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Fun for all the family: Why narrowboating appeals to all generations

A canal boat holiday is a wonderful way to bring the family together as there is something for every age group to enjoy. With constantly changing scenery and a new destination daily – if you choose – narrowboat holidays offer an amazing variety of sights, attractions and activities. The joy of a canal boat holiday is that you can shape it to suit your specific wishes – from the style and size of narrowboat you hire and which location you set out from to your chosen destinations and how long you linger at each of these. It is this flexibility that makes a narrowboat break such a great family holiday – appealing to every generation.

Kids

Any parent will tell you, children are easily bored. This means a holiday in which they are regularly on the move, seeing and experiencing new things every day is perfect to ward off the dreaded cries of: “Mummy, I’m bored.”

With miles of canal towpaths and open countryside lining the waterways, most narrowboat holidays also offer plenty of space for kids to run around, play, breathe the fresh country air and generally expend their energy so they collapse in bed and sleep soundlessly at the end of each day.

Most children love the novelty of life afloat and get very excited by the workings of the narrowboat and canals, whether navigating through a tunnel or helping work a lock. For most kids it is a far cry from their day to day.

Lastly, a canal boat holiday offers the opportunity to visit countless attractions which will have your little ones giddy with excitement, from the sweet allure of Cadbury World which sits right next to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal in Bournville to the thrills of Alton Towers, accessible from the Caldon Canal and the wonders of the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham. For inspiration have a read of our blog on the best canal routes for kids.

Teenagers

Probably the most difficult age group to satisfy on a family holiday, teenagers crave independence and freedom to roam, usually as far from their parents as possible! Luckily, this is perfectly achievable on a canal boat holiday as teenagers can take themselves off for walks, runs, bike rides on the safety of the traffic-free towpaths. Towpaths also make it almost impossible to get lost!

There are also lots of water-based activities on offer along the canals such as kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and fishing which may appeal to the teenagers of the family – and might even stop them from looking at their mobile phones for more than five minutes. Full more details of the many activities available along the canal, have a read of our blog on this subject.

Teenagers also have a great propensity to get bored so the constant movement and change of a narrowboat holiday will suit their desire for new surroundings. A canal boat holiday with a rich variety of urban and rural surroundings is likely to work best for teenagers – although clearly all this will vary greatly with the individual and their interests.

With 11 narrowboat hire bases to choose from dotted across England and Wales, families can opt for a canal boat holiday route which takes in locations and attractions most likely to interest and absorb their teenage crew members. Our narrowboats are built to provide ample space for all crew members so teenagers can enjoy the privacy of their own cabin and if they do need a social media fix, they can connect to the Wifi available on all barges but hopefully there’ll be enough distraction to make this unnecessary.

 

 

Young adults

Narrowboat cruises are ideal holidays for groups of friends or couples wanting a romantic break with a twist. Our narrowboats, built for comfort and enjoyment of all our guests, range from cosy two berth barges perfect for couples to 12 berth floating hotels ideal for a big group holiday. There are plenty of top city break destinations along the canals such as Bath, Oxford and Chester all of which offer a rich combination of beauty, history and culture – as well as great places to eat and drink. For couples wanting some inspiration, read our most recent guide to the most romantic canal holiday destinations.

For group holidays the variety of activities and destinations on offer along the canals works perfectly. Some people might head off for a long walk while others choose to relax on deck or moor up by a waterside pub and enjoy a relaxing pint. A canal boat holiday can take in historic towns and citiesrural lovelinessfamous sights and a whole bunch of activities that will keep everyone in the group happy, whatever their preference.

With fully equipped galleys, our narrowboats are well set up for cooking meaning those on a budget can enjoy preparing delicious meals onboard although there are countless tempting spots to go out for dinner along the waterways. If you want to treat yourself to dinner out, have a look at our guide to some great canal side pubs and restaurants.

Parents

For parents, a canal boat holiday is the ideal way to satisfy their children and themselves. As we’ve already mentioned, there is plenty on offer along the canals to keep children occupied and happy which will enable their parents to relax and enjoy themselves. Few people can fail to be seduced by the beauty and tranquility of the canals. For parents who often spend much of their lives racing around trying to balance the demands of their jobs and their children while still maintaining some sort of social life, slowing their life down to the stately canal barge pace of 3mph can offer much needed respite. By swapping the bustle of their day to day existence for the calm of the canals, they can escape their usual worries, breathe deeper and destress. To find out more, take a look at our blog about wellness on the waterways.

They may wish to mix things up with a taste of city life afloat as well as some rural cruising or stick to serene countryside routes. Some canal routes are renowned for their fascinating historic sights and feats of engineering, others boast abundant wildlife or incredible dramatic scenery. All canals provide a chance to get outside and get active after weeks cooped up in an office. Essentially, parents can tailor their canal boat holiday to ensure everyone is kept captivated throughout. Our narrowboats are all pet friendly so parents can even bring along the furrier members of the family if they don’t want to leave them behind.

Alternatively, for parents needing a break from their little ones should leave the kids at home with a friend or relative and treat themselves to one of these perfect child-free breaks for parents.

