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Experience winter cruising on the canals

Drifters offers winter cruising on the canals from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug narrowboats for two, to family vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat, with stops at historic waterside pubs with roaring log fires, or to 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, offering the chance for peaceful break afloat in the countryside.

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 aboard, making the most of 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, which 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 slightly 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 Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore its stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon. Along the way, boaters pass through the village of Long Itchington with a choice of pubs and Leamington Spa.  The journey to Warwick travels 12 miles of waterway, passes through 22 locks and takes around eight hours. Alternatively, winter cruisers can head to the pretty canal village of Braunston, where there’s a choice of pubs.  Along the way, boaters pass through the Braunston Tunnel and through six locks, as well as miles of peaceful countryside.
  2. Travel along the Oxford Canal to Napton – on a short break from Drifter’s narrowboat hire centre on the North Oxford Canal at Rugby, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the countryside along the Oxford Canal to the pretty canal village of Napton. The journey passes through just six locks (three each way) and the canal village of Braunston, with a choice of pubs.
  3. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District – from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Blackwater Meadow on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, on a short break canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Whitchurch and back, passing Blake Mere and Whixall Moss along the way. The journey travels through 12 miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside.  There are no locks but there are four moveable bridges and one tunnel to negotiate.  Once at Whitchurch, boaters can moor up and take time to explore this historic town with a choice of independent shops and restaurants, way-marked circular walks, Brown Moss nature reserve and the award-winning Black Bear pub.
  4. Glide gently through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley – from Drifters’ canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can head south, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours. The journey passes through 12 peaceful miles of countryside, with just five locks to negotiate along the way.  Highlights along the way include The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the Wolseley Arms and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern.  At Fradley, boaters can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
  5. Visit historic Chester afloat – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley in Cheshire, it’s a seven-hour cruise through the Cheshire countryside to reach the ancient city of Chester. Along the way, boaters will cruise through 12 miles of countryside and pass through nine locks.  Once moored up at Northgate visitor moorings, narrowboat holiday-makers explore the city and its Roman Walls, Cathedral, Chester Rows and choice of places to eat.

A Narrowboat Holiday in Northamptonshire

Countryman editor Mark Whitley describes his latest canal boat holiday on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire

The Grand Union Canal celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, which is reason — if reason were needed —to enjoy its many delights by on a week’s narrowboat holiday.

So on a sunny Saturday, I and three friends (my crew for the week) met up at Napton Marina, where we are warmly welcomed by Howard & Ann Davies of Napton Narrowboats, part of the Drifters group of canal boat hire operators.

They introduced us to our home-from-home — ‘Caroline’, a Regency 4 class narrowboat, luxuriously fitted out with all the mod cons, including a rear deck folding table (perfect for alfresco dining). The boat yard staff give us an informative overview and tour of the boat. Then we were off, beginning with a short section of the Oxford Canal and a couple of hours later we reached the pretty canal village of Braunston for our first overnight stop.  We moored up alongside the Admiral Nelson pub, the perfect spot for a post-cruise drink or two on our first day.

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast, we were soon entering Braunston Tunnel. We kept a wary eye out for the Braunston boggart, the ghostly figure of a Victorian canal worker who is said to haunt the tunnel.

Six miles, seven locks and three hours peaceful cruising later, we moored up near Weedon Bec for the night. Jon, our resident chef for the week, rustled up a wonderful meal for us all to enjoy, while admiring the sunset with a glass of wine in hand.

Monday morning we cruised leisurely on and then through the 2800-metre long Blisworth Tunnel to moor up at Stoke Bruerne for lunch.  It’s a lovely spot to while away an hour or two. I enjoyed an ice cream while watching the canal traffic — it’s official, I’m a gongoozler!

In the afternoon we set off again, travelling through the flight of six locks at Stoke Bruerne, then on through the Northamptonshire countryside to Cosgrove, and across the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, an exhilarating experience.

