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 canal boat holiday hire.
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 canal boat. And with no locks between our base at Tardebigge and Birmingham City Centre, it’s the perfect opportunity for novices to ‘dip their toe in the water’. Cruising along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, it takes just five hours to reach Birmingham. The first half of the journey passes through fields, woodlands and sleepy villages, and a series of canal tunnels, before becoming increasingly urban. Once in the centre of Birmingham, you can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox 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 our Trevor base 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 World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.
3. Potter through the Peak District
Our base at Stoke on Trent, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals, offers a fantastic way to experience the Peak District. Starting at the Etruria, home of the industrial potteries, it’s a gentle 11-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Froghall Basin. The route passes through 17 locks and travels 17 miles. Pubs to enjoy along the way include the Black Lion at Consall Forge and The Boat Inn at Basford Bridge.
4. Glide through the Brecon 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 incredible mountain views and is nice and easy for beginners. On a week’s holiday from our base Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you can cruise to Brecon and back. Along the way, you’ll pass 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, moorings close to Bath City Centre are a six-hour cruise away. The route passes through seven locks and crosses two stunning Bath stone aqueducts. You’ll also pass a series of popular historic canalside pubs, including The Cross Guns at Avoncliff and the Barge Inn at Seend. Once at Sydney Wharf on the edge of Bath City Centre, you can use your boat as a base to explore the City, including the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent.
6. Take a rural route to Braunston
From our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal, the pretty canal village of Braunston is a peaceful three-hour 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 the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire countryside. Pubs to enjoy include the Kings Head at Napton and the Admiral Nelson at Braunston.
7. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh
From our 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 on the Trent & Mersey Canal it takes around five hours 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 four locks to pass through and plenty of pubs to enjoy, including The Saracen’s Head at Weston and The Holly Bush Inn at Salt.
9. Navigate to the Yorkshire Dales
The journey from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the pretty North Yorkshire village of Gargrave and back takes around seven hours and passes through three locks. You’ll pass through Skipton with its striking medieval stone castle and extensive woodlands. Once at Gargrave, there are pubs to enjoy, including the popular Mason’s Arms. And it’s easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way.
10. Boat to historic Brewood and back
The journey to Brewood and back from our base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for beginners. Travelling a total of 25 miles, and passing through just two locks (one each way), 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, there’s a choice of places to eat, including the canalside Bridge Inn.