10 Top Tips for Canal Boat Holiday Beginners

You don’t need to be an expert to hire a canal boat, and each year around one fifth of narrowboat hirers are new to the waterways. 

With Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways in great shape, there’s never been a better time to try a narrow boat holiday.

To help make your first canal boat holiday smoother, we’ve put together our Top 10 tips for beginners:

1. Do some advance prep

Boat steering tuition is provided as part of our holiday packages.  To get ahead of the game, take a look at the Canal & River Trust’s Boaters Handbook Video for some sound advice

2. Plan your route

The Canal & River Trust has interactive maps online to help you plan your narrowboat journey.  You can work out where to moor each night and canalside pubs to enjoy along the way.  It’s best not to be too ambitious so you can stay relaxed

3. Keep to the right

Unlike cars on our roads, canal boats travel on the right side of our canals and rivers, so when you meet another boat, keep to the right.

4. Watch out for the cill

When in a lock, make sure the boat is kept forward of the cill (step) inside the lock.  And check all paddles and gates are shut after you’ve used a lock, unless you see another boat approaching.

5. Sharing is caring

If possible, always share a lock with other boats to save water.  And it means you can share the lock operating work too.

6. Embrace the slower pace

There’s a 4mph speed limit on the canals, but you’re going too fast if you’re creating too much wash.  This disturbs wildlife, moored boats and anglers and it erodes the banks. So keep it slow and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life.

7. Practice good mooring etiquette

When mooring up at busy spots, make sure you don’t leave a big gap. And never moor opposite winding holes, on bends, near to bridges, on lock landings (unless waiting to lock through) or at water points (unless filling up).

8. Opt for a pet friendly stern

If you are bringing your dog, or you simply want a bit of extra outside space, opt for a cruiser stern narrowboat rather than a semi-traditional stern.

9. Be greener

Remember to pack your re-useable shopping bags, re-useable plastic bottles and coffee cups to help limit the amount of plastic used on your holiday afloat.

10. Bring some on board entertainment

For cosy nights in, bring along some cards and board games, as well some DVD’s. TV reception isn’t always available on the canals and WiFi strength can vary too.


Boris the lizard enjoys a canal boat holiday

Gareth Butterfield recently took a Drifters’ press trip on the Coventry Canal, setting off from our new canal boat hire base at Springwood Haven Marina.  Gareth was joined by this wife, their two dogs and Boris the Bearded Dragon.  Gareth describes their pet-friendly staycation afloat:

“And there was me thinking it was a cheeky request, “Can I take a lizard on board?” I sheepishly asked the nice people at Springwood Haven Marina, a few weeks before we were due to rent a narrowboat for a midweek.

“Yes, no problem,” was essentially the reply, as if it was a perfectly normal thing to ask.

“I’ve since learned Drifters canal boat hire operators, including ABC Boat Hire, have always been very open to the idea of pets joining their owners on board. And it’s a good job, because along with my wife’s six-year-old Bearded Dragon, we took our two dogs. And we all loved it. Even the lizard.

“Travelling with a lizard does bring a few complications.

“Bearded Dragons are cold-blooded, so they need to be kept warm. That’s easy when it’s sunny, but when they’re not able to bask in the sunshine they need to be under a heat lamp.

“Our portable vivarium was set up during the pandemic so we could take Boris with us in our motorhome, but it slotted in nicely on shelf in the boat’s bedroom. The boat’s batteries weren’t troubled even slightly by the 100w basking light.

“As a rule, Boris is very docile, and he happily sits and watches the world go by while we travel with him. He loves the motorhome, and he took to the boat like, er, a lizard to water.

“We had a nice, sunny start to the week. 

“Boris happily sat out on my wife’s chest while we cruised up the Ashby Canal. Then, when the weather turned colder, he quickly established his favourite spot inside was on the back of the sofa, cosying up to his hot-water bottle.

“Lizards like to climb, and Boris loves having a view out of the window so this was a perfect vantage point.

“The dogs were much happier to be outside on the stern with me while we were cruising, even when temperatures plummeted.