Grandparents

It is lovely for grandparents to be able to join their children and grandchildren on family holidays, particularly those who are now living on their own. This can also be an ideal set up for everyone as it enables parents to share a bit of the childcare and maybe even head off for a romantic meal or enjoy a child-free day out, while granny or grandpa can spend some quality time with the kids.

A canal boat holiday is the ideal way to bring everyone together as it can be as active or relaxing as those onboard choose. Grandparents who are still super fit and active will love the outdoorsy element while those who are less mobile can still enjoy gorgeous, constantly changing scenery from the comfort of the narrowboat. Towpaths offer easy walking routes and are generally wheelchair friendly with most being tarmacked or paved and relatively flat so accessibility need not be a problem.

Grandparents, like parents, are likely to love the rich variety of interesting destinations. There are buzzing cities like Birmingham and Bristol, historic destinations like Bath and Chester or cultural treasures such as Stratford upon Avon and Oxford. Away from the cities, there are stately homes, castles, parks and gardens galore in additional to the natural wonders of the British countryside.

Everyone

Last but not least, everyone onboard is needed to help on and off the boat, from steering and tying up to working the locks. A narrowboat holiday is all about teamwork. It brings everyone together, united by a common aim to get from place to place as efficiently as possible while having lots of fun.

 

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The health benefits of narrowboating

A canal boat holiday is not only huge fun – it is also great for your health.

With so many of us now working desk based jobs in which we are often sedentary for several hours a day in an air conditioned office, a canal holiday is a chance to get outside and get active.

Rather than lying immobile, sweating on a sun lounger all day while knocking back cocktails, a narrowboat cruise offers a health enhancing, rejuvenating way to take a break. As part of a narrowboat crew during your holiday, you will need to help work the locks and bridges, steer and moor up.

The canals provide thousands of miles of beautiful walking, running, cycling, canoeing, kayaking and cruising routes. They essentially offer an amazing, free outdoor gym that stretches the length and breadth of the country.

A canal boat holiday takes you away from the rush of your everyday existence and encourages a steadier, more mindful way of living as you drift past mile upon mile of beautiful countryside – in this way it is as nourishing for your mind as your body.

 

 

Here are just some of the health benefits of a canal boat holiday:

 

Cardiovascular fitness

There are countless activities to enjoy during a canal boat holiday which will get your pulse rate up. Whether you enjoy running, cycling or perhaps a pleasant walk, all these forms of aerobic exercise will boost your fitness bringing huge benefits to your heart and lungs, which in turn improve your overall health.

The fitter you are, the more efficient your body becomes at absorbing and transporting oxygen to all your cells. Aerobic exercise helps increase the number of blood vessels in your lungs, assisting your ability to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, increases the strength of your heart, increases the number of blood vessels supplying your muscles and increases the number of mitochondria, the energy factories in your cells.

This reduces blood pressure, lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and heart attacks, lowers your heart rate, burns body fat, increases bone mass and boosts your immune system.

So forget the gym – come and enjoy some exercise on the canals.

 

Strength building

A canal boat holiday can offer just as good a strength work out as lifting irons in the gym – certainly when it comes to opening and closing the locks and bridges. These big heavy lever systems will test your muscles, particularly if you are climbing or descending a lock ladder requiring repeated opening and closing of the thick wooden lock gates.

Don’t let this put you off as with two people pushing the lock gates, you can make lighter work of it! But it offers great strength training which helps build lean muscle mass – something that often diminishes with age. By building the muscles, strength training also strengthens your bones, improves your balance, coordination and posture, helps burn fat, reduce blood pressure and boost heart health.

 

Stress relief

Stress has become an epidemic in the UK today and is very damaging to our mental and physical health. A canal boat holiday is a chance to disconnect from your many day to day pressures and live in the moment.

The leisurely nature of canal boat holidays – narrowboats’ maximum speed is 3mph, a healthy walking pace – is very effective in forcing people to mentally slow down. The changing nature of the scenery and need to focus on steering the boat and working the canals means it is a mindful activity which focuses attention on the present, giving people a break from thinking about work or other responsibilities.

Studies have shown that being among nature reduces levels of cortisol, the key stress hormone. It makes sense, we have evolved to be among nature so escaping the frantic urban environment and returning to our more natural habitat is good for us. The canals of England and Wales will take you on a tranquil journey through miles of unspoilt countryside teeming with wildlife, enabling your mind to quietly take in the green surroundings and let any stress slowly ebb away. Since stress has many knock on effects on other aspects of health, this can lead to further benefits such as lowering bad cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and regulating blood sugar.

 

Mood boosting 

Holidays tend to put us in a good mood initially but if they have involved too much lying around, eating and drinking, they can leave us feeling low and drained by the time we return to work.

A canal boat holiday however, can leave you feeling energised and positive in a longer term, more sustainable way that should see you return to work with a smile. This is because it is a naturally healthy holiday that boosts wellbeing and thus mood.

Exercise in all forms triggers the release of endorphins – your body’s natural feel good chemicals – while being among nature has also been shown to lift our mood. Then there is the natural release of stress and tension that a canal boat holiday encourages.

