Monday 9 September 2013

Is it time to reinvent yourself?

If you've been following my blog lately you'll know I've made some big, scary life changes and I must admit I'm having a slight identity crisis about who I am. 

Anyway, because of that I decided to begin working on an idea that I had a year ago. Have you ever had an idea that you really wanted to do, but were scared to do it in case other people didn't like it? What if people thought it was rubbish or corny? What if nobody came and nobody cared? 

13 years ago I was scared of living on a narrowboat. What if I was lonely? What if I didn't like it? And what if I loved it? 'What if?' has got a lot to answer for. 

So here's my idea.

Positive thinking must always be followed by positive action. I use visualisation, inspiring quotations, lyrics, music, poetry, written exercises and self-hypnosis to reinvent myself and make things happen.

I've started a new blog about that sort of thing. I've tried not to impose rules on myself about how often I will publish a post. I will just write when I've got something to say, something to share.  

Come on over and see what you think. If you like the idea there's an option to sign up and receive updates by email. I honestly don't know what's coming up next, but that's part of the fun. Isn't it?

When was the last time you reinvented yourself?

What happened to me living on a narrowboat? Find out here.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Living in a house

Since we moved into a house I’ve been feeling uneasy about the town that we moved to. Is it because it’s the town I grew up in: The place I escaped from when I headed off as an adventurous 18 year old, into the world? It’s partly because it is a town. I’ve come from an idyllic little village where the school-run was a short walk up a country lane that had wild flowers tumbling from the banks either side of us, as the girls raced past on their scooters. 

Is it because there are no familiar faces? The school gate mums, the kind headmistress, the school secretary who lives opposite the school and knows all the parents by our first names? What about my friends? After school there would be coffee at the kitchen table with Feisty German Mum, or gin and tonic in the garden with Internet Tycoon Dad; while our daughters leapt about on the trampoline. I miss the evenings soaked in red wine with Jenny From the Lock; relaxing on her candle-lit boat while her cats commandeered half the sofa and eyed me suspiciously.

This morning I took the girls up the road to the childcare centre. This little corner of this little town is not unlike a village. The main street is lined with old cottages and glimpses of woodland and fields are visible in the gaps between the houses.  We’re on the very edge of town, the sun shines onto an uneven cobbled pavement and the church bells are chiming nine o’clock.

After I had dropped the girls off I realised what I was afraid of. The house doesn’t move. It seems obvious, but it has been a subconscious fear. What if I don’t like it here? I cannot untie my ropes, I can’t just move up the Cut. The view from the window will always be the same. What if I’ve made the wrong decision and need to change or move? 

But this decision is not a final choice. It’s an experiment.

“A bigger-picture perspective helps here. Experiments might take months, or a year. That’s a tiny amount of time in the space of a lifetime, and those bigger experiments are worth learning about.”

Friday 23 August 2013

Canal boating can be used as therapy!

It’s weird but I lived on a boat for absolutely years without knowing anything about the National Community Boats Association or what they do. I like to keep in touch with boating news through the Canal and River Trust, Towpath Talk, Facebook groups and Twitter.

I now enjoy writing a blog for the NCBA and am planning to get their news out to a wider audience. Because they are nationwide their news is happening all over the country, and so are their training courses. They support and represent inland waterways community boating organisations. As well as boating skills and safety knowledge their courses also include leadership, and management skills that will benefit individuals and their communities.

When is a boat not a boat?

The boating organisations that make up the membership are on canals all over the country. They often own more than one boat which are used within their local communities in a wide variety of ways. For example: A floating classroom, a floating children’s home, and a wooden boat restoration project. Boats can also be used for rehabilitation, therapy, day trips for youth groups and wheel chair accessible holidays among other things!  


Sail4Cancer raise money to provide respite for children, young people and families living with cancer. They approached the NCBA last year for help in finding community boats to
provide inland boating trips for young people affected by cancer. In the past they have sent people sailing, but the minimum age for sailing is 14. Using canal boats they were able to provide a boating experience for the 11 to 14 year age range.

NCBA are on Facebook

Gutless Kayaker

More recently the NCBA have arranged to provide a support boat for Justin Hansen, “the gutless kayaker”.  Justin has had his intestines removed due to Crohn’s disease. In just a few weeks he will be kayaking 420 miles from Skipton in North Yorkshire to Bristol in the south west to raise funds for bowel cancer research. (He needs another support boat if you have one available?!)

So, now you know, there is a lot more going on around the waterways than you might have imagined! I love the way that the NCBA promote the idea of “access for all”. Canal boating should not be restricted just to those who can afford to own their own boat.


On the blog I share boating news, charity news, community news and inspiring stories of what people are getting up to around the canal network. But today I’m really going for increasing our profile on Facebook. Please give us a like, share our status updates with your friends and show your support for community boating. 



Wednesday 21 August 2013

Narrowboat Wife arrives in the 21st Century

For the first few days in the house I walked from room to room, appreciating the space. The girls ran from room to room – up and down the stairs, in and out of the back door, shrieking and giggling. I opened all the cupboard doors in the kitchen, amazed at the amount of storage space. For the first time in my life I ordered groceries online to be delivered to our address. When the van driver arrived with a week’s worth of shopping it felt like Christmas had come all at once!

