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Loveexploring reviews a holiday travelling round the Droitwich Ring

Jo Kessel, her husband and three teenage children set off for their first canal boat holiday from our Worcester base in July.

Travelling aboard the 69ft ‘Aquatic Warbler’ narrowboat for up to eight people, Jo and her family took a four night midweek break and completed the Droitwich Ring, also known as the Mid-Worcestershire Ring.

This journey took them on a 21-mile circular route – the only canal boat ring that can be completed comfortably on a short break.  They passed through 33 locks in around 16 hours.  They travelled along sections of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, the Droitwich Canals and the River Severn.

Jo says, ‘A holiday on a narrowboat ticks so many boxes: it’s different, it’s active, it’s adventurous and it’s more about the journey than the destination.’

She describes the facilities on board the boat, their top stops (including Hanbury Hall and the village of Salwarpe) and how they worked as a team to navigate their route: ‘While the boat’s captain has to stay put, the crews’ jobs are unexpectedly physical. We winded paddles on lock gates back and forth; we hammered pegs into the ground; we pulled and tethered ropes; we pushed away swing bridges. And in between we walked the towpath, foraging for fruit. Blackberries, raspberries and greengages were ripe for the picking.’

Summing up, Jo says the holiday was ‘a perfect blend of physical activity and relaxation’, saying they slipped into a ‘new rhythm’ they ‘dubbed the slow life’.

To read the full review, go to https://www.loveexploring.com/news/98895/family-canal-boat-holiday-uk

To see Jo’s tour of their narrowboat, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mmx69LQSv0

drifters

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019

From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore hundreds of waterside destinations and enjoy taking refreshment at historic canalside pubs.

Here are Drifters’ Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019:

1. Go star gazing on the Mon & Brec – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, said to have some of some of the highest quality dark skies, perfect for star gazing. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain. On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails and eateries, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.

2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday you can travel to Leicester and back. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encountering 24 locks, and passing through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy, including The Three Horseshoes at Wistow, and the canalside Navigation Inn at Kilby. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for exploring local attractions, including the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains.

3. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around 20 hours, travelling 27 miles through 53 locks to reach the historic town of Hungerford, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel up the spectacular flight of 16 locks in a row at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, passing close to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest. Once at Hungerford, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy dining at a choice of pubs and browsing in dozens of antique shops.

4. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes canal boat holiday-makers up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish.

5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Llangollen and back – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the stunning hill surrounded town of Llangollen, can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough holding the canal across iron arched ribs and 19 enormous hollow pillars. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.

6. Cruise the Birmingham mini-ring – with more canals than Venice, travelling by boat is the best way to tour Britain’s vibrant second City. On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Tardebigge boat yard on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, canal boat holiday-makers can travel the Birmingham Mini-Ring, cruising for 27 hours and passing through 49 locks. The route begins by passing through the remains of the Forest of Arden, with quiet villages and historic waterside pubs to enjoy along the way, and then heads right into the heart of Birmingham. Here boaters can moor up and explore some of the City’s top attractions, including the Thinktank Science Museum and Mailbox Shopping Centre. Travelling out of Birmingham on a different canal, the route connects with the Grand Union Canal and the journey becomes gradually more rural again as it loops back round through Lapworth and along part of the Stratford Canal.

7. Travel one-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge or Ashton-under-Lyne, this week-long epic journey takes around 40 cruising hours, travelling 33 miles and passing through 97 locks. If beginning at Sowerby Bridge, the route first travels down the Calder & Hebble Navigation past Brighouse, then after a short river section the journey switches onto the Huddersfield Broad, taking boaters into Huddersfield City Centre. After that the canal goes up the Colne Valley into the hills and on to the villages of Slaithwaite, then Marsden, before reaching the summit over 644 feet above sea level and the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel. The passage of boats through the incredible three-and-a-quarter mile long tunnel is guided by Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers. After the tunnel, the canal descends quickly through the Diggle Flight and into the Saddleworth villages, before reaching the centre of Stalybridge, and finally Ashton.

8. Navigate the Droitwich Ring – setting off from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Worcester on the beautiful River Severn, canal boat holiday makers can navigate the Droitwich Ring, the only waterway cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a 21-mile loop with 33 locks along the way, that can be completed in just less than 15 hours.

9. Potter through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break. The route begins by passing over the 35-metre high Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, and on through miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries.

