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Multi-generational Narrow Boat Holiday Diary

Towpath Talk editor Janet Richardson recently enjoyed a four-night family break on a Drifters boat, hired from our Stockton base.  Here’s what Janet had to say about her ‘Far from the madding crowd’ multi-generational narrowboat holiday:

Day 1 – from Stockton to Napton Junction (3 miles, 3 locks)

In these days of staycations, families have taken to the British countryside for all sorts of different experiences.

We decided to take a three-generation narrowboat break – myself, my son-in-law and two grandsons.

So on August Bank Holiday Monday 2021, we arrived at Drifters operator Kate Boats’ Stockton base in Warwickshire.  Instructions had been emailed to us prior to arrival, so we knew what sort of procedures to expect.

There were already three cars ahead of us on the roadway down to the boatyard, but we were soon greeted by Mandy and shown where to park.

We quickly shipped all our luggage onto our floating home for the next four days – the 58ft Caroline Mary. Then we let the boys – Oliver 13 and Lewis 10 – explore inside, while Neil and I did the boat handover and tuition with Andrew from Kate Boats.

After a brief introduction, he gave us a checklist of everything to be aware of, such as location of the gas bottles, mooring pins, windlasses and electrical equipment.  He then gave us time to find everything and prepare any questions.

Andrew then showed us the daily checks and how to access the weed hatch if necessary.  He checked we had previous experience of going through locks before winding the boat for us so we were facing in the right direction.  He then accompanied us through the first bridge, where we dropped him off on the towpath.

We were then on our own with 58ft of narrowboat to steer – being sure to remain on tick-over when passing moored boats.

As we went through the three locks at Calcutt, I was very grateful to two female crew members from Eliana who reminded me how to operate the paddles.

We followed Eliana down to Napton Junction where they turned right to head south down the Oxford Canal, while we went left towards Braunston.

After a cheery wave goodbye, we started to look for a suitable spot to moor along the towpath, and soon found an ideal spot about 50 yards below a moored widebeam.

Preparing for our first night afloat, we soon became aware of what we had forgotten to bring! Neil and boys hadn’t got any towels, but I had bought a bath towel and a hand towel – something we were going to have to share! We also didn’t have much food as we had been anticipating eating at a pub, so we ended up with a scratch meal of sausage rolls and pot noodles. At least I had brought a bottle of wine to wash it down!

Having had a pleasant evening playing a board game, and then watching a movie we prepared to settle down for the night. Neil and Lewis occupied the two single bunks in the fore-end, Oliver the converted dinette in the middle and I slept on a single bunk in the saloon.

Away from any street lighting, it seemed very dark but very quiet – a restful end to a busy first day.

Day 2 – Napton Junction to Braunston Marina (5 miles, 0 locks)

It was lovely waking up in compete quiet – no traffic noise or the usual buzz from people going about their daily business.

Our first ‘visitors’ were a family of swans – cob, pen and four cygnets almost as big as their parents, but still with most of their ‘ugly duckling’ plumage. The boys wanted to give them some bread but I explained it wasn’t good for them, and we could try to pick up some duck feed somewhere along the route.

With no time constraints and just a leisurely cruise up to Braunston ahead, we enjoyed a breakfast which Neil conjured up from the contents of the fridge – bacon, egg, beans, tomatoes and bread – almost a full English!  Then we got underway.

The first point to show us exactly where we were on the map in the Nicholson’s ‘Birmingham & Heart of England’ guide, was the fairly sharp right-hand bend under Nimrod Bridge No 108, followed by a left-hander.

We were cruising through some lovely countryside, with cattle and sheep grazing and the only traffic we were aware of was going under the A475 at Bridge No 107. We passed the village of Lower Shuckburgh on the right, and then cruised along a straighter stretch of canal towards Flecknoe.

Some of the older oncoming boats we passed had the great ‘chug chug’ noise. We discovered later there had been a Russell Newbery Register gathering at Braunston over the Bank Holiday weekend.

