Cruising rings are great because they take in a wide variety of landscapes, and bring you back to your narrowboat hire base without having to travel the same way twice.
Some are seriously challenging, with steep flights of locks and long dark tunnels to negotiate. Others are easier and more suitable for boating beginners.
All offer a wonderful summer holiday adventure and the chance to explore some of Britain’s best loved countryside, as well as vibrant city centres, from your very own floating holiday home.
Here’s a guide to our top eight narrowboat holiday summer circuits to explore:
1. The Black Country Ring
Setting off from our canal boat rental base at Great Haywood or Tardebigge, the Black Country Ring can be done in a week. You’ll cruise sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals. Highlights include: Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin; the 21 locks at Wolverhampton; and the peaceful 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.
2. The Four Counties Ring
Departing from our bases at Great Haywood, Bunbury or Whixall, this popular circuit can be completed on a 10-day or two-week break. It takes you through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire. Highlights include: the 2670-metre long Harecastle Tunnel; the 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 will travel 110 miles, 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.
3. The Cheshire Ring
From our Bunbury base, you can complete the Cheshire Ring on a 10-day or two-week break. The journey will take you right through the heart of Manchester and into the Peak District via the Ashton, Macclesfield, Peak Forest, Rochdale, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals. Highlights along the way include: the incredible Anderton Boat Lift; stunning 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 takes around 86 hours.
4. The Stourport Ring
Navigating from Tardebigge, the Stourport Ring can be completed in a week. The route takes in sections of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire, Worcester & Birmingham, Birmingham Main Line and Stourbridge canals. It also travels a short section of the beautiful River Severn, Britain’s longest river. Highlights include: cruising through central Birmingham; Kinver with its National Trust rock houses; the City of Worcester with its magnificent cathedral; and the dramatic flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge, the longest in the country. To complete the Stourport Ring from Tardebigge, you will travel 84 miles and pass through 118 locks in around 52 hours.
5. The Warwickshire Ring
Setting off from Stockton, you can complete the Warwickshire Ring in a week. You’ll travel along sections of the Grand Union, Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham & Fazeley canals. Highlights include: the flight of 11 locks into Atherstone; the pretty canal village of Braunston; the awesome flight of 21 locks at Hatton; and Warwick Castle. To complete the Warwickshire Ring from Stockton, you will travel 104 miles and pass through 94 locks in around 53 hours.
6. The Birmingham Mini-Ring
With more canals than Venice, exploring the Birmingham area by boat is one of the best ways to experience Britain’s vibrant second city. You can complete the Birmingham Mini-Ring on a four-night short break from Tardebigge. The route takes in sections of the Worcester & Birmingham, Birmingham Main Line and Grand Union canals. Highlights include: 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.
7. The Avon Ring
You can complete this epic circuit on a two week break from Tardebigge or Wootton Wawen. The journey navigates sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Highlights include: Shakespeare’s Stratford; the River Avon with its panoramic views; the charming historic town of Evesham; the Cotswold medieval town of Tewskesbury; the City of Worcester with its magnificent 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.
8. The East Midlands Ring
On a two week break from Stockton you can complete the East Midlands Ring, also known as the Leicester Ring. You’ll travel sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Coventry, Oxford, Trent & Mersey and Grand Union canals, as well as the rivers Soar and Trent. Highlights include: Saddlington Tunnel; the Foxton Staircase; the pretty 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.
The nation’s network of inland waterways have become an important place for biodiversity.
Canal boat holidays are like floating safaris, giving you the chance to spot a wide range of wildlife, including ducks, swans, herons, moorhens, coots, dragonflies, damselflies, bats, kingfishers, otters, water voles and many types of woodland birds.
To celebrate the biodiversity of the waterways, we’ve put together a list of our Top 10 places to spot wildlife on a canal boat holiday:
1. Look out for kingfishers on the Ashby Canal
On a week’s break from our narrowboat hire base at Stockton, you can cruise along the wildlife-rich Ashby Canal. Winding peacefully through the countryside for almost the whole of its 22-mile length, the Ashby Canal is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) from Snarestone to Carlton Bridge. Wildlife to look out for includes: freshwater mussels, rare native white-clawed crayfish, water shrew, herons and kingfishers. It takes around 22 cruising hours to reach Ashby from Stockton, passing through seven locks along the way.
2. Cruise along the Llangollen Canal to see herons at the Mere
On a short break from Trevor, you can cruise to the medieval market town of Ellesmere, home to the Mere. Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with cameras allowing visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks. The journey to Ellesmere takes around seven hours, passes through two locks and crosses the UNESCO World Heritage status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
3. Go otter spotting on the Montgomery Canal
On a week’s break from Whixall Marina, you can cruise a seven-mile section of the Montgomery Canal to Gronwyn Wharf. Stretching 38 miles between England and Wales, the Montgomery Canal is designated a SSSI on both sides of the border. Look out for water birds, dragon flies, damselflies, green woodpeckers, peregrines, and if you are lucky you may spot an otter too. Over recent years, thanks to dedicated conservation efforts, otter populations are showing healthy signs of growth. They are timid and not often seen by humans, but they can be spotted hunting prey in quiet stretches of canal. From Whixall, the journey to Gronwyn Wharf takes around 10 hours, passing through eight locks along the way.
