A Narrow Escape (JUNE – 2016)
Anyone who has ever seen the movie, “Houseboat,” starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, has probably fallen in love with the idea of living on the water. They took an old wreck of a boat, cleaned it up a bit, painted it from top to bottom and strung some lights for atmosphere from the top deck. It’s hard to watch the film without dreaming of renovating your own floating home to perfection, and living happily ever after – at least for about 15 minutes. Most people come to their senses after that length of time. But fortunately, a few adventurous souls do not…
Peggy Melmoth is an author, blogger, mom and most unusually, lived on a narrowboat for more than a decade with her husband and two young daughters. She began blogging about her experiences in 2010, with the words, “Space: The final frontier.” She wasn’t referring to the cosmos, but rather the challenging lack of space on her narrowboat, christened the Grassington. (Narrowboats by design can be no more than 2.1 meters in width in order to navigate the narrow canals and locks.)
She has since written two e-books, “Narrowboat Families” and “Living on a Boat,” which should be required reading for all those considering the lifestyle, and especially those with children.
Melmoth didn’t just wake up one day and decide to jump on the nearest boat bound for nowhere. Her earliest cravings for adventure began when she was still a little girl, and fancied the romanticised notion of living like a gypsy, moving from place to place. As a young college graduate of Art College in 2000, she headed for London, where her worries for the future sounded very much like those of the college students of today.
“…I began to think I would never be able to afford to get on the property ladder,” recalls Melmoth. But while living in a flat in Kentish Town, one day she spotted a narrowboat moving lazily down the river near Camden Lock. She was suddenly struck with the notion of living on a narrowboat.
“I bought my first boat…with a bank loan and a credit card, and I had a mooring outside a pub in Harlesden,” explains Melmoth. But she later decided to leave the mooring in favour of becoming a continuous cruiser, between London, Hertfordshire and Essex. As she explains, “If I craved a different view from my kitchen window, I just moved the boat!”
Far from feeling stir crazy or confined in the small space, to Melmoth, life on the boat represented freedom. No doubt her love of nature helped in the transition as well, since she spent lots of time outside, living side by side with birds, fish and other wildlife.
Later, as a mum, Melmoth found one of her biggest challenges was time. To be sure, there are extra chores that come with living on a boat that are not required when living in a house on dry land. The requirement to relocate every two weeks, refilling the water tank, the dreaded emptying of the toilet tank, getting rid of rubbish, and normal maintenance on the boat. Still, Melmoth never felt overwhelmed by the extra tasks.
Both of her children were born on the boat, so to them, floating on the water was just a normal way of life, though a few strict rules had to be implemented, such as staying away from the edge of the boat, and not running when beside a lock. The whole family also had to restrict their belongings, limiting the number of toys, clothing and other material possessions, but Melmoth says, “I never missed having loads of stuff.”
Apparently Melmoth is not alone in her love of the freedom of living on the water. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people now live on the canals and waterways in the UK, with more than 3,000 canal dwellers in London alone.
Melmoth works as a freelance blogger for several boating concerns, including Boatshed Grand Union. You can read her work at grandunion.boatshed.com. Her book, “Narrowboat Families,” is free with a subscription to her blog at narrowboatwife.com.