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Enjoy a family day out boating on the canals

Best family days out boating on the canals

Drifters offers day boat hire from 20 places in England and Wales, offering the chance to enjoy a family day out boating on the canals.

Prices start at just £10 per person. Boats range in size and can accommodate between eight and 12 people. Full tuition is included so if you are new to narrow boating, you can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

All Drifters’ day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle, and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.  So you can plan a picnic afloat or stop off for lunch at a canalside pub along the way.

Here’s a guide to our best family days out boating on the canals:

1. Staffordshire: Navigate through the countryside to Hopwas

From Kings Orchard Marina, on the Coventry Canal near Lichfield, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals.  You can cruise through the Staffordshire countryside to Bonehill Bridge and back.  The route takes you through the villages Huddlesford, Whittington and Hopwas.  At Hopwas there are two pubs to choose from – the Tame Otter and the Red Lion.  The journey to Bonehill and back takes five and a half hours and there are no locks.  *Day boats ‘Happy Days’ and electric boat ‘Perfect Day’ can take up to 10 people. 

2. Worcestershire: Glide through the remains of the Forest of Arden

From Alvechurch on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals.  You can cruise north through the remains of the Forest of Arden to Kings Norton Junction and back.  There’s a choice of pubs to moor at along the way, including the Hopwood House at Hopwood.  The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2.5km long Wast Hill Tunnel.  *Day boat ‘Away Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  

3. Monmouthshire: Navigate to The Star Inn at Mamhillad in the Brecon Beacons

From Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals with incredible mountain views.  It takes around two-and-a-half-hours to cruise to cruise along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal to moorings close to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62.  *Day boats ‘Robin’ and Rooster’ can carry up to eight people each.  

4. Warwickshire: Cruise along the Stratford Canal to The Mary Arden Inn at Wilmcote

From Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford-Upon-Avon, you can head south to moorings close to the pretty village of Wilmcote to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way, and crosses over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with views across the Warwickshire countryside. *Day boats ‘Dolly’ and ‘Charlie’ can carry up to 10 people each. 

5. Wrexham: Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes less than 20 minutes to reach the UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels and another aqueduct to cross, before reaching the Bridge Inn at Chirk.  *Day boats ‘Jacob’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Lotty’ can carry up to 10 people each.  

6. Staffordshire: Navigate through Cannock Chase to the Wolseley Arms

You can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals from our day boat hire base Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford.  From there, you can cruise four miles, passing through two locks, to the historic market town of Rugeley.  The journey, which takes around two hours, passes the through the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It also passes the popular Wolseley Arms pub at Wolseley Bridge.  *Day boats ‘Daphne’ and ‘Abi’ can carry up to 10 people each.  

7. Wiltshire: Boat to Avoncliff Aqueduct and the Cross Guns pub

From Hilperton Marina on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, you can head west to the picturesque town of Bradford on Avon, home of the canalside Barge Inn. And on to Avoncliff Aqueduct for lunch at the Cross Guns.  The journey to Avoncliff and back takes around six hours and there’s just one lock to pass through each way. *Electric day boat ‘Great Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  

8. Cheshire: Cruise along the Shropshire Union Canal to Bunbury

From our day boat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Nantwich, you can cruise through the Cheshire countryside to Bunbury and back.  The journey passes Hurleston Junction and Hurleston Reservoir, and later, the Barbridge Inn at Barbridge Junction. You can stop there for lunch, or continue on to Bunbury, home to the Dysart Arms and Nags Head pubs.  The journey to Bunbury and back takes six hours and there are no locks. *Day boat ‘Jus-Today’ can carry up to 8 people.  

9. Northamptonshire: Cruise to the picturesque village of Napton-on-the-Hill

From our day boat hire centre at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal, you can enjoy a family day out boating on the canals. You cruise to the historic village of Napton-on-the-Hill and back.  The journey, which takes around three hours, takes you through the Northamptonshire countryside and into Warwickshire.  Once at Napton, day you can moor up and walk into the village where there’s a choice of pubs, including the Kings Head.  *Day boat ‘Ouzel II’ can carry up to 12 people.  

10. Shropshire: Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to Ellesmere

From Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, you can reach the historic market town of Ellesmere.  The journey takes around two-and-a-half hours, cruising through eight miles of beautiful countryside.  You’ll pass Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park along the way.  *Day boat ‘Julia’ can carry up to 10 people.  

