Monthly Archives: February 2013

Visit one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways

Canal scenery

The list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled half a century ago by Robert Aickman, co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association and published in his book Know Your Waterways.

The scale of these extraordinary structures – which built by the engineering superstars of their day – still amazes visitors today.

We’ve revisited the list and added details of our nearest canal boat hire bases so you can plan a visit to one or more of them on your next canal boat holiday:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct…carrying the Llangollen Canal 38 metres (126ft) high above the River Dee, the awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest in Britain.  It was built between 1795 and 1805, uses 18 magnificent piers made of local stone and a 307-metre (1007ft) long trough for the canal to run through.With not even a hand rail on the south side of the aqueduct to obscure the views of the breath-taking Dee Valley below, narrowboat holiday-makers literally feel like they are floating above the earth!***Our nearest base is just a 20-minute cruise away at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in Wrexham.The Anderton Boat Lift…also known as ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ this extraordinary structure raises boats 15 metres (50ft) from the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, it consists of two caissons, each large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats.Sadly, in 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close but it reopened in 2002, following a restoration programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.***Our nearest base is a nine-hour cruise away at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal in Cheshire.The Caen Hill Flight…with 16 of its 29 locks falling in a straight line, the Caen Hill flight of locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Devizes in Wiltshire is visually the most impressive in the country.

The locks were the final link in the Kennet & Avon Canal’s construction, opening in 1810.  By 1950 they had become derelict but after a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990.

***Our nearest base is a seven-hour cruise away on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire.

The Burnley Embankment…also known as the Straight Mile, the Burnley embankment on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal stretches almost a mile long and is up to 60 feet high in places.

This impressive structure was designed by Robert Whitworth of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Company and built between 1795 and 1801.  It carries the canal above Burnley and meant that the engineers did not have to build two sets of locks to cross the Calder Valley.

***Narrowboat holiday-makers can travel to Burnley as part of the Pennine Circuit which takes three weeks from our Great Haywood base.

The Bingley Five-Rise Locks…completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds, raises (or lowers) boats 18 metres (60ft) in five cavernous chambers.  The locks open directly from one to another, with the top gate of one forming the bottom gate of the next.

***Canal boat holiday-makers can travel through Bingley as part of the Pennine Circuit which takes three weeks from our Great Haywood base.

The Standedge Tunnel…at over three miles long tunnelling beneath the Pennines, this incredible feat of 18 and 19th century engineering is the longest, highest and deepest tunnel on the canal system.  Cutting through solid rock, it took the navvies 16 years to build, opening in 1811.

Unfortunately, the Huddersfield Canal became un-navigable in 1948 but after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001.  Today’s boaters pass through the tunnel with a Canal & River Trust pilot, giving a vivid personal commentary.  There is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end.

***Our base at Bunbury is a week’s cruise away from Marsden or Diggle.

Barton Swing Aqueduct…originally built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell, the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel at the time of its opening.

But when the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel, Brindley’s Aqueduct was replaced by the Barton Swing Aqueduct in 1893.  The 1,450 tonne, 100-metre long aqueduct swings open, full of water, to allow the passage of ships along the Manchester Ship Canal.

***Our base at Bunbury is a three or four day cruise away from the Barton Swing Aqueduct.




Avid Reading football supporters, Steve Hinton and friends have found a novel way of following their team to away matches – by narrowboat!

Reading supporters cruising from Great Haywood

Seeing that their team were due to play Stoke City, on Saturday 9th February, organiser Steve booked our largest boat, Empire, from our Great Haywood base to cruise to the Britannia Stadium.

Sadly for our enterprising boaters, Reading lost 1-2 to Stoke in a close fought game.

Undaunted, Steve said “There’s always another day and another match. We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and Empire was an excellent floating hotel. And we would like to thank the team at Great Haywood for their help.”

This is not the first time that Mr Hinton has worn his boating boots! Last year Steve and his friends hired a similar boat from our Tardebigge base to cruise to St Andrews to support Reading against Birmingham.

