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Historic sites to visit on your canal boat holiday

Hatton locks on the Grand Union Canal

There’s a great choice of stately homes and historic sites to visit on a narrowboat holiday in England and Wales

One of the joys of a canal boat holiday is the feeling that you’ve escaped the rush of modern life and stepped back in time. The canals themselves and landscapes and cities they pass are all steeped in history and heritage, so offer the chance to immerse yourself in the past.

There is such a varied range of stunning manor houses, stately homes and other famous sights lining our inland waterways, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Here are just a few of our favourite historic properties, most of them within walking distance of the canals.

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Nearest waterways: Oxford Canal and the River Thames

Nearest narrowboat hire base: Oxford

Arguably the most famous stately home in the UK after the royal residences, Blenheim Palace is worth a visit. The World Heritage property displays a level of grandeur that wows all 900,000 visitors that pass through its ornate rooms each year. Built between 1705 and 1722 in ‘English Baroque’ style, Blenheim remains the principle residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and was the birthplace and ancestral home of Winston Churchill. As well as housing incredible artworks, antiques and interiors, the palace sits at the centre of stunning Capability Brown gardens and 2,000 acres of beautiful park land criss-crossed by idyllic walks.

Prior Park landscape gardens, Bath, Somerset

Nearest waterways: Kennet & Avon Canal and the River Avon

Nearest narrowboat hire baseBath

While the stunning Grade I Palladian style property has now been converted into a school, its exterior and landscaped grounds can be still be admired by visitors. Built for Bath entrepreneur and philanthropist Ralph Allen in the 1730s and 40s, Prior Park sits at the top of a hill with sweeping views down over Bath’s beautiful city centre. Its Capability Brown gardens, bordered by woodland, feature one of only four Palladian bridges in the world. Now owned and run by the National Trust, take a short break from canal life to catch a bus up the hill to the entrance then enjoy a walk back down through the grounds to the city centre.

Westwood Manor, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Nearest waterways: Kennet & Avon Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire base: Bradford on Avon

This beautiful manor house was built over 300 years with the original property constructed in the 15th century then added to in the 16th and 17th centuries meaning it offers a unique combination of architectural and interior styles. There are late Gothic and Jacobean windows alongside decorative plasterwork, tapestries and antique furnishing. The former home of Edgar Lister, a diplomat at the Ottoman court in the early years of the 20th century, also boasts an impressive topiary garden. Walking distance from the canal, Westwood is worth a quick stop off during your canal boat holiday.

Adlington Hall, Adlington, Cheshire

Nearest waterwaysMacclesfield Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire baseBunbury

One of the most beautiful country houses in England, Adlington Hall has been home to the Legh family since 1315. The current property, built on the site of a Saxon hunting lodge, dates from 1480 when the Great Hall was erected using two great oak trees, still standing at one end of the room today. The building was expanded in the 1740s into a grander Georgian house. It still houses a 17th century organ played by Handel, alongside rich collection of antiques and artwork. The 60 acre gardens feature a yew maze, rose garden, Regency rockery and a Rococo styled landscape garden containing the T’Ing House, a Pagoda bridge and the Temple to Diana.

Little Moreton Hall, Congleton, Cheshire

Nearest waterwaysMacclesfield Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire baseBunbury and Great Haywood

This iconic Tudor manor house looks like it has jumped straight out of a children’s fairy story. The higgledy piggledy timber framed building has been perched, defying gravity, next to its moat for more than 500 years. Now run by the National Trust, the earliest parts of the house were built for the prosperous Cheshire landowner William Moreton in about 1504-08, and the remainder was constructed in stages by successive generations of the family until about 1610. Nestled at the back of the building is a beautifully maintained knot garden and herbs and vegetables that would have been used in Tudor cooking. Visitors to the hall can learn about Tudor cuisine and other aspects of their everyday life and culture.