Lastly, a canal boat holiday involves an element of learning as our team teaches you the rudiments of how to control, steer and moor a narrowboat as well as the rules and etiquette of the canals – the ‘Waterway Code’. Research has shown that learning new skills improves mental wellbeing by boosting confidence and self-esteem, offering a sense of purpose and helping connect you with others. Continual learning throughout life also helps keep the brain sharp as like a muscle, it needs to be worked to stay fit.

All this combined means that canal boat holidays are a wonderfully enjoyable way to do something good for yourself. As many lifestyle related chronic health problems are on the rise, there has never been a better time to take a healthy holiday. So, if you haven’t already tried it, make 2020 the year you experience the joy of a canal boat holiday and come back glowing with health and happiness.

 

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What to pack for your narrowboat holiday

Our canal boats are like floating holiday cottages so you’ll find many of the home comforts already on board, including a galley kitchen equipped with cutlery, crockery, cooking utensils, saucepans, a four burner gas cooker with an oven and grill, a microwave and a fridge with a small freezer compartment.  Bed linen is supplied and you’ll also find hand towels in the bathrooms.

There’s a surprising amount of storage space on board for everything you need to bring with you.  To help you prepare for your canal boat holiday, we’ve put together a list of useful items to pack:

  1. Extra Towels – We provide both bath towels and hand towels but bringing some extra will be a good idea, especially in the wetter months!
  2. Shopping bags – remember to pack your re-useable shopping bags as well as re-useable plastic bottles and coffee cups to help limit the amount of plastic you acquire on your holiday afloat.
  3. DVD’s & games – for cosy nights in, bring along some cards and board games, as well some DVD’s as a good TV reception isn’t always available on the canals.
  4. A torch – if you do venture out to the pub for the evening, it’s best to take a torch as country moorings can be incredibly dark at night #greatforstargazing.
  5. Toilet rolls – we supply toilet roll in our loos but do bring along extra
  6. Washing up liquid – pack an eco/aquatic-friendly washing up liquid and hand soap like Ecover or Poddy (which we sell in our boat yard shops), and make sure your shampoos and face washes are microbead free as the water you use to wash up and shower with will empty straight into the canal.
  7. Be prepared for all weather – if it’s wet you’ll need a good waterproof jacket and a large golfing umbrella for the skipper. If it’s sunny, you’ll need a sun hat, sun glasses and sun cream.  Gloves are also useful for working the locks and steering when it’s cold.
  8. Footwear – trainers or rubber soled shoes are best for boating and lock working. And it’s a good idea to bring slippers or warm socks to wear on board.
  9. Binoculars – one of the best things about a narrowboat holiday is the wildlife you’ll see along the way, so do pack some binoculars if you own them to enhance your wildlife spotting experience.
  10. A canal map – there are some great canal maps available to buy in advance or in our boat yard shops, for example Nicholson’s guides are available on Amazon. You can also plan your trip online using the mapping tools on the Canal & River Trust’s website, but mobile phone signals can be patchy on the canal network.
  11. Drinks – the water on board is drinkable but it’s worth bringing a large bottle of drinking water to top up with. And wine boxes are great space savers and safer to transport than bottles.
  12. Condiments – if you are planning to cook on board, remember to pack some extra flavourings as well as the main ingredients, including salt & pepper, tomato sauce, herbs and spices.
  13. Phone chargers – our boats have 240 volt 3-pin sockets powered by the on board batteries so you can charge your phones and tablets on board. But we advise you to only do this when the engine is running as there’s a limit to power available and you want to avoid draining the batteries. Blenders, cool boxes and hair straighteners can also be plugged in, but nothing above 1000 watts is permitted – so no kettles, irons, hairdryers or heaters.
  14. Your dog’s bed – pets are welcome on board our boats, but do let us know at the time of booking and remember to bring your pet’s blanket or basket with you as they aren’t allowed on the beds or chairs. Remember to bring poo bags too!
  15. First aid kit – we recommend you pack a basic first aid kit, including antiseptic, plasters & bandages, in case of any cuts, scrapes or sprains.
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Top 8 February Half Term canal boat holiday destinations

WINTER HALF TERM CANAL BOAT HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS

Give boredom the push-off and take to the water this winter.

Emma Lovell, Anglo Welsh’s Reservations Manager, believes a narrowboat holiday is the perfect solution for winter break for all the family.

Whether you’re planning a half-term holiday or a winter mini break, this time of year can be tricky. The weather is unpredictable and if it’s cold or raining you can end up spending a fortune on indoor activities to keep everyone amused.

That’s why a narrowboat holiday is a great choice. First off, you can pick a boat which suits your group – from a cosy boat for two to a larger boat for 12 and many size options between – so no problem if you want to invite grandma, your aunties, cousins or friends.

Secondly, everyone can have a role, so there’s no need to be bored. You’ll need a skipper to steer the boat, while the crew can plan the route, open and close the locks, look out for other boats, mooring spaces and wildlife, as well as places to eat and visit.

