Posts

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

Boating for beginners from Braunston

By Giselle Whiteaker

As soon as we board Selene at Drifters narrowboat hire base in Braunston, Northamptonshire, we fall in love. Despite being true to the name in narrowness, the narrowboat feels surprisingly spacious inside, with room to manoeuvre and clever touches, like a mobile folding table that can be used inside or outside. We find it hard to believe that we are being trusted to navigate the waterways with only a brief skippering lesson.

The first afternoon, we pass through one lock as practice then moor by the bank. We whip up a meal with the provisions we brought from home and have a leisurely evening, taking a stroll along the canal to the Admiral Nelson pub and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Come morning, I stroll down to The Boat Shop to fill in the gaps in our shopping list, picking up breakfast items and postcards of the area. A quick coffee and it is time to set off, with five locks immediately ahead. My boyfriend is stretching his memory to remember all of the steps to get us safely through the lock, but as it turns out, we have a little help. We pair up with another boat for this section, chatting over the decks as the water fills and empties, taking us up and away.

Waving farewell at the end of the section, we settle into a stretch of cruising, taking turns at the tiller as we glide through the greenery. Ducks frolic by the side of the banks and Weeping Willows dangle curtains towards the murky water. The sun does not come out to play, but the gentle chug of the engine, the light rustle of trees in the breeze, and the ripples cascading away from our passage more than make up for overcast skies.

Braunston Tunnel is one of the highlights of this route. It’s a little nerve wracking for novices – imagine coasting through cool, inky-blackness, a small section of wall illuminated by the boat’s light, heading for a small, light circle: the end of the tunnel, some 1.8 miles away. It’s mesmerising and there’s a thrill to reaching the end and popping back out into daylight.

A long stretch follows, where we simply enjoy being on the canal, waving merrily at other boaters as we pass. Canal-goers are an exceptionally friendly bunch.

Reaching the turn off to Leicester, we prepare for Buckby Locks, a flight of seven. There’s a brief wait as several boats queue to go through, but the joy of boating is that no-one is in a hurry. Again, we pair up with another boat, sharing the workload throughout the flight.

At the Bottom Lock, we moor for a celebratory, and very late, lunch. We haven’t decided where we will spend the night, so we scour the map, locating the winding holes, ready for turning back from whence we came tomorrow. We decide on Weedon Bec, a popular spot according to the neat line of boats by the bank. Too slow at decision-making, we continue past the epicentre, finding a quiet spot around a bend where we are the only boat.

We could probably walk along the towpath and find a charming riverside pub, but instead, we take a seat at Selene’s prow as the sun peeks out belatedly from behind a cloud. Glasses of wine in hand, we make a toast to doing it all again tomorrow, in reverse. We watch the ducks on the water, the birds flitting from tree to tree, and just occasionally, someone walking their dog. This is the life.

Act quickly if you want to enjoy a canal boat holiday

With the school holidays about to get underway, the Canal & River Trust, the charity that looks after 2,000 miles of waterways across England & Wales, is urging those looking to enjoy a holiday in the slow lane this summer to act quickly with bookings for canal boat holidays enjoying a huge resurgence as people look for the perfect family-friendly staycation.

Canal boat companies offering holidays are reporting very healthy bookings – with three of the largest, accounting for around half the canal boats available to hire, saying that bookings are up 240 per cent since government gave the go-ahead for holidays to resume.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, comments: “If you’re looking for a self-catering staycation this year, away from busy tourist areas, step aboard a canal boat. Canal boat holidays are a great opportunity to get back to what matters: spending time with family or friends, spotting wildlife and being as active as you like.”

Nigel Stevens, from Drifters, adds: “A canal boat holiday is the fastest way to slow down.  Families come together to operate locks and take turn to ‘captain’ the boat.  We’ve bases right across the country and boats that provide home-from-home luxury.  Anyone looking for a boat in the school holidays should get in quick, whilst those without school-age children can book now to secure their boat to benefit from canal cruising in the late summer sunshine in September and October.”