For more information about Drifters’ day boats go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/day-boats/

Visit a bluebell wood on a canal boat holiday

Bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday

Canals meander through some of Britain’s best loved countryside, and there are places where you can explore bluebell woods on a canal boat holiday.

The UK is home to almost half the world’s bluebells, and they are one of the nation’s favourite wildflowers.  Native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are an ancient woodland indicator.

The Woodland Trust says, “most flowering usually happens in April, so this is the best time to see that iconic carpet of blue.”

To celebrate, we’ve listed our top 7 beautiful bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday:

1. Copley Woods on the Calder & Hebble in West Yorkshire

The bluebells are stunning in the woods alongside the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Copley.  From our narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes just under 30 minutes by boat to reach Copley.

2. Coed Cefn at Crickhowell on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

This ancient woodland managed by the Woodland Trust has an iron age hill fort at its centre.  There’s a circular walk perfect for enjoying fantastic displays of bluebells in April and May.  From our base at Goytre in South Wales, it takes around five hours to reach Llangattock Wharf.  From there it’s a two-mile walk to Coed Cefn.

3. Chirk Castle Woods, close to the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham

Owned by the National Trust, the grounds of Chirk Castle include 480 acres of woodland and parkland.  There are carpets of bluebells, veteran trees and a section of the historic Offa’s Dyke trail to discover.  Setting out from our Chirk base on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 40 minutes to cruise to visitor moorings at Chirk Bank.  From there, it’s a 30-minute walk up to Chirk Castle to explore bluebell woods on a canal boat holiday.

4. Cliveden on the River Thames in Berkshire

Set high above the River Thames near Maidenhead, Cliveden has 375 acres of glorious gardens and woodlands to explore.  These include a magnificent carpet of bluebells alongside the beautiful tree-lined Green Drive.  From our canal boat hire base at Aldermaston, it’s a 14 hour journey to Cliveden Reach.

5. Packwood House near the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire

The National Trust’s magnificent Packwood House has 150 acres of parkland to explore, including an area of ancient woodland with bluebells.  From our base at Alvechurch, it takes around six hours to cruise to moorings on the Stratford Canal at Lapworth, close to Packwood House. From there you can walk to these bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday.

6. Savernake Forest on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

There are over 4,500 acres of woodlands to explore at Savernake Forest, and it’s a bluebell paradise in Spring. The Kennet & Avon Canal runs alongside the Savernake Forest, with bluebell woods to explore on a canal boat holiday. From our Devizes base, it takes around 10 hours to reach the village of Wootton Rivers, a great starting point for a variety of walks around the Forest.

7. Skipton Castle Woods on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire

Skipton Castle Woods is a rare ancient woodland habitat cared for by the Woodland Trust. These woods close to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal are reputed to be one of the best places to spot bluebells in Yorkshire.  From our base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes just around four cruising hours to reach Skipton Castle.

Best canal boat holiday cruising rings

Best canal boat holiday cruising rings

Canal boat holiday cruising rings offer journeys along several different waterways, taking in a huge variety of urban and rural landscapes.

Some canal boat holiday rings are seriously challenging with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate.

Here’s a guide to our top 9 canal boat holiday rings and circuits:

1. The Droitwich Ring (21 miles, 33 locks, 16 hours)

Starting from Worcester or Stoke Prior, this canal boat holiday ring is the only one that can be completed on a short break. It re-opened in 2011 following the £13million restoration of the Droitwich Canals.  This 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 Worcester 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 Sowerby Bridge or Silsden. It crosses the Pennines twice and includes 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; and Manchester City Centre. Also the 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 Autherley, Stoke Prior, 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; 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 Bunbury, Wrenbury, Whitchurch, Anderton or Acton Bridge, this superb canal boat holiday ring goes through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. Highlights include: Anderton Boat Lift (also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’); Preston Brook Tunnel; Dunham Massey Hall; 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 Napton, Stockton, Springwood Haven, Kings Orchard or Braunston the Warwickshire Ring is easily navigated in 10 days or two weeks. It takes in the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; Hillmorton locks (three pairs); the Knowle Flight of five locks; the 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 Napton, Autherley, Stoke Prior or Wootton Wawen, this canal boat holiday ring has 130 locks. Most people do this trip in 10 days or two weeks. 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 the Cotswolds; historic Evesham and Tewskesbury; Worcester and its magnificent cathedral; the tidal River Severn double river-lock at Diglis, the 30 locks at Tardebigge; and the 2,495-metre long Wast Hills Tunnel.

