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Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways

The list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled 66 years ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA).  These amazing structures are still functioning today and make great destinations for canal boat holiday-makers.

Here’s a list of the Seven, with our nearest Drifters narrow boat hire base:

1. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the River Dee, the World Heritage Status 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 long trough for the canal to run through.  Drifters has a canal boat hire base at Trevor, 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 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 at Anderton, right next to the Lift.  The Canal & River Trust also operates a trip boat there.

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 is visually the most impressive in the country.  The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810.  Sadly by 1950 they had become derelict, but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Devizes 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, 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 gate of the next.  Drifters’ nearest narrow boat hire base is 25 miles away at Barnoldswick.  With 15 locks to pass through along the way, the journey to Bingley takes around 14 hours.

5. The Standedge Tunnel

Tunnelling for over three miles beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.  Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build and opened 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 narrow boat holiday-makers need to book their passage through with a Canal & River Trust chaperone.  There’s also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Sowerby Bridge, 20 miles and 65 locks away. The journey to Standedge takes around 21 hours (three days).

6. Barton Swing Aqueduct

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.  In 1863, 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.  The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Drifters’ 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 high across part of the town.  It offers boaters breath-taking panoramic views of the Calder Valley and surrounding countryside.  Though costly and difficult to build, the Burnley Embankment, which spans the Calder Valley, avoided the need for a series of locks. Designed by Robert Whitworth, the embankment was built between 1796 and 1801.  It 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 away from Burnley.  There are seven locks to pass through and it takes around five hours.

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.