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An extraordinary narrowboat hire season

From the doldrums of lockdown to the busiest summer on record, Matt Lucas-Stern looks back on the 2020 narrowboat holiday season at Wootton Wawen.

“The coronavirus pandemic has bought dramatic changes to our lives, particularly for those of us involved in the world of travel and hospitality.

When the main 2020 boating season got underway at the beginning of March, even though we knew that Covid-19 was devastating communities elsewhere in China and parts of Europe, we still didn’t have any idea how much it was going to affect our lives.

Here at Wootton Wawen, we were focussing on getting all our boats in tip top shape ready for the main boating season, and making plans to hold an open day to show off our newly painted day boats. When Boris announced a national lockdown on that unforgettable evening on 23 March, everything changed and our boats were suddenly grounded until further notice.

At first we focused on enjoying watching the waterway burst into life as a particularly sunny and warm Spring progressed. As for many people, the peace and quiet of lockdown gave us the chance for reflection, family time and to connect to nature.

But as the weeks went by, we worried more and more about what the future would hold for our industry and when our holidays would be able to resume.

Then on the 20th of June, we received the fantastic news that domestic holidays could resume on the 4th of July. We needed to get our team back from furlough and put in all the necessary measures to ensure our holidays were safe.

We put in new social distancing measures at our boat yards, introduced extra cleaning regimes and we made a video showing people all the facilities on board our boats and how to operate them, to give holiday-makers extra information in advance of their boat handover.

It was a busy and exciting time, both for everyone working at the boat yards, and for our bookings team who were inundated with calls and emails from people wanting to book their canal boat holiday. Many of them were newcomers who had often thought about taking a canal boat holiday, but never quite got around to it before. They realised how perfect our staycation holidays are – offering the chance to escape into the countryside aboard a self-contained, self-catering floating holiday home!

The next two months were full on. For the first time ever, literally all our boats were booked out for the six week summer holiday peak. The first few weeks of July were a bit strange as everyone got used to the news ways of working and just being around people again. But we soon got everything working like clockwork and before long, it became the new normal.

With canal boat holidays, people usually turn up to the boat yard a bit stressed and anxious to get their holiday underway. But by the time they return, the slow time of the canals makes people much calmer and more relaxed.

It was great to see the smiling faces of families returning from their holidays, with kids telling us about some of their experiences. We had a 13-year-old lad who was really keen on narrowboating and ended up working all 113 locks by himself on his family holiday to Stratford on Avon and Warwick. He proudly told the staff about his achievements when they got back at Wootton, and has decided he is definitely coming again next year! He’s even bought his own windlass.

Another really enthusiastic group of newcomers to the world of narrowboating made friends with our boat yard team, and even took a hand painted dipper from my boatman’s cabin to hang over their fireplace to remind them of their boating adventures!

Going into the autumn, particularly in September and over the October Half Term, we were still extremely busy with most of our boats booked out by people taking advantage of the mild weather, and the chance to see the changing colours of the autumn leaves on the trees that line our waterways.
Now it’s November, and sadly another lockdown has just been announced. Here at Wootton Wawen we stay open all year round for winter cruising, so we hope our boats can get back out again in December.

In the meantime, here at Anglo Welsh we are all extremely grateful to the vast majority of our customers who have been prepared to postpone their holidays with us, rather than cancel. We are glad that our holidays were able to resume and have been more popular than ever, helping to support other businesses like canalside pubs and village shops.

As we continue to live with the coronavirus and the changes it has made to our lives, the future remains uncertain. But spending time by the water always somehow makes things feel better, watching nature peacefully continue to change with the seasons.”

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Top 10 cruises through the country side

By Emma Lovell, Anglo Welsh’s Reservations Manager

Britain’s 3,000-mile network of inland waterways, which winds its way through thousands of miles of beautiful countryside, offers a great way to relax and connect with nature.

Research shows people feel happier by water and towpaths provide great places to exercise, so a canal boat holiday can help boost your physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Whether it’s the rolling Cheshire Plains of the Shropshire Union, the dramatic Welsh mountains on the Llangollen or the prehistoric chalk landscapes of the Kennet & Avon Canal, from your floating holiday home you can enjoy cruising through a wide variety of landscapes.

