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Amazing Canal Facts

Amazing canal facts worth reading ahead of your narrowboat holiday

 

There are more than 2000 miles of navigable canals and rivers throughout England and Wales, making up an intricate network which enables boats to travel the length and breadth of the country. Between them, these inland waterways boast 1,569 locks, 53 tunnels, 3112 bridges, 370 aqueducts and 74 reservoirs. Most were built more than 200 years ago and have fascinating stories to tell as well as featuring many historic feats of engineering which still wow visitors today. This is a large part of what makes a canal boat holiday so magical – a narrowboat takes you on a journey through history and human endeavor.

If you are considering a canal boat holiday, why not first have a read of these amazing canal facts which will only add to the wonder of your cruise along these historic waterways.

1) The oldest working canal in the UK is about 1,900 years old

The Fossdyke Navigation which runs between Lincoln and the River Trent at Torksey was built by the Romans in around AD 120 and is still in use today. Extending 11.3 miles, with one lock, the Fossdyke formed part of a key transport route from Peterborough to York.

It is said to have been used by the invading Danes and the Normans to carry stone to build Lincoln Cathedral in the 11th century. The canal was revamped under King Henry I in 1121 but then fell into disrepair and silted up until, by the 17th century, it was virtually impassable. In 1744 a proper channel was restored and maintained and the canal has remained navigable ever since.

2) The longest canal tunnel in the UK runs for more than 5000 metres – or 3.5 miles

The Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in Britain. Built over 16 years from 1794 to 1811, it stands at 196 metres above sea level, at a depth of 194 metres underneath the Pennines. The canal was closed to traffic in 1943 and re-opened in May 2001. Moor up during your canal boat holiday and learn more about this 19th century wonder of engineering at the Standedge Tunnel and Visitor Centre.

3) Britain’s longest aqueduct extends more than 300 metres – or 1000 ft

Deservedly described as the jewel in the crown of Britain’s canals, the awe-inspiring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries narrowboats on the Llangollen Canal at a soaring 38 metres – 126 ft – above the River Dee, offering stunning views of the valley and surrounding hills. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the 18-arch aqueduct was designed by legendary civil engineer Thomas Telford and built between 1795 and 1805.

Located right next to the Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base at Trevor, this is a spectacular way to start or finish a canal boat holiday from this idyllic location.

4) The longest lock flight in the UK is 30 locks long

The Tardebigge lock flight enables Worcester and Birmingham Canal to ascend 67 metres (220 feet) over a 2.25 mile stretch. Built between 1808 and 1815, the lock flight enabled an extension of the canal from Birmingham to the River Severn at Worcester to be completed. Until the lock ladder was constructed, originally with a boat lift in place of the 3.4-metre (11 feet) top lock, the canal only travelled as far the Old Wharf next to Tardebigge Tunnel.

The Canal and River Trust offers a certificate of achievement to any boaters that complete the journey through the 30 locks so why not make it your challenge for your next canal boat holiday. Find out how you can claim yours here.

5) The longest UK canal runs for 137 miles

The Grand Union Canal links London with Birmingham via Milton KeynesNorthampton and Leamington Spa and would take about 74 hours to cruise the whole length non-stop. It winds its way through rolling countryside, idyllic towns and villages with 158 locks and striking historic features including the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, the steep Hatton Lock Flight and The Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne.

The name of the canal offers a clue as to its origins, for it was not built as one waterway but was the result of connecting existing waterways to create an uninterrupted link between the industrial heartlands of Birmingham and the west midlands with the capital.

The longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway is the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at 127 miles long.

6) The newest canal in the UK was completed in 2002

The Ribble Link canal was opened just 17 years ago to connect the previously isolated Lancaster Canal with the rest of the national inland waterways network. It runs for just four miles from Preston to the River Ribble which then connects to the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

With nine locks, the Ribble Link is tidal so only navigable at certain times with advance booking needed as all boats must be helped through. A link between the Lancaster Canal and the wider canal network was first discussed 200 years ago but due to costs and engineering challenges did not come to fruition until 2000 with the help of a grant from the Millennium Commission.

7) Britain’s shortest canal is just 22 metres – or 72 feet – long

The Wardle Lock Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal consists of just one 72ft-long lock and a few yards of canal on either side. It was built in 1829 to link the Trent and Mersey Canal with the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.

8) A cow once swan the whole length of the Foulridge Tunnel

In 1912 a cow named Buttercup fell into the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near the southern end of the tunnel which carries the waterway for a mile under the Lancashire countryside. Rather than climb out of the canal as normal, Buttercup swam all 1500 metres to Foulridge at the northern end. On arrival, Buttercup was revived with brandy by locals drinking at the nearby Hole in the Wall pub.