7. The Four Counties Ring (110 miles, 94 locks, 55 hours)

Departing from Autherley, Acton Bridge, Brewood, Great Haywood, Stoke-on-Trent, Whitchurch, Wrenbury, Nantwich or Gailey, this canal boat holiday ring is best done on a 10-day or two-week holiday. The four counties are Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire. The route includes the Trent & Mersey, Staffs & Worcs and Shropshire Union canals. Predominantly rural, this ring’s highlights include: the 2,670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; deep cuttings on the Shropshire Union; Market Drayton home of gingerbread; Wedgewood Pottery Visitor Centre; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; the Roman town of Middlewich; Waterworld at Etruria; Shugborough Hall; the waters at Tixall Wide; and the flight of 15 locks at Audlem.

8. The Black Country Ring (125 miles, 79 locks, 60 hours)

From Autherley, Great Haywood, Kings Orchard or Gailey this exhilarating canal boat holiday 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; 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/East Midlands Ring (157 miles, 102 locks, 75 hours)

Departing from Napton, Braunston, Kings Orchard, Springwood Haven or Gayton this epic canal boat holiday ring 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: Saddlington Tunnel; the Foxton Staircase of Locks; 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.

Day boat hire on the canals in Spring 2024

Best days out boating on the canals this spring

Drifters offers day boat hire from 20 locations in England and Wales.  With prices starting from just £10 per person, it’s a great way to get the family together for a memorable day out cruising through the countryside this spring.

Boats range in size and can accommodate between eight and 12 people. Full tuition is included so if you are new to narrow boating, you can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.

All our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle, and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.  So you can plan a picnic afloat or stop off for lunch at a canalside pub along the way.

To help you plan your family day out afloat this spring, we’ve listed our top 10 destinations for day boat hire:

1. Staffordshire: Navigate through the countryside for a pub lunch at Hopwas

From Kings Orchard Marina, on the Coventry Canal near Lichfield, you can cruise through the Staffordshire countryside to Bonehill Bridge and back.  The route takes boaters through the villages Huddlesford, Whittington and Hopwas.  At Hopwas there are two pubs to choose from – the Tame Otter and the Red Lion.  The journey to Bonehill and back takes five and a half hours and there are no locks.

*Electric day boat ‘Perfect Day’ can take up to 10 people.  2024 prices start at £99.

2. Derbyshire: Cruise to Whaley Bridge in the Peak District

On a day out from New Mills Marina on the Peak Forest Canal in Derbyshire, you can cruise to Whaley Bridge in the Peak District.  You’ll experience spectacular views across the Goyt Valley and Kinder Scout, the highest plateau in England.  You’ll pass close by to the Crossings pub along the way and there’s a choice of places to eat in Whaley Bridge.

*Electric boat ‘Field Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  2024 prices start at £99 .

3. Monmouthshire: Navigate to The Star Inn at Mamhillad in the Brecon Beacons

From Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, you can enjoy incredible mountain views.  It takes around two-and-a-half-hours to cruise to moorings close to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad, a short walk from bridge 62.

*Day boats ‘Robin’ and Rooster’ can carry up to eight people each.  2024 prices start from £109.

4. Warwickshire: Cruise along the Stratford Canal to The Mary Arden Inn at Wilmcote

From Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford-Upon-Avon, you can head south to moorings close to the historic village of Wilmcot. There you enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and visit Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother.  The journey takes two-and-a-half hours each way, and crosses over the impressive Edstone Aqueduct with views across the Warwickshire countryside. *Day boats ‘Dolly’ and ‘Charlie’ can carry up to 10 people each. Prices start at £99 weekdays, £150 on weekends and bank holidays.

5. Wrexham: Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just 10 minutes to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers stunning views of the Dee Valley below.  After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels and another aqueduct to cross, before reaching the Bridge Inn at Chirk.

*Day boats ‘Jacob’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Lotty’ can carry up to 10 people each.  Weekday hire starts at £120, £180 on weekends and bank holidays.