Thirdly we can guarantee no airport delays, no cancelled trains and no motorway closures. Some parts of the canal network might be closed for winter maintenance in advance – but we can advise you about these when we are planning your route.

Travelling at a pleasing, and environmentally-friendly, four-miles-an-hour, your scenery will change continuously and, depending on where you travel to and from, you can moor in the heart of vibrant cities like Birmingham and Bath, pretty market towns like Whitchurch and Stratford upon Avon, or hundreds of picture perfect villages up and down the country.

Personally I think cosying up on one of our boats (all of which have central heating and some multi-fuel stoves too) is particularly wonderful when the weather is challenging.  And as you travel leisurely from place to place, it’s a great opportunity to bond together as a family and reconnect with your kids. The boats do have WiFi – but you don’t need to tell anyone!

For a bit of inspiration, I’ve listed my top five activities and indoor destinations you can reach from our bases;

  1. Travel into Birmingham for culture and the Sea Life Centre – from our canal boat holiday hire base at Tardebigge it takes five hours to cruise into the centre of Birmingham. With no locks to pass through along the way, it’s a great route for narrowboat holiday novices.  You can moor up in Gas Street Basin to enjoy the City’s many shops, galleries, museums and attractions such as Sea Life Centre in Brindleyplace.
  2. Look up Shakespeare in Stratford upon Avon – from our narrowboat rental base at on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Once there, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin and visit all five connected sites which tell the full story on the Bard.
  3. Swap the water for the Steam Railway at Llangollen – from our canal boat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just two hours to cruise to the beautiful town of Llangollen, on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains.  Once there, you can moor up and take time to explore this pretty town which offers plenty of places to eat and the Llangollen Steam Railway.
  4. Discover Britain’s Secret Nuclear Bunker – from our canal boat rental base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, it takes around three-and-a-half hours, travelling nine miles and passing through just two locks, to reach moorings close to the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker Museum.  This fascinating blast-proof underground bunker was once one of the nation’s most secret defence sites.
  5. Cruise to Waterworld for Tropical Aqua Park – heading north from our narrowboat rental base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Stafford, you can reach the Festival Park in Stoke on Trent in around 13 hours. From there it’s a 10-minute walk to Waterworld, where you can enjoy a range of thrill seeking rides, including white knuckle flumes, raft rides, and the legendary Thunderbolt.

 

 

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Celebrate Britain’s diverse wildlife this Spring

By Kevin Yarwood, Manager at our Great Haywood canal boat hire base

Spring is a glorious time to celebrate the rich and diverse wildlife living in Britain. Global warming and climate change campaigners are raising awareness of the World’s fragile eco-systems and the importance of preserving what we have by reducing waste and lowering our carbon emissions. As a company we encourage our staff and customers to support British wildlife by removing litter and plastic from the waterways wherever they see it.

The UK’s inland waterways weave through urban, suburban and rural environments taking in cityscapes, stunning scenery, historic landmarks, industrial heritage, World Heritage, museums, galleries, pubs and shops. Travelling along as just four miles per hour, from the perspective of a narrowboat, Britain is a destination with something for everyone. And in Spring, when the countryside is teeming with new life, there is no better way to witness waterside trees and hedges bursting into blossom, nest-building birds, ducklings bobbing on the water, spring lambs playing in the fields, and carpets of bluebells in waterside woodlands. The Canal and River Trust as produced a wonderful Spotters Guide to Waterway Wildlife which is well worth a read.

Equipped with a bespoke travel plan, with our help you can design your own perfect UK Spring break – choosing to take in your favourite destinations on a cruise for a few days, a week or longer. And, as narrowboats travel at low speeds burning less fuel, this is a holiday with a reduced carbon footprint.

 

 

To celebrate Britain’s natural environment, we’ve put together our Top 10 Spring canal boat holiday destinations for 2020:

