BBC 2024-03-02 10:33:33

Israel Gaza: Large number of gunshot wounds among those injured in aid convoy rush – UN

Many of the people treated for injuries following a rush on an aid convoy in Gaza on Thursday suffered gunshot wounds, the UN has said.

UN observers visited Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital and saw some of the roughly 200 people still being treated.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, has accused Israel of firing at civilians, but Israel said there was a “stampede” after its troops fired warning shots.

Leaders from around the world have called for a full investigation.

The incident unfolded after hundreds of people descended on an aid convoy as it moved along a coastal road, accompanied by the Israeli military, in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The World Food Programme has warned that a famine is imminent in northern Gaza, which has received very little aid in recent weeks, and where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water.

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In footage from the scene, volleys of gunfire can be heard and people are seen scrambling over lorries and ducking behind the vehicles.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry has said that at least 112 people were killed in the incident and another 760 were injured.

In a statement on social media, Rear Adm Daniel Hagari, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said, “Dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling.”

The IDF’s Lt Col Peter Lerner also told Channel 4 News that a “mob stormed the convoy” and that Israeli troops “cautiously [tried] to disperse the mob with a few warning shots”.

Mark Regev, special adviser to the Israeli prime minister, had earlier told CNN that Israel had not been involved directly in any way and that the gunfire had come from “Palestinian armed groups”, though he did not provide evidence.

Giorgios Petropoulos, head of the Gaza sub-office of the UN Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the BBC he and a team sent to al-Shifa hospital found a large number of people with gunshot wounds.

He said all but a handful of the 70 to 80 patients in the emergency room he visited had been injured during the convoy incident.

In addition to those with gunshot wounds, he said doctors had treated many who had fallen down or been trampled – but he was unable to say with certainty which group was larger.

Mr Petropoulos said those with gunshot injuries had suffered wounds in the upper and lower body. One patient told him he had been shot in the chest and who had walked to Shifa to get treatment.

“He said they (Israeli troops) usually shoot in the air. This time, they shot into the thickest part of the crowd,” Mr Petropoulos said.

But, Mr Petropoulos emphasised UN personnel had not been present during the incident making it very difficult to know precisely what happened.

Dr Mohamed Salha, interim hospital manager at al-Awda hospital, previously told the BBC that they had received 176 of the injured, of whom 142 had bullet wounds.

He added that the others had suffered broken limbs.

Responding to the incident, UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron called the deaths “horrific” and said there “must be an urgent investigation and accountability”.

“This must not happen again,” he said.

He added that the incident could not be separated from the “inadequate aid supplies” entering Gaza and called the current levels “simply unacceptable”.

US President Joe Biden announced that the US would begin dropping aid into Gaza by air, saying: “Innocent people got caught in a terrible war, unable to feed their families. We need to do more, and the United States will do more.”

Israel military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas – which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the UK and others – after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 30,000 people, including 21,000 children and women, have been killed in Gaza since then with some 7,000 missing and at least 70,450 injured.

Israel-Gaza briefings: Biden treading carefully through political minefield

On Monday afternoon, while snacking on ice cream with a late-night television talk show host, US President Joe Biden hinted that a new ceasefire was within reach in the Gaza War, perhaps as early as this coming Monday.

“My national security adviser tells me that we’re close,” he said.

His words, which the White House has since walked back, landed with a thud for many in the American Palestinian community.

Then on Tuesday night in Michigan, one of the key battlegrounds in November’s presidential election, more than 100,000 people in the Democratic primary cast their ballot for “uncommitted” as part of a protest organised by pro-Palestinian groups.

“This is a warning sign,” said Lexis Zeidan, one of the organisers, on Tuesday night.

This has been a week in which Mr Biden has been reminded that the turmoil in the Middle East, and the White House’s response to it, could translate into electoral peril.

Since the start of the conflict after the 7 October attacks, the president has been caught in a vice, forced to make Middle East policy choices that anger keys parts of his coalition.

But the Biden administration is treading carefully when it comes to substantive policy shifts. And despite this week’s domestic pressure, the Biden administration has largely remained set on its current course.

At a briefing on Thursday, US State Department Press Secretary Matt Miller said the US continues to give aid to Israel to support the nation’s “legitimate right” to protect itself and prevent an attack like 7 October from happening again.

“There is a mistaken belief that the United States is able to dictate to other countries sovereign decisions,” he said. “Israel makes its sovereign decisions – we make clear where we disagree with them.”