The data from Drifters, which looks at the three largest hire boat operators on the UK canal network, shows that since week commencing 21 June, when domestic holidays were given the go ahead to resume from 4 July, bookings have almost doubled over the equivalent period in 2019.  And during the two weeks after holidays were given the go ahead to resume, bookings increased by 240 per cent.

To check availability, go to www.drifters.co.uk or call us on 0344 984 0322.

Find out more about canals and rivers across the UK at www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

 

All aboard for Autumn afloat on the canals

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the splendid colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways, as they are dramatically mirrored in the water.

There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including flocks of fieldfare and redwing searching for hawthorn berries, and small mammals such as wood mice and bank voles stocking up on food before the winter.

Narrowboat holiday-makers can take all the supplies they need and have the freedom to moor up for the night alongside rural towpaths and canalside pubs offering take-outs.

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.

Drifters narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate between two and 12 people.  All are equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.  2020 hire prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £725 for a week.

Here’s a run down of our top nine canal boat holiday destinations for autumn 2020:

  1. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal.  Five miles later, you can transfer onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds peacefully through countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length.  From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field.
  2. Float through the Brecon Beacons to Taylbont-on-Usk – the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a short break you can journey through the wooded Usk Valley to Talybont-on-Usk, visiting villages and historic market towns along the way, including the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle.  Once at Talybont-on-Usk, you can enjoy walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls and the Brecon Beacons.  The total journey there and back travels 36 miles, passing through 10 locks and takes around 18 hours.
  3. Glide across The Stream in the Sky from our canal boat rental base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can reach the pretty town of Llangollen in 12 hours with just two locks to pass through, perfect for a relaxing week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel through the Shropshire Lake District and over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as the Stream in the Sky.
  4. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way – perfect for a short break. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin, to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums.
  5. Drift through the Calder Valley – on a short break from our canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, you can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags
  6. Cruise through the Bath Valley – on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, you can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back, enjoying beautiful views of the southern Cotswold Hills along the way. The journey to Sydney Wharf takes just six hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts, passing through one lock and several canalside pubs, including the popular Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once in Bath, you can moor up a short walk away from the centre of Bath.
  7. Complete the Stourport Ring – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, on a week’s break you can travel the popular Stourport Ring, travelling a total of 74 miles and passing through 118 locks, which takes around 44 hours. The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line.  Highlights include: the Wolverhampton 21 locks; Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; the Stourport Basins; Kinver Edge and the National Trust’s famous rock houses; and the Tardebigge Flight of 30 locks, the longest in the country.
  8. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break. The route begins passing over the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift which replaced a flight of 11 locks and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, plus miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow.  Once there, you can see the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch.
  9. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man – perfect for a mid-week break afloat. Along the way, you will pass through miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, a series of cuttings, six locks and a several villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.
Bank holiday boating - top 10 short breaks

Bank holiday boating – top 10 short breaks

To celebrate the May bank holiday, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 short breaks:

1. Visit the Giant Metal Spider…from our canal boat hire base at Anderton in Cheshire, boaters can travel along the Trent & Mersey Canal to medieval Nantwich, with its distinctive black and white architecture. At Anderton, the fascinating Victorian Boat Lift, which looks like a giant metal spider, transfers boats between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver.

2. Travel across the Stream in the Sky…from our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the picturesque town of Llangollen, with walking access to the famous Horseshoe Falls, is an eight-hour cruise away. The journey includes travelling across the awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which towers 38 metres high above the Dee Valley

3. Experience the Pennines afloat…from our base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation, a trip to historic Todmorden is the perfect short break destination. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, canal boat holiday-makers first pass through the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills, before reaching Todmorden. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

4. Visit the World Heritage City of Bath…Bath City centre with its fabulous Georgian architecture, is a delightful seven-hour cruise from our Bradford on Avon boat yard on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire. Along the way narrowboat holiday-makers pass historic pubs, like The George at Bathampton (once a 12th century monastery), and a series of impressive canal structures, including Avoncliffe and Dundas aqueducts.

