The Southsea Wander published a list of ‘5 Winter Canal Cruises’.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
Day boat hire on Britain’s peaceful network of inland waterways is a great way to celebrate Father’s Day (21 June), enjoying a relaxing day afloat on the first day of summer and stopping off for lunch and a pint at a canalside pub along the way.
Drifters offers day boat hire from 17 boat yards across England and Wales, with prices starting from less than £10 per person.
Full tuition is included so if you are new to canal boating, it’s a great way to get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks. All our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle, perfect for a picnic afloat, and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.
Here’s a list of our Top 10 day boat destinations for Dads:
- Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, you can 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. ***‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, prices start from £137.
- Explore Shakespeare’s country – from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Stratford Upon Avon, you can head south to the pretty village of Wilmcote to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s 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 beautiful views across the Warwickshire countryside. ***’Dolie’ and ‘Charlie’ can carry up to 10 people each, prices start at £99 weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
- 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 World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley, this incredible structure offers boaters stunning views of the Dee Valley below. After cruising over the Aqueduct, there are two tunnels to pass through – Whitehouses and Chirk, as well as Chirk Aqueduct with a viaduct running alongside it. It takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach Chirk and the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid. ***‘Jacob’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Lotty’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire starts at £120, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
- Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug gently along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way. Once there, you can moor up and visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals. And there are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ***’Daylark’ can carry up to 12 people, prices start at £129.
- Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, you can head west to the picturesque historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn. ***‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people, prices start at £122.
- Tunnel through rural Worcestershire to Hopwood – from Tardebigge on the Worcester & 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 Hopwood. The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through, including the 2493-metre long Wast Hill Tunnel. ***‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £140.
- Glide along to the pretty village of Hillmorton – from Braunston on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, day boat hirer can enjoy a delightful seven-mile journey along the North Oxford Canal to the village of Hillmorton. The village offers the canalside Old Royal Oak to enjoy lunch and a flight of three locks for some gongoozling. ***‘Water Ouzel’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire is £140, £175 on weekends and bank holidays.
- Cruise to Whitchurch for lunch at The Black Bear – from Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can head to the historic market town of Whitchurch. The lock-free journey, which takes just under two hours, travels through six peaceful miles of countryside. Once at Whitchurch, you can moor up to explore the town with its half-timbered buildings, independent shops, way-marked circular walks, Brown Moss nature reserve and award-winning ‘Black Bear’ pub. ***’Julia’ can carry up to 10 people, prices start at £99 weekdays, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
- Cruise through the Leicestershire countryside to Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line to the top of Foxton Locks, where you can enjoy stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, lunch at the historic waterside Foxton Locks Inn and a visit to the Foxton Inclined Boat Lift Museum to find out about the intriguing Victorian structure that once operated there. ***‘Moorhen’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £160, weekends & bank holidays from £210.
- Travel through the Staffordshire countryside to Rugeley – from Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford, you can cruise four miles, passing through two locks to reach the historic market town of Rugeley. The journey, which takes around two hours, passes the National Trust’s stunning Shugborough Estate, the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre and the popular Wolseley Arms pub at Wolseley Bridge. ***‘Daphne’ and ‘Abi’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire starts at £99, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
For more information about Drifters day boat hire https://www.drifters.co.uk/day-boats/
Britain’s 2,000-mile long and 200-year old canal network is a treasure trove of historic structures, a haven for wildlife and is steeped in folklore and mystery.
