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Top 6 summer canal boat holiday circuits

Best canal boat holiday circuits and rings

Canal boat holiday circuits and cruising rings 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.  All from your very own floating holiday home.

Here’s a guide to our top six narrowboat holiday summer circuits to explore:

1. The Black Country Ring

Setting off from our canal boat rental base at Great Haywood, 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 Great Haywood you’ll travel 75 miles, through 79 locks in around 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 Warwickshire Ring

Setting off from Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, you can complete the Warwickshire Ring on a 10-day or two-week break. 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 Wootton Wawen, you’ll pass through 128 locks in around 59 hours.

5. 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 week’s break from Wootton Wawen.  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 Wootton Wawen it takes around 35 hours and you’ll pass through 83 locks.

6. The Avon Ring

You can complete this epic circuit on a two week break 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 Wootton Wawen, you’ll travel 109 miles and pass through 131 locks, which will take around 58 hours.

To check availability and book click here or call us on 0117 463 3419.

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Top 10 Spring canal boat holidays 2023

Best Spring canal boat holidays in England and Wales

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.

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Top 9 Autumn 2022 canal boat holiday destinations

Best Autumn canal boat holidays in England and Wales

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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A multi-generation narrowboat holiday on the River Avon

Canal boat holiday on the River Avon

Bridget Harrison reviews her family canal boat holiday cruising through Shakespeare country.

When I was a teenager we once went on a family holiday to San Tropez and I remember looking with envy at the boat owners breakfasting on the decks of their motor yachts in the marina, while we mortals walked by on land. I was reminded of this when arriving at Stratford-upon- Avon’s bustling Bancroft Basin, to find my family who were waiting for me on a barge there, which we had hired for a week’s holiday in August.

Enterprise, a 70 foot long narrowboat, was in pole position, moored side to side with a row of other smartly painted craft. And there was my family, sitting cheerfully at the stern, in the sunshine, enjoying a feast bought from the basin’s street-food market. Hopping aboard it was hard not to feel just a little bit smug on our floating home in pride of place in the historic town while crowds of tourists wandered past.

The others had taken charge of the boat at Wootton Wawen marina in Warwickshire on the Stratford Canal two days before and then navigated down the 17 locks to Stratford. With me, the last member of the crew now on board, we cast off, taking the town lock down onto the broad River Avon that was buzzing with row boats, restaurant boats, flocks of well-fed swans and geese and offering a fine view of the imposing Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

My family and I have been going on canal holidays since I was eight years old.

Now my brother and I each have two children (me, sons age 11 and 13, he, daughters age 11 and 15), and my sister has a frisky collie. We all join my parents for a week on the canals every year – nine of us in total.

This year we decided to focus our trip around Stratford-up-Avon, thinking it would add an extra ‘educational’ element for the children. Spending time on the river as well as the canal also appealed as my sister and I were keen to do some ‘wild swimming’ in a river.

The Avon winds from Stratford’s busy centre flowing southwest towards Evesham. As you leave the town, which makes way for stretches of parkland, and then the countryside beyond, the river is soon bordered on both sides by a jungle-like array of vegetation in a thousand greens. Weeping willows lean out and stroke the river’s smooth dark water. At Bidford-on-Avon we passed under a beautiful bridge of stone arches, learning that people have crossed the river there since medieval times.

The river, without the prerequisite canal towpath, felt a more lush and wild boating corridor than many canals.

One disadvantage though was not being able to hop off at any point for a walk. And also mooring spots proved to be few and far between and were often already taken requiring us to head on wards. Luckily the evenings were long. Even if the moorings were often full, the river itself, even at the height of summer, was blissfully peaceful and quiet.

Even though we were nine, the 70 foot long Enterprise didn’t feel cramped. Its layout also had the advantage of two dining areas which meant we could gather for card games without having to set up a table specially.

We got as far as Evesham in two days, then turned around.

As with all canals, retracing steps feels like a new journey with plenty to look at from the boat from elegant houses with gardens backing onto the river to completely wild stretches. We paused one early evening for dinner at the Four Alls pub beside the river, then had to cruise on until dark until we managed to find a free mooring just outside Stratford. Next morning we rose early to nab a prime spot opposite the theatre, making us perfectly placed for visiting the Shakespeare sites.

Visiting Stratford-upon-Avon on a canal boat holiday

First on the list was The Birthplace, a crooked, half-timbered Tudor house on the High Street which had been owned by his glove-maker father, John. Creaky narrow stairs led up to the room where he was born. Having just read ‘Hamnet’, Maggie O’Farrell’s novel based around Shakespeare’s family, the visit was particularly enthralling for me and I was pleased that the children found it engrossing too. A seven minute walk away is the site of New Place, the larger and more splendid home which Shakespeare bought after he became a successful actor and writer in London. The original building no longer exists but you can wander around its garden and admire modern sculptures illustrating how The Bard’s global influence has put Stratford proudly at the centre of the world.

Then finally, the highlight for us, was our visit to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, a 12-room farmhouse, the family home of Shakespeare’s wife – located in once prosperous farm land just beyond the city (a £7 taxi ride). Inside we walked up tiny windy staircases to see bedrooms perfectly preserved as they would have looked in 1582 when 18-year-old Shakespeare was courting Anne, 26. The farmhouse had beautiful kitchen gardens  filled with sage mint and lavender, and an orchard.  So enthused had the children obviously been by the days’ three evocative Shakespeare venues that each even began quoting bits of Shakespeare they knew from school over the dinner table.

Too soon it was our last day. My sister, the children and I rose early to walk a little way upstream along the Avon to Stratford Beach, a swimming spot where Shakespeare himself was said to have taken dips. We plunged shrieking into the silky cool river as the morning sun cast dappled gold around us. Then it was back to Enterprise  for bacon sarnies before readying ourselves to return to the Stratford Canal and to  Wootton Wawen, back up 17 locks over 17 miles, requiring both teamwork and energy.

Luckily by now, we all know the drill.

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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
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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

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