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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.

Forest bathing on the Shropshire Union Canal

Kerstin Rogers took a Drifters canal boat holiday, travelling from our Brewood base on the Shropshire Union Canal.

In her blog, ‘Slow food on a Staffordshire canal’, she describes the relaxing effect of the journey, which took her along beautiful tree-lined sections of waterway.

As well as this ‘forest-bathing’ experience, she enjoyed the ‘digital detox’, with little or no mobile signal in the area.

Kerstin describes the scenery and the food they enjoyed.

Find out more by reading her blog here https://msmarmitelover.com/2019/06/slow-food-on-a-staffordshire-canal.html

 

Wanderlust Magazine, November 2020

Debbie Walker lists the ‘Top 10 Canal Boat adventures for beginners’

OK! Magazine, 27 October 2020

‘Ghostly goings on’ lists the spookiest places along the canals

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.

Daily Express, 24 October 2020

‘Popular haunts – brave ghosts, ghouls and walking spirits on our canals – if you dare’

Top 8 Spooky Canal Destinations

With spooky tunnels, misty towpaths, bats, toads, spiders and plenty of ghosts, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.

Drifters’ narrowboat hire prices for boats for up to four people over Halloween start at £535 for a short break (three or four nights) and £740 for a week.  Day boat prices start at £99 per day.

Here’s a guide to our spookiest destinations for Halloween 2020:

  1. Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition – the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is haunted by an eerie figure that can sometimes be seen on moonlit nights, gliding along the towpath alongside the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. From Drifters’ base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, it’s a 10-minute cruise to the Aqueduct.  On a short break from Trevor, canal boat holiday-makers can travel across the Aqueduct and on to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  Day boat hire is also available from Trevor, starting at £120 per day.
  2. Steel yourself for a visit from the Viscount – Once a 13th century monastery, The George Inn at Bathampton is said to be haunted by the ghost of Viscount John Baptiste Du Barre, who mortally wounded in the last legal duel fought in Britain. The Viscount was reputedly a decadent man who held lavish parties and enjoyed gambling.  Following an argument over a card game, a challenge was thrown down and on 18 November 1778, he and his opponent met on Claverton Down at dawn.  Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath is a 20-minute cruise from the George Inn.
  3. Hear echoes of a killing at Kidsgrove – the Trent & Mersey Canal’s Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove is said to be home to a shrieking boggart – the ghost of Kit Crewbucket who was murdered and his headless corpse was dumped in the canal. Harecastle Tunnel is an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Stoke on Trent.
  4. Witness some ghostly goings-on at The Navigation Inn – the Navigation Inn on the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge dates back to the 15th century, and served travellers along the old salt road from Chester to York long before the canal was built. According to the landlord, there’s plenty of supernatural activity in this ancient building, including noises in the cellar, clocks that mysteriously stop and spirits that appear in the kitchen.  The Navigation Inn is very close to Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge.
  5. Beware the blood stained steps at Brindley Bank – the Trent & Mersey Canal at Brindley Bank Aqueduct in Staffordshire, is said to be haunted by Christina Collins, who was murdered there on 17 June 1839 and her body flung into the canal. Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported.  As Christina’s body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal, and it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones.  Brindley Bank is just over an hour away from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
  6. Get the chills in Chester – visit the City’s old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat and a Roman centurion can sometimes be seen guarding the entrance to the City. Canal boat holiday-makers can hire a boat from Drifters’ base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, and reach Chester in seven hours, and passing through nine locks.
  7. Mind the Monkey Man at Norbury – the Shropshire Union Canal is said to be Britain’s most haunted canal with five ghosts along its length, including the terrifying ‘Monkey Man’ at Bridge 39 near Norbury. This hideous black, shaggy coated being is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th  Narrowboat holiday-makers can head north from Drifters’ base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal near Stafford, reaching Bridge 39 in around four and a half hours.
  8. Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel – on the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years.  At 2,795 metres long, it’s one of the longest on the canal system.  When construction began in 1793, the tunnel was a major engineering challenge.  Teams of navvies worked with picks and shovels for three years until they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men.  A new route for the tunnel was found and it finally opened on 25 March 1805.  Over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging.  But the tunnel runs straight through the hill so people must have seen the flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel.  Perhaps the ghostly navvies are still working there…?  The Blisworth Tunnel is less than an hour away from Drifters’ base at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire.  Day boat hire is also available from Gayton, starting at £129 per day.

     

    Cruise through the countryside this October Half Term

    Canal boat holidays are great for families – offering the chance to ship out together on an adventure afloat, learning how to navigate the canals, work the locks and watch out for waterway wildlife along the way.

    A licence isn’t required to steer a canal boat and all our operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.

    Here are Drifters’ top five canal boat holiday destinations for this October Half Term:

    1. Cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Packwood House – from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s a peaceful seven-hour cruise through the countryside to the village of Lapworth. With locks along the way, it’s a great short break for beginners. Once moored up in Lapworth, you can take a short walk to the National Trust’s Packwood House, with magnificent gardens, and enjoy the Packwood Welly Walk for families, or the longer Packwood House to Baddesley Clinton walk through the Arden countryside.

    2. Navigate the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to Brighouse – on a short break from our boat yard at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Brighouse and back along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation. This historic town, famous for its Brighouse and Rastick Brass Band, offers glorious Pennines walks, places to eat and shops. Along the way, you’ll 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.

    3. Glide across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Whitchurch – on a week’s holiday from our narrowboat hire centre at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, you can travel to Whitchurch and back. The journey there and back takes around 44 hours, passing through just four locks (two each way). Along the way, you’ll travel across the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries the canal 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. The journey continues on through Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District. Before reaching historic Whitchurch, where there are plenty of places to moor and explore the town with independent shops, pubs, restaurants and way-marked walks.