Here are our top 10 Cruises through the countryside for 2020:

1. Navigate through the Forest of Arden to Hatton & back – from our narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen, on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it takes around eight hours, travelling through 17 locks to reach the base of the Hatton Flight of Locks. The journey takes you along the Stratford Canal through farmland and the remains of the Forest of Arden to Kingswood Junction. Once there, the route transfers onto the Grand Union Canal and passes through Shrewley Tunnel before reaching the base of the Flight of 21 locks at Hatton.

2. Cruise into the Peak District spotting kingfishers along the way – on a week’s break from our barge hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can reach the beautiful Caldon Canal and travel into the Peak District. The journey first takes you up to Stoke on Trent and, once on the Caldon, through gently rolling hills and wooded valley of the beautiful River Churnet, with the chance to spot kingfishers, herons, woodpeckers and otters. The journey from Great Haywood to Froghall and back takes around 43 hours, travelling a total of 72 miles and passing through 70 locks.

3. Take a Thames boating holiday to Lechlade, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – from our narrowboat rental base on the River Thames at Oxford, it’s a tranquil nine-hour, seven-lock cruise west to the pretty market town of Lechlade, situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the edge of the Cotswolds. Along the way, you’ll travel through miles of peaceful Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire countryside, passing the village of Radcot with its 800-year old bridge across the Thames, and Kelmscott Manor, once the Cotswold retreat of William Morris. This journey is perfect for a four night mid-week or seven day holiday.

4. Travel round the Stourport Ring through idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside – on a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, you can travel round the Stourport Ring. This popular circuit takes boaters on an 84-mile, 114-lock journey, in around 44 cruising hours. Much of the route is rural, cruising sections of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Worcester & Birmingham Canal Navigation, River Severn, Birmingham Canal Main Line and Stourbridge canals. Highlights include: Kinver Edge with its extensive woodlands and National Trust Holy Austin Rock Houses; idyllic stretches of Worcestershire countryside along the River Severn; and the dramatic flight of 30 locks at Tardebigge, climbing two-and-a-quarter miles with spectacular views of the open countryside all around.

5. Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales and explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle – from our canal boat hire base at Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, it takes just over three hours to reach Skipton, the ‘Gateway to the Dales’, with its medieval fortress and acres of woodland trails to explore. 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.

6. Float through the Avon Valley to Caen Hill and back – on a short break from our canal boat rental base at Bath on the Kennet & Avon Canal, it takes around 10½ hours to reach Foxhangers Wharf, at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight of Locks at Devizes, perfect for a three or four night short break. Along the way, you’ll pass through 16 locks (eight each way), over two dramatic Bath stone aqueducts at Dundas and Avoncliff, through Bradford on Avon with a good choice of shops, and miles of peaceful countryside.

7. Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to Nantwich and back – from our canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, it takes around 13 hours, passing through 19 locks, to reach the historic town of Nantwich. Along the way, the route will transfer onto the Shropshire Union Canal at Barbridge, travelling through the Shropshire and Cheshire countryside. At Nantwich, you’ll travel across the impressive Grade II* listed Nantwich Aqueduct, designed by the famous canal engineer Thomas Telford, to enjoy panoramic views across the town.

8. Navigate the Four Counties Ring for stunning views of the Cheshire Plains – on a week’s break from our canal boat rental base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, you can travel round the popular Four Counties Ring, one of the most rural canal cruising circuits. Travelling for around 58 hours and passing through 96 locks, this route takes canal boat holiday-makers through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and travels sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals. Highlights include: panoramic views from the flight of 31 locks between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal; stunning views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal; acres of farmland on the Middlewich Branch; and wildlife spotting at Tixall Wide on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.

9. Cruise to the Shropshire Lake District – from our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales, on a short break (three or four nights) you can cruise to the Shropshire Lake District, teeming with water birds and other wildlife. The journey to the medieval market town of Ellesmere, in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District, takes around seven hours, passing through just two locks and over two magnificent aqueducts, including the famous UNESCO World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This Wonder of the Waterways, carries the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the Dee valley, with magnificent views of the valley and Welsh Mountains beyond.

