A canal boat holiday: the perfect way to celebrate an end to lockdown
After so many weeks cooped up within the same four walls, most of us are raring to get out and about again – especially now that summer is here.
Never before have we all so appreciated the joys of being able to move freely and explore new places.
So with foreign travel still restricted, let’s celebrate a relaxation of lockdown rules by becoming tourists within our own green and pleasant land and enjoying a truly memorable ‘staycation’.
The UK has so many fascinating and beautiful places to discover, sometimes the best holidays are the ones closer to home.
One of the best ways to explore new areas of England and Wales and uncover our country’s hidden gems is on a canal boat holiday.
Here are just a few of the reasons why a narrowboat holiday is the perfect way to make the most of being allowed out again:
The right to roam – or float
A canal boat holiday is a journey. By holidaying aboard a narrowboat, you can cruise along the stunning waterways of England and Wales covering new ground each day and taking in a range of landscapes and attractions along the way. After so long confined to one place, a holiday which involves being on the move with constantly changing scenery is particularly appealing. We have 11 narrowboat hire bases scattered across England and Wales all of which offer access to wonderful and varied canal holiday routes. There are easy holiday cruises to historic towns and cities, perfect for those wanting a short weekend break, or longer more challenging circuits for two week canal holidays exploring whole regions.
Soak up the space
There are more than 2,000 miles of canals and rivers winding their way through the luscious landscapes of England and Wales. A canal boat holiday gives you access to amazing open countryside and remote beauty spots difficult to access by any other means. Cruising through these remote and hidden corners of the country offers a feeling of space and freedom you have probably been craving for the last few months. You can moor up and take off on foot or by bicycle to explore the surrounding area, or remain onboard the narrowboat and simply take it all in as you motor along at a stately three miles an hour. Whatever your preference, enjoy those limitless horizons.
Variety is the spice of life
One of the joys of a canal boat holiday is the vast array of different things to see and do. With dozens of different canal holiday routes to choose from, you could opt for a city break or rural tranquility – or both. Canals pass through mountainous landscapes and flood plains, through woods and farm land. They pass historic villages, stately homes, castles, museums, themes parks, zoos and more. Then there is the range of activities to be enjoyed along the waterways, including walking, cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing and fishing. On a canal boat holiday, there really is something for everyone to enjoy.
Bring the pets
We offer pet-friendly holidays at Anglo Welsh so you can bring up to two furry friends along for the ride. If you are craving a much needed break away from home , but don’t want to leave your dog or another much loved pet on their own, you can bring one animal along for free then pay a small fee for a second.
By Kevin Yarwood, manager of Anglo Welsh’s Great Haywood canal boat rental base
Our narrowboat hire base, at the junction of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood in Staffordshire, is surrounded by countryside, trees and hedgerows, and consequently lots of wildlife too.
This year we took part in the RSPB’s annual Bird Garden Watch and spotted so many species of bird that the charity got in touch with us to check our findings.
From water birds like swans, ducks, coots, moorhens, cormorants, geese and kingfishers, to woodland and hedgerow birds like jays, sparrows, blue tits, great tits, bull finches, green finches, dunnocks and tree creepers, every day we see busy birds visiting the canal and our bird feeders.
We’ve also seen otters close by at the aqueduct, where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal crosses the River Trent, hedgehogs and at dusk over the summer months we see bats whizzing across the water collecting their insect prey.
As well as working in this special place, I live here on a narrowboat with my family, so I’m passionate about protecting the waterway and the animals that rely on it.
For nearly two years, we’ve been selling aquatic-friendly ‘Poddy’ cleaning products, including a washing up liquid and multi-surface cleaner, in our boat yard shop. Feedback from our customers is consistently excellent, with some asking if they can buy extra supplies to use every day at home, as well as on their narrowboat holiday.
The Canal & River Trust’s Plastics Challenge launched last May is something close to my heart and everyone here at Great Haywood is committed to keeping our own stretch of canal plastic free. It really does make a difference if everyone works together to both litter pick any stray plastic on the towpath or in the water, and to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our everyday lives by making some simple switches like investing in re-useable drinks bottles and coffee cups.
We also have recycling facilities here at the boat yard and so canal boat holiday-makers who are keen to (and most are), can recycle at the end of their holiday.
This month we are delighted to be hosting a visit from our local primary school, so we are looking forward to passing on our love of the canal environment and all the animals and birds that depend upon it.
Plan your Easter canal boat holiday: The best waterway routes for kids
It’s finally getting a little bit lighter and there is hope that winter may not last forever.
In fact, it is the perfect time to cheer yourself out of any winter blues by planning your next narrowboat trip. With the school Easter break now just a few weeks away, why not treat the whole family to a canal boat holiday this year. Kids love the novelty of being on the water just as much as adults and all our narrowboats are designed to be family friendly. You could even bring your pets!
To help, we’ve had a think about the best canal boat holiday routes to do with children.
We’ve chosen varied waterway journeys that combine rural beauty and tranquility with more urban settings that are packed with family friendly activities to keep the kids entertained throughout. No more of those, ‘Mum/Dad, I’m boooored,’ comments.