Trip Diary: Three generations under one roof

Stan Cullimore, founder member of the 80’s band The Housemartins, wrote a diary about his trip aboard Drifter with his grandchildren along the Grand Union Canal from our Stockton base…Stan Cullimore's Trip

Day 1 (3 locks, 5 miles)  Rob from Anglo Welsh helped us load up the boat with essentials. Food, beer, guide books, more beer and our new puppy. He told us everything we needed to know and waved us off with a smile. I asked him if I could stay with him for the week. I wasn’t sure how we were going to cope with four adults, two small children and a puppy on board.

As it turns out, the puppy is a natural boat dog. She fell asleep on deck within five minutes. The grandkids were so excited by the thought of actually sleeping onboard a real boat, that they spent nearly the whole of the first day playing on their bunks!

Came to a lock and remembered that all the locks on the Grand Union Canal are big enough for two boats. Hmm. Is it OK to bump into the other boat on the way in? Luckily, the other boat was owned by a very nice couple who took us through the next three locks. We met up with them again when we took the puppy out for an evening stroll. Seem to be a lot of friendly people on the canal.

Highlight – We saw two baby Swallows sitting in a tree. We could have reached out and touched them. Also saw a pair of woodpeckers on the bank and even a little owl which flew over the boat just before dark. Brilliant!

Day 2 (6 locks, 8 miles) – Woke up early and noticed the only sounds I could hear were birds singing and water lapping softly against the boat. Then the grandkids jumped on my bed. So much for peace and quiet!

I opened the curtains and looked out at rolling green hills stretching out forever. Realised I’d just had the best night’s sleep ever. This is the life! The adults had an early morning a cup of tea on the towpath as we watched the youngsters race up and down.

Spent the day getting to grips with steering. It’s actually much easier than I thought it would be. The only hard bit is when the wind blows you into the bank. You just have to relax and let the boat go wherever it wants to. Then you have to use the boat pole to push it back in the right direction again.

Highlight – Everyone we’ve met has been ridiculously friendly. Mind you, the grandkids insist on talking to anyone who’ll listen so perhaps that’s just as well. We bumped (literally) into a bunch of lads who had never been on a canal before. They asked me to show them how to work the locks. It was great to have so many willing helpers. I almost felt like a professional.

Day 3 (7 locks, 10 miles) – The grandkids noticed all the other youngsters on the water today. Young ducks, young swans and whatever young moorhens are called. Had a great time feeding them.

I noticed that each type of bird has its own way of dealing with boats. Ducks come racing towards you, eager for food. Swans pretend to ignore you and then act as if the food has just appeared from out of nowhere. Moorhens run away and hide whenever possible.

That probably explains why there are hundreds of ducklings with each mother duck, a handful of cygnets – with both parents proudly following them around. And only one or two young moorhens at a time. Usually looking lost because they’ve been left on their own by mum.

Highlight – Ian the lockkeeper at the Watford Flight. I’d never been through staircase locks before and it didn’t help that rain began to pour down halfway up the flight. But Ian was brilliant. He got us through in one piece and even refused the offer of a cup of a tea. Apparently he had other boats coming through. Give that man a soggy medal!

Day 4 (0 locks, 14 miles) – Had to turn the boat round today and start heading back to base. Checked the guide book and found a ‘turning round place’. Otherwise known as a winding hole.

When we got there I realised that the boat was very long and the winding hole wasn’t much longer. Hmm. Didn’t do a very good job but luckily no-one was watching.  The main thing is, we are now turned around. If only everything in life was this easy.

Not sure any of us want to go back to base. Life in the slow lane is soooooo appealing. I’ve hardly looked at my phone all week.  Plus, on the boat I get to drink beer in the afternoon.

Highlight – the weather forecast for this week was terrible. But we’ve hardly had a drop of rain fall on us so far. There have been some showers. But when the clouds roll in, we pull up to the bank and have a brew.  The rain passes quick enough and when it has, we get back up on deck and pootle along in glorious sunshine.  Just wish we’d brought more suncream!

Day 5 (7 locks, 5 miles)  Went through Crick Tunnel today. It’s long, dark and not very wide. I told the grandkids to keep an eye out. We might get attacked by bats. No-one saw any.

