Boats for bar­gains

Canal Boat - - Floating Markets - WORDS BY MARTIN LUDGATE

Fancy com­bin­ing a day out, an op­por­tu­nity to sup­port a colour­ful part of modern canal life and per­haps a chance to pick up a bar­gain? If so, float­ing mar­kets could be for you

It doesn’t seem so many years ago that the only boaters mak­ing a liv­ing from trad­ing afloat on Bri­tain’s canals were the hand­ful of fuel and coal boat op­er­a­tors, keep­ing tra­di­tions of the work­ing nar­row­boats go­ing and pro­vid­ing a use­ful ser­vice to other craft.

But along­side them, in re­cent years, trade on the cut has branched out in many di­rec­tions as peo­ple have set up all man­ner of float­ing busi­nesses: on our trav­els we’ve come across boats sell­ing any­thing from ropes and fend­ers to herbs and spices, a float­ing palm-reader to a float­ing lawyer. The web­site of the Rov­ing Canal Traders’ As­so­ci­a­tion (which rep­re­sents the ma­jor­ity of trade afloat) gives an idea of the range. And I won’t for­get the oc­ca­sion when we cruised the Ken­net & Avon to a friend’s wed­ding and found that, on the morn­ing of the great day, we’d chanced to tie up next to a float­ing hair­dresser, so we could look spick and span af­ter a week’s hard boat­ing.

But although such chance meet­ings are a fun and oc­ca­sion­ally very use­ful part of boat­ing, you won’t get very good odds on find­ing a boat sell­ing what you need when you need it – un­less, that is, you go to a float­ing mar­ket.

These started a few years ago with a gath­er­ing of float­ing traders in East Lon­don dur­ing the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, of­fer­ing an as­sort­ment of clothes, books, food and hand­i­crafts. They then moved west to Lit­tle Venice for an­other suc­cess­ful run over late sum­mer. And a smaller group re­con­vened for a Christ­mas mar­ket, ‘chuck­ing Chrimbo com­mer­cial­ism deftly over­board’ as put it, with the added bonus of hot mulled wine avail­able while you browsed.

Come 2013, the heart of the wa­ter­ways sys­tem hosted ‘Bri­tain’s largest float­ing mar­ket’ with more than 20 traders con­verg­ing on the Birm­ing­ham Canal Nav­i­ga­tions Main Line along­side the Na­tional In­door Arena in Septem­ber for a week­end mar­ket (the first to be run by the newly-formed RCTA) which the then Canal & River Trust Chair­man Tony Hales pre­dicted would “show off just how

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