As part of our 55 year anniversary celebrations, we’ve been speaking to long term narrowboat holiday-maker Howard Fisher.
How many canal boat holidays have you been on?
At least one almost every year since 1971, including around 15 with Anglo Welsh.
Where did you go on your first narrowboat holiday?
My first inland waterways holiday was in 1971 with three school friends. We hired a small river cruiser from Barbridge, and we travelled to Llangollen and back. We quickly realised a narrowboat would be a much better way of travelling the canals. So, in March 1973 we hired a 56ft narrowboat ‘Stirling’ from Anglo Welsh’s Great Haywood base. That time I was with seven friends and we travelled anti-clockwise round the Four Counties Ring.
What do you like most about narrowboat holidays?
It’s a great way to see the bits of towns and cities that you’d otherwise miss. I much prefer the urban stretches to countryside – though on a fine evening, a quiet and secluded country mooring is hard to beat. I also find the structures you encounter fascinating, and marvel at the ingenuity of the original builders. In 2004 we travelled through the incredible 5km long Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which takes you deep beneath the Pennines.
What was your most memorable journey?
Back in the summer of 1975, when I was involved with the canal club at university, we hired two 50ft eight berth boats from Middlewich. The crew changed each week, with a core of us staying all three weeks. We travelled a large circle, including the tidal section of the River Trent, then right across the North Eastern canals to Leeds. Then we went along the Leeds & Liverpool and Bridgewater Canal to Anderton. We went down the Anderton Lift (where the lift operator was surprised we only wanted single tickets), along the River Weaver and out onto the Manchester Ship Canal to Ellesmere Port. Then back to Middlewich via Chester.
That trip took a fair bit of organising. For example, we had to arrange for a British Waterways crew to rendezvous with us to reconstruct the lock gear at Ellesmere Port, as it was semi-derelict back then. Also, things didn’t go according to plan when we misunderstood the lock keeper’s instructions regarding the channel out to the deeper water of the Manchester Ship Canal. On exiting the lock in the wake of a passing ship, we managed to get marooned on a mud bank. A tug had to pull us off.
The trip up the Trent required a ludicrously early start, motoring solidly for eight hours to get to Keadby at the right point of the tide. One of the boat’s engines overheated, and we spent some time travelling tied together with just a single engine.
What was your favourite narrowboat holiday?
In 1978 we completed the London Ring, cruising through central London on the Regent’s Canal, going around the East End canals, and returning along the tidal Thames. They didn’t need to raise Tower Bridge for us, but it’s fantastic to drive a narrowboat along the Thames past all the landmarks. This was before the London docks were redeveloped, so the east End was nothing like the posh area it is now.
How have canal boat holidays changed over the years?
The thing that hits you is just how many boats there are these days, including so many houseboats. Back in the 70’s you could cruise for most of a day only meeting a handful of other boats. The canals are kept better maintained than they used to be, but water levels can still be a problem. For example, it took us several attempts over a few years before we finally succeeded in navigating the Cheshire Ring.
What were the reasons for moving from being a hirer to an owner?
As retirement beckoned, the freedom of going as and when, and knowing that once the fixed costs were paid, staying longer didn’t cost extra, pushed four of us (two couples) to jointly buy a boat. The boat is fitted out exactly as we want it, including an expresso machine, bread-maker, food mixer and washing machine!
Any tips for newcomers to canal boat holidays ahead of their first trip?
Listen to the instructions on how to operate the boat, and ask the hire company to take you through a lock and show how it works. After packing, throw out half what you packed as you won’t need it. Enjoy yourselves!
Britain’s 3,000 mile network of navigable inland waterways provides the perfect destination for a Staycation afloat in 2021.
Pottering slowly through the countryside at just four miles per hour, watching out for wildlife, is a great way to relax.
Canal boat holidays offer a self-contained floating holiday home experience, and the chance to curate your very own adventure afloat. It’s free to moor up almost anywhere, so you can stop off at canalside pubs, villages and waterside destinations along the way.
