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Top 9 Aqueducts to glide across on a narrowboat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile canal network is made up of thousands of historic structures.  From impressive flights of locks to soaring aqueducts, these engineering marvels are exciting focal points for canal boat holiday-makers today.

Aqueducts were originally invented by the Romans.  But the idea of a ‘canal in the sky’ was initially ridiculed by the canal builders.  They were concerned about the amount of masonry required to support the weight of the water above.  However, the engineers found a way and dozens of canal aqueducts went on to be constructed across the canal network.  They have survived to become some of the most iconic sights on our waterways.

To help plan your 2021 adventure afloat, we’ve listed the top nine aqueducts to glide across:

1. The Stream in the Sky in North Wales 

Standing 33 metres high above the Dee Valley, the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales has UNESCO World Heritage Status.  Designed by Thomas Telford, its 305-metre long cast iron trough in which narrowboats float, is supported by 19 enormous hollow pillars.  Ox blood was added to the lime mortar used to bind the masonry together.  It was believed the blood of a strong animal would help strengthen the structure.  You can reach this aqueduct from our hire boat yards at Trevor, Chirk, Blackwater Meadow, Whitchurch, Wrenbury and Whixall.

2. Avoncliff Aqueduct in Somerset

Designed by canal engineer John Rennie, the beautiful Bath stone Avoncliff Aqueduct carries the Kennet & Avon Canal across the Avon Valley near Bath.  It is over 100 metres long and 18 metres wide.  You can reach this aqueduct on a canal boat holiday from our bases at Bath, Monkton Coombe, Bradford on Avon, Hilperton and Devizes.

3. Chirk Aqueduct on the Welsh border

Also part of the Llangollen Canal World Heritage site, the striking Chirk Aqueduct was completed in 1801.  It was designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford.  It is 220 metres long and carries the Llangollen Canal 21 metres high above the River Ceiriog, using 10 circular masonry arches.  You can easily reach the Chirk Aqueduct from our bases at Trevor, Chirk, Blackwater Meadow, Whitchurch, Wrenbury and Whixall.

4. The Iron Trunk Aqueduct in Buckinghamshire

This magnificent engineering structure was the world’s first wide canal cast iron trough aqueduct.  It takes the Grand Union Canal 12 metres high across the River Great Ouse, close to the village of Cosgrove.  It was built in 1811 by canal engineer Benjamin Beavan, and is made up of two cast iron trough spans, with a single masonry pier.  Our nearest narrowboat hire base is a five hour cruise away at Gayton.

5. Dundas Aqueduct in Somerset

Another magnificent Bath stone aqueduct designed by John Rennie, this structure on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Bath was completed in 1810.  It’s designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument and connects the Kennet & Avon Canal to the Somerset Coal Canal.  You can easily be reach Dundas Aqueduct on a canal boat holiday from our bases at Bath, Monkton Coombe, Bradford on Avon, Hilperton and Devizes.

6. Edstone Aqueduct in Warwickshire

Carrying the Stratford Canal across three railway tracks, a minor road, a stream and a field, this 146 metre long structure is the longest cast iron aqueduct in England.  Completed in 1816, it was amongst the earliest prefabricated structures, made up of 35 separate sections bolted together.  Our nearest canal boat hire base is just under an hour away at Wootton Wawen.

7. The Lune Aqueduct in Lancashire

This Grade I listed iconic structure carries the Lancaster Canal 16 metres high above the River Lune.  It was designed by John Rennie and has five 21 metre high semi-circular arches.  The nearest Drifters’ base is a week’s cruise away at Acton Bridge on the River Weaver.

8. Nantwich Aqueduct in Cheshire

The Nantwich Aqueduct offers canal boat holiday-makers panoramic views across the historic market town of Nantwich.  This Grade II* listed historic structure carries the Shropshire Union Canal over the A534 Chester Road.  It was designed by the famous canal engineer Thomas Telford and completed 1826.  You can reach Nantwich Aqueduct in just two hours from our base at Bunbury.

9. Barton Swing Aqueduct in Greater Manchester

This Grade II* listed aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal.  It opened in 1893 and was the first and only swing aqueduct in the world.  Weighing 1,450 tonnes, the 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.  Our nearest base is a nine-hour cruise away at Acton Bridge.

Top 10 August bank holidays afloat

Top 5 August Bank Holiday Canal Boat Breaks

Travelling through the countryside and waterside towns and villages at just four-miles-an-hour, canal boat holidays are the fastest way to slow down.

You don’t need a licence and it’s easy to learn how to steer a narrowboat. Tuition is included as part of all our holiday packages.

All our narrowboats have heating, well-equipped kitchens, quality furnishings, flushing toilets, hot water, showers, TVs and DVD players, and many now have WiFi on board too.

Many of our operators are offering some fantastic late deals over the August Bank Holiday. To celebrate and inspire, here are our top 5 August Bank Holiday breaks for 2018:

1. Glide across the awesome Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular on the network. On a short break from our canal boat hire base at Chirk, boaters can travel to the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen and back, with just four locks to go through and the magnificent World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to glide across.

