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Exploring the beautiful Mon & Brec

By The Countryman editor Mark Whitley

Boating on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

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.

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Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019

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.

Top 10 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 holiday packages.

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 water. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’. It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages. Once in the centre of Birmingham, narrowboat holiday-makers can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre 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 Drifters’ base at Trevor near Llangollen 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 awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.

3. Potter through the Peak District – our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals near Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break.

4. Glide through the Breacon 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 canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, narrowboaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing 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, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a delightful six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, canal boat holiday makers can use their boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.

6. Take a rural route to Braunston – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse 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 along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through pretty wooded countryside and a series of sleepy villages with rural waterside pubs, including Newbold and Hillmorton.

7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from Drifters’ 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 it takes just five hours of gentle cruising along the Trent & Mersey Canal 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 just four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Woolpack at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.

9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales – the journey from our narrowboat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes 13 hours and passes through three locks each way. The route takes boaters through the historic town of Skipton, with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands managed by the Woodland Trust. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms, easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.

10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our canal boat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for canal boat holiday beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one on the way, one on the way back), 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, with its half-timbered houses cottages and attractive Georgian houses, visitors have a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

Miranda Krestovnikoff on her canal boat holiday in Wales

Miranda Krestovnikoff on her canal boat holiday in Wales

Miranda Krestovnikoff, TV presenter and president of the RSPB, describes her recent Drifters canal boat holiday on the Mon & Brec Canal in South Wales:

It’s been several years since we’ve ventured out on the canals. On our last trip, a few years back, we chose to go in late October as it was half term. My long lasting memory was how cold it was. This year we hit the July heatwave and were thankful of the shade of the woodland we floated through, as the sun was so hot. It couldn’t have been more different!

We spent five days on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, travelling from Goytre Wharf to Talybont-on-Usk and back – a most scenic and tranquil route through breath-taking scenery, made even more beautiful by the fact that many parts of the canal are elevated and the views are just spectacular.

Arriving Monday lunchtime, we all boarded in a rush. Kids eager to grab the best bed, me trying to figure out where to put all our stuff and the dog clearly very unhappy. She’s not a water dog, although she had been on a few boats before. Tail between her legs, she looked at me – very put out.

Keen to get going, we cast off. I had forgotten how slowly it all went.

“Chugging” is the only speed you can really go at. You just accept that it is going to take ages to get from A to B. So you can’t fight it, you just need to let the canal take over and breathe….

Nothing could be done fast and most things had to be left to chance – which is calming and frustrating all at once. I’m a planner so I like to have my days and trips mapped out. Here there is only one option – to go forward until you get to where you want to stop….

Once we had woken up the next morning, everything seemed different. We had left our busy lives behind and entered the “canal zone” – ready to take in the scenery, the wildlife, peace and tranquillity that you can only get from being a long way for roads and cities.

Even the dog had stopped pacing backwards and forwards and whining, as she had done on the first day. She stopped looking longingly at the towpath, looking for an opportunity to jump off and was happily sleeping with the kids at the bow as they sat whittling hazel twigs.

I sat at the back with my husband, drinking tea and just watching everything floating by. Rustles in the reeds could have been a water vole or even otter, but were more often than not a lost duckling, separated from mum by this 48 foot barge gliding through its home. Sorry!

Life was still and calm. The kids were occupied and we could watch the wildlife. Moving so slowly, you don’t really disturb it. Herons merely glanced at us from their perches as we slid by underneath them. Kingfishers darted past – a flash of colour and then they were gone. At night we moored up in the woods, listening to the tawny owls hunting with their new fledglings, bats flew past as we took the dog out for a last walk before bed and all was so utterly still. It was perfect.

I loved the people that we met, too. Obviously similar types to us – walkers, cyclists, kayakers, paddle boarders and people just enjoying life on the water. Conversations at lochs resulted in the exchange of information about local pubs, interesting walks and how best to try and turn this big beast of a barge around when we got halfway! People were quiet and considerate at night and I slept so well from a combination of fresh air, good food and peace.

It was the ultimate getaway. We returned our narrowboat recharged and relaxed. The children had learnt about lochs, and helming a huge boat, whittled more hazel sticks than I care to imagine and played a lot of cards. We didn’t use the TV or the WiFi (although they were available). We just enjoyed being a family, together. Even the dog didn’t even want to leave. Now… when can we book up next…?

Top 8 October Half Term Canal Boat Holidays

Top 8 October Half Term Canal Boat Holidays

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.

Top 8 Easter destinations afloat

Top 8 Easter destinations afloat

Canal boat holidays are fantastic for families – offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, learning how to work the locks and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside attractions along the way.

Drifters’ prices this Easter start at £495 for a short break on a boat for four people, £775 for a week.

Here are our top eight destinations for Easter 2018:

1. Visit the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World – Perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from Drifters’ base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to find handmade Easter eggs in the World’s biggest Cadbury shop at Cadbury World. With more canals than Venice, boaters can travel right into the heart of the City where over-night moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace with plenty for families to see and do, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre and the Planetarium at Birmingham’s Science Museum Thinktank.

2. Join the Easter Boat Gathering at the National Waterways Museum – over the Easter Weekend, the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire celebrates the start of the Summer boating season with a large boat gathering and Sea Shanty Festival. From Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it’s a 10-hour journey to Ellesmere Port (travelling 21 miles through 12 locks), where canal boat holiday-makers can moor up and join the celebrations, passing through the historic City of Chester along the way.

