Sunday, January 26, 2014

A narrowboat

Following on from some previous posts (here, here and here) about living in small spaces and homes built using natural materials, I'm going to share a space from my childhood. We used it for holidays rather than living in it full time, but I keep thinking about it as I ponder efficient use of space, and the qualities I want from that space.

We used to have a part share in a narrowboat, which meant we split the maintainance costs with several other families and had three weeks or so a year on the boat. I absolutely loved it! And not just in the warmth of summer - we also spent time on the boat as late as November and as early as February.

We had plenty of mod cons - cooker, oven, even a bathtub. Beds for everyone which folded away in the day (the bed I slept on became an L-shaped sofa in the day, with a collapsible table to turn it into a dining space.) The space use was super efficient, with cunning storage area hidden in walls, floors, under seats. Everything also had to be very secure, in case the boat rocked, so things were always shut out of sight. There was still space for a solid fuel stove, and you can just imagine how cosy it was to snuggle under one of the duvets in front of the fire as the nights drew in. I particularly loved the sound of rain on the roof.

I didn't take many pictures of inside the boat, but here you can see the kitchen beyond the bed - this space became living/dining area in the day.

Being on a boat (even for a  few days), you really have to think about the things you use, and the waste you produce. Everything has to be brought on the boat and taken off it. You take short showers, turn lights off, and use as little loo paper as possible to prevent blocking the tank. The rubbish bin is a plastic bag hanging on a hook in the kitchen. You're more in touch with how life's comforts are delivered - I have clear memories of several mornings/nights waking up freezing around 5am and going out onto the bow to change the gas bottle to restart the heating. (Before you ask, at this point I was around 17 in age so mucked in with the chores along with everyone else, especially as my father has a back condition which means it is painful for him to lift any weight.)

However, what I love most about narrowboats is the way they bring the outside in. Precisely because it is so narrow, with windows on every side (even if just little portholes), you can always see outside. Always, whichever direction you look in. The boat is small inside but also has outdoor space at either end and along the roof, where my sister and I often used to sit on a summer evening reading books and taking pictures of the sunset. Sometimes we stayed there while the boat was moving, and had to listen out for the cry of 'bridge', whereupon we would lie down flat and watch the underside of the bridge pass just above our heads.

A narrowboat travels at around three miles an hour - a comfortable walking pace, and I would often walk along beside the boat with my mother, jumping on and off the boat with ropes as we went through locks. The whole pace of life on the canals is slower, and friendlier - in the years that we used the boat, we only ever once passed a boat whose crew did not greet us as we passed. Everyone says hello and often exchanges a few pleasantries about the weather or the nearest pub on the canals - the boaters, walkers, anglers and others. When you add to this that the canals are beautiful, passing through some of the loveliest areas of the country, and you can moor up anywhere along the paths, you can easily imagine a gentle evening sunset over a boat moored next to a field full of sheep, with no sound but birdsong and the sheep bleating. I would love to live along the canals for precisely this tranquility.

Before I met my boyfriend, my immediate life plan was to live on a boat. They are much cheaper to buy than a house and the UK network gives you access to many major towns and cities, including central London, but the major problem with this is that moorings near major towns and cities are seriously expensive. I don't think liveaboard life is an option at this moment in time but it may well be again in the future. In the meantime, perhaps I can tap into some of the tricks and tips and joys of my time on narrowboats?


  1. Oh my goodness, I want a narrowboat!!!! You have made it sound so romantic and leisurely…thank you for the insight into another world!
    I stopped by from Purple Pear after she mentioned something about crocheting in the ends of wool but I stopped to read instead. I also loved your post about making habits or rather, not making habits!!! I totally commiserate. I'm a 'few weeks' type person always trying to be a 'long term habits' person too and oh its so hard!!!
    Lovely blog, thanks!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoy my thoughts. Yes, the short-term to long-term habit conversion is a serious challenge. I'm pretty sure that if I could find and patent a solution, it would be like winning the lottery...



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