Debbie Walker lists the ‘Top 10 Canal Boat adventures for beginners’
Emma Cooke and Paul Miles explore ‘Canal boat holidays: the best UK routes, from the Avon Ring to Welsh waterways’
By The Countryman editor Mark Whitley
Britain’s canals were a product of the Industrial Revolution, built to serve the country’s economic needs, but in recent decades the canal network’s primary purpose has changed from industry to leisure, and nowadays canals are places for recreation and exploration — especially by boat.
The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal (known affectionately as the ‘Mon & Brec’) is one of our most beautiful and peaceful waterways. It meanders through the South Wales countryside for 35 miles between Brecon and Cwmbran. Built as a ‘contour’ canal, it winds along above the wooded Usk Valley, with panoramic views across the valley to the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.
The Mon & Brec is currently inaccessible from any other waterway and, being a rural canal, it does not pass through any large towns or cities, and so remains totally unspoilt. A boat trip along the Mon & Brec is perfect for narrowboat novices, particularly over a week. It’s lovely and quiet, thee plenty of places to stop en route and there are only six locks along the entire length of the waterway.
The Mon & Brec was originally two separate canals — the Monmouthshire Canal, and the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, both built in the 1790’s to transport iron, coal and lime. The two canals were finally linked at Pontymoile in 1812, with the amalgamation of both canals in 1865 as the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. The stretch of the Mon & Brec still navigable nowadays is mostly the former Brecknock & Abergavenny. And a very picturesque stretch it is, too — though there are still reminders of the canal’s industrial heyday.
Day 1: Goytre Wharf–Gilwern – 8.5 miles, 3 hours’ boating (all times approx)
My exploration of the Mon & Brec began on a summer Friday afternoon at Drifters’ narrowboat hire base Goytre Wharf. Goytre Wharf itself is well worth exploring, either before or after your narrowboat trip. There is an exceptionally well-preserved set of limekilns. The legacy of the Mon & Brec’s role in the lime industry is impressive, with seven sets of kilns still in existence. Other reminders of the canal’s industrial heritage include an aqueduct and Machine Cottage. There is also a heritage centre, shop and café.
At the boat yard, the helpful and friendly staff welcome me and my two companions, and give us a helpful overview of the well-appointed narrowboat which will be our home-from-home for the next week.
Before long we’re setting off and enjoying a pleasant cruise past Llanfoist and Govilon to our planned overnight stop at Gilwern, where we moor up and head off to the nearby Beaufort Arms for a well-earned drink or two, before returning to our boat for a home-cooked meal and a relaxing night’s sleep.
Day 2: Gilwern—Llangattock; 3.5 miles, 1.5 hours
There isn’t much boating planned for today, so we enjoy a leisurely breakfast before continuing on Llangattock, our next overnight stop. We decide to moor up at Bridge 106 for lunch, then head off on foot over the bridge and up an easy-to-follow footpath to the hamlet of Llanelli and its medieval church. From here, there are panoramic views back down over the canal and the Usk Valley to the Black Mountains.
Once back on board, we continue to Llangattock. An easy half-mile walk downhill through Llangattock (look out for the footpath past the church which goes through fields) leads to the attractive town of Crickhowell, where a 17th-century bridge spans the River Usk. Alongside is the Crickhowell Bridge Inn, a perfect spot to while away a warm summer’s evening.
Day 3: Llangattock–Talybont; 8.5 miles, 5 locks, 5 hours
From Llangattock, we continue on to Llangyndir Locks, a flight of five locks which lift the canal 50 feet. These are the only locks we’ll encounter en route. Navigating a lock is easy – just take your time, be guided by any volunteer lock-keepers on duty and “Imagine a bath with a plug and taps at both ends, which you have to empty and fill” (which is the best description I was ever given).
We continue to our overnight stop at Talybont. It’s a beautiful spot, with the classic combination of canal, spectacular views and canalside pubs, and we decide to change our plans and stop off here on our return journey — a decision we reach over drinks in the White Hart Inn … or maybe it was in the beer garden of the Star Inn?
Day 4: Talybont—Brecon; 6.5 miles, 2 hours
Our exploration of the Mon & Brec reaches its halfway point at journey’s end: Brecon, where the canal terminates. We moor up at the canal basin in plenty of time to fully explore this attractive market town. As a first-time visitor, I’m impressed with Brecon. It’s a thriving place, with lots of history and a good selection of shops to stock up on supplies. For our evening meal we decide to eat out at the Clarence pub, close to the canal basin.
