Meet Narrowboat Girl

Twelve-year-old YouTube star Emma – aka the Narrowboat Girl – and mum Fiona share their top vlogging tips, favourite canals and the highs and lows of boating life

Narrow Boat Girl, Emma

Making the transition from land to water has been an exciting adventure for 12-year-old Emma, her mum Fiona and their five dogs, who’ve been cruising the canal network in their floating home since May 2018. It’s been particularly exciting for Emma, who began making video blogs and launched her own YouTube channel Narrowboat Girl documenting their journey, day-to-day adventures and boating tips. We caught up with Emma and Fiona to find out how they’ve adjusted to life on the water, and to Emma’s newfound fame as a YouTube star.

Tell us about your transition from land to canal life.
Fiona: I used to foster teenagers in Trowbridge, and when I stopped, my house was too big for Emma and myself. I’d also looked after my parents for many years, and when they died I was able to consider travelling as Emma was already homeschooled. We wanted to live off-grid, so we looked at a number of different options. Buying land was too expensive. We liked the flexibility that boating life offered, so we sold our house in January 2018, bought Pendle a couple of months later and have been continuously cruising ever since. Living on a narrowboat is not always a cheap option, but it does give us the opportunity to live in parts of the UK we wouldn’t be able to afford if we lived in a house. And because we always wanted to live off-grid, I think we were more prepared for the ups and downs of boating life.

Tell us a bit about Pendle.
Fiona: We bought her at Devizes Marina – she already had the name Pendle and we decided not to change it. She was built in 1980, she’s 49 foot long, and is fitted with solar panels and a compost toilet. We’ve taken her to quite a few places – we’ve travelled from Devizes up to Reading on the Kennet & Avon, then from Reading to Oxford on the Thames. We’ve been on the Oxford Canal, Coventry Canal and the Ashby Canal. We’ve also been to Mercia Marina on the Trent & Mersey, then to Great Haywood. We’re spending a bit of time on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal before continuing on the Trent & Mersey Canal towards Stoke on Trent.

Emma, how did you get into vlogging ?
Emma: I first started in January 2018 when I filmed us packing up our house. We also lived in a caravan for a couple of months, and I filmed that as well. I’ve always loved YouTube, and I enjoyed learning about filming and editing as part of my homeschooling. I like having a diary of the places we visit.

What three tips would you share with other young people thinking of starting their own vlog?
Emma: First tip – Choose something you’re really interested in and enjoy filming. It doesn’t really matter what you do as people watch YouTube for so many different things, but they do like to watch things that people are clearly interested in. Also, make sure you get to the point of the video quickly so people don’t click off.

Second tip – You don’t need expensive filming equipment. A phone is fine – just make sure people can see and hear you.

Third tip – There are so many great tutorials on YouTube where you can learn the basics. Also, YouTube Analytics is useful to see how well your videos are doing.

Fiona: I have a fourth tip I’d like to share with parents, and that is to supervise everything. Because Emma’s only 12, all her social media accounts are in my name and I read all the messages and comments.

Fiona, what do you make of the Emma’s growing status as a YouTube star?
Fiona: I’m really proud of Emma. She’s worked so hard to learn how to film and edit her vlogs. It’s not always gone to plan – she’s had to learn to take feedback from her viewers, and she’s always working hard to improve the quality of her videos. Being an off-grid YouTuber isn’t always easy as we sometimes don’t have internet signal, and Emma has to charge her phone and laptop from solar energy!

Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve been on the canals? And the most interesting?
Fiona: There have been so many beautiful places. We loved our week on the Thames from Reading to Oxford. We’re a bit nervous of going on rivers, but the Thames gave us such a different experience from cruising on a narrow canal. We also loved Hungerford on the Kennet & Avon. Thrupp on the South Oxford Canal was also lovely. It’s really hard to choose a favourite! The most interesting place we’ve been to is Tooley’s Boatyard in Banbury, as it really shows you the history of the canal.

What surprises have you encountered along the way?
Fiona: We banged a mooring pin into an underground wasp nest on the Kennet & Avon and were attacked by a swarm of angry wasps! Also, we’ve been surprised by how amazing the boating community is – if you’re ever in trouble, people will go out of their way to help you. The boating community on Youtube has also been very supportive of Emma.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of making their home on a narrowboat?
Fiona: Our first year living on our boat was a very steep learning curve, so it’s good to do lots of research before you start. There are some great YouTubers with brilliant advice, such as Cruising the Cut, This Narrowboat Adventure, the Minimal List and the Narrowboat Experience, plus some really helpful Facebook pages where you can look up general boating advice or specific topics like battery issues, compost toilets or guides to specific canals.

What’s the best thing about boating life?
Emma: The wildlife. Interacting with the swans and geese and ducks is so amazing. When we stay in one area for a while they often come to visit us for food and peck on the side of the boat until they get their own way.

Fiona: The ever-changing scenery of the canals. You can moor up in the middle of the countryside one day, then be in the middle of a town or city the next – there’s so much variety.

Any low points?
Emma: When the internet signal isn’t good. Also, when we’ve run out of ice cream and we are miles from the nearest shop.

Fiona: When things sometimes go wrong and you have to plan where you’re going next to get water and shopping. A simple engine breakdown can be stressful, so I’ve learned that you must always be prepared on the canal.

Describe a typical day on the boat (if there is such a thing!)
Fiona: A typical non-cruising day would be Emma doing her homeschooling and then chores. She might also film or edit a video. If we’re near a town or village we might also go shopping or pick up post from a local post office. We also walk our dogs. A cruising day would include making sure all our equipment is charged up. We might cruise in the morning, then Emma would do her homeschooling in the afternoon. In the evening, we relax and watch YouTube or Netflix, and catch up with friends online or on the phone.

What’s your favourite part of the boat?
Emma: In front of the fire in winter.

Fiona: Out on the cruiser stern, watching the world go by.

You can watch Emma’s boating adventures on her YouTube channel Narrowboat Girl