With spooky tunnels, dark cuttings, creepy locks, misty towpaths, plenty of bats, frogs and toads, and many a ghostly tale, Britain’s 200-year old canal network provides the perfect backdrop for a haunting Halloween.
From Roman centurions and drowned boatmen to eerie figures and shrieking boggarts, there are plenty of haunted destinations afloat to get your spine tingling. Here are our top seven:
There’s something in the dark at Betton Cutting…Betton Cutting on the Shropshire Union Canal near Market Drayton has always had a dark reputation among boating people, with a shrieking spectre seen and heard there. And Tyrley middle lock, just beyond Market Drayton, is reported to have its own helpful resident ghost that at night will push the lock gates shut behind passing boats. ***Market Drayton is 19 hours and 19 locks away from our Great Haywood base on the Trent & Mersey canal in Staffordshire.
Mind out for the Monkey Man at Norbury…look out for the hideous black, shagged coated being known as ‘The Monkey Man’ on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bridge 39 near Norbury. This fearful figure is believed to be the ghost of a boatman drowned there in the 19th century. ***Travel down the Staffs & Worcester Canal then north on the Shropshire Union Canal from our base at Great Haywood, a journey of 36 miles and 14 locks, which takes around 13 hours.
Get the chills in Chester…at the City’s old Northgate, where the canal was dug into part of the town’s moat, the ghost of a Roman centurion has been sighted guarding the entrance to the City. ***Hire a canal boat from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, reaching Chester in seven hours, passing through nine locks.
Prepare to be spooked at Blisworth Tunnel…the 2.81km-long Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire has spooked a number of boaters over the years. The tunnel’s construction began in 1793, with teams of navvies working with picks and shovels. After three years of toil they hit quicksand and the tunnel collapsed, killing 14 men. A new route was found and it eventually opened in 1805. But chillingly, over the years some boaters travelling through the tunnel have reported seeing eerie lights and a second route opening up. ***The Blisworth Tunnel is 26 miles and 16 locks from our Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, a journey which takes around 10 hours.
Look out for the ghost of Kit at Kidsgrove…a shrieking boggart, the ghost of Kit Crewbucket murdered there, is said to haunt Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Kidsgrove. ***Harecastle Tunnel is 22 miles and 18 locks from our Great Haywood base, a journey of around 10 hours.
Watch out for an Aqueduct Apparition…the World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham is said to be haunted by an eerie figure sometimes seen gliding along the towpath on moonlit nights. ***Boaters can reach the Aqueduct in 20 minutes from our Trevor base on the Llangollen Canal.
Beware the ‘bloody steps’ at Brindley Bank…another eerie place on the Shropshire Union canal in Staffordshire is Brindley Bank. The site is said to be haunted by a woman – Christina Collins – murdered there in 1839 whose blood ran into the canal. The stain still reappears to this day. ***Brindley Bank is just three miles and two locks from our base at Great Haywood.
Anglo Welsh’s top 10 Canal Boat Holidays for 2016!
1. Visit Oxford afloat aboard ‘Delphinus’…from our Oxford base, it’s a tranquil three-hour cruise along the River Thames to moorings at Hythe Bridge, perfect for exploring Oxford’s city centre. Part of our new ‘Constellation’ fleet, the luxurious 12-berth ‘Delphinus’ will be available to hire from our Oxford base. With more space to chill out inside and extra room to relax outside, plus a large TV and Wifi, this stylish boat is perfect for extended family holidays or a city break afloat for groups of girls or boys. New ‘Constellation’ boats will also be available at Trevor, Wootton Wawen, Bunbury and Bradford on Avon.
2. Mark the Leeds & Liverpool Canal’s Bicentenary…in 2016 it will be 200 years since the magnificent Leeds & Liverpool Canal was completed. Stretching for 127 miles, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was the earliest of the trans-Pennine canals to be proposed and the longest in Britain built as a single waterway. From our base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool, on a short break canal boat holiday-makers can head east to reach the Sir Titus Salt’s model town at Saltaire, passing through the Grade I Listed ‘Bingley Five Rise’ locks. On a week’s break, boaters can continue on to Leeds, mooring close to the Royal Armouries Museum, home of our national collection of arms and armour.
