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Castles to visit on a narrowboat holiday in England and Wales

Castles to visit on a narrowboat holiday

There’s a great choice of castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday.

From prison cells and dungeon tours, to ramparts and banqueting halls, Britain’s beautiful castles bring history to life.

Here are our top five castles to visit on a narrow boat holiday:

1. Explore the 18th century prison cells at Oxford Castle & Prison

Cruising from our base at Oxford on the River Thames, it’s a tranquil three-hour cruise to moorings at Hythe Bridge, close to Oxford Castle.  The journey travels six miles and passes through three locks.  Oxford Castle was founded by the Norman baron Robert D’Oilly the elder in 1071, but most of the fortress was destroyed in the English Civil War. By the 18th century, the remaining buildings had become Oxford’s local prison.  Today, as well as exploring the castle’s tower, crypt and mound, visitors can take a guided tour of the prison and learn about the lives of the people who were held there.

2. See the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

You can visit Windsor Castle on a narrowboat holiday departing from Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Berkshire. It takes two days to reach Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.  The journey travels 39 miles and passes through 22 locks.  With 1,000 years of Royal history to discover, including Charles II’s magnificent State Apartments, Windsor Castle is packed with treasures from the Royal Collection.  The Changing of the Guard ceremony, which takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am, is a colour spectacle of British pageantry, with a continuing military purpose.

3. Climb the ramparts at Warwick Castle

From our Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it’s a seven-hour journey, passing through 20 locks, to reach Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon. This is an amazing castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday! Dating back to William the Conqueror, Warwick Castle has ramparts to climb, the spooky Castle Dungeon tour to experience, the Great Hall and Staterooms to explore, and the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval period to witness in the Kingmaker exhibition.  There are also soaring birds of prey and trebuchet firing displays to watch, landscaped gardens wonder through and regular special live action performances.

4. Find out about the siege at Skipton Castle

Cruising from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes around 3.5 hours to reach Skipton Castle.  This 900-year old fortress is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England. And it’s very close to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal so it’s a great castle to visit on a narrowboat holiday. Skipton Castle withstood a three-year siege during the English Civil War.  Today, visitors can climb from the depths of the Dungeon up to the top of the Watch Tower, and explore the magnificent Banqueting Hall, Kitchen, Bedchamber and Privy in between.

5. Discover murder holes at Chirk Castle

From Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 40 minutes to cruise to Chirk Bank visitor moorings.  From there, it takes around 30 minutes to walk up to Chirk Castle.  Owned by the National Trust, Chirk Castle is one of several medieval marcher fortresses built on the Welsh-English border to keep the Welsh under English rule.  Started in 1295, Chirk Castle had the most up-to-date defences of the time. These include round ‘drum’ towers that allowed archers a wide firing field, and created a ‘killing zone’ where the fields of fire overlapped.  Today, visitors can explore the Castle’s lavishly furnished rooms and Adam Tower, complete with two-level dungeons, medieval toilets and murder holes.  There are also 480 acres of parkland with walking trails to enjoy, and a glorious gardens to stroll through.

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 you get the most out of your first canal boat holiday, we’ve listed 10 top tips for beginners:

1. Watch a boaters guide

Boat steering tuition is provided as part of our holiday hire.  But to get ahead of the game, take a look at the Canal & River Trust’s Boaters Handbook Video for some sound advice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXn47JYXs44

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 https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/planning-your-boat-trip

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.  An extra boat in a broad lock can save the equivalent of 1,000 bathtubs of 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, plastic bottles and coffee cups to help limit the amount of plastic used on your holiday afloat. And support the Canal & River Trust’s #PlasticsChallenge by picking up at least one piece of plastic litter each day.

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.

 

Top 7 summer canal boat holidays in 2023

Travelling through the countryside at just four-miles-an-hour, canal boat holidays are the fastest way to slow down this summer.

Drifters offers 550 narrowboats for hire from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales.  Our summer holiday prices for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people start at £835, and at £1,145 for a week.

We’ve published a guide to our Top 7 Summer Canal Boat Holidays for 2023:

1. Yorkshire: Toddle to Todmorden for some stunning Pennine scenery

On a short break from Sowerby Bridge, you can travel along the Rochdale Canal to Todmorden.  This historic town offers visitors fine Victorian architecture, plenty of pubs and restaurants, and a busy market.  Along the way, you’ll pass through the village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes. And the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, where the BBC’s popular ‘Happy Valley’ drama is set.  The journey to Todmorden and back travels 20 miles, passes through 34 locks (17 each way) and takes around 16 hours.