You can just about get two boats past each other. But it’s a bit of a squeeze. Soon worked out what to do. You aim for the circle of daylight ahead.

It’s quite pleasant chugging along in the dark at the back of the boat. The grandkids spent the time on the front deck shouting out numbers written on the wall. Apparently the tunnel was a million miles long. I think they may have got that bit wrong…

Got caught out by a rain shower in the afternoon. Waterproofs were provided so I put them on. Then the dog and I hid under an umbrella as I steered. Strangely, we both loved it. But I think we looked a bit odd. My daughter got the giggles. She said we were one man and his puppy against the elements!

Highlight – Took the grandkids and the dog out for an early morning walk along the towpath to the local newsagents. On the way back to the boat I saw a large dark shape lollop across the grass in front of me. Then it slid into the reeds and disappeared. I Googled it and I think it was an otter! Never seen a wild otter before. I mentioned it to a nearby boat resident and she nodded. Apparently you see them quite often round those parts. I feel like David Attenborough!

Day 6 (6 locks, 9 miles)  Stopped at Braunston to pick up supplies. It’s a lovely place, full of colourful boats and smiling faces. Looks like it’s been lifted from a 1950’s postcard. My wife and daughter even found a boat selling wool. Which is handy because they’ve both just taken up knitting.

Took the youngsters for a walk through a meadow full of wildflowers. It was pretty much perfect until I suggested we should all take our shoes off. Obviously, we got a bit muddy. My wife told the grandkids that I was a silly grandad which I thought was a bit harsh. Especially when they agreed with her. Luckily there was lots of hot water and clean towels on board. So the day ended well.

Highlight – After a lazy sunny day driving the boat (is that the right word?) through some extremely green and pleasant countryside, we had a fantastic home cooked meal on the front deck. Bacon, eggs and beans. It smelt and tasted gorgeous. As did the beer we washed it down with!

Day 7 (3 locks, 8 miles) Sadly, today was the last day. We decided to give ourselves a break from boating and go for a stroll along the towpath. The grandkids couldn’t resist helping other people work their way through the locks. I think they were just desperate to show off now that they know how to do it!

After sitting in a very pretty pub garden and enjoying a lovely roast dinner, almost as good as the ones I make. We all decided that this has been the perfect family holiday. Three generations (plus a rather mischievious puppy), under one roof and nothing but smiles and laughter.

In fact the only time anyone got in a grump was when the kids were told it was time to go home. Even the puppy looked a bit sad.

Highlight –  Sitting on the back deck with my son-in-law steering and the grandkids lying on the roof. The sun was sparkling on the water as we planned our next trip away. On an Anglo Welsh narrowboat, naturally! In the words of Arnie; “We’ll be back.”

Trip summary

We started at Stockton on The Grand Union then went south to Napton Junction.  We then went north on the Grand Union to the Braunston Turn and then east to Norton Junction.

After that we went north on the Grand Union Leicester Line, then turned past Crick and Yelvertoft.  We retraced our path to the Napton section then went south on the Oxford Canal to Napton itself. 

We turned round and went north back to Napton Junction and then we went north on the Grand Union back to Stockton.


Anglo Welsh narrow boat holiday

Easter is a great time of year to take to the water to enjoy the fresh spring air, trees coming into leaf and spring flowers on the towpath.

The whole family can set off on an outdoor adventure together.  Bikes can be stored on the roof of the boat and dogs are welcome aboard most of our boats.

Many canalside attractions will be hosting special Easter events, so why not pack up and ship out for some Easter holiday fun afloat.

Here are our top 10 destinations this Easter.  Our prices start at £595 for a short break and £855 for a week on a boat for four.

*See the baby Giant Anteater born at Chester Zoo…Medieval Chester is just seven hours from our base at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Famous for its medieval architecture and city walls, Chester is also home to an award-winning zoo with over 8,000 animals to see, including a rare baby Giant Anteater born in January.  He or she (the tiny youngster’s gender is not yet known) will still be clinging to his mother’s back at Easter so make a date to visit the Zoo and find out how the family is getting on.

*Join the Easter Egg Hunt at Rockingham Castle…although not waterside, this fascinating castle 10 miles outside Market Harborough, offers a great family day out.

