Tag Archive for: Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Visit a bluebell wood on a canal boat holiday

Bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday

Canals meander through some of Britain’s best loved countryside, and there are places where you can explore bluebell woods on a canal boat holiday.

The UK is home to almost half the world’s bluebells, and they are one of the nation’s favourite wildflowers.  Native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are an ancient woodland indicator.

The Woodland Trust says, “most flowering usually happens in April, so this is the best time to see that iconic carpet of blue.”

To celebrate, we’ve listed our top 7 beautiful bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday:

1. Copley Woods on the Calder & Hebble in West Yorkshire

The bluebells are stunning in the woods alongside the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Copley.  From our narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes just under 30 minutes by boat to reach Copley.

2. Coed Cefn at Crickhowell on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

This ancient woodland managed by the Woodland Trust has an iron age hill fort at its centre.  There’s a circular walk perfect for enjoying fantastic displays of bluebells in April and May.  From our base at Goytre in South Wales, it takes around five hours to reach Llangattock Wharf.  From there it’s a two-mile walk to Coed Cefn.

3. Chirk Castle Woods, close to the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham

Owned by the National Trust, the grounds of Chirk Castle include 480 acres of woodland and parkland.  There are carpets of bluebells, veteran trees and a section of the historic Offa’s Dyke trail to discover.  Setting out from our Chirk base on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 40 minutes to cruise to visitor moorings at Chirk Bank.  From there, it’s a 30-minute walk up to Chirk Castle to explore bluebell woods on a canal boat holiday.

4. Cliveden on the River Thames in Berkshire

Set high above the River Thames near Maidenhead, Cliveden has 375 acres of glorious gardens and woodlands to explore.  These include a magnificent carpet of bluebells alongside the beautiful tree-lined Green Drive.  From our canal boat hire base at Aldermaston, it’s a 14 hour journey to Cliveden Reach.

5. Packwood House near the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire

The National Trust’s magnificent Packwood House has 150 acres of parkland to explore, including an area of ancient woodland with bluebells.  From our base at Alvechurch, it takes around six hours to cruise to moorings on the Stratford Canal at Lapworth, close to Packwood House. From there you can walk to these bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday.

6. Savernake Forest on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

There are over 4,500 acres of woodlands to explore at Savernake Forest, and it’s a bluebell paradise in Spring. The Kennet & Avon Canal runs alongside the Savernake Forest, with bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday. From our Devizes base, it takes around 10 hours to reach the village of Wootton Rivers, a great starting point for a variety of walks around the Forest.

7. Skipton Castle Woods on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire

Skipton Castle Woods is a rare ancient woodland habitat cared for by the Woodland Trust. These woods close to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal are reputed to be one of the best places to spot bluebells in Yorkshire.  From our base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes just around four cruising hours to reach Skipton Castle.

Castles to visit on a narrowboat holiday in England and Wales

Castles to visit on a narrowboat holiday

There’s a great choice of castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday.

From prison cells and dungeon tours, to ramparts and banqueting halls, Britain’s beautiful castles bring history to life.

Here are our top five castles to visit on a narrow boat holiday:

1. Explore the 18th century prison cells at Oxford Castle & Prison

Cruising from our base at Oxford on the River Thames, it’s a tranquil three-hour cruise to moorings at Hythe Bridge, close to Oxford Castle.  The journey travels six miles and passes through three locks.  Oxford Castle was founded by the Norman baron Robert D’Oilly the elder in 1071, but most of the fortress was destroyed in the English Civil War. By the 18th century, the remaining buildings had become Oxford’s local prison.  Today, as well as exploring the castle’s tower, crypt and mound, visitors can take a guided tour of the prison and learn about the lives of the people who were held there.

2. See the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

You can visit Windsor Castle on a narrowboat holiday departing from Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire. It takes two days to reach Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.  The journey travels 39 miles and passes through 22 locks.  With 1,000 years of Royal history to discover, including Charles II’s magnificent State Apartments, Windsor Castle is packed with treasures from the Royal Collection.  The Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am, is a colour spectacle of British pageantry, with a continuing military purpose.