“They loved watching out for ducks, swans and geese, and there were plenty of opportunities to stop and give them a walk up and down the towpath.

“If you’re anything like me and my wife, you’ll know how nice it is to share your holiday experiences with your pets, and watching them adapt to a new environment like a boat is endlessly entertaining.

“We went to great lengths to ensure Boris could join us on motorhome trips, but bringing him on a boat felt like a leap into the unknown. But it was made very easy for us, and turned into a great experience.

“We can’t wait to do it again. And we’ll definitely bring Boris with us.”

Top 9 Canal Boat Holidays for 2022

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can explore Britain’s beautiful 3,000-mile network of inland waterways.  And there’s a choice of hundreds of waterside destinations and historic canalside pubs to visit along the way.

Drifters offers over 550 boats for hire from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales.  2022 hire prices start at £550 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £760 for a week.  Tuition is included in all Drifters holiday packages.

Here are Drifters’ Top 9 canal boat holidays for 2022:

1. Cruise to historic Shardlow

In Spring 2022, Drifters will open a new narrowboat hire base at Springwood Haven Marina on the Coventry Canal in Nuneaton.  On a week’s break from Springwood Haven, you can travel to the historic inland port of Shardlow and back.  The journey passes through Atherstone, across the Tame Aqueduct, through Fradley Junction, Alrewas, Branston and Burton-on-Trent, home of the National Brewery Centre. At Shardlow there are over 50 listed buildings, including the Salt Warehouse, housing Shardlow Heritage Centre.  The journey there and back passes through 58 locks and takes around 49 cruising hours.

2. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath

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

3. Navigate to Manchester and back

On a week’s break from our canal boat hire base at Acton Bridge, you can cruise to Manchester and back.  The journey allows you to enjoy time in the countryside as well as well as the City.  The route, which travels a total of 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops and eateries, and the historic village of Lymm.  On arrival in Manchester, there are places to moor at Castlefield Basin, within easy reach of City Centre attractions.  To visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

4. Visit Warwick Castle afloat

From our boat yard at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, you can cruise to Warwick and back.  The journey there and back takes around 14 hours, and passes through 40 locks (20 each way).  Overnight moorings are available close to Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon.

5. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From oure base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Along the way, you’ll pass through just six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs.  These include the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

6. Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Norbury

From our base at Autherley, on a short break you can cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Autherley and back.  This rural route, which is perfect for beginners, takes boaters through 15 miles of peaceful countryside.  It passes through just two locks and a series of pretty villages with canalside pubs. These include the Bridge Inn at Brewood and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Ashton.

7. Spot wildlife on the Ashby Canal

On a week’s holiday from our Braunston base, you can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back.  You will travel a total of 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four each way) in around 32 hours.  This largely rural route goes 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 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).  This recognises the diversity of the waterway’s plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, and rare native white-clawed crayfish.

8. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

Our base at Trevor on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is next to the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  From there, you can reach historic Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District on a short break.  Standing 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the canal in a cast iron trough, supported by 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, you feel like you are floating above the earth!

9. Cruise to Todmorden for stunning Pennine scenery

On a short break from our Sowerby Bridge base in West Yorkshire, you can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal. The journey, which travels a total of 20 miles, passes through 34 locks and takes around 16 hours.  The historic town of Todmorden offers visitors fine Victorian architecture, plenty of pubs and restaurants, and a busy market.  Along the way, you’ll pass through the beautiful Calder Valley village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes. And the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, with a variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs and a series of scenic waymarked walks.

Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a canal boat holiday

One of the things that make our canals and rivers so special, is the wildlife that lives in and beside them.

You can spot anything from ducks, moorhens and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters and water voles. Even in the heart of our towns and cities, you can get close to nature on a canal or river.

Many areas of the Canal & River Trust’s canals and rivers in England and Wales have been designated as important nature sites, including 63 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and over 1,000 wildlife conservation sites.