To celebrate the rich tapestry of canal history and habitat, here at Drifters we’ve put together our Top 6 Canal Mysteries for visitors and holiday-makers to explore:
- Why was the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift a white elephant? Next to Foxton Locks, on the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line, visitors will find a tiny Museum dedicated to the Foxton Inclined Plane boat lift – an extraordinary feet of Victorian engineering which once operated there. When engineers began working on the construction of the Grand Union Canal, Benjamin Bevan solved the major challenge of raising the canal 75ft up a steep escarpment at Foxton with two flights of five staircase locks, completed in 1814. However, by the end of the 19th century, as a result of competition from the railways, commercial traffic on the canals was in significant decline. In 1893, local factory owners and boat companies encouraged the Grand Junction Canal Company to make improvements so that the canal could take larger boats and better compete with the railways. Plans were approved for the plane in 1897 and building work began. Two counterbalanced caissons (giant bathtubs) that could each hold two narrowboats or one wide-beam barge, were built to slide up or down the hill on tracks. They enabled boats to make the journey in just 12 minutes – nearly six times quicker than going through the locks. Opened in 1900, sadly it was never a commercial success due to decreasing canal traffic and the fact that the Watford flight was never widened to take larger boats. The plane was mothballed in 1911 and dismantled for scrap in 1928. *Drifters nearest canal boat holiday starting points are at Market Harborough and Braunston.
- Why are there pill boxes along the K&A? When walking along the towpath or cruising along in a boat, visitors to the Kennet & Avon Canal, which connects the River Thames at Reading with the Bristol Avon at Bath, will notice a large number of pill boxes lining the waterway. Designed by the War Office, these fortifications were commissioned by General Sir Edmund Ironside, following the British Expeditionary Forces’ evacuation from Dunkirk, and the prospect of imminent German invasion. Named GHQ Stop Line Blue, the canal was equipped to be a static defence line, with the pill boxes and trank traps manned by the Home Guard. *Drifters offers canal boat hire on the Kennet & Avon Canal from Aldermaston (near Reading), Devizes, Hilperton (near Trowbridge), Bradford on Avon and Bath.
- Why do canals sometimes turn green? When summer temperatures soar, thick carpets of bright green duck weed can appear along sections of Britain’s canals, especially in London. While an individual piece of duck weed is no bigger than a ladybird, when they multiply into large numbers, they clog up canals, starving the water of oxygen and sunlight, and causing problems for some wildlife. In the right conditions, a mass of duck weed can double in size every two or three days. The weed also accumulates litter, can be problematic for boats, and dogs and other animals have been known to mistake it for grass and end up in the water. When the duck weed takes hold, the Canal & River Trust deploys weed clearing machines and the charity has installed a bubble barrier in on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal to help keep litter and duck weed in check.
- Why have some people seen a second route in the Blisworth Tunnel? On the Grand Union Canal at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel has spooked a number of boaters over the years. 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. But over the years, a number of boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing lights and a second route emerging. As the tunnel runs straight through the hill, the only explanation is that these people must have seen the ghostly flicker of candlelight at the spot where the first tunnel would have intersected with the main canal tunnel. *Drifters nearest canal boat hire starting points are at Rugby, Stretton, Braunston, Stockton and Napton.
- Why are there Terrapins on our canals? Red-eared terrapins are now a common sight on England’s waterways, largely as a result of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles cartoon craze which began in the 1980’s. Imported from the USA to be sold as pets, these terrapins can grow to the size of a dinner plate, making them less appealing and difficult to manage. Consequently, they are often irresponsibly released into the wild and can be seen basking on dry land during sunny days. At the moment it looks unlikely that they are breeding as terrapin eggs need to be incubated at 25 degrees Celsius for 60 days in order to hatch, but climate change may enable them to increase their numbers and potentially harm native animals. *Terrapins are regularly seen at Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, at Fradley Junction where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal. Our nearest canal boat hire bases are at Great Haywood and Stretton.
- Why is the Hatton Flight also known as the Stairway to Heaven? The spectacular Hatton Flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, raises or lowers boats by 146 feet across two miles. The men and women who operated the working boats which carried cargoes on the canal, knick-named the Hatton flight ‘The Stairway to Heaven’, because of the hard work involved in the long ascent, and the subsequent easy run to Camp Hill where they were paid. *Our nearest canal boat holiday starting points are at Stockton, Warwick and Wootton Wawen.
From rural retreats to vibrant city centres, narrowboat holiday-makers can use their boat as a floating holiday home to explore hundreds of waterside destinations and enjoy taking refreshment at historic canalside pubs.