3. Climb the ramparts at Warwick Castle

From our Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it’s a seven-hour journey, passing through 20 locks, to reach Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon. This is an amazing castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday! Dating back to William the Conqueror, Warwick Castle has ramparts to climb, the spooky Castle Dungeon tour to experience, the Great Hall and Staterooms to explore, and the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval period to witness in the Kingmaker exhibition.  There are also soaring birds of prey and trebuchet firing displays to watch, landscaped gardens wonder through and regular special live action performances.

4. Find out about the siege at Skipton Castle

Cruising from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes around 3.5 hours to reach Skipton Castle.  This 900-year old fortress is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England. And it’s very close to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal so it’s a great castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday. Skipton Castle withstood a three-year siege during the English Civil War.  Today, visitors can climb from the depths of the Dungeon up to the top of the Watch Tower, and explore the magnificent Banqueting Hall, Kitchen, Bedchamber and Privy in between.

5. Discover murder holes at Chirk Castle

From Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 40 minutes to cruise to Chirk Bank visitor moorings.  From there, it takes around 30 minutes to walk up to Chirk Castle.  Owned by the National Trust, Chirk Castle is one of several medieval marcher fortresses built on the Welsh-English border to keep the Welsh under English rule.  Started in 1295, Chirk Castle had the most up-to-date defences of the time. These include round ‘drum’ towers that allowed archers a wide firing field, and created a ‘killing zone’ where the fields of fire overlapped.  Today, visitors can explore the Castle’s lavishly furnished rooms and Adam Tower, complete with two-level dungeons, medieval toilets and murder holes.  There are also 480 acres of parkland with walking trails to enjoy, and a glorious gardens to stroll through.

Best canal boat holiday cruising rings

Best canal boat holiday cruising rings

Canal boat holiday cruising rings offer journeys along several different waterways, taking in a huge variety of urban and rural landscapes.

Some canal boat holiday rings are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate.

Here’s a guide to our top 9 canal boat holiday rings and circuits:

1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours)

Starting from Worcester or Stoke Prior, this canal boat holiday ring is the only one that can be completed on a short break. It re-opened in 2011 following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals.  This reconnected the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Worcester. Highlights include: the historic Spa town of Droitwich; the Hanbury flight of locks; and Worcester cathedral.

2. The Outer Pennine Ring (192 miles, 248 locks, 130 hours)

Not for the faint-hearted nor inexperienced, this epic three-week journey can be undertaken from Sowerby Bridge or Silsden. It crosses the Pennines twice and includes Britain’s longest canal tunnel. It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Narrow, Ashton, Rochdale, Bridgewater, Leeds & Liverpool canals. And the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks. Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; and Manchester City Centre. Also the three-and-a-quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle; Bingley Five Rise locks; Skipton with its medieval castle; Leeds City Centre and waterside Royal Armouries Museum.

3. The Stourport Ring (74 miles, 118 locks, 44 hours)

Starting from Autherley, Stoke Prior, Gailey or Alvechurch, this offers an exhilarating and hugely popular week. The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line. The Stourport Ring visits three cities: Wolverhampton; Birmingham; and the ancient City of Worcester. Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindleyplace and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver with National Trust rock houses; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.

4. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours)

Starting from Bunbury, Wrenbury, Whitchurch, Anderton or Acton Bridge, this superb canal boat holiday ring goes through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. Highlights include: Anderton Boat Lift (also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’); Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall; Castlefield Basin; Manchester’s China Town; the Rochdale 9 locks; Buxworth Basin, Whaley Bridge and the glorious Top Lock at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal; the Cheshire Plain; and heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.

5. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours)

Starting from Napton, Stockton, Springwood Haven, Kings Orchard or Braunston the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in 10 days or two weeks. It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the Knowle Flight of five locks; the canal village of Braunston; Napton Junction; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.

6. Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours)

Starting from Napton, Autherley, Stoke Prior or Wootton Wawen, this canal boat holiday ring has 130 locks. Most people do this trip in 10 days or two weeks. The Avon Ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 locks at Tardebigge; and the 2,495-metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.

7. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours)

Departing from Autherley, Acton Bridge, Brewood, Great Haywood, Stoke-on-Trent, Whitchurch, Wrenbury, Nantwich or Gailey, this canal boat holiday ring is best done on a 10-day or two-week holiday. The four counties are Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire. The route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals. Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the 2,670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; deep cuttings on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Pottery Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; the waters at Tixall Wide; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.

8. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours)

From Autherley, Great Haywood, Kings Orchard or Gailey this exhilarating canal boat holiday ring is achievable in a week. The Ring takes in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals. Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin; 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; Dudley Zoo & Castle; Drayton Manor Park at Fazeley; the Staffs & Worcs Roundhouses; the waters at Tixhall Wide; Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction; 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

9. The Leicester/East Midlands Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours)

Departing from Napton, Braunston, Kings Orchard, Springwood Haven or Gayton this epic canal boat holiday ring is achievable in two weeks. The route cruises a mixture of non-tidal, broad and narrow canals, including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey canals, the Grand Union Leicester Line and the rivers Soar and Trent. Highlights include: Saddlington Tunnel; the Foxton Staircase of Locks; the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; Braunston canal village; Hillmorton Locks; 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry and views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

Travel through the Bingley Five Rise locks on a canal boat holiday

Bingley Five Rise Locks celebrate 250th anniversary

This year, the Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford in West Yorkshire will be 250 years old!

One of the greatest feats of canal engineering of its day, the Grade I listed Bingley Five Rise Locks opened on 21 March 1774. On that day, 30,000 people turned out to cheer their opening, and the local militia fired their field guns in salute.

The Canal & River Trust is holding a Bingley Five Rise Locks 250-year celebration on Saturday 23 March 2024, from 10am to 3pm.  The free family-friendly day will including lock keeper demonstations and talks by volunteers, boat trips along the canal, heritage talks and walks, a floating market, paddle sports sessions and Let’s Fish! taster sessions.

Drifters member Anglo Welsh will be exhibiting one of its widebeam boats from Silsden. Helen’s Drum will be moored alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal towpath at the top of the locks. Visitors will be able to tour the boat to see the facilities on board.

There’s more information about the Canal & River Trust’s Bingley Five Locks 250-year celebrations here

A wonder of the waterways

Considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, the five cavernous chambers raise (or lower) boats by 18 metres.  They open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom of the next. It takes boats around 45 minutes to go up the locks and 30 minutes to go down. Canal & River Trust lock keepers are on hand to help.

Five facts about Bingley Five Rise Locks and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

  1. At 127 miles, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is the longest single canal in the country, crossing the Pennines and linking the wide waterways of Yorkshire with those of Lancashire and the River Mersey.
  2. Bingley Five Rise Lock staircase is the steepest lock staircase in Britain and is the most spectacular feature of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
  3. The locks are Grade I listed, meaning they are of exceptional interest both on an architectural and historical scale.
  4. The lock gates at Bingley are some of the tallest in the country. Each gate is unique and made using the same traditional methods as 250 years ago.
  5. At the top of the locks there’s a viewing area where you can take in the stunning views across the Aire Valley and the Five Rise Locks Café.

Canal boat holidays from Silsden

Drifters offers canal boat hire from Silsden, just six miles along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal from Bingley.  It takes around three and a half hours to cruise to the Five Rise Locks from Silsden, so it’s perfect for a relaxing short break.  On the way to Bingley from Silsden, you’ll pass through Stockbridge and Riddlesden, with the National Trust’s East Riddlesden Hall not far from the canal.  A few miles after Bingley, you’ll reach the UNESCO World Heritage town Saltaire, near Shipley.

On a week’s holiday from Silsden, you can continue to follow the Aire Valley to Leeds.  There you can moor up in Leeds Dock and visit the waterside Royal Armouries Museum and other city centre attractions.

For more information about visiting Bingley Five Rise Locks, go to Bingley | Places to visit | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)

Best canal boat holidays for beginners

Best 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 canal boat holiday hire.

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 canal boat. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novices to ‘dip their toe in the water’. Cruising along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes just five hours to reach Birmingham.  The first half of the journey passes through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages, and a series of canal tunnels, before becoming increasingly urban. Once in the centre of Birmingham, you can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox 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 our Trevor base 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 World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.

