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Cruising the Avon Ring

The Avon Ring is one of a dozen or so popular circular routes for narrowboat holiday-makers.

It covers a distance of 108 miles, passes through 130 locks and takes around two weeks to complete.  Sections of the Stratford Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal, River Severn and River Avon make up the route.

Drifters has canal boat hire bases on the ring route at Tardebigge, Alvechurch, Stoke Prior and Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, as well as Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal.

Starting from Tardebigge and travelling anti-clockwise round the Avon Ring, from abbeys and canalside pubs, to theatres and Tudor mansions, here’s a guide to the highlights:

The Tardebigge Flight

With 30 locks in just 2¼ miles it’s the longest lock flight in the country.  There are fantastic views of the Worcestershire countryside to enjoy as boaters descend, with popular Queen’s Head pub to enjoy between locks 29 and 28.  Drifters’ Stoke Prior base is halfway down the flight.

Hanbury Wharf

The Eagle & Sun pub at Hanbury is a popular staging post for narrowboat holiday-makers.  It’s on the junction where the Droitwich Junction Canal meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Diglis Basin

Opened in the 19th century to allow transhipment of cargoes between the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Two broad locks take boaters down into the River, operated by lock keepers.

The River Severn

With the distant outline of the Malvern Hills in overlooking this magnificent river takes boaters through miles of peaceful countryside.  Upton on Severn is a good place to moor, with plenty of shops and pubs.

Tewkesbury

This historic market town with its 12-century abbey, half-timbered buildings and historic pubs is a great place to visit, and it’s here that the River Severn meets the River Avon.

Pershore

One of the finest market towns in Worcestershire, Pershore offers lots of places to eat and shop, and a magnificent abbey to explore.

Evesham

Site of another famous abbey and plenty of pubs and cafes too.

Bidford

The seven arched medieval bridge at Bidford dates from 1482.  Look out for signage, as only one of the arches is suitable for boats to pass through.

Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare’s home town has a great choice of shops, pubs, cafes, museums and theatres.  Bancroft Basin right opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the perfect place to moor up and explore the town.  The Basin connects the River Avon with the Stratford Canal.

Wilmcote Locks

The Stratford Canal is a narrow canal and the flight of 11 locks at Wilmcote take boaters up to the village of Wilmcote.  This historic village is home to Mary Arden’s Farm, one of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s museums and where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.

Edstone Aqueduct

The longest cast iron structure in England, the impressive Edstone Aqueduct offers great views of the surrounding Warwickshire countryside.

Wootton Wawen

There’s another smaller aqueduct here, a Drifters canal boat hire base here and the Yew Tree Farm farm shop and Cowshed Cafe.

Lowsonford

One of a series of quiet villages through which the Stratford Canal passes, Lowsonford is famous for its Fleur de Lys pub.

Lapworth Flight

Fifteen locks at Lapworth take boaters up hill to Hockley Heath, passing close to the National Trust’s Tudor mansion, Packwood House.  There’s a good choice of places to eat and drink at Hockley Heath, including a Chinese takeaway and the canalside Wharf pub.

King’s Norton Junction

After passing through Brandwood Tunnel and the stop lock with its guillotine-like gate hanging overhead, boaters reach the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at King’s Norton Junction.

Wast Hill Tunnel

Turning left at King’s Norton Junction, boaters soon encounter the 2,726 yard long Wast Hill Tunnel.  The journey through the tunnel, which is wide enough for two boats to pass, takes around 30 minutes.

Alvechurch

There’s a choice of canalside pubs here.  The Crown and the Weighbridge at Alvechurch marina, one of Drifters’ narrowboat hire bases.

Just under an hour later, boaters will be back at Tardebigge.

Top 8 Waterside Destinations for 2017

Top 8 Waterside Destinations for 2017

Britain’s 2,000 mile network of navigable inland waterways transports canal boat holiday-makers through rural idylls with wooded glades, sweeping farmland and sleepy villages to exciting towns and cities with world-class waterside attractions.

Here’s a list of our Top 8 waterside destinations for 2017:

  1. 1. Warwick Castle – said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, the magnificent Warwick Castle next to the River Avon, is just a short riverside walk from the Grand Union Canal. Developed from the original castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068, Warwick Castle offers visitors a fantastic day out with ramparts to climb, flight of the eagles displays, mighty trebuchet firing, the Horrible Histories Maze, The Castle Dungeon, daily history team tours and 64 acres of landscaped gardens to explore.  From our Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, Warwick can be reached in seven hours, passing through 20 locks.
  2. The Hepworth Wakefield – this beautiful gallery alongside the Calder & Hebble Navigation boasts the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London, with over 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery spaces. Exhibiting rarely seen works by Barbara Hepworth, as well as Tim Sayer’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary British art, including works by Henry Moore, Naum Gabo, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Paul Nash, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro, this exciting gallery also hosts changing exhibitions by world-famous artists.  From our Sowerby Bridge base at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire, it’s an 11-hour cruise to Wakefield, travelling 20 miles and passing through 26 locks.
  3. The Shugborough Estate – from Drifters’ Peak District base at Stoke on Trent, Shugborough Hall on the banks of the Trent & Mersey Canal is a peaceful 11-hour cruise away, travelling 19 miles through 18 locks. Once the home of Lord Patrick Lichfield, this Georgian Manor house with magnificent riverside grounds, said to have an association with the legendary ‘Holy Grail’, is now the UK’s only Complete Working Historic Estate, with working kitchens, dairy, water mill, brewhouse and farm.  As one of just 20 Rare Breeds Survival Trust Farms in the UK, Shugborough is also home to a number of breeds rarer than the Giant Panda, including Boreray sheep and Middle White Pigs.
  4. The Black Country Living Museum & Dudley Tunnel – from Drifters’ Tardebigge base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s an eight-hour, three-lock journey to the Black Country Living Museum. Visitors to this 26-acre open-air museum can step back in time with costumed characters to meet, period shops and houses to explore, forge demonstrations to watch, a coal mine to descend into, fun fair rides to enjoy, traditional fish and chips to eat and vintage vehicles to travel on.  And just across the canal, the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust operates regular boat trips into the spectacular limestone tunnels under Castle Hill.
  5. National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port – from Drifters’ Anderton base at the junction of the River Weaver and Trent & Mersey Canal, it’s a 21-hour journey along 44 miles of waterway, travelling through 22 locks, to reach the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. Here canal boat holiday-makers can explore historic working docks, boats, warehouses, forge, pump house, stables and workers cottages, where homes from the 1830s, 1900s, 1930s and 1950s are recreated, and costumed characters tell stories of the workers lives.
  6. SS Great Britain – from Drifters’ base on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Bath, Bristol’s Floating Harbour is a 10-hour, 13 lock journey away. From here, narrowboat holiday-makers can reach the Great Western Dockyard, home to Brunel’s masterpiece the SS Great Britain.  This former passenger steamship was once the world’s first great luxury liner, launched in 1843 by the Great Western Steamship Company for their transatlantic service between Bristol and New York.  Today visitors to this museum ship can explore the decks and be transported by sights, sounds and even smells of life at sea.
  7. The Royal Armouries – our National Museum of Arms and Armour is on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Leeds Dock. Visitors can explore collections from across the world and throughout time in six themed galleries, including medieval horse armour in the War Gallery, Henry the VIII’s incredible Foot Combat Armour in the Tournament Gallery, elephant and Samurai armour in the Oriental Gallery, and the Swords of Middle Earth display based on the weapons in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.  From our Sowerby Bridge base in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can reach Leeds in 19 hours, travelling 38 miles through 39 locks.
  8. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre – the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, alongside the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon, can be reached in six hours, travelling along the Stratford Canal from Drifters’ base at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden. With over 1,000 seats held within this stunning Grade II listed building, the Shakespeare Theatre is the place to see the Bard’s plays.  2017 performances will include Anthony & Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus.

 

 

Top of the Rings

Top of the Rings

Cruising rings are popular with canal boat holiday-makers, offering journeys along several different waterways, taking in a huge variety of landscapes.

Some are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate. While others, like the Droitwich Ring, are easier and more suitable for narrowboat holiday beginners.

Here are our Top 9 cruising rings:

1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours): Starting from the Drifters’ narrowboat hire bases at Worcester or Stoke Prior, this cruising ring is the only one in Europe which can be completed on a short break. It re-opened five years ago following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals, which reconnected the River Severn and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Worcester. Highlights include: the historic Spa town of Droitwich; the Hanbury flight of locks; and the beautiful City of Worcester with its stunning cathedral.

2. The Outer Pennine Ring (192 miles, 248 locks, 130 hours): not for the faint-hearted nor inexperienced, this epic three-week journey can be undertaken from Drifters’ bases at Sowerby Bridge or Barnoldswick. It crosses the Pennines twice and includes the passage of Britain’s longest canal tunnel. It takes in the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Huddersfield Narrow, Ashton, Rochdale, Bridgewater, Leeds & Liverpool canals; and the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks. Highlights include: dramatic Pennine views; Tuel Lane Deep Lock; Manchester City Centre; and the awesome three and a quarter-mile long Standedge Tunnel which cuts through the Pennies to link Marsden and Diggle; Bingley Five Rise locks; Skipton with its medieval castle; Leeds City Centre and waterside Royal Armouries Museum.

3. The Stourport Ring (74 miles, 118 locks, 44 hours): Starting from our canal boat hire bases at Autherley, Stoke Prior, Tardebigge, Gailey or Alvechurch, this offers an exhilarating and hugely popular week. The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the upper section of the River Severn, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, Birmingham Canal Main Line and the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line. The Stourport Ring visits three cities: Wolverhampton; Birmingham (with central moorings in Gas Street Station, close to shops, restaurants and museums); and the ancient City of Worcester. Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindleyplace and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver with National Trust rock houses; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.

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

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

6. Avon Ring (108 miles, 130 locks, 58 hours): Starting from Drifters’ bases at Napton, Autherley, Stoke Prior, Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen, this World-famous journey includes 130 locks. Most people do this trip in a more leisurely 10 days or two weeks, but it is possible to do it in a week. The Avon Ring navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: Stratford-Upon-Avon and its famous Swan Theatre; the Lapworth flight of 25 locks; the Wilmcote flight of 11 locks; the River Avon and its panoramic views across Wawickshire and the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; Telford’s lofty Mythe Bridge; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 lock Tardebigge Flight, the longest in the country; and the 2495 metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.

7. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours): Starting from our bases at Autherley, Acton Bridge, Coventry, Brewood, Great Haywood, Peak District or Gailey, this ring is achievable on a week-long holiday. The four counties are Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and the route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals. Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the World famous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; extravagant cuttings and embankments on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Pottery Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; the Ski Centre, China Gardens and Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; Churches Mansion; the waters at Tixall Wide on the Staffs & Worcs; the narrow canal at Autherley Junction; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.

8. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours): from Drifters’ bases at Autherley, Great Haywood, Coventry or Gailey this exhilarating ring is achievable in a week. The Ring takes in the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals. Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin with access to city centre shops, restaurants and museums; 21 locks at Wolverhampton; the Black Country Living Museum; Dudley Zoo & Castle; Drayton Manor Park at Fazeley; the Staffs & Worcs Roundhouses; the waters at Tixhall Wide; Fradley Pool Nature Reserve at Fradley Junction; 11 locks at Ashton; and 13 at Farmer’s Bridge.

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