10. Travel through the Northamptonshire countryside to Stoke Bruerne – on a mid-week (four night) break from our canal boat hire base at Stockton, on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can cruise to the pretty Northamptonshire village of Stoke Bruerne and back. The journey takes around 12 hours, travelling 28 mostly rural miles and passes through 16 locks, as well as through the 2,813-metre long Blisworth Tunnel.

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The health benefits of narrowboating

A canal boat holiday is not only huge fun – it is also great for your health.

With so many of us now working desk based jobs in which we are often sedentary for several hours a day in an air conditioned office, a canal holiday is a chance to get outside and get active.

Rather than lying immobile, sweating on a sun lounger all day while knocking back cocktails, a narrowboat cruise offers a health enhancing, rejuvenating way to take a break. As part of a narrowboat crew during your holiday, you will need to help work the locks and bridges, steer and moor up.

The canals provide thousands of miles of beautiful walking, running, cycling, canoeing, kayaking and cruising routes. They essentially offer an amazing, free outdoor gym that stretches the length and breadth of the country.

A canal boat holiday takes you away from the rush of your everyday existence and encourages a steadier, more mindful way of living as you drift past mile upon mile of beautiful countryside – in this way it is as nourishing for your mind as your body.

 

 

Here are just some of the health benefits of a canal boat holiday:

 

Cardiovascular fitness

There are countless activities to enjoy during a canal boat holiday which will get your pulse rate up. Whether you enjoy running, cycling or perhaps a pleasant walk, all these forms of aerobic exercise will boost your fitness bringing huge benefits to your heart and lungs, which in turn improve your overall health.

The fitter you are, the more efficient your body becomes at absorbing and transporting oxygen to all your cells. Aerobic exercise helps increase the number of blood vessels in your lungs, assisting your ability to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, increases the strength of your heart, increases the number of blood vessels supplying your muscles and increases the number of mitochondria, the energy factories in your cells.

This reduces blood pressure, lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and heart attacks, lowers your heart rate, burns body fat, increases bone mass and boosts your immune system.

So forget the gym – come and enjoy some exercise on the canals.

 

Strength building

A canal boat holiday can offer just as good a strength work out as lifting irons in the gym – certainly when it comes to opening and closing the locks and bridges. These big heavy lever systems will test your muscles, particularly if you are climbing or descending a lock ladder requiring repeated opening and closing of the thick wooden lock gates.

Don’t let this put you off as with two people pushing the lock gates, you can make lighter work of it! But it offers great strength training which helps build lean muscle mass – something that often diminishes with age. By building the muscles, strength training also strengthens your bones, improves your balance, coordination and posture, helps burn fat, reduce blood pressure and boost heart health.

 

Stress relief

Stress has become an epidemic in the UK today and is very damaging to our mental and physical health. A canal boat holiday is a chance to disconnect from your many day to day pressures and live in the moment.

The leisurely nature of canal boat holidays – narrowboats’ maximum speed is 3mph, a healthy walking pace – is very effective in forcing people to mentally slow down. The changing nature of the scenery and need to focus on steering the boat and working the canals means it is a mindful activity which focuses attention on the present, giving people a break from thinking about work or other responsibilities.

Studies have shown that being among nature reduces levels of cortisol, the key stress hormone. It makes sense, we have evolved to be among nature so escaping the frantic urban environment and returning to our more natural habitat is good for us. The canals of England and Wales will take you on a tranquil journey through miles of unspoilt countryside teeming with wildlife, enabling your mind to quietly take in the green surroundings and let any stress slowly ebb away. Since stress has many knock on effects on other aspects of health, this can lead to further benefits such as lowering bad cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and regulating blood sugar.

 

Mood boosting 

Holidays tend to put us in a good mood initially but if they have involved too much lying around, eating and drinking, they can leave us feeling low and drained by the time we return to work.

A canal boat holiday however, can leave you feeling energised and positive in a longer term, more sustainable way that should see you return to work with a smile. This is because it is a naturally healthy holiday that boosts wellbeing and thus mood.

Exercise in all forms triggers the release of endorphins – your body’s natural feel good chemicals – while being among nature has also been shown to lift our mood. Then there is the natural release of stress and tension that a canal boat holiday encourages.