  1. Navigate through Shakespeare country and Warwickshire farmland – from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks to reach Stratford upon Avon. Travelling over the Edstone Aqueduct and on through the pretty Warwickshire countryside, with spring lambs playing in the fields alongside the canal, boaters can stop off to visit Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.  Once in Stratford, there are overnight moorings in Bancroft Basin, perfect for enjoying all that Shakespeare’s birthplace has to offer, including riverside parks, theatres, shops, restaurants and museums.
  2. Cruise into the Peak District spotting kingfishers along the way – on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s barge hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, canal boat holiday-makers can easily reach the beautiful Caldon Canal and travel into the Peak District. The journey takes boaters up to Stoke on Trent, passing Wedgewood World along the way, and, once on the Caldon, through gently rolling hills and wooded areas alongside the beautiful River Churnet.  Here there’s the chance to spot kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.  The return journey along the Caldon to Froghall takes around 43 hours, travelling a total of 72 miles and passing through 70 locks.
  3. Travel round the Stourport Ring through idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside – on a week’s break from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, boaters can travel round the Stourport Ring. This popular circuit takes boaters on an 84-mile, 114-lock journey, in around 56 cruising hours.  Much of the route is rural, cruising sections of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, River Severn, Birmingham Canal Main Line and Stourbridge canals.  Rural highlights include: Kinver Edge with its extensive woodlands and National Trust Holy Austin Rock Houses; idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn; and the dramatic flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge, climbing two-and-a-quarter miles with spectacular views of the open countryside all around.  This circuit also takes boaters through central Birmingham, Kidderminster and the ancient City of Worcester with its magnificent cathedral.
  4. Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales and explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle – from our barge holiday hire base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes just over three hours to reach Skipton, the ‘Gateway to the Dales’, with its medieval fortress and acres of woodland trails to explore. For nearly a thousand years Skipton Castle Woods provided fuel, food and building materials for castle inhabitants.  Today there are at least 18 species of trees flourishing there, and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells in the Spring.  The journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Silsden passes through the typical Yorkshire stone built villages of Kildwick and Farnhill and on into a dense wooded area famous for its bluebells and deer.
  5. Drift through the beautiful prehistoric Vale of Pewsey – from our canal boat rental base at Brassknocker Basin on the Kennet & Avon Canal just outside Bath, it takes around 19 hours to reach Pewsey Wharf, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, boaters pass through miles of peaceful Wiltshire countryside, with a series of waterside villages and country pubs to visit along the way.  Highlights on this route include: the mighty Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks at Devizes; cruising along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest; and the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to prehistoric Avebury.  The journey to Pewsey and back takes around 38 hours, passing through 74 locks (37 each way).
  6. Travel to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains – from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire , it takes around 12 hours to reach the pretty town of Llangollen. Along the way, boaters travel through the beautiful Shropshire Lake District and across the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Once in Llangollen, boaters can moor up to enjoy exploring this pretty town nestled on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains, including its regular markets packed with local produce, choice of independent shops and restaurants, steam railway and famous Horseshoe Falls.  The journey to Llangollen and back passes through just four locks (two each way).
  7. Navigate the Four Counties Ring for stunning views of the Cheshire Plains – on a week’s break from our narrowboat rental base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, boaters can travel round the popular Four Counties Ring, one of the most rural canal cruising circuits. Travelling for around 58 hours and passing through 96 locks, this route takes canal boat holiday-makers through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and travels sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals.  Rural highlights include: panoramic views from the flight of 31 locks (also known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’) between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal; stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal; acres of farmland on the Middlewich Branch; wildlife spotting at Tixall Wide on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal; and the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall with its extensive waterside gardens.
  8. Cruise to the Shropshire Lake District and catch a glimpse heron chick – from our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, on a short break (three or four nights) boaters can cruise to the Shropshire Lake District, teeming with water birds and other wildlife. The journey to the medieval market town of Ellesmere, in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, takes around seven hours, passing through just two locks and over two magnificent aqueducts, including the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  This Wonder of the Waterways, carries the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the Dee valley, with magnificent views of the valley and Welsh Mountains beyond.  Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the meres of the Shropshire Lake District, including The Mere at Ellesmere are particularly beautiful in Spring.  And every Spring, Moscow Island on The Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with cameras allow visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks.
  9. Take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon and listen out for cuckoos calling – from our barge hire base on the River Thames near Oxford, it takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles to reach the historic riverside market town of Abingdon – perfect for a short break Thames boating holiday. Along the way, as well as cruising through the outskirts of the ancient City of Oxford, boaters pass through beautiful stretches of Oxfordshire countryside, with lush meadows, stretches of woodlands alive with bluebells alongside the river and the chance to hear cuckoos calling.  Once moored up at Abingdon, boaters can enjoy exploring riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular waterside Nag’s Head
  10. Travel through the Northamptonshire countryside to Stoke Bruerne – on a mid-week (four night) break from our canal boat rental base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to the pretty Northamptonshire village of Stoke Bruerne and back. The journey takes around 12 hours, travelling 28 mostly rural miles and passes through 16 locks, as well as the 2813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.  Once in Stoke Bruerne, visitors can enjoy a choice of canalside pubs, browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum and following the village’s charming woodland walk and sculpture trail.

 

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Narrowboating through the years: canal boats of the past, present and future

All our holiday canal boats here at Anglo Welsh are narrowboats – based on the traditional barges designed specifically to navigate the narrow canals of England and Wales. Of course, our rental narrowboats have been built with the comfort and convenience of our guests as the primary focus so while the exteriors are that of a traditional narrowboat, all our barges are fitted out with contemporary luxuries and appliances.

Narrowboats are an evocative sight, harking back to Britain’s industrial past. Just as most of the canals have changed little since their construction in the 18th century, the basic design of narrowboats has also remained largely the same for more than 200 years.

Here we thought we would offer a brief history of the narrowboat as well as looking at what the future may hold for canal boats.

But first, to clarify, purists tend to refer to the old working boats as ‘narrow boats’ and the leisure craft that are now such a common sight on the canals as ‘narrowboats’. For simplification, we will refer to narrowboats throughout.

Origins of the narrowboat

The term narrowboat referred to the working boats built since the 18th century when the canals became the primary method for transporting large or bulky goods to and from factors to key ports or markets as industrialisation took hold.

