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Quirky Canals

Britain’s 2,000-mile long and 200-year old canal network is a treasure trove of historic structures, many of them quirky and unorthodox.  It’s also a haven for wildlife, but not always what you might expect.

To celebrate the rich tapestry of canal history and habitat, we’ve put together our Top 10 Quirky Canal Facts:

  1. Terrapins – red-eared terrapins are now a common sight on England’s waterways, largely as a result of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles cartoon craze which began in the 1980’s.  Imported from the USA to be sold as pets, these terrapins can grow to the size of a dinner plate, making them less appealing and difficult to manage.  Consequently, they are often irresponsibly released into the wild and can be seen basking on dry land during sunny days.  At the moment it looks unlikely that they are breeding as terrapin eggs need to be incubated at 25 degrees Celsius for 60 days in order to hatch, but climate change may enable them to increase their numbers and potentially harm native animals.
  2. Lock cottages with barrel shaped roofs – the quirky lock cottages of the Stratford Canal have unusual barrel shaped roofs. It’s believed the canal builders chose this unusual style the mimic the shape of the canal bridges.
  3. Pill boxes along the K&A – visitors to the Kennet & Avon Canal, which connects the River Thames at Reading with the Bristol Avon at Bath, will notice a large number of pill boxes lining the waterway. Designed by the War Office, these fortifications were commissioned by General Sir Edmund Ironside, following the British Expeditionary Forces’ evacuation from Dunkirk, and the prospect of imminent German invasion.  Named GHQ Stop Line Blue, the canal was equipped to be a static defence line, with the pill boxes and trank traps manned by the Home Guard.  Some, including one at Garston Lock near Reading, have now been adapted to create homes for bats!
  4. Zebra mussels in the locks – these stripy little freshwater mussels originally arrived in Britain on the hulls of ships from Eastern Europe. They grow up to 5cm long and rapidly form large colonies, attaching themselves to almost any submerged hard surface, including lock gates and sluices.
  5. The Anderton Boat Lift – also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, this fascinating example of Victorian engineering, which looks like a giant iron spider perched on a hilltop, provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation. Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.
  6. The Roundhouse in Birmingham – this unique horseshoe shaped canal building in Birmingham City Centre is being transformed into a place to work, socialise and rest. The Grade II* listed building on the Birmingham Mainline Canal in the centre of Birmingham, dates back to 1874 and originally provided stables and stores for the Birmingham corporation.
  7. Snowdon’s Aviary at London Zoo – from Little Venice, where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regent’s Canal in London, the London Waterbus operates trip boats which take people along the Regent’s Canal and into London Zoo via a special waterside entrance. Along the way, boaters pass beneath Snowdon’s iconic Aviary constructed alongside the canal in 1964.  The Aviary is currently being transformed into a stunning walkthrough exhibit.
  8. Green canals – when summer temperatures soar, thick carpets of bright green duck weed can appear along sections of Britain’s canals, especially in London. While an individual piece of duck weed is no bigger than a ladybird, when they multiply into large numbers, they clog up canals, starving the water of oxygen and sunlight, and causing problems for some wildlife.  In the right conditions, a mass of duck weed can double in size every two or three days.
  9. The ghostly Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years. When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major engineering challenge.  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.  But over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second ghostly route emerging…
  10. The Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift – this extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering once operated next to Foxton Locks. Two counterbalanced caissons (giant bathtubs) that could each hold two narrowboats or one wide-beam barge, were built to slide up or down the hill on tracks.  They enabled boats to make the journey in just 12 minutes – nearly six times quicker than going through the locks.  Opened in 1900, sadly it was never a commercial success due to decreasing canal traffic and the fact that the Watford flight was never widened to take larger boats.  The plane was mothballed in 1911 and dismantled for scrap in 1928.

 

Top 7 cruises into the countryside for narrowboat holiday beginners

Following government guidance, Drifters operators are planning to restart their holidays on 4 July.

Our self-drive narrowboat holidays provide a floating holiday home for cruising through the countryside, watching out for wildlife and enjoying walks along towpaths and connecting footpaths along the way.

