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?
A brief history of the canals of England and Wales
A canal boat holiday takes you back in time. It is a journey through history as you float along waterways constructed in a bygone era of horse-drawn transport.
The vast majority of the canals in England and Wales were built at the dawn of industrialisation as the most efficient way of transporting the raw materials and goods going in and out the new factories.
This makes a narrowboat holiday a history lover’s dream come true as they can admire the antique engineering and the many sights, towns and cities along the routes which have all played notable roles in creating the modern Britain we know today.
To get you started, here we take you on a brief history of the canals of England and Wales.
While the UK was the first country to develop a nationwide canal network, the Chinese claim the title of being the earlier pioneers of inland waterways, constructing the Grand Canal of China in the 10th century. Most early canals were extensions of natural rivers.
The first canals of England and Wales were built by the Romans who dug the Fossdyke connecting Lincoln to the River Trent around AD50 and the nearby Car Dyke which ran southwards towards Cambridge.
Other early waterways of the medieval and post medieval period were constructed during to shorten, extend or link river routes such as the Exeter Canal, built in 1566 which featured the first pond locks in Britain.
But the golden age of canal building began as the Industrial Revolution took hold during the second half of the 18th century, with the construction of the Bridgewater Canal.
Golden age of canal building
Completed in 1776 under the watchful eye of engineer James Brindley, the Bridgewater Canal connects Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh. It was created in order to carry coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines at Worsley into the industrial heart of Manchester where demand for coal to power the mills was soaring.
The Bridgewater Canal sparked a flurry of canal building during the half century that followed its construction. During an age of horse drawn transport and antiquated mud tracks for roads, the canals provided a highly efficient way to transport large quantities of goods. One horse could pull a canal boat carrying around 30 tonnes of cargo – more than ten times the amount that could be transport via a one horse cart.
The efficiency of the Bridgewater Canal meant the price of coal in Manchester dropped by nearly two thirds within a year of its opening. The waterway repaid the cost of its construction within a few years, proving the viability of canals.
Other industrialists began to follow suit and James Brindley suddenly found himself constantly in demand. He is largely responsible for the ‘Grand Cross’, the two thousand miles of canals linking the four great rivers of England – the Severn, Mersey, Humber and Thames.
There were two key canal building periods, from 1759 to the early 1770s and from 1789 to around 1800 when trains began to dominate.
The Oxford Canal was completed in 1790, linking the coal mines and factories of the Midlands with London via the Thames while the Ellesmere Canal completed in 1805 and later incorporated into the Chester, Montgomery, Shropshire Union and Llangollen canals, helped link the Mersey and the Severn.
Thomas Telford took over from Brindley as the leading canal engineer of the late 18th century designing incredible landmarks including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which soars over the River Dee.
The epicenter of canal building was in the industrial West Midlands and North West. Birmingham and the Black Country boasted an intricate network of 160 miles of canals, known as the Birmingham Canal Navigations, most of which survive today.
Funding for the canals was raised largely through private investors keen to reap the promised high returns. But by the end of the 18th century the flurry of canal building was over. Virtually all Britain’s canals were completed by 1815 when attention began to turn to the development of steam powered railway locomotives.
In the early 19th century the canals continued to be the preferred method for transporting bulky heavy goods while the new railway lines focused on passengers and lighter cargo. But as the century progressed the railways were developed into a national network, out competing the canals in both cargo volumes and speed, forcing tolls down so that the canal companies went into terminal decline.
The emergence of the motorcar in the early 20th century and development of an improved reliable road system was another blow to the commercial appeal of the canals.
As most of the canals fell out of commercial use and the companies that had maintained them shut down or were bought out, the waterways themselves were left to wreck and ruin.
In 1947 under the post-World War II Labour government, Britain’s canal and railway systems were nationalised. In the decades that followed, the canals were gradually restored and reopened, primarily for leisure purposes. Restoration projects have been largely undertaken by enthusiastic volunteer groups and local canal societies and trusts.