9) Canals have plugs, literally

In 1978, a group of British Waterways workers who were dredging the Chesterfield Canal pulled up a chain which had a heavy lump of wood attached to the end. As the entire canal between Whitsunday Pie Lock and Retford Town Lock began to empty away into the River Idle, they realised they had pulled out a long forgotten canal plug.

10) There are more boats now on the UK canals than at any other time in history

While Britain’s industrial heydays of 18th and 19th century are generally viewed as the golden age of canals, there are actually more craft on our waterways today. Despite the canals being used by far less commercial traffic, they have become a mecca for pleasure craft and a growing number of people opting for floating homes. There are now around 34,000 boats on Britain’s canals and rivers, which provide homes, workplaces and holidays for millions of people. We are proud that Anglo Welsh can claim to be the proud owners of 160 of these vessels providing wonderful narrowboat holidays for people up and down the country.

 

 

A canal boat holiday takes you back in time. It is a journey through history as you float along waterways constructed in a bygone era of horse-drawn transport.

The vast majority of the canals in England and Wales were built at the dawn of industrialisation as the most efficient way of transporting the raw materials and goods going in and out the new factories.

This makes a narrowboat holiday a history lover’s dream come true as they can admire the antique engineering and the many sights, towns and cities along the routes which have all played notable roles in creating the modern Britain we know today.

To get you started, here we take you on a brief history of the canals of England and Wales.

Early history

While the UK was the first country to develop a nationwide canal network, the Chinese claim the title of being the earlier pioneers of inland waterways, constructing the Grand Canal of China in the 10th century. Most early canals were extensions of natural rivers.

The first canals of England and Wales were built by the Romans who dug the Fossdyke connecting Lincoln to the River Trent around AD50 and the nearby Car Dyke which ran southwards towards Cambridge.

Other early waterways of the medieval and post medieval period were constructed during to shorten, extend or link river routes such as the Exeter Canal, built in 1566 which featured the first pond locks in Britain.

But the golden age of canal building began as the Industrial Revolution took hold during the second half of the 18th century, with the construction of the Bridgewater Canal.

Golden age of canal building

Completed in 1776 under the watchful eye of engineer James Brindley, the Bridgewater Canal connects Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh. It was created in order to carry coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines at Worsley into the industrial heart of Manchester where demand for coal to power the mills was soaring.

The Bridgewater Canal sparked a flurry of canal building during the half century that followed its construction. During an age of horse drawn transport and antiquated mud tracks for roads, the canals provided a highly efficient way to transport large quantities of goods. One horse could pull a canal boat carrying around 30 tonnes of cargo – more than ten times the amount that could be transport via a one horse cart.

The efficiency of the Bridgewater Canal meant the price of coal in Manchester dropped by nearly two thirds within a year of its opening. The waterway repaid the cost of its construction within a few years, proving the viability of canals.

Other industrialists began to follow suit and James Brindley suddenly found himself constantly in demand. He is largely responsible for the ‘Grand Cross’, the two thousand miles of canals linking the four great rivers of England – the Severn, Mersey, Humber and Thames.

There were two key canal building periods, from 1759 to the early 1770s and from 1789 to around 1800 when trains began to dominate.

The famous potter Josiah Wedgewood commissioned the construction of canals to transport his goods from the Staffordshire factories to Manchester and Birmingham. He was instrumental in the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal which was completed in 1777.

The Oxford Canal was completed in 1790, linking the coal mines and factories of the Midlands with London via the Thames while the Ellesmere Canal completed in 1805 and later incorporated into the Chester, MontgomeryShropshire Union and Llangollen canals, helped link the Mersey and the Severn.

Thomas Telford took over from Brindley as the leading canal engineer of the late 18th century designing incredible landmarks including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which soars over the River Dee.

The epicenter of canal building was in the industrial West Midlands and North West. Birmingham and the Black Country boasted an intricate network of 160 miles of canals, known as the Birmingham Canal Navigations, most of which survive today.

Funding for the canals was raised largely through private investors keen to reap the promised high returns. But by the end of the 18th century the flurry of canal building was over. Virtually all Britain’s canals were completed by 1815 when attention began to turn to the development of steam powered railway locomotives.

Decline

In the early 19th century the canals continued to be the preferred method for transporting bulky heavy goods while the new railway lines focused on passengers and lighter cargo. But as the century progressed the railways were developed into a national network, out competing the canals in both cargo volumes and speed, forcing tolls down so that the canal companies went into terminal decline.

The emergence of the motorcar in the early 20th century and development of an improved reliable road system was another blow to the commercial appeal of the canals.

As most of the canals fell out of commercial use and the companies that had maintained them shut down or were bought out, the waterways themselves were left to wreck and ruin.

Reinvention

In 1947 under the post-World War II Labour government, Britain’s canal and railway systems were nationalised. In the decades that followed, the canals were gradually restored and reopened, primarily for leisure purposes. Restoration projects have been largely undertaken by enthusiastic volunteer groups and local canal societies and trusts.

