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I am a bargee. I wasn’t born to the life, but having lived on a canal boat on the Regent’s Canal for the past 8 years, I think I qualify.

driving a canal boat

Now usually when I mention this to those who don’t already know, they are keen to find out about the aesthetics of boating life, that or the loo. Now the conversation has moved on, as more people are squeezed by rentals and housing shortages. The two most frequently asked questions are ‘How cold and how much?’.

For total transparency I cruised the waterways for 2 years, then my son came along and I took the easy route out and found a mooring which we've had for 6 years.  As with everything in my life I don't like to stay put for very long. You'll often find us floating about just inside the M25,  Rickmansworth to Cheshunt. 

I thought in light of the renewed interest in canal life, I might jot down a short list of the pro’s and con’s.  For me canal boat life it's the ultimate experience.

The Pros

1. Hands down the community… you moor up next to a stranger and before the weekend is out you're discussing the best composting loos (yes, it is a recurring conundrum) over a beer.  You are never far away from a chat and a helping hand. - you always have something in common - usually what part of your boat has broken that day.

2. I'm a London girl, I love London. Living on the canal is an extraordinary crossover. Urban meets countryside. High rise buildings surrounded by water. You are never far from nature. Ducks are a constant alongside your boat. I lie in bed and listen to the comforting tap tap tapping in the early hours as a small platoon eats the weed from the hull.

3. With the price of gas going through the roof you do feel quite smug about heating a boat. The cost of heating comes down to a tank of diesel for our Webasto heater which lasts for ages and a good stack of logs. We've tried all types and I'm currently loving the recycled coffee logs. You can float a girl out of Islington….. 

4. When you are cruising you need to move your boat every 2 weeks to a new spot and do 20 miles or so a year - which is from one side of London to the other. Everyday is an adventure, You can visit a different part of town or venture off into the countryside.  This may be half an hour by car or 1 day by boat, so a bit of planning is required.

5. You have to think about ‘stuff’. A narrow boat is just that. No point buying more than can easily be fitted into the space. It makes you consider every purchase from a size point of view.

calypso rose on her canal boat

The Cons

1. I'm always asked 'how much does your boat cost?' which is quite frankly rude… I don't ask how much your house is…and 'is it cold?'... It can get very cold but it heats up in minutes being such a small space… and once you get the stove going it can rise to sauna temperature and you're throwing open all the windows and sitting in your pants.

2. There's a lot to a boat and things go wrong - engines, heating, loos (again).… and if you are anything like me and don't know how to fix them then finding a professional who can fix them is nearly impossible. When you do find someone they might take weeks to turn up… there's no Pimlico Plumbers for boaters. 

3. Getting fuel to run your engine could also take weeks. You need to be prepared, which is tricky if you have to actually go to work each day and have a 'normal' job.  In fact having a boat on the move every 2 weeks rather precludes this option. It is a fact that most bargees fall into the freelance category. 

4. If you do have to go to the office each day make sure they have a shower … unless you have those clever water filtering systems that sucks up canal water you have to be very conservative with your water supply. You do tend to smell like a wood burner most of the time.. but you get used to it. Taking your washing to the launderette becomes a cathartic ritual.

5. Some adventures aren't so favourable. We woke up one night during a storm and the boat    had come untied and was across the canal, which I can tell you is not ideal.  Looking back I quite enjoyed the drama. Mums ‘special birthday’ was carefully planned. The boat filled to capacity with friends and family . The adventure started well until the boat broke down and the guests had to be taxied, again in the pouring rain, to the lunch venue.

6. Fighting Coots…Tapping good, fighting bad. Not a sound you want to wake up to.

7. Pumping out your poo tank but that's a whole new blog post and really, not for the squeamish.


If you are not ready to take the leap... you could just have an idyllic lunch on barge on the Regents Canal. Afternoon Cheese on the Cheese Barge >

Or read more about us at The Indytute

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