Late afternoon, we moored up for the night near Wolverton. A couple of us headed off along the towpath to the local supermarket to replenish our supplies.

Tuesday, we turned around and headed back along the Grand Union Canal through Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth Tunnel and shortly after headed up the Northampton Arm, a lovely stretch of canal — though with 17 locks so we get plenty of lock practice!

Wednesday, we headed back re-join the mainline of the Grand Union again, and then cruised on overnight moorings at Bugbrooke, where the Wharf pub has a lovely beer garden overlooking the canal.

Thursday, we had another glorious day of boating and arrived back at Braunston by mid-afternoon. That left plenty of time to explore Braunston itself, where we found a couple of pubs, a village shop, a fish and chip take-away and a butcher’s.

Friday, we re-joined the Oxford Canal for the final leg of our journey, to overnight at Napton Bridge, the perfect spot to reflect back on a wonderful week exploring the Grand Union Canal.

Saturday, as we finally leave the boat, we’re already planning our next narrowboat adventure. We’ve got the boating bug, that’s for sure!

Union Canal Carriers celebrates 50 years afloat

Union Canal Carriers celebrates 50 years afloat

Born in the dying days of the canal boat carrying trade on the Grand Union and Oxford Canals at Braunston, and in the year that Barbara Castle’s 1968 Transport Act officially recognised the nation’s canals as a leisure resource, Drifters’ member Union Canal Carriers helped pioneer narrow boating for pleasure.

The family-run narrowboat hire firm first started to run camping boats from its canal boat hire base below Braunston locks in 1968, using converted British Waterways working boats.

Tim Hewitt, of Union Canal Carriers, explains: “In those days holidays on the rapidly deteriorating canals were in their infancy. Scores of school children, scouts and guides bunked aboard boats that once carried coal, iron ore and aluminium billets, spending blissful, parent-free days just messing about on the canals.”

Today the company has a range of 16 modern hire boats, providing accommodation for up to 12 people, and a very popular day boat ‘Ouzel II’.

Tim adds: “Over the last 50 years we have introduced thousands of people to the delights of narrowboat holidays on the waterways. Many come back year after year and we’ve watched their children grow up. It’s such a pleasure to see our customers returning all happy and relaxed after a holiday on one of our boats.

“This year, we are also celebrating 50 years of canal renaissance, sparked by the 1968 Transport Act.”

Overseen by Transport Minister and canal-enthusiast Barbara Castle after years of campaigning by enthusiasts – the 1968 Transport Act marked the turning point for the waterways from being a declining freight network, to becoming a major leisure resource.

There are now over 30,000 canal boats on the network – more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution – and around 380,000 people holiday on Britain’s canals each year, a figure that has nearly doubled in the last 10 years.

Tim continues: “As well as investment in the waterways themselves, over the years, vast improvements have been made to the standard of accommodation provided on board holiday narrowboats – all now equipped with essential mod cons like central heating, hot water, TV’s, fitted kitchens, showers and flushing toilets.
“New research published by the Canal & River Trust shows that spending time by the waterways can make you happier and improve your life satisfaction. And the research reveals higher levels of happiness and lower levels of anxiety for longer trips – a powerful incentive to book a nice long canal boat holiday!
“It’s vital that the role of the waterways for helping to improve the wellbeing of millions of people is recognised to ensure our canals and rivers continue to be valued and used for the next 50 years.”

Drifters' A to Z of canal boat holidays

Drifters’ 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 provides a 15-metre vertical link between the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver Navigation.

B is for Bingley Five-Rise Locks – completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers.

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.

D is for Docks – built to accommodate ships and store cargoes, such as London Docklands, once the busiest in the world and Liverpool’s Albert Dock, a World Heritage site.

E is for Everywhere – there are over 2,000 miles of navigable waterways to explore in Britain, and half the UK’s population lives within five miles of a navigable canal or river.

F is for Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift which stands 35 metre high and moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland.