The canals are now managed by the Canal and River Trust, the successor to British Waterways, which actively supports many of the ongoing restoration projects. The Inland Waterways Association is a charity which also promotes the ongoing protection and conservation of the canals.

Commercial traffic is still permitted on a few key canal routes but the vast majority of waterways are now enjoyed by pleasure craft such as our own Anglo Welsh narrowboats.

There are said to be more boats using the British canals today than at any other point in their history.

Key sights of historic interest and engineering on the canals

Here are a few of the key sights which represented historic feats of engineering during the golden age of canal building and are still well worth a visit during a canal boat holiday today:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, completed in 1805, the Llangollen Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Trevor

 

The Anderton Boat Lift, completed 1875, the Trent and Mersey Canal and River Weaver

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Bunbury

 

The Barton Swing Aqueduct, built 1893, Bridgewater Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Bunbury or Silsden

 

Chirk Aqueduct, completed 1801, Llangollen Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Trevor

 

Foxton Inclined Plane, opened 1900 and dismantled 1928, Grand Union Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Stockton

 

Dudley Tunnel, completed 1791, Dudley Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Great Haywood and Tardebigge

 

Blisworth Tunnel, completed 1805, Grand Union Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Stockton

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Top 10 canal boat staycations

ANGLO WELSH’S TOP 10 CANAL BOAT STAYCATIONS

It looks like more and more people are planning to give airport madness a miss and stay in the UK for their holidays next year – and Britain’s beautiful canal network provides the perfect destination for a Staycation afloat in 2020.

Whether it’s the appeal of pottering slowly through the countryside, watching out for wildlife and stopping off at canalside pubs and villages along the way, or the lure of an exciting waterside attraction in a vibrant waterfront city destination, our canal boat holidays provide a floating holiday home experience and the chance to curate your own unique adventure afloat.

To help plan your next UK waterway-getaway, here are our Top 10 narrowboat holidays for the year ahead:

 

 

