Top 9 summer canal boat holidays for beginners

Every year more people take the plunge and set sail on an adventure afloat on Britain’s beautiful inland waterways network.

You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and it’s easy for first-timers to learn to operate our boats.

As part of our narrowboat hire, we provide you with expert boat steering tuition. And our series of ‘How to’ videos give step by step instruction on everything from switching the boat engine on to the best way to tie your ropes when mooring up.

We’ve also published guides to ‘What to pack on your narrowboat holiday’, and ‘Tips for narrowboat holiday beginners’.

When you arrive at one of our boat yards, we’ll take you through our nationally accredited handover. And we’ll make sure you’re comfortable and in control before you set off.  As well as our Youtube videos, there is a manual on board every boat if you need to check on anything.  And our engineering teams are on hand 24 hours a day to help over the phone, or come out to you if you need them.

So, if you’ve thought about taking a canal boat holiday, but you’re not sure where to begin, here’s a guide to our top 9 summer short breaks for beginners:

1. Head to Birmingham lock-free

With no locks between our canal boat rental base at Tardebigge and Birmingham City Centre, this five-hour cruise is perfect for novice canal boaters.  The first half of the journey passes through fields, woods and villages, before gradually becoming more urbanised.  Once you reach the centre of Birmingham, there are over-night moorings at Gas Street Basin, with easy access to Brindleyplace waterside restaurants, Sea Life Centre, glitzy Mailbox shopping and other leading attractions.

2. Learn the ropes on the Llangollen

Passing through stunning North Wales landscapes, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular on the network.  With just two locks along the way, the seven-hour journey from our boat yard at Trevor to Ellesmere offers a fantastic short break holiday for beginners.  The route includes the experience of travelling across the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Dee Valley 38 metres below.

3. Dip your toe in the water at Bath

From our base at Sydney Wharf on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Bath, it takes just four hours to cruise 10 miles to the lovely market town of Bradford on Avon. There’s just one lock to pass through and two stunning Bath stone aqueducts to glide across.  And there are popular canalside pubs to, including The George at Bathampton, Cross Guns at Avoncliff and Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon.

4. Float gently along to Fradley

From Great Haywood, you can head south along the Trent & Mersey Canal to Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal meets the Trent & Mersey.  The journey takes around five hours, travelling 12 peaceful miles through the Staffordshire countryside.  There are just five locks to pass through, and you’ll pass canalside pubs at Wolseley and Rugeley.  At Fradley, you can enjoy refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn.  And you can enjoy spotting wildlife along the woodland trail and boardwalk at Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.

5. Take to the tiller along the Thames

From our Oxford base at Eynsham, you can enjoy a Thames boating holiday.  It takes just over three hours, passing through four locks to reach City centre moorings in Oxford.  Many of the locks along the Thames are manned, so there’s often help on hand for newcomers.  Once in Oxford, you take time to explore the city, including the famous Bodleian Library, Carfax Tower and Ashmolean Museum.

6. Navigate the Shroppie to historic Chester

It’s a seven-hour, nine-lock journey to the ancient city of Chester from our Bunbury base on the Shropshire Union Canal.  The route passes through the beautiful Cheshire countryside and villages.  There are historic local pubs to enjoy along the way, including The Ring O’Bells at Christleton and The Shady Oak at Bates Mill Bridge.  Once in Chester, you can take time to explore this cosmopolitan ancient city.  Attractions include: a Roman Amphitheatre and city walls, Chester Rows shops, 1,000-year old cathedral, racecourse and award-winning Zoo.

7. Cruise along two canals to Hillmorton

From our Stockton base, it takes around seven hours to cruise to the pretty canal village of Hillmorton.  Starting on the Grand Union Canal, you’ll transfer onto the North Oxford Canal at Braunston. Along the way, you’ll pass Napton on the Hill, with its popular Kings Head pub. And the canal village of Braunston, home to a choice of places to eat, including the historic Admiral Nelson.  The journey to Hillmorton passes through just six locks, including the three locks at Hillmorton, where lock keepers are on hand to help. And there’s a choice of pubs at Hillmorton, including the Stag & Pheasant.

8. Test the waters on the Leeds & Liverpool

Setting off from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in West Yorkshire, the journey to Gargrave and back is nice and easy for beginners.  The route travels 12 miles through the Yorkshire countryside.  It passes through just three locks, and takes around 6½ hours.  Along the way, you’ll pass through Skipton, home to one of the best preserved medieval castles in England.  At Gargrave, there are plenty of pubs, including The Mason’s Arms and Cross Keys Inn.  Gargrave is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with over 680 square miles of some of England’s finest walking country to explore.