On background, US officials have said that the Americans are considering delaying further arms shipments to Israel and other measures.

Most opinion polls suggest that the American public as a whole tends to support Israel in the conflict, even while key components of Mr Biden’s Democratic coalition – young voters and people of colour – do not.

The domestic political calculations are complicated. His administration has to balance competing constituencies within the Democratic Party that could all claim they are essential to the president’s re-election cause.

Pro-Palestinian groups in the US have called for a permanent ceasefire, support for diplomatic efforts in the United Nations and the threat of an end to American military aid to Israel if it does not change course.

“People are upset, and you’ve got to give them a reason not to be upset,” says Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

He describes the Biden administration’s efforts so far as “ham-fisted, half-measure statements about how we were sorry we didn’t express more sympathy and we’re working behind the scenes”.

The protest vote in Michigan amounted to less than the margin by which Mr Biden beat Republican Donald Trump in the state in 2020, but is much more than the 10,704 votes Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the state to him in 2016.

“There’s no doubt that there were some folks in Michigan that wanted to send the president a message,” Mitch Landrieu, the campaign’s national co-chair, said on Thursday. “Every issue is complicated, and this is one of them that needs to be worked through.”

In reality, while the pro-Palestinian groups are a vocal minority, they are still a minority, says Derry Sragow, a California-based political consultant.

“There’s a chunk of the electorate that is very much focused on Gaza, but it’s a very small,” he says.

“That’s not to say that how the president deals with Gaza is unimportant, but it is just another brushstroke on the canvas that voters are going to be looking at when they cast their vote.”

Polls show that the American public is more concerned about the economy, immigration and abortion rights.

And even in Michigan, Mr Sragow notes, there are as many Jewish voters who are passionate about supporting Israel as there are pro-Palestinian voters. And Jewish voters continue to overwhelmingly support Democrats, with more than 70% backing him in 2020 and polls showing that majorities approve of his handling of the Gaza War.

With eight months until the election, Biden campaign officials are hoping that the prospect of a binary choice between Mr Biden and Donald Trump will encourage dissenting voices in the Democrat political coalition to ultimately fall into line.

Campaign officials are already pointing to a number of controversial policies Mr Trump implemented during his presidential term, such as moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and support for Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

But with new headlines of civilian bloodshed in Gaza virtually every day, emotions are raw. This week the death toll in Gaza surpassed 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. And on Thursday at least 117 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were injured during an aid delivery in Gaza.

“We’re supposed to be in the position where you hurt us, you ignore us, you pay no attention to our feelings, but we’ll have to vote Democrat?” says Mr Zogby. “Why can’t you apply that same logic on the side of the Jewish community?”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has being going to lengths to dash any White House hopes that a change in rhetoric will put more pressure on Israel to conclude the war.

“From the beginning of the war, I have been leading a diplomatic campaign whose goal is to deflect the pressure to end the war prematurely,” he said this week.

Mr Netanyahu seems finally attuned to the US domestic political situation, as well, and says the American public overwhelmingly supports his cause.

All of this suggests Mr Biden has few easy means to extricate himself from his current political predicament.

“He’s been dealt a very, very limited, difficult hand to play,” says Sragow. “If I was a member of the senior staff advising Biden, I don’t know what I would say other than just do what you think in your heart is the right thing to do.”

The pro-Palestinian groups in the US would probably echo this sentiment, except they firmly believe the president’s heart is in the wrong place – and that he is poised to pay a high political price for it come November.

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  • Tough choices for Israel in US’s Middle East vision
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  • Stakes are immense as Biden presses Israel to change course
  • Hamas support soars in West Bank – but full uprising can still be avoided
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Iris Apfel: US fashion designer dies aged 102

American designer and fashion icon Iris Apfel has died at the age of 102.

The self-described “geriatric starlet” was known for her distinctive cropped white hair, oversized glasses, bright lipstick and chunky beads.

Apfel reached the peak of her fame in the 1980s and 90s, but was a familiar face at Paris fashion shows for more than half a century.

She also served a host of celebrity clients, including Greta Garbo and Estée Lauder.

Her death was announced to her almost three million followers on Instagram, with a picture of Apfel sporting her renowned oversized round glasses.

US designer Tommy Hilfiger was among those to pay tribute as he praised Apfel as an “innovator and leader” in the world of textiles and style, who “will go down in history”.