  1. Take an Oxford ‘His Dark Materials’ mini-break – from our narrowboat hire base at Eynsham on the River Thames near Oxford, canal boat holiday-makers can take to the water like a gyptian, and enjoy a Thames boating holiday, reaching overnight moorings at Hythe Bridge in just three hours. From there, it’s just a short walk into Oxford’s city centre for the chance to explore dozens of historic sites, including the fascinating Bodleian Library, Lyra’s home in the BBC’s drama series ‘His Dark Materials’, based on Philip Pullman’s book ‘Northern Lights’.  Just seeing this incredible building from the outside is a bucket list experience, but adults and children aged 11 and over can also explore the museum, home to nine million books across over 100 miles of shelves.  The Museum also houses a number of fascinating maps, including the 14th century ‘The Bodleian Map’, the oldest surviving map of Great Britain.
  2. Watch out for wildlife on the Montgomery Canal – from our canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, it takes around six hours to reach Frankton Junction, where the Llangollen Canal meets the Montgomery Canal. This beautiful canal, which runs for 38 miles between England and Wales, is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on both sides of the border, and the entire length in Wales is also recognised as a Special Area of Conservation, making it one of the most important sites for wildlife in Europe.  Currently only around half the Montgomery Canal is navigable, including a seven-mile section from Frankton Junction to Gronwyn Wharf.  From Whixall, the journey to Gronwyn Wharf and back takes around 20 hours, travelling through 34 miles of beautiful countryside and passing through 16 locks (eight each way).  Along the way, boaters can enjoy looking out for many types of waterway birds, animals and insects, including the shy nocturnal otter and critically endangered water vole.
  3. Visit the home of the Peaky Blinders – from our canal barge hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it’s an eight and a half hour, three-lock journey to moorings outside the Black Country Living Museum, the official home of the Peaky Blinders. Scenes were filmed at the 26-acre Museum for all five series of this BBC epic gangster drama, centred round a famous Birmingham gang.  As well as walking in the footsteps of the Shelbys, visitors can meet costumed characters explaining what it was like to live and work in one of the world’s most heavily industrialised landscapes, explore period shops and homes, have a drink in the ‘Bottle & Glass Inn’, test their times tables in a 1912 school lesson, sample the Museum’s famous traditionally cooked 1930’s-style fish and chips and take a trip ‘into the thick’ to experience life in an 1850’s coal mine.
  4. Navigate the Four Counties Ring – on a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, canal boat holiday-makers can travel round the ‘Four Counties Ring’. Cruising sections of the Trent & Mersey, Shropshire Union and Staffordshire & Worcestershire canals, this popular circuit takes boaters on a 110-mile, 60-hour, 94-lock canal boat holiday odyssey, passing through some of the most beautiful landscapes in England, including the Peak District, the rolling Cheshire Plains and the Potteries.  Highlights along the way include: Wedgewood Pottery in Stoke on Trent; the 1.5 mile long Harecastle Tunnel; the flight of 31 locks between Middlewich and Kidsgrove known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’; the Roman town of Middlewich; the Elizabethan Churche’s Mansion house at Nantwich; and the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man.
  5. Celebrate Bristol’s vibrant Street Art scene – from our canal boat hire base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath, it takes around eight hours, passing through 12 locks, to reach moorings in Bristol’s Floating Harbour. Once there you can moor up to explore the harbour and Bristol’s vibrant street art scene, which goes mainstream in 2020 with official exhibitions planned at The Royal West of England Academy and the M Shed.  These exhibitions, which will begin in June, celebrate Bristol as the birthplace of modern British street art.  Visitors to Bristol’s Floating Harbour can also enjoy Brunel’s incredible SS Great Britain ship museum and We The Curious, Bristol’s exciting Harbourside science museum. *NB this route is recommended route for experienced boaters and overnight mooring fees will apply
  6. Visit the Orangutans at Chester Zoo -from Anglo Welsh’s canal boat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire it takes around seven hours, passing through nine locks to reach the ancient City of Chester, home to the award-winning Chester Zoo. Visitors to Chester Zoo will find over 20,000 animals from 500 species, including a family of Sumatran orangutans who welcomed the birth of a male baby in November 2019.  Sumatran orangutans are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature with fewer than 14,000 surviving in the wild.  At Chester Zoo, you can find out more about these fascinating animals and how to help to prevent their extinction.
  7. Glide across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to the Shropshire Lake District – just 10 minutes from Anglo Welsh’s narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, boaters encounter the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’. Its cast iron trough filled with water, is carried 38 metres high above the Dee Valley on 19 hollow pillars.  In 2009 the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list, putting it on a par with the Pyramids and Taj Mahal.  On a short break from Trevor, you can cross the aqueduct and then continue east to reach the Ellesmere, in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District – a journey that takes around six hours and passes through just two locks.
  8. Travel round the Warwickshire Ring – our canal boat hire base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, provides perfect access to one of the most popular canal cruising circuits in Britain. Travelling sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals, the Warwickshire Ring covers 104 miles, passes through 120 locks and takes around 60 hours to navigate.  It can be done in a week, but a 10-day or two-week break gives more time for sight-seeing.  Passing through many miles of countryside, with fields and ancient meadows and the occasional sleepy village for much of its length, the route also takes boaters through the vibrant city centre waterfronts of Birmingham.  Destination highlights along the way include: the pretty canal village of Braunston; the awesome flight of 21 locks at Hatton; the splendid medieval Warwick Castle; and Birmingham’s Brindleyplace.
  9. Cruise to the Yorkshire Dales National Park – from our canal boarge rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, on a short break, you can travel to the pretty village of Gargrave and back, cruising for a total of 13 hours and passing through six locks. This scenic route, which is perfect for beginners, 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, as well as easy access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Pennine Way walking trail.
  10. See a play in Shakespeare’s Stratford – from our canal boat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it’s a delightful six-hour, 17-lock cruise journey through the Warwickshire countryside to reach moorings at Bancroft Basin in Stratford-upon-Avon, just a stone’s throw from the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres. As well as enjoying the town’s lively markets, shops, restaurants and museums, visitors to the home of the Bard in 2020 can choose from an exciting theatrical programme, including productions of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Winters Tale’ at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

*NB Depending on rainfall levels, it is possible there will be some navigation opening hour restrictions on some canals on the network.  We can provide information to help you plan your holiday around any lock opening hours that may be in place.

 

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Christmas at Great Haywood

By Kevin Yarwood, Manager at Great Haywood

Here at Great Haywood, on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, we offer canal boat hire all year round, including holidays over Christmas and New Year.

The canals are much quieter in the winter months and there are lots of historic canalside pubs with roaring log fires to stop off at along the way.

The most popular winter cruise destination from Great Haywood is to travel south along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction.  This peaceful 12-mile cruise through the Staffordshire countryside takes around five hours, passing through five locks.

Pubs to visit along the way the Wolseley Arms at Wolseley Bridge and The Old Peculiar in the village of Handsacre.  Once at Fradley, boaters can find refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn.

Alternatively boaters can travel north along the Trent & Mersey Canal to the market town of Stone, passing through Sandon, home to the Dog & Doublet pub, and Burston, home of The Greyhound.

We are lucky to have a number of great attractions close to us at Great Haywood.  For example the National Trust’s Shugborough Estate, where the gardens lead right down to the canal less than a mile from here, has some lovely Christmas events.  Visitors can see beautiful Christmas decorations in the Georgian Mansion, Servants’ Quarters and Park Farm House from 30 November to 19 December and book tickets for a spectacular Lantern Parade on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 December.