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

H is for Heritage – canals were built to transport goods and materials to support the Industrial Revolution and are vital part of our nation’s industrial heritage.

I is for Iron Trunk Aqueduct – built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, this impressive 10-metre high structure carries the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse near Wolverton in Buckinghamshire

J is for Jessop – one of the great canal engineers who worked on the Grand Union, Rochdale and Llangollen canals.

K is for Kennet & Avon Canal – which travels 87 miles through spectacular scenery, linking the River Thames and the Bristol Avon.

L is for Locks – there are over 1,650 locks on the canal system, all enabling boaters to travel up and down hills.

M is for Mooring – along the length of the majority of our inland waterways boaters are free to choose where they stop to moor for the night.

N is for Navigation – another word for a canal and travelling by vessel, you don’t need a licence to skipper a canal boat and tuition is provided as part of canal boat hire packages.

O is for Oxford Canal – one of the oldest canals in Britain meandering slowly through the countryside, this canal opened in sections between 1774 and 1790 to transport coal from the Coventry coalfields to Oxford and the River Thames.

P is for Pubs – there are hundreds of waterside inns along Britain’s canals and rivers, many of them historic rural locals, so you’re never too far away from the next watering hole.

Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the six-mile network of historic industrial rivers that criss-cross the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London were restored to full navigation as part of preparation for the London 2012 Olympics.

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 busy modern lives.

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.

T is for Telford – another of the great canal engineers, Thomas Telford worked with William Jessop on the Llangollen Canal and was responsible for the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

U is for Underwater – canals support a thriving underwater ecosystem of many varieties of fish, eels, invertebrates, larvae and underwater plants.

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V is for Vole – best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, but sadly now one of our most endangered species, to spot a water vole 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, bats 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, designed by Lord Snowdon.

Top 10 Christmas breaks on the canals

Top 10 Christmas breaks on the canals

Cruising gently through quiet countryside and stopping off at rural local pubs along the way, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network can offer a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

We offer winter breaks* from a number of our bases, giving you the chance to enjoy snug evenings afloat, visit waterside pubs with roaring log fires, and wake up to crisp clean country air.

And whether it’s a cosy boat for two or a family affair for eight, celebrating Christmas or New Year afloat also offers the chance to visit some of Britain’s most exciting waterside towns and cities, including Bath, Birmingham, Chester, Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

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

Here’s a run-down of our Top 10 Christmas breaks afloat:

1. Enjoy the Christmas cheer in Chester – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it’s a seven-hour, nine-lock journey to the historic walled City of Chester. With Christmas markets and parades, carols at Chester Cathedral and the magical ‘Lanterns at Chester Zoo’ event, Chester is a great place to celebrate Christmas.

2. Take in a Christmas Show in Birmingham – Birmingham City centre moorings at Gas Street Basin can be reached in just five hours from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. With its dazzling Frankfurt Christmas Market, ice rink, big wheel, Bull Ring and Mailbox shopping centres and Christmas shows, including ‘Dick Whittington’ at the Hippodrome, Birmingham is a great place to get Christmassy.

3. Meander along the South Oxford Canal – from Drifters’ base at Clifton-on-Dunsmore, near Rugby, on a week’s break boaters can travel along the rural South Oxford Canal, passing Cotswold stone canalside villages with a choice of historic canalside pubs. On a short break, boaters can reach Gayton on the Grand Union Canal, passing through the delightful canal village of Braunston with its famous tunnel.

4. Wend your way to Warwick Castle – from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore Warwick Castle decked out for Christmas, including a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall and Story Time with Santa in the Red Drawing Room.

5. Travel through Shakespeare country – on a short break from our base at Stratford upon Avon, canal boat holiday-makers can travel through the Warwickshire countryside along the beautiful Stratford upon Avon Canal to Lapworth and back, stopping off at cosy country pubs along the way, including The Mary Arden at Wilmcote, also home to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s ‘Mary Arden’s Farm’. On a week’s break, boaters can continue on to Warwick.