    4. Potter through the Shropshire countryside to Market Drayton – from our canal boat hire base at Brewood on the Shropshire Union Canal, it takes around 10 hours to reach the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man – perfect for a mid-week break afloat. Along the way, you’ll pass through miles of beautiful Shropshire countryside, six locks and a series of villages with canalside pubs.

    5. Wind your way to Castle Quay in Manchester – from our canal boat hire base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, it takes around 10½ hours to reach Castle Quay, cruising along 31 miles of inland waterways and passing through just one lock. This route, which begins at the site of the incredible Anderton Boat Life, AKA ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’, is perfect for a four-night mid-week break afloat. It includes three tunnels, miles of quiet countryside, the pretty village of Lymm and an urban section passing the Manchester United football ground, Salford Quays and the Old Trafford Crick Ground, before reaching moorings at Castle Quay.

    To check availability, go to www.drifters.co.uk.

    For more information about visiting the canal network go to www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

    Ten good reasons to take a canal boat holiday.

    Top 10 Museums to visit afloat

    Britain’s beautiful 2,000-mile network of navigable canals and rivers passes through some of our most vibrant towns and cities, with exciting world-class Museums to visit along the way.

    Here are our Top 10 museums to visit afloat in 2019:

    1. Visit the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich, it takes around three-and-a-half hours, travelling nine miles and passing through just two locks, to reach Hack Green visitors moorings – just a short walk from the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker Museum. Once one of the nation’s most secret defence sites, this fascinating blast-proof underground bunker would have been the centre of Regional Government had nuclear war broken out. Decommissioned in 1993, today it offers visitors the chance to see the government’s preparations for nuclear war as well as the largest public display of nuclear weapons in Europe.

    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 boaters can travel to Leicester and back to visit the exciting new King Richard III Visitor Centre. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encounters 24 locks, and passes through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy along the way. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for a foray to 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 under a Leicester car park five years ago.

    3. See T-rex skeletons at the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum – from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base on the River Thames at Eysnham near Witney, boaters can reach moorings in the centre of Oxford in just three hours, passing through four locks along the way. From there, the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum is short walk away. Housed in a stunning Victorian neo-Gothic building, the Museum is home to an internationally significant collection of natural history specimens, including T-rex skeletons, the Oxford Dodo, whale skeletons, British bird displays, dinosaur fossils and the 4.5 billion-year-old Nantan meteorite.

    4. Visit the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds – from our canal boat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, it takes 17 hours, passing through 28 locks to reach the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds Dock – perfect for a week afloat. Home to the national collection of arms and armour, there are thousands of objects from across the world to admire across nine galleries, including Henry VIII’s ‘Horned Helmet’, a long bow from the wreck of the Mary Rose and the ‘Swords of Middle Earth’ based on the prop weapons used in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Hobbit’ movies.

    5. Head to the Roman Baths Museum in Bath – from our canal boat holiday base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Hilperton, it’s a four-hour journey, travelling 11 miles and passing through one lock to moorings at Sydney Gardens. From there, it takes just 15 minutes to walk into the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath, home to the Roman Baths, once one of the greatest religious spas of the ancient world. Here visitors can visit the Sacred Spring, Roman Temple and Roman Bath House and, with the help of costumed interpreters, learn about the people of Aquae Sulis (the Roman name for Bath) and their goddess Minerva.

    6. Step back in time at the National Waterways Museum – from our boat yard on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury, on a week’s break, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel through the Cheshire countryside and the ancient City of Chester to reach the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. The journey takes around 11 hours, travels 21 miles and passes through 16 locks. Once at Ellesmere Port, boaters can moor up and take time to explore the Museum’s historic boat collection, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, which all bring the past vividly to life.

    7. Marvel at the medieval splendour of Warwick Castle – cruising from our canal boat hire base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, it takes just over seven hours to reach moorings close to Warwick Castle, perfect for a short break afloat. This incredible 1,000-year-old medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon offers a fantastic day out, with Flight of the Eagles displays, Horrible Histories Maze, Kingmaker exhibition, towers and ramparts to climb, the Castle Dungeon tour and Mighty Trebuchet firing spectacle among the fantastic choice of things to see and do.

    8. Take a cultural cruise to Wakefield – on a mid-week or week-long break from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, canal boat holiday-makers can travel to Wakefield and back to visit the fabulous Hepworth Wakefield Museum. The journey travels 40 miles, through 52 locks and takes around 22 hours. The Gallery, which has moorings right outside, offers visitors over 1,600 square metres of light-filled gallery spaces. As well as showcasing the extraordinary work by the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth, visitors to the Hepworth Wakefield can see works by Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, Antony Gormley, David Hockney, Paul Nash, John Nash, David Nash, Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro.

    9. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Mary King Close in Edinburgh – from our narrowboat hire base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is an 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal, perfect for a four night mid-week break. The cruise starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first rotating boat lift) and then passes through the lovely lowland villages of Linlithgow, Broxburn and Ratho. Visitor moorings are available at Edinburgh Quay, just a short walk from the Royal Mile where the Mary King Close Museum takes visitors back in time to explore Edinburgh’s only preserved 17th century street and follow in the footsteps of its former residents.

    10. Discover the Gothic elegance of Plas Newydd House Museum – from Drifters’ narrowboat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham, North Wales, it takes just two hours to reach the beautiful Eisteddfod town of Llangollen, home to the remarkable Plas Newydd House Museum & Gardens. In the late 18th century this fascinating stone built house was turned into gothic fantasy by Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, known as “The Ladies of Llangollen”. Today visitors can enjoy exploring the property’s enchanting gardens and gazing at the fascinating stained glass and elaborately carved oak interiors.