To help plan your next waterway-getaway, here are our Top 10 narrowboat holidays for 2021:
1. Cruise across the Pennines – from our canal barge rental base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, on a week’s break you can cruise across the Pennines to Foulridge Tunnel and back. The journey to Foulridge takes around 13 hours and passes through 15 locks. Along the way you’ll pass through Skipton (known as ‘The Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales’), with its medieval stone castle. And you’ll pass through a series of villages with traditional pubs, including The Slaters Arms at Bradley, The Anchor Inn at Gargrave and The Cross Keys at East Marton.
2. Navigate the Stourport Ring – on a week’s break departing from our narrowboat hire base at Tardebigge near Bromsgrove, you can cruise the popular Stourport Ring. With 79 miles of waterway to cruise and 118 locks to pass through, it takes around 52 hours. The scenery ranges from peaceful open country on the River Severn, to vibrant cityscapes on the Birmingham Main Line. Destinations to visit include: Worcester Cathedral; Cadbury’s World; and the Sea Life Centre at Brindleyplace.
3. Take a Thames cruise to Wallingford – on a short break from our canal boat hire base close to Oxford, you can take a Thames boating holiday to the historic town of Wallingford. The journey passes through 11 locks each way and takes around 18 hours, there and back. You can stop off at Oxford, packed with architectural treasures, including the magnificent Bodleian Library. And Abingdon with its popular riverside pub, the Nag’s Head. At Wallingford, you can take time to explore the Castle Gardens dating back to Saxon times, and follow the Agatha Christie Trail.
4. Spot an otter on the Montgomery Canal – on a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, you can cruise a section of 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. You can cruise a seven-mile section to Gronwyn Wharf and back, looking out for otters and water voles. 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).
5. Cruise to Caen Hill – on a short break from our base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bath, it takes around 9 hours to reach the Caen Hill Flight of Locks. One of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, this dramatic flight of locks at Devizes is one of the most iconic sights on the waterways. You’ll pass through eight locks each way. You can enjoy stops at Bradford on Avon, with its magnificent medieval Tithe Barn, and Avoncliff Aqueduct with its popular Cross Guns pub.
6. Head to ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ – from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury in Cheshire, it takes around nine hours to reach the iconic Anderton Boat Lift. This Wonder of the Waterways is also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’. It lifts boats 15 metres between two waterways in two giant tanks of water. On the way to Anderton, you’ll navigate through beautiful Cheshire countryside along the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. And you’ll pass through the historic Roman town of Middlewich
7. Glide across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ – from our boat yard on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, you’ll soon encounter the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, this World Heritage structure transports canal boats 38 metres high across the Dee Valley. On a short break from Trevor, you can travel cross the aqueduct and on to Ellesmere, in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District. The journey to Ellesmere and back takes around 14 hours, passing through two locks each way.
8. Navigate the beautiful Oxford Canal – on a short break from our canal boat hire base at Stockton, you can reach the pretty canalside village of Fenny Compton. You’ll begin your journey on the Grand Union Canal in the Warwickshire countryside. You can transfer onto the Oxford Canal at Napton-on-the-Hill, with a choice of pubs. From there, the route winds gently through the countryside, with a series of locks to negotiate along the way. The journey to Fenny Compton and back takes around 20 hours, passing through 24 locks (12 each way).
9. Cruise into the Peak District – on a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood near Stafford, you can travel into the Peak District. It takes around 20 hours to reach Froghall Basin, passing through 35 locks. The route will take you along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Stoke on Trent. Here you can transfer onto the Caldon Canal. You’ll then travel through beautiful stretches of unspoilt countryside, with moorlands, woodlands and an abundance of wildlife.
10. Visit Shakespeare’s Stratford – from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, it takes around six hours to reach Bancroft Basin in the centre of Shakespeare’s Stratford. Along the way, you’ll pass through 17 locks and miles of peaceful Warwickshire countryside. You can moor up in the basin and use it as a base to explore Stratford-upon-Avon. This lively market town has a great choice of shops, restaurants, museums and theatres.
