Canal Boating – a perfect break on the waterways
I was lucky enough to fulfil a lifetime ambition of going on a canal boat holiday this Autumn. I took a press trip with Drifters’ operator Anglo Welsh from their Whixall base in Shropshire. Whixall is a new base for Anglo Welsh as of 2019.
We arrived at the base to meet Alan the manager who gave us comprehensive instructions on how to drive our smart green four berth craft, the Grafton.
As two complete novices my fiend Julie and I were firmly in the ‘how hard can it be?’ camp at this point. We didn’t know our windlass from our bilge pump.
Alan helped us out of the marina and we moored nearby for the first night. The boat is toasty warm with very effective heating, a hot water shower and a well equipped kitchen. The bed is super comfortable too. There isn’t much of a phone signal or Wi-Fi connection at any point so if you’re looking for a digital detox this could be an ideal option for you.
Canal life – bridges tunnels and locks
After negotiating a first lifting bridge with the windlass, we set off apace at about 2 miles an hour. We turned left at the Prees junction onto the Llangollen canal. At this point we were being overtaken by most dog walkers on the tow path as we puttered slowly along.
The Llangollen canal is in a rather a lovely spot and the countryside around these parts is gorgeous. I had never been to Shropshire before and this really is rural England (and Wales) at its best. We were so lucky with the weather too. The stunning trees lining the route were covered in leaves changing colour to yellow and red. They rained gently down on us like fall confetti as we drifted along on our trusty vessel.
Steering the tiller takes a bit of mental and physical agility. You also need to allow for the length of the boat. At 48 feet long the Grafton is a smaller craft and great starter boat, but it still takes a bit of getting used to.
If you want to go left turn the tiller to the right. If you want to go left turn it to the right. This is all perfectly straight forward, until it isn’t. It is perfectly possible that you may have a bit of a blank and accidentally head straight into the bank squealing ‘which way is it, which way?!!’
Similarly you may find yourself a bit stuck in the weeds and mud in the most shallow part of the canal as you try and negotiate other craft on the waterway. There is a large pole on board to get yourself out of this particular situation.
The Llangollen canal
The sailing route goes past a number of meres or shallow lakes where there are lots of sports fishermen fishing for large specimen fish. They fish them out and then put them back in again. We passed lots of beautiful properties, many charming residential narrowboats, and even a monastery on the way.
Mooring up at Ellesmere for our second night, we were conveniently right next to a large TESCO to purchase provisions. You will need to bring at least some of your own food as there aren’t a lot of retail outlets immediately en route.
Ellesmere is a charming little town with cute cafes, and shops and a Rennet works. Used in the making of the famous Shropshire Blue cheese I am sure.
Advice on canal boating
We had help and commentary from practically everyone we met. From a small toddler who wouldn’t let go of our tow rope to a large strong man who hauled us round the turning circle with pure brute strength, when we got a bit stuck (again.)
Advice is always proffered by the good natured canal community. ‘Speed up!’ ‘Slow down!’ ‘Reverse!’ ‘Where’s your L plates!?’
At this point in the journey our skills were starting to improve. We had to negotiate a fair number of bridges and became quite adept at them. I’ll admit that we did actually avoid doing any locks at all on our chosen route, but we’ll be ready for them next time!
We got better at turning round too – it’s all in the reverse action. Our speed rocketed up to about four miles an hour, which is actually the speed limit, on the longer straight stretches.
Wildlife on the canal
The waterways are alive with wildlife. Birds, squirrels, kestrels, ducks and swans all live on the canal. An elegant heron waited on the bank and then followed the boat as we travelled along.
We jumped off the boat to walk to a local pub for dinner on the third night returning along the road in the dark, torch in hand.
Our final night and we returned to the Marina and motored into Whitchurch for our evening meal. Whitchurch is a charming Olde Worlde town with Tudor houses, quaint shops and pubs and a beautiful church. We hadn’t realised the Marina was closed at the end of the day, so we had to park the car outside and climb over the gates to get back in, but it was all part of the adventure!
Holidaying on a canal boat is a charming way to spend a few days. This part of the world is home to some of the most picturesque of all the canals which are looked after by the Canal & River Trust.
Drifters’ 2021 Fact Box Info
Drifters Waterway Holidays offers 550 canal boats for hire from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales.
There are over 3,000 miles of waterways for you to discover, all at your own pace and you don’t need to be an expert. Tuition is included as part of Drifters’ holiday packages.
2021 hire prices start at £540 for a short break (three or four nights) on a boat for four, £760 for a week.
Narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate from two up to 12 people.
For more information visit https://www.drifters.co.uk/ or call 0344 984 0322
Visiting the canal network www.canalrivertrust.org.uk
For more information about Anglo Welsh go to www.anglowelsh.co.uk
Grafton 2021 prices start at £560 for a short break, £775 for a week.
A 15 per cent early booking discount is available for 2021 holidays booked by 30 November 2020
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