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Best spring canal boat holidays

Best spring canal boat holiday breaks in 2024

Experience a spring break on Britain’s beautiful canal network and see the countryside bursting with new life

Spring is a glorious time to celebrate the rich and diverse wildlife living in Britain.

Kevin Yarwood, manager at our Great Haywood base, explains:

“Our beautiful inland waterways weave through the countryside taking in woodlands, farmland, nature reserves and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Travelling along at just four miles per hour on a canal boat holiday, there’s always something special to look out for.

“In spring, when the countryside is bursting with new life, there’s no better way to see waterside trees and hedges covered blossom, nest-building birds, ducklings bobbing on the water, spring lambs playing in the fields, and carpets of bluebells in waterside woodlands.”

To celebrate Britain’s natural environment, we’ve put together a guide to our best spring canal boat holiday destinations:

  1. Navigate through Shakespeare country and Warwickshire farmland 

    From our narrowboat hire base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal near Henley-in-Arden, it takes around six hours, travelling through 17 locks to reach Stratford-upon-Avon. Travelling over the Edstone Aqueduct and on through the pretty Warwickshire countryside, with spring lambs playing in the fields alongside the canal, boaters can stop off to visit Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm in the canalside village of Wilmcote, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up.  Once in Stratford, there are overnight moorings in Bancroft Basin, perfect for enjoying all that Shakespeare’s birthplace has to offer, including riverside parks, theatres, shops, restaurants and museums.

  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 easily reach the beautiful Caldon Canal and travel into the Peak District. The journey takes boaters up to Stoke on Trent, passing Wedgewood World along the way, and, once on the Caldon, through gently rolling hills and wooded areas alongside the beautiful River Churnet.  Here there’s the chance to spot kingfishers, herons, jays and woodpeckers, as well as otters which have recently returned to the area.  The return journey along the Caldon to Froghall takes around 43 hours, travelling a total of 72 miles and passing through 70 locks.

  3. Cruise to Ellesmere to catch a glimpse of a heron chick

    On a short break from our 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. 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 the Pontcysyllte and Chirk aqueducts.  Formed thousands of years ago by the melting of the glaciers during the retreating ice age, the meres of the Shropshire Lake District, including The Mere at Ellesmere are particularly beautiful in Spring.  And every Spring, Moscow Island on The Mere is home to the Heron Watch Scheme, with cameras allow visitors to watch the birds build nests and raise chicks.

  4. Cruise to the gateway of the Yorkshire Dales and explore the ancient woods at Skipton Castle

    From 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. For nearly 1,000 years Skipton Castle 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.

  5. Drift through the beautiful prehistoric Vale of Pewsey

    From our base at Monkton Combe on the Kennet & Avon Canal just outside Bath, it takes around 19 hours to reach Pewsey Wharf, perfect for a week afloat. Along the way, you’ll pass through miles of peaceful Wiltshire countryside, with a series of waterside villages and country pubs to visit along the way.  Highlights on this route include: the mighty Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks at Devizes; cruising along the edge of the ancient Savernake Forest; and the beautiful Vale of Pewsey, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to prehistoric Avebury.  The journey to Pewsey and back takes around 38 hours, passing through 74 locks (37 each way).

  6. Travel to Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains

    From Whixall, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire , it takes around 12 hours to reach the pretty town of Llangollen. Along the way, you’ll travel through the beautiful Shropshire Lake District and across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Once in Llangollen, you can moor up to enjoy exploring this pretty town nestled on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains, including its regular markets packed with local produce, choice of independent shops and restaurants, steam railway and famous Horseshoe Falls.  The journey to Llangollen and back passes through just four locks (two each way).

  7. Navigate the Four Counties Ring for stunning views of the Cheshire Plains  

    On a week’s break from Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire, you can travel round the popular Four Counties Ring. Travelling for around 58 hours and passing through 96 locks, this route takes you through the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and travels sections of the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Shropshire Union canals.  Rural highlights include: panoramic views from the flight of 31 locks (also known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’) between Middlewich and Kidsgrove on the Trent & Mersey Canal; views of the rolling Cheshire Plains on the Shropshire Union Canal; acres of farmland on the Middlewich Branch; wildlife spotting at Tixall Wide on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal; and the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall with its extensive waterside gardens.

  8. Take a Thames boating holiday to Abingdon and listen out for cuckoos calling

    From our Oxford barge hire base on the River Thames, it takes around five hours, passing through six locks and travelling 15 miles to reach the historic riverside market town of Abingdon – perfect for a short break Thames boating holiday. As well as cruising through the outskirts of the ancient City of Oxford, you’ll pass through beautiful stretches of Oxfordshire countryside, with lush meadows, stretches of bluebells woodlands alongside the river and the chance to hear cuckoos calling.  Once moored up at Abingdon, you can enjoy exploring riverside walks, parks and eateries, including the popular waterside Nag’s Head.

Click here to check availability and book.

The Canal & River Trust as produced a Spotters Guide to Waterway Wildlife.

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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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Beautiful canal boat holiday Spring cruising routes

Beautiful canal boat holiday 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
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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

...but don't just take our word for it

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