2. South Wales: Glide through the Usk Valley to Brecon and back

On a week’s holiday from Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can navigate through the Usk Valley on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal.  You can reach the pretty market town of Brecon, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Brecon offers theatre, cinema, cafes and restaurants and access to the National Park, with walking routes, cycle hire and pony trekking.  Along the way, you can stop off at Llanfoist to take the old tramway into the Black Mountains.  You could visit the 13th century caste at Crickhowell or walk to the Blaen y Glyn waterfalls at Talybont-on-Usk.  The journey there and back travels 51 miles, passing through 12 locks (six each way) and takes around 25 hours.

3. Scotland: Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh

On a four-night mid-week break from Falkirk, you can cruise along the Union Canal to Edinburgh Quay.  The journey starts with a trip through the world’s first rotating boat lift, the Falkirk Wheel.  You’ll then pass through two tunnels and soon after across the magnificent Avon Aqueduct.  Then it’s on through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho.  The journey to Edinburgh Quay and back travels 64 miles, passes through four locks (two each way) and takes around 22 hours.

4. Wiltshire: Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a short break from Devizes you can navigate along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Georgian Bath.  Along the way, the route passes a series of canalside pubs and the historic market town of Bradford on Avon.  You’ll also travel across the beautiful Bath stone Avoncliff and Dundas aqueducts.  There are moorings at Sydney Wharf, a 15-minute walk from Bath City centre. The journey to Bath and back travels 39 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around 19 cruising hours.

5. North Wales: Glide across the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular waterways on the network.  On a short break from Chirk, you can travel to the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen and back.  The route cruises the 11 miles of the Llangollen Canal UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the awesome Chirk and Pontcysyllte aqueducts. The journey from Chirk to Llangollen Basin and back travels 14 miles and takes around four hours.

6. Northamptonshire: Travel along the peaceful Ashby Canal to Shakerstone

On a week’s holiday from Braunston base on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, you can explore the beautiful Ashby Canal.  There no locks along this peaceful 22-mile waterway.  Just mile-upon-mile of countryside to enjoy, as well as the pretty town of Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field.  The journey to Shakerstone and back, travels 95 miles, passes through eight locks (four each way) and takes around 37 hours.

7. Shropshire: Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

On a four night mid-week break from Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, you can reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  The route passes through a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.  And through tunnels of trees in a series of deep canal cuttings. The total journey Market Drayton and back travels 42 miles, passes through 12 locks and takes around 19 hours.

Experience an October Half Term canal boat holiday

Narrowboats are like floating holiday cottages, with everything you need on board for a self-catering adventure afloat.  All our boats equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, flushing toilets, and most now have WiFi too.

October Half Term narrowboat hire prices start at £642 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £1,010 for a week.

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

Here are Drifters’ top six canal boat holiday destinations for October Half Term 2022:

1. Explore the ancient abbey at Selby

On a week’s holiday from our base at Sowerby Bridge, narrow boat holiday-makers can cruise to along the Calder & Hebble and the Aire & Calder navigations to Selby.  The journey there and back travels 96 miles, passes through 68 locks (34 each way) and takes around 40 hours.  The route passes through Wakefield, Stanley Ferry, Castleford and Knottingley.  Scenery ranges from leafy cuttings on the Calder & Hebble and farmland along the Aire, to industrial hinterland on the Aire & Calder.  At Selby, you can moor up to explore the ancient Abbey and market.  Selby also has a good choice of pubs and restaurants.

2. Boat along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal to Brecon

From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a week’s break you can navigate through the wooded Usk Valley to Brecon.  Situated in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Brecon offers theatre, cinema, cafes and restaurants.  This historic town also offers easy access to the National Park, with walking routes, cycle hire and pony trekking.  Along the way, boaters can stop off at Llanfoist to take the old tramway into the Black Mountains.  Or visit the 13th century castle at Crickhowell.  The journey there and back travels 51 miles, passing through 12 locks (six each way) and takes around 25 hours.

3. Glide along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Georgian Bath

On a mid-week break from our Devizes base in Wiltshire, you can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to overnight moorings at Sydney Wharf travels nearly 20 miles along the Kennet & Avon Canal, and takes around 10 hours.  From there, it’s a 15 minute walk to the centre of Bath.  Along the way, you’ll travel across two magnificent aqueducts and pass through 10 locks.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs to visit, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.