We have unlimited electric and water. For a few days I was unsettled, suspecting there was something I’d forgotten to do. Then I realised: I’d not run the engine! This was a daily essential on the boat, to recharge the domestic batteries. We’ve also enjoyed powerful showers, and hot baths. The girls particularly like their new bunk beds. They've also said they like having a bubble bath and going to the beach.

I’ve discovered microwave cooking and I really appreciate how easy and convenient it is. We don’t even have a washing machine or freezer yet so there are still many aspects of modern life we have yet to try out. As a boater I was always proud of how little we needed to be comfortable, we don’t need as much as we think we do in society today. But I am now beginning to admit that mod cons do make life easier, especially when you’re a mum! In the future, when I have begun to take all this for granted, I hope that I can look back on this time and appreciate that we live in luxury!

I feel a little bit embarrassed when I don’t exactly know how things work. The central heating and the boiler are still a mystery to me. The gas company wanted to explain energy efficiency to me on the phone. All of the light bulbs in the house are low energy ones. When I last lived ashore (13 years ago) I think light bulbs were the old fashioned sort as far as I remember. Houses are different now. Everyone has WiFi internet streaming movies and music, a gazillion TV channels and a TV that can pause and rewind. (We don't have all that yet!)

The girls have been watching the movie Annie on our new DVD player. Annie is taken from her orphanage home to spend a week with a billionaire at his mansion. Perhaps that's why I have this annoyingly quirky tune in my head, "I think I'm gonna like it here." 

Thursday 15 August 2013

A new direction

I’ve needed to write this post for a while but there’s been a bit of an argument going on in my head, where a part of me argues that I have no right to write it here. How can I have no right to write on my own blog? It’s what I call a ‘Blog Crisis’. When you write a personal blog you occasionally ask yourself, what is this blog all about anyway? Why am I writing it?

I started this blog to write about the real life of a narrowboat wife. Everybody was always asking me “What is it like, bringing up children on a narrowboat?”
Over the last three years I’ve really enjoyed blogging to answer that question and a lot more besides; blogging about live-aboard life, and following my dreams. But the short answer is that living on a narrowboat with kids is sometimes breathtakingly beautiful, and sometimes soul-crushingly difficult.

A number of factors have now come together to take our family in a completely different direction. After thirteen years of living aboard, four boats, two boat-baby home births and one launch of a boat-basedbusiness we have left the Cut. Our beautiful 70ft narrowboat is for sale and we have moved to a cottage in Devon to be nearer family.

In January 2013 I blogged this:

“While my family slept I used a mallet to free the gas spanner from the frozen front deck. I tried and failed to change the gas bottle and crouched in the soft, silent snow on the front deck in the deep, icy, darkness crying real hot tears. I just wanted my family to be warm when they woke up, and for my husband to be able to easily make a cup of tea. I was not sure that boat life is still for me.

I moved onto a boat in my late twenties when life was an adventure lived mostly in pubs, and no children depended on me.”

The Blog Crisis is simply the point at which I ask myself, what will I write now? I’ll write about how it feels to relocate and change your lifestyle, about what I notice as I begin to venture into 21st century living after such a simple way of life afloat. I still have so many narrowboat memories to share and I am still very much involved with the waterways through my writing work and my friends. I’m also working on a book about our life afloat.

But this blog has also been about following dreams. Like Cathy from Wuthering Heights,

“I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.”

These English waterways, the chipped and painted roses and castles, the treasured ancient locks and bridges, the cheeky swans, ducks and geese, the chugging engines, the smell of diesel and burning coal, the ripples of sunshine reflecting on the inside of a cabin, and most of all those crazy, adventurous, kind and wonderful people that live on the boats; they have all gone through me like wine through water and altered the colours of my mind, my life and my soul. I may be living in a house for now, but somehow I suspect that if you snapped me like a stick of seaside rock to read the words that run through my boiled-sugar core, it would say Narrowboat Wife through and through. 

It’s become a part of who I am.

Image: Slices of Rock by Bolcheriet (R) made available under a Creative Commons licence. 

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Happy Blogiversary to me!

It's three years ago this week that I first gingerly dipped my toe into the wonderful world of blogging. I didn't need a Facebook page and hadn't heard of Twitter. I was a shy and nervous new-comer and I was definitely, absolutely sure that nobody would particularly want to read a blog about me, and my life!

But because my friend said, "Hey, you should start a blog!" I started publishing excerpts from my travelling diary, while myself, my husband and our young family explored the waterways of London, Hertfordshire and Essex. As my confidence grew I made friends with other bloggers, went to blogging conferences for mummy bloggers, started a Facebook group for boat families, and also started my own business as a professional blogger! I even began to get articles published in magazines...

So, if YOU are out there thinking maybe, just maybe, you might start a blog one day.... just do it! Let me be that friend that says, "Hey, you should start a blog!" Because that little suggestion changed my life...

Here's the very first blog post that I wrote:

Angel, Islington to Uxbridge.

Space: The final frontier. With the arrival of the new baby we are testing the space limitations of a 57 foot narrowboat. These are the voyages of the narrowboat Grassington, a blue box that tardily travels through time and space, at a maximum speed of four miles per hour. Our mission; to travel the waterways we’ve never seen, to live the dream, to be boaters, travellers, writers and parents. For so long we’ve waited for the right time; to have enough money, or to discover the elusive way of earning a living while travelling.

