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All aboard for an Autumn canal boat holiday

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.

Narrowboats are like floating holiday cottages, with everything holiday-makers need on board for a self-catering adventure afloat.

Autumn 2022 hire prices start at £561 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £865 for a week.

Here’s a guide to Drifters’ top seven canal boat holiday destinations for Autumn 2022:

1. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From our canal boat hire base at Autherley on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 12 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man.  Along the way, you’ll pass through 26 miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, seven locks, and a series of wooded canal cuttings, now havens for wildlife.  The route passes through the historic villages of Brewood, Wheaton Aston and Gnosall. And a series of canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Aston.  There are nature reserves to visit at Wheaton Aston (Mottey Meadows), Norbury (Loynton Moss), and Brewood (Belvide Reservoir).  The journey to Market Harborough and back takes around 24 hours, perfect for a relaxed week away.

2. Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a four-night mid-week break from our Devizes base on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, you can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to Sydney Wharf takes around 10 hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts and passing through 10 locks.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  There are moorings a short walk from Bath City Centre at Sydney Wharf.

3. Explore Skipton and its medieval castle

On a short break from our Barnoldswick base, you can head east along he Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton.  The journey there and back travels 26 miles, passes through 30 locks (15 each way) and takes around 20 cruising hours.  This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale.  There are extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town.  Once in Skipton, you can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle.

4. Cruise to Manchester

On a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge, you can cruise to Manchester and back.  The route, which passes through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, travels 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) and passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at along the way, include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs, 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. And to visit the Trafford Centre, you can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

5. Travel along the Stratford Canal to Stratford upon Avon

From our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The route, which is perfect for a short break, passes through 17 locks.  Along the way, you’ll cruise through the Warwickshire countryside, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way.  Once at the birthplace of the Bard, there are over-night moorings in Bancroft Basin.  This is perfect to use as a base to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants, theatres and museums.

6. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

On a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Wrenbury Mill on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to the pretty town of Llangollen.  The journey takes 19 hours, passes through 12 locks and two tunnels. It crosses the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’, with amazing views across the Dee Valley and the Welsh Mountains.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Ratho

From our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful eight-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic village of Ratho.  The route to Ratho travels 24 miles, passes through three locks, two tunnels and over two aqueducts.  It also passes close to the historic town of Linlithgow, home to the ruins of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

Top of the Locks 2022

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales, all enabling boats to travel up and down hills.

There’s no mystery to using locks – just a series of step-by-step tasks.  A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end.  By emptying or filling the chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of waterway.

There are many different kinds of locks, but they all on work on a similar principle.  With the lock gates closed, boaters should open the sluices (paddles) to let the water in or out.  When the water level under the boat is the same as the level it’s moving to, the boat can move in or out of the lock.

Some locks are operated by boaters, others by lock-keepers.  Tuition is included in all our canal boat holiday packages.  During your handover procedure, boat yard staff will usually be able to take you through your first lock.

To celebrate these marvels of canal engineering, we’ve put together a guide to the Top 7 lock flight destinations for 2022 narrow boat holidays:

1. Caen Hill in Wiltshire

Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  With 29 locks spread out over two miles, raising the canal by 72 metres, it takes around six hours to passage through.  The 16-lock section clustered together up the hill is truly a magnificent site, and one of the most iconic on the waterway network.  Drifters’ Devizes narrowboat hire base is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

2. Wigan in Lancashire

This epic flight of 21 locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is said to be one of the most fearsome on the waterways.  Descending 70 metres in less than two miles, it takes around five hours to pass through all the locks.  The flight travels through New Springs, a suburb of Wigan which was once an industrial hub with collieries and ironworks lining the canal.  Today it’s a post-industrial landscape of waste ground, modern housing and terraced streets.  From Drifters’ base at Barnoldswick, it takes around 19 cruising hours to reach Wigan Top Lock Junction, travelling 48 miles and passing through 20 locks.