Here are Drifters’ Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2019:
1. Go star gazing on the Mon & Brec – isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, said to have some of some of the highest quality dark skies, perfect for star gazing. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain. On a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, you can cruise lock-free to Talybont-on-Usk and back, with excellent walking trails and eateries, the Canalside Café and the Star Inn.
2. Travel to Leicester and the new King Richard III Visitor Centre – from our canal boat hire base at Union Wharf on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in Market Harborough, on a week’s narrowboat holiday you can travel to Leicester and back. The 13-hour cruise through the Leicestershire countryside, travels 23 miles, encountering 24 locks, and passing through a series of villages with friendly rural pubs to enjoy, including The Three Horseshoes at Wistow, and the canalside Navigation Inn at Kilby. Once in Leicester, moorings at Castle Gardens are the perfect base for exploring local attractions, including the new award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre which chronicles the last Plantagenet King’s life and remarkable story of the discovery of his remains.
3. Drift through the prehistoric Vale of Pewsey to Hungerford – from our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes, it takes around 20 hours, travelling 27 miles through 53 locks to reach the historic town of Hungerford, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, boaters travel up the spectacular flight of 16 locks in a row at Caen Hill and cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, passing close to prehistoric Avebury and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest. Once at Hungerford, narrowboat holiday-makers can enjoy dining at a choice of pubs and browsing in dozens of antique shops.
4. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from Drifters canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can travel to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through eight locks and taking around 32 hours. This largely rural route takes canal boat holiday-makers up the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and on to Hawkesbury Junction to join the Coventry Canal. Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashbury Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles. From Carlton Bridge to Snarestone, the canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the diversity of its plant, insect and animal life, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish.
5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Llangollen and back – from Drifters’ base at Chirk on the beautiful Llangollen Canal in North Wales, the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the stunning hill surrounded town of Llangollen, can be reached on a short break. Standing at over 125ft high above the Dee Valley, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is 1,000ft long, supporting a cast iron trough holding the canal across iron arched ribs and 19 enormous hollow pillars. With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the stunning views of the valley below, canal boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth.
6. Cruise the Birmingham mini-ring – with more canals than Venice, travelling by boat is the best way to tour Britain’s vibrant second City. On a week’s holiday from Drifters’ Tardebigge boat yard on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, canal boat holiday-makers can travel the Birmingham Mini-Ring, cruising for 27 hours and passing through 49 locks. The route begins by passing through the remains of the Forest of Arden, with quiet villages and historic waterside pubs to enjoy along the way, and then heads right into the heart of Birmingham. Here boaters can moor up and explore some of the City’s top attractions, including the Thinktank Science Museum and Mailbox Shopping Centre. Travelling out of Birmingham on a different canal, the route connects with the Grand Union Canal and the journey becomes gradually more rural again as it loops back round through Lapworth and along part of the Stratford Canal.
7. Travel one-way across the Pennines – starting from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Sowerby Bridge or Ashton-under-Lyne, this week-long epic journey takes around 40 cruising hours, travelling 33 miles and passing through 97 locks. If beginning at Sowerby Bridge, the route first travels down the Calder & Hebble Navigation past Brighouse, then after a short river section the journey switches onto the Huddersfield Broad, taking boaters into Huddersfield City Centre. After that the canal goes up the Colne Valley into the hills and on to the villages of Slaithwaite, then Marsden, before reaching the summit over 644 feet above sea level and the entrance to the Standedge Tunnel. The passage of boats through the incredible three-and-a-quarter mile long tunnel is guided by Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers. After the tunnel, the canal descends quickly through the Diggle Flight and into the Saddleworth villages, before reaching the centre of Stalybridge, and finally Ashton.
8. Navigate the Droitwich Ring – setting off from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Worcester on the beautiful River Severn, canal boat holiday makers can navigate the Droitwich Ring, the only waterway cruising ring in Europe which can be completed on a short break (three or four nights). The restoration of the Droitwich Canals was completed in 2011, reconnecting them to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the River Severn, and creating a 21-mile loop with 33 locks along the way, that can be completed in just less than 15 hours.