But the absolutely right time never comes, sometimes you just have to do it anyway. We might not have the biggest, most comfortable boat we had dreamed of, or the huge stash of savings to make the life easy, or the dream job, that meets all our mental and spiritual needs. You know the one, the job that we can work at from home while earning a decent income, and still spend quality time together as a family. But with one of us on maternity leave and one of us working in London we decided to cast off and let go. The handsome doctor and his winsome assistant.

To quote Mark Twain, “In twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowline. Sail away from the safe harbour. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Read more.

Friday 26 July 2013

#Narrowboating: Not just for blokes!

Image from
I recently wrote a couple of articles for my community boating blog that focussed on a female skipper; Lee Davies. I sometimes forget that narrowboating is still a very male-dominated world because I’ve made so many amazing friends on the Cut: many of them are women and many of them are mothers. (For example Alice, Melina and Claire have all brought up kids on the Cut and blogged about it! Amy blogs about fitting out and living on the 1935 Severn and Canal Carrying Company motor, Willow.)

Lee Davies feels passionately that women are under-represented on the canals. I hope that my interview with her might encourage other female boaters to consider becoming involved with community boating: it’s not just for blokes!

Do we need more women on the Cut?

Lee Davies is the only female Senior Trainer at NCBA.  I got to chat to her about how her interest in boats developed into a career as a skipper and NCBA trainer. She also runs FindaSkipper, providing skippers for all occasions, plus cooks, training courses and more.

You have a boat relocating service?

Yes, we also move boats for people. It might be someone who just bought a boat or someone who has gone on holiday and needed to rush back home: we can bring the boat home. We had a man recently, he had a stroke and his wife couldn’t move the boat. We were asked to go out there and bring the boat home for them.

It might be a liveaboard or a really posh boat broken down in a not very nice area. Perhaps the owners have had to go back to work, so we’ll go and boat-sit or move it on for them.

How did Find a Skipper start?

I’ve been involved with boats for many years and I was skippering all over the place. I was driving along one day and the name just popped into my head: Find a Skipper! I found out that the domain names were available and bought them straight away.

I suppose you could say we’re based in Wigan but we cover the whole system; I’ve got skippers all around the country. I’ve got people dotted around.

How under-represented are women among professional skippers in your opinion?

Women are very underrated on the canals. Men think we’re all stupid because we’re female. They think women can’t handle a big boat, but something needs to change.

Men will see you with your head in the engine and ask you what you are doing. I’ll say, Well the stern gland is leaking, I’m just sorting it out, and they’ll say Oh, I don’t think you should be doing that! But there’s plenty of women that live alone on board, or live on boats with children. How do they think we manage?  When you go to a boatyard the idea is that you stand and you watch and you learn.

How often do women apply for NCBA training?

There have been a few coming up lately, there’s one on the Wirral and one up at Skipton. But only men have approached me for training at Find a Skipper. I only know of three or four women that have qualified and are working as skippers, they are few and far between. There are lots of female volunteers though.

Get on board!

The NCBA and their member projects welcome women interested in boating. Why not get in touch with your local community boating project, or consider improving your skills by training with the NCBA? Find out more by following my other blog

Friday 19 July 2013

How do you do laundry on a narrowboat?

A while ago I asked my readers what they would like to read about on the blog, and I got plenty of interesting answers. Curiously there were several questions about doing the laundry!

Jess said, “I'm going to have a washing machine on my new boat (very exciting), but how on earth am I going to dry sheets in winter? Do people just use laundrettes in winter for big things? Any ideas?!”

I have used the launderette for sheets. But often I will just peg it folded over the tiller. Peg it tight - I lost a double sheet into the Cut on a windy day! I didn't see it go... I assume it blew away and then sank eventually. Indoors I hang sheets over long copper pipes that are part of the heating system, or over the curtain rail across the front door, and sometimes over the shower door - anywhere I can really. On a hot summer day I sometimes spread them across the roof; steel gets very hot! Sheets or clothes will then dry on the roof very quickly. It reminded me of when I was in India, watching the ladies of Varanasi spread their laundry on the Ghats beside the Ganges.

I also have a Brolley Mate which can be used to hold a lightweight rotary washing line onto the tiller. We have a trad stern on our boat but it rises above the roof level and half of the washing line hangs over the canal.

On our last boat we had a rotary washing line that was held in a specially made hole in the deckboards (pictured.) Also, when in remote countryside I have been known to peg up a line in the trees or a hedge!


Andy and Sue are planning to move aboard soon and asked me, “How do you do the ironing when not connected to shore power?”

Good question. On my first boat I had a little travel iron that ran off a 12volt plug – the kind you can plug into a cigarette lighter socket. It was rubbish!

Now I have a travel iron from Argos that requires an ordinary 240volt supply but I made sure that it was only 900 watts. Hinari Travel Steam Iron It runs off our 1500 watt pure sine wave invertor.

The Launderette Equation

Before we had a washing machine I was very frustrated about the amount of time I spent taking tiny children and lots of laundry, on foot, to the launderette.

I decided there must be a scientific equation for how posh an area is versus how close is the nearest launderette. The nicer the area you are visiting, the less likely there is to be a launderette. However, finding a launderette is not a problem in inner city areas.