3. Potter through the Peak District

Our base at Stoke on Trent, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, offers a fantastic way to experience the Peak District. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, it’s a gentle 11-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin.  The route passes through 17 locks and travels 17 miles.  Pubs to enjoy along the way include the Black Lion at Consall Forge and The Boat Inn at Basford Bridge.

4. Glide through the Brecon 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 incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can cruise to Brecon and back. Along the way, you’ll pass 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, moorings close to Bath City Centre are a six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks and crosses two stunning Bath stone aqueducts.  You’ll also pass a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff and the Barge Inn at Seend. Once at Sydney Wharf on the edge of Bath City Centre, you can use your boat as a base to explore the City, including the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent.

6. Take a rural route to Braunston

From our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful three-hour 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 the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside. Pubs to enjoy include the Kings Head at Napton and the Admiral Nelson at Braunston.

7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh

From our 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 on the Trent & Mersey Canal it takes around five hours 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 four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Saracen’s Head at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.

9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales

The journey from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes around seven hours and passes through three locks. You’ll pass through Skipton with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms. And it’s easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.

10. Boat to historic Brewood and back

The journey to Brewood and back from our base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one each way), 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, there’s a choice of places to eat, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

Canal boat holiday bucket list

Canal boat holiday ‘bucket list’ guide

The ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association, and published in his book ‘Know Your Waterways’ over 70 years ago.

Here at Drifters, we’ve added the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland (which opened in 2002) to make the perfect Canal Boat Holiday ‘Bucket List’ guide for 2024:

1. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres (126ft) high above the River Dee, the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain. Built between 1795 and 1805, it has 18 magnificent stone piers, supporting a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth! Drifters has a canal boat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, just a five-minute cruise from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

2. The Anderton Boat Lift – also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ this extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres (50ft) from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal. Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats. In 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but after a Heritage Lottery Funded restoration, it reopened in 2002. Drifters has a narrowboat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Anderton, right next to the Lift.

3. The Caen Hill Flight – with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country. The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810. By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990. Drifters’ Devizes base is at the base of the flight.

4. The Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next. Our nearest canal boat hire base is on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Silsden, a distance of six miles away. With five locks to pass through along the way, the journey to Bingley takes around four-and-a-half hours.

5. The Standedge Tunnel – tunnelling for over three miles beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18 and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system. Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build, opening in 1811. In the 20th century, the Huddersfield Canal fell into disrepair, becoming un-navigable by 1948, but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001. Today you need to book your passage though the tunnel with the https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/things-to-do/museums-and-attractions/standedge-tunnel-and-visitor-centre-yorkshire Canal & River Trust, and there is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end. Our nearest base is at Sowerby Bridge, on the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal, 20 miles and 65 locks away. The journey to Standedge takes around 21 hours (three days).

6. Barton Swing Aqueduct – originally built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening. But when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct in 1893. The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal. Our nearest base is at Acton Bridge, on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire. From there, it takes around nine hours, travelling 26 miles and through just one lock, to reach the Barton Swing Aqueduct.

7. The Burnley Embankment – also known as ‘The Straight Mile’, the mile-long Burnley Embankment carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over 18 metres (60ft) high across part of the town, offering boaters breath-taking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Though costly and difficult to build, the Burnley Embankment, which spans the Calder Valley, avoided the need for a series of locks which would have slowed cargo-carrying boats down. Designed by Robert Whitworth, the embankment was built between 1796 and 1801 and involved the mammoth task of transporting (by horse and cart) around half a million tons of earth from the nearby canal cutting at Whittlefield and tunnel at Gannow. Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Barnoldswick is just 11 miles and seven locks away from Burnley.

8. The Falkirk Wheel – built as part of the Millennium Link project to restore the canals linking the east and west coasts of Scotland, The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Standing at a height of 35 metres, it moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal, replacing a flight of 11 locks which had been dismantled in 1933. It can carry up to 600 tonnes (eight or more boats) and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn – the same amount it takes to boil eight kettles. Drifters offers canal boat rental at Falkirk, right next to the Wheel.

Best Spring canal boat holidays

Best spring canal boating breaks

Britain’s beautiful inland waterways are a great place to visit in the Spring time, when the countryside is bursting into new life, with blossom on the hedges and waterside trees, birds busy rearing their young, spring lambs playing in the fields and bluebells in waterside woodlands.