Lastly, a canal boat holiday involves an element of learning as our team teaches you the rudiments of how to control, steer and moor a narrowboat as well as the rules and etiquette of the canals – the ‘Waterway Code’. Research has shown that learning new skills improves mental wellbeing by boosting confidence and self-esteem, offering a sense of purpose and helping connect you with others. Continual learning throughout life also helps keep the brain sharp as like a muscle, it needs to be worked to stay fit.

All this combined means that canal boat holidays are a wonderfully enjoyable way to do something good for yourself. As many lifestyle related chronic health problems are on the rise, there has never been a better time to take a healthy holiday. So, if you haven’t already tried it, make 2020 the year you experience the joy of a canal boat holiday and come back glowing with health and happiness.

 

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Top 10 Waterway Wildlife Hotspots

Our beautiful network of inland waterways were once the transport arteries of the Industrial Revolution, but today they have become green corridors and provide homes for hundreds of species of animals.

When enjoying your canal boat holiday, whether you are cruising through the countryside or waterside towns and cities, you can spot anything from ducks, moorhens and dragonflies, to kingfishers, otters and water voles.

Many areas of our canals and rivers have been designated as important nature sites, recognising the valuable habitats they provide.  To celebrate the wildlife of the waterways, we’ve put together a list of our Top 10 waterside wildlife hotspots:

  1. Chimney Meadows, Oxfordshire – the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s largest nature reserve in Oxfordshire runs alongside the River Thames, close to Shifford Lock. This vital refuge for wading birds has walking trails, bird hides and a picnic area.  Part of an ancient landscape created by the River Thames and shaped by centuries of farming, these remote and tranquil wildflower meadows have a remarkable diversity of plant-life and are home to nationally declining wading birds such as curlew.  When visiting, you can also look and listen out for cuckoos, barn owls, lapwing, fieldfare, redwing, snipe, brown hares, water voles and otters. Travelling from our Oxford canal boat rental base on the River Thames at Eynsham, you can take a Thames boating holiday and reach Chimney Meadows in just under four hours, cruising for 10 miles and passing through two locks.
  2. Hatton Locks, Warwickshire – this stunning flight of 21 locks in the Warwickshire countryside offers a great place to watch out for wildlife. As well as ducks, moorhens and swans, you might see house sparrows and grey wagtails at the water’s edge, and on a warm day, grass snakes and slow worms.  Setting off from our canal boat rental base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, you can reach the bottom of the Hatton Flight in around eight hours, passing through 17 locks along the way.
  3. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve, Staffordshire – at Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal, the picturesque Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is a great place for a family day out. There are walking trails, sculpture trails, places to picnic, as well as a choice places to eat and drink.  Look out for ducks and swans, as well as terrapins basking in the sunshine and bats if you are there at dusk.  Heading south from our canal boat hire base at Great Haywood, you can reach Fradley Junction in around five hours, cruising along 12 peaceful miles of the Trent & Mersey Canal and passing through just five locks.
  4. Ellesmere, Shropshire – the pretty market town of Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire is located right next to The Mere, a large lake packed with wildlife. There are woodland walks, places to eat, drink and picnic, a sculpture trail and adventure playground.  Keep an eye out for many of types of birds, including kingfishers, yellow hammers, tree sparrows, lapwing, sand martins and ringed plovers.  Watch out for wading birds like curlew, greenshank, godwit and whimbrel, as well as herons using the heronry on Moscow Island.  Setting off from our narrowboat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor, you can reach Ellesmere in around seven hours, passing through just two locks along the way.  And from our new canal boat rental base at Whixall, Ellesmere is just three-and-a-half hours away by boat.
  5. Caen Hill Locks, Wiltshire – the flight of 29 locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire, includes the spectacular run of 16 locks falling in a straight line up Caen Hill. Travelling from our canal boat hire base at Brassknocker Basin near Bath, it takes around 10 hours, passing through eight locks to reach the bottom of the Caen Hill flight.  Along the way, look out for kingfishers, mute swans, coots, moorhens and herons.  Once at Caen Hill, the newly planted Jubilee Woodland is already providing excellent habitat for birds, water voles have been spotted in the Caen Hill side pounds, along with otters and the rare chaser dragonfly.
  6. Marple Locks, Derbyshire – the flight of 16 locks on the Peak Forest Canal at Marple are surrounded by beautiful countryside and stretches of ancient woodland – home to many types of woodland bird. You can also enjoy fantastic views across the Peak District from here.  From our narrowboat hire base on the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury, boaters can reach the bottom of the Marple Flight in around four days, travelling 68 miles and passing through 36 locks.  The Marple Flight is on the spectacular Four Counties Ring, which takes around 58 hours cruise if you set off from Bunbury, or 55 hours from Great Haywood.
  7. Prees Branch Canal, Shropshire – This tranquil arm of the Llangollen Canal provides a haven for waterway wildlife, including water plants, dragonflies, damselflies, birds and water voles. Our new canal boat rental base at Whixall Marina is on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal and next to the Whixall Moss Nature Reserve, a large wetland site which is home to a range of wading birds, rare plants, butterflies and dragonflies.  From Whixall, you can travel to Ellesmere on a short break (three or four nights) or Llangollen on a week’s narrowboat holiday, passing over the magnificent World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct along the way.
  8. Consall Forge, Staffordshire – on the beautiful Caldon Canal in the Churnet Valley, next to Consall Nature Park, Consall Forge is a great place to spot wildlife, including water birds, woodland birds and birds of prey. You can moor up to explore the nature trails here and choose from a variety of places to eat, drink, including the popular canalside Black Lion Inn.  From our canal boat rental base at Great Haywood, you can reach Consall Forge in around 20 hours, travelling 33 miles through beautiful countryside, and passing through 34 locks – perfect for a week’s holiday afloat.
  9. Bittell Reservoir, Worcestershire – Built to supply water for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, today Bittell Reservoir is a SSSI and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Over 200 species of water bird have been recorded here, including 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. The Bittell Arm and Lower Reservoir can be reached in just under two hours from our canal boat hire base on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge.
  10. Bingley, West Yorkshire – the fields either side of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Bingley are full of wildflowers, including Arum Lily, Yellow Flag Iris and Cuckooflower, and the canal itself is home to dragonflies, damselflies, and many water birds. Setting off from our narrowboat hire base on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Silsden, you can reach the Bingley Five Rise Lock Staircase, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, in just over three hours.