6. Wiltshire: Boat to Avoncliff Aqueduct and the Cross Guns pub

From Hilperton Marina on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge, you can head west to the historic town of Bradford on Avon. You can travel on through the Avon Valley on to Avoncliff Aqueduct for lunch at the Cross Guns.  The journey to Avoncliff and back takes around six hours and there’s just one lock to pass through each way.

*Electric day boat ‘Great Day’ can carry up to 10 people.  2024 prices start at £119.

7. Berkshire: Cruise through the countryside to the Spring Inn

From Aldermaston on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Reading, you can cruise to Theale and back.  Along the way, you can stop-off to enjoy lunch at the Spring Inn, a 10-minute walk from the canal.  The total journey takes just over four hours and passes through two locks each way.

*Day boat ‘Heyday’ can carry up to 8 people.  2024 prices start from £109.

8. Cheshire: Boat through the woodlands of Marbury Country Park to Middlewich

From Anderton Marina, next to the incredible Anderton Boat Lift, you can cruise to Middlewich and back.  The journey passes through Marbury Country Park and Marston Flash.  There’s a choice of pubs to stop at, including the Broken Cross at Rudheath.  The journey to Middlewich and back takes around six hours.  There are no locks on this route.

*Day boat ‘Daydream’ can carry up to 12 people.  2024 prices start at £115.

9. Northamptonshire: Navigate through Blisworth Tunnel to Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum

From Gayton on the Grand Union Canal near Northampton, you can navigate to the pretty canal village of Stoke Bruerne.  The village is home to the intriguing Canal Museum and waterside café, and a choice of canalside pubs.  The route travels through the Blisworth Tunnel, which at 3,076 yards long is the third longest on the canal network.  It takes around one and half hours to reach Stoke Bruerne, including 30 minutes to cruise through the tunnel.

*Day boat ‘Day Lark’ can carry up to 12 people.  2024 prices start at £109.

10. Shropshire: Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District to Ellesmere

From Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, you can reach the historic market town of Ellesmere.  The journey takes around two-and-a-half hours, cruising through eight miles of beautiful countryside.  You’ll pass Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park along the way.

*Day boat ‘Julia’ can carry up to 10 people.  Weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £150.

For more information about Drifters’ day boat hire go to https://www.drifters.co.uk/day-boats/

Best Spring canal boat holidays

Best spring canal boating breaks

Britain’s beautiful inland waterways are a great place to visit in the Spring time, when the countryside is bursting into new life, with blossom on the hedges and waterside trees, birds busy rearing their young, spring lambs playing in the fields and bluebells in waterside woodlands.

To celebrate the beauty of Spring-time on the canals, here’s a guide to our top 8 Spring narrowboat holidays for 2024:

1. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey

From our 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, you’ll travel up the spectacular flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.  You’ll pass closeby to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest, home to thousands of ‘Ancient’, ‘Veteran’ and ‘Notable’ trees and carpets of bluebells in the Spring.  Once at Hungerford, there’s a choice of places to eat and drink and antique shops to browse in.

2. Explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle

On a short break from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, you can travel to the historic town of Skipton, with its medieval fortress and ancient woods bursting with bluebells to explore.  Skipton’s 900-year old castle is one of the most complete and best preserved medieval castles in England and its extensive woodlands are home to at least 18 species of trees, and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells. The journey to Skipton and back takes around seven hours, travelling 13 miles with no locks.

3. Glide through the Brecon Beacons

Isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park and offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, wooded sections full of the sound of woodland birds, and a series of historic village pubs to visit along the way.   On a short break from Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Llangynidr and back, passing the Lion Inn at Govilon and the Bridge End Hotel at Llangattock.  On a week’s break, you can travel on to Brecon, passing through Talybont-on-Usk, with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn and the popular Star Inn.

4. Boat to Brewood and back

From Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, it takes around five hours to reach the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered cottages and Georgian houses, perfect for a relaxing short break. The 13-mile journey, which passes through just one lock, takes you through beautiful stretches of Shropshire countryside, and passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green.  On reaching Brewood, there’s a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.

5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’

From our base at Chirk on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the pretty Eisteddford town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains can be reached on a short break, with the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to travel across along the way.  Standing at 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible 300-metre long structure consists of a cast iron trough supported by 18 enormous pillars and 19 arches.  On reaching Llangollen, you can moor up in Llangollen Basin and enjoy visiting the town’s independent shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as its Steam Railway and Horseshoe Falls. 

