Tag Archive for: Leeds & Liverpool Canal

‘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)

 

Top 9 canal boat holidays for 2023

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways.  There’s a choice of hundreds of waterside destinations and historic canalside pubs to stop-off at along the way.

Drifters offers over 550 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  2023 hire prices start at £590 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £815 for a week.  Tuition is included in the price of all our holiday hires, and many of our operators are currently offering early-bird booking discounts.

Here are Drifters’ Top 9 narrowboat holidays for 2023:

1. Cruise through the Cheshire countryside to Wrenbury Mill

From our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal, it’s a peaceful 10-mile cruise through the Cheshire countryside to Wrenbury Mill.  The route, which passes through 11 locks and takes around six hours, starts on the Shropshire Union Canal and transfers onto the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston Junction.  At Wrenbury Mill, you can moor up for country walks and a choice of pubs, including the popular Dusty Miller.

2. Navigate the Black Country Ring

On a week’s holiday from our base at Kings Orchard in Staffordshire, you can navigate the Black Country Ring. The journey takes in a mixture of urban and rural scenery, and travels sections of the Coventry, Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire, New Birmingham Main Line and Birmingham & Fazeley canals.  Travelling 75 miles, and passing through 79 locks, the route takes around 43 cruising hours.  Highlights include: the quiet waters at Tixall Wide; Gas Street Basin in the centre of Birmingham; and Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction.

3. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath

On a mid-week break from our base at Devizes in Wiltshire, you can travel along the Kennet & Avon Canal to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, on the edge of Bath City Centre.  The journey travels 19 miles, passes through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  On the way, the route passes through the village of Seend with its popular canalside Barge Inn, and the historic town of Bradford on Avon, with a choice of independent shops and restaurants.  Once at Sydney Wharf, you can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre.

4. Explore the Llangollen Canal UNESCO World Heritage site

Setting off on a week’s holiday from our base at Whitchurch in Shropshire, you can travel to Llangollen and back, navigating along the 11-mile section of the Llangollen Canal designated a World Heritage site.  Beginning at Gledrid, the World Heritage Site comprises a series of embankments, tunnels, viaducts and aqueducts, including the stunning Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  The whole length, described by UNESCO as ‘a masterpiece of creative genius’, has also been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument of National Importance, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The journey from Whitchurch to Llangollen and back travels 61 miles, passes through four locks and takes around 27 hours.

5. Complete the Stourport Ring

On a week’s break from our base at Stoke Prior in Worcestershire, you can complete the Stourport Ring.  The route includes sections of the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal, River Severn and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.  It travels 84 miles, passes through 117 locks and takes around 51 cruising hours. Highlights include: the Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks; Gas Street Basin in the centre of Birmingham; and the Cathedral City of Worcester.

6. Cruise to Fenny Compton and back

Departing on a weekend break from our base at Stockton in Warwickshire, you can cruise to the pretty village of Fenny Compton.  The journey begins on the Grand Union Canal, transferring onto the Oxford Canal at Napton Junction.  Winding gently through 15 miles of countryside, the route passes through 12 locks, and takes around eight hours. Pubs to stop-off at along the way include the King’s Arms at Napton-on-the-Hill, and The Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton.

7. Visit Skipton and its medieval castle

Enjoying a weekend break from our Barnoldswick base, you can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton.  The journey there and back travels 26 miles, passes through 30 locks (15 each way) and takes around 20 cruising hours.  This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of sheep country.  Once in Skipton, you can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle.

8. Travel slowly through the countryside to Hawkesbury Junction

On a weekend break from our base at Braunston, you can cruise slowly through the Northamptonshire countryside to Hawkesbury Junction. The route begins on the Grand Union Canal, transferring onto the North Oxford Canal at the Braunston Turn.  Travelling 23 miles to Hawkesbury, passing through four locks and Newbold Tunnel along the way, the journey takes around seven hours.  Pubs to stop off at include: the Bell Inn at Hillmorton; the Barley Mow at Newbold; and the Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction.

9. Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Market Drayton

From our base at Autherley in Staffordshire, on a mid-week break you can cruise to the historic town of Market Drayton and back.  This rural route, perfect for beginners, takes you along the Shropshire Union Canal through over 26 miles of peaceful countryside.  It passes through seven locks and a series of pretty villages with canalside pubs, including the Bridge Inn at Brewood and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Ashton.

All aboard for an Autumn canal boat holiday

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.

Narrowboats are like floating holiday cottages, with everything holiday-makers need on board for a self-catering adventure afloat.

Autumn 2022 hire prices start at £561 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £865 for a week.

Here’s a guide to Drifters’ top seven canal boat holiday destinations for Autumn 2022:

1. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From our canal boat hire base at Autherley on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 12 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man.  Along the way, you’ll pass through 26 miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, seven locks, and a series of wooded canal cuttings, now havens for wildlife.  The route passes through the historic villages of Brewood, Wheaton Aston and Gnosall. And a series of canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Aston.  There are nature reserves to visit at Wheaton Aston (Mottey Meadows), Norbury (Loynton Moss), and Brewood (Belvide Reservoir).  The journey to Market Harborough and back takes around 24 hours, perfect for a relaxed week away.

2. Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a four-night mid-week break from our Devizes base on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, you can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to Sydney Wharf takes around 10 hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts and passing through 10 locks.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  There are moorings a short walk from Bath City Centre at Sydney Wharf.

3. Explore Skipton and its medieval castle

On a short break from our Barnoldswick base, you can head east along he Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton.  The journey there and back travels 26 miles, passes through 30 locks (15 each way) and takes around 20 cruising hours.  This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale.  There are extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, you can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle.

4. Cruise to Manchester

On a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge, you 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, you can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

5. Travel along the Stratford Canal to Stratford upon Avon

From our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The route, which is perfect for a short break, passes through 17 locks.  Along the way, you’ll cruise through the Warwickshire countryside, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way.  Once at the birthplace of the Bard, there are over-night moorings in Bancroft Basin.  This is perfect to use as a base to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants, theatres and museums.

6. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

On a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Wrenbury Mill on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to the pretty town of Llangollen.  The journey takes 19 hours, passes through 12 locks and two tunnels. It crosses the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’, with amazing views across the Dee Valley and the Welsh Mountains.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Ratho

From our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful eight-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic village of Ratho.  The route to Ratho travels 24 miles, passes through three locks, two tunnels and over two aqueducts.  It also passes close to the historic town of Linlithgow, home to the ruins of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

Top 8 waterside museums to visit on a canal boat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers is home to dozens of waterside museums and attractions, many of them linked to our nation’s industrial past.

To celebrate, we’ve published a guide to the Top 8 waterside museums to visit afloat in 2022:

  1. The Black Country Living Museum

Famous as a filming location for The Peaky Blinders, this 26-acre open air museum on the Birmingham Canal Navigations, gives visitors an insight into life in one of the world’s most heavily industrialised landscapes.  From our narrow boat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge, it takes around eight hours to cruise to the Birmingham Black Country Museum.  The journey travels 23 miles and passes through three locks.

  1. The Leeds Industrial Museum

Next to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Canal Road in Leeds, this museum explores the inventions that shaped Leeds, from Scootacars to steam engines, and space food to Spirograph.  It takes around 26 hours to cruise to the Leeds Industrial Museum from our canal boat hire base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Barnoldswick.  The journey travels 40 miles and passes through 38 locks.

  1. The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port

On the banks of the Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal, this museum brings together a unique fleet of historic boats, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, with rich collections and archives, to tell the story of Britain’s canals.  It takes around 11 hours to cruise to the National Waterways Museum from our boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury.  The journey travels 21 miles and passes through 16 locks.

  1. The Hepworth Wakefield Museum

This modern gallery on the banks of the Calder & Hebble Navigation showcases the extraordinary work by the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. There are also works on display by Henry Moore, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.  It takes around 22 hours to reach the Hepworth Wakefield Museum from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.

