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Tips for taking a narrowboat holiday with kids

Clare from the Mudpie Fridays blog enjoyed a Drifters narrowboat holiday on the Kennet & Avon Canal last year.

She travelled with her husband and two boys, aged seven and three.

On their weekend break, they began their journey at our canal boat hire base at Hilperton, near Trowbridge in Wiltshire.  They cruised west to visit the historic town of Bradford on Avon, passing through just one lock each way.

From mooring up and locks, to route maps and canal etiquette, Clare offers 10 tips for your first narrowboat holiday with kids https://mudpiefridays.com/2020/10/14/10-tips-for-your-first-narrowboat-break-with-kids/

Why narrowboat holidays are great for pets

Narrowboats provide a floating holiday home, so it’s possible to take all sorts of pets on the canals.

And as well as hundreds of dogs every year, here at Drifters we have accommodated many other kinds of pets aboard our canal boats.  From rabbits and hamsters to caged birds, goldfish and tortoises.

Here are our top six reasons why canal boat holidays are great for pets:

  1. The majority of canal boats for hire allow pets on board, so you don’t have to allocate holiday budget to pet care;
  2. No extra vaccinations or pet passports are needed for pets to cruise the canals;
  3. Many of our operators allow the first pet to travel free, while others charge a supplement of between £25 and £35;
  4. Canal boat holidays are especially great for dogs, with plenty of towpath walks, dog-friendly canalside pubs and other dogs to meet along the way;
  5. Narrowboats with open cruiser-sterns at the back offer extra room ‘on deck’ for pets and the family to enjoy the ever-changing view; and
  6. Doggy life-jackets are available to buy in advance, with wide belly-straps and easy-to-grab handles for a quick retrieval when dogs accidently go swimming!

To check availability, click here http://www.drifters.co.uk

 

Go stargazing afloat

The Brecon Beacons National Park is an International Dark Sky Reserve.

On clear nights, stargazers can see the Milky Way, major constellations, star clusters, and even meteor showers.

Running through the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Monmouthshire & Brecon offers the chance to take a stargazing holiday afloat.  Narrowboat holiday-makers can set off from our Goytre base, near Abergavenny.

The canal stretches 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran.  As well as dark night skies, 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.

Route options

On a four night break from our narrowboat hire base at Goytre Wharf, you can cruise to Talybont-on-Usk and back.  The journey there and back covers a total of 38 miles.  It passes through 10 locks, and takes around 18 hours.

On a week away, you can continue on to Brecon, travelling a total of 51 miles, passing through 12 locks (six each way).  This takes around 24 cruising hours.

There are a number of recommended stargazing locations close to the canal.  These include Sugar Loaf Mountain near Abergavenny and Llangors Lake near Brecon.  The best times to go stargazing are the days before, during and soon after each new moon.

2021 celestial events to plan a stargazing holiday afloat

  • Lyrid Meteor Shower 22-23 April & International Dark Sky Week (19-25 April)
  • Eta Aquarid Meteors 6-7 May, made up of dust particles left by the Halley comet
  • Micro New Moon, 11 May
  • New Moon, 10 June
  • New Moon, 10 July
  • Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower, 28-29 July
  • New Moon, 8 August
  • New Moon, 7 September
  • New Moon, 6 October
  • Draconids Meteor Shower, 7 October
  • Orionids Meteor Shower, 21-22 October

2021 prices from Goytre start at £649 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for up to four people, £999 for a week. Price includes boat hire, damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet.  Fuel is extra, charged based on use, circa £10-15 per day.

This Dark Sky Calendar helps pinpoint the best nights to go star gazing www.gostargazing.co.uk

A weekend narrowboating on the Grand Union Canal

The October Half Term break gave our little family – Mum, Dad, 12-year old son and Patch the Fox Terrier – the chance to spend the weekend away in the Warwickshire countryside.

We picked up our beautiful boat for up to six people, ‘Isabella’, from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton.  This hire boat yard is on the Grand Union Canal near Leamington Spa.  Drifters’ operators Kate Boats and Anglo Welsh both hire canal boats out of Stockton.

Boat Handover

We were sent a video in advance giving us information about how to operate the boat: https://www.kateboats.co.uk/sendout-video/

On the day we were given a handover in person and the opportunity to be taken through a lock.  We’ve been boating before.  So after going through the safety and operation procedures on board, we set off down the Grand Union Canal towards Napton.

Lock sharing at Calcutt Locks

Everyone had a go at steering during the two miles of cruising through the countryside before we reached our first lock.  Another hire boat joined us in the locks, so we shared the work between our two crews.  Our lock companions were seasoned boaters and were heading off for a two week break around the Warwickshire Ring.

Dinner at the Kings Head

Soon after the locks, we reached Napton Junction, where the Grand Union Canal merges with the Oxford Canal.  Here we moored up for the night just as dusk was approaching.  We walked along the towpath and into the village of Napton to enjoy dinner at the Kings Head pub.  We enjoyed pizza, a burger and a sizzling Thai chicken dish, followed by cheesecake and chocolate pudding.

We’d brought a torch to help us find our way back to our boat in the dark.  There’s no WiFi on board Isabella and the mobile phone signal in rural Warwickshire comes and goes.  While that’s alarming for a 12-year old, for us parents it was a great escape and a good excuse to play card games and chat instead.