There was another sequence of bends before the canal straightened up again after Bridge No 100. We knew then that we were approaching ‘civilisation’ as there were more moored boats, and the landmark spire of All Saints’ Church showed us we were nearing the historic canal village of Braunston.

I had been invited by Tim Coghlan to moor for the night at Braunston Marina so we could catch up on the latest news and features for Towpath Talk.  As we turned in under its famous Horseley Iron Bridge, we were met by Tim and directed to a pontoon.

Neil and the boys walked up into the village to visit the butcher’s and supermarket to stock up on supplies.  We then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon – taking the opportunity to pop into Tradline Ropes and Fenders and we also saw the bags of coal ready for loading on to Raymond and Sculptor for the annual Narrow Boat Trust Coal Run.

It was soon time to walk along the towpath up to Lock 3 of the Braunston flight as I had booked a table at the Admiral Nelson. We enjoyed a very tasty evening meal and walked back to our boat as dusk fell on the second day of our trip.

Day 3 – Braunston to the village of Napton on the Hill (6 miles, 0 locks)

After a leisurely breakfast, the boys went up the hill into the village for more supplies, while we prepared to head off on the next leg of our cruise.

After some manoeuvring between the moored boats along the pontoon, we were under the bridge and on our way to the Braunston Turn.

We decided not to try and push on further north up the Oxford Canal, which would put us under pressure when it was time to turn back.  So we turned left back the way we had come, and headed back towards Napton Junction.

We had been following another boat most of the way and they pulled in for a stop along a beautiful stretch of countryside just after Bridge 103. The boys were getting hungry so we decided to do likewise a little further along.

It was beautiful; all you could see was the rolling countryside to the east with fields of grazing sheep and cattle. Apart from the occasional boat coming past, there was no sound or sign of human life!

Much to Oliver’s delight, having bought a bag of duck feed from the dispenser at the lock beside the Admiral Nelson the previous evening, the family of three swans we had passed preening their feathers on the towpath swam into view.

The parents and well-grown cygnet stopped for a snack before heading on their way.  Then the boys and I went for a walk along the towpath, while our skipper had a power nap!

We were soon under way again and instead of turning right at Napton Junction, carried on up the Oxford Canal, aiming to wind before the Napton Flight and find a mooring for the night.

Having spotted some space along the moorings before Bridge 111, we decided to take advantage of the winding hole there.  It proved quite a challenge with our 58ft boat getting its fore-end stuck in the silt, and the stern almost jammed up against the towpath.  Neil had to use the boat pole to push us back.

Luckily a lovely couple from a moored narrowboat we had just passed came to our rescue with instructions from the bank.  This enabled us to complete the manoeuvre while a couple of boats behind us pulled in to wait.

They then helped us to moor just in front of their narrowboat Moondancer. The next morning they went on their way before we had chance to thank them again for their friendliness and help.

Opposite our mooring was a large stubble field with lots of ducks and geese feeding. We also watched what we thought was either a kestrel or a sparrowhawk hovering over the field, and swooping down for its prey several times.

As darkness fell we could see the lights from the village across the field and car headlights on the road leading up to it.

Day 4 – Napton on the Hill back to Stockton (4 miles, 3 locks)

As we prepared to set off on our return journey, another Kate Boats narrowboat Kate Elizabeth came past.  I asked them if they were heading towards Stockton and asked if we could share the locks.

We turned left back onto the Grand Union Canal at Napton junction.  Then cruised up to the Calcutt Locks where the Kate Elizabeth was waiting for a boat coming up the top lock.  We pulled in behind. The occupants were also three generations of a family – grandparents, parents and two children from Gloucester.  They had decided on a week’s holiday boating after a planned trip to Florida had been cancelled.

We stopped at lunchtime and took a walk, then decided to head back to Kate Boat’s base for our last night, so we were handy for the check-in the following morning.