To celebrate, we’ve listed our Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a 2022 narrow boat holiday:

  1. Bittell Reservoir, Worcestershire

Built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Bittell Reservoir at Barnt Green is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and home to over 200 species of water bird.  Boaters can reach the Bittell Arm in just 40 minutes from Drifters’ narrowboat boat hire base at Alvechurch, and in two hours from Tardebigge.

  1. Llangattock, Powys

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal follows the line of the Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is home to an abundance of wildlife.  For example, along the length passing through the village of Llangattock, there are kingfishers, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies to look out for, as well as bats at dusk.  Boaters can reach Llangattock Wharf in around four-and-a-half hours from our’ canal boat rental base at Goytre.

  1. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, Staffordshire

At Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal, Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including ducks, swans and bats.  There are sculpture trails, places to picnic, and a choice of places to eat and drink.  It takes around one-and-a-half hours to reach Fradley from Drifters’ base at Kings Orchard Marina, or six hours (passing through five locks) from Great Haywood.

  1. Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire

This tranquil SSSI stretch of the Ashby Canal offers the chance to spot freshwater mussels, rare native white-clawed crayfish, water shrew, dragonflies, damselflies, and a variety of water birds. Boaters can reach Sutton Cheney visitor moorings in around six hours from Drifters’ base at Kings Orchard Marina, and in around 16 hours (passing through four locks) from Braunston.

  1. Caen Hill, Wiltshire

The Caen Hill flight of locks at Devizes, is not only one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, it’s also an important place for wildlife.  The Jubilee Woodland is providing more habitat for woodland birds, and the side ponds provide habitat for fish, water birds, water voles, otters and the rare chaser dragonfly.  Drifters’ Devizes canal boat hire base is at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight, and our base at Hilperton is four-and-a-half hours away, with seven locks to pass through.

  1. Gronwyn Wharf, Montgomery Canal

The Montgomery Canal runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, and is one of the most important canals in country for nature.  Much of it is designated a SSSI, and the Welsh section is of international significance with a Special Area of Conservation designation for its aquatic plants.  Otters and water voles have been spotted there, and several nature reserves border the canal.  Boaters can cruise to Gronwyn Wharf from a number of Drifters bases, including Blackwater Meadow (six hours, eight locks away) and Whixall (10 hours, eight locks away).

  1. Consall Forge, Staffordshire

The 17-mile long Caldon Canal runs from Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent to the edge of the Peak District at Froghall Wharf.  Travelling alongside the River Churnet through woodlands and moorlands, boaters can look out for kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent, boaters can reach Consall Forge, next to Consall Nature Park in around nine hours, passing through 16 locks.

  1. Marple Locks, Derbyshire

The flight of 16 locks at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal are one of the steepest in Britain, and from there boaters can enjoy magnificent views of the Peak District.  Surrounded by beautiful countryside, including stretches of ancient woodland, there are many types of woodland bird to look out for, as well as bats.  From Drifters’ base at Stoke on Trent it takes around 16 hours, passing through 13 locks, to reach Marple Junction.  And from Bunbury it takes around 29 hours, passing through 48 locks.

  1. Ellesmere, Shropshire

The Mere at Ellesmere is packed with wildlife, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins, ringed plovers, curlews, greenshanks and herons. There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground.  Drifters’ narrow boat hire base at Blackwater Meadow Marina is on the edge of Ellesmere, and Chirk is just four hours and two locks away.

  1. Bingley, West Yorkshire

The fields either side of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Bingley, close to the Bingley Five Rise Lock Staircase, are full of wild flowers.  There are walking trails and places to eat, drink and picnic.  From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, it takes around 14 hours to reach Bingley, passing through 15 locks.

Celebrate 20 years since Anderton Boat Lift reopened

Next year, the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire will celebrate 20 years since the completion of its restoration in 2002.

Nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, and listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, Anderton lifts barges 50 feet from the River Weaver Navigation to the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Boat lifts are faster and more water efficient than lock flights, and Anderton is the world’s oldest operational boat lift.  The Anderton Boat Lift was designed by canal engineer Edwin Clark and originally opened in 1875.  The imposing iron structure is 60 feet high, 85 feet long and 49 feet wide.  It lifts boats up and down between the two waterways in two giant tanks.  Each tanks weighs 252 tonnes when full of water and is big enough for two narrowboats or one barge.