10. Glide through the Peak District to Cheddleton and back – on a short break from Drifters’ Peak District narrowboat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, you can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal, reaching Cheddleton Flint Mill in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks and travelling just over 11 miles. As the Caldon Canal leaves Stoke, it begins to pass through gently rolling hills and wooded areas, past old mills and then alongside the stunning River Churnet. At Denford, the Hollybush Inn is popular with boaters and at Consall Forge, the secluded Black Lion pub serves good food and real ales.

All aboard for autumn afloat on the canals

All aboard for autumn afloat on the canals

A canal boat holiday is a great way to enjoy the vibrant colours of autumn in the hedgerows and trees that line our waterways – dramatically mirrored in the water.

There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way during the autumn months, including flocks of fieldfare and redwing searching for hawthorn berries, and wood mice and bank voles stocking up on food before the winter.

There are also foraging opportunities for people along the way – apples, blackberries, elderberries, damsons and sloes all make fabulous ingredients for fresh fruit crumbles and drinks on board.

Here are Drifters’ top seven destinations this autumn:

1. Amble along the Ashby to Snarestone and back – on a week’s holiday from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Braunston, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes boaters up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, boaters can transfer onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds peacefully through countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Along the way, boaters pass close to Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field. Here in 1485 the reign of Richard III ended and Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs.

2. Go blackberry picking on the Stratford Canal – from our boat yard at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a picturesque seven-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, with plenty of hedgerow foraging opportunities along the way – perfect for a short break. Once at the birthplace of the Bard, boaters can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre, to explore the town’s many independent shops, restaurants and museums, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Tudor World.

3. Float through the Brecon Beacons to Taylbont-on-Usk – the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal offers 35 miles of quiet countryside to explore with incredible views of the Brecon Beacons. From our narrowboat hire base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, on a short break (three or four nights) boaters can journey through the wooded Usk Valley to Talybont-on-Usk, visiting villages and historic market towns along the way, including the Georgian town of Crickhowell with its 13th century castle. Once at Talybont-on-Usk, boaters can enjoy walking access to Blaen y Glyn waterfalls and a choice of pubs, including the Star Inn and the White Hart Inn. The total journey there and back travels 36 miles, passing through 10 locks and takes around 18 hours. .

4. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in a fork in the hills. Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, 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 pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and markets as well as stunning walks up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags.

5. Explore Georgian Bath afloat – on a short break from our Hilperton base on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to the World Heritage Status City of Bath and back, enjoying beautiful views of the southern Cotswold hills along the way. The journey to Sydney Wharf takes just six hours, travelling across two magnificent aqueducts, passing through one lock and several canalside pubs, including the popular Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, boaters can moor up and it’s a short walk to the City Centre to visit some of the City’s world class attractions, including the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent.

6. Complete the Stourport Ring – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, on a week’s break narrowboat holiday-makers canal travel the popular Stourport Ring, travelling a total of 74 miles and passing through 118 locks, which takes around 44 hours). The route takes in the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, 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 and the ancient City of Worcester. Highlights include: Wolverhampton 21 locks; Brindleyplace and Gas Street Basin in Birmingham City Centre; open countryside on the River Severn; Stourport Basins; Bratch Locks at Wombourne; the pretty village of Kinver with access to the National Trust’s famous rock houses; the Black Country Living Museum; and Cadbury World.

7. Cruise through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow and back – from our canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise through the Scottish lowlands along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break (three or four nights). The route begins passing over the Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift which replaced a flight of 11 locks and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, plus miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries, including the award-winning Four Marys pub.

 

Top 5 bank holiday boating breaks

Top 5 bank holiday boating breaks

To celebrate the approaching May bank holiday holidays, Drifters has put together its top five short break narrowboat holidays:

1. See the pop-up art installations on the Droitwich Ring – as part of the Canal & River Trust’s Arts of the Waterways programme, the charity has commissioned artists to produce dynamic temporary artworks and live events along the 21-mile long Droitwich Ring, for visitors to enjoy this Spring and Summer. The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a canal boat holiday cruising ring that can be completed on a short break from our Worcester and Stoke Prior canal boat hire bases.

2. Step back in time at Mary King’s Close beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile – from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Falkirk, at the junction of the Union and Forth & Clyde canals, on a mid-week (four night) break narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh and back. The journey starts with trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, which lifts boats 100ft from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal above. The 32-mile journey along the Union Canal to Edinburgh passes through three locks and takes around 11 hours. Once at there, boaters can moor up at Edinburgh Quay, just a five-minute walk from City Centre attractions, including Mary King’s Close, a warren of streets frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.