The Launderette Equation for Boaters

(Local house price) / (commuter train fare to London) x (N) = distance to launderette from mooring.

Further research is required to ascertain N and calculate the distance of the boat from the launderette.
If you travel a lot get yourself a copy of the Aylesbury CanalSociety Launderette List. “Many boaters won't boat without it.”

Read more about launderettes and laundry in my boating life.

As with many parts of boating, there’s never just one solution to a problem. It takes all different boats and different boaters to find different ways of doing things. How do you do your laundry?

Wednesday 19 June 2013

70ft narrowboat for sale: liveaboard

This boat has now been sold, but here are some more narrowboats for sale.

Our beautiful narrowboat Violet Mae is now for sale. Life has taken an unexpected turn and we are heading off on a different adventure.

This boat is everything I had dreamed of in a boat: light and airy, wooden floors, side hatches to feed the swans, a big double bedroom, a washing machine, and at the stern a beautifully painted boatman's cabin. More photos to follow.

If you are seriously considering living on a narrowboat this is a very comfortable live aboard. She is currently moored near Tring in Hertfordshire. She does not come with a mooring but if you act quickly there will be an opportunity to bid on her current residential mooring when it goes up for auction with the Canal and River Trust in August.

70ft Colecraft trad narrowboat liveaboard £37,500

Built: 1988
Engine: BMC 1800 (Rebuilt 2002)
Last survey: 05/09/08
4 berths: 1 double, 2 single.
Beautiful boatman’s cabin.

Contact Peggy

The full listing with LOTS of photos is on the Boatshed Grand Union website. Colecraft Narrowboat for sale.

PS. If you have any questions about living aboard download my free ebook: Living on a Boat.

What is the cost of living on a narrowboat? Check out my review of the Narrowbudget software.

Saturday 25 May 2013

To be friends with the swans...

This winter seems never ending. We do have daffodils beside the boat but I must admit I still feel cold. How I used to laugh when people would ask “Is it cold in winter?”
That was before our dodgy diesel stove kept breaking. At the moment we’re using the “back-up” heating which is a portable gas heater.

We’ve known our local swans for nearly a year now, since we took a permanent residential mooring. I call them Bonnie and Clyde: I don’t know why. They visited us regularly for bread, throughout Autumn and Winter. My little ones would sit on the front deck and call down the canal,
For some reason they feel this is the appropriate call that should be used to summon the swans. And the swans come. Then the ducks come and try to fight for a bit of bread too. If there’s any left over the big fat carp jump up and have a bite as well. It is one of the loveliest luxuries of living on a boat to be friends with the swans. Although it can be a demanding friendship at times. Clyde has now become bold enough to knock on the kitchen window with his beak if we are not on deck at a time when he wants feeding. Recently when I sat chatting with friends on the front deck he actually pecked me in the small of my back to let me know that he was there: ready and waiting for his bread.

But where is Bonnie? She has not been seen for some time. We discovered their nest beside the next canal bridge; safely on the offside, undisturbed by towpath walkers. She sits and waits, guarding her eggs. Clyde glides protectively before her, on the surface of the water, head held high and aloof, surveying the area.

When we return from the school-run the girls say,
“Can we check the swans?”
If it’s freezing and raining I grumpily say no, and drag the girls back to the boat for mugs of cocoa. But mostly I smile and say yes, and we sit on the bank opposite and watch, and talk about the swans.

This morning Clyde knocked on the bedroom window; wife in tow, with three gorgeous grey fluffy cygnets too! I grabbed some bread and headed for the front deck calling for the girls as I went.
“Girls! The swans have had cygnets!”

Just yesterday she was still on her nest, so they must have been born today and are straight in the water already!
“It must be their first outing” said The Doctor.
“Those proud parents,” I mused. “They must have said to themselves this morning, Let’s take the little ones down to The Bread Boat.
“Yes,” laughed my five year old, “To the cafĂ©!”

The girls threw bread, I took photos, The Doctor took a video. And we gleefully announced the news of the birth to other boaters and walkers on the towpath.
“The swans have had cygnets!”

It is sunny and the Spring is finally here.

Not my best pic - but they were moving fast, trying to escape the cries of "Swan ATTENTION!"

Monday 20 May 2013

When boaters come to visit...

Last week, just as I arrived home I saw this unlikely pair moored up at my local water point. The lovely hotel boats Snipe and Taurus were once again in my local area. Although we have plenty of beautiful pictures on Flickr I couldn’t resist taking a few more of the red-painted boats and traditionally colourful water cans. Even on a gloomy, rainy day these boats are a sight to make you stop and stare (also known as ‘gongoozling’!)

There are very few traditional working pairs of hotel boats on the canal system today. It’s lovely to watch the motor tow the butty towards an ancient ‘bridge hole’, unhurried as they travel onward. Yet Neil, Corinne and the crew can cover a surprising distance in the space of a week, always offering their guests a varied trip that can include big cities and tiny hamlets.

That night Neil and Corinne came round to my boat: It’s always a novelty to have friends to visit who have arrived by boat, knowing that their own home is conveniently moored a short walk away down the towpath. I had just put my two little daughters to bed, but upon hearing the arrival of Neil and Corinne they immediately got up again to see ‘the lady who turns us upside down’! There were a lot of giggles, running about and tickling before Corinne persuaded them back to bed with the promise to visit again in the morning.