6. Visit the ‘chocolate box pretty’ canalside village of Stoke Bruerne…from Drifters’ base at Rugby on the North Oxford Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can choose from a number of routes, including a trip through rural Northamptonshire to the lovely village of Stoke Bruerne. With two popular historic village pubs, a curry house, tranquil countryside walks and the Canal Museum packed with canal artefacts, stories and films, there’s plenty of Christmas hospitality to enjoy.

7. Cruise through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside…on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base in the historic market town of Market Harborough on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, narrowboat holiday-makers can potter through rural Leicestershire to the pretty villages of Crick or Welford, passing through Foxton Locks with magnificent views of the Leicestershire countryside. On a week’s break, they can continue on to Stoke Bruerne.

8. Glide across the Stream in the Sky…from Drifters’ base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, on a short break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Chirk and back on a short break, passing over the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 300 metres above the Dee Valley, with incredible views to enjoy. On a week’s holiday from Trevor, boaters can travel on to Wrenbury and back.

9. Travel to Georgian Bath – Drifters’ base at the historic town of Bradford on Avon on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, 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. Once in Bath, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy the City’s beautiful Christmas lights, services at Bath Abbey, world class Museums and a fantastic choice of shops and restaurants.

10. Chug through rural Warwickshire – On a short break from Drifters’ 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 can travel on to Leamington Spa and Warwick.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work

 

 

Top 10 Summer Holidays on the Canals

Top 5 Summer Canal Boat Holidays

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

Drifters offers the choice of over 580 boats from 45 bases across England, Wales and Scotland. All our operators provide hirers with life jackets and boat steering tuition at the start of their holiday. Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and pets are welcome aboard most hire boats.

Drifters’ prices in July and August start at £625 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, £965 for a week.

Here are our Top 5 Summer Holidays Afloat:

1. Visit Georgian Bath Afloat – on a short break from Drifters’ base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal and reach the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath in seven hours, with just seven locks to negotiate along the way. As well as stunning architecture, great shopping and restaurants, Bath has many fantastic family attractions, including the Roman Baths, the best preserved ancient temple and baths in Northern Europe.

2. Complete the Warwickshire Ring – from our base at Coventry Canal Basin, cruising the Warwickshire Ring makes for an energetic week’s cruise or a leisurely two-week expedition. The ring (101 miles, 94 locks, 48 hours) takes in 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 flight of 21 locks at Hatton; Warwick Castle; Leamington Spa; and Birmingham City Centre.

3. Glide across the Stream in the Sky – At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, is an incredible feat of engineering, offering canal boat holiday-makers panoramic views of the stunning Dee Valley below. On a short break from our base on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk, boaters can travel across the aqueduct and reach the pretty town of Llangollen, with Steam Railway and Horseshoe Falls.  On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can also reach Ellesmere, the Shropshire Lake District, teaming with wildlife and the pretty town of Whitchurch, offering a wealth of independent shops, cafes and restaurants.

4. Visit Skipton and its medieval castle – on a short break from our base at Barnoldswick, boaters can head east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Skipton and back (total journey there and back of 26 miles, 30 locks, 20 hours). This breath-taking route winds along the contours of the side of Airedale, with extensive views of sheep country – farmhouses, barns, stone walls and the occasional village or town. Once in Skipton, boaters can moor in the centre of the town, visit shops and restaurants and explore the 900-year old Skipton Castle, one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England.

5. Explore the heart of the canal network – our canal boat hire base at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire offers a variety of routes through the heart of the canal network. For example, on a short break, boaters can reach the “chocolate box” pretty historic village of Stoke Bruerne, where little has changed since the heyday of the canals the first half of the 19th century, and a visit the Canal Museum to follow the story of the people who created and worked on the canals. On a week’s break from Braunston, boaters can tackle the Warwickshire Ring, travelling through Warwick and Birmingham and passing through 93 locks.