It now also describes more modern narrowboats which are more often used as pleasure boats or homes but whose structure follows the same design.

The narrowboats were designed to ensure they could fit through the locks and under bridges with a minimum width of seven feet (2.1 metres).

Until the second half of the 18th century inland waterway craft design and size varied widely according to where in the country they were travelling. The concept of a standardised boat about 7-ft wide and 70-ft long is attributed to famous canal engineer James Brindley.

He agreed a deal with the Trent and Mersey Canal Company to build the locks on their canal to take boats of those dimensions. This was much too narrow to allow most boats then using the rivers the canal linked to. It set a precedent becoming the standard lock size for the rest of the Midlands canals meaning all boats wishing to use the canal network then had to meet these criteria.

The evolution of the narrowboat

During the canals’ heydays from the late 18th to early 20th centuries, hundreds of companies were operating narrowboats to transport goods all over England and Wales. All the original wooden narrowboats were horse drawn, hence all canals having a towpath running their entire length.

Originally boatmen would leave their families at home onshore while they went and worked the waterways for several weeks at a time. As the 19th century progressed and canal companies were squeezed by competition from the railways, real wages fell and that became financially impossible. This meant boatmen’s families often travelled with them on the boats working as unpaid crew living in very cramped conditions.

More fortunate were the independent self-employed boatmen who owned their own vessel and were known as ‘Number Ones’.

Steam engine powered narrowboats began to appear in the latter part of the 19th century, mostly used for the longer distance journeys between London and the east and west Midlands. Steamers often worked non-stop day and night to meet their strict schedules.

The problem with steam power was the engine and coal took up a lot of space reducing the cargo capacity and they required a much bigger crew – seven men for a steam and tow barge.

One of the leading narrowboat companies Fellows Morton & Clayton Ltd (FMC) began experimenting with gas engines in the early 1900s and in 1912 fitted a Bolinder engine onto a narrowboat called ‘Linda’.

When this proved a success all future narrowboats were fitted with Bolinder engines, some of which are still used today.

The inland waterways were nationalised in 1948 and carrying companies including FMC and the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company Ltd transferred their fleets over to the newly formed British Transport Commission which later became the British Waterways Board and is now the Canal and River Trust.

During World War Two and the years that followed it, the canals were allowed to fall into disrepair with many becoming impassable. In the 1960s the British Waterways Board ceased most of its narrowboat carrying work and many vessels were left abandoned.

But it was around this time that work to restore the canals began to gain momentum. Since the 1960s hundreds of miles of canals as well as many historic engineering features have been repaired and are now enjoyed by people up and down the country as a wonderful recreational resource. The inland waterways are now used by more boats than at any other time in their history with most used as leisure vessels for canal boat holidays and day trips. But there are also many boats that provide floating homes, offices and there are still working boats carrying goods from place to place.

Many of the earliest pleasure boats were converted former working narrowboats but over time most boat building yards diversified into purpose building pleasure craft with sturdy steel hulls. This is the model of our wonderful fleet of narrowboat hire boats at Anglo Welsh.

The future of canal boats

The canals now host a colourful variety of vessels, from former lifeboats to fiberglass motorboats of all shapes and sizes. Enthusiasm for our historic waterways as a beautiful resource for boats, runners, cyclists, kayakers, nature lovers and more, shows no signs of abating. There are ongoing projects to restore and open up new stretches of the canals with volunteer groups up and down the country who give up their free time to maintain and clear these historic routes.

The popularity of narrowboats and other canal vessels as floating homes has soared in the last decade as rising rents have encouraged people to look for more creative living options. This shows no signs of abating – nor does the popularity of narrowboat holidays. Our holiday narrowboats vary greatly in size to suit different groups with some sleeping just two people while others have berths for up to 12 as well as different levels of luxury and style according to guests needs.

The key change we are likely to see in coming years is the move towards much more environmentally viable narrowboats, in terms of the materials used to build and maintain them, the appliances used onboard and the fuel used to power them. We are likely to see the diesel engines that currently dominate replaced by more green powered forms of propulsion. Electric engines, solar panels and wind turbines will become the norm. That way we can all continue to enjoy the canals for many more years to come while at the same time, protecting the environment.

 

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Wellness by the water

Wellness on the waterways

It is well documented that stress is bad for the health – both mental and physical. Stress has been linked to high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, heart disease, depression and much more. Yet many aspects of our busy modern lives contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. This makes it all the more important to take time out to relax and decompress away from your usual responsibilities and pressures.

canal boat holiday offers the perfect antidote to the rush and bustle of the day to day. Few things can be as soothing as slowing your pace of life down to a steady three miles an hour and travelling back in time on waterways built in an age before the train or motorcar. Our historic canals will take you through stunning countryside, past welcoming waterside pubs and majestic stately homes into the heart of some of Britain’s most fascinating and beautiful cities.

So if you are feeling in need of some tranquility and calm, book yourself a narrowboat holiday from any one of our 11 canal boat hire bases dotted across England and Wales.

All Anglo Welsh’s holiday canal barges are designed with your comfort and enjoyment in mind. We have a wide range of rental narrowboats of differing styles and sizes so you can choose the barge best suited to your canal holiday wishes.