9. Potter through the Scottish lowlands to Linlithgow – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at the Falkirk Wheel boat lift, it’s a peaceful five-hour cruise along the Union Canal to the historic town of Linlithgow – perfect for a short break. The route begins by passing over the 35-metre high Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first rotating boat lift and then passes through two tunnels and two aqueducts, and on through miles of peaceful countryside before reaching Linlithgow. Once there, narrowboat holiday-makers can visit the beautifully preserved remains of Linlithgow Palace on the shores of Linlithgow Loch, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and sample some of the town’s excellent eateries.
10. Glide through the Peak District to Cheddleton and back – on a short break from Drifters’ Peak District narrowboat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, you can travel into the Peak District along the beautiful Caldon Canal, reaching Cheddleton Flint Mill in around eight hours, passing through 12 locks and travelling just over 11 miles. As the Caldon Canal leaves Stoke, it begins to pass through gently rolling hills and wooded areas, past old mills and then alongside the stunning River Churnet. At Denford, the Hollybush Inn is popular with boaters and at Consall Forge, the secluded Black Lion pub serves good food and real ales.
With Britain’s inland waterways in better shape than ever and the health benefits of spending time by the water proven, narrowboat holidays are becoming increasingly popular.
You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all Drifters’ operators provide hirers with boat steering tuition as part of their holiday packages.
Today’s narrowboats are fully equipped with essential home comforts, including central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi too.
So if you are planning to pack up and ship out on an adventure afloat, take a look at our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners to help you learn the ropes:
1. Cruise to the bright lights of Birmingham – boasting more canals than Venice, Birmingham simply has to be visited by water. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novice canal boat holiday-makers to ‘dip their toe in the water’. It takes just five hours to reach Birmingham, with the first half of the journey passing through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages. Once in the centre of Birmingham, narrowboat holiday-makers can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre and other city centre attractions.
2. Love the Llangollen – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network. The journey from Drifters’ base at Trevor near Llangollen to Ellesmere and back offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners. There are just four locks between Trevor and the beautiful Meres, a journey which takes around seven hours. And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.
3. Potter through the Peak District – our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals near Stoke on Trent, offers a fantastic way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, the gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break.
4. Glide through the Breacon Beacons – isolated from the main canal network, the scenic Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. This quiet waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, narrowboaters can cruise to Brecon and back, passing through Georgian Crickhowell, with its fascinating 13th century castle, and Talybont-on-Usk with walks to the waterfalls at Blaen y Glyn.
5. Visit Georgian Bath – from our base at Hilperton on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge in Wiltshire, the World Heritage Status City of Bath is a delightful six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks, over two stunning Bath stone aqueducts and past a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff. Once in Bath, canal boat holiday makers can use their boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.
6. Take a rural route to Braunston – from our base at Stretton-under-Fosse on the North Oxford Canal near Rugby, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful 15-mile cruise away. There are only three locks along the way so it’s an easy holiday for first time boaters on a short break. The journey meanders through pretty wooded countryside and a series of sleepy villages with rural waterside pubs, including Newbold and Hillmorton.
7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from Drifters’ base at Falkirk, Edinburgh Quay is a sedate 11-hour journey along the lock-free Union Canal. The journey, perfect for beginners on a mid-week or week-long break, starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only 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 five-minute walk from Princes Street, with easy access to the City’s many attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and Mark King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.
8. Steer gently through the countryside to Stone – from our base at Great Haywood it takes just five hours of gentle cruising along the Trent & Mersey Canal to reach the historic Shropshire market town of Stone. Stone is renowned as the food and drink capital of Staffordshire, with regular markets, a good choice of restaurants and the annual Food & Drink Festival in October. Along the way, there are just four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Woolpack at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.
9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales – the journey from our narrowboat rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes 13 hours and passes through three locks each way. The route takes boaters through the historic town of Skipton, with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands managed by the Woodland Trust. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms, easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.
