Are we a step closer to floating our boats?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

*This post has been updated from the original of Spring 2020 and discussed the expectation of when the waterways would reopen as the corona virus pandemic progressed.

The Government announced plans for the phased reopening of the country on February 22nd. The CRT have released their interpretation which indicates the go-ahead to stay overnight on leisure craft from April 12th.

Like all recreational spaces, the canal network has been subject to Social Distancing rules. This has restricted traffic to live aboard only and brought narrowboat cruising to a standstill.

In April we anticipate the next steps to reopening the waterways. With a stepped review of social distancing rules, this would suit the holiday letting sector. That includes narrowboat hire. After all, ‘holidaying with a close family unit’ is a byline for vacations afloat!

And family members from the same bubble are the first group we are likely to be welcoming aboard.

Al Fresco is the new normal

Many canalside pubs have beautiful outdoor spaces and beer gardens which could adapt to social distancing rules. Beer Garden, the Boat Inn, Gnosall.

Pubs, along with the rest of the hospitality sector, are really suffering. The early Spring weather that’s continuing into this month must be a source of frustration for landlords and customers alike.

The canalside pubs are a major attraction to narrowboat vacationers, often used as destinations for lunch or dinner. Many have beer gardens where a near-normal return to business is conceivable, albeit with social distancing in place. Walk-up drinks service could be setup similar to curb side pickups some grocery chains have introduced. I remember watching a boater at the Swan at Fradley returning a tray-load of glasses from the night before from customers’ boats moored in the basin. Narrowboaters invented the float-up bar!

Grocery shopping has remained open with strict queuing rules; home delivery to narrowboats will resume once the towpaths are open again. Expect reduced delivery slots though, as groups still under lockdown are given priority.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Most likely we will not get the green light to go out on the water just yet. Let’s hope these early stages are patiently adhered to and before the month of March is out we can go even further out into the daylight.

But navigating our way around this deadly virus still requires caution until a large proportion of the population is vaccinated.

In the meantime, we’re contenting ourselves by reviewing our own trip on the Shropshire Union canal – and a visit to the Boat Inn featured above – back in September. You can follow along in our blog entries here. And for relaxing viewing, checkout our YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, stay safe and hope to see you onboard!

Mike For