6. Visit the old mill town of Hebden Bridge

On a short break from our base at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation through the Calder Valley to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  Climbing through woods, fields and small stone towns, the journey covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five-and-a-half hours. Once at Hebden, you can enjoy an amazing variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, as well as stunning countryside walks with woods, crags and the Calder running alongside.

7. Cruise through Shakespeare country

From Wootton Wawen, on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks to reach Stratford-upon-Avon, perfect for a short break.  Travelling through the pretty Warwickshire countryside, you can stop off along the way to visit Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.  Once in Shakespeare’s Stratford, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a stone’s throw from the Swan Theatre and the town’s shops, restaurants and museums. 

8. Navigate the Cheshire Ring

Starting from Anderton, this epic cruising ring takes you on a 97-mile tour through some of the most beautiful Cheshire countryside.  The route passes through 92 locks and takes around 55 hours, taking you 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’, Dunham Massey Hall and its working Elizabethan Mill alongside the Bridgewater Canal, Manchester’s China Town, the Top Lock at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal with fantastic views of the Peak District, and the Cheshire Plain with its heavily locked ‘Heartbreak Hill’. The Cheshire Ring can be done on a week’s break from Anderton, but a 10-day or two-week breaks gives more time to visit destinations along the route.

The Cross Guns pub at Avoncliff on the Kennet & Avon Canal

Top 10 canalside pubs to visit on a canal boat holiday

Canalside pubs are popular destinations for canal boat holiday-makers, and there are hundreds to choose from.

They often have names like The Lock Inn, The Navigation Inn, The Narrowboat, The Tunnel and The Bridge.  And many date back to the days when canals were the transport infrastructure of the industrial revolution.  Canalside inns provided refreshment for working boat families and their horses, as well as professional leggers who propelled boats through tunnels.

We’ve published a guide to our top 10 canalside pubs to visit on a canal boat holiday in 2024:

1. The Cross Guns at Avoncliff in Wiltshire

Located alongside the Kennet & Avon Canal, this 17th century inn has idyllic riverside pub gardens.  It has panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds and the beautiful Avoncliff Aqueduct.  The Cross Guns serves a selection of British pub favourite food, local ales, cider and craft beer.  It’s close to our bases at Bath, Monkton Combe, Hilperton and Bradford on Avon.

2. The Holly Bush Inn at Denford in Staffordshire

Housed in an old flour mill on the Caldon Canal, the Holly Bush Inn is surrounded by Staffordshire Moorlands.  The pub offers award winning ales and delicious homemade food.  It has a large canalside beer garden and is both family and dog friendly.  From our narrowboat hire base at Stoke on Trent, it takes around seven hours to reach The Holly Bush.

3. The Stubbing Wharf at Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire

The Stubbing Wharf on the Rochdale Canal offers home cooked food, including Sunday lunch roasts. It has a choice of real ales and a canalside beer garden. The pub was built soon after the completion of the Rochdale Canal in 1789.  It served travellers on both the canal and the turnpike road.  Its curious name derives from the ancient settlement of Stubbing, an Anglo-Saxon word for clearing where the tree stumps have been left.  From Drifters canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes around five-and-a-half hours to reach Hebden Bridge.

4. The Swan at Fradley Junction in Derbyshire

At the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Coventry canals at Alrewas, the historic Swan pub is known locally as the ‘Mucky Duck’.  The pub offers traditional home cooked meals and a choice of cask ales.  The Swan’s bar area is decorated with Roses & Castles narrowboat art. Drifters’ base at Great Haywood is a six-hour cruise away, and Kings Orchard is just one-and-a-half hours away.

5. The Blue Lias Inn at Stockton in Warwickshire

Located on the Grand Union Canal, this historic rural pub was named after the limestone and clay that is quarried locally.  The clay is derived from material laid down in the early Jurassic seas, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  The Blue Lias is around two-and-a-half hours by boat from our Stockton base.

6. The Plume of Feathers at Barlaston in Staffordshire

This popular pub on the Trent & Mersey Canal is part owned by the actor Neil Morrissey.  Visitors can sample some of Neil’s own beers and ales, and choose from a menu of homemade dishes made from fresh local ingredients.  It takes just over three hours to reach Barlastan from Drifters’ base at Stoke on Trent, and it’s seven cruising hours from Great Haywood.

