After the hectic rush of the working week, ditching the daily commute for life on board a narrow boat has a certain romantic appeal. Every May, more than 100 boats travel the length of the Grand Union Canal for the annual Rickmansworth Festival in Hertforshire. Tempting land-lovers with mortgage-free independence, many seeking an alternative lifestyle, choose to take the plunge. But what’s it really like to swap bricks and mortar for a life on the canals?
Entranced by the influx of jewel-like domino boxes, I imagine a life of gentle meanderings in the company of swans and the drift of wood smoke on mellow autumn days. With more than ten thousand people now living the dream along London’s 100-plus miles of canal, could the narrow boat lifestyle be the answer to London’s housing crisis?
Sadly, just like the capital’s housing stock, the number of residential moorings has not kept up with demand and without an official permit, boat owners face the constant upheaval of setting sail every fourteen days. For those fortunate enough to receive a permit, costs range from £1000.00 to £12,000 per year depending on the size of the boat, facilities and the area. London unsurprisingly is one of the most expensive areas in the UK.
Wenlock Basin, on the Regent’s Canal is one of the capital’s mooring hot-spots with fees in the region of £5,400.00 per year. Equivalent to 1% of the price of an average flat in the area, this could be the only way most of us could ever acquire such a prime central London waterfront address. Take away the need to commute and your salary could go a whole lot further. But what are the downsides of a life on the canals?
Space is obviously at a premium with capsule-wardrobes the order of the day and weekly forays to Top Shop relegated to a thing of the past. Privacy is also in short supply, putting a strain on the strongest friendships and relationships. Washing by hand, cleaning out the loo and lugging fuel for the wood-burning stove will all add hours to your weekly chores and while initially affordable, house boats will depreciate in value unlike the property market.
During my chats with boat owners it becomes clear that those who embrace canal life purely for financial reasons are the first to pack up and leave while those passionate about boats, nature and a quieter pace of life take to the canals like ducks to water. Shunning domesticity and loving my space too much, it appears I won’t be parting company with my Oystercard anytime soon but perhaps a quick glide with the swans may be in order this August bank holiday. Meanwhile my own quest for an alternative commute-free lifestyle goes on……….
Does life on the canals appeal to you? Perhaps you’ve already tried it? I would love to hear about your experiences. The Rickmansworth Festival runs during the third weekend of May each year.