Shugborough Hall, Milford, Staffordshire

Nearest waterwayTrent & Mersey Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire baseGreat Haywood

Home to the Anson family since 1610, this beautiful colonnaded Georgian mansion, is surrounded by miles of undulating parkland and ancient woodland adorned with monuments. Visitors can admire the rich interiors and furnishings of the state rooms and living quarters of former owner of Patrick Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield, then head ‘below stairs’ for a peek into the servants’ rooms. Explore the formal gardens and rambling parkland before popping along to Park Farm to meet the Tamworth pigs and other creatures great and small. You can cruise right past Shugborough’s grounds depending on your canal boat holiday route.

Wightwick Manor, Wightwick Bank, Staffordshire

Nearest waterway: Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire baseGreat Haywood

This Victorian timber framed manor is home to an impressive Pre-Raphaelite art collection, including works by Bryne-Jones, Rossetti and Everett Millais. Its former owner Theodore Mander decorated the interiors with the designs of William Morris and his Arts and Crafts contemporaries, so the house now stands as a perfectly preserved relic of this era of design and one family’s passion for art. Now run by the National Trust, visitors can also enjoy a ramble around the 17 acres of gardens and woodland that surrounds the house before heading to the tearoom or second hand bookshop.

East Riddlesden Hall, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Nearest waterway: Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Nearest canal boat hire base: Silsden

This 17th century manor house once sat at the heart of a thriving farming estate, and today tells the tale of the rise and fall of those who lived and worked there. Built in 1642 by James Murgatroyd, who made his fortune in the Halifax cloth industry, the impressive property sits on a plateau overlooking the River Aire and the canal.  It’s surrounded by stunning grounds, including a walled garden and medieval tithe barn. East Riddlesden Hall is a popular filming location having been used in Wuthering Heights and Sharpe. A perfect place to moor up during a narrowboat holiday from Silsden.

Brynkinalt, Chirk, Denbighshire

Nearest waterwayLlangollen Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire base: Trevor

The ancestral estate of the Trevor family since 942, the Brynkinalt estate sits amid the beautiful green hills on the Wales-Shropshire border. At the heart of the estate sites the Grade II* hall built in 1612 using red brick cut onsite.  It was extensively revamped with Gothic elements in the early 19th century, but still features the original Jacobean oak panelled Hall. The property is surrounded by stunning formal gardens including a walled garden, park and woodland with a number of gate lodges and follies. The family welcome visitors but this must be arranged by booking in advance. Tours are conducted by members of the family.

Charlecote Park, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire

Nearest waterwayStratford upon Avon Canal and the River Avon

Nearest narrowboat hire baseWootton Wawen

This grand 16th century stately home sits surrounded by a stunning deer park on the banks of the River Avon. The estate has been home to the Lucy family for 900 years with the current property.  The house hosted Queen Elizabeth I and was built in 1558 by Sir Thomas Lucy. It has been filled with treasures from all over the world by each generation of the family, whose varied lifestyles and tastes have all left their mark. The stables even boast an impressive carriage collection. The house looks out upon Capability Brown landscaped gardens and hundreds of acres of parkland offering scenic walks and great picnic spots.

Powis Castle, Welshpool, Powys

Nearest waterwayMontgomery Canal

Nearest narrowboat hire baseWhixall Marina

Home to the Earls of Powis, this medieval castle which dates back to around 1200 overlooks extensive formal gardens and terraces laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles. Originally built as a fortress, the castle was revamped and embellished by successive generations of the Herbert family over the course of more than 400 years.  It now houses an impressive collection of paintings, sculpture, tapestries and period furniture and is renowned for housing the valuables that Robert Clive and his son Edward brought home from India. Now run by the National Trust, the house and garden is surrounded by rolling green acres that make up a stunning deer park.

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A brief history of narrowboat holidays

Historic boats at National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port

Most of our holiday canal boats here at Anglo Welsh are narrowboats – based on the traditional barges designed specifically to navigate the narrow canals of England and Wales. Though we also offer widebeam boat hire from our Silsden base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Our rental narrowboats have been built with the comfort and convenience of our guests as the primary focus so while the exteriors are that of a traditional narrowboat, all our barges are fitted out with contemporary luxuries and appliances.