9. Cross the border into Wales surrounded by breath-taking scenery

From Whixall Marina on the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, on a short break you can cruise to Chirk and back.  The journey to Chirk takes around eight hours and passes through just two locks.  The route passes Whixall Moss nature reserve and historic Ellesmere, in the heart of the Shropshire Lake District. At Chirk, where the Llangollen Canal crosses the Welsh border, there’s a choice of canalside pubs and the National Trust’s medieval Chirk Castle to visit.

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Top 8 Summer 2023 Canal Boat Holiday Circuits

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.

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Top 9 Autumn 2022 canal boat holiday destinations

This Autumn set sail on an adventure afloat, enjoying the beautiful colours in the trees and hedgerows that line Britain’s canals and rivers.

You’ll be self-contained on board your very own floating holiday cottage, equipped with the key comforts of home, including hot water, TV, WiFi*, well-stocked kitchens, showers, flushing toilets and central heating.

Welcome to our guide to our top destinations for Autumn 2022:

  1. Glide across ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to Whitchurch

On a week’s break from our canal boat hire centre at Trevor in North Wales, you can travel to Whitchurch and back.  The journey along the Llangollen Canal to Whitchurch takes 22 hours and passes through two locks.  Along the way, you’ll travel across the incredible Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  This UNESCO World Heritage structure carries the canal 126 feet high above the Dee Valley.  Next you’ll go through the Whitehouses and Chirk tunnels, then across the magnificent Chirk Aqueduct.  Then it’s on through the beautiful Shropshire countryside, passing Ellesmere and Cole Mere.  Once at Whitchurch, you can moor up to explore this pretty historic town, with independent shops and restaurants, and way-marked walks.

  1. Travel round the Black Country Ring

From our narrowboat hire base at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, you can complete the Black Country Ring.  The journey takes around 43 cruising hours, and travels through 79 locks.  It navigates sections of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Birmingham Main Line, Coventry, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Trent & Mersey canals.  Highlights include Birmingham city centre’s Gas Street Basin, the Black Country Living Museum, and the waters at Tixall Wide.

  1. Cruise through the Worcestershire countryside to Lapworth

Navigating from our Tardebigge base near Bromsgrove, it’s a gentle seven-hour cruise through the countryside to the village of Lapworth.  You’ll be travelling along the Worcestershire & Birmingham Canal.  There are two tunnels to navigate through, but no locks.  Once moored up in Lapworth, you can explore the village and visit the National Trust’s Packwood House.

  1. Navigate through the Airedale to Gargrave

On a short break from Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, you can cruise to Highgate Winding Hole, close to the village of Gargrave.  The route passes through Kildwick with its White Lion pub, Snaygill, home of the Bay Horse pub, and Skipton with its fascinating medieval castle.  The pretty village of Gargrave near the head of the Airedale, offers a choice of pubs, including the Masons Arms.  The journey to Highgate Winding Hole and back travels 20 miles and takes around 11 hours.

  1. Float along the Kennet & Avon Canal to Devizes

From our base at Bath it takes around 10½ hours to reach Foxhangers Wharf, on the edge of Devizes.  Here you can walk up the magnificent Caen Hill flight of locks, one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways.  Along the way, you’ll pass through eight locks, and over two dramatic Bath stone aqueducts at Dundas and Avoncliff.  You’ll also pass a series of canalside pubs, including the Cross Guns at Avoncliff and the Barge Inn at Bradford on Avon.  This route is perfect for a short break.

  1. Boat through the Warwickshire countryside to Fenny Compton

On a short break from Stockton, you can reach the pretty canalside village of Fenny Compton.  The journey begins on the Grand Union Canal, transferring onto the Oxford Canal at Napton-on-the-Hill, where there’s a good choice of pubs.  From there, the route winds gently through the countryside, with a series of locks to negotiate along the way.  The journey to Fenny Compton and back takes around 20 hours, passing through 24 locks (12 each way).

  1. Take a Thames boating holiday to Lechlade

From our narrowboat hire base on the River Thames at Oxford, it’s a tranquil nine-hour, journey to the pretty market town of Lechlade.  Perfect for a mid-week break, the route passes through seven locks and miles of peaceful countryside.  Places to stop off at include the village of Radcot with its 800-year old bridge across the Thames.  And Kelmscott Manor, once the Cotswold retreat of William Morris. Lechlade has a choice of pubs, cafes and restaurants, as well as independent shops.

  1. Boat to the ancient City of Chester

On a short break from our Bunbury base near Tarporley in Cheshire, you can reach the historic City of Chester.  The 12-mile journey along the Shropshire Union Canal takes you through the rolling Cheshire countryside.  It takes around seven cruising hours, and passes through 18 locks.  Once in Chester, you can enjoy some of the city’s best loved attractions, including Britain’s most complete Roman and medieval walls and the Tudor open-air galleries.

