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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.

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.

We offer day boat hire from 15 of our bases, from less than £10 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 Drifters’ day boat hire centres and prices for 2016:

  1. 1. A choice of historic pubs in the heart of the canal network – from Drifters’ base at Braunston on the North Oxford Canal in Northamptonshire, day boat hirers can enjoy lock-free boating and a choice of historic canalside pubs.  The quiet village of Hillmorton is a delightful seven-mile, two-hour cruise away, where boaters can stop for lunch at the canalside Old Royal Oak, or take a short stroll into the village to the Stag & Pheasant.  Alternatively, day-boat hirers can head south along the Oxford Canal to Napton on the Hill for lunch in the village at The Crown or King’s Head Inn, or canalside at the Bridge at Napton.  Again this journey is lock free and takes around two gentle hours.*****Weekday boat hire from Braunston on ‘Water Ouzel’, which can carry up to 12 people, is £130, £165 on weekends and bank holidays.
  2. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it’s a 20-minute cruise to the World Heritage status 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.
  3. Catch a lift on the lowland canals in Scotland – from Falkirk at the junction of the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in Scotland, day boat hirers can travel through the incredible Falkirk Wheel, the World’s first rotating boat lift and along the Union Canal to Polmont, where they can moor up and enjoy a short walk to The Claremont Inn.  Or continue on to the canalside Bridge 49 café bar and bistro, next to Causewayend Marina.****Day boat hire on the ‘Jaggy Thistle’ which can carry up to eight passengers, is £220, Friday to Sunday.
  4. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – 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 some giant three-storey-high iron spider and provides a 50-foot vertical link between two navigable waterways – the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal.  From Anderton, the canalside Leigh Arms at Little Leigh (bridge 209 for Black Price forge), offering home-cooked pub food and cask ales, is an easy day trip away.*****Day boat hire from Anderton starts at £150 for up to 12 people.
  5. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62.*****Day hire from Goytre starts at £110 for up to 12 people.
  6. Explore Shakespeare’s country – from 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, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  7. Wend your way through Wiltshire – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful 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 medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, cafes and restaurants.  Day boat hire from Hilperton starts at £105 for up to eight people, £130 on weekends and bank holidays.
  8. Experience the rural North Oxford Canal – from Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, cruise north 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 £180 for a boat for 12 people, £220 on weekends and bank holidays, and weekdays in July and August.
  9. Chug along the Staffs & Worcs Canal – from 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 at Wolseley Bridge.  The journey there and back takes a total of six hours.  Day boat hire from Great Haywood starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  10. Sightseeing along ‘The Shroppie’ – from Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal 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, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  11. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from 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 Hopwood House at Alvechurch.  The route is lock-free but there are three tunnels to pass through, including the 610-yard long Shortwood Tunnel and the 580-yard long Tardebigge Tunnel.  Day boat hire from Tardebigge starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
  12. Discover the beauty of Berkshire – from Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal in West Berkshire, day-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 at Aldermaston start at £125.
  13. Visit Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the historic Foxton Locks Inn.  Visitors can watch canal boats negotiate the famous Foxton Staircase flight of locks and find out about the intriguing Victorian 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 £150 during the week for up to 12 people, £200 at weekends and bank holidays.
  14. Enjoy a Shropshire rural idyll…from Whitchurch in rural Shropshire, day boaters can head west along the beautiful Llangollen Canal, reaching Whixall Mosses National Nature Reserve in two hours.  For a longer journey, continue on to Bettisfield Mosses, travelling through unspoilt countryside straddling the Welsh borders.  There are no locks, but there are four easily-operated lift bridges along the way.****Day boat hire at Whitchurch starts at £110 per day for 10 people.
  15. Perfect picnicking on the Llangollen Canal…from Blackwater Meadow on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, day boaters can head east to Whixall Moss, one of Shropshire’s truly remote wild places, and a mecca for a diversity of wildlife with plenty of lovely places to picnic.  Or head West, passing a series of farms, small villages and distant hills, to the Narrowboat Inn at Whittington, with Real Ale and a delightful canalside garden.****Day boat hire at Blackwater Meadow starts at £110 per day for 10 people. 

 

Celebrate the Brindley 300

Celebrate the Brindley 300

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the pioneering canal engineer James Brindley.

Brindley was responsible for eight waterways, stretching 360 miles, including the Bridgewater Canal, the first of the industrial age.

Born in 1716, the son of hill farmers near Buxton, at the age of 17 Brindley was apprenticed to a millwright where he learned to control water flows to make mills more efficient.

It was his work to install a pumping station at a colliery near the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate in Lancashire which led him to be employed by the Duke as the onsite engineer for the Bridgewater Canal project in the late 1750’s.

Inspired by canals in France and the Netherlands, the Duke of Bridgewater asked his estate manager to draw up plans for his own waterway to transport coal from his mine at Worsley to Manchester.

This canal is now recognised as the first real canal in Britain and its impressive engineering feats, including the Barton Aqueduct, gave Brindley the reputation as the man to turn to if you need a canal building.

After the Bridgewater, Brindley was the surveyor and principle engineer on a further seven canals – the Trent & Mersey, Oxford, Staffs & Worcs, Birmingham, Droitwich, Chesterfield and Coventry canals.

He worked tirelessly surveying his canals and devising ground-breaking engineering solutions, including the use of ‘puddled clay’ to line canals and provide a watertight channel.

Brindley was very good at convincing others of the need for canals. When a new canal was proposed it would go before a government commission and he was often called to convince MP’s of the viability of the scheme.

Sadly Brindley died in September 1772, long before many of the canals he surveyed and engineered were completed.  But he had trained a number of people to continue his work, and the great engineers that followed – especially Telford and others involved with later canal building during the ‘canal mania’ period – provided the transport network for the Industrial Revolution, making Britain the wealthiest nation in the world.

Of course, Brindley’s canals are still in use today as a national leisure resource – his lasting legacy. And his name appears on pub names, town squares and perhaps most famously at Brindleyplace in Birmingham.

Events are taking place across the country this year to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth include special activities at the Crick Boat Show (28-30 May) and an exhibition at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port from September.

Canal boat holiday-makers can reach Crick from Drifters’ bases at Braunston and Gayton, and Ellesmere Port from Anderton and Acton Bridge.