The canals are now managed by the Canal and River Trust, the successor to British Waterways, which actively supports many of the ongoing restoration projects. The Inland Waterways Association is a charity which also promotes the ongoing protection and conservation of the canals.
Commercial traffic is still permitted on a few key canal routes but the vast majority of waterways are now enjoyed by pleasure craft such as our own Anglo Welsh narrowboats.
There are said to be more boats using the British canals today than at any other point in their history.
Key sights of historic interest and engineering on the canals
Here are a few of the key sights which represented historic feats of engineering during the golden age of canal building and are still well worth a visit during a canal boat holiday today:
This winter we offering winter cruising* from six of our narrowboat hire bases, giving you the chance to celebrate Christmas or New Year on the canals.
Whether you want to head to a festive waterfront destination or escape from it all in a quiet rural backwater, Christmas on the canals offers a very special experience. All our winter canal boat hire bases offer a choice of routes, and plenty of historic rural pubs with roaring log fires to stop off at along the way.
From a cosy narrowboat for two to a family canal boat for 12, all our boats have central heating, hot water, WiFi, TV and DVD players, so it’s always nice and warm and cosy on board. Some of our boats also come with multi-fuel stoves for some extra special winter warmth.
Our prices over Christmas and New Year start at start at £495 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four people, weekly hire from £705.
Here are our Top 6 Christmas and New Year breaks afloat for 2019:
Cross ‘The Stream in the Sky’ to the Shropshire Lake District – from our canal boat rental base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, you can travel through the Welsh Mountains by canal boat to Ellesmere and back, passing over the incredible World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct along the way. This magnificent feat of Victorian engineering carries the canal 30 metres high above the Dee Valley, with amazing views to enjoy. Historic pubs to enjoy along the way include The Poacher’s Pocket pub at Gledrid and the Aqueduct Inn at Froncysyllte. Once at Ellesmere, at the centre of the Shropshire Lake District, you can moor up to visit the Mere created 10,000 years ago by the retreating ice age, now home to an abundance of wildlife.
Cruise through the Staffordshire countryside to Fradley – heading south from our narrowboat holiday hire base at Great Haywood on the Trent & Mersey Canal in Staffordshire, you’ll reach Fradley Junction in five hours. Here the Trent & Mersey Canal meets the Coventry Canal. The journey to Fradley passes through 12 peaceful miles of Staffordshire countryside, and just five locks. Places to enjoy along the way include The Wolseley Centre run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the Wolseley Arms, Cannock Chase Forest and the village of Rugeley with its canalside Mossley Tavern. Once at Fradley, you’ll find refreshments at the Canalside Café or The Swan Inn and walking trails at the Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
Float to through the Warwickshire countryside to Shakespeare’s Stratford – from our narrowboat rental base at on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire, it’s a picturesque six-hour cruise through the Warwickshire countryside to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Once there, you can moor up in Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon to enjoy festive fun in the home of Bard, including twinkling Christmas lights, regular markets, carol singers, Christmas menus at a wide range of restaurants and performances of Shakespeare’s ‘King John’ at the Swan Theatre.
Travel into Birmingham for festive fun afloat – from our canal barge holiday hire base at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Bromsgrove, it takes just five hours to cruise into the centre of Birmingham. With no locks to pass through along the way, it’s a great route for canal boat holiday beginners. Once there, you can moor up in Gas Street Basin, close to Brindleyplace to enjoy Christmas in Britain’s Second City, including ‘Snow White’ at the Hippodrome, ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape Live’ at the Birmingham Arena (23, 24 & 26 Dec), The Big Wheel and Ice Rink at Centenary Square and the Frankfurt Christmas Market at Victoria Square (until 23 Dec).
Visit historic Chester for some Christmas sparkle – from our narrowboat hire base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal near Tarporley in Cheshire, it takes around seven hours, passing through nine locks, to reach the historic city of Chester. Along the way, the route passes through 12 miles of beautiful Cheshire countryside and the popular Ring O’Bells canalside pub at Christleton. Once moored up at Northgate visitor moorings next to the Roman City Walls, special festive events to enjoy in Chester include performances of Peter Pan at the Storyhouse Theatre, the Christmas Tree Festival at Chester Cathedral, the Lantern Parade at Chester Zoo (until 23 Dec), the Chester Christmas Market (until 22 Dec) as well as fabulous City Centre Christmas lights and sparkling shops at the Grosvenor Shopping Centre.