Plan your 2021 canal boat holiday adventure with our bucket list guide
Canal boat holidays are a wonderful way to explore the countryside and some of Britain’s most exciting historic attractions. With the narrowboat as your mobile floating holiday home, you can moor up in a new spot every night, and discover fascinating things to see and do along the way.
To help you plan the perfect narrowboat holiday adventure in 2021, here’s a guide to some of our canal boat holiday musts:
1. Be wowed by the wildlife
Canals and rivers are home to an incredible array of wildlife, from rare mammals, birds and amphibians to many species of plants. Even in cities, canals provide green corridors, enabling animals and plants to flourish. If you are vigilant and have a pair of binoculars at the ready, you may be able to spot some of the rarer and shier waterway inhabitants such as water voles, otters and kingfishers, as well as the more common water birds, like ducks, swans, coots, moorhens and geese. You can also take a look down at the water to spy fish, frogs, toads, newts, or up at the sky to see bats, owls, woodpeckers, hedgerow birds and birds of prey.
2. Visit a historic town or city
The waterways were once the primary means of transport and communication between centres of industry and commerce, so they pass through many exciting historic towns and cities. You can choose a route which takes you to some of Britain’s best preserved ancient cities, including Bath, Oxford and Chester, all with an impressive array of beautiful historic buildings to admire. The canals can also take you into the heart of bustling cities, like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham and to historic market towns, such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Devizes, Llangollen, Whitchurch, Bradford on Avon and Abingdon.
3. Marvel at the historic engineering of the canals
Most of our canals were built over 200 years ago during the Industrial Revolution, starting with the opening of the Bridgewater Canal in 1761. Despite their age, the canals still use, for the most part, the same engineering structures – lock gates, swing bridges, tunnels and aqueducts. There are some particularly impressive feats of historic engineering which are worth trying to incorporate into your canal boat holiday route, such as the incredible lock flights at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, the Kennet & Avon Canal at Caen Hill or the Grand Union Canal at Hatton. There are many famous tunnels, such as the Chirk Tunnel on the Llangollen Canal, the Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal and the Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal. And there are soaring aqueducts to glide across, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal and the Edstone Aqueduct on the Stratford Canal.
4. Enjoy a pint at a canalside pub
From busy city boozers to rustic country inns, the canals are lined with wonderful pubs where you can enjoy a pint, shoot the breeze and watch the world float by. During the years when canals provided key transport thoroughfares, many pubs sprung up along their routes to cater for the canal workers who would travelling up and down the country delivering their cargo. To this day, some of the country’s oldest and most characterful taverns are found along our canals, so enjoy taking some time out from boating to enjoy a warm canalside pub welcome.
5. Explore on foot
Canal towpaths offer thousands of miles of wonderful walking and cycling routes and hundreds of footpaths connect into waterway paths. These include some of Britain’s most famous walking routes, such as the Pennine Way, the Offa’s Dyke Path, the Heart of England Way and the Shropshire Way. Plan some lovely circular walks to explore more of the gorgeous unspoilt countryside through which you are passing, or the historic towns and villages you moor up in.
6. Stop off at a castle or stately home
Britain has a wealth of historic properties to visit, from castle ruins to perfectly preserved stately homes. People travel from all over the world to see these treasures and a canal boat holiday is the perfect way to reach some of our nation’s most amazing sights. Many stately homes house incredible art collections and antique furnishing, as well as landscaped formal gardens and parkland. National Trust properties close to the canals include: Packworth House close to the Stratford Canal at Lapworth in Warwickshire; Shrugborough Hall next to the Trent & Mersey Canal near Great Haywood; and Chirk Castle close to the Llangollen Canal. There are also fascinating castles at Oxford, Skipton and Warwick to explore, as well as historic sites like Avebury close to the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire and the Battle of Bosworth Field next to the Ashby Canal in Leicestershire.
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.
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.
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.
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 cities, rural loveliness, famous 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We offer a range of different types of holidays such as City Breaks, Relaxation Cruises and Popular Destinations
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.