  Once at Glasgow, there are moorings at Applecross Street Basin, close to Glasgow’s wealth of cultural centres, including the Hunterian Museum.  
  5. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath – from our base at Devizes in Wiltshire, you can travel gently along the Kennet & Avon Canal to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, close to Bath City Centre. The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, you’ll passes through the village of Seend with its popular canalside Barge Inn.  And the historic town of Bradford on Avon with its fascinating 14th century Tithe Barn.  You’ll also pass over the beautiful Avoncliff and Dundas Bath stone aqueducts.
  6. Cruise to Warwick Castle and back – from our canal boat hire base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, you can cruise to Warwick and back. The journey there and back takes around 14 hours, and passes through 40 locks (20 each way), perfect for a long weekend away.  Overnight moorings are available close to Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience.
  7. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Ellesmere – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network. The journey from Drifters’ base at Trevor to Ellesmere and back takes boaters through four locks, and into the heart of the Shropshire Lake District. This journey takes around seven hours and includes the experience of travelling across the awesome UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’.

Tips for taking a narrowboat holiday with kids

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

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

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

From mooring up and locks, to route maps and canal etiquette, Clare offers 10 tips for your first narrowboat holiday with kids https://mudpiefridays.com/2020/10/14/10-tips-for-your-first-narrowboat-break-with-kids/

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.