YouTube channel spotlight: Cruising the Cut

It was only a few years ago that I rarely used YouTube. I’d occasionally check out a film trailer or listen to a song I couldn’t find anywhere else, but I largely bypassed its user-generated content, figuring that the website was largely filled up with amateurish comedy, cat videos, and cringeworthy children making videos they’re bound to look back on in shame a few years down the line! But as the web has grown to become an ever-larger part of all of our lives, I’ve found myself spending more and more time on YouTube to the point where I’m pretty sure I watch at least one video on the platform every day.

There are some great channels on YouTube, and you can find different ones dealing with every topic under the sun, but this time I’d like to shine a spotlight on one which became a favourite a couple of years ago: Cruising the Cut. When I first subscribed, the channel was hovering somewhere around the 25,000-subscriber mark. That’s good, but by no means YouTube royalty! In the last couple of years, however, Cruising the Cut has grown to well over 100,000 subscribers, and hitting that mark was thoroughly deserved.

So what is Cruising the Cut? It’s primarily about travelling on England’s canal network, and the life of a “liveaboard” – i.e. someone whose permanent home is his narrowboat. The gentleman in question is named David, and the first couple of videos on Cruising the Cut explain how he decided to sell up and move aboard a canal boat permanently. David was a television journalist before starting his YouTube channel, and his background, both in terms of knowing how to use the camera and set up beautiful shots, as well as how to be interesting and informative in his presentation, shines through.

David runs the channel and produces and narrates every video.

2021 seems like a great time to get caught up with Cruising the Cut if a travelogue around England sounds like your cup of tea, because the pandemic has, unfortunately, brought a halt to David’s planned travels. The result of this has been fewer videos, and a recent announcement that there may not be much travelling being put to film at least for the next few months. So now could be a good time to binge-watch David’s travels so far!

I’ve always had an interest in canals, and their history is really fascinating. The second half of the 1700s was the heyday of canal construction in England, and a network of artificial waterways was built that spans much of the central part of the country. They were initially constructed as profitable transportation routes, often for moving natural resources like coal or iron to budding industrial centres. By the mid-20th Century, however, many canals had fallen into disrepair, and it took a lot of hard work to restore the network to its current condition – work which is still ongoing.

The invention of the railway and steam locomotives brought canal construction to a premature halt in the 19th Century, though many of the engineering and mechanical techniques pioneered during their construction did not go to waste and was used by early railway builders. It’s primarily for this reason, though, that the canal network is not larger!

A map showing the extent of the canal network in England and Wales.
Picture Credit: The Canal & River Trust

Since starting his channel in 2015, David has filmed his travels across a significant portion of the canal network, but hasn’t yet been everywhere or stopped at every point of interest! So hopefully, once the pandemic clears, there will be more to come. He manages to be informative and entertaining in equal measure in every video, and I find myself learning something new about the canals, their history, or the part of the country he’s visiting almost every time.

Gongoozling – the name for canal boat-watching – is, by its nature, a slow affair. This isn’t something fast-paced or action-packed, so set your expectations accordingly! Canal narrowboats only have a maximum cruising speed of around four miles-per-hour, so don’t expect Cruising the Cut to be zipping all across the country in each video. This is, as David says, “slow TV.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and stepping out of our sometimes-hectic lives to slow down and set our watches to “canal time” is no bad thing. Sometimes we choose entertainment for its value as escapism, and perhaps that’s what you’ll find with Cruising the Cut. Life on the canals certainly seems to be at a different pace – it can feel, sometimes, like another world, one caught in a moment somewhere in England’s past.

The intro to episode 159.

When I first encountered Cruising the Cut there were a couple of other canal-related YouTube channels, but that number has grown over the last few years and there must be at least a dozen by now. It’s a niche, certainly, but apparently a growing one! I wouldn’t have expected that necessarily, but despite the fairly obscure subject matter, it just goes to show that anything can be interesting and entertaining if well-presented.

That could be the motto of many YouTube shows, actually! I’m often surprised at how channels with a fairly narrow or unusual focus can draw large audiences, but when the presenter is enjoyable to watch, the subject matter itself can almost be anything. In the case of Cruising the Cut, following David’s travels around the canal network is one half of the appeal; the second is the way in which it’s presented.

The episodes in which he travels are usually filmed from two angles – one at the front of the boat, and one at the back, where David can speak directly to the camera from the boat’s stern deck. Cruising the Cut does sometimes make use of drone shots as well, and these can be absolutely stunning! There are some beautiful vistas along the canal network, and David’s camera work is great at capturing them.

The view from the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales.

So that’s about all I have to say, really. Cruising the Cut is gentle entertainment for when you need a break, as well as an interesting and informative travelogue, one that is perhaps not quite on the beaten track! You may have seen England in travel documentaries before – you might even live here – but I’d be willing to bet that most folks haven’t seen this side of the country. There are big cities, smaller towns, and rural areas all served by this canal network, and it really is a world unto itself – a world of slow-moving pleasure boats, holidaymakers, marinas, chandleries, and even the occasional floating business that has survived into the modern era.

I know this isn’t the usual kind of geekdom that I write about – and it seems a country mile away from sci-fi – but if you’re interested either in a fun travelogue or in learning more about the canals, which are a fascinating part of English history, maybe you’ll find Cruising the Cut as much fun as I do.

Cruising the Cut, and all videos posted to the channel, are the copyright of the channel owner. YouTube and associated trademarks are the copyright of Google and Alphabet. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.