  1. Warwick Castle

This incredible medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon offers a fantastic day out, with Flight of the Eagles displays, Horrible Histories Maze, Kingmaker exhibition, towers and ramparts to climb, the Castle Dungeon tour and Mighty Trebuchet firing spectacle. It takes around eight hours to reach moorings close to Warwick Castle from our canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.  The journey travels 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.

  1. The Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne

On the banks of the Grand Union Canal in Northampton, this quirky little museum in a historic tells the story of Britain’s canals through archive films, models and artefacts.  It takes around one and a half hours to reach the Museum from our canal boat hire rental at Gayton.  The route takes boaters through the Blisworth Tunnel, which at 3,076 yards long is the third longest on the canal network and takes 30 minutes to cruise through.

  1. The Anderton Boat Lift

Connecting the River Weaver Navigation and the Trent & Mersey Canal, the Anderton Boat Lift and its museum, tell the story of this incredible Victorian structure, nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’.  It takes around 21 hours to reach Anderton Boat Lift from our base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal. The journey cruises 21 miles and passes through eight locks.  Drifters also has a hire boat base next to the Lift.

  1. We The Curious in Bristol

Part of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, ‘We The Curious’ is a science centre and educational charity with interactive displays, a planetarium and exhibitions. It takes around eight hours to cruise there from our canal barge rental base at Bath.  The journey cruises 17 miles along the Kennet & Avon Canal and Bristol Avon, and passes through 13 locks.

Top 5 narrow boat holidays for the August Bank Holiday

Narrow boat 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.

A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat, and all our narrow boat hire operators provide boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

To celebrate the approaching August bank holiday, we’ve listed our top five short break narrow boat holidays:

1. Enjoy the remote countryside of Airedale afloat

On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Barnoldswick in Lancashire, you can cruise to Gargrave and back.  There’s stunning wild and remote scenery to enjoy along the way, as well as village pubs.  The journey there and back travels 16 miles, passes through 26 locks and takes around 12 hours.

2. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District

On a mid-week break from our canal boat hire at Wrenbury Mill on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  The journey there and back travels 39 miles, passes through 20 locks and takes around 22 hours.

3. Navigate to Chester and back for some Roman history

On a short break from our narrow boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, you can travel to the ancient City of Chester.  The route takes you through beautiful unspoilt countryside.  You’ll pass by the ruins of Beeston Castle and the village of Christleton along the way.  The journey there and back travels 24 miles, passes through 18 locks and takes around 14 hours.

4. Explore Birmingham by canal

From our canal boat hire base at Alvechurch on the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can cruise into the centre of Birmingham.  The route begins through open countryside, passing a series of rural canalside pubs.  Gradually the scenery becomes more urban as you travel right into the heart of Birmingham City Centre.  Moorings for visiting narrow boats are available in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace.  The journey there and back travels 22 miles, and takes around 10 hours.  There are no locks so it’s good route for beginners.

5. Drift through the Calder Valley

From our boat yard at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  The journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, you can moor up in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, and hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags

‘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.

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.

 

 

Yorkshire Wonders reviews a canal boat holiday from our Barnoldswick base

Last August, Nikki Turner-Chaplin and her family set off on their first canal boat holiday.  They travelled from our narrowboat hire base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Barnoldswick.  This is run by Drifters operator Shire Cruisers.

Nikki and her husband had enjoyed holidays afloat as children and wanted their two children to experience a canal boat holiday too.

They set off on the sunny August bank holiday weekend and journeyed east towards Skipton.  And then they travelled through the three locks at Greenberfield, under instruction from the Shire Cruisers team.

They moored for their first night at East Marton.  The following day they ‘headed further towards Skipton where the canal winds around and the scenery is stunning’.

Nikki and her family turned around before reaching Skipton and spent their second night at Foulridge. Here they ate at the Cargo Café and spent their last night at Salterforth.

Nikki’s blog includes a video review of their boat ‘Rutland’ and lots of images of canal scenery and their boat.

To read the review, go to https://yorkshirewonders.co.uk/narrow-boating-on-the-leeds-liverpool-canal-in-yorkshire-review