Top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners

With a thriving 3,000-mile network of navigable inland waterways, the health benefits of spending time by the water proven and the merits of a lower carbon staycation, UK narrowboat holidays offer a great holiday experience.

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

If you’re planning to pack up and ship out to learn the ropes of a narrowboat holiday adventure in 2020, here’s a list of our top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners:

  1. 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, which with very few locks is nice and easy for beginners, offers canal boat holiday-makers incredible mountain views, dark night skies for star gazing, plenty of wildlife to watch out for and a series of village pubs to enjoy along the way.  On a week’s holiday from our base at Goytre Wharf near Abergavenny, you 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. 
  2. 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 narrowboat hire 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, you can find over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace, the Mailbox, Sea Life Centre and other city centre attractions. 
  3. Boat into the Pennines – starting from our base at Reedley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire, you can travel north east along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal into North Yorkshire, passing through Nelson, Barrowford, Salterforth, Barnoldswick and Greenber Field along the way.  Once at East Marton, there’s a choice of canalside pubs and the canal connects to the Pennine Way just south of the village.  The journey there and back covers 47 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 17½ hours.
  4. Float gently along to Fradley – on a short break from our canal boat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can head south to Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey.  The journey takes around five hours, travelling through 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside and passing through just five locks.  At Fradley, you can moor up to visit the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn, and take a wander around the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
  5. Float across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular navigations on the network.  The journey from our narrowboat hire 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 Ellesmere at the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, a journey which takes around seven hours.  And the route includes the experience of travelling across the awesome World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, also known as ‘The Stream in the Sky’, with incredible views of the Dee Valley 30 metres below.
  6. Potter through the Peak District – Drifters’ Peak District base, at the junction of the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canals in 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 eight-hour cruise along the peaceful Caldon Canal to Cheddleton Flint Mill is perfect for beginners on a short break.  The route, which passes through 12 locks, takes you out into open countryside, through Denford with its popular Hollybush Inn and on to Cheddleton with its Flint Mill Museum, Black Lion pub and Old School Tearooms.
  7. Visit Georgian Bath – from our canal boat hire 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 Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon and the Cross Guns at Avoncliff.  Once in Bath, you can use your canal boat as a base to enjoy all that the City has to offer, including the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Museum and Royal Crescent.
  8. Watch out for wildlife on the Ashby Canal – on a week’s holiday from our canal boat hire base at Braunston, you can cruise to the pretty village of Snarestone and back, travelling a total of 47 miles, passing through just eight locks (four there and four back) in around 32 hours.  This largely rural route follows a section of the North Oxford Canal to Rugby and then joins the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction.  Five miles later, the route transfers onto the peaceful lock-free Ashby Canal, which winds gently through countryside for 22 miles.  A six mile section of this rural waterway is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), recognising the importance of its wildlife, including nine species of dragonfly, the water shrew, water vole and rare native white-clawed crayfish. 
  9. Travel through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh – from our boat yard 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 Mary King Close, frozen in time beneath the Royal Mile.
  10. Boat to Brewood and back – the journey to Brewood and back from our narrowboat rental base at Gailey on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal offers an excellent short break route for narrowboat 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 Georgian houses, visitors have a good choice of places to eat, including the canalside Bridge Inn.