Cruise through the Shropshire countryside to historic Whitchurch – from our barge holiay rental base at Whixall on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire, it takes around four hours to reach the pretty historic town of Whitchurch. Along the way, the route passes Whixall Moss, a Mecca for wildlife, and Pan Castle just outside Whitchurch. Special Christmas events in Whitchurch include performances of Aladdin in the Civic Centre (26-30 Dec), the Crib Festival at St Alkmund’s Church, sparkling Christmas lights and festive menus at many of the town’s eateries, including the Wheatsheaf Hotel and Black Bear pub.
*NB some of our routes will be affected by winter maintenance work on the canal network.
Anglo Welsh Heritage Class – Supporting the Chelsea Pensioners
Anglo Welsh Heritage Class – the best of both worlds
Anglo Welsh now offers two luxury four-berth ‘Heritage Class’ boats for hire: ‘Poppy’ on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen; and ‘Lily’ on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor.
These beautiful luxury canal boats offer all the very best in modern narrowboat facilities, as well as some extra special heritage features.
Facilities on board these spacious boats with semi-traditional sterns include: central heating; LED lighting; two full-size shower rooms; spacious beds with sprung mattresses; a fully fitted galley; TV; DVD; and WiFi.
Heritage features include: port holes; side doors; a Belfast sink; brass fittings; tongue and grove dark stained woodwork; ivory coloured ceilings; and a cratch cover above the front deck for extra protection against the elements when needed.
In partnership with our Sponsor ‘Panda Sanctuaries’ we will continue to expand the Heritage fleet over the coming years.
Proud to support the Chelsea Pensioners
Anglo Welsh is supporting the Chelsea Pensioners by pledging to give £10 to The Royal Hospital Chelsea and Chelsea Pensioner’s Active Ageing Appeal for every booking made on ‘Poppy’ between 1 November 2019 and 1 November 2020.
Allan McLaren of The Chelsea Pensioners explains: “War and conflict take their toll on a soldier’s body and mind. Mental and physical scars often only surface in later years.
“The Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Chelsea Pensioners are delighted Anglo Welsh have chosen to support our Active Aging Appeal. Your support will help The Royal Hospital Chelsea provide the best possible care for those willing to risk their lives yesterday to give us the freedom we enjoy today. Our new activity centre will enable more Pensioners to stay active, pursue hobbies and interests every day to enhance their mental and physical well-being and combat isolation.”
What to look forward to along the canals this autumn
As the leaves turn rust red and the sinking sun casts long shadows across golden fields, the steady slide towards winter is arguably the most beautiful time of year.
Autumn is also the season of Halloween and Bonfire Night before the festive march towards Christmas begins.
There are dozens of fun events to look forward to between now and Christmas along the inland waterways of England and Wales so with half term approaching, this is an ideal time of year to embark on a canal boat holiday
Dig out your scarf and gloves, wrap up warm and head off on a magical narrowboat cruise before winter fully closes in.
Here are some of the fun events to consider if you are planning an autumn canal boat holiday:
It is 250 years since the first canal reached Birmingham, a city now celebrated as boasting more waterways than Venice. Commemorate this landmark birthday by joining in a cruise, organised by the Bimingham Canal Navigation (BCN) Society, from Windmill End into central Birmingham. After a midday celebration at Old Turn Junction, boats can parade around to Cambrian Wharf or through Gas St Basin. This will be a must see for any canal and boating enthusiasts.
The Roving Canal Traders Association (RCTA) will be hosting its floating market in the pretty village of Stoke Bruerne, also home to the Canal Museum, making it an ideal stop off on a narrowboat holiday. The RCTA brings together an eclectic group of craftsmen and traders who travel the inland waterways selling their wares. It is the perfect place pick up some quirky holiday souvenirs and unusual gifts.