 

 

Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, once a royal hunting forest, and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Headquarters at The Wolseley Centre are also close to the canal just a few miles away from Great Haywood.  Both are wonderful havens for wildlife, with lots to see and do even in the winter months.

We also still see plenty of wildlife on the canal here over the winter, especially woodland and hedgerow birds such as Chaffinch, Robins, Blue and Coal Tits, Jays, Nuthatch, Woodpeckers and our resident pair of swans.  We feed the birds all year round, but of course it’s over the winter months that it’s most vital to do so.  We provide nutritious wild bird seed, peanuts, fat balls and sesame seeds.

We offer a range of canal boats for hire over the winter, from a cosy narrowboat for two to a family canal boat for 12.  They all have central heating, hot water showers, comfortable beds, fully equipped kitchens, WiFi, TV and DVD players, so it’s always nice and warm on board.  Our luxury Constellation Class narrowboat for up to six people, ‘Pegasus’ also has a multi-fuel stove.

Over the Christmas week, we’ve got boats going out on the Friday and Saturday before Christmas and while some will return on Christmas Eve, it’s all quiet on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

This year my wife and I will be cooking Christmas lunch aboard our narrowboat for our two children and two Staffordshire Bull Terriers.  Cooking Christmas dinner on a canal boat isn’t that different to a normal kitchen except you don’t have a huge amount of worktop space and you need to be careful not to buy too big a turkey, as most ovens are slightly smaller on boats.

Happy Christmas from the Great Haywood team!

 

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A brief history of the canals of England and Wales

A canal boat holiday takes you back in time. It is a journey through history as you float along waterways constructed in a bygone era of horse-drawn transport.

The vast majority of the canals in England and Wales were built at the dawn of industrialisation as the most efficient way of transporting the raw materials and goods going in and out the new factories.

This makes a narrowboat holiday a history lover’s dream come true as they can admire the antique engineering and the many sights, towns and cities along the routes which have all played notable roles in creating the modern Britain we know today.

To get you started, here we take you on a brief history of the canals of England and Wales.

Early history

While the UK was the first country to develop a nationwide canal network, the Chinese claim the title of being the earlier pioneers of inland waterways, constructing the Grand Canal of China in the 10th century. Most early canals were extensions of natural rivers.

The first canals of England and Wales were built by the Romans who dug the Fossdyke connecting Lincoln to the River Trent around AD50 and the nearby Car Dyke which ran southwards towards Cambridge.

Other early waterways of the medieval and post medieval period were constructed during to shorten, extend or link river routes such as the Exeter Canal, built in 1566 which featured the first pond locks in Britain.

But the golden age of canal building began as the Industrial Revolution took hold during the second half of the 18th century, with the construction of the Bridgewater Canal.

Golden age of canal building

Completed in 1776 under the watchful eye of engineer James Brindley, the Bridgewater Canal connects Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh. It was created in order to carry coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines at Worsley into the industrial heart of Manchester where demand for coal to power the mills was soaring.

The Bridgewater Canal sparked a flurry of canal building during the half century that followed its construction. During an age of horse drawn transport and antiquated mud tracks for roads, the canals provided a highly efficient way to transport large quantities of goods. One horse could pull a canal boat carrying around 30 tonnes of cargo – more than ten times the amount that could be transport via a one horse cart.

The efficiency of the Bridgewater Canal meant the price of coal in Manchester dropped by nearly two thirds within a year of its opening. The waterway repaid the cost of its construction within a few years, proving the viability of canals.

Other industrialists began to follow suit and James Brindley suddenly found himself constantly in demand. He is largely responsible for the ‘Grand Cross’, the two thousand miles of canals linking the four great rivers of England – the Severn, Mersey, Humber and Thames.

There were two key canal building periods, from 1759 to the early 1770s and from 1789 to around 1800 when trains began to dominate.

The famous potter Josiah Wedgewood commissioned the construction of canals to transport his goods from the Staffordshire factories to Manchester and Birmingham. He was instrumental in the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal which was completed in 1777.

The Oxford Canal was completed in 1790, linking the coal mines and factories of the Midlands with London via the Thames while the Ellesmere Canal completed in 1805 and later incorporated into the Chester, MontgomeryShropshire Union and Llangollen canals, helped link the Mersey and the Severn.

Thomas Telford took over from Brindley as the leading canal engineer of the late 18th century designing incredible landmarks including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which soars over the River Dee.

The epicenter of canal building was in the industrial West Midlands and North West. Birmingham and the Black Country boasted an intricate network of 160 miles of canals, known as the Birmingham Canal Navigations, most of which survive today.

Funding for the canals was raised largely through private investors keen to reap the promised high returns. But by the end of the 18th century the flurry of canal building was over. Virtually all Britain’s canals were completed by 1815 when attention began to turn to the development of steam powered railway locomotives.