4. Cruise to Coventry to visit the Cathedral

From our narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin, The route travels along 28 miles of mostly rural waterways and passes through just four locks.  The journey takes boaters along sections of the North Oxford and Coventry canals.  It passes a series of towns and villages with canalside pubs, including the Royal Oak at Hillmorton and the Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

5. Glide across the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

On a short break from our base at Trevor in North Wales, you can cruise along the Llangollen Canal to the beautiful Shropshire town of Ellesmere.  Along the way, you’ll travel across the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  This enormous structure carries the canal 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, supported by 19 vast stone pillars.  Once in Ellesmere, you can moor up and spend time exploring the Mere with its Victorian gardens, woodland paths and historic castle.  The journey to Ellesmere and back takes around 14 hours and passes through four locks (two each way).

6. Navigate to Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man

On a week’s break from our base on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Gailey, you can travel to the historic market town of Market Drayton.  The route takes you through the pretty village of Brewood with a choice of pubs.  It also passes Belvide Reservoir and through a series of deep wooded cuttings.  At Market Drayton there’s a Wednesday market and choice of places to eat, many offering the town’s famous gingerbread.  References to people making gingerbread in Market Drayton date back to the late 1700’s.  The journey to Market Drayton and back cruises 68 miles, passes through 14 locks and takes around 30 hours.

 

Top 8 Halloween canal boat holiday destinations

With spooky tunnels, misty towpaths, bats, toads, spiders and ghosts galore, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.

Drifters’ prices for boats for up to four people for a week over Halloween start at £775.

Here’s a guide to our spookiest destinations for Halloween 2022:

1. Beware the Monkey Man at Norbury

The Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ at Bridge 39 near Norbury.  This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century.  Narrowboat holiday-makers can reach Norbury from our narrowboat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Brewood in around four and a half hours.  The journey travels 10 miles and passes through one lock.

2. Get spooked at Blisworth Tunnel

On the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  At 2,795 metres long, it’s one of the longest on the canal system.  When construction began in 1793, teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men.  A new route for the tunnel was found, and it finally opened on 25 March 1805.  Over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging.  But the tunnel runs straight through the hill so people must have seen the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel.  Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there…?  The Blisworth Tunnel is less than an hour away from our base at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around eight hours to reach the Blisworth Tunnel.  The route travels 18 miles and passes through 13 locks.

3. Look out for an eerie figure Aqueduct Apparition

The Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights, gliding along the towpath on the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  From our base at Whitchurch on the Llangollen Canal it takes around 14 cruising hours, travelling 25 miles and passing through four locks to reach the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in time for Halloween.

4. Prepare for a visit from the Viscount – the canalside George Inn at Bathampton is said to be haunted by the ghost of Viscount John Baptiste Du Barre, who was mortally wounded in the last legal duel fought in Britain. From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around nine hours to reach the George Inn at Bathampton, cruising 17 miles of the Kennet & Avon Canal and passing through eight locks.

5. Watch out for a shrieking boggart at Harecastle Tunnel

The Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal.  Harecastle Tunnel is a 12-hour cruise away from Drifters’ base at Stoke on Trent. The journey travels 22 miles of the Trent & Mersey Canal, and passes through 18 locks.

6. Witness some ghostly goings-on at The Navigation Inn

The Navigation Inn on the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge dates back to the 15th century, and served travellers along the old salt road from Chester to York long before the canal was built.  According to the landlord, there’s plenty of supernatural activity in this ancient building, including noises in the cellar, clocks that mysteriously stop and spirits that appear in the kitchen.  The Navigation Inn is very close to our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.

7. Beware the blood stained steps at Brindley Bank

The Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins. Christina was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body was flung into the canal.  Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, and the third was transported.  As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal, and it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones.  From our base at Springwood Haven on the Coventry Canal, it takes around 16 hours to reach Brindley Bank.  The route travels 33 miles and passes through 16 locks.

8. Look out for the ghost of a Roman Centurian in Chester

At the City’s old Northgate, where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat, a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the City.  From our base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Brewood, it takes around 26 hours to cruise to Northgate Staircase Locks in Chester.  The journey travels 52 miles and passes through 39 locks.

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 https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit/anderton-boat-lift-visitor-centre/boating-through-anderton-boat-lift 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 https://eccentricengland.co.uk/home/canal-boat-kateboats/