 

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Wellness by the waterways

The relaxing power of time spent by the water

Since ancient times people have assigned healing properties to water and many recent studies have concluded that time spent by water makes people feel happier and more relaxed.

Water makes up 70 per cent of the human body and around 70 per cent of the Earth, so perhaps it’s not surprising we are drawn to it.  In his book ‘Blue Mind’, marine biologist Walter J Nicholls describes the immeasurable sense of peace we feel around water as our “blue mind”, saying “when we are by the water it…cuts us off from the rattle and hum of modern society.”

Last year, The Canal & River Trust, the charity that cares for our 2,000 mile network of canals and rivers, published research that shows spending time by the waterways can make you happier and improve your life satisfaction.  And the report shows that the associated benefits of visiting a canal or river increase with the length of visit – with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of anxiety for longer trips.

 

So why not take the chance to escape the hyper-connected, over-stimulated modern day life by taking a relaxing break on the canals.

 

We’ve put together our Top 5 reasons why a canal boat holiday can help you relax and unwind:

 

  1. Escape to the country – there are over 4,000 miles of navigable canals and rivers to explore in Britain, many of them passing through tranquil unspoilt countryside, so a canal boat holiday is a great way to escape from urban living
  2. Connect with nature – Our inland waterways are havens for wildlife, providing homes for many types of birds, plants, animals and insects, so it’s a great way to connect with nature
  3. Slow down – the speed limit on the waterways is just four miles per hour, so you’ll immediately switch into a much more slower pace of life
  4. Bring your pets – interacting with animals is said to reduce anxiety and we welcome one or two pets on all our boats, so you can bring your furry friends along for an extra stress busting boost
  5. Enjoy an outdoor workout – exercise also helps to reduce stress, and with locks to open and close, towpaths to walk, local attractions to explore and plenty of fresh air, a narrowboat holiday can provide an excellent outdoor workout.