3. Celebrate 950 years of history at Warwick Castle – from our narrowboat hire centre at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes around eight hours, travelling 11 miles and passing through 22 locks, to reach the historic centre of Warwick. Here canal boat holiday-makers can take time to explore the magnificent Warwick Castle established 950 years ago by William the Conqueror on the banks of the River Avon, and said to be ‘Britain’s greatest medieval experience’ with ramparts to climb, birds of prey displays, trebuchet firing, Horrible Histories Maze, Kingmaker exhibition and many other attractions to explore.

4. Travel across the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 1,000ft long structure consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 enormous hollow pillars. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.

5. Visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford – from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it’s a six-hour, 17-lock cruise through the beautiful Warwickshire countryside to Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon. From there, it’s a short walk to the town’s restaurants, shops, markets, museums and theatres, including the 1,040 seat Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Drifters' Top 5 new canal boats for hire in 2018

Drifters’ Top 5 new canal boats for hire in 2018

There are now over 30,000 canal boats on our inland waterways, more than at the time of the Industrial Revolution, and half a century after the 1968 Transport Act officially recognised Britain’s canal network as a major leisure resource, the popularity of canal boat holidays continues to increase.

Today’s canal boats for hire are fully equipped with all the essential mod cons – central heating, hot water, TV, fully-equipped kitchens, showers and flushing toilets. To create ever higher standards of accommodation, the length of boat per berth is increasing and new canal boats for hire are arriving on the network with extras like baths, drinks fridges, larger showers, solid-fuel stoves, King-sized beds and WiFi.

Here are our top five new narrowboats available for hire in 2018:

1. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ aboard ‘Lily’ – the brand new luxury four-berth ‘Lily’ Heritage class boat is now available to hire from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Trevor, on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales. This 66ft long semi-traditional stern narrowboat offers ‘heritage’ features, including a Belfast sink, port holes and a solid fuel stove in the saloon, alongside modern home comforts, including two showers and two toilets, two double beds (which can be made into twin beds) in separate cabins, LED lighting, full radiator central heating and WiFi. ***ROUTES – on a short break from Trevor, canal boat holiday-makers can travel across the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a pioneering masterpiece of engineering. Standing at 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 307-metre long structure offers stunning views of the valley below. ***PRICES for ‘Lily’ start at £740 for a short break, or £1,060 for a week. Price includes bed linen, towels, cancellation protection, first pet, parking and tuition on arrival. A £50 non-refundable damage waiver and fuel deposit (£50 for a short break, £90 for a week) are extra. Fuel charge is based on use, circa £10-15 per day.

2. Travel to Georgian Bath and back aboard ‘Darwin’s Fox’ – from our canal boat hire base at Foxhangers on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Devizes, this season the new 65ft ‘Darwin’s Fox’, with accommodation for up to seven people, takes to the water. This luxury canal boat is perfect for two couples or small families wanting the greatest amount of privacy and comfort aboard a narrowboat. It has a central saloon and open plan galley, with the two permanent sleeping cabins privately positioned at either end of the boat. The rear double can be converted from a standard double into a king size bed and the forward cabin has a range of flexible sleeping configurations. ‘Darwin Fox’ has central heating, a 240v electrical system, fully equipped galley including a microwave and extra drinks fridge. There are TV’s in each cabin, the saloon, the master double and secondary cabin/media room where a single bed converts into a desk and TV. ***ROUTES – from Foxhangers, canal boat holiday-makers can travel west to the World Heritage Status City of Bath, famous for its stunning Georgian architecture and fascinating Roman Baths, or head east to the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, travelling up the spectacular Caen Hill flight of locks, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’. ***PRICES for ‘Darwin’s Fox’ start at £1,098 for a week. Price includes damage waiver, diesel and gas for cooking, bed linen and towels, car parking, tuition and buoyancy aids. Pets are charged at £30 each.

3. Enjoy stunning Pennine scenery aboard ‘Lincoln’ – this 46ft cosy narrowboat for two launches this season from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at Sowerby Bridge on the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire. ‘Lincoln’ offers canal boat holiday-makers a fixed double cabin (plus convertible single bed in the saloon), an extra-large shower, LED lighting, central heating, radio CD player with 4 speakers, Bluetooth, USB, iPod and Android, TV/DVD, hairdryer, 240v electrical system, a well-equipped galley with hob and fitted oven and grill, microwave, fridge and dining table. ***ROUTES – On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Todmorden and back along the Rochdale Canal, passing through the beautiful Calder Valley and stunning Pennine scenery along the way. ***PRICES for ‘Lincoln’ start at £485 for a short break, £745 for a week. Price includes damage waiver, cruising guide, comprehensive instruction, fuel, gas, parking, buoyancy aids, bed linen and first pet.