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

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

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

Origins of the narrowboat

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

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

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

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

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

The evolution of the narrowboat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of canal boats

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

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

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

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Best In Fleet – Brand New boats For 2019

Canal boat holidays on the Stratford Canal

All aboard! New narrowboats being introduced for 2019 canal holidays

Winter is behind us and that means the new canal boat holiday season is finally here! We’ve been hard at work over winter to ensure the best possible choice of narrowboats for your 2019 canal adventures. So, we are excited to announce the launch of a series of new canal barges this season which will ensure we continue to offer an unbeatable range of narrowboat holidays for all our guests.

Here’s an introduction to the beautiful new narrowboats that will be gracing our historic waterways in coming months:

Heritage Class expands with Poppy at Wootton Wawen

After the huge success of our first ‘Heritage Class’ canal barge Lily which was launched last year, we are thrilled to be expanding the fleet with Poppy. The Heritage Class boats are designed and built in the style of the narrowboats of the past, with traditional livery, round portholes, wooden interiors with brass fittings and a fuel fire. However, don’t be fooled by the boats’ old-fashioned appearance, they are still fitted out with all the modern features needed to ensure your comfort and convenience from central heating to full size shower rooms, TV, DVD and WiFi. The Heritage Class boats offer the best of both worlds.

With two bedrooms offering four berths, a fully equipped galley – or kitchen in landlubber speak – dining area and lounge, Poppy is perfect for families and groups of friends wanting to drift back in time to a bygone era along the canals of England and Wales.

Poppy will be launched from our base in Wootton Wawen on the Stratford upon Avon Canal on Monday, 15th April.

Constellation Class welcomes three news boats, Gemini, Scorpius and Sagittarius

This Constellation class has proven so popular since its creation in 2016, it has expanded very year and 2019 is now exception. This year will see the introduction of three new canal barges that each sleep up to 10 guests across four bedrooms so are idea for larger group holidays.

Gemini will be launched onto the Shropshire Union Canal at our new base in Whixall Marina on Friday, 5th April, Sagittarius will join the fleet on the Kennet and Avon Canal in Bath on Saturday, 25th May and Scorpius will hit the water on the Stratford upon Avon Canal in Wootton Wawen on Thursday, 25th July.

The Constellation Class narrowboats boast light modern interiors, comfy leather seats in the lounge and fully equipped galley kitchens with a cooker and hobs, fridge-freezer and microwave. With so much space for sleeping and storage, the large Constellation Class boats are popular for longer canal boat trips of a week or more.

Weir Class grows with Grafton at Whixall Marina

The smaller Weir Class boats which sleep just two to four people have been a big hit with couples wanting a relaxing, romantic break. Grafton will be launched at Whixall Marina on the lovely Shropshire Union Canal on Friday, 5th April. With its one double bedroom, bathroom and kitchen-living space, measuring just 48-ft in length, Grafton, like the other Weir class narrowboats are much easier to handle and maneouvre than some of their larger counterparts making them great starter boats. They are also a good choice in peak season when the canals get very busy and space is at a premium.

All the Anglo Welsh narrowboats are designed to provide a perfect floating holiday home for families, couples and friends who want to explore the canals of England and Wales without compromising on comfort and convenience. The holiday hire narrowboats have gas ovens, bridges, TV, DVD players, central heating and kitchens equipped with everything needed to cook and enjoy a meal for everyone onboard. Bedding, towels, tea towels and bottled gas is provided. Some boats have additional features such as microwaves, sofas, dressing tables so always check the layout and specifications of the vessel before booking to ensure it has everything you need.

If you have any specific needs for your boat then call or email one of our team who will be able to advise and help out.

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UK’s most impressive aqueducts

Most impressive canal aqueducts

There are few things as magical as drifting on a canal boat high above another waterway, road or railway, waving to the world below.

Aqueducts offer some of the most incredible moments of any canal boat holiday.  From enjoying sweeping views across verdant countryside to admiring the incredible feats of historic engineering many of them represent. As your narrowboat crosses an aqueduct and you calmly watch the world passing below, you’ll feel transported in body and mind.