Day 5: Brecon—Talybont; 6.5 miles, 2 hours
It’s deja vu today, albeit in reverse, as we begin our return journey with a pleasant couple of hours’ boating back to Talybont. Since we’ve already done this stretch, it’s a chance to relax even more and enjoy the rich diversity of wildlife and wildlife habitats — all indicative of a healthy ecosystem.
Day 6: Talybont—Llangattock; 8.5 miles, 5 locks, 5 hours
Going down! Today we navigate Llangyndir Locks again, descending this time. Our overnight stop is Llangattock, as on our outward journey.
Day 7: Llangattock—Goytre Wharf; 12 miles, 5 hours
This is the longest day in terms of miles navigated, since we plan to boat all the way back to Goytre Wharf today, so that we are right next to the marina for departure day tomorrow morning. The other option would be to stop overnight a little way from the marina and boat in the next morning, but we prefer to do it this way, based on our previous boating experiences.
Day 8: Disembarking
We disembark in the morning, well before the 10am cut-off point, and load up the car, sad to depart after such an enjoyable adventure. Beautiful countryside, diverse wildlife habitats, impressive architectural remains, and an excellent selection of places to eat and drink — an exploration of the Mon & Brec has much to recommend it.
From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore hundreds of waterside destinations and enjoy taking refreshment at historic canalside pubs.
Here are Drifters’ Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019:
1. Go star gazing on the Mon & Brec – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, said to have some of some of the highest quality dark skies, perfect for star gazing. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain. On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails and eateries, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.
2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday you can travel to Leicester and back. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encountering 24 locks, and passing through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy, including The Three Horseshoes at Wistow, and the canalside Navigation Inn at Kilby. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for exploring local attractions, including the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains.
3. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from our canal 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, boaters travel up the spectacular flight of 16 locks in a row at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, passing close to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest. Once at Hungerford, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy dining at a choice of pubs and browsing in dozens of antique shops.
4. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes canal boat holiday-makers up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish.
5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Llangollen and back – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the stunning hill surrounded town of Llangollen, can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough holding the canal across iron arched ribs and 19 enormous hollow pillars. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.
6. Cruise the Birmingham mini-ring – with more canals than Venice, travelling by boat is the best way to tour Britain’s vibrant second City. On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Tardebigge boat yard on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, canal boat holiday-makers can travel the Birmingham Mini-Ring, cruising for 27 hours and passing through 49 locks. The route begins by passing through the remains of the Forest of Arden, with quiet villages and historic waterside pubs to enjoy along the way, and then heads right into the heart of Birmingham. Here boaters can moor up and explore some of the City’s top attractions, including the Thinktank Science Museum and Mailbox Shopping Centre. Travelling out of Birmingham on a different canal, the route connects with the Grand Union Canal and the journey becomes gradually more rural again as it loops back round through Lapworth and along part of the Stratford Canal.
7. Travel one-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge or Ashton-under-Lyne, this week-long epic journey takes around 40 cruising hours, travelling 33 miles and passing through 97 locks. If beginning at Sowerby Bridge, the route first travels down the Calder & Hebble Navigation past Brighouse, then after a short river section the journey switches onto the Huddersfield Broad, taking boaters into Huddersfield City Centre. After that the canal goes up the Colne Valley into the hills and on to the villages of Slaithwaite, then Marsden, before reaching the summit over 644 feet above sea level and the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel. The passage of boats through the incredible three-and-a-quarter mile long tunnel is guided by Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers. After the tunnel, the canal descends quickly through the Diggle Flight and into the Saddleworth villages, before reaching the centre of Stalybridge, and finally Ashton.
8. Navigate the Droitwich Ring – setting off from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Worcester on the beautiful River Severn, canal boat holiday makers can navigate the Droitwich Ring, the only waterway cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a 21-mile loop with 33 locks along the way, that can be completed in just less than 15 hours.
9. Potter through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break. The route begins by passing over the 35-metre high Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, and on through miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries.
10. Glide through the Peak District to Cheddleton and back – on a short break from Drifters’ Peak District narrowboat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, you can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal, reaching Cheddleton Flint Mill in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks and travelling just over 11 miles. As the Caldon Canal leaves Stoke, it begins to pass through gently rolling hills and wooded areas, past old mills and then alongside the stunning River Churnet. At Denford, the Hollybush Inn is popular with boaters and at Consall Forge, the secluded Black Lion pub serves good food and real ales.
Narrowboat holidays are fantastic for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, learning how to navigate the waterways and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside pubs and attractions along the way.