We were lucky to get a space at the front of the moorings, and as the sun showed itself for the first time during the week we went across to the pub for a welcome drink in the garden and booked a table for an evening meal.

Day 5 – back home

It was early to rise ready to return the boat by 9.30am.  We had the bedding stripped and placed in the laundry bag provided and all our bags packed by 7am.  So we pulled over to a vacant space and transported all our luggage to the car.

It wasn’t too long before Mandy arrived and said they were expecting 14 boats in with 11 to go out – so a busy day ahead.

We said our goodbyes and headed home reflecting on what had been a most enjoyable break. Lewis said he liked stopping in a different place every night, while Oliver also said the travelling was the best bit. They had both also enjoyed seeing the wildlife – especially the ducks and swans.

The best part for Neil was steering the narrowboat, although he said he could do with a bit more practice at reversing. And me – the friendliness of everyone we came across, whether seasoned boaters or fellow holidaymakers, and the feeling of being far from the madding crowd.

Top 9 Canal Boat Holidays for Autumn 2021

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

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

1. Visit Coventry UK City of Culture afloat

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

2. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal

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

3. Complete the Stourport Ring

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

4. Glide across The Stream in the Sky

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

5. Cruise to Manchester & back

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

6. Drift through the Calder Valley

On a short break from Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, boaters can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, boaters can moor in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, as well as hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow

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

8. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton

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

9. Cruise through the Bath Valley

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

Visit Coventry on a canal boat holiday

This year’s City of Culture – Coventry – is a key destination on the midlands canal network, so it’s a great place to visit on a canal boat holiday.

The city, which led the way in the cloth and textiles trade, has its own canal.  The Coventry Canal runs 38 miles from Coventry Basin, up to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Fradley.  The first five and a half miles of the Coventry Canal between Coventry Basin and Hawkesbury Junction was designated a conservation area in 2012.

Special City of Culture events include a three-day music festival in July and the BBC spoken word festival in September.  The City’s many permanent attractions, include its famous Cathedral, St Mary’s Guildhall and Coventry Transport Museum.

To celebrate this year’s UK City of Culture, we’ve listed our Top 4 narrowboat holidays to Coventry:

1. Cruise the Coventry Canal from Kings Orchard in Staffordshire

From our new canal boat hire base at Kings Orchard it takes 16 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The journey travels 34 miles of the Coventry Canal and passes through 13 locks.  The route takes you through the Staffordshire countryside.  And it passes a series of canalside pubs, including The Greyhound Inn at Hawkesbury Junction.

2. Navigate the Oxford Canal from Braunston in Northamptonshire

From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Braunston, it takes 12 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  You’ll cruise 28 miles of waterway and pass through just four locks.  You’ll journey through the Northamptonshire countryside and past a series of canalside towns and villages, including Hillmorton and Rugby.

3. Travel to Coventry from Napton in Warwickshire

From our boat yard at Napton on the Oxford Canal, it takes 14 hours to reach Coventry Basin.  The route navigates 33 miles of canals and passes through four locks.  You’ll travel through the countryside and past a series of canalside pubs, including the Royal Oak at Hillmorton.

4. Cruise to Coventry from Stockton in Warwickshire

From Stockton on the Grand Union Canal it takes 15 hours to reach Coventry.  You’ll travel along 36 miles of waterway, and pass through seven locks.  The route transfers onto the Oxford Canal at Napton Junction, and takes you through the countryside to Coventry.

For more information about Coventry UK City of Culture events, go to https://coventry2021.co.uk/

To book a mooring space in Coventry Basin, go to https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/planning-your-boat-trip/booking-your-passage-online or call The Canal & River Trust on 0303 040 4040.

Top 6 Summer 2021 Narrowboat Holidays

Canal boat holidays offer a great self-catering holiday option for families, with the chance to set off together on an outdoor adventure afloat.

There are over 3,000 miles of inland waterways to explore, with hundreds of waterside destinations.  From pubs, cafes and shops, to museums and nature reserves, there’s always something special to plan at stop at.