I love to chat to Neil and Corinne about their unusual lifestyle, their travels, their boats and adventures, and how they got into it all in the first place. So while the girls obediently settled to sleep in their boatman’s cabin at the back of our boat, I shared a few glasses of wine with my travelling friends and talked about all things boaty. They’ve done many more hours of boating than me and have learned traditional techniques that I’ll never need, like how to take a butty and motor safely into a lock. At the moment I’m reading the memoir ‘Maiden’s Trip’ by Emma Smith. She learned to carry cargo with a traditional working pair during the Second World War and the descriptions in the book make you realise how very different things are manoeuvring a pair of 70ft boats together.

The next morning my youngest (age 3) opened her eyes and immediately said,
“Can I go into the living room?”
“Yes…. But why?”
“To see if Corinne’s still there!”
I explained that Corinne had returned to her own boat, but shortly after breakfast Corinne arrived with home-baked biscuits for the girls. Her boats were already in the lock beginning to climb the Marsworth flight and since then they have travelled all the way to London.

I noticed on Twitter recently that Corinne shared a cool picture of narrowboats moving faster than lorries on the M25 and smiled to myself. You may think the lifestyle is slow and relaxed but they sure do get around. As I write this they are now preparing for a trip up the River Lea. Catch up with them soon and grab your own cabin (much more affordable than hiring a whole narrowboat),  with a £50 discount .

Disclosure: I was paid to write this on Neil and Corinne's hotel boats blog but re-published here as it is also part of my Real Life! I realise I am not writing much about my real life lately and this is because work and other personal commitments are making me super-busy at the moment!


Monday 29 April 2013

A Ghost Story

Malcolm Stirling is a reader of this blog and we recently chatted on email when I asked my readers what sort of topics they'd like to read more of. He was kind enough to allow me to publish this story he's written, which I think is pretty cool: and a lovely change to my usual articles.


Tethered to the canal bank near Rickmansworth Town Lock lies a large rusting relic of a Dutch Barge. It bears no name but is known by the local canal boat travellers as the “The Ghost Barge*.  Only the ignorant will moor their boats next to it and some even take a footpath detour to avoid walking past it.

The barge first came to the locals’ attention when it was purchased by a young man of about 27. He lived onboard and had started to renovate the boat.  One evening, after a hard day’s work he sat down with his supper. He had left the engine running to provide electricity for light and warmth. It was cold night and the doors and windows were shut tight to keep in the heat.   The exhaust system for the engine became defective and leaked carbon monoxide into the cabin. The young man fell asleep and never woke up.

The barge was later sold and the new owner set about the renovation process.  One of the first things he did was to have the exhaust system from the engine repaired and certified as safe. He then set about repairing the hull which  was suffering from corrosion. In the deepest  part  of the hull  lay concrete ballast blocks.   These are necessary for stability and ensure that the barge stays upright.  They were put in place during the construction of the barge. Once the ballast blocks are in place the decking and cabin are then added to the barge.  Over the years water had collected under the ballast blocks and this is where the corrosion was the most severe. The blocks needed to be lifted and the steel hull underneath cleaned and painted with rust inhibiting paint.  The man rigged up a hoist and pulley system to raise the blocks, one at a time, so that he could prepare the hull underneath.  It was a fateful day when the man was scraping the rust from underneath one of the raised blocks and the pulley system collapsed causing the block to fall and crush the man against the steel hull.

The boat was again put on the market and later purchased by a man wishing to make it his home.  It was on a winter’s evening when the canal was quiet and the water was still when a chugging sound was heard in the distance. The new owner was sitting on deck enjoying a beer when a large boat came down the canal at some speed creating a wash that rocked the boats on their moorings. He heard shouts of complaint from canal boat owners. He leapt to his feet and spun round to see what the commotion was about. The deck of his barge moved with the wash causing the man to lose his balance.  He fell from the deck into the narrow gap that had opened between the canal bank and the hull of the barge. The heavy barge had moved as far as the strained tethering ropes would allow.   The tension on the ropes could not be sustained and the barge began to move slowly and unyieldingly back to its original position adjacent to the canal bank and, in so doing, crushed the life out of the
fallen man.

The barge sat empty on its mooring once again. Local folklore had branded her “The Ghost Barge” and canal travellers wouldn’t go near it, let alone buy it, when it was put up for sale again.  Given the local feeling against the Black Barge it was felt that a local buyer was unlikely and so it was moved to a marina 100 miles away in Ipswich and put up for sale.  A buyer was found and the deal was struck.  The new owner knew nothing of the Ghost Barge’s past and set about his plans for renovating the craft and finding it a suitable mooring.

The renovation process has been slow and methodical. The owner still doesn’t know anything about the boat’s grisly past. But can you imagine the look on the faces of the canal people in Rickmansworth when they woke up on a cold November morning to see a thick mist heavy on the water and the instantly recognisable dark shape of the Ghost Barge solemnly tied up at its old mooring. Just as if it had never been away.

(c) Malcolm Stirling

This is a true story and was recounted to the author by two people on a canal boat in Rickmansworth on 3rd
September 2012.

Gongoozlers (name given to people who watch but don`t participate on canals).