 

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Beautiful Spring Cruising Routes

Plan your canal boat holiday for 2019: Beautiful spring cruising routes

 

There is no prettier time of year in Britain than the spring. As the crocuses, primroses and daffodils start to flower and lambs gambol through green fields, this is the perfect time to hop aboard a narrowboat for a relaxing canal holiday.

The best spring canal routes are the ones which showcase the loveliness of the British countryside.

The canals of England and Wales are at their most scenic and serene at this magical time of year when there is far less traffic on our historic waterways than in the peak summer holiday season. Those who opt for a spring narrowboat holiday will face far less queuing at locks or waiting patiently at one-way stretches and enjoy the ultimate escape.

So, take advantage of the lengthening days and warmer weather during this tranquil season to plan your perfect narrowboat holiday.

To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most beautiful spring cruising routes on the canals of England and Wales:

 

 

Bath to Devizes

From our canal boat base in the stunning city of Bath, with its famous Roman Baths and breathtaking Georgian architecture, you will travel through the green and luscious River Avon valley making the tail end of the Cotswold Hills.

Water meadows are bordered by sloping green fields and woodland, which start to come alive with wild flowers, buds and birdsong in the spring.

The scenic journey between Bath and the lovely riverside town of Bradford on Avon takes canal trippers over two impressive limestone aqueducts at Dundas and Avoncliffe as well as some postcard worthy waterside pubs such as the Cross Guns at Avoncliffe.

The canal continues towards Devizes on the edge of the rolling Wiltshire Downs where you must ascend the dramatic Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 16 locks offering great views from the top. The market town of Devizes boasts more than 500 listed buildings as well as some independent shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs.

 

Whixall to Llangollen

new base for Anglo Welsh this year, located on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in the heart of the Shropshire countryside, bordered by mighty oak trees, Whixall is Britain’s most rural marina.

From the newly revamped marina, you can travel easily onto the Llangollen Canal which snakes through the gorgeous border country that straddles England and Wales.

You first pass through the market town of Ellesmere, aptly named for the series of lakes which surround it which were formed by glacial compression at the end of the last Ice Age.

Beyond that, the canal meanders west through luscious surroundings, to reach the Chirk Aqueduct which takes you across the border into north Wales and is quickly followed by the atmospheric 459-yard single width Chirk Tunnel.

Next is arguably the most spectacular sight of all the canals of England and Wales, Thomas Telford’s masterpiece, the soaring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This crowning jewel of historic waterway engineering completed in 1805, spans more than 1000 feet at a tremulous height of 126-ft above the River Dee, offering passing boats sweeping views of the river valley in each direction. It is the highest canal aqueduct in the world.

After this the canal twists and turns clinging to the edge of the dramatic Welsh hills, with far reaching views across the valley, until it reaches the pretty town of Llangollen, steeped in myth and legend overlooked by hilltop ruins of Dinas Bran Castle.

 

Stratford-on-Avon to Warwick

Step back in time and cruise through Shakespeare’s England, taking in the unspoilt Warwickshire countryside and its array of wonderful waterside pubs. From our base at Wootton Wawen you can reach the birthplace of the famed playwright in just a day or two, wander its cobbled streets and admire the cluster of Tudor buildings.

Travel back past the canal base through bucolic farmland, copses of oak and sycamore, quaint villages and past idyllic country pubs. Heading north the Stratford Canal takes boats over the longest aqueduct in England, the Edstone Aqueduct.

You can moor up at the rustic Fleur-de-Lys at Lowsonford which offers passersby a great selection of real ales and pub grub to be enjoyed in its large canalside garden.

Continue through open countryside to join the Grand Union Canal which leads past more idyllic villages and pubs with a ye olde world charm including the Tom O’ The Wood in Rowington. It is then just five miles through the famous ‘Hatton Flight’ of 21 locks on to the centre of Warwick itself, built around its formidable medieval castle.

 

Bunbury to Market Drayton and beyond

The Shropshire Union canal takes narrowboats across miles of quintessentially English countryside, dotted with dozens of isolated canalside pubs which once served the commercial traffic that used this main route between the midlands and north west.

This makes it a particularly scenic and tranquil route to cruise, starting at the Anglo Welsh base in Bunbury and heading south towards Market Drayton.