4. Listen out for the sound of song thrushes on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Crofton
On a week’s holiday from Monkton Combe, you can cruise along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Crofton. This beautiful stretch of waterway in Wiltshire, offers the chance to spot swans, ducks and moorhens on the water and to listen out for the sound of song thrushes. Living up to its common name, the song thrush has a loud song with repeating phrases. Crofton is also a place of history, as the Crofton Pumping Station there houses the world’s oldest working beam engines. It takes around 20 hours to cruise to Crofton, passing through 41 locks along the way, including the Caen Hill flight of 29 locks at Devizes.
5. Hear cuckoos calling on the River Thames at Abingdon
On a short break from our Oxford base, you can take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon and listen for cuckoos calling from riverside meadows and woods at Abingdon. Considered to be an early sign of spring, cuckoos arrive from Africa in late March and April to spend the summer here. The song of the cuckoo sounds the same as its name: ‘cuck-oo’. The journey to Abingdon takes around five hours, passing through six locks.
6. See bats flying across the water atFradley Pool Nature Reserve
On a short break from Great Haywood, you can cruise to Fradley Junction, home of the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve. There are walking trails and sculpture trails at Fradley. Look out for water birds, terrapins basking in the sunshine and bats flying across the water if you are there at dusk in the spring and summer time. From Great Haywood, it takes around five hours to reach Fradley on the Trent & Mersey Canal, passing through five locks along the way.
7. See grey wagtails on the Grand Union Canal at Hatton
On a short break from Wootton Wawen, you can reach the bottom of flight of the 21 lock Hatton flight in the Warwickshire countryside. As well as ducks, moorhens and swans, you might see house sparrows and grey wagtails at the water’s edge. Grey wagtails have a long, black-and-white tail, a yellow rump and a yellow belly. They eat ants and midges that they find beside rivers and canals, and snails and tadpoles they find in shallow water. From Wootton Wawen, it takes around eight hours to reach the Hatton flight on the Grand Union Canal, passing through 17 locks along the way.
8. See and hear woodland birds on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple
On a 10-day or two-week break from Bunbury, you can complete the Cheshire Ring, which includes the flight of 16 locks on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple. Here you’ll be surrounded by beautiful countryside and stretches of ancient woodland – home to many types of woodland bird, including robins, jays and great tits. You can also enjoy fantastic views across the Peak District from here. From Bunbury, the Cheshire Ring takes around 60 hours, passing through 102 locks.
9. Watch out for water voles on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Caen Hill
On a short break from Bath, you can reach the base of the Caen Hill flight, where water voles have been spotted in the side pounds. Best known as ‘Ratty’ from ‘Wind in the Willows’, sadly the water vole is now one of our most endangered species. They burrow into steep waterside banks to form a complicated system of tunnels. Look out for closely grazed ‘lawn’ areas with neat piles of chopped grass, which are often seen around burrow entrances. From Bath, it takes around 10-and-a-half hours to reach Caen Hill, passing through eight locks along the way.
10. See hundreds of water birds at Bittell Reservoirs on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal
On a short break from Tardebigge you can reach the reservoirs at Bittell, built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Today the area is a SSSI and home to over 200 species of water bird. These include: wintering wading birds and waterfowl; breeding birds such as the great crested grebe; little ringed-plover; and grasshopper warbler. Rare silt shoreline plants such as slender spike rush and mudwort can be found here, along with the rare mud snail and five different species of dragonfly. It takes just two hours to reach the Bittell Arm from Tardebigge.
Spring is a fantastic time to take a narrowboat holiday on Britain’s beautiful inland waterways, when the countryside is bursting with new life.
With blossoming waterside trees and hedges, busy nest-building birds, ducklings bobbing on the water, spring lambs playing in the fields, and carpets of bluebells in waterside woodlands, there’s so much to look out for on a Spring adventure afloat.
To celebrate Spring and the wildlife that makes its home on our canals and rivers, we’ve put together our Top 10 Spring canal boat holiday destinations for 2023:
1. Drift through the beautiful prehistoric Vale of Pewsey
On a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Monkton Coombe you can cruise through the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You’ll travel along the Kennet & Avon Canal passing through miles of peaceful Wiltshire countryside, and a series of villages and country pubs along the way. You’ll travel up the mighty Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks at Devizes and along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest and then on through the Vale of Pewsey. The journey to Pewsey and back takes around 38 hours, passing through 74 locks (37 each way).
2. Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales to explore Skipton Castle Woods
From our barge holiday hire base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal it takes just over three hours to reach Skipton, the ‘Gateway to the Dales’. Here, Skipton Castle Woods with acres of woodlands trails, is a great place to explore in the Spring. For nearly a thousand years the woods provided fuel, food and building materials for castle inhabitants. Today there are at least 18 species of trees flourishing there, and hundreds of flowering plants, including wild orchids and bluebells in the Spring. The journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Silsden passes through the typical Yorkshire stone built villages of Kildwick and Farnhill. And on into a dense wooded area famous for its bluebells and deer. The journey to Silsden and back travels 13 miles and takes around seven cruising hours.
3. Travel to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains
On a week-long holiday from our canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire you can reach the pretty town of Llangollen. Along the way, you’ll travel through the beautiful Shropshire Lake District and across the incredible World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Once in Llangollen, you can moor up to enjoy exploring this pretty town nestled on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains. There are regular markets packed with local produce, a choice of independent shops and restaurants, and the famous Horseshoe Falls. The journey to Llangollen and back takes around 24 cruising hours, and passes through just four locks (two each way).
4. Wend your way to Fradley Pool Nature Reserve
On a short break from our base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood near Stafford, you can reach Fradley Pool Nature Reserve. Fradley Pool is home to a variety of water birds and it’s a great place to spot bats swooping across the water at dusk. There are walking trails, sculpture trails, places to picnic and a choice of places to eat and drink, including the historic Swan Inn. The journey to Fradley and back travels 24 miles, passes through 10 locks (five each way) and takes around 12 hours.
5. Navigate the Four Counties Ring for stunning views of the Cheshire Plains
On a week or 10-day break from our narrowboat rental base at Bunbury you can cruise the popular Four Counties Ring through some of England’s best loved countryside. The route takes you through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire. It cruises sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals. There panoramic views to enjoy from the flight of 31 locks between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal. And stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal. From Bunbury, completing the Four Counties Ring takes around 58 cruising hours and passes through 96 locks.
6. Take part in #BlossomWatch at Packwood House
On a short break from our Tardebigge base near Bromsgrove, you can cruise to the village of Lapworth, home of the National Trust’s Packwood House. The route takes you through the Worcestershire countryside along the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal to Kings Norton Junction. There you can transfer onto the Stratford Canal to reach the village of Lapworth. At Packwood House every Spring blossom spreads across the garden and parkland, including on the cherry and apple trees in the orchard. The National Trust’s #BlossomWatch invites visitors to share pictures of spring blossom on social media. The journey to Lapworth and back takes around 14 hours.
7. Enjoy bird spotting at Ellesmere in the heart of Shropshire Lake District
From our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, on a short break you can reach the medieval market town of Ellesmere. Along the way, you’ll cross over the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, 38 metres high above the Dee Valley. The Mere at Ellesmere is a large lake packed with wildlife. There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground. You can spot many of types of birds, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins and ringed plovers. There are also wading birds such as curlew, greenshank, godwit and whimbrel, as well as herons using the heronry on Moscow Island. The journey to Ellesmere and back takes around 14 hours and passes through four locks (two each way).
8. Cruise along the River Thames past riverside woodlands and meadows
On a short break from our Oxford base, you can enjoy a Thames boating holiday to the historic market town of Abingdon. Along the way, you’ll cruise through the outskirts of the ancient City of Oxford. Then on through beautiful stretches of Oxfordshire countryside, with lush riverside meadows and the chance to hear cuckoos calling. There are also riverside woodlands with carpets of bluebells to look out for. Once moored up at Abingdon, you can enjoy exploring riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular waterside Nag’s Head. The journey to Abingdon and back takes around 10 hours, passing through 12 locks (six each way).
9. Travel through the Northamptonshire countryside to Stoke Bruerne
On a mid-week or week-long break from our base at Stockton, you can cruise to the pretty Northamptonshire village of Stoke Bruerne. The journey along the Grand Union Canal takes you gently through the countryside and the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel. You can moor up in Stoke Bruerne to enjoy a choice of canalside pubs and browsing the intriguing waterway history collections at the Canal Museum. And there’s a wonderful woodland walk and sculpture trail alongside the canal to explore, with the chance to spot a wide variety of woodland birds. The journey to Stoke Bruerne and back takes around 25 hours and passes through 34 locks (17 each way).
10. Navigate the Avon Ring through some of England’s best loved countryside
On a 10-day break from Wootton Wawen, you can complete the Avon Ring. This 109-mile circuit travels through some of the most beautiful countryside in England. You’ll first travel along the pretty Stratford Canal to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Here you can transfer onto the River Avon to begin cruising through idyllic countryside, to Evesham and Tewkesbury, with panoramic views of Warwickshire and the Cotswolds beyond. At Tewkesbury you’ll lock onto the River Severn, and later transfer onto the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal at Diglis. Completing the Avon Ring from Wootton Wawen takes around 58 hours and passes through 131 locks.
We offer a range of different types of holidays such as City Breaks, Relaxation Cruises and Popular Destinations
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.
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