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Visit a Christmas Market by canal boat

Drifters offers winter cruising* on the canals from a number of its bases, with boats ranging from snug narrowboats for two, to larger vessels for twelve.

It’s free to moor almost anywhere on the network, so a narrowboat could provide the perfect base for a self-catering rural retreat with stops at historic waterside pubs and visits to Christmas markets and fairs at canal and riverside towns and cities.

All our boats have central heating, hot water, televisions and DVD players.  Some also have multi-fuel stoves and Wifi.  So, whatever the weather, it’s always nice and cosy on board.  We also offers boats for hire over Christmas and New Year.

Drifters’ winter 2021-22 cruising prices start at £560 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £775 for a week. Here are our Top 5 Christmas markets and fairs to visit afloat:

1. Visit Stratford on Avon’s Victorian Christmas Market

This award-winning event is scheduled to be held 9-12 December.  Stall holders dress in Victorian costumes and there’s a range of entertainment planned throughout the town, including live performances.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, it’s a six-hour cruise to Stratford upon Avon.  The journey takes boaters through the Warwickshire countryside, passing through 17 locks along the way.

2. Moor up in Birmingham City Centre for the Frankfurt Christmas Market

From 4 November to 23 December, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will fill New Street and Victoria Square, with stalls offering a variety of tempting food and drink, traditional toys, ornaments and gifts. Departing from our narrow boat hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes around five hours to reach Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.  There are no locks to pass through along the way.

 3. Travel to the Leamington Christmas market

On Sunday 21 November Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market will offer over 60 stalls with goodies, unusual gifts, stocking fillers, decorations and artisan food and drink.  From Drifters’ canal boat hire base at Warwick on the Grand Union Canal, it takes just under an hour to reach moorings close to Leamington Spa town centre.

4. Navigate to the Whitchurch Silk Mill Christmas Fair

On 4 and 5 December, the Whitchurch Silk Mill will host a weekend Christmas Fair with a variety of stalls in the Mill grounds.  From Drifters’ narrowboat hire centre on the Llangollen Canal at Blackwater Meadow, it takes around five hours to reach the historic market town of Whitchurch.  The journey travels 12 waterway miles through the Shropshire Lake District.

5. Moor up for a festive break in Bath

Bath’s Christmas programme this year includes festive stalls in Kingston Parade and Abbey Green and an artisan market in Queen Square.  There will also be an illumination trail of historic buildings and traditional Christmas celebrations around the Abbey Quarter.  From our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Monkton Combe, it takes around four hours to reach moorings in Bath City, passing through six locks along the way.

*Some routes are affected by the Canal & River Trust’s winter stoppage programme https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/report/winter-notices.pdf

Top 5 narrow boat holidays for the August Bank Holiday

Narrow boat holidays provide a floating holiday home.  Cruising along at just four miles per hour, watching out for wildlife along the way, you can take all the supplies you need for an adventure afloat.

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

To celebrate the approaching August bank holiday, we’ve listed our top five short break narrow boat holidays:

1. Enjoy the remote countryside of Airedale afloat

On a short break from Drifters’ canal boat rental base at Barnoldswick in Lancashire, you can cruise to Gargrave and back.  There’s stunning wild and remote scenery to enjoy along the way, as well as village pubs.  The journey there and back travels 16 miles, passes through 26 locks and takes around 12 hours.

2. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District

On a mid-week break from our canal boat hire at Wrenbury Mill on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, you can cruise to Ellesmere in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District.  The journey there and back travels 39 miles, passes through 20 locks and takes around 22 hours.

3. Navigate to Chester and back for some Roman history

On a short break from our narrow boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, you can travel to the ancient City of Chester.  The route takes you through beautiful unspoilt countryside.  You’ll pass by the ruins of Beeston Castle and the village of Christleton along the way.  The journey there and back travels 24 miles, passes through 18 locks and takes around 14 hours.

4. Explore Birmingham by canal

From our canal boat hire base at Alvechurch on the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can cruise into the centre of Birmingham.  The route begins through open countryside, passing a series of rural canalside pubs.  Gradually the scenery becomes more urban as you travel right into the heart of Birmingham City Centre.  Moorings for visiting narrow boats are available in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace.  The journey there and back travels 22 miles, and takes around 10 hours.  There are no locks so it’s good route for beginners.