3. Tardebigge in Worcestershire

With 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is the longest on the inland waterways system.  In total, the locks raise and lower boats 67 metres and it takes around five-and-a-half hours to travel through them.  In recognition of the effort it takes, the Canal & River Trust issues certificates to boaters rising (or lowering) to the challenge.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at the top of the flight at Tardebigge Wharf.

4. Bingley 5 Rise in West Yorkshire

Another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this spectacular staircase of five locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, 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 of the next.  It takes around one-and-a-half hours to work through.  The size of the chambers can be intimidating even for experienced boaters, but friendly lock-keepers are on hand to help.  Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is 25 miles and 20 locks away at Barnoldswick. The journey takes around 14 and a half hours.

5. Hatton in Warwickshire

The Hatton Flight on the Grand Union Canal was nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals.  This impressive flight of 21 locks raises boats up 45 metres over two miles, and takes around four-and-a-half hours to travel through.  Just below the Top lock, you’ll find the popular Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is eight cruising hours away at Stockton.  The journey travels 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.

6. Foxton in Leicestershire

Surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, this set of 10 locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal raises boats up 23 metres in just a quarter-of-a-mile.  Foxton Locks is the longest set of staircase locks in the UK, and is designated a Grade II Listed structure.  In staircases, the locks open directly one from another so that the top gate of one forms the bottom of the next.  It takes around 45 minutes to pass through. There are lock keepers on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles, “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead.”  Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is around 13 cruising hours away at Braunston.  The journey to Foxton Top Staircase travels 27 miles and passes through 13 locks.

7. Marple in Cheshire

One of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple raise boats by 64 metres over just one mile.  The locks are built of local stone and are mostly tree-lined, giving the canal a lovely secluded feeling.  The Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park.  Drifters’ Stoke on Trent canal boat hire base is around 19 cruising hours away from Marple Bottom Lock.  The journey there travels 32 miles and passes through 14 locks.

 

 

Top 8 waterside museums to visit on a canal boat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers is home to dozens of waterside museums and attractions, many of them linked to our nation’s industrial past.

To celebrate, we’ve published a guide to the Top 8 waterside museums to visit afloat in 2022:

  1. The Black Country Living Museum

Famous as a filming location for The Peaky Blinders, this 26-acre open air museum on the Birmingham Canal Navigations, gives visitors an insight into life in one of the world’s most heavily industrialised landscapes.  From our narrow boat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge, it takes around eight hours to cruise to the Birmingham Black Country Museum.  The journey travels 23 miles and passes through three locks.

  1. The Leeds Industrial Museum

Next to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Canal Road in Leeds, this museum explores the inventions that shaped Leeds, from Scootacars to steam engines, and space food to Spirograph.  It takes around 26 hours to cruise to the Leeds Industrial Museum from our canal boat hire base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Barnoldswick.  The journey travels 40 miles and passes through 38 locks.

  1. The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port

On the banks of the Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal, this museum brings together a unique fleet of historic boats, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, with rich collections and archives, to tell the story of Britain’s canals.  It takes around 11 hours to cruise to the National Waterways Museum from our boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury.  The journey travels 21 miles and passes through 16 locks.

  1. The Hepworth Wakefield Museum

This modern gallery on the banks of the Calder & Hebble Navigation showcases the extraordinary work by the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. There are also works on display by Henry Moore, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.  It takes around 22 hours to reach the Hepworth Wakefield Museum from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.

  1. Warwick Castle

This incredible medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon offers a fantastic day out, with Flight of the Eagles displays, Horrible Histories Maze, Kingmaker exhibition, towers and ramparts to climb, the Castle Dungeon tour and Mighty Trebuchet firing spectacle. It takes around eight hours to reach moorings close to Warwick Castle from our canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.  The journey travels 11 miles and passes through 22 locks.