You can take all the supplies you need, and you 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 our operators provide boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.  Our narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate between two and 12 people.  They are all equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, ovens, 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 are our Top 7 countryside cruises into the countryside for narrowboat beginners:

  1. Bob gently along to Fradley Pool Nature Reserve – on a short break from our canal boat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can head south to Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey. The journey takes around five hours, travelling through 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside and passing through just five locks.  Along the way, the route takes you past the National Trust’s Shugborough Estate and Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  At Fradley, boaters can moor up to explore Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, a haven for many types of water and woodland birds.
  2. Cruise through the Worcestershire countryside to complete the Droitwich Mini-Ring – the Droitwich Ring is the only canal boat holiday cruising circuit in Britain which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). Cruising through the Worcestershire countryside along sections of the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, and the Droitwich canals, this 21-mile, 33-lock canal boat holiday circuit can be cruised in 16 hours from our narrowboat hire base on the River Severn at Worcester.
  3. Glide along the Oxford Canal to Rugby & back – from our canal boat rental base at Napton on the Oxford Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just over six hours to travel 15½ miles, and pass through three locks to reach the rural outskirts of Rugby. Along the way, boaters pass through just three locks and series of canalside villages, including Braunston and Hillmorton.
  4. Cruise the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse and back – on a short break (three or four nights) from our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, you can travel to Brighouse and back along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, places to eat and shops. Along the way, boaters pass through the historic market town of Elland and the village of Mirfield, with medieval stocks and ducking stool, plus Dumb Steeple, thought to have been a landmark to guide travellers on their way across the moor and later a Luddite rallying point (12 miles, 20 locks, 8 hours return).
  5. Cruise into the Shropshire Lake District – from our narrowboat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, on a three-night weekend break, narrowboat holiday makers can cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to Ellesmere and back. On a four-night mid-week break, boaters can continue on to Chirk on the Welsh border, with its magnificent aqueduct, 459-yard long tunnel and magnificent Medieval Castle on the hill.
  6. Travel through the Wiltshire countryside to Bradford on Avon from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around six hours, travelling 10 miles and passing through seven locks to reach the historic town of Bradford on Avon, famous for its magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn and Bath stone architecture. Along the way, you’ll pass through the villages of Seend, Semington and Hilperton, and beautiful stretches of Wiltshire countryside.
  7. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire 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. Along the way, boaters pass through miles of unspoilt Shropshire countryside, and a series of woodland cuttings.  There are just six locks to pass through each way.

Drifters boats star in ‘Celebrity Britain by Barge’

Canals are back on our screens with a new Channel 5 series ‘Celebrity Britain by Barge: Then & Now’. The series began on Friday 14 February, starring Bill Oddie, Anne Diamond, Jennie Bond and Pete Waterman aboard a number of Drifters’ narrowboats.

In the first episode, the celebrities travel along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal aboard ‘Worcester’ (shared by Jennie and Anne) and ‘Somerset’ (shared by Bill and Pete).

‘Worcester’, who normally operates out of Sowerby Bridge, is a 56ft narrowboat for up to five people. ‘Worcester’ has a variety of cabin configurations – two fixed doubles, or one fixed double and two fixed singles, or four fixed singles, plus a saloon convertible to one single. She has two toilets, a shower and a bath – which particularly impressed Anne and Jennie.

In the main boating season, the 56ft ‘Somerset’ operates out of Barnoldswick. She has fixed berths for up to four people, plus a saloon which can be converted to a double or two singles. The fixed berths can both be doubles, or they can all be singles, or a mixture. ‘Somerset’ has two toilets and a corner show cubicle.

Both boats have fully equipped kitchens, central heating, TV’s and DVD players.

The celebrities travel from Appleby Bridge to Skipton, stopping off along the way at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire to visit Salts Mill, once one of the largest textile factories in the world and now an art gallery and high-tech production line.

Along the way, with the help of Canal & River Trust lock keepers, they travel up the famous Bingley Five Rise locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Jennie and Anne also visit Skipton Castle, while Pete and Bill speak to Diane Rollin, an ecologist with the Canal & River Trust, to find out more about the wildlife that lives on the waterway.