The illustration is of a similar barge but not an exact copy.  The author did not want to have in his possession a drawing or photograph of the real thing.


Malcolm is the chairman of Rickmansworth WaterSki Club at the Aquadrome: a family orientated club, where visitors can participate on a 'pay as you play' basis.

Monday 15 April 2013

Boat family told to cruise further... or else!

Boat cats
This guest post is from a local boat-mum that I know and was written during the recent Canal and River Trust mooring consultation. I am pleased to say that since this was written the boating community have had constructive meetings with the Canal and River Trust discussing affordable moorings and various other solutions. We are continuing to meet with them and the original mooring proposals for Berkhamsted have been amended.

I sometimes get questions from my readers about the reality of family life on board, and also questions about the perceived 'problem' of continuous cruisers. 

I hope this gives readers an insight into the lives of the ordinary families that live on board. 

Living on a narrowboat in Berkhamsted

We live on our 70ft narrow boat with our two children and two cats. The Canal and River Trust CRT (formerly British Waterways) are saying if we don't move further than we are every 14 days they will take our licence (which we pay a £1000 a year for) and make us homeless by refusing us a licence and eventually taking our home as it would become an unlicensed craft.  
We move at present between Berkhamsted and Cow Roast because the children go to nursery and school here and I help to run a playgroup in Berkhamsted.  
We own and live in our 25 year old Coal craft boat that we have been restoring for the last 5 years. 
I have an Art & Craft degree, am a qualified teacher and have spent the last 15 years as a specialist children's worker,  with special needs children, damaged children, children from travelling back grounds and homeless families mainly through education and awareness, I know ironic isn't it? 
I have taken a career break to care for our youngest children until they are both in full time education, my eldest child is a Police officer, my partner was a Professional Boxer for 9 years and now works as a self employed waterproof specialist to support his family and pay Tax.                        
I just cannot comprehend the mentality of these narrow minded bureaucrats, they seem to have no compassion or thought for the families they harass or the stress they cause or the wider social implications on the rest of society their actions will have. 
At the moment we live in our own home, we have never had the Police called or caused trouble, we are clean and tidy we abide by the law our children go to school, we are well educated people and very much active members of our local society and are keen conservationist, which is why we have chosen boating as a lifestyle and why  we have only one car which my partner uses for work (when alternative transport is not an option) and the children and me cycle or walk everywhere we go.
The Canal and River Trust are proposing to evict us at great cost to the tax payer and other licence paying boaters, they are willing to up root us and cause immense distress to our young children (who would lose their home and have to move nursery and school) us and our wider family and cause us to lose most of our possessions. 
The CRT are threatening to make a family with two young children age 3 and 5 homeless for the sake of us not moving a bit further every 14 days. If this happens the local Council will then have to re home us, firstly in a hostel then in a flat or house,  a home that we don't want or need, that another family in genuine need of a home could have thus displacing or moving genuinely needy people further back on the list of the already desperately inadequate Social housing situation, all of this because we can't move an extra few miles every two weeks.
There are many unlicensed and abandoned boats throughout the inland waterways that are literally rotting away in the water causing environmental damage as they go, the CRT don't bother to remove these boats as that would cost them money and not make any so the reasons quoted by the CRT for moving on genuine live a board licence payers is pure hypocrisy,  just nothing more than thoughtless corporate bullying that needs to be challenged and stopped.  The CRT are not offering any solutions to the mooring problem, just creating more problems with proposals such as the ones in Berkhamsted which, if they come in to effect will see less 14 day moorings than before and take away the boats that the Canal was specifically built for in the 1700s and has ever since then been a place of work and homes for many families and individuals and allow the CRT to fine boaters for overstay so forcing people to move further.   Live aboards are not generally as "pretty" as summer or holiday boats, what they are peoples homes, peoples lives, not a glossy plastic theme park or a row of identical terraced houses.We can understand the need for some boats to move every 14 days in the summer in busy boating areas but why move boats on in the middle of Northchurch, Dudswell or Cowroast even when there are no other boats for weeks at a time, or in the winter when the summer boats don't run?  Why not make places like these in to Tow path moorings? 
We would love a mooring, it would make our lives so much easier but the reality is there simply aren't enough moorings available. There are no fulltime moorings in Berkhamsted at all and very few affordable moorings generally, only winter moorings.  The only alternatives we have are to register as travellers with the local education authority so that we can place our children with two or more different schools and not be prosecuted when we are forced to take them out of school while we travel further, (we also then as travellers will be classed as an ethnic minority) or we could remove our children from their present school education and home educate which would mean them loosing their friends and local connections and making us a lot less connected to the rest of Society than we presently are and effectively more isolated and outcast. There are many more articulate, hard working boat families like ours that are being made to feel like criminals when all we have done is chosen to live an alternative life style.   We didn't choose to be victims of prejudice, discrimination and exclusion, we don't want to be forced under threat of homelessness or fines to undertake much longer journeys, the effect of which will make it extremely difficult or impossible for us as a boat family  to maintain contact with our local communities for work, education, socialisation  and health-care. 
Like I said we would gladly take a mooring if there actually were any.  If anyone on here is a land owner or knows of any Canal side land owners between Berkhamstead and Cow roast willing to rent land to us so we can have a home mooring then please get in touch.