  1. The Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne

On the banks of the Grand Union Canal in Northampton, this quirky little museum in a historic tells the story of Britain’s canals through archive films, models and artefacts.  It takes around one and a half hours to reach the Museum from our canal boat hire rental at Gayton.  The route takes boaters through the Blisworth Tunnel, which at 3,076 yards long is the third longest on the canal network and takes 30 minutes to cruise through.

  1. The Anderton Boat Lift

Connecting the River Weaver Navigation and the Trent & Mersey Canal, the Anderton Boat Lift and its museum, tell the story of this incredible Victorian structure, nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’.  It takes around 21 hours to reach Anderton Boat Lift from our base at Acton Bridge on the Trent & Mersey Canal. The journey cruises 21 miles and passes through eight locks.  Drifters also has a hire boat base next to the Lift.

  1. We The Curious in Bristol

Part of Bristol’s Floating Harbour, ‘We The Curious’ is a science centre and educational charity with interactive displays, a planetarium and exhibitions. It takes around eight hours to cruise there from our canal barge rental base at Bath.  The journey cruises 17 miles along the Kennet & Avon Canal and Bristol Avon, and passes through 13 locks.

Explore the waterways by canal boat this October Half Term

Canal boat holidays are great for families! They offer the chance to set off together on an adventure afloat, learning how to steer the boat, work the locks and stop at canalside attractions along the way.

A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat, and all Drifters operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.  All our narrow boats are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.

Here are Drifters Top 5 narrowboat holidays for beginners for the October Half Term holiday:

1. Travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse

On a short break from Drifters’ boat yard at Sowerby Bridge, you can travel to Brighouse and back. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, as well as great places to eat and shop. Along the way, you’ll pass through the historic market town of Elland and the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool.  The journey there and back travels 12 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around eight hours.

2. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District

From our narrow boat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, you can cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  The journey to Ellesmere takes around four cruising hours and there are no locks to pass through. Once at Ellesmere, there’s a choice of independent shops and restaurants, as well as gardens, woods and castle grounds to explore.

3. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

From our narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The journey travels 28 miles and passes through just four locks, perfect for a week away.  You’ll go up the North Oxford Canal, transferring on to the Coventry Canal at Hawksbury Junction.  The route will take you through the Northamptonshire countryside, and past a series of canalside pubs, including the Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

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

On a week’s break departing from our Gailey base on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, you can cruise to Market Drayton and back.  The journey there and back cruises 68 miles, passes through 14 locks and takes around 30 hours.  Highlights include: the historic village of Brewood; walks at Belvide Reservoir; and cruising through deep wooded cuttings.  There’s a good choice of  canalside pubs along the way, including the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

5. Visit Georgian Bath afloat

On a short break from our Devizes base in Wiltshire, you can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to moorings at Sydney Wharf.  The journey travels 19 miles, passing through eight locks and takes around nine hours.  Along the way, the route passes through a series of towns and villages with canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once at Sydney Wharf, you can moor up and take a 15-minute walk into Bath City Centre to visit the Roman Baths and other World class attractions.

Cruising the Avon Ring

The Avon Ring is one of a dozen or so popular circular routes for narrowboat holiday-makers.

It covers a distance of 108 miles, passes through 130 locks and takes around two weeks to complete.  Sections of the Stratford Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal, River Severn and River Avon make up the route.

Drifters has canal boat hire bases on the ring route at Tardebigge, Alvechurch, Stoke Prior and Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, as well as Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

Starting from Tardebigge and travelling anti-clockwise round the Avon Ring, from abbeys and canalside pubs, to theatres and Tudor mansions, here’s a guide to the highlights:

The Tardebigge Flight

With 30 locks in just 2¼ miles it’s the longest lock flight in the country.  There are fantastic views of the Worcestershire countryside to enjoy as boaters descend, with popular Queen’s Head pub to enjoy between locks 29 and 28.  Drifters’ Stoke Prior base is halfway down the flight.

Hanbury Wharf

The Eagle & Sun pub at Hanbury is a popular staging post for narrowboat holiday-makers.  It’s on the junction where the Droitwich Junction Canal meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Diglis Basin

Opened in the 19th century to allow transhipment of cargoes between the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Two broad locks take boaters down into the River, operated by lock keepers.