Decline

In the early 19th century the canals continued to be the preferred method for transporting bulky heavy goods while the new railway lines focused on passengers and lighter cargo. But as the century progressed the railways were developed into a national network, out competing the canals in both cargo volumes and speed, forcing tolls down so that the canal companies went into terminal decline.

The emergence of the motorcar in the early 20th century and development of an improved reliable road system was another blow to the commercial appeal of the canals.

As most of the canals fell out of commercial use and the companies that had maintained them shut down or were bought out, the waterways themselves were left to wreck and ruin.

Reinvention

In 1947 under the post-World War II Labour government, Britain’s canal and railway systems were nationalised. In the decades that followed, the canals were gradually restored and reopened, primarily for leisure purposes. Restoration projects have been largely undertaken by enthusiastic volunteer groups and local canal societies and trusts.

The canals are now managed by the Canal and River Trust, the successor to British Waterways, which actively supports many of the ongoing restoration projects. The Inland Waterways Association is a charity which also promotes the ongoing protection and conservation of the canals.

Commercial traffic is still permitted on a few key canal routes but the vast majority of waterways are now enjoyed by pleasure craft such as our own Anglo Welsh narrowboats.

There are said to be more boats using the British canals today than at any other point in their history.

Key sights of historic interest and engineering on the canals

Here are a few of the key sights which represented historic feats of engineering during the golden age of canal building and are still well worth a visit during a canal boat holiday today:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, completed in 1805, the Llangollen Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Trevor

 

The Anderton Boat Lift, completed 1875, the Trent and Mersey Canal and River Weaver

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Bunbury

 

The Barton Swing Aqueduct, built 1893, Bridgewater Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Bunbury or Silsden

 

Chirk Aqueduct, completed 1801, Llangollen Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Trevor

 

Foxton Inclined Plane, opened 1900 and dismantled 1928, Grand Union Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Stockton

 

Dudley Tunnel, completed 1791, Dudley Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Great Haywood and Tardebigge

 

Blisworth Tunnel, completed 1805, Grand Union Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Stockton

 

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Enjoy winter christmas cruising with Anglo Welsh

This winter we offering winter cruising* from six of our narrowboat hire bases, giving you the chance to celebrate Christmas or New Year on the canals.

Whether you want to head to a festive waterfront destination or escape from it all in a quiet rural backwater, Christmas on the canals offers a very special experience.  All our winter canal boat hire bases offer a choice of routes, and plenty of historic rural pubs with roaring log fires to stop off at along the way.

From a cosy narrowboat for two to a family canal boat for 12, all our boats have central heating, hot water, WiFi, TV and DVD players, so it’s always nice and warm and cosy on board.  Some of our boats also come with multi-fuel stoves for some extra special winter warmth.

Our prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £495 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, weekly hire from £705.

 

 

Here are our Top 6 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat for 2019:

  1. Cross ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to the Shropshire Lake District – from our canal boat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, you can travel through the Welsh Mountains by canal boat to Ellesmere and back, passing over the incredible World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct along the way. This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 30 metres high above the Dee Valley, with amazing views to enjoy.  Historic pubs to enjoy along the way include The Poacher’s Pocket pub at Gledrid and the Aqueduct Inn at Froncysyllte.  Once at Ellesmere, at the centre of the Shropshire Lake District, you can moor up to visit the Mere created 10,000 years ago by the retreating ice age, now home to an abundance of wildlife.
  2. Cruise through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley – heading south from our narrowboat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, you’ll reach Fradley Junction in five hours. Here the Trent & Mersey Canal meets the Coventry Canal.  The journey to Fradley passes through 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside, and just five locks.  Places to enjoy along the way include The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the Wolseley Arms, Cannock Chase Forest and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern.  Once at Fradley, you’ll find refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and walking trails at the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
  3. Float to through the Warwickshire countryside to Shakespeare’s Stratford – from our narrowboat rental base aon 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 in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon to enjoy festive fun in the home of Bard, including twinkling Christmas lights, regular markets, carol singers, Christmas menus at a wide range of restaurants and performances of Shakespeare’s ‘King John’ at the Swan Theatre.
  4. Travel into Birmingham for festive fun afloat – from our canal barge holiday hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to cruise into the centre of Birmingham. With no locks to pass through along the way, it’s a great route for canal boat holiday beginners. Once there, you can moor up in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace to enjoy Christmas in Britain’s Second City, including ‘Snow White’ at the Hippodrome, ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape Live’ at the Birmingham Arena (23, 24 & 26 Dec), The Big Wheel and Ice Rink at Centenary Square and the Frankfurt Christmas Market at Victoria Square (until 23 Dec).
  5. Visit historic Chester for some Christmas sparkle – from our narrowboat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, it takes around seven hours, passing through nine locks, to reach the historic city of Chester. Along the way, the route passes through 12 miles of beautiful Cheshire countryside and the popular Ring O’Bells canalside pub at Christleton. Once moored up at Northgate visitor moorings next to the Roman City Walls, special festive events to enjoy in Chester include performances of Peter Pan at the Storyhouse Theatre, the Christmas Tree Festival at Chester Cathedral, the Lantern Parade at Chester Zoo (until 23 Dec), the Chester Christmas Market (until 22 Dec) as well as fabulous City Centre Christmas lights and sparkling shops at the Grosvenor Shopping Centre.
  6. Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to historic Whitchurch – from our barge holiay rental base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, it takes around four hours to reach the pretty historic town of Whitchurch. Along the way, the route passes Whixall Moss, a Mecca for wildlife, and Pan Castle just outside Whitchurch.  Special Christmas events in Whitchurch include performances of Aladdin in the Civic Centre (26-30 Dec), the Crib Festival at St Alkmund’s Church, sparkling Christmas lights and festive menus at many of the town’s eateries, including the Wheatsheaf Hotel and Black Bear pub.