Top 5 Luxury Canal Boats for Hire

Top 5 Luxury Canal Boats for Hire

There are now over 30,000 canal boats on our inland waterways, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution, and unprecedented numbers of people are visiting and holidaying on our canals.

The popularity of boating has been fuelled by the waterway renaissance which has swept across the UK, and by the standard of accommodation now available.

Today’s canal boats are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons – central heating, hot water, TV, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets. Some of the boats available for hire offer five star accommodation, with extras like baths, solid-fuel stoves and King-sized beds.

Here are our Top 5 luxury canal boats for hire:

1. Enjoy the stylish interior of ‘Aquila’ – the new four-berth Constellation Class ‘Aquila’ has arrived at Drifters’ Wootton Wawen base on the Stratford Canal near Stratford upon Avon. Boasting exacting standards of craftsmanship, comfort and finish, ‘Aquila’ has full-size showers, flexible and private berths, a solid fuel stove, large TV, WiFi, and spacious kitchen with stylish fittings and lighting. On a short break (three or four nights) narrowboat holiday-makers booking ‘Aquila’ travel through the beautiful Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon to join in the celebrations marking 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. On a week’s holiday, boaters can reach historic Warwick or Brindleyplace in Birmingham’s City Centre.

****Aquila’s hire prices start at £695 for short break, £995 for a week.

2. Sleep on a King-sized bed on board ‘Alvechurch Sanderling’ – the eight-berth 60ft-long wide beam (double the width of a narrowboat) ‘Alvechurch Sanderling’ is available to hire from our base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in the Scottish lowlands. This stunning boat has a King-sized bed cabin, two fixed double bunks and space in the dining area to create another double bed or two singles. It has two bathrooms, both with showers, and a fully equipped galley with a four-burner gas cooker, with grill and oven, refrigerator, sink and drainer, work surfaces and storage. Holiday-makers booking ‘Alvechurch Sanderling’ can travel to through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first and only rotating boat lift) and on to the Union Canal, passing through a series of historic villages with a choice of waterside eateries, including Linlithgow and Ratho, reaching Edinburgh in a day and a half. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions.

****Alvechurch Sanderling’s 2016 hire prices start at £1109 for a short break, £1299 for a week.

3. Take a bath on the ‘Regency 4’ – from Napton Marina on the North Oxford Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can pick a boat from the luxury ‘Regency’ range, including the six-berth ‘Regency 4’. This first class boat features: two bathrooms with baths; three double cabins (two with king-size beds and one with two extra-wide singles); a rear deck table for alfresco dining; TVs in all bedrooms; an extra-large TV in the saloon; mobile Wifi; 240v mains supply; 240v charging socket; a quality sound system; fully equipped kitchen with fridge, full sized cooker, microwave, toaster and coffee maker; quiet modern diesel engine; oak fittings; 6ft 4 head-room throughout; and a host of other extras. A range of routes are available from Napton Marina, including the short break option to travel south down the Oxford Canal to the pretty village Cropredy, with Brasenose Arms and Red Lion pubs and a grocery shop. On a week’s holiday, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to the rural Ashby Canal, and visit the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field.

****2016 Regency 4 hire prices start at £795 for a short break (three or four nights) and £1,195 for a week.

4. Feel like Royalty aboard the ‘Princess 6’ – this beautiful boat can be hired from a number of our bases, including Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales. The Princess 6 sleeps up to six people with a flexible bed configuration, full central heating, airing cupboards, two full-sized showers with bi-fold doors, flat screen TV with Freeview, radio, CD and DVD player, fully-equipped kitchen, 12v/USB pint for charging, security safe and free mobile WiFi on request. On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Chirk, boaters can travel across the incredible World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, truly one of the Wonders of the Waterways, and reach the pretty town of Llangollen, with Steam Railway, Horseshoe Falls and waterside eateries, including the popular Corn Mill. On a week’s break, boaters can also reach Ellesmere, Shropshire’s Lake District, teaming with wildlife, and the historic market town of Whitchurch, with a wealth of independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. The Princess 6 can also be hired from Stoke Prior, Acton Bridge, Napton, Peak District, Falkirk and Bradford on Avon.