In Episode 2, the celebrities continue their journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. They travel through the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and meet a sheep farmer, connect with the Pennine Way (Britain’s oldest national trail), talk to a Canal & River Trust lock keeper dealing with an emergency repair to a lock and they boat through Foulridge Tunnel.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in the north east, go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-north-east-england/

In Episode 3, to be broadcast this Friday (28 February) at 9pm, the action moves north to the Scottish Lowland Canals, and this time the celebrities are cruising aboard Drifters boats which are available to hire at our Falkirk canal boat hire base. The 62ft long ‘Princess 6’ narrowboat ‘Sarah’, sleeps up to six people, with flexible accommodation in two cabins, plus an optional extra double bed in the saloon. There are two shower rooms, a well-equipped galley, full central heating and a flat screen TV with Freeview and a DVD player.

In episode 3, the celebs travel along the Forth & Clyde Canal to visit the incredible Kelpies, the largest equine sculptures in the world, and learn about the role Clydesdale horses played on the waterway.

In episode 4 (to be broadcast Friday 6 March at 8.30pm), they travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel Boat Lift and head east along the Union Canal towards Edinburgh. Along the way they pass through the Falkirk Tunnel and learn about the ghost of Irish navvy William Burke, and they travel across the longest aqueduct in Scotland.

For more information about Drifters’ holidays in Scotland go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/canals-of-scotland/

 

The History of canal boat holidays

Our rivers have been used for transport since prehistoric times, but it was the Industrial Revolution that created the need to move large quantities of raw materials, goods and commodities efficiently, and resulted in the construction on thousands of miles of canals across England, Wales and Scotland.

The history of inland waterways pleasure boat hiring started in the 1860’s when it became fashionable to take boat trips on the Norfolk Broads and the Thames.  By the late Victorian era, the Thames had entered what some authors have described as the ‘Golden Age’ for leisure.

In 1916, shipping agent Peter Bonthron published ‘My holidays on inland waterways’, detailing his 2,000-mile journey around Britain’s waterways at the beginning of the 20th century

But it was Tom Rolt’s book ‘Narrow Boat’, published in 1944 and describing his 400-mile journey aboard ‘Cressy’ along the network of canals in the Midlands, that is said to be ‘the book that saved Britain’s canals’.

‘Narrow Boat’ tells the story of how Rolt and his wife fitted out the boat as their home and celebrates the lives of the working boatmen, the canal craft and the timeless countryside they discovered on their travels.  The book was an instant success and has since inspired generations of boaters.

Although by the 1950’s commercial use of the canals was had significantly declined, as interest started to grow in using canals for leisure, a number of canal boat hire companies were established.  Many of the canal boats available for hire at this time were converted working boats but by the 1960’s more narrowboats were being specially constructed for the leisure hire trade.

Since the late 1990’s our inland waterways have entered a new ‘Golden Age’ of leisure use, with over 200 miles of waterways re-opened and over £1billion invested in their restoration and upkeep

There are now over 35,000 canal boats on our inland waterways, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution.  Over 1,000 of these are specially designed and constructed canal boat holiday hire boats with modern conveniences  – hot water, central heating, flushing toilets, well equipped kitchens with cookers, fridges, microwave ovens, televisions, DVD players and many now have Wifi too.

There are also a number of hotel boat operators, offering skippered and fully catered canal holidays.

For more information about the history of the canals, visit the Waterways Archive https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/places-to-visit/national-waterways-museum/the-waterways-archive

The A to Z of canal boat holidays

The A to Z of canal boat holidays

A is for Anderton Boat Lift – also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, this fascinating example of Victorian engineering, which looks like a giant iron spider, provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation. Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.

B is for Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.

C is for Caen Hill Flight – with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes 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.

D is for Docks – docks were built to accommodate ships and store cargoes and many can be visited by boat. Among the best known are London Docklands, once the busiest in the world and Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a World Heritage site, both now home to stylish restaurants, bars and attractions.

E is for Economy – over £1½ billion is spent by visitors to the waterways each year on goods and services, supporting 54,000 jobs, so a canal boat holiday helps support the local economy.