2. Cruise to Lymm and back on the River Weaver – on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Anderton in Cheshire, boaters can cruise along the Rive Weaver to the pretty canal village of Lymm, travelling 17½ miles and passing through just one lock, enjoying views of the distant Pennines along the way. The journey begins at the incredible Anderton Boat Lift, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘The Cathedral of the canals’, was the world’s first hydraulic canal boat lift, transporting boats 50 feet between the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey canal in two giant water tanks.

3. Visit Georgian Bath afloat – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, it takes seven hours, travelling 13 miles and passing through three locks to reach moorings at Sydney Wharf, just outside Bath City Centre. Along the way, the route takes boaters past the pretty town of Bradford on Avon with its magnificent 14th century Tithe Barn, and across the stunning Avoncliff and Dundas Aqueducts.

4. Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal in Shropshire, it takes around ten hours, cruising 11 miles and passing through six locks, to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man. Along the way, boaters pass through a series of villages with canalside pubs, including the Junction Inn at Norbury and the Royal Oak at Gnosnall.

5. Visit Shakespeare’s Stratford afloat – on a short break from our narrowboat rental base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it takes six hours, passing through 17 locks, to reach Bancroft Basin in Stratford-upon-Avon. From there, it’s a short walk to the town’s theatres, shops, restaurants and museums, including the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, where hundreds of the world’s most beautiful butterflies fly in a tropic environment, with splashing waterfalls and fish-filled pools.

Hire a canal boat for Father's Day

Hire a canal boat for Father’s Day

Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, famously pronounced ‘there is nothing half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’.

Day boat hire on the canals offers the chance to treat Dads with a fun day out on the water, nourished by a pint and a pub lunch along the way.

Drifters offers boat hire from 11 of its bases, from less than £12 per person. Full tuition is included so those new to canal boating can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

Boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle and most day boats also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.

Here’s a list of our day boat hire centres and prices for 2015:

1. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales is a 20-minute cruise from the World Heritage site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. At over 38 metres high and 305 metres long, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly one of the wonders of the waterways, offering stunning views of the Dee Valley below. Day boaters can reach the pretty mountain-side town of Llangollen in two hours. *** Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £110 for up to 10 people. £140 on weekends and bank holidays.

2. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – our base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire is next to the historic Anderton Boat Lift. This incredible edifice, also known as ‘the Cathedral of the canals’, looks like a giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal. From Anderton, the Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge) is an easy day trip away. This friendly, canalside pub offers home-cooked pub food and cask ales. ***Day boat hire from Anderton starts at £150 for up to 12 people.

3. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from our base at Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62. *** Day hire from Goytre starts at £90 for up to 12 people. £105 on weekends and bank holidays.

4. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, boaters can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote and back (2.5 hours each way), and enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn. *** Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

5. Wend your way through Wiltshire – from our base at Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire on the Kennet & Avon, cruise east through unspoilt countryside to the waterside Barge Inn at Seend, or head west to historic Bradford on Avon, with its stunning Tithe Barn and plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants to choose from. *** Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £105 for up to eight people. £130 on weekends and bank holidays.

6. Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, cruise north along the North Oxford Canal through open farmland to the pretty village of Ansty with its pottery and Rose & Castle pub. Or head south, travelling through quiet woodland to the village of Newbold, and enjoy home cooked food at the canalside Barley Mow pub. *** Day boat hire from Rugby starts at £150 for a boat for 12 people. £190 on weekends and bank holidays.

7. Staffordshire delights – from our base at Great Haywood on the Staffs & Worcs Canal near Stafford, cruise to the historic market town of Rugeley and back, through several locks, past Lord Lichfield’s beautiful Shugborough Hall and the delightful Wolseley Arms in Wolseley Bridge. The whole journey takes six hours. *** Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

8. Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union near Crewe, cruise south past Barbridge and Nantwich to Baddington Bridge. With no locks to negotiate and plenty of pubs en route, it’s a delightful way to spend the day afloat. *** Day boat hire from Bunbury starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

9. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from our base at Tardebigge on the Worcs & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Weighbridge pub at Alvechurch. The route is lock-free but there are three tunnels to pass through. *** Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people. £120 on weekends and bank holidays.

10. Discover the beauty of Berkshire – our base at Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire is now offering day boat hire. Boaters can travel east to Tyle Mill Lock in just over two hours, and take a ten-minute walk to The Spring Inn in the pretty village of Sulhamstead for lunch. Up to eight people can enjoy a day out on Aldermaston’s day boat ‘Wyvern’. *** Day hire prices start at £105 for a weekday, £130 for weekends and bank holidays.

11. Visit Foxton Locks – from our base at Union Wharf in Market Harborough it takes a pleasant two-and-a-half hours to cruise to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the Foxton Locks Inn. Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift that once operated there at the tiny little museum dedicated to it. *** Day boat hire at Market Harborough starts at £140 during the week for up to 12 people, £180 at weekends and bank holidays.