“Iris Apfel has become a world-famous fashion icon because of her incredible talent not only as an artist, but as an influencer,” he said.

“She has had an amazing effect on so many people with her huge heart and magic touch with everyone she meets.”

US singer Lenny Kravitz and Ted Lasso actress Hannah Waddingham also paid tribute.

Born to a Jewish family in New York in 1921, Apfel originally studied the history of art and specialised in interior design, particularly textiles.

She worked as an interior designer for decades, including on restoration projects at the White House, before becoming a trend setter in her 80s and a professional model at 97.

‘A kaleidoscope of colour’

Apfel’s agent Lori Sale said working alongside her was “the honour of a lifetime”.

“I will miss her daily calls, always greeted with the familiar question: ‘What have you got for me today?’ Testament to her insatiable desire to work,” Ms Sale said.

“She was a visionary in every sense of the word. She saw the world through a unique lens – one adorned with giant, distinctive spectacles that sat atop her nose.

“Through those lenses, she saw the world as a kaleidoscope of colour, a canvas of patterns and prints.

“Her artistic eye transformed the mundane into the extraordinary and her ability to blend the unconventional with the elegant was nothing short of magical.”

In 2014, she was the subject of a documentary, Iris, made by acclaimed director Albert Maysles.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight in 2015, she said she thought “dressing up should be fun” and was a “chance to play”.

“It’s part of my life because I’m a creative person and I think other people should indulge in a bit of creativity,” she said.

Asked what she thought of the idea of age-appropriate dress, she said that “if you can pull it off, it’s appropriate”.

Alcohol affects brains more than we realise

From the myth of Europeans’ “healthy drinking culture” to the surprising harm of some common family traditions, science is overturning old beliefs around alcohol and young people.

I turned 18 the day before I left home for university, conveniently passing the UK’s age threshold for buying alcohol just in time to explore student pubs and bars. When I signed up with a doctor near my new home, she asked how many units of alcohol I drank each week – a common way to measure alcohol intake here in the UK, with 1.5 units roughly equalling a small glass of wine. “Around seven,” I said, quickly totting up the few covert vodkas-and-orange that I’d enjoyed on nights out with my friends from school. I thought this was low, but I’d never been much of a rule-breaker.

“That’s going to rise now you’re here,” the doctor replied with a dry chuckle. She wasn’t wrong. Within a few weeks, I was happily knocking back a bottle of wine before lining up shots in the student bar. I knew heavy drinking could wreak its toll across the lifespan, but I hadn’t considered that my youth would bring additional dangers, compared to someone of 30, 40 or 50. Surely the risks were the same for all adults?

If I’d heard what I now know about the unique ways that alcohol can affect the young adult brain, I might have been a bit more cautious. At 18, my brain was still metamorphosing, and would not reach maturity for at least seven years. This alters the way we respond to alcohol – and drinking during this critical period can have long-term consequences for our cognitive development.

Speaking to researchers about the impact of alcohol on young people, I was surprised by many other findings besides these. Research from around the world is beginning to overturn a range of common assumptions around age and alcohol, such as the idea that continental Europeans have a healthier drinking culture than the UK or US, and that allowing young people to drink at home with meals teaches them responsible alcohol use. Whether or not this new science should change our current drinking laws is a complex political issue, but greater awareness of the facts may at least allow future generations to make a more informed choice about the ways that they choose to party – and might help parents decide how to handle alcohol in their own home.

When alcohol becomes legal, teenagers perceive it to be much less risky than before – Alexander Ahammer

Small bodies, big brains

Let’s be clear: alcohol is a toxin. Its dangers span fatal accidents, liver disease, and many kinds of cancer. Even small quantities can be carcinogenic, leading the World Health Organization to declare that “when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health”.

Few activities are completely risk-free, though, and the dangers tend to be weighed against the pleasures that alcohol can bring. Our health policies are therefore guided by the principle of damage limitation with moderate drinking. In the US this is defined as having no more than two drinks a day for men, and no more than one drink a day for women – with many other countries offering similar guidance. Although beer and wine are commonly seen as safer drinks, as the US guidance states, the type of drink is not the important factor – instead, it’s the amount of alcohol consumed: “One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one five-ounce glass of wine or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.” Legislation around the age of purchasing alcohol follows a similar logic of damage limitation: the laws protect children, while allowing young adults to make their own choices. In most European nations, the minimum age is 18 years – in the US it is 21.