5. Journey along the peaceful Caldon Canal…from our Peak District base at Stoke on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a trip along Wedgewood’s Caldon Canal is a great short break route for beginners. Originally built to transport porcelain, today the Caldon is one of the quietest and most picturesque canals in Britain. The canal branches off the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria near Stoke on Trent and travels 17 miles and 17 locks through the beautiful Churnet Valley to Froghall Wharf.

6. Visit the Medieval City of Chester…from Bunbury boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, Chester is a lovely seven-hour cruise away. Famous for its Roman walls and Medieval architecture, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars and a huge variety of restaurants.

7. Amble along the Ashby…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. This picturesque canal with no locks, is perfect for beginners and passes close to the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard III died and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

8. Cruise into the heart of Birmingham & visit the Sea Life Centre…Brindleyplace is a five-hour lock-free cruise from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove. With more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin with easy access to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants.

9. Head for historic Braunston at the heart of the canals…from our base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it’s a peaceful day’s cruise to Braunston, passing through the rural villages of Weedon and Norton. Situated at the junction of the Oxford and Grand Union canals, Braunston is said to be ‘at the heart of the UK canal system’. The main village is on a hill above the canals, with plenty of pubs serving good food and a fish and chip shop.

10. Navigate the Droitwich Ring…our canal boat hire base on the River Severn at Worcester is on 21-mile long Droitwich Ring – the only cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break. The 16-hour journey, which includes 33 locks, takes boaters through the historic Spa town of Droitwich and along the River Severn, with stunning views of the Worcestershire countryside.

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2014

Top 5 epic canal boat journeys

Britain’s 2,000-mile canal network offers a huge variety of canal boat holiday routes, from easy short breaks with no locks through to epic journeys around cruising rings, which take weeks and involve a lot of locks!

Weekly hire in 2015 starts at £480 and Drifters operators usually offer discounts on the second week of hire.

Here are our top five epic journeys to inspire:

1. The South Pennine Ring (71 miles, 197 locks, 80 hours): not for the faint-hearted, this epic two-week journey can be taken from our base at Sowerby Bridge. It crosses the Pennines twice and includes passage of Britain’s longest canal tunnel. It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Broad and Narrow canals, the Ashton and Rochdale canals. Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; Manchester City Centre; and, one of the Seven Wonders of Waterways, the awesome three and a quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which, designed by Thomas Telford, cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle.

2. The Cheshire Ring (97 miles, 92 locks, 55 hours): starting from our’ base at Anderton, this superb route takes canal boat holiday-makers through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. It can be done in a week but it’s easier in two. Highlights include: the spectacular vertical Anderton Boat Lift, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’; Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall and its working Elizabethan Mill alongside the Bridgewater Canal; Castlefield Basin; Manchester’s China Town; the Rochdale 9 locks; Buxworth Basin, Whaley Bridge and the glorious Top Lock at Marple; and the Cheshire Plain and heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’.

3. The Leicester Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours): from our base at Rugby on the Grand Union Canal, this epic route is achievable in two weeks. The route cruises a mixture of non-tidal, broad and narrow canals, including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey canals, the Grand Union Leicester Line and the rivers Soar and Trent. Highlights include: the Saddlington Tunnel, a roost for bats on the Leicester Line; the Foxton Staircase of Locks and Museum dedicated to the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift which once carried boats up and down the hill in two giant bath tubs; the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; Braunston canal village; Hillmorton Locks; the 11 locks at Atherstone; Coventry with views of its magnificent cathedral; and the 18th century canal village of Shardlow.

4. The Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from our bases at Tardebigge, Wootton Wawen, Worcester or Alvechurch, this World-famous journey negotiates 130 locks. Most people tackle this trip over two weeks, but it is possible to do it in a week. The ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcs & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across Wawickshire and the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; Telford’s lofty Mythe Bridge; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30-lock Tardebigge Flight, the longest in the country; and the 2495-metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.

