With boats travelling at a maximum speed of 4mph, a canal boat holiday really is the fastest way to slow down. There are over 3,000 miles of peaceful canals and rivers to explore across Britain – from rural retreats to vibrant city centres.
Drifters offers over 500 boats for hire from 37 canal boat hire locations across England, Scotland and Wales. 2015 hire prices currently start at £368 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £480 for a week.
Here are our Top 10 canal boat holidays for 2014:
1. Celebrate the Worcester & Birmingham Canal’s Bicentenary…in 2015 it will be 200 years since the popular Worcester & Birmingham Canal opened. This 29-mile long waterway starts in Worcester, as an off-shoot of the River Severn, and ends in Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham. It has 58 locks along its length, including 30 at Tardebigge, one of the largest lock flights in Europe. A major user of the canal in its freight-carrying heyday was the Cadbury chocolate factories at Bournville and Blackpole. Today, narrowboat holiday-makers can explore this beautiful historic waterway by canal boat, starting at our Worcester base and reaching City centre moorings in Gas Street Basin, with easy access to the City’s Mailbox and Bullring shopping centres, theatres, museums and restaurants, in around 22 hours.
2. Enjoy a journey through the Yorkshire countryside to the famous Bingley 5-rise locks…from our Sowerby Bridge base it takes a week to travel to the Bingley 5-rise locks and back, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers. The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next. The journey from Sowerby Bridge starts with a cruise along the leafy Calder & Hebble Navigation, passing through Elland, Brighouse and Shepley Bridge. Then on through Wakefield, with moorings available right outside the Barbara Hepworth museum, then on to Stanley Ferry to see the aqueduct, which looks like a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now onto the Aire & Calder Navigation with electric locks and on to Leeds, passing the Royal Armouries Museum. Next boaters join the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, travelling through fields and woods and enjoying spectacular views of old West Riding industry and passing through Sir Titus Salt’s fascinating model town at Saltaire, with Italianate mills and Hockney Museum. After several staircase locks along the way, boaters reach the famous Five Rise Locks at Bingley. The total journey there and back travels 110 miles, passes through 118 locks and takes 54 cruising hours.
3. Experience the Edinburgh Festival afloat…Edinburgh Quay is a day and a half’s journey from our base at Falkirk, on the Lowland Canals in Scotland. The journey starts with a trip through the iconic Falkirk Wheel (the world’s first and only rotating boat lift) and then on to the Union Canal, passing through 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 and Festival events. In 2015, the Edinburgh International Festival dates will run from 7-31 August, coinciding for the first time with the Fringe events. Highlights include a staging of Ivo van Hove’s Antigones, starring Juliette Binoche and a stripped-down production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro by Iavn Fischer and the Budapest festival orchestra.
4. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’…the Llangollen Canal’s incredible World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales stands at over 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. It consists of a cast iron trough supported on iron arched ribs, carried on 19 hollow pillars. Each span is 16-metres wide. 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. From Drifters’ base at Trevor, close to the Aqueduct (which will celebrate its 210th birthday in 2015), holiday-makers can travel to the pretty towns of Llangollen and Ellesmere, visiting the Horseshoe Falls at Llangollen, the Ellesmere Lakes, teaming with wildlife and Chirk, with its 900-year old Castle.
5. Visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park & enjoy the Rugby World Cup afloat…Some of the matches for the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be held at the Olympic Stadium, on the banks of the River Lea. It takes around nine hours to reach Three Mills at the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from our canal boat hire base on the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm in West London. The journey passes through picturesque Little Venice, Regent’s Park, London Zoo, Camden Lock, Kings Cross and Victoria Park. There are plenty of safe places to moor along the way, with easy access to London’s top attractions, theatres, restaurants and shops. The first Olympic Stadium match takes place on Weds 23 September, France vs Romania.
6. Cruise the Caen Hill Flight, 25 years after it was restored…with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country. The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810. By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990. From our base at Hilperton near Trowbridge it takes less than four hours to reach the base of the Caen Hill Flight. The journey through the locks takes around five hours and it’s not long before boaters reach the beautiful Vale of Pewsey and the ancient Savernake Forest.
7. See the newly cleaned dinosaurs at the Oxford Museum of Natural History…the Oxford University Museum of Natural History reopened in 2014 after a £2million project to fix its leaking roof. Over 8,500 Victorian glass tiles were individually removed and resealed and a mass specimen cleaning project was undertaken, including all the big dinosaurs! Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, this fascinating Museum now holds the University’s internationally significant collections of geological and zoological specimens, including the Oxfordshire dinosaurs and the Dodo. Our Oxford base on the River Thames is just a three-hour cruise from the City centre, where canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up close to Hythe Bridge and use their boat as a base to visit the Museum and explore the City.
8. Visit Bristol’s vibrant Floating Harbour…from our Sydney Wharf base in the centre of Bath, canal boat holiday-makers can head west on the River Avon, reaching Bristol’s exciting Floating Harbour in eight hours. Over 200 years ago, 80 acres of tidal river was impounded in Bristol, allowing visiting ships to remain afloat all the time. The Harbour grew as a busy commercial port. Today leisure boaters can enjoy moorings there and use it as a base to visit Brunel’s masterpiece, the SS Great Britain, the Blue Reef Aquarium and the @Bristol science centre with its Planetarium and hundreds of hands-on exhibits to explore.
9. Potter through the Peak District…Our Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, near Stoke on Trent, offers the perfect way to experience this beautiful National Park in the heart of England. The gentle 12-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin is perfect for narrowboat holiday beginners on a short break. On a week’s break, boater’s can travel to Whaley Bridge at the end of the Peak Forest Canal and back, passing through Harecastle Tunnel, Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple.
10. Glide through the Breacon Beacons…isolated from the main canal network, the beautiful Monmouth & Brecon Canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Stretching 35 miles from Brecon to Cwmbran, this peaceful waterway, with very few locks, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views. From our base at Goytre Wharf, near Abergavenny, on a week’s break, boaters 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. Brecon itself is home to a cathedral, theatre, cinema, castle ruins and stunning Georgian architecture, as well as some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain at 886m.