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Top 8 Summer Circuits for 2022

Ring routes offer varied journeys along different waterways and take in a wide range of landscapes and attractions. What’s more, they bring you back to your canal boat hire base without having to travel the same way twice!

Some circuits are a real challenge, with steep flights of locks and spooky tunnels to navigate, while others more suitable for narrowboat holiday beginners. All, though, offer a wonderful summer holiday adventure and the chance to explore the UK’s waterways from the comforts of your very own floating holiday home.

Here’s a list of our Top 8 Summer Circuits to explore afloat:

1. The Birmingham Mini-Ring this popular ring can be completed on a four-night short break from our base at Tardebigge in Worcestershire. It takes in sections of the Worcester & Birmingham, Birmingham Main Line and Grand Union canals. The journey takes you past sights such as: the historic village of Bournville, home of Cadbury’s chocolate; Gas Street Basin in central Birmingham; and the flight of 13 locks at Farmers Bridge. To complete the Birmingham Mini-Ring from Tardebigge, you will travel 45 miles and pass through 49 locks, which takes around 27 hours.

2. The Warwickshire Ring setting off from our canal boat hire base at Stockton in Warwickshire, this circuit can be completed in a week’s holiday. You’ll cruise through sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; the lovely canal village of Braunston; the flight of 21 locks at Hatton; and wonderful Warwick Castle. To complete the Warwickshire Ring from Stockton, you will travel 104 miles and pass through 121 locks in around 56 hours.

3. The Avon Ring canal boat holiday-makers can complete this epic circuit on a two week break from our narrowboat hire bases at Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen. Navigating sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal, you’ll encounter: Shakespeare’s Stratford; the River Avon with its incredible views; the charming historic town of Evesham; the Cotswold medieval town of Tewskesbury; the City of Worcester and its stunning cathedral; and the flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge. To complete the Avon Ring from either Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen, you will travel 109 miles and pass through 131 locks, which will take around 58 hours.

4. The Black Country Ring setting off from our canal boat rental base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire or Tardebigge in Worcestershire, this circuit can be done in an active week’s holiday. Explore sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals. Sights along the way include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin; the 21 locks at Wolverhampton; and the beautiful waters at Tixall Wide. To complete the Black Country Ring from Tardebigge, you will travel 104 miles, passing through 79 locks, which will take around 53 hours. From Great Haywood it’s 75 miles, 79 locks and takes 43 hours.

5. The East Midlands Ring on a two week break from our narrowboat rental base at Stockton , boaters can explore the East Midlands Ring, also known as the Leicester Ring. You’ll cruise along sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey and Grand Union canals, as well as the rivers Soar and Trent. Highlights along this circuit include: Saddlington Tunnel; the Foxton Staircase; the canal village of Stoke Bruerne with its Canal Museum; Blisworth Tunnel; the 11 locks at Atherstone; the City of Coventry; and the historic village of Shardlow. To complete the East Midlands Ring from Stockton, you will travel 170 miles and pass through 107 locks in around 84 hours.

6. The Four Counties Ring this popular circuit can be completed in a week when departing from our bases at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, Bunbury in Cheshire or Whixall in Shropshire. The route takes narrowboat holiday-makers through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire, exploring a range of beautiful areas of Britain. Highlights along the way include: the infamous 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; flight of 15 locks at Audlem; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains; and the Roman town of Middlewich. To complete the Four Counties Ring from Great Haywood, you’ll travel 110 miles and pass through 94 locks, which will take around 55 hours. From Bunbury, it will be 115 miles, 96 locks and 58 hours. From Whixall, it’s 137 miles, 132 locks and 86 hours.

7. The Stourport Ring setting off from our canal boat hire base at Tardebigge in Worcestershire, this ring, which can be completed in a week, takes you along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, the River Severn, Birmingham Canal Main Line and Stourbridge canals. Highlights include: cruising through bustling central Birmingham; Kinver with its National Trust rock houses; the City of Worcester with its town centre and magnificent cathedral; beautiful views along the River Severn; and the flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge. To complete the Stourport Ring from Tardebigge, you will travel 84 miles and pass through 118 locks in around 52 hours.

8. The Cheshire Ring cruising from our narrowboat hire base at Bunbury in Cheshire, this route, which runs through the heart of Manchester and the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals, can be completed in a week. Highlights along the way include: the incredible Anderton Boat Lift, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’; breath-taking views of the Peak District; and Manchester’s China Town. To complete the Cheshire Ring from Bunbury, you will travel 122 miles and pass through 102 locks, which will take about 86 cruising hours.

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How narrowboat holidays have changed

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!

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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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