F is for Falkirk Wheel – said to be Scotland’s most exciting example of 21st century engineering, The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Standing at a height of 35 metres, it moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal, replacing a flight of 11 locks which had been dismantled in 1933. It can carry 600 tonnes, including eight or more boats and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn – the same amount as it would take to boil eight household kettles.

G is for Gongoozling – the leisurely watching of boats, often passing through a lock. The word may have arisen from the Lincolnshire dialect – ‘gawn’ and ‘goozle’, both meaning to stare or gape.

H is for History – the canals were built to transport goods and materials to support the Industrial Revolution. For example, the Duke of Bridgewater commissioned James Brindley to build the Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761 and moved the coal he mined from Lancashire to Manchester. Today, thousands of historic structures, many of them over 200 years old, make up the waterway system.

I is for Iron Trunk Aqueduct – built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, the Iron Trunk Aqueduct is a magnificent Georgian structure and an impressive example of canal engineering. Standing at over 10 metres high, its two cast iron troughs carry the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse between Wolverton and Cosgrove in Buckinghamshire.

J is for Jessop – William Jessop (1745-1814) was one of the great canal engineers and considered to be the greatest expert on canal and river navigations of his time. He was the engineer on the Grand Union, Rochdale and Llangollen canals. He was also responsible for the East India docks in London and dock improvements in Bristol.

K is for Kennet & Avon Canal – passing through spectacular scenery, the 87-mile long Kennet & Avon Canal is one of Britain’s most popular waterways. Linking the River Thames and the Bristol Avon, it travels through some of the nation’s best loved landscapes, including West Berkshire’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the southern tip of the Cotswolds.

L is for Locks – there are over 1,650 locks on the canal system, all enabling boaters to travel up and down hills. A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end. By emptying or filling that chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of canal.

M is for Mooring – the majority of our inland waterways offer boating holiday-makers free moorings, so boaters are free to choose where they stop for the night.

N is for Navigation – you don’t need a licence to skipper a canal boat and with around a fifth of hire boaters new to canal boat holidays each year, it’s easy to learn how to steer a boat and navigate the waterways.

O is for Oxford Canal – one of the oldest canals in Britain, the picturesque Oxford Canal meanders slowly through the countryside, passing through a series of pretty villages. The canal opened in sections between 1774 and 1790 with the purpose of bringing coal from the Coventry coalfields to Oxford and the River Thames.

P is for Pubs – there are hundreds of waterside pubs along Britain’s canals and rivers, many of them historic rural locals, so a watering hole is never far away.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the historic industrial rivers that criss-cross the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London were restored to full navigation as part of the creation of the London 2012 Olympic Park. This six mile network of hidden rivers is at the heart of the area’s revival and links iconic Olympic structures, like the Stadium, ArcelorMittal Orbit tower and Aquatics Centre.

R is for Relax – with canal and river speed limits of just 4mph, canal boat holidays are said to be the fastest way to slow down, relax and escape the stress of everyday living.

S is for Standedge Tunnel – at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18th and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system. Opening in 1811 as part of the Huddersfield Canal, it took the navvies 16 years to build, cutting through solid rock. The Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.

T is for Telford – another of the great canal engineers, Thomas Telford (1757-1834) worked with Jessop on the Llangollen Canal and was responsible for the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing 38 metres above the River Dee, when completed in 1805, it was the tallest canal boat crossing in the world. It uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth!

U is for Uttoxeter Canal – now derelict, this 13-mile extension to the still navigable Caldon Canal in Staffordshire opened in 1811 and ran through the beautiful Churnet Valley, connecting Froghall and Uttoxeter. As with many canals, the advent of the railways took away much of its business and sadly by 1850 it had closed. The canal is among hundreds across the country that are being restored by volunteers.

V is for Vole – best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, who famously pronounced ‘there is nothing half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’, water voles burrow into steep canal or riverside banks to form a complicated system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers. Sadly the water vole is now one of our most endangered species, mainly due to habitat loss and predation by American mink. To spot one, look out for closely grazed ‘lawn’ areas, often covered with neat piles of chopped grass and listen for the ‘plop’ sound as they enter the water.