There are, however, numerous reasons why alcohol may be more dangerous for younger people, even after they have passed the legal minimum drinking age. One is body size and shape: teenagers don’t reach their adult height until 21, and even after they have stopped growing vertically, they may lack the bulk of someone in their 30s or 40s. “Drinking one glass of alcohol therefore results in a higher blood alcohol content for young people than for adults,” says Ruud Roodbeen, a post-doctoral researcher at Maastricht University and the author of Beyond Legislation, which examines the impact of raising the minimum drinking age.

The adolescents’ lean frame is also characterised by a higher head-to-body ratio. I certainly know that I looked a little like a “bobblehead” toy, and these relative proportions can also influence the intoxication that someone experiences. When you drink alcohol, it enters your bloodstream and spreads through your body. Within five minutes, it reaches your brain, easily crossing the blood-brain-barrier that generally protects your brain from harmful substances. “A relatively large part of the alcohol ends up in the brains of young people, and that is yet another reason why young people are more likely to get alcohol poisoning,” Roodbeen says.

Age restrictions on alcohol are aimed at protecting children, but young adults are left to make their own choices (Credit: Javier Hirschfeld/BBC/Getty Images)

Shaping the brain

Equally important are the changes occurring within the skull. In the past, neural development was thought to stop in our early teens, but a swathe of recent research shows that the adolescent brain undergoes a complex rewiring that does not end until at least the age of 25.

The most important changes include a decline in “grey matter” as the brain prunes away the synapses that allow one cell to communicate with another. At the same time, white matter – long-distance connections known as axons covered with an insulating fatty sheath – tends to proliferate. “They are like the brain’s super-highways,” says Lindsay Squeglia, a neuropsychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina. The result is a more efficient neural network that can process information more quickly. 

The limbic system, involved with pleasure and reward, is the first to mature. “These areas are fully adult-like during adolescence,” Squeglia explains. The prefrontal cortex, which is located behind the forehead, is slower to ripen. This region is responsible for higher-order thinking – which includes emotional regulation, decision-making, and self-control.

The relative imbalance of these two regions’ development can explain why adolescents and young adults tend to be more risk-taking than adults. “A lot of people describe the adolescent brain as having a fully developed gas pedal without brakes,” says Squeglia. And bathing our neurons in alcohol – which is known to release inhibition – may only amplify this thrill chasing. For particularly impetuous teenagers, alcohol can create a vicious cycle of bad behaviour and delinquency. “The more impulsive kids tend to drink more, and then drinking causes more impulsivity,” says Squeglia.

After multiple years of drinking, we see less activation in the brain – Lindsay Squeglia

At high enough frequencies and volumes, adolescent drinking could impair the brain’s long-term development. Longitudinal studies show that early drinking is associated with a more rapid decline in grey matter, while the growth of the white matter is stunted. “Those super-highways aren’t getting paved as much in kids who start drinking,” says Squeglia.

The consequences may not be immediately evident in cognitive tests; in a young brain, the regions responsible for problem solving can work a little bit harder to make up for the deficits. It cannot keep this up forever, however. “After multiple years of drinking, we see less activation in the brain and poorer performance on these tests,” says Squeglia.

Early drinking can also take its toll on mental health, and heightens the risk of alcohol abuse later in life. This is particularly true for people who have a family history of alcoholism – the earlier they start, the greater their chances of developing a drinking problem themselves. The genes associated with an advanced risk of alcohol abuse seem to be most influential during this critical period of brain development. “And the longer that someone is able to wait, the less likely these genes are going to come into play,” says Squeglia.

The drinking culture in the country that you grow up in can have an impact on the relationship you have with alcohol as an adult (Credit: Javier Hirschfeld/BBC/Getty Images)

The European model?

How might these findings affect an adolescent’s choices – and their parents’ decisions around how and when to allow them to drink at home?

“Our message is delay as long as you can,” says Squeglia, “because your brain is still developing, and let your brain develop and be as healthy as it can before you start engaging in things like alcohol and other substance use.”

Whether this advice should be enshrined in law is another matter. Squeglia says that, in her public talks on alcohol consumption, members of the audience often raise the question of the “European model of drinking”. In some countries such as France, minors are allowed to have a glass of wine or beer to accompany a family meal. Even outside of Europe many parents believe that slow introduction to alcohol in a controlled context teaches young people to drink safely and reduce binge-drinking later on, whereas restriction leads it to become a tempting “forbidden fruit”.