****2016 short break prices for the Princess 6 from Chirk start at £795, weekly hire from £1,180.

5. Find 5 Star family luxury aboard the brand new ‘Charlotte’ – new for the 2016 season, the 70 foot, eight-berth ‘Charlotte’ is available to hire from late June onwards from Drifters’ base on the Grand Union Canal at Warwick. Delivering the finest example of quality boat building, ‘Charlotte’ has two fixed doubles, each with an en-suite bathroom offering full-sized showers with bi-fold doors, and electric toilets. Her third cabin provides twin beds, with bunks over, making her a fantastic boat for families. ‘Charlotte’ is fully equipped with 240 electric, radiator central heating, a well-equipped galley, TV, DVD player and has a cruiser stern open back deck with room for a number of people to stand together to watch the world go by. On a short break from Warwick, narrowboat holiday-makers can head for the pretty canal village of Braunston, with plenty of waterside pubs and villages to stop-off at along the way. On a week’s break, boaters could travel to Stratford upon Avon, moor-up in Bancroft Basin close to the town centre and use their boat to explore Shakespeare’s fascinating home town with waterside restaurants, Swan Theatre, shops and museums.

****Charlotte’s 2016 prices start at £1040 for a week, or £655 for a short break.

Celebrate the Brindley 300

Celebrate the Brindley 300

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the pioneering canal engineer James Brindley.

Brindley was responsible for eight waterways, stretching 360 miles, including the Bridgewater Canal, the first of the industrial age.

Born in 1716, the son of hill farmers near Buxton, at the age of 17 Brindley was apprenticed to a millwright where he learned to control water flows to make mills more efficient.

It was his work to install a pumping station at a colliery near the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate in Lancashire which led him to be employed by the Duke as the onsite engineer for the Bridgewater Canal project in the late 1750’s.

Inspired by canals in France and the Netherlands, the Duke of Bridgewater asked his estate manager to draw up plans for his own waterway to transport coal from his mine at Worsley to Manchester.

This canal is now recognised as the first real canal in Britain and its impressive engineering feats, including the Barton Aqueduct, gave Brindley the reputation as the man to turn to if you need a canal building.

After the Bridgewater, Brindley was the surveyor and principle engineer on a further seven canals – the Trent & Mersey, Oxford, Staffs & Worcs, Birmingham, Droitwich, Chesterfield and Coventry canals.

He worked tirelessly surveying his canals and devising ground-breaking engineering solutions, including the use of ‘puddled clay’ to line canals and provide a watertight channel.

Brindley was very good at convincing others of the need for canals. When a new canal was proposed it would go before a government commission and he was often called to convince MP’s of the viability of the scheme.

Sadly Brindley died in September 1772, long before many of the canals he surveyed and engineered were completed.  But he had trained a number of people to continue his work, and the great engineers that followed – especially Telford and others involved with later canal building during the ‘canal mania’ period – provided the transport network for the Industrial Revolution, making Britain the wealthiest nation in the world.

Of course, Brindley’s canals are still in use today as a national leisure resource – his lasting legacy. And his name appears on pub names, town squares and perhaps most famously at Brindleyplace in Birmingham.

Events are taking place across the country this year to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth include special activities at the Crick Boat Show (28-30 May) and an exhibition at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port from September.

Canal boat holiday-makers can reach Crick from Drifters’ bases at Braunston and Gayton, and Ellesmere Port from Anderton and Acton Bridge.

Great Canal Journeys returns to our screens

Great Canal Journeys returns to our screens

On Sunday 15 March at 8pm, the second series of ‘Great Canal Journeys’ begins on Channel 4, starring self-confessed ‘canal nuts’ Timothy West and Prunella Scales.

