The COVID-19 lockdown measures have been tough on everyone – and narrowboaters are no exception. Whereas the spring months usually herald the start of relaxing holidays and weekend breaks on the water, this year is clearly very different.

We spoke to Annamarie and Kath from YouTube channel The Narrowboat Experience to get their tips for staying positive.

How have you adapted to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions and kept yourselves busy?

Annamarie: We run an online business from the boat called Art by Annamarie, so we’re pretty set up to be isolated. However, we’ve had to find other things to keep ourselves busy –the boat has never been cleaner! I’ve been able to concentrate more on being creative with my painting and designing. Because of the beautiful weather, I’ve also been able to spend some time out on the stern reading and meditating.

Kath: A lot of my work is behind the scenes in business administration for Art by Annamarie, so my work hasn’t changed. I have a bit more time on my hands as we’re not moving the boat. I’ve been filling that time with some woodwork projects and minor boat maintenance. There are a few jobs we’d like to get done, but we’re unable to get the equipment we need to do them.

Annamarie has been teaching me to paint and we’ve also started a free series on her Art by Annamarie YouTube channel to help others learn to paint.

What have you enjoyed the most about being on your narrowboat over the last few weeks?

Annamarie: Being on the water over the last few weeks, we have seen the start of Spring. The flowers are starting to blossom and leaves are developing on the trees. Because we’ve stayed in one place, we’ve been able to watch a family of moorhens grow, as well as a duck family. We’ve had to move the boat to go and get water and this has been very enjoyable because it’s given us a little variety in our week.

Kath: Since lockdown means that we are in one place and aren’t moving as much, it feels like we’ve had more opportunity to appreciate nature. Whilst we usually spend a lot of time outside, it has definitely been more noticeable this year. We’ve also paid a lot more attention to the wildlife – for example, watching the sheep in the fields next to us and a local heron hunting for his dinner every day.

On the flipside, what are some of the main challenges you’ve faced?

Annamarie: The main challenge for me has been the influx of new towpath users. With more people stuck indoors and seeking exercise outside, the towpaths have been incredibly busy. On a usual spring day, that would be wonderful and cheerful. However, at the moment, with not quite a metre between some boats and hedges, it’s just impractical and stressful.

Some people seem to be on the towpath for the first time, as we’ve heard remarks about how ’uneven’ the paths are and how the towpath is for dogs not people. One person even yelled at us about overstaying in the area!

It’s been a challenge to stay away from walkers, but we have managed by doing tasks inside during busy times. We’ve also opened up the boat that faces the canal whilst closing the towpath side during the day. 

Kath: It’s been frustrating not being able to move regularly – I’m not used to being in the same place for this long. I like moving to the new areas and exploring different towns. It’s also hard having to stay away from family. 

When the weather is warm, as it has been recently, we would usually put our chairs out. But, at the moment, the towpath feels very busy with joggers, cyclists and walkers. It isn’t wide enough to keep away from people, so it’s easy to feel frustrated with the crowds.

We’re really happy that the towpath is still open so that local people have the opportunity to enjoy the canal, but sometimes it feels like they give no thought at all to the people that live on the canals. We’re lucky that there’s a local park and a few public footpaths around, so we can get our exercise away from the canal and take a break from the crowds.

How has this period impacted you from a content creation point of view?

Annamarie: We love our YouTube followers and have been really worried about some of them at this time. So, it was an easy decision to increase the amount of content we’re putting on YouTube. We want to keep people company if they are isolated and we want to take their minds off things, even for just a portion of the day. 

The content we’re creating at the moment is a bit different from our usual Sunday cruising vlogs, or ‘Through the Hedge’ episodes. Instead, we’re trying to share our time and our surroundings with viewers. We want our loyal followers to know we’re thinking of them. 

Kath: It’s essential to us to continue creating content, to give our followers a break from the constant news stream. We have a lot of ideas for videos and are enjoying the challenge of not moving from a content creation perspective. 

What steps have you taken to help other narrowboaters, particularly those who are elderly and/or lonely?

Annamarie: We have several narrowboat friends that we check in with regularly and some that we check in with daily. We receive many emails and messages via social media, and we try to reply to them as often and promptly as we can. 

Kath: We don’t have a car and are not moored near any other boats at the moment, so we are limited in the help we can provide to others. We are making an extra effort to reply quickly to people who reach out to us online. 

What advice do you have for other narrowboaters during this difficult time?

Annamarie: I always say that this is not an opportunity. A pandemic is not an opportunity for getting things done. So, do not be harsh on yourself. It can be a trap to think this is an opportunity to, for example, paint the boat. But if you aren’t prepared or inclined to do it, don’t put pressure on yourself at this time. 

Kath: Everyone reacts differently to the isolation or the lockdown. I think the key is to not be hard on yourself. If someone moored near you looks like they are doing lots of boat maintenance and you don’t feel able to do it, then that is really OK. Also, if you need to move for essential reasons, enjoy the journey – even if it isn’t as far as you would like to go. 

Thank you to Annamarie and Kath for sharing their thoughts with us. We wish them the very best!

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