3. Rome around Roman Bath…from our base on the Kennet & Avon Canal at the historic town of Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, boaters can reach the World Heritage City of Bath in seven hours. Stunning examples of Georgian architecture, including the Royal Crescent, the Roman Baths where the thermal water still steams today and a thriving programme of festivals, including the International Music Festival which runs from 20-30 May 2016, are just some of the many things to see and do there.
4. Cruise the Cheshire Ring…in 2016 it will be 40 years since the Cheshire Ring was restored. Travelling 97 miles, through 92 locks, it takes around 55 hours to cruise this superb canal ring. From our base at Bunbury, the journey can be done on a two-week break. Head north from Middlewich passing the Anderton Boat Lift (AKA “The Cathedral of the Canals”) and on to Preston Brook and Warrington, before turning east to Manchester. The route runs past the world-renowned football stadiums of Old Trafford and the Ethiad, then out of Manchester onto the Macclesfield Canal, where peace and tranquillity returns as the canal becomes a quiet sleepy route through gorgeous rolling hills.
5. Travel through Shakespeare country…in 2016 will be 400 years since the death of the Bard. To mark the date, take a cruise through the Warwickshire countryside, starting at our Woowen Wawen base near Henley in Arden. It takes six hours, travelling through 17 locks to reach Stratford upon Avon where narrowboat holiday-makers can moor up at Bancroft Basin, close the Swan Theatre and other Shakespeare hotspots.
6. Commemorate the Brindley 300…in 2016 it will be 300 years since the birth of James Brindley, one of the greatest engineers of the 18th century. Brindley built 365 miles of canals, including the Trent & Mersey, Coventry, Oxford and Staffordshire & Worcestershire canals. From our base at Great Haywood, at the junction of the Trent & Mersey and Staffs & Worcs canals, canal boat holiday-makers can remember Brindley with a short break to Fradley, meandering through the Trent Valley and passing the grounds of Lord Lichfield’s Shugborough Hall. Or on a week’s holiday, boaters can reach historic Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man, passing through the beautiful ‘Tixall Wide’, bursting with wildlife.
7. Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with a visit to Chester Zoo…beginning on 8 February 2016, it’s the Chinese year of the Monkey. It’s said that those born under the year of the Monkey share the animal’s intelligence, wit, inventiveness and problem solving strengths, as well as its playful nature. Celebrity Monkeys include Leonardo da Vinci, Mick Jaggar, Charles Dickins, Macauley Culkin, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Mel Gibson. From our base at Bunbury, Chester is a delightful seven-hour and nine-lock cruise away, passing through rolling Cheshire landscape. Once there, canal boat holiday-makers can celebrate the year of the Monkey with a visit to Chester Zoo, home to a variety of monkey species, including Spider Monkeys, Sulawesi Macaques and Howler Monkeys.
8. Visit the World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct…the Llangollen Canal’s incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales is truly one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Its cast iron trough is supported on iron arched ribs and carried 38 metres high above the Dee Valley on 19 hollow pillars. In 2009 it was granted World Heritage status, putting it on an equal footing with the Great Barrier Reef and Taj Mahal. From our base at Trevor, the aqueduct is a 20-minute cruise away. Boaters can then continue east to reach the Ellesmere Lakes, also known as the Shropshire Lake District and then head back west to the delightful town of Llangollen, with its fascinating Steam Railway Centre.
9. Head to Devizes and the Caen Hill Flight…from our base at Bath, Fox Hanger Wharf, at the base to the magnificent Caen Hill flight of locks at Devizes, is 10 hours and eight locks away. Devizes is an historic market town with a colourful medieval past and plenty of good eateries. It’s also the start point for the gruelling annual 127-mile long Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race, beginning on 25 March in 2016.
10. Potter along to Stoke Bruerne canal village…from our Stockton base on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne is 13 hours and 17 locks away. Stoke Bruerne is home to a variety of historic pubs and eateries, a treasure trove of canal curiosities at the Canal Museum, the southern end of the spooky 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel and the popular Village at War event, held each September.
And that was how the long weekend began. Driving from Kent to Oxford, the car stuffed full of clothes to suit most (but not all, it turns out) weathers, enough food to feed an army for a fortnight, and excitement fluttering in everyone’s stomachs, it was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary that we heard on the radio just as we – my husband, four year-old daughter, and I – pulled into the boatyard belonging to Anglo Welsh.