This is a myth. “The research has shown that the more permissive a parent is with alcohol use, the more likely a kid is to have problems with alcohol later in life,” says Squeglia. A comprehensive review suggests that contrary to the forbidden-fruit belief, “parents imposing strict rules related to adolescent alcohol use is overwhelmingly associated with less drinking and fewer alcohol-related risky behaviors”.

Most evidence suggests that stricter drinking laws, with an older minimum age for purchase, also encourage more responsible consumption. Consider a study by Alexander Ahammer at the Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria, where anyone over 16 can legally purchase beer or wine. If stricter laws only increase the desire for booze, then you would expect Austria to have a healthier drinking culture than the US – where the minimum legal drinking age is 21. But this is not the case.

Both countries see an increase in binge drinking after someone has passed the minimum age. “But this jump was 25% higher in Austria at 16 than in USA at 21,” Ahammer says.

Waiting, in other words, seemed to have encouraged more responsible behaviour when Americans were permitted to purchase drinks legally.

Setting the legal age for drinking too high can be perceived as paternalistic (Credit: Javier Hirschfeld/BBC/Getty Images)

Questioning his participants about their behaviour, Ahammer found that the Austrians’ perceptions of the dangers associated with drinking changed dramatically as they passed their sixteenth birthday. “When alcohol becomes legal, teenagers perceive it to be much less risky than before,” Ahammer says. At 16, that false sense of security could be dangerous, whereas at 21, the more mature brain is somewhat better equipped to handle its drink.

Nor does the idea of a healthy European drinking culture hold true over a lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, data indicates that half of all alcohol-attributable cancers in the European region are caused by light and moderate alcohol consumption.

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Given the scientific evidence, should governments set the legal minimum age to 25 or over – once the brain has stopped developing? Experts point out that it’s not that simple, since the public health benefits need to be balanced against people’s perceptions of personal liberty.

“I think there’s this very little public appetite for a drinking age of 25,” says James MacKillop, who studies addictive behaviour at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “High minimum legal ages are perceived as paternalistic, and they can be seen as hypocritical if the legal age of majority for voting, or the legal age to serve in the military, is 18 or 19.”

Ahammer agrees. “At some point that we should just allow people to make their own decisions.”

Instead, MacKillop suggests adolescents could be provided with better education about alcohol’s risks, and the ways that it can affect the maturing brain. “Just assuming that people will naturally develop responsible habits when it comes to these drugs is a fairly optimistic assumption,” he says.

Looking back at my adolescence, I would have been intrigued to know about my brain’s continued transformation, and the effects that my alcohol consumption could have on its wiring. I don’t expect that I would have been teetotal – I still drink today, after all, despite knowing the long-term health risks – but I might have thought twice before buying an extra round.

*David Robson is an award-winning science writer. His next book is The Laws of Connection: The Transformative Science of Being Social, to be published by Canongate (UK) and Pegasus Books (USA & Canada) in June 2024. He is @d_a_robson on Twitter, and @davidarobson on Instagram and Threads.

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How to plan the perfect narrowboat vacation

More people than ever before are travelling through the UK’s canals. Here’s what it’s like – and how you can plan your own canal getaway.

Four miles per hour. That’s the perfect pace of life for Jo Caruana, and it’s a good thing too, because that’s as quick as her narrowboat will travel.

Caruana owns one of the 35,000 boats – including narrowboats – made for the rivers and canals across the United Kingdom, and she spends part of each year living on it. It’s a way of life that became increasingly popular post-pandemic as more people were looking to get out and explore while remaining socially distant. It even has a growing social media audience, with the hashtag #narrowboat inching towards 250,000 mentions on Instagram, and its sister tag #narrowboatlife hitting just over 134,000. And as the busy season for narrowboating kicks off in earnest in April, it’s the perfect time for travellers curious about trying the lifestyle for themselves.

Since less than half those 35,000 boats are occupied by a live-in owner, there are plenty of vessels available for laypeople to hire for their next vacation. But, as Caruana notes, there are a few things to consider first – namely, the need to embrace that slower pace.

“We thought a boat would be the perfect way to cruise through the country, live an eco-friendly life, and then find where we eventually wanted to end up,” Caruana says. “We did it for 18 months. We didn’t go anywhere near as far as we thought we would.”