The Lift operated until 1983, when serious deterioration of the structure was discovered.  By 2001, £7million had been raised to fund its restoration and in 2002 the lift reopened.

To celebrate 20 years since the restoration, we’ve listed our Top 5 narrow boat holidays which include the chance to take a passage through the Lift:

  1. Take a short break to the Lift from Bunbury

From our canal boat hire base at Bunbury in Cheshire, it takes nine hours, passing through 10 locks to reach Anderton Boat Lift.  The journey begins on the Shropshire Union Canal and transfers onto the Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich Junction.

  1. Cruise to Barbridge via the Lift from Acton Bridge

On a four night break from our narrow boat hire base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire, boaters can reach Barbridge via the Anderton Boat Lift.  The journey there and back cruises 42 miles, passes through 16 locks and takes around 21 hours.

  1. Navigate to Nantwich from Anderton

On a four night mid-week break setting off from our boat yard at the bottom of the Anderton Boat Lift, canal boat holiday-makers can reach Nantwich.  The journey takes boaters down the Trent & Mersey Canal to Middlewich, and then on to the Shropshire Union Canal to Nantwich.  The journey there and back travels 46 miles, passes through 16 locks and takes around 21 cruising hours.

  1. Complete the Cheshire Ring

On a very active week, or a more relaxed 10-day or two-week break from Acton Bridge, boaters can complete the Cheshire Ring.  The route, which travels 97 miles, passes through 92 locks and takes around 56 cruising hours, takes boaters past the Anderton Boat Lift. The Cheshire Ring takes canal boat holiday-makers along sections of the Trent & Mersey, Bridgewater, Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest canals.

  1. Boat to Anderton from Whixall

Boaters can reach Anderton on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Whixall Marina on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal.  The route transfers onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Hurleston Junction and onto the Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich Junction.  The journey there and back, including going up and down the Lift, travels 82 miles, passes through 54 locks and takes around 48 cruising hours.

For more information about the Anderton Boat Lift, and to book your passage through the Lift, visit or call 0303 0404 040.

Exploring the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire

Last month, Elaine Wilson of Eccentric England enjoyed a weekend away on the Grand Union Canal.

Travelling with her friend Julie, she set off from our Stockton base, and travelled to Napton and Braunston.  She talks about the people they met, the places they ate and the features aboard their boat.

To read Elaine’s review, go to

Spend Christmas or New Year on a narrow boat

Drifters offers winter cruising over Christmas and New Year from nine of its narrow boat hire bases.

All our boats have central heating and hot water, and some of our boats also come with multi-fuel stoves.

Some routes will be affected at times by the Canal & River Trust’s winter maintenance programme, but the following routes are available over Christmas and New Year:

  1. Travel along the Stratford Canal to Stratford upon Avon – from our base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon. The journey takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside, passing through 17 locks along the way.
  2. Navigate the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bath – on a short break from our base at Monkton Combe, you can reach moorings in Bath City Centre in around four hours. The route takes boaters through Claverton and Bathampton and up the Bath flight of six locks.
  3. Cruise the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction – heading south from our base at Great Haywood, boaters can reach Fradley Junction in around five hours. The journey passes through five locks and 12 miles of Staffordshire countryside, including the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  4. Boat along the Llangollen Canal to Ellesmere – from our base at Whixall in Shropshire, it takes around four hours to reach the historic town of Ellesmere. The journey travels through the Shropshire Lake District, past Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park.
  5. Cruise along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to Birmingham – from our base at Tardebigge near Bromsgrove, it takes around five hours to reach moorings at Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.
  6. Navigate the Shropshire Union Canal to Chester – from our base at Bunbury near Tarporley, it’s a seven-hour cruise through the Cheshire countryside to Chester.
  7. Travel along the Llangollen Canal to Llangollen – from our base at Trevor in North Wales, it takes around two hours to cruise to Llangollen. There boaters can moor up in Llangollen Basin and enjoy visiting this beautiful Eisteddfod town.
  8. Cruise along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bradford on Avon – from our canal boat hire base at Sydney Wharf, you can cruise to the historic market town of Bradford on Avon in just four hours.

Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways

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

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

1. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the River Dee, the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain.  Built between 1795 and 1805, it has 18 magnificent stone piers, supporting a 307-metre long trough for the canal to run through.  Drifters has a canal boat hire base at Trevor, just a five-minute cruise from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

2. The Anderton Boat Lift

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

3. The Caen Hill Flight

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

4. The Bingley Five-Rise Locks

Completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers.  The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.  Drifters’ nearest narrow boat hire base is 25 miles away at Barnoldswick.  With 15 locks to pass through along the way, the journey to Bingley takes around 14 hours.

5. The Standedge Tunnel

Tunnelling for over three miles beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.  Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build and opened in 1811.  In the 20th century, the Huddersfield Canal fell into disrepair, becoming un-navigable by 1948.  But after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.  Today narrow boat holiday-makers need to book their passage through with a Canal & River Trust chaperone.  There’s also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Sowerby Bridge, 20 miles and 65 locks away. The journey to Standedge takes around 21 hours (three days).

6. Barton Swing Aqueduct

Built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening.  In 1863, when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct.  The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Drifters’ nearest base is at Acton Bridge, on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire. From there, it takes around nine hours, travelling 26 miles and through just one lock, to reach the Barton Swing Aqueduct.

7. The Burnley Embankment

Also known as ‘The Straight Mile’, the mile-long Burnley Embankment carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over 18 metres high across part of the town.  It offers boaters breath-taking panoramic views of the Calder Valley and surrounding countryside.  Though costly and difficult to build, the Burnley Embankment, which spans the Calder Valley, avoided the need for a series of locks. Designed by Robert Whitworth, the embankment was built between 1796 and 1801.  It involved the mammoth task of transporting (by horse and cart) around half a million tons of earth from the nearby canal cutting at Whittlefield and tunnel at Gannow.  Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Barnoldswick is just 11 miles away from Burnley.  There are seven locks to pass through and it takes around five hours.

Visit a Christmas Market by canal boat

Drifters offers winter cruising* on the canals from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug narrowboats for two, to larger vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a self-catering rural retreat with stops at historic waterside pubs and visits to Christmas markets and fairs at canal and riverside towns and cities.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players.  Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.  We also offers boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Drifters’ winter 2021-22 cruising prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £775 for a week. Here are our Top 5 Christmas markets and fairs to visit afloat:

1. Visit Stratford on Avon’s Victorian Christmas Market

This award-winning event is scheduled to be held 9-12 December.  Stall holders dress in Victorian costumes and there’s a range of entertainment planned throughout the town, including live performances.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The journey takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside, passing through 17 locks along the way.

2. Moor up in Birmingham City Centre for the Frankfurt Christmas Market

From 4 November to 23 December, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will fill New Street and Victoria Square, with stalls offering a variety of tempting food and drink, traditional toys, ornaments and gifts. Departing from our narrow boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes around five hours to reach Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.  There are no locks to pass through along the way.

 3. Travel to the Leamington Christmas market

On Sunday 21 November Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market will offer over 60 stalls with goodies, unusual gifts, stocking fillers, decorations and artisan food and drink.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, it takes just under an hour to reach moorings close to Leamington Spa town centre.

4. Navigate to the Whitchurch Silk Mill Christmas Fair

On 4 and 5 December, the Whitchurch Silk Mill will host a weekend Christmas Fair with a variety of stalls in the Mill grounds.  From Drifters’ narrowboat hire centre on the Llangollen Canal at Blackwater Meadow, it takes around five hours to reach the historic market town of Whitchurch.  The journey travels 12 waterway miles through the Shropshire Lake District.