Early December will see the return of this wonderful festival floating market during which the RCTA boats will line both sides of the canal at Brindley Place, offering unique Christmas shopping opportunities not to be found on any high street. This is an ideal way to rouse those festive feelings as the Christmas season gets into full swing.
Join Father Christmas and his helpers aboard the Edwin Clark trip boat this December and enjoy a festive cruise on the River Weaver. The trip will include storytelling, festive songs and, of course, each child will be presented with their very own present from Santa.
The ultimate festive canal holiday stop off, young visitors can drop in on Father Christmas’s grotto, to meet the man himself and watch his elves in action. Santa will share some stories and present each young visitor with an early Christmas gift. There will be another chance to meet Santa while enjoying a bite to eat in his special Christmas café. The ticket will also give you access to the rest of the museum’s fascinating collection.
It is worth noting that the Anglo Welsh narrowboat hire bases at Oxford, Bath, Monkton Combe, Silsden and Stockton all close down for winter from the 1st November. This is so that our team can carry out vital maintenance on the boats to ensure they are in tip top condition for the next season.
If you want more information or advice on great canal boat holiday routes or how best to reach any of these events and locations on an Anglo Welsh narrowboat, please don’t hesitate to contact our team by phone or email – they will be happy to help.
We’re opening a new canal boat hire base at Whixall
From next Spring, we are delighted to offer canal boat hire from our new narrowboat rental base at Whixall Marina, on the Prees Branch of the Llangollen Canal in Shropshire.
From this popular marina, surrounded by beautiful Shropshire countryside, it takes just 30 minutes to reach the main line of the Llangollen Canal, offering a fantastic range of cruising destinations.
On a short break (three or four nights) canal boat holiday-makers can head west along the Llangollen Canal to Ellesmere and the Shropshire Lake District, or you can travel on to Chirk with its magnificent aqueduct, 459-yard long tunnel, choice of canalside pubs and access to the National Trust’s Medieval Chirk Castle.
On a week’s holiday, boaters heading west can cross the awesome World Heritage Status Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and travel on to the pretty Eisteddfod town of Llangollen on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains.
Heading east, you can reach the pretty historic town of Whitchurch in less than four hours, where there’s a selection of independent shops and places to eat, including the Wheatsheaf Hotel and the award-winning Black Bear pub.
From Whitchurch, it takes around nine hours, passing through 19 locks to reach Hurleston Junction, where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal. From here, if you’re on a week’s holiday you can head to Nantwich, Market Drayton or Chester, or on a 10-day or two-week break, you can tackle the Four Counties Ring.
Why choose Whixall?
It offers easy access to the beautiful Llangollen Canal, one of the most popular waterways on the network and home to the incredible World Heritage site of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
Whixall offers a range of routes, from easy lock-free cruising short breaks perfect for beginners, to epic journey cruising rings for more experienced canal boat holiday-makers on longer breaks
Buried deep in the Shropshire Countryside, holidays starting from Whixall offer the chance to visit the Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses national nature reserve, home to an abundance of wildlife, including 29 species of dragonfly and damselfly, 670 species of moth, 32 species of butterfly and 166 species of wetland birds.
As well as a choice of standard boats, we’re offering a range of luxury canal boats from Whixall, including the 4 berth Constellation Class boat ‘Aquila’, the 6 berth Constellation Class boat ‘Perseus’ and the Constellation 12 berth boat ‘Andromeda’. We are also introducing a brand-new Constellation 10 berth Class in 2019, which will feature the new boat ‘Gemini’ based at Whixall. The popular Weir Class will also receive a brand-new addition to the fleet and ‘Grafton’ will cruise from Whixall in the new year.
Whixall Marina has a café on site and the popular Dog & Bull pub is just a few miles away at Coton.
By road, Whixall is 27 miles from Chester, 30 miles from Stoke-on-Trent, 34 miles from Stafford, 57 miles from Manchester, 52 miles from Liverpool and 60 miles from Birmingham, putting it within easy reach for narrowboat holiday-makers travelling from the North West and Midlands.
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.