Due to its rural loveliness ‘the Shroppie’, as it is affectionately known, is a favourite with narrowboaters up and down the country so can get very crowded in the summer making spring the perfect time to explore it.

From Bunbury, you cross the Cheshire Plain, thronging with dairy cattle and sheep enjoying its rich pastures, past historic Nantwich, before ascending the Audlem Flight of locks towards pretty Market Drayton.

Shortly after leaving the town and passing through the deep cutting at Woodseaves, you’ll be treated to a great view of The Wrekin, a huge hill more than 15 miles away.

The canal then proceeds south east through the unspoilt undulating Shropshire countryside of fields, hills and wooded valleys with stretches where there are no towns for miles, towards Wolverhampton.

 

Silsden to Skipton and beyond

One of England’s last surviving wildernesses, the Yorkshire Dales are a treat at any time of year but in the spring their looming hills and river valleys are at their most beautiful.

Heading west out of Silsden, a town dating back to Saxon times, the canal passes through enchanting Yorkshire stone-built villages of Kildwick and Farnhill into a densely wooded area famous for its bluebells which carpet the area in late April. If you’re lucky you may even spot a deer.

Motor on through Bradley, a typical ‘mill village’ with a cricket field and a country pub then to Skipton, known as the ‘Gateway to the Dales’ which boasts a market four days a week. You could then choose to continue through classic Dales countryside, above the River Aire, to reach more delightful villages such as Gargrave and the flight of locks at Bank Newton which are lauded as the most beautiful locks on the whole canal system.

 

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Hooray! Spring is in the air and nature is flourishing around Anglo Welsh canal routes

Spring is always welcome when it finally breaks cover, but following an especially harsh British winter of rain, snow and low temperatures, it’s fair to say most people will greet this year’s first change of season with even more enthusiasm than usual. The nature lovers at Anglo Welsh’s ten narrowboat bases across England and Wales are no different!

Spring is a time when the UK’s waterways and the surrounding countryside are teeming with activity and wildlife. It is a time to step off your narrowboat for a leisurely stroll in a bluebell wood, to relish the cobalt blue mist and the sweet smells, or to enjoy the spectacle of a sea of fresh wild daffodils.

Experiencing a dawn chorus on a picturesque canal is one of life’s great pleasures. Get up at first light to catch the first tentative calls, then, as the sky brightens, more and more birds will join in, building to a mighty crescendo. Later in the day, watch peacock butterflies circle one another in a delicate courtship, all against a background of white blossom and clear blue skies. And then there is the delightful, almost forgotten sensation of warm sun on bare skin.

Spring is certainly a great time to get back out and enjoy the UK’s canal side countryside, whether that means cruising on one of Anglo Welsh’s modern narrowboats, strolling along a towpath, or attending one of the season’s many canal side festivals and shows, among them the Easter Boat Gathering at the National Waterways Museum, Drifters Open Day, Skipton Waterways Festival and the Crick Show.

After a busy winter of maintenance and TLC at Anglo Welsh’s 10 bases, our fleet of 160 modern and spacious narrowboats are all shipshape and ready for another season on the waterways. And spring is a time of year that never fails to inspire Anglo Welsh’s canal-based staff.

As Kev, the Base Manager at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, puts it: “I love spring along the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal because it tells me winter is over and spring brings new beginnings, new growth, new colour and new life.”

Oliver, Fleet Manager at Trevor in North Wales, is equally smitten with the new season. “Spring on the Llangollen canal is magical as the days begin to get longer and warmer and all the wild flowers start to bloom, including our Welsh daffodil. People can also enjoy the view from our narrowboats as they pass fields full of baby animals.”

“One of the pretty spring sights along the Worcester and Birmingham canal are the bluebells on approach to Shortwood Tunnel,” says Sarah, Office Manager at Tardebigge in Worcestershire. “Hearing all the spring bird songs, seeing all the young lambs and all the blossom on the trees are some of my favourite things about being by the canal side in spring.”

So, no more winter coats, no more short days and no more Beasts from the East. Spring is finally here and Anglo Welsh welcomes it with open arms!

To book a holiday or spring break on any of Anglo Welsh’s fleet, call our friendly booking team 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

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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