4. Visit historic Warwick aboard the spacious ‘Harry Hudson’ – new for the 2018 season, the 70ft ‘Harry Hudson’ has accommodation for up to six people, with two fixed doubles (one of which can also be set up as two fixed singles), each with an en suite toilet and shower room. The spacious lounge can also be made up as either twin singles or a large double. ‘Harry Hudson’ has a fully equipped galley, with a full sized gas cooker, fridge, microwave, and plenty of worktop space. The spacious lounge is equipped with TV, DVD, radio with CD player. There are 3-pin sockets throughout the boat, and a USB charging point. ***ROUTES – on a short break from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Long Itchington and back, with plenty of historic canalside pubs to enjoy a along the way. On a week’s holiday, canal boat hirers can complete the Warwickshire Ring, passing through the centre of Birmingham as well as the beautiful Warwickshire countryside. ***PRICES for ‘Harry Hudson’ start at and £720 for a short break (three or four nights), £1,000 for a week. Price includes diesel, gas, car parking, tuition on arrival, buoyancy aids and bed linen. A non-refundable compulsory damage waiver is extra, and pets are charged at £25 each.

5. Step aboard the new Warbler at Worcester and complete the Mid-Worcestershire Ring – a brand new 69ft ‘Warbler’ narrowboat, with accommodation for up to eight people, will be available to hire from Drifters’ canal boat hire centre at Worcester from this July. The ‘Warbler’ has three flexible layout cabins (all with wider beds), two bathrooms, LED lighting throughout, two TV’s, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining table and a front deck table too. ***ROUTES – from Worcester on the River Severn, canal boat holiday-makers can complete the Mid-Warwickshire Ring on a short break, travelling 21 miles, through 33 locks in around 16 hours, stopping off to enjoy ‘The Ring’ series of art installations taking place there this year. On a week’s holiday, boaters can complete the longer Stourport Ring, travelling through Wolverhampton, Birmingham and the mighty Tardebigge Flight of locks. ***PRICES for the Warbler start at £999 for a short break (three or four nights), £1,599 for a week. Price includes damage waiver, gas, parking, tuition, towels, bedding and first pet. Fuel is extra, circa £10-15 per day. A fuel deposit of £50 is taken for short breaks, £90 for a week’s hire.

 

 

Best Bank Holiday Boating Breaks

Best Bank Holiday Boating Breaks

To celebrate the approaching August bank holiday, we’ve put together our top six short break narrowboat holidays:

1. Cruise peacefully along the Caldon Canal…from Drifters’ Peak District canal boat hire base at Stoke on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal, a trip along Wedgewood’s Caldon Canal is a great short break route for beginners. Originally built to transport porcelain, today the Caldon is one of the quietest and most picturesque canals in Britain. The canal branches off the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria near Stoke on Trent and travels 17 miles and 17 locks through the beautiful Churnet Valley to Froghall Wharf.

2. Remember the Romans in the City of Chester…from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, Chester is a lovely seven-hour cruise away. Famous for its Roman walls and Medieval architecture, Chester also offers a vibrant market hall, an award winning zoo, busy racecourse, trendy bars and a huge variety of restaurants.

3. Amble along the Ashby…from Drifters’ base at Stretton under Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the beautiful Ashby Canal is the perfect short break destination. This picturesque canal with no locks, is perfect for beginners and passes close to the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard III died and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

4. Head to historic Warwick for some medieval splendour…from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just one day to cruise to the historic centre of Warwick. Here canal boat holiday-makers can take time to explore the magnificent Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon, said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience’, stopping off along the way at the village of Long Itchington, packed with pubs.

5. Wend your way to Worcester…From Drifters’ base at Stoke Prior on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it’s a 16-hour journey to the beautiful Cathedral City of Worcester and back, travelling through a total of 42 locks and 25 miles of tranquil countryside, including a section of the River Severn.

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

 

Celebrate 80 years of The Hobbit with a trip through Tolkien country

Celebrate 80 years of The Hobbit with a trip through Tolkien country

Published 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, the popularity of JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ endures, not least amongst the canal boat community where dozens of boats bear the names of Tolkien’s characters.

Tolkien spent much of his childhood exploring the village of Sarehole (now Hall Green), Moseley Bog, the Malvern Hills, and nearby Bromsgrove, Alcester and Alvechurch.

From our canal boat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Alvechurch, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through some of the landscapes that inspired Tolkien’s masterpiece.