  1. Navigate the Avon Ring

On a 10-day or two-week break from Wootton Wawen, boaters can navigate the Avon Ring.  The 109-mile circuit travels sections of the Stratford Canal, River Avon, River Severn and Worcester & Birmingham Canal.  It passes through 131 locks and takes around 58 cruising hours. Highlights include Shakespeare’s Stratford, historic Evesham, Tewkesbury, Worcester and the 30 locks at Tardebigge.

*NB Our Silsden boats don’t have WiFi

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Stan Cullimore’s trip on the River Thames

One of my happiest places is when I’m standing on the back of a narrowboat, chugging along, drinking in the scenery, smiling as the world slides on by. All done at walking speed. Sometimes on a canal, sometimes on a river and always, just loving the thrill of it all.

The joy of booking a weeks holiday starting from Anglo Welsh’s Oxford base, is that you get to choose which ever watery adventure you want. You can either head up the Oxford canal, which is a thing of beauty in of itself, or you can drift on down The Thames. Which is rather sublime.

We arrived at the boatyard one early October afternoon, to find it bathed in beautiful autumnal sunshine. According to the forecast, there was a full weeks worth of sun ahead of us. Deciding we wanted to take advantage of the glorious weather to pootle through the wide open spaces of a river, we headed downstream, following The Thames. Wanting to see how far we could get before turning round in time to return the boat early the next Saturday morning.

The first afternoon we only managed a couple of hours gentle travel before tying up for the night next to the picturesque ruins of Godstow Priory, opposite The Trout Inn. Which meant we got to walk the dogs through pretty meadows before heading out for a welcome pint or two at the pub. After that we headed back onboard to enjoy a celebratory supper of carbonara and cava.

Next day started early as we let the dogs out and got chatting to a happy crowd of college friends who had moored nearby. We had all set off from the Oxford base at the same time and compared notes on just how fab the whole experience was. To make things even sweeter, they gave us a cup of sugar, because we mentioned in passing that we had forgotten to bring any along for the tea. Was a reminder of just how friendly and welcoming most people are when you enter the world of waterways. Smiling, waving and chatting is par for the course when you’re on a boat.

After a pretty perfect days cruising we reached Abingdon. A really nice market town nestled on the bank of the river, with a glorious golden stone bridge arching over our heads. Since the sun had been beaming down on us all day, I decided to have a nice cooling swim in the river, with one of the dogs to keep me company. Turned out to be a bit cooler than either of us expected. Definitely made me grateful for the hot showers, central heating and wood burning stove onboard our boat, the good ship, Trossachs. Bond Class. That evening, as the sun set, the moon came up and the bridge lights twinkled, it felt for all the world as if we had drifted into a Parisian scene.

By now we were all well into our stride when it came to cruising along, mooring up and working the locks. Actually, since nearly all the locks are operated by lock keepers, it didn’t take that much team work to make our way through them. We just turned up, smiled and held on to the rope whilst the lock was worked for us. Most marvellous.

Next day was another beauty, just right for being out and about on the water. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before setting off, slowly passing through miles of magnificent scenery. When the sun shines and the birds sing, it is easy to believe you are travelling through the prettier parts of France or Holland on this stretch of the river. Though some of the fabulous houses and gardens you drift past are very much English country living at it’s most luxurious.

Being keen on birdlife, the week was turning out to be bumper one. Every day brought plenty of sightings; Kingfishers by the dozen, Red Kites at almost every turn, an assortment of songbirds along with plenty of geese which ever way you looked.

Next day we moored up for the night at Wallingford. Another pretty market town with a square, a High Street full of fine shops and yet another glorious stone bridge soaring over the river. Since we were moored near the Boathouse Inn, we went for a stroll round town, then treated ourselves to a pub dinner of Beef and Ale pies with chips. Mmm. Delicious. Just what the doctor ordered. Next morning we woke to the sound of a gentle knock on the window as a friendly council lady came to collect our £11 mooring fee.

By now, it was Tuesday, so we set off downriver, heading for Goring. Arriving in time for lunch, tying up just a stones throw away from the cottage where George Michael used to live. After a delightful couple of hours pottering round yet another pretty waterside town, we got back onboard, turned the boat round and began the gentle trek back to base. Didn’t get very far, as we saw a couple of mooring pins stuck in the bank, in the middle of open greenery, so decided to “wild camp,” for the night.

Over the next couple of days we retraced our journey, revisiting Wallingford and Abingdon to pick up fresh food supplies. Another perk of a holiday afloat, is that you can eat out, on shore, or you can stay at home on the boat and treat yourself to whatever you want to cook. In our case, thanks to the sunshine, we enjoyed plenty of home made salads along with shop bought sausage rolls, scotch eggs and pork pies. Mmm. Just right for the life aquatic.

When we got back to the boatyard on Saturday morning, we were all sorry to say goodbye to our floating home from home. The good news is, I’m sure we won’t have to wait too long for our next trip with Anglo Welsh. Only question is, where to go next?

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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?

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

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