To celebrate the beauty of Spring-time on the canals, here’s a guide to our top 8 Spring narrowboat holidays for 2024:

1. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey

From our 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, you’ll travel up the spectacular flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.  You’ll pass closeby to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest, home to thousands of ‘Ancient’, ‘Veteran’ and ‘Notable’ trees and carpets of bluebells in the Spring.  Once at Hungerford, there’s a choice of places to eat and drink and antique shops to browse in.

2. Explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle

On a short break from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, you can travel to the historic town of Skipton, with its medieval fortress and ancient woods bursting with bluebells to explore.  Skipton’s 900-year old castle is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England and its extensive woodlands are home to at least 18 species of trees, and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells. The journey to Skipton and back takes around seven hours, travelling 13 miles with no locks.

3. Glide through the Brecon Beacons

Isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park and offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, wooded sections full of the sound of woodland birds, and a series of historic village pubs to visit along the way.   On a short break from Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, passing the Lion Inn at Govilon and the Bridge End Hotel at Llangattock.  On a week’s break, you can travel on to Brecon, passing through Talybont-on-Usk, with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn and the popular Star Inn.

4. Boat to Brewood and back

From Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, it takes around five hours to reach the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered cottages and Georgian houses, perfect for a relaxing short break. The 13-mile journey, which passes through just one lock, takes you through beautiful stretches of Shropshire countryside, and passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green.  On reaching Brewood, there’s a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the pretty Eisteddford town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains can be reached on a short break, with the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to travel across along the way.  Standing at 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 300-metre long structure consists of a cast iron trough supported by 18 enormous pillars and 19 arches.  On reaching Llangollen, you can moor up in Llangollen Basin and enjoy visiting the town’s independent shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as its Steam Railway and Horseshoe Falls. 

6. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge

On a short break from our 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 covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five-and-a-half hours. Once at Hebden, you can enjoy an amazing variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, as well as stunning countryside walks with woods, crags and the Calder running alongside.

7. Cruise through Shakespeare country

From Wootton Wawen, on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks to reach Stratford-upon-Avon, perfect for a short break.  Travelling through the pretty Warwickshire countryside, you can stop off along the way to visit Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.  Once in Shakespeare’s Stratford, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums. 

8. Navigate the Cheshire Ring

Starting from Anderton, this epic cruising ring takes you on a 97-mile tour through some of the most beautiful Cheshire countryside.  The route passes through 92 locks and takes around 55 hours, taking you through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals.  Highlights include the spectacular vertical Anderton Boat Lift, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, Dunham Massey Hall and its working Elizabethan Mill alongside the Bridgewater Canal, Manchester’s China Town, the Top Lock at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal with fantastic views of the Peak District, and the Cheshire Plain with its heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’. The Cheshire Ring can be done on a week’s break from Anderton, but a 10-day or two-week breaks gives more time to visit destinations along the route.

‘Top of the Locks’ for 2024 canal boat holidays

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales, all enabling boats to travel up and down hills.

There’s no mystery to using locks – just a series of step-by-step tasks.

A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end.  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, 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 our canal boat holiday packages.

During your handover procedure, our boat yard staff will usually be able to take you through your first lock.

To celebrate these marvels of canal engineering, we’ve put together a guide to the Top 7 lock flight destinations for 2024 narrow boat holidays:

1. Hatton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire

The Hatton Flight was nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals.  This impressive flight of 21 locks raises boats up 45 metres over two miles, and takes around four-and-a-half hours to travel through.  Just below the Top lock, you’ll find the popular Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is eight cruising hours away at Stockton.  The journey travels 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.

2. Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

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

3. Wigan on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire

This epic flight of 21 locks is said to be one of the most fearsome on the waterways.  Descending 70 metres in less than two miles, it takes around five hours to pass through all the locks.  The flight travels through New Springs, a suburb of Wigan which was once an industrial hub with collieries and ironworks lining the canal.  Today it’s a post-industrial landscape of waste ground, modern housing and terraced streets.  From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick, it takes around 19 cruising hours to reach Wigan Top Lock Junction, travelling 48 miles and passing through 20 locks.

4. Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Worcestershire

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.

5. Bingley 5 Rise on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire

Another one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this spectacular staircase of five locks is near Bradford.  It raises (or lowers) 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. The journey takes around 14 and a half hours.

6. Foxton on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Leicestershire

Surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, this set 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 a Grade II Listed structure.  In staircases, the 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. There are lock keepers on hand to help.  They offer key advice when it comes to opening the paddles: “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead.”  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is around 13 cruising hours away at Braunston.  The journey to Foxton Top Staircase travels 27 miles and passes through 13 locks.

7. Marple on the Peak Forest Canal in Cheshire

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.  The Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Drifters’ Stoke on Trent canal boat hire base is around 19 cruising hours away from Marple Bottom Lock.  The journey there travels 32 miles and passes through 14 locks.

Step off the grid for a mindfulness break on Britain’s peaceful inland waterways

Research by the Canal & River Trust, the charity that cares for the nation’s 2,000 miles of canals and rivers, shows spending time by the waterways can lower levels of anxiety and make you happier*.

Waterways are described as ‘great places to relax and de-stress’ and canal boat holidays are often said to be ‘the fastest way to slow down’.

Pottering along at just four-miles-an-hour opens up space and time for mindfulness.  Getting close to nature is widely recognised to benefit our mental and physical health and wellbeing and with over 1,000 wildlife conservation sites on the Canal & River Trust’s network, Britain’s canals and rivers have become an important place for biodiversity.

Here are some insights into the relaxing effect of a narrowboat holiday, described by journalists who have enjoyed the experience:

The perfect antidote

Dan Sanderson described his recent family holiday on the Shropshire Union Canal as ‘the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern city life’ and said ‘chugging along at an average speed of just 2mph…time and distance become an obscure concept and you are left with little option than to sit back and enjoy the view’.

The Mailonline, ‘Ready, steady…slow!’, 8 July 2023

A Wiltshire retreat

Paul Miles, while on the Kennet & Avon Canal, explained: “Life in the slow lane is the norm on the canals. It heightens my sense of observation.’

The Telegraph, ‘I’ve been in happy self-isolation for the last 10 years’, 20 March 2020

Northamptonshire slow zone

Fiona Whitty enjoyed a narrowboat holiday on the Grand Union Canal and said: “As an antidote to fast living, travel is all about going slow nowadays – and you don’t get much slower than a canal boat with a speed of 4mph.”

Sunday Mirror, ‘Slow-go zone’, 27 March 2022

A Shropshire escape

In his review of a Drifters’ canal boat holiday on the Shropshire Union Canal, Dixe Wills says: “The sedateness of our progress up to Shropshire, coupled with an almost complete absence of intrusions from the modern world, created a bubble that we were reluctant to burst.”

The Guardian, ‘The ripple effect: a leisurely boating break in Shropshire’, 29 July 2020

Putting the brakes on in Leicestershire

Gareth Butterfield reviewed a holiday on the Ashby Canal saying: “there’s something incredibly cathartic about slowing yourself down to canal pace…a week at walking pace is just the tonic for people who need to put the brakes on from time to time.”

Manchester Evening News, ‘I raise eyebrows taking a big lizard on a narrowboat trip along the Ashby canal’, 17 April 2022

Meandering into North Wales

Mary Novakovich, who took a narrowboat holiday on the Llangollen Canal, setting out from Chirk, said “Meandering along at a languid 3mph – slower than my walking pace – we had plenty of time to absorb our surroundings as we spotted herons and steered under pretty arched bridges.”

The Independent, ‘Knot Too Shabby’, 16 May 2021

A break from modern life in Yorkshire

Jaymi McCann enjoyed a holiday on the Leeds & Liverpool and said: “The canal remains unchanged over its two centuries but its purpose has been transformed: coal barges have given way to leisure boaters. Its engineers could have little envisaged its current use but the languid pace is what makes it such a break from modern life.”

Sunday Express, ‘A Slow Boat To Yorkshire’ 22 May 2016

Bucolic scenes in Warwickshire

Lyn Hughes describes her journey along the Grand Union Canal from Napton, observing “bucolic scenes of gently rolling farmland, dotted with grazing cows and sheep. The bank was thick with overhanging willows, bulrushes, rosebay willowherb and purple loosestrife. Dragonflies buzzed past, and clouds of butterflies danced over the wildflowers.”