5. The Warwickshire Ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours): starting from our bases at Napton or Rugby, with a mixture of urban and rural landscapes, the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in two weeks. It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone, Hawkesbury Junction with one of the tightest turns on the system where the Oxford joins the Coventry; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the tricky Knowle Flight of five locks; the pretty canal village of Braunston; Napton Junction; Newbold and Shrewley tunnels; the awesome Hatton Flight of 21 locks; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin.

Celebrate Christmas on the Canals

Celebrate Christmas on the Canals

Britain’s canals can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

Six of our canal boat hire bases offer winter cruising, giving canal boat holiday-makers the chance to enjoy cosy evenings afloat, visit waterside pubs with roaring log fires, and wake-up to frosty towpaths and crisp clean air.

Whether it’s a snug boat for two or family affair for six, celebrating Christmas or New Year afloat offers a great getaway. It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base to enjoy new year celebrations in waterside towns and cities like Bath, Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

All boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Some also have multi-fuel stoves. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £585 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £840.

Here’s a list of Drifters bases offering winter cruising:

Travel to Bath along the Kennet & Avon Canal…our base in the historic town of Bradford on Avon offers the chance to cruise to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back. Cosy country pubs to enjoy along the way include the George Inn at Bathampton, once a 12th-century monastery, and the Cross Guns at Avoncliffe, with panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds. Christmas and New Year prices from Bradford on Avon start at £725 for short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four and £1,010 for a week on a boat for four.

Chug through rural Warwickshire…On a short break from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head south along the beautiful Oxford Canal to Braunston, winding through classic scenery, much of which hasn’t changed for centuries. On a week’s holiday, narrowboat holiday-makers could travel to Stratford upon Avon and back, passing through Warwick and Leamington Spa. Christmas and New Year prices from Stretton start at £585 for a short break (three or four nights) and £895 for a week on a boat for four.

Take a lock free journey to Birmingham…Birmingham is just a five-hour cruise away from our Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal – with no locks to negotiate. City centre moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to the bars, restaurants, shops and museums at Brindley Place and the Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres. Christmas and New Year prices from Tardebigge start at £680 for a short break (three or four nights), and £945 for a week.

Navigate ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the awesome 300-metre long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carries the Llangollen Canal 40 metres above the rushing waters of the River Dee. From our base at Trevor, next to the aqueduct, the village of Llangollen is a two-hour cruise to the west and to the east, Ellesmere is a seven-hour journey through the beautiful Vale of Llangollen. Christmas and New Year prices from Trevor start at £680 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for two, and £945 for a week.

• Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…our base at Great Haywood, at the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals in Staffordshire, offers a variety of routes. On a week’s cruise canal boat holiday-makers can head up the Trent & Mersey Canal to the Caldon Canal, and travel through the beautiful Churnet Valley. Those on a short break can head to the town of Fazeley, via the pretty canal village of Fradley on the Trent & Mersey Canal. Christmas and New Year prices from Great Haywood start at £775 for a short break (three or four nights), and £1,085 for a week on a boat for six.

Moor up in Stratford upon Avon…it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon from our base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire. Boaters can moor up in Stratford canal basin, a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums. Christmas and New Year prices from Wootton Wawen start at £605 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £840.

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2015

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2015

With boats travelling at a maximum speed of 4mph, a canal boat holiday really is the fastest way to slow down. There are over 3,000 miles of peaceful canals and rivers to explore across Britain – from rural retreats to vibrant city centres.

Drifters offers over 500 boats for hire from 37 canal boat hire locations across England, Scotland and Wales. 2015 hire prices currently start at £368 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £480 for a week.