7. The Crown Inn at Alvechurch in Worcestershire

This historic country pub next to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal has a rustic charm, a good selection of ales and lagers and great value food.  Our nearest bases are at Alvechurch and Tardebigge.

8. The Olde Barbridge Inn at Nantwich in Cheshire

This historic pub on the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich sells a selection of local ales brewed at its own local brewery. The pub serves classic British food made with local produce.  Our nearest bases are at Nantwich and Bunbury.

9. The Poacher’s Pocket at Chirk in Shropshire

With its tranquil canalside location and beer garden, the Poacher’s Pocket on the Llangollen Canal offers authentic pub food, including curries, steaks, burgers and salads.  Our nearest bases are at Chirk, Trevor and Blackwater Meadow.

10. The Fleur De Lys at Lowsonford in Warwickshire

This pretty 17th century country pub on the banks of the Stratford Canal has a lovely beer garden.  The Fleur De Lys has been famous for its pies since the 1950’s, all served with seasonal vegetables, chunky chips and gravy.  Drifters nearest narrowboat hire base is just three cruising hours away at Wootton Wawen.

Crossing the Avoncliff Aqueduct on a canal boat holiday

Top 10 aqueducts to cruise across on a canal boat holiday

Britain’s 3,000-mile canal network is made up of thousands of historic structures, including dozens of aqueducts.

Aqueducts were originally invented by the Romans.

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 built dozens of canal aqueducts across the canal network.

They have survived to become some of the most iconic sights on our waterways.

To help plan your next adventure afloat, we’ve listed the top 10 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.

10. Avon Aqueduct in Scotland

At 247 metres long, the impressive Avon Aqueduct in Scotland is the second longest aqueduct in Britain.  It carries the Union Canal 29.5 metres high above the River Avon near Linlithgow.  Designed by Hugh Baird, with advice from Thomas Telford, the aqueduct was constructed between 1819 and 1821.  Our nearest canal boat hire base is around three cruising hours away at Falkirk.

To find out more about visiting the canals in England and Wales, go to https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/

You can visit a Christmas market on a canal boat holiday

Best Christmas markets to visit on a canal boat holiday

Winter cruising on the canals offers the chance to visit a Christmas market on a canal boat holiday.

Our canal boats for hire range from snug narrowboats for two, to larger boats for seven, and prices start at £635 for a short break (three or four nights), £875 for a week.

All Drifters’ boats have central heating and hot water, and some also have multi-fuel stoves. So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Here’s a guide to the top four Christmas markets to visit on a barge holiday in 2023:

1. Boat to the Bath Christmas market

From Thursday 23 November to Sunday 10 December, Bath Christmas market will return to the historic City of Bath. You can explore dozens of chalets nestled amongst iconic monuments, with a wide range of crafts, gifts, food and drink. From our canal barge base at Bath, it takes around two hours to cruise to City Centre moorings, passing through six locks.

2. Navigate to the World of Wedgewood Christmas Artisan Markets

On the weekends of 25 and 26 November, 9 and 10 December and 16 and 17 December 2023, Josiah & Co will host Christmas artisan markets at the World of Wedgewood. From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, boaters can reach Middleport Pottery in Stoke on Trent in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks along the way.

3. Visit Stratford-upon-Avon’s Victorian Christmas Market

This award-winning event taking place 7-10 December 2023 features hundreds of stalls selling seasonal products, with traders decked out in Victorian costumes. From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to moorings in Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford upon Avon, passing through 17 locks along the way.

4. Experience the Warwick Castle Christmas Market

From Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to experience ‘Christmas at the Castle’ (25 November 2023 to 7 January 2024), including an open-air ice rink and Christmas Market. The journey from Stockton to Warwick takes around seven hours, passing through 20 locks.

5. Cruise to the famous Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham

From 2 November to 24 December 2023, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will fill New Street and Victoria Square, with stalls offering a variety of food and drink, traditional toys, ornaments and gifts. From Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes around five hours to reach moorings in Gas Street Basin in Birmingham city centre.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.

Best canal boat holiday destinations for Christmas and New Year

Spend Christmas or New Year on a narrowboat

With quiet canals, frosty towpaths, historic waterside pubs and festive waterside destinations to enjoy, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network is a great way to get away this Christmas.

Drifters offers winter cruising* from a number of locations, with boats offering accommodation for between two to seven people.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players, and some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.

Prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £940 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £1,300 for a week.