5. Moor up for a festive break in Bath

Bath’s Christmas programme this year includes festive stalls in Kingston Parade and Abbey Green and an artisan market in Queen Square.  There will also be an illumination trail of historic buildings and traditional Christmas celebrations around the Abbey Quarter.  From our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Monkton Combe, it takes around four hours to reach moorings in Bath City, passing through six locks along the way.

*Some routes are affected by the Canal & River Trust’s winter stoppage programme

Exploring the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton

Countryman Magazine editor Mark Whitley describes his recent Drifters narrow boat holiday, cruising the Kennet & Avon Canal from Hilperton to Keynsham, via Bradford on Avon and Bath.

Created in the white heat of the Industrial Revolution, canals are nowadays places for pleasure and relaxation. One of the most popular canals is the Kennet & Avon Canal, and it’s a delight to explore by narrowboat.

I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Hilperton Marina, for a week-long cruise on the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Day One – to Bradford on Avon

At the marina, we were given a tour and tuition for navigating the canal aboard the ‘African Swift’, a luxuriously fitted out narrow boat, with all the mod cons. Then, we were off!

It was a short trip for the first day. Around three miles, and an hour-a-bit, later, we were tackling our first lock at Bradford on Avon. We’re all fairly experienced narrowboaters, but even for first-timers the locks are nothing to get nervous about.  Just take your time, and there’s often a Canal & River Trust volunteer or fellow boater on hand to offer advice or a helping hand if needed. We moored up and went to the Lock Inn Café for our evening meal and a few drinks overlooking the canal.

Day Two – to Bath

After a leisurely brunch on board, we set off towards Bath.  We crossed the Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts – two of the most spectacular and impressive structures on the whole of the canal network. There are moorings below Sydney Wharf for those who want to walk into Bath City Centre on a short break from Hilperton.

But as we were experienced boaters and we were away for a week, we navigated on through the Bath locks to join the River Avon. After a few hair-raising moments when the river current caught the boat, we managed to moor up. The strong currents, and rapidly changing river levels especially when it’s raining, mean boating on the River Avon is often more suitable for experienced boaters.  We spent a very pleasant evening exploring Bath, one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the country.

Day Three – to Bitton

In the morning we continued on along the River Avon, and moored up on the floating pontoon alongside Bitton Picnic Area. From here it’s a short walk to Bitton Station, home of the Avon Valley Railway. This heritage railway runs trains most weekends, and we arrived on a ‘steam day’. There-and-back trip takes about an hour, and it’s a heart-gladdening experience. We overnighted at the pontoon, and enjoyed the peace and calm of the water.

Day Four – to Keynsham

We had planned to boat into Bristol, but, at Hanham Lock we phoned ahead to the Bristol lock keeper (as advised) and he suggested, as the river levels were very high following so much rain, we should avoid the tidal stretch of the River Avon. So, we erred on the side of caution and turned round to overnight at nearby Keynsham.

Day Five – back to Bath

A couple of us took the train into Bristol to visit the Floating Harbour and the SS Great Britain. Then in the afternoon, with everyone back on board, we returned along the River Avon to rejoin the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath.

Day Six – exploring Bath

We spent the day exploring the delights of Bath. It is a World Heritage site, so there is plenty to see and do. In glorious summer sunshine, we visited the Holbourne Museum, Pulteney Bridge, the Royal Crescent and the Abbey.  After drinks in the beer garden of the White Hart, we enjoyed a take-away curry from nearby Bikanos Indian Cuisine.

Day Seven – back to Bradford on Avon via Claverton Pumping Station

Around lunchtime reached moorings outside Claverton Pumping Station. This rare and remarkable surviving example of Georgian industrial technology is now run by the Claverton Pumping Station volunteers.  They maintain it as an industrial heritage museum, which is open to the public most weekends.

In the afternoon, we re-crossed Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts. Dundas Aqueduct is also the junction with the Somerset Coal Canal, and we enjoyed a pleasant short walk along its towpath to the café at Brassknocker Basin.

Then we continued to Bradford on Avon to stop overnight there again, visiting the Barge Inn this time.  This left us with just a short journey the next morning to return our boat at Hilperton Marina.