But it is not just boating on the waterways that is good for your health, there are many other canal based activities that promote mental and physical wellbeing. These activities link to the five key steps to enhancing wellbeing according to research by the New Economic Foundation:

Human connections

A mounting body of evidence shows that human connection is a vital component of wellbeing. Canals are wonderfully sociable places with everyone, whether on the water or the towpath, giving one another a wave and a smile as they pass. So, whether you go out walkingcycling or boating along the canals, you will quickly be welcomed into a friendly community of people who share a love of these beautiful inland waterways.

You can also get involved with the Canal and River Trust volunteers who give up their time to help care for and maintain the canals from painting and planting to litter picking and wildlife surveying. Alternatively, head along to one of the many wonderful events that take place along the canals with everything from group walks to photo exhibitions, special cruises and behind the scenes heritage days.

If you are on a canal boat holiday you are likely to find yourself mooring up alongside or in close proximity to other narrowboats and sharing locks. One of the joys of a narrowboat trip is making friends with fellow boaters. There is a great camaraderie on the canals so enjoy being part of it.

Get active

Most of us are far too sedentary in our daily lives due to office based jobs, cars and of course, the lure of television. While it may seem more relaxing to lounge on a sofa than get outside for a walk, the opposite is true. There is lots of research to show that exercise is one of the best ways to tackle stress, promote good sleep and boost mental wellbeing in addition to the countless physical benefits it brings.

The canals offer ideal routes for walking, running or cycling away from the noise and fumes of the roads, with more than 2000 miles of well laid towpaths snaking through green and luscious countryside.

During your canal boat holiday, step ashore and walk alongside the narrowboat for a while to stretch your legs. Since the boats cruise at walking pace, you can easily keep pace. Alternatively moor up and head off exploring on foot as there are many lovely circular walking routes to be enjoyed all the way along the waterways. With so many great pubs, historic sights, villages and towns dotted along the canals you can almost always incorporate a drink or lunch stop into your walk, run or cycle.

Exercise in virtually any circumstances will always promote good health but exercise in gorgeous tranquil surroundings is even more rejuvenating to mind, body and soul.

Take notice

The new trend for mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and aware of your surroundings rather than being constantly distracted by your mobile or anything else. Mobile technology has meant we spend a worrying proportion of our lives with our minds fixed on a small screen rather than taking in our surroundings while the pressures of work mean we are often running through future or past to do lists rather than simply living in the moment.

A canal boat holiday is a chance to put on your out of office, switch off that phone, ignore those emails, sit back and admire the wonders of the British countryside and some of our finest towns and cities from Oxford and Bath to Chester and Birmingham.

One of the joys of a canal holiday is that you are constantly on the move so there is always something new to look at, rare wildlife to spot, another lock to navigate, a swing bridge that needs working, a night-time mooring to locate, a pub with local ale to sample and more. With changing surroundings and a narrowboat to navigate, you will find yourself completely absorbed in the moment.

The same applies to any other canal based activities from walking to kayaking – they all offer an opportunity to disconnect from your inbox and absorb what is before you giving your mind a much needed refresh.

Learn

Continued learning keeps the mind sharp and boosts self-esteem, according to wellbeing studies.

One of the joys of the canals is that aside from their beauty, they are part of our national heritage and thus offer a wealth of learning opportunities for those who are interested. The canals provide insight into the transformation of Britain into the world’s first industrialised nation, they are integral to the history of many of the towns and villages they pass through and they showcase historic feats of engineering which represented the cutting edge of innovation in their time.

Nowadays the canals also offer wildlife enthusiasts ample opportunity to learn about the many rare plants and animals which grace their waters and banks.

The Canal and River Trust host dozens of events throughout the year such as talks, guided tours and exhibitions where you can learn all sorts of amazing facts about the inland waterways, their history and their present upkeep. If this is not enough, get yourself along to one of the National Waterways Museums in Ellesmere Port and Gloucester Docks, the Canal Museum or the visitor centres at the Anderton Boat Lift, the Standedge Tunnel or the soaring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Away from the waterways themselves, there are also endless fascinating places to visit all along their routes so you’ll never be bored, there’s always something to learn along the canals.

Give

Altruism and generosity gives us a great sense of wellbeing. Research shows people who help others are more likely to feel happy themselves. So why not contribute towards looking after these amazing waterways which bring such joy to so many people.

The canals are actually busier today than at any other time in their history with around 34,000 boats gracing their waters, providing homes, workplaces or simply holiday escapes like our own narrowboats. If you are able to give any time towards helping look after these much used and loved resources, you will be helping enhance the lives of millions of people who enjoy them every year. Most of the volunteering is also great fun, involving getting outdoors and active with likeminded people doing their bit to keep the canals in good working order.

At Anglo Welsh we are hugely grateful to all the people who contribute to these waterways which enable all our guests to enjoy magical canal boat holidays year after year.