Wanderlust, ‘Tales from the Riverbank’, November 2020

A balming power

Richard Morrison says: “I do believe that today the canals have a mysterious, balming power that is without equal in Britain – not just because they trundle holidaymakers through glorious landscapes at a maximum of 4mph, but also because they stealthily, almost secretly, carry the peace of rural England into the heart of frenetic cities.”

The Times, ‘Canals – a calming, beautiful antidote to modern life’, 5 February 2007

*’Assessing the wellbeing impacts of waterways usage in England and Wales’, 2018

 

Top 8 canal boat holidays for wellbeing this summer

It’s well known that spending time in green space connecting with nature is good for our mental health and wellbeing. Recent research by the Canal & River Trust confirms the combination of green and blue space with wildlife experienced by visitors to the inland waterways gives an extra wellbeing boost*.

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways flow through some of our most beautiful and unspoilt countryside, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

Here’s a guide to Drifters’ Top 8 wellbeing destinations for narrowboat holidays in Summer 2023:

1. Navigate the Peak Forest Canal to Whaley Bridge

On a week’s holiday from our narrowboat hire base at Stoke on Trent, you can travel along the Trent & Mersey and Macclesfield canals to connect to the Peak Forest Canal and Whaley Bridge.  The Peak Forest Canal is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  The journey to Whaley Bridge travels 39 miles, passes through the Harecastle Tunnel and 13 locks, and takes around 20 cruising hours.

2. Explore the Staffordshire countryside & Cannock Chase

On a short break from Kings Orchard on the Coventry Canal in Staffordshire, you can cruise to the beautiful waters at Tixall Wide and back, passing through the Cannock Chase AONB along the way.  The journey there and back travels 32 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 16 hours.

3. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford

On a week away from our base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, you can cruise to the historic town of Hungerford, passing through the Vale of Pewsey, in the North Wessex Downs AONB.  The journey there and back takes around 40 hours, travelling 54 miles through 106 locks.

4. Glide around the Breacon Beacons

The beautiful Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views.  On a week’s break from our base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise to Brecon and back.  The journey takes you through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle. And Talybont-on-Usk, with wonderful walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.  Brecon is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture. And you can enjoy some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886 metres.

5. Cruise to the Aylesbury Vale

On a week’s break from Gayton Marina you can travel south to the Aylesbury Arm and into the Vale of Aylesbury, part of the Chilterns AONB.  The journey to Aylesbury passes through a series of canalside towns and villages, including Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum. And Marsworth next to Tring Reservoirs, a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  The route travels 44 miles, passes through 41 locks and takes around 22 hours.

6. Float through the Dee Valley in North Wales

On a short break from Chirk on the Llangollen Canal, you can float through the Dee Valley AONB to the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen. You’ll pass over the UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct along the way.  And you’ll cruise across the Chirk Aqueduct and through Whitehouses Tunnel. The journey to Llangollen and back takes around eight hours, travelling 14 miles, with no locks.

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

On a four-night mid-week break from Oxford, you can travel west along the River Thames to the pretty market town of Lechlade, in an AONG on the edge of the Cotswolds.  The route passes through 22 miles of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire countryside. You’ll pass close-by to Kelmscott Manor, once the Cotswold retreat of William Morris.  It takes around 17 hours to cruise there and back, passing through seven locks each way.

8. Travel through the Yorkshire Dales to Skipton

On a short break from Barnoldswick, you can head north-east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to historic Skipton. The journey travels 13 miles through the Yorkshire Dales, passing through 15 locks in around 10 hours.  This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of the Yorkshire Dales.  You see sheep, farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, you can moor up to visit shops and restaurants. And explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England.

*The Canal & River Trust’s research was carried out by King’s College London, Nomad Projects and J&L Gibbons using Urban Mind, a smartphone based app to collect thousands of real time audits about participants’ location and mental wellbeing. Proof that time by water helps boost your mood | Canal & River Trust (canalrivertrust.org.uk)