As the alarm clocks start sounding the 9-5 commuters of London to get out of their beds and onto the tube, another nomadic community in the city have already risen long ago to stoke their log burners. A whole other, gentler world is found from the banks of Little Venice through to Limehouse Basin, where the sunrise bounces off the surface of the canal waterways and reflects the myriad of colourful houseboats, with flower pots and candles perched on their rooftops.
According to the Canal & River Trust, there has been a 50% rise in boat numbers in London from 2010-2015, accumulating to 3,255 nomads who have decided to reject normal London housing in favour of a house on water. Two of which, were me and my friend Ruben, who decided in February to move from his flat in Hackney onto a boat on the London canals. Now, with only a few days away until the fruition of our plans where we move aboard The Seawolf, I thought i’d go over a few of the reasons that helped us to make such a bonkers decision.
So what is so alluring about canal life?
Some obvious factors are behind the mini-houseboat-boom such as housing costs in central London spiraling out of control and the innate drive for a life with more financial freedom. Whilst others are taking to canals for the lifestyle; preferring a slower, minimalist and ultimately stripped back version of life, to be closer to nature, for the water-bound escapism. The adventure! After all, what could be more romantic than sailing along the glittering water, surrounded by the humdrum of the city in your own gypsy-style version of reality? I cover a few of these in more detail below…
PERK #1: NOMADIC ESCAPISM
About a third of London’s canal boats, are operating under ‘continuous cruising licenses,’ requiring them to move every two weeks so they don’t monopolize the canals. If this sounds something like a nomadic dream come true, you’re probably about right. A fortnightly change of scenery oozes with the promises of freedom; perfect for flighty individuals like ourselves who just can’t seem to settle in once place for too long without phining over a map. The ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ concept of boat life enables you to move elsewhere when the feeling takes you, or when you get fed up of your neighbours bad music taste or over zealous sex noises.
What’s more, we were particularly hyper about being able to explore a new borough of the city every two weeks. Being able to cruise around the canals of London enables those with adventure in their souls to experience the different areas of London with a fresh set of eyes; staying in all the most sort after places such as; Little Venice, Camden Town, Richmond, Uxbridge and Islington to name just a few. So many times already, I have considered how lucky we are to always have a home with an ever-changing, ever charming view. Even in the groggiest areas of London, a life next to nature still seems to prevail. The canals seem to brighten the place up, the river never fails to light up the sky and you are never too far away from the prettier, greener, hang outs.
Should you get bored of London? Take a holiday upstream- you’re floating on your ticket out of there! This was also a huge bonus for me, as a slightly neurotic owner of two chihuahuas. Rather than texting the dog sitter every day to check if either of them have thrown up/ forgotten to eat/ self combusted, being able to take the little rascals with us everywhere makes the idea of travelling seem so much more relaxed.
PERK #2: FINANCIAL FREEDOM
With house prices and rent costs soaring higher each year, living on a canal boat is becoming a serious option for many cash-strapped citizens struggling to get on the housing ladder. (So that’s most of us!) With the average one bedroom flat costing between £300,000 and £400,000 and rent for the same amount of space totalling at £1,350 per month, London's citizens are starting to wake up and really consider how much money a bog-standard living space is truly worth. That’s before we even begin to calculate the cost of council tax, water and electric...
While on the other side of the bridge, a ready-to-go, one bedroom narrowboat with living room and fully equipped kitchen/bathroom, can be purchased for as little as £30,000.
Then of course, there is the wonderful realisation of having no rent or council tax to pay (whahoo!) if you opt for continuous cruising as mentioned before. This, naturally, brings with it a huge life change as it does mean adopting true nomadic ways. Unless you have a job in the supply field, or you’re able to work from home, you may want to consider permanent mooring instead. The same applies to children- unless you are home schooling them, it could prove quite difficult to continuous cruise if your child has a permanent school to attend.
For those who want a permanent location, you can pay for London mooring costs which range from £3,000 to £18,000 per year. Naturally, outside of London, mooring fees fall dramatically to as little as £1,500 per year! Either way, as seen in the recent protests, it is important to stick to continuous cruising if this is what you are opting for and to take that agreement seriously. There is nothing fun about making some canalboat enemies, lest your pot plants be stolen!
Other hidden costs such as Diesel, using a generator for heating, a canal licence, and maintenance equate to under £1,500 per year in total and that’s it; you’re ready to take to water like a commonplace coot!
Renting a houseboat is harder to come by, (possibly because those who buy a boat simply can’t resist living on it themselves!). However, I have spotted some gorgeous ones including permanent mooring for rent with rental prices starting at £1000 per month.
PERK #3: MINIMALIST LIVING
Sounds like hell on earth to the majority of society, but if you were part of the smaller collective who felt a little inner leap of joy there; be sure to give yourself a smug highfive. Indeed, anyone who has woken up to the bizzare reality we are living in; be it the trap of becoming entirely reliant on technology or the manic pace of life breeding some serious mental health issues, will surely be ready to escape it by now!
Living aboard a houseboat means quite a lifestyle change- one that is not to be taken lightly- but one for the better, which after the adjustment phase, can be really rewarding. The most obvious thing to mention, is the lack of space. Waste becomes REAL all of a sudden, and with it awareness for how many packages/containers you are consuming weekly heightens.
Water use is another big consideration. At the risk of ending up looking like The Twits, you can either keep to your 30 minute showers and run out for the week by day 2, or learn how to shower and shower damn fast for your daily soak! We were a little heartbroken to say goodbye to luxurious spa sessions in the bath at first (and then we realised we’d been living a diva life of unnecessary excess -like two fabulous little Marie Antoinettes- and we soon got a grip).
Something which became apparent as soon as the sun went down, (and all the electronics started to die with it), was the permission to return to a life from times long lost. Night times were no longer about ignoring one another over a TV series, but a new reconnection to laughter, great conversation and real quality time spent by the log burner. Beautiful! There really is something to be said about existing within an alternative timeframe whilst the rest of the city crazies on around you. You are not going anywhere in a hurry on a houseboat, unlike the rest of London. Time to kick back and enjoy the Zen...because let’s face it; you’ll need a lot of that when you have to clear out the compost toilet!
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