Drifters offers 550 self-drive narrowboats for hire from 45 locations across England, Wales and Scotland.  Summer holiday prices start at £965 for a short break (three or four nights) and £1,335 for a week on a boat for four people.

Drifters’ director Nigel Stevens explains: “Today’s narrowboats for hire offer all the mod cons of home.  This includes central heating, hot water, TV, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets.  Some also offer extras, like wider beds, larger showers, solid-fuel stoves and Wifi.

“You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat, and tuition is included in all our holiday packages.

“Around 350,000 people enjoy narrowboating each year.  With the current focus on domestic holidays, we are looking forward to welcoming more people to the waterways this year.”

  1. Cruise to Manchester & back

On a week’s break from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to Manchester and back, enjoying time in the countryside as well as well as the City.  The route, which travels a total of 68 miles of waterway (34 each way) passes through just one lock.  Places to stop off at along the way, include Stockton Heath, with a choice of shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs, as well as the historic village of Lymm.  On arrival in Manchester, there are places to moor at Castlefield Basin, within easy reach of City Centre attractions. And to visit the Trafford Centre, boaters can return via Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal closeby.

  1. Navigate the Kennet & Avon Canal to Bath

On a short break from Drifters canal boat hire base at Hilperton, boaters can travel to Bath and back.  The route travels a total of 25 miles, passes through 6 locks and takes around 13 hours.  Along the way, the canal takes holiday-makers past a series of canalside pubs, including The Barge in at Seend, The Boat House at Bradford on Avon, the Cross Guns at Avoncliff and the George at Bathampton.  There are overnight moorings close to Sydney Gardens, a short walk from Bath City Centre.

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

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

  1. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From Drifters’ base at Trevor on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, can be reached on a short break (three or four nights).

  1. Cruise through the countryside to Banbury & back

On a week’s holiday from Drifters narrowboat hire base at Stockton canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the peaceful Oxford Canal to Banbury and back.  The journey there and back cruises 50 miles, passes through 50 locks and takes around 29 hours.  It passes through a series of villages with pubs, including the Folly Inn at Napton, the Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton and the Red Lion at Cropredy.

  1. Boat to the ancient City of Chester

On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury near Tarporley in Cheshire, canal boat holiday-makers can head north to the historic City of Chester.  This 12-mile journey through the rolling Cheshire countryside takes seven hours, passing through 18 locks.  Once in Chester, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy some of this ancient city’s best loved attractions, including Britain’s most complete Roman and medieval walls, the Tudor open-air galleries, and Chester Zoo which celebrates its 90th birthday this year.

For more information about Drifters boating holidays call 0344 984 0322 or visit https://www.drifters.co.uk/.

For information about visiting the canal network go to https://canalrivertrust.org.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.

Wanderlust Magazine, November 2020

In ‘Tales from the Riverbank’ Lyn Hughes reviews her first narrowboat holiday on the Oxford Canal

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.

A Narrowboat Holiday in Northamptonshire

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

The Grand Union Canal celebrated its 90th anniversary this year.  A good reason 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.  There we were warmly welcomed by Howard & Ann Davies of Napton Narrowboats.  Napton Narrowboats are part of the Drifters group of canal boat hire operators.

They introduced us to our home-from-home — ‘Caroline’, a Regency 4 class narrowboat.  She is 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.

The cruise to Braunston

Then we were off, beginning with a short section of the Oxford Canal.  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.  This ghostly figure of a Victorian canal worker is said to haunt the tunnel.

A night at Weedon

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.  We ate while admiring the sunset with a glass of wine in hand.

On to Stoke Bruerne

Monday morning we cruised leisurely on and then through the 2800-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.  Then we moored 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.  We then went on through the Northamptonshire countryside to Cosgrove. And then we cruised across the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, an exhilarating experience.

A night at Wolverton

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.

About turn

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

Overnight at Bugbrooke

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

Exploring Braunston

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.

Overnight at Napton

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

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