As the pandemic shrank my world, I've been yearning to tour our canals. Thankfully YouTube’s many narrowboat vloggers have given my partner and I the perfect escape. My name is Clare Stevens and Waterfront have asked me to share my discoveries with you, my fellow Friends of the Canal & River Trust. So if you’ve exhausted your favourite TV streaming service, why not spend a night in, enjoying a day out on the water?
From rolling countryside to high drama on the tidal Thames, my partner and I discovered these vlogs (video diaries) provide the perfect antidote to Coronavirus gloom. There are dozens of boat-tubers out there, posting high-quality, entertaining videos about life aboard.
Some are living the retirement dream, some are youngsters seeking an alternative lifestyle away from the rat race, and others have adapted their lives to live and work on the waterways. They also give sound advice to anyone considering buying, building, or living aboard a narrowboat. And it’s not all rural idyll. They show the less glamorous side too. Here’s a small selection of our favourites:
David is a former TV journalist, so his confident delivery shines through. Five years ago he sold up, quit his job and bought a narrowboat. One of the very first boat-tubers, he’s posted more than 250 videos featuring life on board, beautiful scenery and practical tips.
There’s something immensely reassuring about these vlogs. As a continuous cruiser, navigating the waterways single-handed you feel you’re in safe hands. I do worry about David’s diet though. He seems to survive solely on cheese sandwiches.
A highly entertaining double-act, Colin and Shaun’s weekly vlogs make for essential Friday night viewing. They sold their home and built Silver Fox, a brand new 57-foot narrowboat. Canine crewmate Otis, an adorable cocker spaniel puppy sometimes steals the show.
Ex radio presenter Colin does most of the talking and Shaun quips in with one-liners. Colin has a gift for memorably bringing history to life. Like the grizzly tale of a narrowboat murder at Brindley Park, or the story of the Rugeley poisoner. Also, don’t miss a trip down the tidal Thames on the ebb tide through central London from Teddington to Limehouse. The ultimate spectacular trip.
Although this vlog is funny, Colin speaks frankly about his autism and associated mental health issues. Last autumn, when both caught coronavirus, fans held their breath after Shaun was rushed to hospital. All recovered now but it was a hairy few weeks.
Joanna and Victor swapped city life in the fast lane for café culture. They navigate the waterways with two narrowboats and a canoe. One boat is their home, the other they’ve converted into a floating café. They are young, charming and entertaining, with an infectious optimism.
Their videos are quirky, informative and fun. Viewers can follow Holly’s restoration from rusty wreck to a beautiful, fully kitted out café boat, which has just begun to serve customers. Currently moored on the Trent & Mersey Canal, they plan to move around once restrictions lift, so look out for them on a canal bank near you.
Lorna says: “I tell you the things about boat life that others are too nice to talk about.” Her channel gives a taste of urban boat life filmed around her east London location.
She doesn’t baulk at showing the downside of life aboard, like when her engine failed mid-trip and she needed a rescue tow from a passing boat, or when her crew-mate fished out an entire, sodden sleeping bag from the weed hatch. In one episode Lorna helps to rescue a baby deer from the canal.
In their boat aptly named Perseverance, Jo and Michael set out to cover every section of UK navigable waterway, boating in all weathers and charting their progress through their videos. In 2019 they were first to complete the Inland Waterways Association Silver Propeller challenge, which encourages boaters to visit the furthest flung, least travelled sections of the network.
Alan, a Canal & River Trust volunteer, lives aboard Lazy Daze in a marina after taking early retirement. He posts beautiful videos of his trips along the Grand Union Canal, sharing his everyday life with a global audience. He recently even filmed his trip to receive his coronavirus jab. He also posts step-by-step guidance on many aspects of boat owning and maintenance. He’s a likeable, gentle guy and his videos are comforting, calming. The ultimate in slow TV.
Clare Stevens is a journalist and author who blogs at clarestevens.com
Last date edited: 24 March 2021
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