*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.

 

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Winter at Wootton Wawen

By Matt Lucas Stern, boat yard manager at Wootton Wawen

The canals and our boat yard are quieter during the winter months, but not too quiet here at Wootton Wawen as we continue to offer canal boat hire for winter cruising.

Although some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance on the canals, which this year will include spot dredging on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, there are no works planned for the Stratford Canal, so our immediate routes remain open.

As the canals are even more peaceful during the winter months they can offer a great way to get away over Christmas. We still see plenty of wildlife here during the winter, including many hedgerow birds like black birds, great tits and robins, as well as plenty of ducks, coots, moorhens, geese, herons and swans, including a couple of resident Australian black swans.

Stratford is probably the most popular Christmas and New Year destination from our boat yard.  The Christmas lights, carol singers and markets make it a very special place to be over the festive period.

Alternatively, boaters can head north from our boat yard and find a choice of pubs with roaring log fires and Christmas menus, including the popular Crabmill at Preston Bagot and the Fleur de Lys at Lowsonford.  And the Yew Tree Farm Shopping Village and Café here at Wootton Wawen is always a fun place to visit during the Christmas build-up.  It’s great for stocking up on Christmas lunch goodies.

I live aboard my boat here at Wootton Wawen with my dog Caesar, so as well as working by the water I’m also lucky enough to live on the water too. Caesar is a miniature English bull terrier who is 14 months old.  He seems to love the life on the canal and walking along the towpath. But he is terrified of ducks!

A dog is a great addition to your crew on any narrowboating holiday as they will enjoy it just as much as you.  Just make sure you keep a close eye on them – Caesar floats about as well as a stone.

I have a 1993 Mike Heywood narrowboat with a Lister air-cooled mid-engine. I’ve started to rebuild my boat’s traditional boat man’s cabin as a homage of the old ways on the canal network.  But there’s plenty of scumbling and roses and castles left to go yet!

 

 

With careful planning, my boat stays cosy and warm even during the coldest nights. I have gas central heating – just like all our hire boats.  I also have a multi-fuel stove, something which some of our hire boats also have, including our luxury Heritage Class boat ‘Poppy’.

‘Poppy’ arrived here at Wootton Wawen at the beginning of the 2018 boating season.  Since then she has consistently wowed her hirers with the extra space and facilities she provides for holiday groups of up to four people.  She’s 66ft long – so almost as long as our 12-berth boats.  She has two cabins which can either be configured as doubles or singles and she also has two bathrooms with full size showers.

Anglo Welsh has a history of supporting the military (we offer 15 per cent off our holidays to all service personnel) and we wanted to do something special for the Chelsea Pensioners.  So as well as naming our Heritage Class boat ‘Poppy’ we have pledged to give £10 to The Royal Hospital Chelsea and Chelsea Pensioner’s Active Ageing Appeal for every booking made on ‘Poppy’ between 1 November 2019 and 1 November 2020.

 

And from next March, we’ll be adding ‘Collingwood’ to our Wootton Wawen fleet – the first of four new luxury Admiral Class boats.  She will be 57ft and will offer spacious accommodation for two people.  We look forward to welcoming her here next Spring!

 

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Anglo Welsh Heritage Class – Supporting the Chelsea Pensioners

Anglo Welsh Heritage Class – the best of both worlds

Anglo Welsh now offers two luxury four-berth ‘Heritage Class’ boats for hire: ‘Poppy’ on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen; and ‘Lily’ on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor.

These beautiful luxury canal boats offer all the very best in modern narrowboat facilities, as well as some extra special heritage features.

Facilities on board these spacious boats with semi-traditional sterns include: central heating; LED lighting; two full-size shower rooms; spacious beds with sprung mattresses; a fully fitted galley; TV; DVD; and WiFi.