So if you are thinking of packing up and shipping out this October half term, take a look at our top 8 destinations, all suitable for beginners:
1. Glide through the Usk Valley to Brecon and back – the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a week’s break boaters can cruise through the wooded Usk Valley to the pretty market town of Brecon and back. Along the way, boaters can stop off at Llanfoist to take the old tramway into the Black Mountains, the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls. The total journey there and back travels 51 miles, passing through 12 locks and takes around 25 hours.
2. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our narrowboat boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, right next to the spectacular Caen Hill flight of locks, canal boat holiday-makers can travel west to the beautiful World Heritage Status City of Bath, famous for its stunning Georgian architecture. Along the way, boaters travel across two magnificent aqueducts crafted out of Bath stone and can enjoy stopping off at some excellent canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend, the Lock Inn at Bradford upon Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Arriving at Sydney Gardens just outside Bath City Centre, boaters can find quiet moorings just a 15-minute walk from Bath’s major attractions. The journey to Bath takes around nine hours, travelling 19 miles and passing through eight locks.
3. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from our boat yard at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, boaters can transfer onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds peacefully through countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field. Here in 1485 the reign of Richard III ended and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.
4. Visit the historic Yorkshire mill town of Hebden Bridge…on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours. Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and markets as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.
5. Explore Birmingham by boat – with more canals than Venice and incredible canalside regeneration areas like Brindleyplace, there’s no better way to explore Birmingham than by boat. From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to reach City Centre moorings at Gas Street Basin, the perfect base for exploring the many attractions of Britain’s vibrant Second City, including the fantastic Thinktank Science Museum. With no locks along the way, it’s a great route for beginners to enjoy testing the waters.
6. Potter to Sale and back via Lymm – from our canal boat hire base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, it takes around eight peaceful hours, travelling 22 miles and passing through just one lock to reach Sale Bridge. Along the way, narrowboat holiday-makers encounter the 1,133-metre long Preston Tunnel and cruise along a section of the Bridgewater Canal, which passes through the pretty town of Lymm.
7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow and back – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break (three or four nights). The route starts with a journey through the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift which replaced a flight of 11 locks and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, plus miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.
8. Travel across the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular on the network. On a short break from our canal barge hire base at Trevor, boaters can travel seven peaceful miles to Ellesmere and back, with just two locks to pass through and the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with stunning views of the Dee Valley below to travel across. Once at Ellesmere, boaters can explore the famous Mere with its historic castle, woodland paths and fascinating wildlife.
Day boat hire on the canals offers the chance to treat Dads with a fun day out on the water, nourished by a pint and a pub lunch along the way.
Drifters offers day boat hire from 18 canal boat hire yards, from less than £10 per person. Full tuition is included so if you are new to canal boating, you can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.
Our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.
Here’s a list of our top 10 day boat hire centres for 2018:
1. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our narrowboat hire base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it’s a 20-minute cruise to the World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing at over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly one of the wonders of the waterways, offering stunning views of the Dee Valley below. After cruising over the Aqueduct, takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach Chirk and the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid. ****Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £120 for up to 10 people, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
2. Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from our canal boat rental centre at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way. Once there, day-boaters can moor up and visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals. And there are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ****Day boat hire aboard ‘Daylark’ which can carry up to 12 people, starts at £130 on a weekday, £165 on weekends and bank holidays.
3. Head out into open countryside on the Coventry Canal – from our boat yard at Coventry Basin, day boaters can travel north out of the city past the Ricoh Stadium and out into the open countryside, reaching Hawkesbury Junction in around two peaceful hours. Here The Greyhound pub offers a great place to stop for lunch or dinner if you’ve opted for evening hire. ****’Mole Valley’ can take up to 12 passengers, weekday hire starts at £180, weekends and bank holidays it’s £210.
4. Catch a lift on the Falkirk Wheel – from Falkirk at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in Scotland, day boat hirers can travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel, the World’s first rotating boat lift and along the Union Canal to Polmont, where they can moor up and enjoy a short walk to The Claremont Inn. Or continue on to the canalside Bridge 49 café bar and bistro, next to Causewayend Marina. ****Day boat hire on the ‘Jaggy Thistle’ which can carry up to eight passengers, is £220, Friday to Sunday.
5. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – our day boat hire base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, is next to the historic Anderton Boat Lift, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the canals’, was the world’s first hydraulic canal boat lift, transporting boats 50 feet between the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal in two giant water tanks. From Anderton, the canalside Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge), offering home-cooked pub food and cask ales, is an easy day trip away. ****‘Daydream’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £150, weekends & bank holidays £180.
6. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, boaters can enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad. ****‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, weekday hire from £130, weekends & bank holidays £150.
7. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother. ****Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
8. Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, day boaters can head west to the picturesque historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn. ****‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire starts at £105, weekends & bank holidays £130.
9. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, day boaters can cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Hopwood. The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through. ****‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £140.
10. Cruise through the Leicestershire countryside to Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the historic waterside Foxton Locks Inn. Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Victorian Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it. ****‘Moorhen’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £150, weekends & bank holidays from £200.
Taking a canal boat holiday is a great way to explore some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, including a number of our National Parks.
Pottering along at just four mph, it’s easy to unwind and take in the scenery.
To celebrate National Parks Week (24-30 July), we’ve put together our Top 3 National Park canal boat holidays:
- Travel through the Yorkshire Dales to Skipton – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (total journey there and back of 26 miles, 30 locks, 20 hours). This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of the Yorkshire Dales – sheep, farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town. Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England. On a week’s break from Barnoldswick, hire-boaters can travel on to Sir Titus Salt’s Model Town of Saltaire, designated a World Heritage Status destination.
- Glide around the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views. From our canal boat hire base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with wonderful walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn. Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m. On a short break from Goytre, boaters can travel lock-free to Llangynidr and back, stopping off at village pubs along the way, including the Lion Inn at Govilon.
- Potter around the Peak District – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Peak District base, at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Caldon canals near Stoke on Trent, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the Peak District to the terminus of the beautiful Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge. The route goes through the Harecastle Tunnel, joining the Macclesfield Canal at Hardings Wood and then travelling through Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple, before turning onto the Peak Forest Canal. On a short break, boaters can travel along the Caldon Canal through the stunning Churnet Valley to Froghall and back.
Each year, around one fifth of canal boat hirers are newcomers. A licence isn’t required to steer a narrowboat and all our operators provide boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.
Here’s a list of our top eight canal boat holidays for beginners:
1. Discover the Breacon Beacons afloat – the beautiful Mon & Brec Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, meandering from 35 miles from Brecon to the Pontymoile Basin. This quiet waterway, with very few locks is nice and easy for beginners and offers holiday-makers incredible mountain views and some of the darkest night skies in Britain. From our canal boat hire base Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s holiday boaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Govilon, Georgian Crickhowell, Llangynidr and Talybont-on-Usk.
2. Amble along the Ashby – a sedate journey along the 22 mile-long lock-free Ashby Canal is perfect for narrowboat holiday novices. On a short break from our base at Stoke Golding, boaters can amble quietly along past the historic market town of Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where in 1485 Richard III lost his crown to Henry Tudor. Then on to the pretty village of Shackerstone with its steam railway, before turning back to Stoke Golding again.
3. Visit Edinburgh afloat – from our base at Falkirk, it’s a peaceful 33-mile, 11-hour journey along the Scottish Lowland’s Union Canal to Edinburgh Quay, perfect for a week away afloat. The journey starts with a trip through the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, the incredible Falkirk Wheel. Next boaters pass over the magnificent Almond Aqueduct and then on through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, close to the City’s tourist attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish National Gallery.
4. Enjoy Birmingham by canal – With no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, and City Centre moorings at Gas Street Basin, just a stone’s throw from Brindleyplace, a trip to Birmingham is great for newcomers. It takes five hours to reach Gas Street Basin, passing through four tunnels along the way and past popular waterside pubs, like the Hopwood House at Hopwood.
5. Experience the lovely Llangollen Canal – from our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal, the peaceful journey to the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. As well as the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte and Chirk aqueducts to pass over, there are just four locks to pass through and views to die for.
6. Journey through the Peak District – from our Peak District narrowboat hire base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals at Etruria near Stoke on Trent, a journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal offers a lovely way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England, and an easy introduction to canal boating for beginners. Starting at the National Garden Festival site, home of the industrial potteries, it’s a gentle 12-hour cruise along the Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin back, perfect for a short break.
7. Wonder at the World Heritage City of Bath – from our base at Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, in the southern foothills of the Cotswolds, Georgian Bath is a six-hour, one-lock cruise away. The route passes over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of historic waterside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliffe. Once there, canal boat holiday makers can use their canal boat as a base to enjoy all that the World Heritage Status City of Bath has to offer, including the Roman Baths, the Holburne Museum, eateries and shops.
8. Cruise through the countryside to Braunston – from our base at Stretton on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks on this route so it’s an easy short break for first timers. The journey meanders through scenic wooded countryside and a series of quiet villages with rural pubs, including the Barley Mow at Newbold and Royal Oak at Hillmorton.
A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways, where the colours are dramatically mirrored in the water.