10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our canal boat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for canal boat holiday beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one on the way, one on the way back), this gentle journey through the Shropshire countryside passes the waterside Anchor Inn at Cross Green and transfers boaters onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction. On reaching the historic village of Brewood, with its half-timbered houses cottages and attractive Georgian houses, visitors have a choice of pubs, restaurants and tea rooms to dine at, including the canalside Bridge Inn.
With frosty towpaths, cosy fires and historic waterside pubs, a holiday on Britain’s peaceful canal network can be a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of Christmas.
Drifters offers winter cruising* from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug narrowboats for two to family vessels for twelve.
It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a rural retreat or base to enjoy Christmas and New Year celebrations in exciting waterside destinations like Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.
All Drifters’ 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.
Drifters’ prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £649 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, weekly hire from £860.
*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.
Here’s our Top 5 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat for 2018:
1. Wend your way to Warwick for Christmas at the Castle – on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise to Warwick and back to explore its stunning medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon. Over Christmas, visitors the castle will find a 20-foot high Christmas tree in the Great Hall, ‘Stories with Santa’ in the Library, ‘A Winter Wedding’ in the Princess Tower and a spectacular Winter Birds of Prey show. Top mooring sites along the way include Long Itchington with its choice of six pubs, including ‘The Duck on the Pond’ in the village and the Blue Lias pub at the bottom of the Stockton flight.
2. Amble along the Ashby Canal to Snarestone on the edge of the National Forest – on a week’s break from Drifters’ base at Stretton-under-Fosse near Rugby, boaters can head north along the Oxford Canal to the outskirts of Coventry to reach the peaceful Ashby Canal, and from there enjoy 22 miles of lock-free cruising. Along the way, canal boat holiday-makers can enjoy visiting a series of historic canalside pubs, including the Rose & Castle at Ansty, The Greyhound at Hawkesbury Junction and The Lime Kilns at Watling Street, as well as visiting the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where in 1485 King Richard lost his crown to Henry Tudor. At the village of Snarestone, located on the edge of the National Forest, the Globe Inn 19th century coaching inn, offers an open fire classic British menu using local ethical ingredients. The journey there and back, travels 63 miles and with just one lock to pass through each way, it offers around 26 hours of tranquil countryside cruising.
3. Soar across the Stream in the Sky to Llangollen – on a short break (three or four nights) from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Blackwater on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to the Eistedfordd town of Llangollen and back, passing over the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 300 metres above the Dee Valley, with incredible views to enjoy. Top mooring sites along the way include The Poacher’s Pocket pub at Gledrid and the Aqueduct Inn at Froncysyllte. Once at Langollen, boaters can enjoy walks through dramatic scenery, a ride on a steam train or a visit to the National Trust’s Plas Newydd Georgian manor house.
4. Explore Stratford and Shakespeare country afloat – from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stratford upon Avon, it’s a picturesque five-hour cruise along the Stratford Canal to the little village of Wootton Wawen, with its Yew Tree Farm Shopping Village, offering visitors a Farm Shop, Cowshed Café, antiques and crafts. And once back in Stratford, canal boat holiday-makers can take time to enjoy the historic town’s marvellous Christmas lights, markets, grottos, carol singers, traditional pubs, ghost walks, shops, Swan Theatre, cosy waterside restaurants and museums, including Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Top mooring sites along the way include the summit of the Wilmcote Flight for access to the village of Wilmcote, with Mary Arden Farm Museum and Mary Arden Inn. Along the 14-mile return journey, boaters encounter 32 locks.
5. Cruise gently through the countryside to Fradley – from our canal boat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can head south, reaching Fradley Junction in five hours. The journey passes through 12 peaceful miles of countryside, with just five locks to negotiate along the way, passing The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern. At Fradley, boaters can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and explore the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
Hundreds of pubs can be found alongside Britain’s inland waterways, many of them historic rural locals offering the perfect place to eat, drink and relax on a canal boat holiday.