A visit to the canal village of Braunston

The next morning we cruised on to the pretty canal village of Braunston in the heart of the canal network.  The journey was lock free and took us about two hours.  The wind was quite strong, especially in the more open stretches of the canal.  But we managed to keep the boat going in the right direction!  We passed fields with cows and sheep, and we saw lots of swans, ducks, moorhens and coots on the water.

At the junction where the main line of the Grand Union Canal meets the Oxford Canal, we turned right towards London.  A left turn would have taken us towards Rugby on the North Oxford Canal.

We turned the boat around at the entrance to Braunston Marina and then moored up for a coffee at the Gongoozler’s rest café boat.  We also topped up our boat with water from the water point close to the Marina entrance.

Then we set off on foot to explore the village of Braunston, including the High Street at the top of the hill.  Here there’s a village shop, pub and fish & chip shop.  Then we walked back down to the canal to have lunch at the Admiral Nelson pub, next to Lock 3.  This was perfect for gongoozling, the canal term for watching people and boats go through locks.  The food and service were excellent, with some great vegetarian choices, and well as burgers.

The return journey

As we only had two nights afloat, we cruised back the way we came and moored up north of Calcutt Locks.  The wind was strong, but the sun was shining and we went through the locks with another boat again.

We returned the boat to the boat yard the next morning and headed home feeling revitalised from all the fresh countryside air.  We have some lovely memories of the sights and sounds of canal environment and a family adventure afloat.

Wanderlust Magazine, November 2020

Sarah Baxter & Paul Bloomfield explore ‘Travel in a Brave New World’ in their ‘Travel Bubbles’ article.  This includes ‘Hope floats’ domestic holidays on the canals.

Daily Telegraph online, 28 October 2020

Emma Cooke and Paul Miles explore ‘Canal boat holidays: the best UK routes, from the Avon Ring to Welsh waterways’

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/river-cruises/best-canal-boat-holidays-uk-yorkshire-wales-norfolk-broads-scotland/

OK! Magazine, 27 October 2020

‘Ghostly goings on’ lists the spookiest places along the canals

Experience winter cruising on the canals

Drifters offers winter cruising on the canals from a number of its bases.  Boats range from snug narrowboats for two, to family vessels for 12.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat.  You can stop off along the way at historic waterside pubs with roaring log fires.

Or visit exciting waterside destinations like Birmingham, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

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

Some of our narrowboat hire yards also offer boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Cheryl Howes, owner of Drifters operator Kate Boats, explains:

“Cruising is different in the winter.  People cover much less distance and it’s more about just enjoying being away from home.  And being completely isolated in the little bubble that is the boat.  It’s more about reading books, than going through lots of locks.

“The winter months are when the Canal & River Trust does most of its maintenance work.  This means some routes aren’t available, but there are always alternatives to choose from.

“Because boat hire is cheaper off season, people will often take a larger boat to give themselves a bit more space.  All our boats are centrally heated, so it’s always nice and cosy on board.  But you do need to wrap up warm when you are underway.  And the person at the tiller needs a supply of hot drinks to keep them going!

“Our boats have plenty of storage on board so you can bring lots of warm clothes. You just need to accept that with limited day length you aren’t going to get as far.  And some towpaths do get muddy.”

Drifters’ winter cruising prices start at £535 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £740 for a week.  Here are our Top 5 winter cruising destinations for 2020-21:

  1. Take a winter cruise through the Warwickshire countryside – from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, you can cruise to Warwick and back.  There you can explore the town’s stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon. Along the way, you will pass through the village of Long Itchington with a choice of pubs. Also the town of Leamington Spa.  The journey to Warwick travels 12 miles of waterway.  It passes through 22 locks and takes around eight hours. Alternatively, you can head to the pretty canal village of Braunston, where there’s a choice of pubs.  Along the way, you’ll pass through Braunston Tunnel, six locks and miles of peaceful countryside.

  2. Travel along the Oxford Canal to Napton – on a short break from our narrowboat hire centre on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, you can travel through the countryside to Napton.  You will travel along the Oxford Canal. The journey passes through just six locks (three each way).  It goes through the villages of Hillmorton and Braunston, with a choice of pubs.

  3. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District – from our narrowboat hire base at Blackwater Meadow on the Llangollen Canal you can travel to Whitchurch and back.  It’s perfect for a short break in the Shropshire countryside.  You will pass Blake Mere and Whixall Moss along the way. The journey travels 12 miles.  There are no locks but there are four moveable bridges and one tunnel to negotiate.  Once at Whitchurch, you can moor up and take time to explore this historic town.  It has a choice of independent shops and restaurants and way-marked circular walks.  There’s also the Brown Moss nature reserve and the award-winning Black Bear pub to visit. 

  4. Glide gently through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley – from our canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood you can cruise along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley.  This takes you through the Staffordshire countryside, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours. The journey travels 12 peaceful miles, with just five locks to negotiate along the way.  It goes past the Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.  It also passes the Wolseley Arms and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern.  At Fradley, you can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn.  You can also explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.

  5. Visit historic Chester afloat – from our base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley you can reach Chester in seven hours.  The cruise takes you through 12 miles of Cheshire countryside and through nine locks.  You can moor up at Northgate visitor moorings in the ancient city of Chester.  From there you explore the city and its Roman Walls, Cathedral and Chester Rows.

The Mail on Sunday, 25 October 2020

Caroline Hendrie suggests winter cruising on the canals in ‘Cast off for a tranquil potter along England’s waterways’

Daily Express, 24 October 2020

‘Popular haunts – brave ghosts, ghouls and walking spirits on our canals – if you dare’