Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Meet The Boaters: Memories of 'Betty Blue'

Photo Credit: K&A Boating Community Website*
What makes someone decide to live aboard? Does having kids change that? Why do some families stay living aboard, and others decide that as their children grow older, it’s time to leave the waterways and live ashore? This article continues my series of interviews exploring the pro’s and cons of living afloat with children.



 Clare is 39, has three daughters and lives with her partner in Wiltshire. She is just coming to the end of her PGCE and trained as a therapeutic  counsellor before that. She lived on her boat ‘Betty Blue’  for about five years. ‘Betty Blue’ was a 70 foot narrowboat built by Colecraft.  

Clare says, “We bought ‘Betty’ as an unfinished project from someone else; my ex is a carpenter and he did most of the fit out. The only thing we had to go on was a week spent renting another boat to see if we liked it - we did! We moved on with our daughter who was two at the time and I had just found out I was pregnant with our second. After we split up I stayed on the boat with the girls, it was then that I really started to appreciate and love being on the boat (even though I was a single mother of two at the time!)

Were you on a mooring or a continuous cruiser?

We were classed as continuous cruisers and were on the Kennet and Avon (canal). I moved roughly between Pewsey and Bath but seeing as those places were separated by the Caen Hill flight I tended to spend periods of time either above or below the flight.
(The Caen Hill flight is a famous canal feature, as there are 29 locks in three groups. The locks take up to 6 hours to travel in a boat.) 

 What first attracted you to the lifestyle?  

It was my ex's idea really and I liked the idea of a travelling lifestyle  (although we didn't travel that far in distance).

‘Betty Blue’ was lined in oak, and was open plan with one bedroom and one door! My boat was my sanctuary and I loved nothing better than battening down the hatches and shutting the world out.  It had a pump out toilet which made the boat quite smelly the further into it you got.  I really liked the fact that individual boats had their own unique smell, it’s comforting!

The best thing about living on a boat is living lightly on the earth, feeling connected to the outside and nature, minimal housework, getting away from it all, the sound of the engine lulling babies to sleep, fires on the towpath and a sense of community. 

The worst things about living on a boat are the lack of space, people looking in your windows, muddy towpaths and the worst of the worst DOG POO (for some reason people treat the towpath as a  general dogs toilet!)

Did your attitude to living aboard change after having children? 

I've never lived on a boat without children - I bet  its lovely! 

What are the best things for children about this lifestyle? 

Connection to nature, low living costs mean you can spend time with the kids, my girls were little when we lived on the boat so we spent a lot of time together, they and I was never really out of sight. 

What are the worst things for children about this lifestyle? 

 The danger of the water, and dog poo on the towpath (which was essentially my back garden). 

 What are the most common questions people ask you about living on a boat?

"Aren't you worried about your children falling in the water?" My answer is “No”,  I'm more worried about them falling in dog poo!

 "Do you pay council tax?" My answer to that was  "Do you pay for a British Waterways license?"  

What prompted you to leave the waterways?  

After my relationship with my ex broke down I stayed on the boat for another three or four years. After a year or so on my own really getting to know myself and what I was really capable of I met my current partner. He lived on the boat with me for the next couple of years but when I fell pregnant with my third daughter we decided to call it a day. 

Although I would have stayed on the boat he wasn't keen on having a baby on there so we moved into a house and have been in one ever since. I still really miss my boaty days and sometimes see ‘Betty’ on the canal (we live close to the K & A), but I wonder if I just  look at those times with rose tinted spectacles. It was time of freedom in that I wasn't constrained by school pick up and drop off. 

 If we found ourselves stuck for somewhere to live I would rather go back to the canal than live in a cramped estate or in a big town.  Unfortunately having teenagers limits us as they (especially the eldest) point blank refuses to live on a boat again.  My partner thinks he might like to get a boat as a bolt-hole, I think once the girls have flown the nest. We would like to retire on a boat.

Clare is crafty and blogs about her crafts at Woollycraft Wonders.


To read more boaters’ interviews click on ‘Meet The Boaters’ in the tag/label cloud.
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