 

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Romantic canal destinations to visit this Valentine’s Day

Roxy, who works in the Anglo Welsh Head Office, has been tailor-making canal boat holidays for Anglo Welsh clients for over four years, and she loves to match people with the perfect holiday. Who better then to advise old-school romantics on how to woo their Valentine with a perfect date on the waterways.

Travelling by narrowboat is romantic. That’s a fact. The views, the traditions and the pace of life are perfect for couples wanting to spend some quality time together, so why not treat your partner to a romantic mini-break on a ‘love boat’ this Valentine’s Day?

Anglo Welsh Holidays offers winter cruising from six narrowboat hire bases in England and Wales, and all our boats are beautifully equipped with comfy beds, contemporary kitchens, modern bathrooms and central heating, so you’ll both be snuggly and warm on board.

With the freedom to roam the waterways from your cruising love-nest you can access some of Britain’s most-loved towns and villages, without having encounter a single traffic jam. Take romantic strolls along frosty towpaths, indulge in candlelit dinners for two in waterside dining destinations and cosy up by roaring log fires in traditional country pubs.

We also offer day hire from six of our canal boat hire bases, giving the option of just taking a day out on the waterways.  Full tuition is included, so you can get the hang of steering the boat, working the locks and mooring up.  All our day boats are equipped with the facilities you need for a day afloat – cutlery, crockery, a kettle, cooker, fridge and toilet.

To help you decide where to go, with a mix of day and mini-break hire, I’ve chosen my top six romantic destinations, for Valentine’s Day.  Whether you’re looking to propose, shop for a ring or simply enjoy being together in some of the most beautiful places in the UK, read on to discover how you can wow your Valentine on their very own love boat.

  1. Propose by a waterfall in the Welsh Mountains– from our canal barge hire base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, it takes just two hours to reach the pretty Eistedfordd town of Llangollen, nestled in the Berwyn Mountains. As well as providing a choice of romantic settings to propose, including the famous Horseshoe Falls, Llangollen offers lovers regular markets packed with local produce to saunter through hand-in-hand and a number of romantic waterside dining venues, including the popular Corn Mill.
  2. Choose a ring in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter – from our canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes five hours to reach over-night moorings in the centre of Birmingham, where lovers can moor up and head to the famous Jewellery Quarter to find the perfect engagement or eternity ring. There are plenty of places to wine and dine in Brindleyplace, including Marco Pierre White’s restaurant at the top of The Cube, serving ‘spectacular steaks and signature cocktails’ with stunning views across Birmingham.
  3. Experience panoramic views from Nantwich Aqueduct – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury Wharf on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley, you can hire a boat for the day and cruise south for six sedate miles to the historic town of Nantwich. Here boaters can glide across the town’s impressive Grade II* listed aqueduct to enjoy panoramic views across the town.  With no locks along the way, the journey to Nantwich takes around two hours.  There are moorings next to the aqueduct and choice of places to eat, including The Waterside Café.
  4. Read Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Stratford – on a short break from our narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire, canal boat holiday-makers can cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. Once there, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin to a great choice of dining venues, including the waterside Carluccio’s, book a Tower Tour at the Swan Theatre to enjoy panoramic views of Stratford and visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace to find out more about the Bard, his romantic plays and his love poems.
  5. Enjoy a rural retreat in Staffordshire – from our narrowboat rental base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, you can hire a day boat and cruise quietly through the Staffordshire countryside to the historic market town of Rugeley. The journey travels four miles, passes through two locks and takes around two hours.  Along the way, the route passes the National Trust’s impressive Shugborough Estate, the beautiful Cannock Chase Forest, the Wolseley Arms canalside pub and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre.
  6. Cruise through the Shropshire Lake District – from our narrowboat rental base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, on a short break you can head west along the Llangollen Canal to Ellesmere, in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District. The journey to Ellesmere takes around two-and-a-half hours, cruising through eight miles of stunning countryside, and passing Lyneal Moss and Colemere Country Park along the way.  Once at Ellesmere, you can moor up and explore the famous Mere with its romantic historic castle, woodland paths and fascinating wildlife.

Our 2020 winter short breaks (three or four nights) start at £535*, and £740* for a week.  Or you could choose to just hire a boat for the day from one of our six boat yards offering day hire, with prices from just £99.

Plus, from our Tardebigge narrowboat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromgsrove, our day boat ‘Emma’ has a cosy cabin for two and can be hired for just one or two nights.  Overnight boat rental prices aboard ‘Emma’ start at £198*.

*Fuel is charged based on use, circa £10-15 per day.  A £50 fuel deposit for short breaks is taken at the time of booking.  £90 for a week.

 

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Be Inspired

We offer a range of different types of holidays such as City Breaks, Relaxation Cruises and Popular Destinations

City Breaks
Rural retreats
Popular places

So why choose Anglo Welsh?

More than 55 years providing unique canal boat holidays.
Modern & spacious narrowboat holiday fleet – from 2 to 12 berths.
Wide choice of narrowboat hire locations and canal.
Canal boat holiday routes for novices & experienced boaters.
Flexible holiday booking, no hidden costs.
Family friendly holidays, pets also welcome.

Anglo Welsh. So much more than narrowboats

...but don't just take our word for it

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