Still, Caruana says, “we did end up in the most beautiful English village.” That village is Great Bedwyn, a community of fewer than 1,500 people about two hours west of London in Wiltshire, and a world away from the city’s hustle and bustle. “It’s been a wonderful way of life,” Caruana says – and one she likely wouldn’t have found were it not for her boat.

(Credit: Getty Images)

But while Caruana waxes poetically about her life on the water, such as cruising down the river in spring surrounded by baby ducklings and blooming flowers, she adds that it may not be for everyone. “It’s not a mode of transport. So, that was something I had to get used to,” Caruana says. “A journey that takes you two weeks on a narrowboat you can do in 10 minutes in the car. So…t’s a lifestyle. And it has taught me so much.”

Living on a boat has given Caruana a renewed sense of calm and an appreciation for perseverance, she says.

“It’s taught me patience. It’s taught me all about nature. It’s taught me all about downsizing,” she says, noting how reliant she is on Mother Nature in the boat, since her narrowboat’s instruments and equipment – including her engine – are solar-powered. “If the sun doesn’t shine, I don’t get a cup of tea. It can be really frustrating if you want to get somewhere. It all has to work. The engine has to be working.”

For travellers preparing to take a canal boat getaway themselves, Caruna has some good news: They don’t need any background in boating. In fact, she had never operated a narrowboat before buying one. Plus, there are plenty of places that will hire out boats for a weekend, a week, a month or more, including spots like Kate Boats in Warwickshire.

“You don’t need to have any certification or anything like that,” says Cheryl Howes, who’s operated Kate Boats for nearly 25 years. “But [for] anybody that hasn’t been on a boat before, we’ll spend quite a long time showing them how everything works.” This includes operating the boat at the mooring and on the water, and they’ll even take you through your first lock so you don’t get stuck en route to where you’re going. “It is accessible,” Howes adds. “People always worry about how they’re going to cope. Those first few hours are a bit of a baptism of fire, but once you get out, you get used to it all. And after that, you can start to relax and just enjoy it.”

(Credit: Getty Images)

Narrowboating is really a choose-your-own-adventure getaway. Howes notes the company typically provides guests with routes, but you can go in any direction you’d like. Her dream journey is to complete what’s known as the “Thames Ring,” a trip Howes says would take about four weeks, and which connects London’s famous River Thames to the Oxford Canal and the Grand Union Canal through 245 miles of waterways. Highlights include views of Windsor Castle, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, 176 locks to pass through and Blisworth Tunnel, one of the longest navigable tunnels in England. You can moor your narrowboat just about anywhere along this path and all the others throughout the UK if you’re on holiday (those looking to permanently moor a boat full-time must pay a fee if they plan to stay for more than 14 days).

Howes says narrowboat busy season, which goes from April through October, is just too hectic to get away for that long as they are busy helping clients navigate the waters for the first time, rather than focusing on their own adventures. And, though it would extend their busy season, Howes notes travelers should look past peak travel times because “it’s still nice out there through the winter,” too.

Howes and Caruana both agree that narrow boating is ideal for those craving slowness and simplicity. “It’s a bit like a caravan holiday on water,” Caruana says. But the payoff is that you get to sit on top of the boat as it goes along with a pure immersion in nature. Owls and herons and kingfishers and ducks and all the baby animals. You are just immersed in it. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever had the privilege to experience.”

Oh, and Caruana has one more piece of critical advice: “You have to really like the person you’re with. It’s a very small space,” she says. “Luckily,” she added with a laugh, “my husband and I get along.”

Want to get out on the water? Here are three ways to give it a try.

Private boat rentals: Prices at Kate Boats run from about £1070 ($1354) to £1700 ($2152) for a week and include the boat hire, fuel, collision damage, linens, towels and lifejackets. There are also other companies across the UK that hire out narrowboats for a few days or weeks at a time, such as Black Prince, Drifters and ABC Boat Hire.

Narrowboat holidays: Travellers unsure whether they want to drive the boat themselves might consider a narrowboat holiday chartering company. Companies like Chiltern Canal Boat Holidays offer skippered getaways, while Waterways Holidays helps guests book narrowboats plus waterside accommodation if they wish to sleep on land.

Moored vessels: For those who are merely interested in spending all day and all night calmly docked, there are plenty of boats for that, too. Your best bet is to search vacation rental sites like Airbnb for narrowboats for rent. And, you’ll find the same option in other canal-friendly destinations around the world, including Amsterdam and Rhone-Alpes, France.


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