Here are our Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2014:

1. Celebrate the Worcester & Birmingham Canal’s Bicentenary…in 2015 it will be 200 years since the popular Worcester & Birmingham Canal opened. This 29-mile long waterway starts in Worcester, as an off-shoot of the River Severn, and ends in Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham. It has 58 locks along its length, including 30 at Tardebigge, one of the largest lock flights in Europe. A major user of the canal in its freight-carrying heyday was the Cadbury chocolate factories at Bournville and Blackpole. Today, narrowboat holiday-makers can explore this beautiful historic waterway by canal boat, starting at our Worcester base and reaching City centre moorings in Gas Street Basin, with easy access to the City’s Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants, in around 22 hours.

2. Enjoy a journey through the Yorkshire countryside to the famous Bingley 5-rise locks…from our Sowerby Bridge base it takes a week to travel to the Bingley 5-rise locks and back, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) 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. The journey from Sowerby Bridge starts with a cruise along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation, passing through Elland, Brighouse and Shepley Bridge. Then on through Wakefield, with moorings available right outside the Barbara Hepworth museum, then on to Stanley Ferry to see the aqueduct, which looks like a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now onto the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks and on to Leeds, passing the Royal Armouries Museum. Next boaters join the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, travelling through fields and woods and enjoying spectacular views of old West Riding industry and passing through Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating model town at Saltaire, with Italianate mills and Hockney Museum. After several staircase locks along the way, boaters reach the famous Five Rise Locks at Bingley. The total journey there and back travels 110 miles, passes through 118 locks and takes 54 cruising hours.

3. Experience the Edinburgh Festival afloat…Edinburgh Quay is a day and a half’s journey from our base at Falkirk, on the Lowland Canals in Scotland. The journey starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first and only rotating boat lift) and then on to the Union Canal, passing through Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions and Festival events. In 2015, the Edinburgh International Festival dates will run from 7-31 August, coinciding for the first time with the Fringe events. Highlights include a staging of Ivo van Hove’s Antigones, starring Juliette Binoche and a stripped-down production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro by Iavn Fischer and the Budapest festival orchestra. 

4. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the Llangollen Canal’s incredible World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. It consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 hollow pillars. Each span is 16-metres wide. 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. From Drifters’ base at Trevor, close to the Aqueduct (which will celebrate its 210th birthday in 2015), holiday-makers can travel to the pretty towns of Llangollen and Ellesmere, visiting the Horseshoe Falls at Llangollen, the Ellesmere Lakes, teaming with wildlife and Chirk, with its 900-year old Castle.

5. Visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park & enjoy the Rugby World Cup afloat…Some of the matches for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be held at the Olympic Stadium, on the banks of the River Lea. It takes around nine hours to reach Three Mills at the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from our canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm in West London. The journey passes through picturesque Little Venice, Regent’s Park, London Zoo, Camden Lock, Kings Cross and Victoria Park. There are plenty of safe places to moor along the way, with easy access to London’s top attractions, theatres, restaurants and shops. The first Olympic Stadium match takes place on Weds 23 September, France vs Romania.

6. Cruise the Caen Hill Flight, 25 years after it was restored…with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country. The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810. By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990. From our base at Hilperton near Trowbridge it takes less than four hours to reach the base of the Caen Hill Flight. The journey through the locks takes around five hours and it’s not long before boaters reach the beautiful Vale of Pewsey and the ancient Savernake Forest.

7. See the newly cleaned dinosaurs at the Oxford Museum of Natural History…the Oxford University Museum of Natural History reopened in 2014 after a £2million project to fix its leaking roof. Over 8,500 Victorian glass tiles were individually removed and resealed and a mass specimen cleaning project was undertaken, including all the big dinosaurs! Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, this fascinating Museum now holds the University’s internationally significant collections of geological and zoological specimens, including the Oxfordshire dinosaurs and the Dodo. Our Oxford base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from the City centre, where canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge and use their boat as a base to visit the Museum and explore the City.

8. Visit Bristol’s vibrant Floating Harbour…from our Sydney Wharf base in the centre of Bath, canal boat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon, reaching Bristol’s exciting Floating Harbour in eight hours. Over 200 years ago, 80 acres of tidal river was impounded in Bristol, allowing visiting ships to remain afloat all the time. The Harbour grew as a busy commercial port. Today leisure boaters can enjoy moorings there and use it as a base to visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain, the Blue Reef Aquarium and the @Bristol science centre with its Planetarium and hundreds of hands-on exhibits to explore.