Market Harborough is a seven-hour from our base at North Kilworth on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal.  So once moored up in Market Harborough basin, take a taxi to Rockingham Castle to join in the Easter Egg Hunt on Easter Sunday or Monday.

Take a tour of the castle, which has been continuously occupied by the same family for almost 1000 years.  Check out the magnificent Great Hall, built on the instruction of William the Conqueror in 1086, and complete the Rockingham Eye Spy.  See the vast 400 year old ‘Elephant Hedge’, part of the Castle’s 18 acres of gardens and visit the Castle Gallery, tea rooms and gift shop.

*Visit the home of Cadbury’s Chocolate…Travel lock-free to Birmingham in just five hours from our Tardebigge base, stopping off along the way to sample the delights of Cadbury World.

Find out how chocolate is made, the history of Cadbury confectionery, visit the World’s biggest Cadbury Shop and the Cadbury Café and enjoy a host of special events celebrating our most ‘chocolatey’ time of year!

*Climb aboard the SS Great Britain…Bristol’s Floating Harbour, home of Brunel’s masterpiece the SS Great Britain, is just an eight hour cruise from our base at Sydney Wharf in Bath.

Now acclaimed as one of the UK’s finest visitor attractions, plan a visit the world’s first great ocean liner and find out how the SS Great Britain changed the world.

*Travel across the Stream in the Sky…Just 20 minutes cruise from our base at Trevor on the Llangollen Canal in North Wales, stands the awesome 38 metres high and 305 metres long Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Also known as The Stream in the Sky, this incredible feat of engineering and offers the canal boat ride of your life!

And the pretty town of Llangollen is just a two hour cruise away, where special Easter events will be running at the Llangollen Steam Railway.

*Visit the Roman Baths…Bath, famous for thousands of years for its warm mineral-rich waters, is a seven-hour cruise along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal from our base at Bradford on Avon.

The beautifully preserved Roman Baths is a place for the whole family to enjoy.  Visitors can see the remains of the ancient Roman temple and bathing complex based around Britain’s only natural hot spring.  There’s a special audio tour for kids and Roman costumed characters about every afternoon.

*See the witch in a bottle at the Pitt Rivers…Oxford City Centre, home to the extraordinary Pitt Rivers Museum, is just three hours away from our River Thames base at Eynsham, near Witney.

The Museum, which has been described as a ‘Noah’s Ark of all the Earth’s artefacts’, displays thousands of handmade objects from a lost cultures across the globe.  Look out for a three-storey high totem pole, a magnificent Tahitian mourner’s costume collected during Captain Cook’s Second Voyage in 1773-74, a case of children’s toys, including a coconut-husk spirit ship for a Siamese child, and the firmly sealed witch in a bottle.

*Walk the battlements at Warwick Castle…said to be Britain’s greatest medieval experience, Warwick Castle is a seven hour cruise from our base at Stockton on the Grand Union Canal in Warwickshire.

The castle, which is on a bend of the River Avon, was developed from an original built by William the Conqueror in 1068.  Explore its grand interiors and 64 acres of rolling landscaped gardens, climb its impressive towers and ramparts, watch the ‘Flight of the Eagles’ and ‘Mighty Trebuchet’ firing displays and visit some of the castle’s special attractions, including terrifying Castle Dungeon.

*Follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps…Stratford upon Avon is just a six hour cruise from our base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford Canal, near Henley in Arden in Warwickshire.

Moor up in centrally located moorings on the River Avon and use your canal boat as a base to explore the fascinating historic town of Stratford.  There are five houses to visit with Shakespearian connections, including his Birthplace, the house of his wife (Anne Hathaway) and the childhood home of his mother, Mary Arden.

*Explore the rock-carved houses at Kinver Edge…from our base on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal Great Haywood, Kinver Edge near Stourbridge can be reached on a short break.

Cared for by The National Trust, Kinver’s famous Holy Austin Rock Houses which were inhabited until the 1950’s, give an atmospheric glimpse into a bygone age.  And the woodland sandstone ridge out which the houses are built, offers dramatic views across surrounding counties.