This article first appeared on Berkhamsted People and is reprinted here with kind permission from the author. 
You may also like this article: The long road 

Monday 8 April 2013

West country canals – a forgotten dream?

I grew up in Devon but by the time I lived there, there wasn’t much in the way of navigable canals left. I remember going on a school trip to see Cann Quarry Canal, a two mile waterway that connected with the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway. I think it was only working for ten years. There’s a little five mile long canal in Exeter from Exeter Canal Basin to the River Exe estuary. There’s also a little canal near Tiverton which I think runs a horse drawn boat trip. There are several more abandoned canals around Devon but they have long since fallen into disrepair. So it wasn’t until I grew up and boldly went to seek my fortune in London that I really began to discover the thriving canal network that is still navigable for 2000 miles across the UK.

I lived in a flat in Kentish Town near Camden and watched with fascination the painted boats that would pass through Camden lock. The romantic gypsy in me began to realise, some people actually live on these boats! A seed was sown, and I have since become someone who lives on a narrowboat, and has travelled the canals of London and Hertfordshire.

I can never take my boat on the long forgotten canals of Devon where I grew up; the short canals that remain are not connected to the main system. By default then, I have always thought that the way to connect my boating life with my West Country roots would be to travel west as far as I can by canal. This is why the Kennet and Avon canal has become the journey that I have yet to do.

Having spent my adult years building a career, and then a family, in and around London, do I still hear the call of the West Country? Do I see a white horse carved into a Wiltshire hillside in my dreams? Or a famous flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill near Devizes?

This is the boating journey that I never got to do. Now that I am settled on a residential mooring near a good school my cruise down the Kennet and Avon must be done as a holiday trip someday. (If you are single or a couple, it is cheaper to go by hotel boat than to hire a boat.) I’ve seen the charming historic buildings of Bradford on Avon and the Georgian architecture of Bath on weekend visits before, but that is fleetingly, by car.

Exploring by narrowboat is a slower pace of life, more connected with nature. In a city we are surrounded by man-made creations. But travelling through England’s countryside on the water I feel more connected with real life.

“What is this life if, full of care,
 We have no time to stand and stare.”
(From the poem ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies.)

So one day, I will let the Kennet and Avon take me slowly back west. Where will it take you? Read more about the highlights of the Kennet and Avon on the Devizes to Newbury cruise or the Bath to Devizes via Bristol journey. Or read more about why Devizes is high on my list of places to visit by boat.

Disclosure: I was paid to write this post on the Canal Voyagers blog. I re-published it here because it tells a little about me, my narrowboat life and my dreams.

Canal Voyagers are currently offering a £50 discount on the first 12 cruises of the year.

Saturday 30 March 2013

50ft trad narrowboat for sale

A friend of mine has just finished 'doing up' and refurbishing this beautiful narrowboat. It's light and airy inside with a fixed double plus a dinette. Full details and pictures are here: Beautiful narrowboat for sale. There is also a full list of the work recently completed.

She is currently moored near Milton Keynes.

£34,950 ono

If you're looking for a live-aboard boat or a leisure boat for holidays and weekends this one is lovely. Even if you're not, have a look at the photos, for some gorgeous inspiration of how light and airy a narrowboat can seem inside!

If you have any questions about living aboard grab yourself my free eBook Living on a Boat.

Monday 25 March 2013

No more news from Boat Wife? Really?

If you're reading this in Google Reader then did you know that Google is closing down Google Reader on June 1st? If you don't use Google Reader it's an easy way to keep up with the blogs that you enjoy.

Act now!

If you still want to read blogs in a reader try swapping to Feedly instead. It' free - I'm just recommending it because Glen at Viperchill did, and he's really cool and knows stuff about blogging! Don't leave changing it until the end of May, swap readers now and forget about it. Sorted! I just did it, it was really quick and Feedly even went and grabbed all the blogs I usually read from my Google Reader.

What are you on about?

If you don't use Google Reader then you can stay in touch with me in other ways. If you subscribe to posts in the sidebar on the right you will get an email whenever I write something new. If you don't want to be inundated with emails create an email filter to sort your favourite blogs into a separate folder. That's what I do :-)

My inbox is overwhelming!

Yep, mine too. Perhaps you'd rather have the monthly round-up from Narrowboat Wife. The newsletter summarises what I've been up to, and if you join the list now you get a free eBook called 'Narrowboat Families.' Choose the html version to see the lovely pictures as I think the text version looks a bit weird.


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Monday 18 March 2013

What’s so good about the Grand Union Canal?

When you live and travel on a boat it feels like you have several areas that you could call ‘home’. You might even feel at home on a whole stretch of canal and for me that stretch would be the southern Grand Union.

I’ve travelled from Blisworth to London and often settled myself comfortably on a winter mooring in Angel, Islington. When we finally decided to settle for good so that our eldest daughter could start school we were lucky enough to find a residential mooring in Marsworth. This is a tiny rural community, with a little church, two cosy pubs and many colourful moored boats lining the centre of the village. The loveliest thing about the area though is the three reservoirs that feed the canal. A favourite with families, dog walkers, fishermen and photographers the views are stunning. It is quite an unusual sight to see a vast expanse of water right next to the canal.