5. Drift through the Calder Valley

From our boat yard at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, you can travel along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation to the old mill town of Hebden Bridge.  The journey to Hebden Bridge covers seven miles, passes through 10 locks and takes around five and a half hours.  Once at Hebden, you can moor up in the centre of town to enjoy a good choice of places to eat, and hikes up to Heptonstall or Hardcastle Crags

Top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners

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.

Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2018

Top of the locks

There are over 1,800 locks on the 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in England and Wales, all enabling boats to travel up and down hills.

These structures have been around for hundreds of years but can be daunting for canal boat holiday newcomers, especially when there are lots of them in quick succession.

Fortunately there’s no mystery to using locks – just a series of step-by-step tasks. A lock is simply a chamber with gates at either end. By emptying or filling the chamber with water, boats can move up or down onto a new section of waterway.

There are many different kinds of locks, but they all on work on a similar principle. With the lock gates closed, boaters should open the sluices (paddles) to let the water in or out and when the water level under the boat is the same as the level it’s moving to, the boat can move in or out of the lock.

Some locks are operated by boaters, others by lock-keepers. Tuition is included in all Drifters canal boat holiday packages, and during the handover procedure boat yard staff will usually take canal boat holiday-makers through their first lock.

Here at Drifters’ we’ve put together our Top 6 flights of locks to celebrate these marvels of canal engineering:

1. Caen Hill – One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the flight of locks at Caen Hill on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire has to be one of the most iconic sites on the waterway network. With 29 locks spread out over two miles, raising the canal by 72 metres, it takes around six hours to passage through. The 16-lock section clustered together up the hill is truly a magnificent site. Drifters’ Devizes narrowboat hire base is at the base of the Flight at Foxhangers Marina.

2. Tardebigge – with 30 locks spread out over two-and-a-quarter miles, this awesome flight of locks on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Worcestershire is the longest on the inland waterways system. In total, the locks raise and lower boats 67 metres and it takes around five-and-a-half hours to travel through them. In recognition of the effort it takes, the Canal & River Trust issues certificates to boaters rising (or lowering) to the challenge. Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at the top of the flight at Tardebigge Wharf.

3. Bingley 5 Rise – another of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this spectacular staircase of five locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Bradford, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom of the next, and it takes around one-and-a-half hours to work through. The size of the chambers can be intimidating even for experienced boaters, but friendly lock-keepers are on hand to help. Drifters’ nearest canal boat rental base is 25 miles and 20 locks away at Barnoldswick.

4. Hatton – nicknamed ‘The Stairway to Heaven’ by the boaters who once carried cargos on the canals, this impressive flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire raises boats up 45 metres over two miles, and takes around four-and-a-half hours to travel through. Just below the Top lock, boaters will find the popular Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment and usually plenty of “gongoozlers” watching boats passing through the locks too! Drifters’ nearest canal boat hire base is at Warwick, just two miles and two locks from Hattton Bottom Lock.

5. Foxton – surrounded by stunning views of the Leicestershire countryside, this set of 10 locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal raises boats up 23 metres in just a quarter-of-a-mile. Foxton Locks is the longest set of staircase locks in the UK – where the locks open directly one from another so that the top gate of one forms the bottom of the next – and they are designated a Grade II Listed structure. It takes around 45 minutes to pass through and there are lock keepers on hand to help, providing key advice when it comes to opening the paddles – “Red before white, you’ll be alright. White before red, you’ll be dead.” Drifters’ nearest narrowboat boat hire base is just two and a half hours away at Market Harborough.

6. Marple – one of the steepest flights on the system, the 16 locks on the stunning Peak Forest Canal at Marple raise boats by 64 metres over just one mile. The locks are built of local stone and are mostly tree-lined, giving the canal a lovely secluded feeling. In fact the Peak Forest Canals is said to be one of Britain’s most scenic waterways, running through beautiful countryside on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Drifters’ Peak District canal boat hire base is 32 miles and 14 locks away from the bottom of the Marple Flight.

Get afloat for Father’s Day

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.