On a short break, travel along beautiful tree-lined waters to the village of Lapworth and back, with only one lock to pass through – perfect for canal boat holiday beginners.

On a week’s holiday from Alvechurch, more experienced boaters can tackle the Stourport Ring, travelling 74 miles through 118 locks in around 45 hours.

****To Lapworth & Back – suggested short break (three night) itinerary for beginners

Day 1: On a weekend break from Alvechurch, pick-up your boat on Friday afternoon and after an hour’s handover and tuition, head north along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal towards Birmingham. After three miles, pass through the 2493-metre long Wast Hills Tunnel, one of the longest in the country. Two miles later at King’s Norton Junction the Worcester & Birmingham meets the Stratford Canal. Turn here onto the Stratford Canal and pass through Brandwood Tunnel and the Stop Lock, the only lock on this journey. Soon after, moor-up for the first night at the visitor moorings at Yardley Wood Bridge number 5.

Day 2: Continue on a further six lock-free miles through the countryside before reaching the top of the Lapworth Flight. Moor-up here and take a short walk to the National Trust’s Packwood House, a stunning Grade I listed timber-framed Tudor manor house, with its famous Yew Garden containing over 100 trees planted in the mid-17th century. Alternatively, it’s also a short walk into the village of Lapworth to dine at the Boot Inn, a traditional country pub with a wide-ranging menu, and the Canal Shop is also close by for provisions.

Day 3: Turn and travel leisurely back towards Alvechurch, stopping to moor up for the last night at Hopwood, where The Hopwood House historic canalside pub serves traditional pub food and Rotisserie chicken, freshly roasted every day.

Day 4: Complete the last hour cruise back to the canal boat hire base at Alvechurch, in time to return the boat at 9.30am.

****The Stourport Ring – a summary of the route and ideas of where to stop to explore along the way

From Alvechurch, head north along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal past King’s Norton Junction and Cadbury’s Chocolate Factory at Bourneville, travelling lock-free all the way into the centre of Birmingham – a journey that takes around four hours.

Here boaters can moor up in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace and enjoy waterside restaurants, the National Sea Life Centre and access to Birmingham’s many city centre attractions, including the spectacular Symphony Hall.

Next the route travels onto the Birmingham Canal Main Line heading to Wolverhampton, which takes around six hours. Continuing to travel lock-free, the route passes through Cosely Tunnel, then Wolverhampton Tunnel, after which boaters can stop at visitor moorings to explore Wolverhampton, including its Grand Theatre and the fantastic Pop Art collection at its Art Gallery.

The Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks is next to negotiate, which takes about four hours, before reaching Aldersley Junction and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.

Six miles and another six locks later, boaters reach Bratch Top Lock and pumping station in the pretty village of Wombourne, with its popular Railway Café and choice of village pubs.

A mile later, the canalside Waggon & Horses pub with an extensive menu and large beer garden, is a welcome stopping place.

After another eight locks, boaters reach Stourton Junction, where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal meets the Stourbridge Canal. From here, it’s an eight-hour journey on to Stourport, travelling through 13 locks, past Kinver with access to the National Trust’s intriguing Kinver Rock Houses, and the market town of Kidderminster, with canalside dining at The Watermill and The Lock Inn.

On arriving at Stourport, once a busy inland port, boaters can explore the basins by following circular walks, and enjoy dining at the Bird in Hand, Windlass Café or Rising Sun Inn.
Next there’s a 12-mile section of the River Severn to travel along to reach the beautiful Cathedral City of Worcester, and transfer back onto the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Diglis Basin in the heart of the city. From here, boaters can take time out to see the City’s many splendid buildings, including its spectacular cathedral – with medieval cloisters, ancient crypt and magnificent stained glass.

Now on the last leg of the journey, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal takes boaters out of Worcester and steadily upwards through rolling fields and wooded cuttings, passing through the village of Tibberton, with its Bridge Inn.

Dunhampstead Tunnel is next and then Hanbury Wharf, where the Droitwich Canal meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
After travelling through the Stoke flight of six locks boaters can rest at The Queen’s Head at Stoke Pound, which offers wood fired pizzas, barbeques and live music, before tackling the mighty

Tardebigge flight of 30 locks. One of the largest flights in Europe, these locks take the canal up 67 metres over a two-and-a-quarter mile stretch, and take around five hours to complete.
There are moorings at the top of the flight at Tardebigge and spectacular views. From here, it takes just over an hour to get back to Alvechurch, passing through fields and woods and two short tunnels – Tardebigge and Shortwood.

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.