9. Potter through the Peak District…Our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, offers the perfect way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. The gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break. On a week’s break, boater’s can travel to Whaley Bridge at the end of the Peak Forest Canal and back, passing through Harecastle Tunnel, Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple.

10. Glide through the Breacon Beacons…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views. From our base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, boaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn. Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m.

Top 5 Autumn breaks afloat

Top 5 Autumn breaks afloat

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

And there are plenty of foraging opportunities along the way – look out for apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes and make freshly-picked fruit crumbles on board.

Here are our top five destinations this autumn:

1. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal…from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow forgaging opportunities along the way. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and town’s shops, restaurants and museums.

2. Enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside…Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. The Foxton flight can be reached in five hours from our base at North Kilworth. From the top of the flight, boaters can enjoy panoramic views of the Leicestershire countryside and check out the tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift, an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there.

3. Wend your way through Wiltshire…the historic town of Bradford on Avon can be reached on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, with beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside to enjoy along the way. Bradford on Avon is an architectural treasure chest, with gems including the magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and striking Town Bridge over the River Avon.

4. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands…from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow. Here, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

5. Explore the Brecon Beacons afloat…the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible mountain views. From our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, boaters can journey through the Brecon Beacons National Park from Brecon to Cwmbran, visiting the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle and picturesque Talybont-on-Usk, with walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls.

Take a romantic canal boat holiday for two this Valentine’s

Spend Valentine’s Day Afloat

Once afloat, cuddle up for a romantic evening afloat, or stop-off at historic country pubs with roaring log fires.

Our boats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons, including central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players. Some boats also have their own multi-fuel stove, so whatever the weather it’s always nice and cosy on board.

It’s free to moor almost everywhere on the waterway network, so a canal boat could provide the perfect romantic hide-away in the countryside miles from anywhere, or a base to explore romantic waterside destinations like Georgian Bath.

Short breaks over Valetine’s Day start from £465, weekly hire from £660. Here’s a list of our boat yards offering winter cruising and ideas of where to go:

Visit Georgian Bath…our base at Sydney Wharf in the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath offers the chance to enjoy Valentine’s afloat in one of Britain’s most romantic places. With world-famous museums, galleries, shops and restaurants and some of the finest Georgian architecture in Britain, Bath makes a fantastic destination for couples.

Float across the ‘Stream in the Sky’…the beautiful 46-mile Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular canals on the inland waterway network, and navigating the awe-inspiring 300metre-long World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, soaring nearly 40 metres high above the rushing waters of the River Dee, is tantamount to free flight. What a place to propose?! From our base at Trevor, right next to the aqueduct, a short break to Ellesmere and back, offers the chance to travel over the aqueduct and explore the beautiful Vale of Llangollen and Shropshire Lake District.

Chug along the Oxford Canal…On a short break from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head south along the beautiful Oxford Canal to Braunston, winding through classic scenery, much of which hasn’t changed for centuries. On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can continue south to Banbury, via the villages of Napton and Fenny Compton.

Head for the bright lights of Birmingham…the vibrant City of Birmingham with moorings close to Brindley Place, is just a five-hour cruise away from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove. With no locks to negotiate, there’s plenty of time to cuddle-up together at the tiller!

Explore the Potteries in Staffordshire…our base at Great Haywood at the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey canals in Staffordshire offers a variety of rural routes. On a week’s cruise, boaters can travel along the Shropshire Union Canal to historic Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man. On a short break, head through quiet countryside to the South Staffordshire village of Coven.

Wend through rural Wiltshire…from our base at historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn, on a short break canal boaters can head east along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal to the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight at Devizes. The journey passes through rural Wiltshire, where canalside pubs with log fires offer a warm welcome along the way.