Here, to help you plan your next narrowboat holiday, we’ve listed the most impressive canal aqueducts to look out for in England and Wales:

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Arguably the most awe-inspiring of any aqueduct in England and Wales, the Pontcysyllte carries the Llangollen canal a jaw-dropping 126-ft above the River Dee. It offers traversing canal boats and towpath walkers sweeping views along the stunning river valley in each direction. Located at Trevor in North Wales, the Grade I* listed aqueduct achieved World Heritage status in 2009.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Trevor

Dundas Aqueduct

Situated on a stunning stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Bradford-upon-Avon, this beautiful stone structure was completed in 1810 by John Rennie. It carries narrowboats across the River Avon as well as Brunel’s Great Western Railway and is now designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Monkton Combe

Barton Swing Aqueduct

The first and only swing aqueduct in the world carries the Bridgewater Canal across the much larger Manchester Ship Canal. Now a Grade II* listed building, this feat of Victorian civil engineering opened in 1893 consisting of a channel that can be sealed off at each end to form a 235-feet long and 18 feet wide tank. Holding 800 tons of water, it swings on a pivot on an island in the middle of the Ship Canal.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Bunbury

Marple Aqueduct

The highest canal aqueduct in England, this incredible triple arched structure carries the Peak Forest Canal 90-feet above the River Goyt near Marple. Designed by Benjamin Outram and opened in 1800, the Grade I listed construction and ancient monument which sits at the bottom of one of the steepest lock flights in Britain, comprising 16 locks.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Bunbury

Dowley Gap Aqueduct

Also known as the Seven Arches Aqueduct, this beautiful Grade II edifice takes the Leeds & Liverpool Canal across the River Aire, between Saltaire and Bingley. Designed by the famous engineer James Brindley, the 245-year-old aqueduct runs for 131 yards over seven stone arches, as its second name suggests.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Silsden

Engine Arm Aqueduct

Built in 1825 by engineer Thomas Telford, this 52-ft long elegant cast-iron structure carries the Engine Arm Canal across the Birmingham Canal Navigation (BCN) New Main Line near Smethwick. The aqueduct was designed to transfer water from Edgbaston Reservoir to ensure the West Midland canal network was topped up.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Tardebigge

Chirk Aqueduct

This 70-ft high aqueduct, built between 1796 and 1801 by Thomas Telford and William Jessop carries the Llangollen Canal across the luscious Ceiriog Valley straddling England and Wales. Despite its scale and beauty with 10 masonry arches, the Chirk Aqueduct is often overshadowed by its near neighbor the Pontcysyllte but is included within the World Heritage Site which stretches from Chirk to the Horseshoe Falls in Llangollen itself.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Trevor

Cosgrove Aqueduct

This cast iron aqueduct built in 1811 carries the Grand Union Canal 40-ft above the idyllic River Great Ouse at Cosgrove. Originally known as the Iron Trunk, the aqueduct was built in iron to replace a previous stone aqueduct that had failed.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Oxford or Stockton

Edstone Aqueduct

The longest cast iron aqueduct in England, the Edstone is one of three aqueducts on a four mile stretch of the Stratford-upon-Avon canal in Warwickshire. Stretching for 475-ft, the Edstone crosses a road, a busy railway line and the track of another former railway near Bearley. Opened in 1816, the aqueduct is notable for the fact its towpath is at the level of the canal bottom so walkers crossing it can watch the narrowboats motor past at waist height.

Nearest Anglo Welsh base: Wootton Wawen

If you would like further advice on the best routes for a canal boat holiday to take in some of these aqueducts and other marvels of our canal network, please call us on 0117 304 1122.

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Be Inspired

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

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So why choose Anglo Welsh?

Over 55 years providing unique canal boat holidays in England and Wales.
Modern and spacious narrowboat and wide beam barge hire – from 2 to 12 berths.
Wide choice of narrowboat hire locations and canal boat holiday destinations.
Canal boat holiday routes for novices & experienced boaters.
Flexible holiday booking, no hidden costs.
Family friendly and pet friendly holidays.
Great days out on the water.
Luxury canal boat hire and Thames boating holidays.

Anglo Welsh. So much more than narrowboats

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

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