With names like the Lock, the Navigation, the Narrowboat and Bridge, canalside pubs often date back to the construction of the canals over 200 years ago, when they provided a place for navvies and canal builders to live, and later for the boatmen running cargoes.
To celebrate the lovely Spring weather, here at Drifters we’ve put together our Top 10 waterside pubs for 2018:
1. Watch out for dinosaurs at The Blue Lias – this historic pub on the Grand Union Canal near Stockton in Warwickshire, was named after the limestone and clay that is quarried locally and is derived from material laid down in the early Jurassic seas, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Blue Lias is eight locks and less than a mile away from Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Stockton Top Lock.
2. Try a pie at the Fleur De Lys – this pretty 17th century country pub in the Warwickshire village of Lowsonford has a lovely beer garden on the banks of the Stratford Canal and offers 11 different types of pie, all served with seasonal vegetables, chunky chips and gravy. The Fleur De Lys can be reached in just over three hours from our canal boat hire base at on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden.
3. Enjoy the riverside gardens at The Nag’s Head – this award-winning pub on the River Thames in Abingdon offers drinkers and diners a peaceful retreat in its riverside gardens, with classic British food locally sourced. It takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles, to reach Abingdon from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the River Thames near Oxford.
4. Take in the view at The Telford Inn – looking out across the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the historic Telford Inn on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor makes the most of it waterside position and views with plenty of outdoor seating. Food is served daily and all dishes are freshly prepared, including their choice of six kinds of burger and tasty Little Dragons children’s menu. The Telford Inn can be reached in less than two hours from our boat yard on the Llangollen Canal at Chirk.
5. Visit Neil Morrissey’s Plume of Feathers – this popular pub on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Barlastan in Staffordshire is part owned by ‘Men Behaving Badly’ star, Neil Morrissey. Visitors can sample some of Neil’s own beers and ales choose from a menu of homemade dishes made from fresh local ingredients. It takes just over three hours to reach Barlastan from our Peak District canal boat hire base at Etruria in Stoke on Trent.
6. See the Cotswolds from The Cross Guns at Avoncliffe – this 17th century Wiltshire inn has idyllic riverside pub gardens offering panoramic views of the foothills of the Cotswolds and the Kennet & Avon Canal crossing the river via the beautiful Avoncliffe Aqueduct. The Cross Guns serves a selection of British pub favourite food, local ales and cider and craft beer. It takes around an hour and a half, travelling four miles and passing through just one lock, to reach Avoncliffe from our narrowboat hire base at Hilperton, on the Kennet & Avon Canal near Trowbridge.
7. Enjoy home cooked food at The Stubbing Wharf – as well as a canalside beer garden and an excellent choice of real ales, the Stubbing Wharf on the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge offers diners home cooked food, including traditional Sunday lunch roasts. Built soon after the completion of the Rochdale Canal in 1789 to serve the needs of 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 our canal boat hire base at Sowerby Bridge, it takes around five hours to reach Hebden Bridge, travelling seven miles and passing through 10 locks.
8. Sample locally brewed ales at The Olde Barbridge Inn – this historic pub on the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich sells a selection of local ales brewed at its own local brewery, and serves classic British food made with local produce. The Olde Barbridge Inn is an hour’s cruise from Drifters’ narrowboat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury in Cheshire.
9. Walk in the footsteps of Harrison Ford at The Narrow Boat – with its tranquil canalside location and beer garden, the family owned Narrow Boat on the Llangollen Canal at Whittington offers hearty pub food and real ale. Visit here and you’ll be following in the foot-steps of Hollywood legend Harrison Ford, who enjoyed a meal and a pint or two of Wells Bombardier here as part of his canal boat holiday with Calista Flockhart in 2004. The Narrow Boat can be reached from our narrowboat hire base at Blackwater Meadow in just over an hour.
10. The George Inn at Bathampton – dating back to the 12th-century when it was part of a monastery for the Prior of Bath, the picturesque Grade II listed George Inn on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bathampton is packed with character. Its delightful waterside and rural setting make it a popular destination for canal boat holiday-makers. The George is just over a mile from our narrowboat rental base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath.