There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including the arrival of flocks of fieldfare and redwing arriving in October to search out the hawthorn berries in our hedgerows and small mammals like wood mice and bank voles, busily stocking up on berries before the winter.
And there are plenty of foraging opportunities along the way – narrowboat holiday-makers can look out for apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes and make freshly-picked fruit crumbles and drinks on board.
Here are our top seven autumn destinations:
1. Star gaze at Talybont-on-Usk…the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, boaters can journey through the the wooded Usk Valley, visiting historic market towns like the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle and picturesque Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls and some of the darkest night skies in Britain, perfect for star gazing.
2. Amble along the Ashby…on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Stoke Golding on the pretty Ashby Canal, boaters can travel lock-free to Snarestone and back, passing close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, which ended the reign of Richard III and led to Henry Tudor becoming Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs. The hawthorn bushes at Stoke Golding are said to be where Richard’s crown was discovered following the battle. Rich in wildlife, the tranquil Ashby Canal winds peacefully through the countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length and from Snarestone to Carlton Bridge, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
3. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal…from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and town’s shops, restaurants and museums.
4. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge…from our base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey there and back covers 14 miles, 20 locks and takes around 11 hours.
5. Enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside…Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, can be reached on a short break from our base at Market Harborough. From the top of the Foxton staircase of locks, boaters can enjoy panoramic views of the Leicestershire countryside and check out the tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift, an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there.
6. Step back in time in Bradford on Avon…the historic town of Bradford on Avon can be reached on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, with beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside and southern Cotswold hills to enjoy along the way. Bradford on Avon is an architectural treasure chest, with gems including the magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and striking Town Bridge over the River Avon. The town has many independent shops and places to eat, including the canalside Barge Inn and Mr Salvat’s 17th century Coffee Room, where customers are served by staff in period clothes.
7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow…from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow. Here, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.
May is a great time to take to the water, with the British countryside bursting into life and many of our waterside towns and cities putting on special events over the bank holiday weekend.
Our 2016 late May bank holiday (27-30 May) canal boat hire prices start at £625 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £965 for a week.
Here’s our Top five narrowboat holiday breaks for the Whitsun Weekend:
1. Enjoy starry night skies afloat in the Brecon Beacons…from Drifters’ base on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal at Goytre Wharf, canal boat holiday makers can travel through the Brecon Beacons and enjoy some of the darkest night skies in Britain, perfect for star gazing. On a short break, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach Talybont-on-Usk and enjoy walking, cycling or canoeing from there.
2. Witness the Mighty Trebuchet Fireball at Warwick Castle…from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can reach Warwick on a short break and use their canal boat as a base for exploring Warwick and its fascinating castle. Over the Whitsun May Bank Holiday Weekend, Warwick Castle will be offering jaw-dropping history, magic, myth and adventure, including the new Horrible Histories Maze, Castle Dungeon, birds of prey shows and spectacular trebuchet fireball demonstrations.
3. Glide across the Stream in the Sky to the Llangollen Speed Fest…At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering, offering canal boat holiday-makers panoramic views of the stunning Dee Valley below. On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Chirk, boaters can travel across the aqueduct and reach the pretty town of Llangollen, with Steam Railway, Horseshoe Falls and the Llangollen Speed Fest (27-30 May), celebrating music and motor sport with exhibitors and acts from across the UK.
4. Cruise along the peaceful South Oxford Canal…on a short break from Drifters’ base at Napton in Warwickshire, boaters can travel along the South Oxford Canal to the pretty Oxfordshire village of Cropredy and back. The route passes through a flight of locks at Napton and is followed by four hours of gentle lock free cruising. Once at Cropredy, boaters can enjoy the Red Lion and Brasenose Arms pubs and stock up on provisions at the village grocery shop.
5. Travel through the North Wessex Downs…from Drifters’ base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire, boaters on a week-long holiday can travel to Pewsey and back, travelling through the North Wessex Downs Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty, dotted with prehistoric features. The route passes through a series of pretty canalside villages and towns, including Kintbury, Newbury and Hungerford with its Antiques Market, before arriving at Pewsey. Newbury can be reached on a short break, with nearby Downton Abbey fame Highclere Castle hosting its Country Show, 29-30 May.
RT @AbcBoatHire You can cruise to Stratford-Upon-Avon from Alvechurch or Worcester Marina. Visit Shakespeare's birthplace or immerse yourself in one of his plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Moor at Bancroft Basin and walk into the town centre. #Shakespeare #StratfordUponAvon #AbcBoatHire pic.twitter.com/oCc7qCrl2X