The River Severn

With the distant outline of the Malvern Hills in overlooking this magnificent river takes boaters through miles of peaceful countryside.  Upton on Severn is a good place to moor, with plenty of shops and pubs.

Tewkesbury

This historic market town with its 12-century abbey, half-timbered buildings and historic pubs is a great place to visit, and it’s here that the River Severn meets the River Avon.

Pershore

One of the finest market towns in Worcestershire, Pershore offers lots of places to eat and shop, and a magnificent abbey to explore.

Evesham

Site of another famous abbey and plenty of pubs and cafes too.

Bidford

The seven arched medieval bridge at Bidford dates from 1482.  Look out for signage, as only one of the arches is suitable for boats to pass through.

Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare’s home town has a great choice of shops, pubs, cafes, museums and theatres.  Bancroft Basin right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the perfect place to moor up and explore the town.  The Basin connects the River Avon with the Stratford Canal.

Wilmcote Locks

The Stratford Canal is a narrow canal and the flight of 11 locks at Wilmcote take boaters up to the village of Wilmcote.  This historic village is home to Mary Arden’s Farm, one of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s museums and where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.

Edstone Aqueduct

The longest cast iron structure in England, the impressive Edstone Aqueduct offers great views of the surrounding Warwickshire countryside.

Wootton Wawen

There’s another smaller aqueduct here, a Drifters canal boat hire base here and the Yew Tree Farm farm shop and Cowshed Cafe.

Lowsonford

One of a series of quiet villages through which the Stratford Canal passes, Lowsonford is famous for its Fleur de Lys pub.

Lapworth Flight

Fifteen locks at Lapworth take boaters up hill to Hockley Heath, passing close to the National Trust’s Tudor mansion, Packwood House.  There’s a good choice of places to eat and drink at Hockley Heath, including a Chinese takeaway and the canalside Wharf pub.

King’s Norton Junction

After passing through Brandwood Tunnel and the stop lock with its guillotine-like gate hanging overhead, boaters reach the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at King’s Norton Junction.

Wast Hill Tunnel

Turning left at King’s Norton Junction, boaters soon encounter the 2,726 yard long Wast Hill Tunnel.  The journey through the tunnel, which is wide enough for two boats to pass, takes around 30 minutes.

Alvechurch

There’s a choice of canalside pubs here.  The Crown and the Weighbridge at Alvechurch marina, one of Drifters’ narrowboat hire bases.

Just under an hour later, boaters will be back at Tardebigge.

Top 9 Canal Boat Holidays for Autumn 2021

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways.  And there’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including flocks of fieldfare and redwing searching for hawthorn berries.

Here are Drifters’ top nine narrowboat holiday destinations for autumn 2021:

1. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin, travelling 28 miles and passing through just four locks.  The journey takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal, transferring on to the Coventry Canal at Hawksbury Junction.  Along the way, boaters travel through the Northamptonshire countryside, passing a series of canalside pubs, including the popular Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

2. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal

From our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a seven-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The route, which is perfect for a short break, passes through the Warwickshire countryside, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way.  Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin and use it as a base to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.

3. Complete the Stourport Ring

On a week’s break from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, boaters can travel the popular Stourport Ring.  This circuit travels 74 miles and passes through 118 locks in around 44 cruising hours.  Highlights include: Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; and the Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks.

4. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

On a week’s break from our base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, boaters can reach the pretty town of Llangollen.  The journey takes 12 hours, passes through two locks, two tunnel and crosses over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  From there, boaters can enjoy amazing views across the Dee Valley and the Welsh Mountains.

5. Cruise to Manchester & back

On a week’s break from Acton Bridge, canal boaters can cruise to Manchester and back.  The route, which passes through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, travels 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) and passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at along the way, include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs, 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. And to visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal.