It was Proud Mary that we were humming as we got out of the car after two and a half hours, and started wondering which boat amongst the plethora of boats was to be ours for the next four days and three nights.
It’s Proud Mary that hasn’t left my head since. It’s a good thing I like the song.
After unloading the car, we were introduced to our boat, the rather pleasingly (for a Kentish Maid such as myself) named Romney. Romney is a narrowboat that has everything anyone could need for a short break away; a fully stocked kitchen that includes a full sized gas oven, a microwave, sink, kettle (very important), pots, pans, plates, mugs, glasses, and even a tablecloth and napkins. Nothing has been forgotten.
There is also a seating area which turns into a bedroom containing two single beds. During the day, however, a small table can be placed in between the beds/benches to create a dining area. There is a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and excellent shower, and another bed at the rear of the boat, although this one is a double.
We fell in love with Romney there and then.
Learning to drive her was something that was left to my husband, Dean, as I settled Alice into her life jacket and unpacked. He had been very keen to get behind the rudder, and, having tried – and failed – to steer boats in the past (two rather unfortunate and almost dangerous occurrences spring to mind, one in a rowing boat in America, the other in a speedboat in Turkey), I was not. I did like the idea of sitting back and letting the Thames drift by though. The thing with a narrowboat, though, as I’ve since learned, is that no one gets to duck out of the work!
Anglo Welsh’s John who drives the boats came with us for our first foray out onto the water, and we – with his expert guidance – were soon chugging along. He said that he would stay with us until the first lock, at which point he could disembark and walk back home, leaving us to continue our journey. We were planning to head to Oxford and moor up there for the night, but time was ticking on, and the locks – locks! – are only manned from 9am until 6pm. After that you can still go through them, but it’s all self-service. The idea did not appeal, at least not on our first night, so we were keen to keep moving.
Liz Taylor reviewed her Anglo Welsh canal boat holiday from our Tardebigge base in Live 24-Seven Magazine, published February 2015:
I recently had the opportunity to go on a canal boat holiday with Anglo Welsh – a life on the ocean waves…Well not really ocean waves, but a water-based holiday that I hadn’t really considered before! I’m normally used to holidaying with my family in Europe throughout the summer months, so an altogether different adventure that embraced some of the UK’s stunning scenery ‘afloat’ seemed an interesting alternative for my family and I, including an inquisitive 10-year-old son!
If I’m honest, I was a little apprehensive about spending a whole five days in a confined space with my family! What if the weather wasn’t on our side? And most of all, the idea of navigating our way through the locks seemed a little challenging, but the Anglo Welsh team soon allayed my fears when we met at the Tardebigge station.
I was taken aback when I first saw the canal boat, very impressive, it was nothing like I imagined. A home on water, a boutique space with fully equipped kitchen, separate living area and two spacious bedrooms, superbly decorated with every amenity you would or could need. My son could hardly contain his excitement when we boarded the Silver Dove, that sense of adventure if offered over boarding a plane and playing by a pool was like a magnet for him!
After thorough instructions on the etiquette of canal boating and how to master the locks, which is a lot easier than you imagine, we set off. The weather was on our side, but I can imagine it would be equally good fun even if it weren’t. We took in the glory of the scenery and the refreshments of so many super local pubs along the route – there’s a whole other offering waterside that I’d never tapped in to. To put the kitchen through its paces and see how a family could cope cooking on board, we decided to eat in on several evenings and found the whole experience a real joy – there’s something to be said for preparing a meal whilst the beautiful scenery outside your window changes constantly.
We were surprised by the clarity of the waters along the journey and the ease at which we were able to just moor up or stop and take in the surroundings. The trip can be as peaceful or as much fun as you want to make it, for my husband and I it somewhat captured that sense of adventure and excitement we had on a trip of any sort as a child – recapturing our youth – but we also noted that there were all sorts of age groups holidaying on canal boats from twenty-somethings to families and retirees.
Our son has already requested we book a canal boat for next summer and after sharing our experience with friends, we’re planning an adults only gastro cruise with copious amounts of wine and laughter on the menu. If you’re enticed to taken in the countryside without the hassle of the roads, I recommend Anglo Welsh, the canal boats are luxurious and well-equipped and the friendly, helpful advice given by the staff really does enable you to relax and enjoy all that the holiday can offer!
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.