1. Cruise through the Welsh mountains to the Eisteddfod town of Llangollen

From our canal boat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes around two hours to cruise to Llangollen.  There you can moor up in Llangollen Basin and enjoy visiting this beautiful town nestled in the Berwyn Mountains.  Things to see and do include: riding the Llangollen Steam Railway; and visiting the Horseshoe Falls.  There’s a great choice of independent shops and places to eat, including the popular Corn Mill with river and mountain views.

2. Boat through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley Nature Reserve

Heading south from our narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal, you can reach Fradley Junction in around five hours.  The journey passes through five locks and 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside, including the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Places to visit along the way include: The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust; and the village of Handsacre with its ‘The Old Peculiar’ pub.  At Fradley there are walking trails at the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve and hospitality at the historic Swan Inn.

3. Skate on the open-air ice rink at Warwick Castle

From our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal, you can cruise to Warwick and back to explore the medieval Warwick Castle.  Over Christmas, visitors the castle will find a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall, ‘Stories with Santa’ in the Library, a Christmas market and an open-air ice rink.  Canalside pubs along the way include: the Blue Lias pub at the bottom of the Stockton Flight; and the Cuttle Inn at Long Itchington.

4. Travel through the Shropshire Lake District to Ellesmere

From our canal boat hire base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal, it takes around four hours to reach the historic town of Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  Along the way, the route passes Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park.  Once at Ellesmere, there’s a choice of independent shops and restaurants, as well as formal gardens, woods and castle grounds to explore.

5. Float to through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford-upon-Avon

From our base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford-upon-Avon.  The journey takes you through the Warwickshire countryside, with 17 locks to go through. Once in Stratford, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin, just a short walk from the town’s theatres, restaurants, markets and museums.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.

Best Autumn canal boat holidays in England and Wales

Top 5 leafy canals to cruise this Autumn

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways meanders through some of our best-loved countryside, including woodlands and forest remains.

To celebrate the beautiful Autumn colours in our trees and hedgerows, we’ve listed our top five leafy canals to cruise along:

1. The Calder & Hebble in West Yorkshire

The 21-mile long leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation links Wakefield with Sowerby Bridge.  On a short break from our base at Sowerby Bridge, you can cruise along the part-canal, part-river Calder & Hebble to Shipley. The route will take you through wooded valleys and the towns of Elland and Brighouse along the way.  The journey there and back travels 22 miles, passes through 32 locks and takes around 16 hours.

2. The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in South Wales

This 35-mile long peaceful waterway follows the line of the wooded Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park.  On a short break from our base at Goytre, you can cruise to Talybont-on-Usk and back, passing the villages and hamlets of Llaellen, Llanfoist, Govilon, Llangattock and Llangynidr along the way.  The journey there and back travels 39 miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around 18 hours.

3. The Macclesfield Canal in Cheshire

This 26-mile long tree-lined canal runs from Marple in Cheshire to Hall Green, on the Trent & Mersey Canal.  On a week’s break from our base at Stoke on Trent, you can connect to the Macclesfield Canal and cruise to Macclesfield and back.  You’ll pass through the 1.5 mile long Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal before transferring onto the Macclesfield Canal.  Then you’ll meander through the countryside to enjoy a series of wooded sections, as well as views of the distant hills.  The journey to Macclesfield and back travels 42 miles, passes through 26 locks and takes around 21 hours.

4. The Stratford Canal in Warwickshire

This 25.5-mile long narrow canal connects Stratford-upon-Avon with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Kings Norton Junction.  The middle section is surrounded by trees where it passes through the remains of the Forest of Arden.  On a short break from our base at Wootton Wawen, you can cruise through quiet countryside to Hatton and back.  You’ll pass through the village of Lowsonford with its popular Fleur de Lys canalside pub, and Lapworth where you transfer onto the Grand Union Canal. The journey to Hatton and back cruises 21 miles, passes through 34 locks and takes around 14 hours.

5. The Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire

The 87-mile long Kennet & Avon Canal links the Bristol Avon near Bath, with the River Thames at Reading. On a week’s break from our base at Devizes, at the foot of the famous Caen Hill flight of locks, you can cruise to Hungerford and back passing through the Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  There are a series of wooded sections to enjoy, including an area of the Savernake Forest.  The journey to Hungerford and back travels 54 miles, passes through 106 locks and takes around 40 hours.