Tardebigge to Birmingham
Set in the heart of rural Worcestershire, Tardebigge offers an idyllic starting point for any canal boat cruise. The base sits at the top of an impressive lock ladder climbing 220 feet, offering wonderful views over the surrounding countryside.
If you are heading towards Birmingham you have a relaxing lock free five-hour cruise north along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal through rolling fields, woodland and quiet villages with welcoming pubs.
On the outskirts of the ‘City of canals’ as Birmingham is romantically labelled, you’ll pass through Bourneville where the canal takes you within touching distance of the old Cadbury chocolate factory. Now Cadbury World, this celebration of all things chocolate is a guaranteed hit with the kids.
Continue to the historic Gas Street Basin right in the city centre, from where you can access all Birmingham’s most famous attractions including the National Sea Life Centre, which is a great day out for the whole family.
To ease you into boating life gently there is a long stretch with no locks, passing through tranquil meadows and the pretty villages of Weston, Salt and Sandon which boast good pubs for a pit stop. After a few more miles, you reach your first lock at Aston, then proceed through more luscious countryside to the historic market town of Stone, which has some great canalside pubs, restaurants and a monthly farmers market.
It is then just seven miles until you reach the towns that make up Stoke on Trent and The Potteries. At Barlaston, you pass the Wedgewood factory with its World of Wedgewood visitor centre offering factory tours, a museum and craft and decorating studios where visitors can test out their talent on the pottery wheel.
The last few miles before you branch off east on the Caldon Canal in Stoke on Trent are dominated by old factories and warehouses, brick furnaces alongside more modern buildings. The Caldon Canal will take you into the picturesque Churnet Valley to Froghall. Here the kids are in for a real treat for it is just a short bus ride to Alton Towers, the UK’s biggest theme park, just make sure you book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment!
Bunbury to Chester
The Shropshire Union Canal is renowned to be one of the most unspoilt scenic of canals, making it a favourite with narrowboaters from all over the UK.
From Bunbury, cruise north across the expansive open country of the Cheshire Plain past the medieval ruins of Beeston Castle looking down from its rocky crag which offers views all the way to the Pennines. Run by English Heritage and surrounded by a 40-acre woodland park, this is a great place to take the kids. Stop off for refreshment at the canal side Shady Oak Pub, next to Bate’s Mill Bridge, before heading north again.
The canal snakes its way through more green and pleasant farmland until reaching Christleton, a charming village on the edge of Chester with a traditional green surrounded by historic houses.
But most people will be impatient to get to Chester itself, one of the most beautiful cities in the UK, steeped in history. The canal takes you right into the centre of the city, with its cluster of 700-year-old buildings, great shops, restaurants and cafes, and stunning sandstone cathedral all encircled by the imposing medieval city walls.
Take the children to Chester Zoo where you can admire more than 21,000 endangered and exotic animals in the 125 acres of beautiful gardens. This is said to be the most visited tourist attraction in the UK outside of London.
The canal proceeds through gentle Warwickshire countryside until reaching elegant Royal Leamington Spa with its fine examples of Regency and Victorian architecture and ornate parks like Jephson Gardens. The Leamington Spa Spy Mission Trail is a great way to keep the kids entertained while you explore the town.
From here it is a stone’s throw to Warwick itself, with its unique combination of medieval, Queen Anne and Victorian buildings, all overlooked by the enormity of Warwick Castle. Taking you back in time more than 1000 years with its castle ruins, gruesome dungeons, live bird of prey displays and Horrible Histories maze, you could easily spend the whole day at the castle. But make sure you leave time to explore the historic delights of the town itself including the 14th century Lord Leicester Hospital, St Mary’s Church and The Mill Garden on the banks of the River Avon.
*Monkton Combe to Bristol
From Monkton Combe on the Kennet and Avon Canal you skirt the tail end of the Cotswold Hills to reach the famously beautiful city of Bath which, as a tourist honeypot, has plenty of family friendly activities from mini golf to glass making.
In Bath, you leave the canal to join the wider flowing waters of the River Avon which winds its way through gorgeous countryside first to Saltford, where the riverside Jolly Sailor Pub makes a good stop off, then on towards Bristol.
On the outskirts of the city you will pass Beese’s Riverside Bar and Tea Gardens with its idyllic secretive setting on the riverbank hemmed in by woodland. Try and ensure you’re hungry – or thirsty – so you have an excuse to stop.
After this the city begins to close in upon the river as you enter the old industrial area before turning off at Feeder Road to lock into the historic floating harbor. You can then cruise right into Bristol’s vibrant centre where you are within easy walking distance of the hugely popular We The Curious (formerly At-Bristol) science centre, the incredible SS Great Britain or M Shed with its varied exhibits, all designed to appeal to the little ones. If that’s not enough, catch a bus or taxi to Clifton where you can take the children to Bristol Zoo, with its 400 species of rare animals, 12 acres of gardens, water play area and aerial ropes course ending in an exciting zip wire.
*This route is only recommended for experienced boaters due to the tidal River.
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:
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.
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.
We offer a range of different types of holidays such as City Breaks, Relaxation Cruises and Popular Destinations
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.