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 day boat hire from 18 canal boat hire yards, from less than £10 per person. Full tuition is included so if you are new to canal boating, you can get the hang of steering, mooring up and working the locks.
Our day boats are equipped with cutlery, crockery and a kettle and most also have a toilet, cooker and fridge.
Here’s a list of our top 10 day boat hire centres for 2018:
1. Travel across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our narrowboat hire base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it’s a 20-minute cruise to the World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Standing 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. After cruising over the Aqueduct, takes around two-and-a-half hours to reach Chirk and the Poacher’s Pocket pub at Glendrid. ****Day boat hire from Trevor starts at £120 for up to 10 people, £160 on weekends and bank holidays.
2. Cruise to the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne – from our canal boat rental centre at Gayton on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire, it takes around an hour to chug along to the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne, passing through the 2,795-metre long Blisworth Tunnel along the way. Once there, day-boaters can moor up and visit the intriguing Canal Museum, whose stories, films and collections give visitors a fascinating look at the history of Britain’s canals. And there are plenty of places to eat in Stoke Bruerne, including the Boat Inn, Navigation Inn and the Museum’s Waterside Café. ****Day boat hire aboard ‘Daylark’ which can carry up to 12 people, starts at £130 on a weekday, £165 on weekends and bank holidays.
3. Head out into open countryside on the Coventry Canal – from our boat yard at Coventry Basin, day boaters can travel north out of the city past the Ricoh Stadium and out into the open countryside, reaching Hawkesbury Junction in around two peaceful hours. Here The Greyhound pub offers a great place to stop for lunch or dinner if you’ve opted for evening hire. ****’Mole Valley’ can take up to 12 passengers, weekday hire starts at £180, weekends and bank holidays it’s £210.
4. Catch a lift on the Falkirk Wheel – 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.
5. Visit the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – our day boat hire base at Anderton on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Cheshire, is next to the historic 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. 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. ****‘Daydream’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £150, weekends & bank holidays £180.
6. Glide through the Brecon Beacons – from Goytre Wharf on the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal near Abergavenny, boaters can enjoy incredible mountain views on the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the popular Star pub at Mamhillad. ****‘Rooster’ can carry up to eight people, weekday hire from £130, weekends & bank holidays £150.
7. 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), to enjoy lunch at The Mary Arden Inn and a visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother. ****Day boat hire from Wootton Wawen starts at £99 for up to 10 people, £140 on weekends and bank holidays.
8. Boat to beautiful Bradford on Avon – from Hilperton Marina near Trowbridge in Wiltshire on the beautiful Kennet & Avon, day boaters can head west to the picturesque historic town of Bradford on Avon, with its stunning medieval Tithe Barn and choice of pubs, independent cafes and restaurants, including the canalside Barge Inn. ****‘Cheers’ can carry up to 10 people, weekday hire starts at £105, weekends & bank holidays £130.
9. Tunnel through rural Worcestershire – from Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, day boaters can cruise north to Kings Norton Junction, a pretty rural route with historic pubs along the way, including the family-friendly Hopwood House at Hopwood. The route is lock-free but there are two tunnels to pass through. ****‘Emma’ can carry up to 10 people each, weekday hire is £99, weekends & bank holidays £140.
10. Cruise through the Leicestershire countryside to Foxton Locks – from Union Wharf in Market Harborough it’s a pleasant two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line to the top of Foxton Locks, with stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, plenty of places to picnic and the historic waterside 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. ****‘Moorhen’ can carry up to 12 people, weekday hire starts at £150, weekends & bank holidays from £200.
What's the difference between barges and narrowboats? The main difference is width - narrowboats are between 6ft10 and 7ft wide, barges are typically twice that width #narrowboat #canalboat abcboathire.com/blog/differen…
Covid and climate fears drive Britons to boating holidays independent.co.uk/travel/news…