W is for Wildlife – waterways provide homes for large numbers of birds, plants and animals, including many protected species, like water voles, otters and kingfishers, so there’s always something special to look out for.

X is for Station X – close to the Grand Union Canal at Fenny Stratford in Milton Keynes, Station X at Bletchley Park is where Britain’s wartime code breakers helped win the Second World War.

Y is for Yesteryear – with a much slower pace of life, a friendly camaraderie amongst boaters and a structure that hasn’t fundamentally changed for 200 years, the canals are often described as an escape to yesteryear.

Z is for Zoo – the Regent’s Canal passes alongside ZSL London Zoo, giving boaters the chance to spot a variety of exotic birds in the spectacular Northern Aviary over-looking the canal, designed by Lord Snowdon.

Celebrity Canal Boaters

Drifters helps Julia Bradbury explore the Wonder of Britain

A brand new series for ITV celebrates some of the most impressive natural and manmade wonders that make Britain great, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales.

Julia Bradbury embarks on a stunning 12,000-mile journey around the country to some of Britain’s most spectacular locations and chooses some of the greatest assets she believes we should be most proud of.

The five-part series will begin on Tuesday 6 January at 9pm with a look at Britain’s beautiful buildings.

In the second instalment, which focuses on our industrial story, Julia will be seen cruising along the Llangollen Canal aboard a Drifters boat.

Rob Lawrence, Managing Director of Drifters’ group member Anglo Welsh, explains: “We were delighted to be involved in Julia’s exciting new television series which looks at different aspects of what makes Britain so great.

“During her investigation of our industrial past, where she looks at how our engineering achievements re-shaped the world, Julia took our aptly named Bond Class boat ‘Julia’ across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and amazed us all with her depth of knowledge of the structure and its history.”

Take a Canal Boat Holiday this Halloween

Chill out on a canal boat holiday this Halloween

Reputedly playing host to hundreds of ghosts, with bats and frogs aplenty, creepy tunnels, spooky locks and misty towpaths, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween afloat.

Here are a few of the spookiest places to go:

Get the chills in Chester…visit the City’s old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat and a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the City. And The King’s Inn, an old coaching house, is believed to be haunted by three separate spirits. Travel from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, reaching Chester in seven hours, passing through nine locks.

• Watch out for the Monkey Man on the Shroppie…the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including ‘The 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. Head north from our’ base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Staffordshire near Stafford.

Ghost Tunnel…Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, close to our Gayton base, has spooked a number of boaters over the years. At 3,076 yards (2.81km) it’s one of the longest on the canal system. When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major feat of engineering. 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 have must seen the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel. Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there…?

Tunnel Terror on the Union Canal in Scotland…two walkers and their dogs were terrified by the apparition of a man who had been lured to the Union Canal tunnel at Falkirk in the 1940s and viciously murdered after he had been unable to pay his gambling debt. Our Falkirk base is very close to this tunnel.

A Killing at Kidsgrove…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 whose headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Travel there from our Peak District base on the Trent & Mersey near Stafford.

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 by the World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Our base at Trevor is just 20 minutes from the Aqueduct.

Top 10 August bank holidays afloat

Top 10 August bank holidays afloat

Canal boat holidays are great for families, offering the chance to set off on an adventure together, learn how to work the locks, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit waterside attractions along the way.

All our operators provide hirers with life jackets and boat steering tuition. Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and dogs are welcome aboard most hire boats.

Here are our top 10 August Bank Holiday destinations for 2014:

1. Visit the magnificent Horseshoe Falls…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 traversing the awesome 305-metre long World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which towers 38 metres high above the Dee Valley.

2. See the tigers at London Zoo…from our base on the Grand Union Canal in West London, ZSL London Zoo can be found alongside the Regent’s Canal, just a five-hour cruise away. Narrowboat holiday-makers can explore the world’s oldest scientific zoo and head to Tiger Territory to see the three Sumatran tiger cubs born there in February.

3. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from our base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift on the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals in Scotland, Edinburgh is an 11-hour cruise away. Visitor moorings can be found at Edinburgh Quay, just five minutes from Princes Street. From there, it’s easy to access to the sights of Edinburgh, including the magnificent castle and fascinating Mary King’s Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

4. See the freshly cleaned dinosaurs at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History…this fascinating museum reopened earlier this year 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! 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.