6. Drift through the Calder Valley

On a short break from Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, boaters can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 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 places to eat, as well as hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow

On a short break from Falkirk, boaters can experience a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands to the historic town of Linlithgow.  The route passes over the Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift), goes through two tunnels and crosses two aqueducts on the Union Canal.

8. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

From Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton.  Along the way, boaters pass through miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs.  Pubs include the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

9. Cruise through the Bath Valley

On a short break from Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, boaters can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back.  The journey to Sydney Wharf takes just six hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts and passing through one lock.  There’s a choice of canalside pubs, including the Barge Inn at Seend and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once in Bath, boaters can moor up a short walk away from the centre of Bath.

Tips for narrowboat holiday-makers, come rain or shine

Nigel and Kathryn Crawford of MrandMrs50Plus.com recently enjoyed a Drifters narrowboat holiday, setting off from our canal boat hire base at Worcester.

The UK weather is a fickle thing.  A May weekend on the canals can throw just about everything at you in just three days.  On our recent Drifters narrowboat holiday we bounced from blazing hot sunshine to driving rain and hail within hours.

A canal holiday, however, is beautifully versatile.  All Drifters narrowboats have central heating, little sun decks at the bow, and many are equipped with umbrellas and waterproof clothing.  Despite everything the weather threw at us, it didn’t in any way spoil what was a thoroughly enjoyable few days.

Narrowboats are homely and well-equipped

There’s even something quite tranquil and relaxing about pottering along the canal in the pouring rain.  It’s a totally different take on the waterway environment. It’s important to remember to close the cabin door when it’s like that though, to make sure your duvet doesn’t get wet on the bed below!  Notwithstanding the meteorological challenges, the boats are comfy, homely and well-equipped.

Planning ahead

As experienced boaters we had planned our little trip before arriving at the Worcester Marina base. We bore in mind the location of public moorings, water points, winding points (turning areas) and how many locks we’d encounter on our route.  In our earliest narrowboat escapades, I think in retrospect we were a little over-eager in our planning. On more than one occasion we ended up having to cover unnecessarily long distances to get back to base on time.  Nowadays, we’re far more conservative, focusing just as much on the moored-up time as on the canal transit.

The Importance of Maps

We can’t stress how important having a good detailed canal map can be.  It really helps you to plan ahead and avoids stressful twilight searches for suitable mooring places or watering points.  We always buy and download digital pdf maps that we can view on pretty much any device.  We particularly like those from waterwayroutes.co.uk. They’re an invaluable part of any waterways holiday nowadays.

Make space for chill time

We found a lovely mooring near The Bridge pub at Tibberton and found lots to see and do up around Droitwich Spa.  One possibility that we had considered was doing the ‘Droitwich Ring’ but we decided that it was an optimistic challenge for a weekend hire.  We decided instead to re-trace our steps back down the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to give us more ‘chill time’. It was a short, but memorable weekend to keep the narrowboating flame burning.

Find out more about Kathryn and Nigel’s adventures afloat here https://mrandmrs50plus.com/narrowboating-with-drifters/

Top 9 Aqueducts to glide across on a narrowboat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile canal network is made up of thousands of historic structures.  From impressive flights of locks to soaring aqueducts, these engineering marvels are exciting focal points for canal boat holiday-makers today.

Aqueducts were originally invented by the Romans.  But the idea of a ‘canal in the sky’ was initially ridiculed by the canal builders.  They were concerned about the amount of masonry required to support the weight of the water above.  However, the engineers found a way and dozens of canal aqueducts went on to be constructed across the canal network.  They have survived to become some of the most iconic sights on our waterways.

To help plan your 2021 adventure afloat, we’ve listed the top nine aqueducts to glide across:

1. The Stream in the Sky in North Wales 

Standing 33 metres high above the Dee Valley, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales has UNESCO World Heritage Status.  Designed by Thomas Telford, its 305-metre long cast iron trough in which narrowboats float, is supported by 19 enormous hollow pillars.  Ox blood was added to the lime mortar used to bind the masonry together.  It was believed the blood of a strong animal would help strengthen the structure.  You can reach this aqueduct from our hire boat yards at Trevor, Chirk, Blackwater Meadow, Whitchurch, Wrenbury and Whixall.