Rising up the flight of seven locks you then arrive at Bulbourne, a little hamlet which was once a hub of traditional lockgate making. The old British Waterways workshops can still be seen beside the canal. Drifting onwards the Tring summit level takes us through a leafy canal cutting down to Cowroast. Originally known as ‘cows rest’ because farmers would rest their cows here on the way to market in London, the local pub and boatyard now take on the name. The English countryside remains green and beautiful as we travel towards Berkhamsted, a charming historic town featuring an olde worlde sweet shop, a multitude of lovely restaurants and an ancient ruined castle. Travelling through Hemel Hempstead you see nothing of the concrete town centre, instead chugging past the ancient Three Horseshoes pub (1535), through the swing bridge and the spacious urban parkland known as Boxmoor.

Other highlights for me on the journey are the fields around Rickmansworth where Black Beauty was filmed, the quiet of Cassiobury Park, the lakes of Harefield and the woodland of Denham Country Park. This is followed by the Swan and Bottle pub in Uxbridge, full of wooden beams, real ale and memories of my old boating friends who have long since moved on. Then turning left at Bulls Bridge we head into London still travelling quietly through parkland such as Horsenden Hill and Perivale Wood before briefly flirting with the modern world as we drift over the north circular aqueduct.

The only way to end a cruise like this would be to moor up in one of the boatiest places in London: Little Venice. Here you can remain with the quiet English pub vibe (try the Warwick Castle) or eat at somewhere swanky and modern in Sheldon Square. You’ll also be a short walk from Paddington so could simply head off to see the famous sights of London.

I love this whole stretch of canal and can’t believe Neil and Corinne are offering a £50 discount on what must be one of the best boat journeys you can do!

See more details and check availability on the Leighton Buzzard to London (Little Venice) narrowboat hotel cruise.

Remember: If you are single or a couple, it is much cheaper to come hotel boating than to hire a boat, and you don't have to do the cooking and washing up!

Disclosure: I was paid to write this post for the Canal Voyagers Hotel Boats blog. It was my choice to republish it here as it tells a little bit about my own narrowboat life. 

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Beside the sea side

When I was little we lived in a village beside the sea. I wanted to write a beautiful and lyrical post about being connected to water, but in the end I think these pictures speak for themselves. Our narrowboat is moored about the furthest distance you can get from the sea in England, so my girls have rarely seen it. On this day in half term I took them to the beach near where I grew up and enjoyed watching them discover sand, shells and rock pools.

What part of your childhood would you like to share with your children?

Tuesday 12 March 2013

The day I fell in love with canals

Stoke Bruerne in Spring
Stoke Bruerne in Spring
Blisworth has a special meaning for me, because it was here that I met my first true love: a little red narrowboat called Emily Rose. In my late twenties she became an inexpensive first home for a girl who couldn’t afford a mortgage on a London flat.

Aptly enough, it was Independence Day (4th July) when I took ownership of my first boat and left the brokerage in Bugbrook.   I enlisted the help of a friend who knew how to steer a narrowboat and headed south down the Grand Union towards London.

Before long we arrived at the Blisworth tunnel, and dizzy with the excitement of my first big canal adventure I wrote a bad poem in its honour; “It’s a mile and three quarter, And dripping with water…”
 Originally boats were legged through this tunnel and the leggers hut can still be seen on the bank at the southern end. There is no towpath but the tunnel is wide enough for boats travelling in opposite directions to pass one another. As we chugged through the darkness my steering friend re-told the ghost story of some poor souls who were crushed during the building of the tunnel. They do say that sometimes you may see an alternative tunnel branching off from the current route. This ghostly tunnel is lit by candlelight, as it would have been when the navvies were building it before the tragedy happened…

At the southern end of the tunnel we emerged into the leafy cutting of Stoke Bruerne and moored up for the night. Stoke Bruerne is a charming canal side village full of waterways history. In the days of working boats Sister Mary Ward lived beside the canal offering healthcare to the working boaters and their families. Of course there is a waterside pub to visit, plus boat scales, a double arched bridge, and a series of locks. The waterways museum is in an old corn mill and exhibits include a traditional narrowboat and a reconstruction of a butty boat cabin. You will see steam and diesel engines, historical clothing, cabinware, brasses, paintings and photographs. The museum shop sells books, postcards and other souvenirs. In Stoke Bruerne you can really immerse yourself in the rose-painted nostalgia of the canal era. By this point, and only one day into my first journey I was already in love with the whole lifestyle.

The next day we carried on to visit a church in the village of Cosgrove and then cruised quietly through idyllic rural landscapes. Even at Milton Keynes the canal misses the city centre, instead meandering around the edges giving you a completely different perspective to what you might expect. There was so much open country on our journey and we travelled undisturbed by the sounds of modern traffic, interrupted only by occasional sleepy villages. I felt that I was seeing England in a completely different way.

If you’d like to see the same stretch, not only with your own steerer, but also someone to cook and wash up for you, you may like the Canal Voyagers Hotel Boats Market Harborough to Leighton Buzzard cruise departing on Friday 3rd May 2013.

They are now offering a £50 discount on the first 12 cruises of the year! Click here to get the Late Availability Voucher. 

Disclosure: I was paid to write this post on the Canal Voyagers blog. It was my choice to re-publish it here to offer my readers the discount voucher.