5. Watch Wicked at the Birmingham Hippodrome…With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre than by canal boat. Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our base at Tardebigge, and find centrally located over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin. There’s plenty for families to see and do there, including a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place and the chance to see the acclaimed musical ‘Wicked’ at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

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

7. Travel to Bosworth Field and find out more about King Richard III…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal makes a great short break destination. The canal 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. Visit Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Blackbeard the Pirate…on a short break from Sydney Wharf in the centre of Bath, canal boat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon and moor up in Bristol’s Floating Harbour. Once there, boaters can visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain and the Blue Reef Aquarium to find out more about the city’s fascinating marine history, including Blackbeard the Pirate, said to have been born there. The journey to Bristol takes eight hours, passing through 13 locks.

9. Visit the Roman Baths in Bath…our base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire is a day’s cruise from Bath City Centre. Canal boaters can moor-up close to Pulteney Bridge (reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), enjoy views of Bath’s fabulous Georgian architecture and visit the Roman Baths, one of 17 museums located within a square mile of this World Heritage Status city.

10. Swap your canal boat for a steam train…from our Peak District base at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, it’s a gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin. From there, it’s a short walk to Froghall Station and the opportunity to take a steam train ride on the Churnet Valley Railway.

Canal boat holidays are great for pets

Canal boat holidays are great for pets

Canal boat holidays are perfect for dogs, with plenty of towpath walks, dog-friendly canalside pubs and other dogs to meet along the way.

And as well as hundreds of dogs, Drifters canal boat hire operators have accommodated many other kinds of pets aboard their floating holiday homes, including rabbits, hamsters, caged birds, a goldfish and a tortoise.

Drifters director Nigel Stevens explains: “Narrowboats provide a floating holiday home so it is possible to take all sorts of pets on the canals. Most of our operators charge a supplement for a pet of between £25 and £35, but some allow the first pet to go free, so it can work out a lot cheaper to bring your pet along on your holiday and let them enjoy the cruise too!”

Here are our top five canal boat holiday destinations for animal lovers:

1. Visit the Sea Life Centre at Brindleyplace…With over 60 displays of freshwater and marine life, the Sea Life Centre at Brindleyplace in Birmingham is a fantastic destination for animal lovers. Boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our base at Tardebigge, and find centrally located over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin. 2014 prices from Tardebigge start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £790 for a week.

2. Get close to the tigers at ZSL London Zoo…the world’s oldest scientific zoo is right next to the Regent’s Canal in Regent’s Park and is now home to two critically endangered Sumatran tigers and their three cubs. From our West London base on the Grand Union Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can reach the Zoo in just five hours. 2014 hire prices from London start at £594 for a short break on a five berth boat, weekly hire from £963.

3. See David Hockney’s Dachshunds at Saltaire…canal boat holiday-makers can reach Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating model town on a week’s narrowboat holiday from our base at Sowerby Bridge. Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the woollen industry. Salts Mill has a number of galleries, including the stunning David Hockney Gallery showing both permanent and temporary collections of the Bradford-born artist’s work, including prints of some of the portraits he has made of his beloved Dachshunds, Stanley and Boogie. 2014 weekly hire from Sowerby Bridge starts at £530 for a two berth boat.

4.Watch Rooney the penguin in training at Chester Zoo…famous for its medieval architecture and city walls, Chester is also home to an award-winning zoo with over 11,000 animals to see. Each year the Zoo’s keepers name their baby penguins after a particular theme and this time round they’ve been named after English World Cup stars, past and present. Rooney the penguin, who hatched in spring, has been moved into a nursery at the zoo to learn how to swim, hunt and feed, along with classmates Gerrard, Banks and Moore. Chester is a seven-hour cruise from our Bunbury base on the Shropshire Union Canal. 2014 prices from Bunbury start at £555 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £790 for a week.