2. Avoncliff Aqueduct in Somerset

Designed by canal engineer John Rennie, the beautiful Bath stone Avoncliff Aqueduct carries the Kennet & Avon Canal across the Avon Valley near Bath.  It is over 100 metres long and 18 metres wide.  You can reach this aqueduct on a canal boat holiday from our bases at Bath, Monkton Coombe, Bradford on Avon, Hilperton and Devizes.

3. Chirk Aqueduct on the Welsh border

Also part of the Llangollen Canal World Heritage site, the striking Chirk Aqueduct was completed in 1801.  It was designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford.  It is 220 metres long and carries the Llangollen Canal 21 metres high above the River Ceiriog, using 10 circular masonry arches.  You can easily reach the Chirk Aqueduct from our bases at Trevor, Chirk, Blackwater Meadow, Whitchurch, Wrenbury and Whixall.

4. The Iron Trunk Aqueduct in Buckinghamshire

This magnificent engineering structure was the world’s first wide canal cast iron trough aqueduct.  It takes the Grand Union Canal 12 metres high across the River Great Ouse, close to the village of Cosgrove.  It was built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, and is made up of two cast iron trough spans, with a single masonry pier.  Our nearest narrowboat hire base is a five hour cruise away at Gayton.

5. Dundas Aqueduct in Somerset

Another magnificent Bath stone aqueduct designed by John Rennie, this structure on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Bath was completed in 1810.  It’s designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument and connects the Kennet & Avon Canal to the Somerset Coal Canal.  You can easily be reach Dundas Aqueduct on a canal boat holiday from our bases at Bath, Monkton Coombe, Bradford on Avon, Hilperton and Devizes.

6. Edstone Aqueduct in Warwickshire

Carrying the Stratford Canal across three railway tracks, a minor road, a stream and a field, this 146 metre long structure is the longest cast iron aqueduct in England.  Completed in 1816, it was amongst the earliest prefabricated structures, made up of 35 separate sections bolted together.  Our nearest canal boat hire base is just under an hour away at Wootton Wawen.

7. The Lune Aqueduct in Lancashire

This Grade I listed iconic structure carries the Lancaster Canal 16 metres high above the River Lune.  It was designed by John Rennie and has five 21 metre high semi-circular arches.  The nearest Drifters’ base is a week’s cruise away at Acton Bridge on the River Weaver.

8. Nantwich Aqueduct in Cheshire

The Nantwich Aqueduct offers canal boat holiday-makers panoramic views across the historic market town of Nantwich.  This Grade II* listed historic structure carries the Shropshire Union Canal over the A534 Chester Road.  It was designed by the famous canal engineer Thomas Telford and completed 1826.  You can reach Nantwich Aqueduct in just two hours from our base at Bunbury.

9. Barton Swing Aqueduct in Greater Manchester

This Grade II* listed aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal.  It opened in 1893 and was the first and only swing aqueduct in the world.  Weighing 1,450 tonnes, the 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Our nearest base is a nine-hour cruise away at Acton Bridge.

Top 11 Canal Boat Holidays for 2021

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

Here are Drifters’ Top 11 canal boat holidays for 2021:

  1. Explore the Staffordshire countryside from Kings Orchard – in March 2021, Drifters will be opening a new narrowboat hire base at Kings Orchard Marina on the Coventry Canal near Lichfield in Staffordshire. On a short break from Kings Orchard, you can cruise to the beautiful wildlife rich Tixall Wide and back, passing through Fradley Junction, Rugeley, Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Great Haywood Junction along the way.  The journey there and back travels 32 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 16 hours.  On a week away, boaters can continue on from Tixall Wide to complete the Birmingham Ring, taking them on a waterway odyssey with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, including Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham and a series of canalside villages with historic canalside pubs.
  2. Look out for otters on the Montgomery Canal – this beautiful canal, which runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on both sides of the border. The entire length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, making it one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe, providing habitats for many types of plants and animals, including otters.  Currently only around half the Montgomery Canal is navigable, including a seven-mile section from its junction with the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire at Frankton Locks to Gronwyn Wharf.  Work is underway to restore a further section, extending this navigable stretch to Crickheath, due to be completed in 2021.  On a short break from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk, it takes around eight hours to cruise to Gronwyn Wharf on the Montgomery Canal, travelling 15 miles and passing through 10 locks.
  3. The Warwickshire Ring – from Drifters narrowboat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel round the popular Warwickshire Ring. The journey, which can be done in a week but is best savoured over 10 days or two weeks afloat, travels a total of 101 miles, passes through 94 locks and takes around 48 hours.  Passing through a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, the route takes boaters along sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals.  Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; the pretty canal village of Braunston; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.
  4. Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Norbury – from Drifters narrowboat hire base at Autherley, on a short break canal boat holiday-makers can cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Autherley and back. The rural route takes boaters through 15 miles of peaceful countryside, passing through just two locks and a series of pretty villages with canalside pubs, including the Bridge Inn at Brewood and the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Ashton.
  5. Navigate through the Pennines to East Marton – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Reedley in Lancashire, boaters can travel along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal into North Yorkshire, passing through Nelson and then Barrowford, with its fascinating Pendle Heritage Centre and popular village pub. The route then takes boaters through seven locks and the Foulridge Tunnel, then on to the market town of Barnoldswick, with plenty of places to eat.  After miles of peaceful countryside and the three locks at Greenberfield, the canal winds its way through hilly landscape into the village of East Marton, where there’s a choice of canalside pubs and the canal connects to the Pennine Way.  The journey there and back covers 28 miles, passes through 20 locks (10 each way) and takes around 12 hours.
  6. Float through the Brecon 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, with very few locks, this peaceful waterway offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, a series of villages with country pubs and a wealth of wildlife to watch out for along the way.   On a four night break from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, boaters can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.  The journey there and back covers a total of 38 miles, passes through 10 locks (five there and five back) and takes around 18 hours.
  7. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from Drifters’ 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 (one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways) 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.
  8. Glide along the Forth & Clyde to visit Glasgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the incredible Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful nine-hour cruise along the Forth & Clyde Canal to the City of Glasgow – perfect for a short break. Along the way, boaters will travel 22 miles and will pass through five locks.  This scenic route passes through Auchinstarry, the River Kelvin Valley with magnificent views of the Campsie Fells above, and the town of Kirkintillock.  There are moorings at Applecross Street Basin, with access to Glasgow’s wealth of museums, galleries and cultural centres, including the Hunterian Museum, home to one of Scotland’s finest collections.
  9. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four there and four back) in 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, 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.
  10. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ into the Shropshire Lake District – from Drifters’ base at Trevor on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, 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 across 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.
  11. Cruise to Todmorden and back for some stunning Pennine scenery – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal – a journey which travels a total of 20 miles, passing 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, boaters pass through the beautiful Calder Valley village of Mytholmroyd, the birthplace of Ted Hughes, and the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills, with an amazing variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs and a series of scenic waymarked walks.

For information about visiting the canal network go to www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

Forest bathing on the Shropshire Union Canal

Kerstin Rogers took a Drifters canal boat holiday, travelling from our Brewood base on the Shropshire Union Canal.

In her blog, ‘Slow food on a Staffordshire canal’, she describes the relaxing effect of the journey, which took her along beautiful tree-lined sections of waterway.

As well as this ‘forest-bathing’ experience, she enjoyed the ‘digital detox’, with little or no mobile signal in the area.

Kerstin describes the scenery and the food they enjoyed.

Find out more by reading her blog here https://msmarmitelover.com/2019/06/slow-food-on-a-staffordshire-canal.html