Seven Wonders of the Waterways – perfect Canal Boat Bucket List

The ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ was compiled by Robert Aickman. he was the co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association. His book ‘Know Your Waterways’ was published iover 70 years ago.

Now the canal boat company Drifters has added the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. It make the perfect Canal Boat Holiday ‘Bucket List’ guide for 2024.


First of the seven wonders is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  It carrys the Llangollen Canal 38 metres high above the River Dee. This awesome World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain.

Built between 1795 and 1805, it has 18 magnificent stone piers. They support a 307-metre 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, boaters literally feel like they are floating above the earth! Drifters has a canal boat hire base on the Llangollen Canal at Trevor in North Wales. It is just a five-minute cruise from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.


The Anderton Boat Lift is the second of the seven wonders.  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 is large enough to take a barge or pair of narrowboats. In 1983 problems with the mechanism caused the lift to close. But after a Heritage Lottery Funded restoration, it reopened in 2002. Drifters has a narrowboat hire base on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Anderton, right next to the Lift.


Number three in the list of the seven wonders is 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. They opened in 1810 but by 1950 they had become derelict. After a major restoration effort, they were reopened HM The Queen in 1990. Drifters’ Devizes base is at the base of the flight.


The Bingley Five-Rise Locks is the fourth of the seven wonders.  Completed in 1774, this spectacular staircase of locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal 17 miles from Leeds. It 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. The nearest canal Drifters boat hire base is on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Silsden, a distance of six miles away. With five locks to pass through along the way, the journey to Bingley from Silsden takes around four-and-a-half hours.


Fifth of the seven wonders is The Standedge Tunnel.  Tunnelling for over three miles 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. In the 20th century, the Huddersfield Canal fell into disrepair, becoming un-navigable by 1948. But after a long restoration programme, both the canal and tunnel were reopened in 2001. Today you need to book your passage though the tunnel with the Canal & River Trust. There is also a trip boat operating from the Marsden end. The nearest drifters base is at Sowerby Bridge. Its at the junction of the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal, 20 miles and 65 locks away. The journey to Standedge takes around 21 hours (three days).


Barton Swing Aqueduct is the penultimate in the of the seven wonders.  Originally built in 1761 by James Brindley to take the Bridgewater Canal across the River Irwell. At the time of its opening the Barton Aqueduct was considered a marvel. But then the Manchester Ship Canal company decided to use the course of the Irwell at Barton as part of its navigation channel. That meant Brindley’s Aqueduct had to be 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. The nearest Drifters base is at Acton Bridge, on the Trent & Mersey Canal near Northwich in Cheshire. From there, it takes around nine hours, travelling 26 miles and through just one lock, to reach the Barton Swing Aqueduct.


The Burnley Embankment is also known as ‘The Straight Mile’.  The mile-long Burnley Embankment carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over 18 metres high. It crosses part of the town, offering boaters breath-taking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Though costly and difficult to build, the Burnley Embankment, which spans the Calder Valley, avoided the need for a series of locks. They would have slowed cargo-carrying boats down. Designed by Robert Whitworth, the embankment was built between 1796 and 1801. It involved the mammoth task of transporting (by horse and cart) around half a million tons of earth from the nearby canal cutting at Whittlefield and tunnel at Gannow. Drifters’ narrowboat hire base at Barnoldswick is just 11 miles and seven locks away from Burnley.

Now Eighth!

Making of the seven wonders into eight is The Falkirk Wheel.  It was built as part of the Millennium Link project to restore the canals linking the east and west coasts of Scotland. The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Opened in 2002 and standing at a height of 35 metres, it moves boats between the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal. It replaces a flight of 11 locks which had been dismantled in 1933. It can carry up to 600 tonnes (eight or more boats) and uses just 1.5KWh of energy to turn.  That is the same amount it takes to boil eight kettles. Drifters offers canal boat rental at Falkirk, right next to the Wheel.

Drifters Waterway Holidays is made up of nine hire boat companies: ABC Boat Hire, Anglo Welsh, Black Prince, Countrywide Cruisers, Kate Boats, Foxhangers, Napton Narrowboats, Shire Cruisers and Union Canal Carriers.  Between them they offer over 550 boats for hire, operating from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales.  2024 hire prices start at £620 for a short break on a boat for up to four people, £860 for a week.  Narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate up to 12 people.