5. Admire the Kelpies at Falkirk…towering a colossal 30 metres above the Forth & Clyde Canal, The Kelpies horse statues form a dramatic gateway to the canal entrance at Falkirk. Constructed of structural steel with a stainless steel outer skin, each of the Kelpies weighs over 300 tonnes. They are the centrepiece of The Helix park and serve as a monument to horse powered heritage across Central Scotland. 2014 prices from our base at Falkirk start at £499 for a short break (three or four nights) on a four berth boat, weekly hire from £913.

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

Narrowboat holidays offer families the chance to set off on an adventure together – learning how to work the locks, navigate tunnels, spot wildlife, explore traffic-free towpaths and visit historic waterside attractions along the way.

Drifters offers a huge range of family canal boat holidays, with school summer holiday prices starting at £635 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, and £895 for a week.

All our canal boat hire operators provide hirers with life jackets and boat steering tuition. Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and dogs are welcome aboard most of our boats.

1. Glide across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…at over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering and offers the canal boat holiday-makers the ride of their lives! Even though boats travel at just four miles an hour, with not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure panoramic views of the stunning Dee Valley below, boaters literally feels like they are floating above the earth. Travelling along the Llangollen Canal offers the chance to experience one of the UK’s most stunning stretches of waterway, explore Shropshire’s mini lakes teeming with wildlife, visit medieval Chirk Castle and ride the Llangollen Steam Railway. We have bases on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, Chirk, Wrenbury, Whitchurch and Blackwater Meadow.

2. Explore Skipton & its Medieval Castle…it takes 10 hours (16 miles, 15 locks) for boaters to reach the historic and vibrant market town of Skipton on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, perfect for a week’s holiday from our base at Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Cumbria. Extensive views of sheep country, stone walls, farm houses and the occasional village or small town can be seen along the way. Moorings are available in the town centre of town, where visitors can explore Skipton’s street markets, quirky shops, tea rooms, restaurants and 900 year-old castle.

3. Visit Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Blackbeard the Pirate…on a short break from Sydney Wharf in the centre of the beautiful World Heritage City of Bath, canal boat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon and moor up in Bristol’s Floating Harbour. Once there, families can visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain, the new Blue Reef Aquarium and find out more about the city’s fascinating marine history, including Blackbeard the Pirate, said to have been born there. The journey to Bristol takes eight hours, passing through 13 locks.

4. Visit Edinburgh Castle and Mary King’s Close…from our base at the incredible Falkirk Wheel on the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals in Scotland, Edinburgh is an 11-hour cruise away. Visitor moorings can be found at Edinburgh Quay, just five minutes from Princes Street. From there, it’s easy to access to the sights of Edinburgh, including the magnificent castle and fascinating Mary King’s Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

5. See the shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum…our base on the beautiful River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from Oxford. Boaters can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge in the city centre and use their boat as a base to explore. The incredible Pitt Rivers Museum, just one of many world-class attractions in Oxford, displays the University’s archaeological and anthropological treasures, including shrunken heads from the Upper Amazon.

6. Travel to Chester by boat…our base at Bunbury, on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, is just seven hours by boat from historic Chester. Founded as a Roman fort, with striking Medieval and Victorian architecture, Chester is said to be one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain. Visit the city’s vibrant market hall, award-winning zoo, racecourse, trendy bars, shopping malls, restaurants or one of a series of festivals held there across the summer.

7. Enjoy 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 pass through the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. The journey there and back covers 20 miles, 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

8. Travel to Bosworth Field and find out more about King Richard III…from our base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. The canal 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.

9. Cruise to the home of the Gingerbread Man…our base at Brewood, on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, is a nine-hour cruise from the pretty market town of Market Drayton. Home of gingerbread for the last 200 years, nearly three-quarters of this Saxon settlement was destroyed by fire in 1651 and the Buttercross in the centre of the town still has a bell at the top for people to ring if there’s ever another fire.

10. Potter through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside…our base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is one of the most popular in the country. Not only is it centrally located and easy to get to (it’s just minutes away from junction 15a of the M1), but it also offers a great variety of cruising routes for boaters, whether novices or experienced navigators. On a week’s cruise, boaters can travel to the historic town of Market Harborough and back via the Foxton staircase of locks, with wonderful views of the Leicestershire countryside and the chance to find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift which once operated there.