3. Take in a show at the Egg theatre in Bath – on a short break from Drifters’ base at Hilperton near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, boaters can travel gently along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal, passing through Bradford on Avon and reaching Bath Top Lock in just seven hours, with just one lock to pass through. From there, it’s a short walk to Georgian Bath’s City Centre attractions, including the Roman Baths and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre where each evening from 29 March to 8 April a different selection of new plays written and performed by local adults and children will be performed as part of the theatre’s ‘Out of Your Mind’ event.

4. Go on an Easter Egg Hunt at Kinver Edge – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s a 20-hour, 37-mile, 32-lock journey to Kinver on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal. Kinver Edge offers visitors miles of wildlife-rich health land and woods to explore, and over the Easter weekend, starting from the site’s ancient Rock Houses, the National Trust is hosting daily Easter Egg Hunts. Kinver is on the route of the Stourport Ring, which can be navigated on a week’s holiday from Tardebigge, travelling a total of 76 miles via Birmingham, Kidderminster, Stourport and Worcester.

5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the incredible 1,000ft long Pontcysyllte Aqueduct consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 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. On a week’s holiday, boaters can also head east along the Llangollen Canal to Ellesmere and the historic town of Whitchurch.

6. See a T-Rex skeleton at the National Museum of Scotland – from our boat yard at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a mid-week (four night) or week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back. The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which lifts boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above. Once in Edinburgh, narrowboat holiday-makers can moor up in Edinburgh Quay to enjoy the City’s attractions, including the National Museum of Scotland’s Natural World Gallery with stuffed and model animals from around the world and a recreated Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.

7. Wend your way to Warwick Castle – said to be Britain’s greatest Medieval experience, Warwick Castle is a leisurely day’s cruise from Drifters’ Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire. Once there, canal boat holiday-makers can moor up in the centre of Warwick to explore the Castle and enjoy some of the special events planned there for Easter to celebrate the 950th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s motte and bailey castle, including the new ‘Conqueror’s Fortress’ interactive exhibition exploring the castle’s fascinating founding story and ‘Knight’s School’ where visitors can learn tactical defence skills.

8. Star Gaze in the Brecon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, now officially an International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only five in the world. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, a series of historic village pubs to visit along the way and dark skies perfect for star-gazing and seeing the Blue Moon on 31 March. On a short break from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, passing the Lion Inn at Govilon and the Bridge End Inn at Llangattock. On a week’s break, boaters can travel on to Brecon, passing through Talybont-on-Usk with its popular White Hart and Star inns.

Celebrate National Parks Week Afloat

Celebrate National Parks Week Afloat

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
Try canal boating for free at Drifters National Open Day Event

Top 5 half term holidays afloat

Canal boat holidays are great for families – take off together on a micro-adventure afloat, learning how to work the locks and speak the boating lingo, as well as spotting wildlife, exploring traffic-free towpaths and visiting waterside attractions along the way.

It’s easy to learn how to steer a narrowboat and you don’t need a licence.  Tuition is included as part of all our holiday packages.

All our boats are modern narrowboats with heating, well-equipped kitchens, quality furnishings, flushing toilets, hot water, showers, TVs and DVD players, and many now have WiFi on board too.

Many of our boats are now discounted for the approaching May half term holiday, so take a look at our top five holidays for families for inspiration:

  1. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and some of our best night skies for star gazing.  From our base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a short break (three or four nights) boaters can cruise to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with wonderful walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn and passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle and a series of villages with canalside pubs along the way.  On a week’s break, canal boat holiday-makers can continue on to Brecon, to visit its cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture.
  2. Boat lock-free to Birmingham and back – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between Drifters’ base at Alvechurch on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, and moorings Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre, it’s a great trip for newcomers to canal boat holidays.  It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, passing through four tunnels and past Cadbury World along the way. On a week’s holiday, boaters can complete the Black Country Ring, travelling through 80 locks and passing the Black Country Living Museum and Dudley Tunnel & Limestone Mines, as well as through a series of pretty canalside villages, with country pubs and walks to enjoy along the way.
  3. Potter through the Peak District – from our Peak District canal boat hire base at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, a journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal offers a fantastic 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, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin back is a perfect a short break.
  4. Travel across soaring aqueducts to Georgian Bath – from our canal boat hire base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a six-hour, one-lock cruise away. The route passes through Bradford upon Avon with its stunning 14th century Tithe Barn and over two soaring Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of historic waterside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliffe and the George at Bathampton.  Once there, canal boat holiday makers can moor up close to Sydney Gardens and 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, Jane Austen Museum, shops and restaurants.
  5. Take a rural cruise to Braunston & back – from our boatyard at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal near Northampton, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 17-mile cruise away, passing through the quiet Northamptonshire countryside with 13 locks and a series of villages with family-friendly pubs along the way, including Bugbrooke and Weedon. On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can continue on to Warwick to enjoy a visit to the town’s incredible Castle, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience.  This journey travels 36 miles and passes through 38 locks.

 

Top 8 Narrowboat Holidays for Novices

Top 8 Narrowboat Holidays for Novices

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.

Top 7 Autumn Breaks Afloat

Top 7 Autumn Breaks Afloat

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.