After we’d finished in Wales (visiting the Big Pit) the kids and I (Emma) had no where to go. Rich had to be in London for a week but we were really enjoying the lush green rolling hills of the British countryside. The prospect of London didn’t appeal so we hit AirBNB looking for something a bit different and unusual and this is what we found, a narrow boat!
What’s a narrow boat?
Typically (between the 18th-20th century) narrow boats were less than 7 ft (2.1 metres) wide with a maximum length of 70 ft (21.3 metres) and steered with a tiller rather than a wheel. The very precise measurements relate to the length of the locks and obviously for transportation purposes the boats needed to be shorter than the locks.
Now-a-days modern narrow boats come in all sorts of sizes and some are significantly shorter than 70 foot/21.3 metres so they can fit on a range of Britain’s canals and rivers.
Canals of the UK
There are now about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of navigable canals and rivers throughout the United Kingdom. Most of the canals are linked into a single English and Welsh network. These are
- Bristol to London.
- Liverpoole to Goole.
- Lancaster to Ripon
- as well as connecting the Irish Sea, the North sea and the estuaries of the Humber, Thames, Mersey, Severy and Ribble.
- There are also several through-routes not connected to the main network which link Glasgow to Edinburgh via the Falkirk Wheel and Inverness to Fort William via Loch Ness.
More things to know about canals
If you’re interested in knowing more about canals of the UK, I found this informative article which identified that there are more boats on Britain’s canals now than at the height of the industrial revolution and that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice.
People live on these things?
It’s estimated that there are around 35,000 narrow boats in the UK with approximately 10,000 people living on them in London alone. As the prices of houses outstrip wages, the growth of people looking for alternative ways to live is increasing.
According to the Canal & River Trust, the charity that maintains England and Wales’ inland waterways, 26% of today’s 35,000 boats are now used as primary residences.
How much does one of these things cost?
A second-hand narrowboat of 300 sq ft in reasonable condition can cost £30,000, or £100 per sq ft. If you commit to moving every two weeks (over a distance of at least 20 miles in a year), there is no need to pay any mooring fees, which can otherwise cost in the region of £12,000 per year in London.
An annual boat licence from the Canal & River Trust costs about £700-1000. You will also need insurance (about £200 a year), as well as a willingness to live simply and to relish outdoor life.
Waking up to the quiet ripples of water
Waterside living was wonderful. We awoke to the rippling reflections of sunlight above our heads as the birds sang their morning chorus. We fed birds and marine life from the open side window and some people even dive off the front porch for a swim. We weren’t that brave. If you’re the type of person who likes a connection to nature, you’d love living on a narrow boat.
Technically you can cast off your mooring ropes and cruise anywhere – although we weren’t allowed to take the boat out.
I think it would be immensely cool to live aboard one of these. Your home is no longer a place of bricks and mortar. It is not simply your dwelling place, it is also your means of transport. You can be a nomad.
What about motion sickness?
Even when moving these boats only have a maximum speed of about 5mph. With few waves and only a small body of water it’s unlikely you’ll feel motion sickness.
When they’re tied up the swell of boats passing is minimal and although you can feel a small bob, it’s often not noticeable.
The simple life
Our boat had a fire, a dishwasher, a washing machine, a fully functioning kitchen with an oven, a bathroom with a toilet and a hot shower as well as two bedrooms. It also had a TV, a DVD player and a wifi dongle.
There was nothing we missed or wanted for and as a self-confessed pixie (I’m 5ft/1.5m tall) the boat was a perfect size for me.
Although we could eat inside in the kitchen, we chose to eat our meals outside and soak up the early spring sunshine.
What a sunset!
Our boat faced north so in the morning we could watch the sunrise (if we got up early enough which we never did) and the evenings meant we could lean over the side of the boat and watch the sun set behind the fields and hills. The waterways provided us with calm and tranquility and a fantastic opportunity to be free in nature. Perfect for my wild children!
There were a number of swans on the canal; three pairs and a lone male. We were intrigued to discover over the course of a week that they have personalities; each very individual. They also have different markings and some can communicate vocally.
One particular male swan was very protective of his female and would collect food from us and give it to her! It was the young male swan who became my companion though. He would visit me a number of times and day and even talk to me. They are fascinating creatures.
It’s Never Enough
The boat we stayed on was called ‘It’s Never Enough’ and can be found listed on Airbnb in Gloucestershire. If you’d like £15 in travel credit from AirBNB please sign up and use this code
Check Out These Enviable Narrow Boats
Have a look at these enviable boats on Instagram.
Sorry, IG no longer let’s me connect with images, so you’ll need to click the link.
View this post on Instagram
Putting the finishing touches to the boat; she's now had her final coat of paint, new anodes fitted, and is drying off before entering the canals again! It's been a real experience of getting to know our boat a little bit better, and it's super odd being in the boat without it bobbing all over the place! #liveaboard
Fancy Your Own Narrow Boat Adventure?
You can no longer stay on IT’S NEVER ENOUGH in Gloucestershire but you could choose other canals too. I found these dotted around the UK
- This light and breezey boat in London
- A very elegant mooring in Oxfordshire
- A boutique boat in Warwickshire
- A city boat in Manchester
Add This To Pinterest this for later