Heritage features include: port holes; side doors; a Belfast sink; brass fittings; tongue and grove dark stained woodwork; ivory coloured ceilings; and a cratch cover above the front deck for extra protection against the elements when needed.

In partnership with our Sponsor ‘Panda Sanctuaries’ we will continue to expand the Heritage fleet over the coming years.

                             Proud to support the Chelsea Pensioners

 

Anglo Welsh is supporting the Chelsea Pensioners by pledging to give £10 to The Royal Hospital Chelsea and Chelsea Pensioner’s Active Ageing Appeal for every booking made on ‘Poppy’ between 1 November 2019 and 1 November 2020.

Allan McLaren of The Chelsea Pensioners explains: “War and conflict take their toll on a soldier’s body and mind.  Mental and physical scars often only surface in later years.

“The Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Chelsea Pensioners are delighted Anglo Welsh have chosen to support our Active Aging Appeal.  Your support will help The Royal Hospital Chelsea provide the best possible care for those willing to risk their lives yesterday to give us the freedom we enjoy today.  Our new activity centre will enable more Pensioners to stay active, pursue hobbies and interests every day to enhance their mental and physical well-being and combat isolation.”

 

For more information about the Appeal, visit https://www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk/

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Autumn Canal Events

What to look forward to along the canals this autumn

As the leaves turn rust red and the sinking sun casts long shadows across golden fields, the steady slide towards winter is arguably the most beautiful time of year.

Autumn is also the season of Halloween and Bonfire Night before the festive march towards Christmas begins.

There are dozens of fun events to look forward to between now and Christmas along the inland waterways of England and Wales so with half term approaching, this is an ideal time of year to embark on a canal boat holiday

Dig out your scarf and gloves, wrap up warm and head off on a magical narrowboat cruise before winter fully closes in.

Here are some of the fun events to consider if you are planning an autumn canal boat holiday:

Birmingham canal 250th anniversary, Old Turn Junction in Birmingham

2nd and 3rd November

Birmingham canal network

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Tardebigge

Accessible during a longer canal boat holiday from Great Haywood and Wootton Wawen

It is 250 years since the first canal reached Birmingham, a city now celebrated as boasting more waterways than Venice. Commemorate this landmark birthday by joining in a cruise, organised by the Bimingham Canal Navigation (BCN) Society, from Windmill End into central Birmingham. After a midday celebration at Old Turn Junction, boats can parade around to Cambrian Wharf or through Gas St Basin. This will be a must see for any canal and boating enthusiasts.

Stoke Bruerne autumn floating market, Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire

16th and 17th November

The Grand Union canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Stockton

Accessible during a longer canal boat holiday from Wootton Wawen

The Roving Canal Traders Association (RCTA) will be hosting its floating market in the pretty village of Stoke Bruerne, also home to the Canal Museum, making it an ideal stop off on a narrowboat holiday. The RCTA brings together an eclectic group of craftsmen and traders who travel the inland waterways selling their wares. It is the perfect place pick up some quirky holiday souvenirs and unusual gifts.

Birmingham Christmas floating market, Brindley Place, Birmingham

5th to 8th December

Birmingham canal network

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Tardebigge

Accessible during a longer canal boat holiday from Great Haywood and Wootton Wawen

Early December will see the return of this wonderful festival floating market during which the RCTA boats will line both sides of the canal at Brindley Place, offering unique Christmas shopping opportunities not to be found on any high street. This is an ideal way to rouse those festive feelings as the Christmas season gets into full swing.

Santa Cruises at the Anderton boat lift in Northwich, Cheshire

30th November to 24th December

Trent and Mersey Canal and River Weaver

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Bunbury

Accessible during a longer canal boat holiday from Trevor and Whixall Marina

Join Father Christmas and his helpers aboard the Edwin Clark trip boat this December and enjoy a festive cruise on the River Weaver. The trip will include storytelling, festive songs and, of course, each child will be presented with their very own present from Santa.

Meet Father Christmas at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire

7th to 24th December

Shropshire Union Canal

Nearest Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire base: Bunbury

Accessible during a longer canal boat holiday from Trevor and Whixall Marina

The ultimate festive canal holiday stop off, young visitors can drop in on Father Christmas’s grotto, to meet the man himself and watch his elves in action. Santa will share some stories and present each young visitor with an early Christmas gift. There will be another chance to meet Santa while enjoying a bite to eat in his special Christmas café. The ticket will also give you access to the rest of the museum’s fascinating collection.

It is worth noting that the Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire bases at OxfordBathMonkton CombeSilsden and Stockton all close down for winter from the 1st November. This is so that our team can carry out vital maintenance on the boats to ensure they are in tip top condition for the next season.

If you want more information or advice on great canal boat holiday routes or how best to reach any of these events and locations on an Anglo Welsh narrowboat, please don’t hesitate to contact our team by phone or email – they will be happy to help.

 

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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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