Last year, to mark their golden wedding anniversary, they let the world in on their secret and were filmed travelling along four different canals for the first series of ‘Great Canal Journeys’.

It proved to be an entirely charming insight into their hobby, but also their longstanding love affair and thankfully they have returned for more!

Timothy West, who has just entered his ninth decade, said in a recent article in the Daily Mail about the new series, “We’re both getting on a bit now,” and Pru added, “We are determined to make the most of what we love while we can.”

This time the couple are filmed undertaking four new journeys, the first of them along the Oxford Canal (aboard a Drifters boat), where they took their very first boating holiday as a family nearly 40 years ago.

As well as meeting up with their elder son, the actor Sam West, and the author Philip Pullman, Pru looks for tell-tale signs of water voles on the Oxford Canal with the Berks, Bucks & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.

The second episode, on 22 March, will see them travel through London by canal, again on a Drifters boat. For the third, on 29 March, they will be in France, and for the fourth and final episode, on 5 April, they will be in Scotland.

Get the family afloat this summer

Top 5 Easter canal boat holidays

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

Easter prices start at £495 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £685 for a week.  Here are our top 5 destinations this Easter:

1. Boat to Birmingham & enjoy Cadbury World’s Easter Eggstravaganza…Perfect for beginners, boaters can travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our canal boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, stopping off along the way to celebrate an eggstra-special Easter at the canalside Cadbury World. With more canals than Venice, there’s no better way to travel into Birmingham City Centre where over-night moorings are available at Gas Street Basin, close to Brindley Place. There’s plenty for families to see and do in Britain’s second city, including penguin feeding at the National Sea Life Centre or watch the West End smash hit show ‘Evita’, starring Wet Wet Wet singer Marti Pellow, at the Hippodrome.

2. Visit Georgian Bath and its Award-winning Egg theatre…on a short break narrowboat holiday from our  base at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can travel along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal and reach the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath in seven hours, with just seven locks to negotiate along the way. As well as stunning architecture, great shopping and restaurants, Bath has many fantastic family attractions, including the Roman Baths and the Theatre Royal’s award-winning egg theatre, especially for children, young people and their families.

3. Enjoy an Easter Egg hunt at the Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum…close to J15a of the M1, Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire is easy to get to and offers a great variety of routes. On a short break, boaters can travel south to Fenny Stratford and back, cruising through delightful countryside and the picturesque village of Stoke Bruerne, with its friendly waterside pubs and fascinating Canal Museum, offering Easter Egg Hunts 4-12 March. On a week’s cruise, canal boat holiday-makers can head to the historic town of Market Harborough 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.

4. Take part in an Eggstraordinary Eggventure Trail at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History…our Oxford base at Eynsham on the River Thames is a three-hour cruise from Oxford, where boaters can find moorings within walking distance of city centre attractions. This Easter, visitors to the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History can Eggsplore the Museum with an eggciting egg-hunter’s trail. Other family-friendly attractions in Oxford include: climbing the 14th century Carfax Tower to take in a view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’; seeing the witch in the bottle and shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum; touring the incredible Ashmolean Museum, with collections from the Neolithic era to the present day; discovering the real Harry Potter Hogwarts Hall at Christ Church College; and stocking-up on goodies in the Covered Market.

5. See Barbara Hepworth’s egg-like forms at the Hepworth Wakefield…Travelling gently along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation from our’ base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, it takes 12 hours to reach Wakefield, with moorings right outside The Hepworth Wakefield. This Easter visitors can enjoy the Museum’s free ‘Making a Modern Collection’ exhibition, featuring works by Barbara Hepworth, L S Lowry, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, as well as some special Easter family activities. Along the way, boaters can stop off at: the historic market town of Elland and enjoy at meal the Barge & Barrel gastro pub; historic Brighouse with markets, shops and places to eat; and Mirfield with medieval stocks and ducking stool.