ME & MY BOATS

With a wan­der­lust born out of a six-month tour of Europe, re­turn­ing to a ‘nor­mal’ life on land was com­pletely out of the ques­tion

Canal Boat - - This Month - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY LEIGH WAL­TON

Watch­ing life go by from the stern is the per­fect pas­time for one ad­ven­tur­ous cou­ple be­come happy wan­der­ers

Peo­ple of­ten dream about es­cap­ing the rat race and slow­ing down; liv­ing on a boat is one way to do so but, to me, it was just a dream un­til this year. Just over 42 years ago I joined the Navy. Back in the Sev­en­ties, Wrens didn’t go to sea – we were land-based – so my ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing on a boat was lim­ited to hol­i­days afloat.

Af­ter leav­ing the Navy, I spent years build­ing a ca­reer and bring­ing up a fam­ily, un­til I was made re­dun­dant in 2013. Af­ter the ini­tial shock I em­braced the op­por­tu­nity that this new found free­dom of­fered.

When Tom said, ‘We’ve al­ways wanted to travel more so why don’t we do just that?’ I im­me­di­ately agreed. Within weeks we had pur­chased a car­a­van and a tow ve­hi­cle, thrown an au revoir party, and set off to ex­plore Europe... for six months.

Three and a half years, and 28 coun­tries later, we are still trav­el­ling. At the be­gin­ning of 2016, we found out that our sev­enth grand­child was due in Au­gust. I was also re­ally miss­ing fam­ily and friends so we made the de­ci­sion to come back to the UK.

I was ex­cited to be com­ing back to the UK, yet con­cerned that set­tling back into ‘nor­mal life’ – liv­ing in a house and wak­ing up to the same view ev­ery morn­ing – would be dif­fi­cult. The thought of it still makes my tummy flut­ter and emotes the feel­ing of be­ing trapped.

I re­minded Tom of my dream to live on a boat, which he was not op­posed to, and sug­gested that we could think about rent­ing a nar­row-boat for six months. This would feed our need to stay mo­bile, while be­ing closer to fam­ily and friends.

As ‘con­tin­u­ous cruis­ing liv­aboards’ we could spend time trav­el­ling part of the amaz­ing and beau­ti­ful Bri­tish canal net­work. While re­search­ing this op­tion, we agreed that rent­ing a boat for six months through­out the sum­mer wasn’t fi­nan­cially vi­able.

Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing locks, wind, nar­row bends in the canal, shelves along the side and low water lev­els, I can see why it is ex­pen­sive to rent a boat. Hire com­pa­nies must be con­stantly re­pair­ing and main­tain­ing their fleet.

So, af­ter re­turn­ing to the UK in May, we pur­chased a boat. Af­ter spend­ing six weeks in and out of a su­per boat­yard in Tarde­bigge for nec­es­sary re­pairs, we also ren­o­vated her in­te­rior and re­named her

Very Pi­nook. She is gor­geous! Fam­ily and friends (non-boaters) of­ten ask how we cope with liv­ing in a small space (we had a 5/6 bed­room house be­fore trav­el­ling). Af­ter liv­ing in a car­a­van for three years, hav­ing 56ft of space is ab­so­lutely fine. It’s amaz­ing just how much stor­age there is. I still work part-time so I have to carry a ‘work wardrobe’ for when I de­liver train­ings. So I have more clothes and shoes than I would nor­mally need, yet ev­ery­thing has a place.

Once the new sofa-bed had ar­rived and the wooden floor­ing had been in­stalled by Tom, my daugh­ter ‘dressed’ the boat. Tom wasn’t too happy to find his tools put away in a tool cup­board, but hav­ing a des­ig­nated drinks cabi­net made up for it.

We in­tend to liveaboard whilst CC’ing for a year or so but we don’t have any set plans. What I love about this life­style is the choice to go where we want, when we want and the sim­plic­ity. I can watch wildlife for ages, de­light­ing in the ducks as they splash around, chas­ing each other and dry­ing their feath­ers in the sun­shine.

Herons fas­ci­nate me – these big birds, with their huge wing­spans, take off and land so el­e­gantly and ef­fort­lessly.

I take zil­lions of pho­tos and videos; cygnet’s al­most fully grown with the odd bril­liant-white feather peek­ing out, moorhens – jet black with their high-vis beaks, robins singing so loud in the hedgerow, spar­rows – ap­par­ently in de­cline – flit­ter­ing and flut­ter­ing from tree to tree.

I blog most days and I vlog ev­ery day. I am al­ways be­ing asked by FB fol­low­ers to keep up the vlog­ging. They tell me that just watch­ing 60 sec­onds of life on the canal makes them feel re­laxed. It re­ally is great ther­apy – mind­ful­ness at its most nat­u­ral.

I am a nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous per­son and love ex­plor­ing towns, vil­lages, ham­lets, woods and tow­paths. Canal life suits me be­cause there is much to ex­plore and to cel­e­brate.

Al­though I spent years trav­el­ling the U.K on busi­ness, I never had time to ex­plore places I passed when whizzing up and down mo­tor­ways.

Re­cently I have dis­cov­ered sev­eral choco­late-box vil­lages that I didn’t know ex­isted and su­perb towns where in­di­vid­ual shops and fam­ily busi­nesses thrive. Stone and Whitchurch are two such towns; these should be cel­e­brated and used as a blue­print for other towns to fol­low if they are fail­ing fi­nan­cially or be­ing eaten up by hun­gry high street re­tail­ers.

In ad­di­tion to trav­el­ling, I work, I write and I study. I have self-pub­lished a cou­ple of busi­ness books (writ­ten as a cathartic ex­er­cise ini­tially) and two books based on the blogs of our Euro­pean ad­ven­ture. Ac­tu­ally, it is my Par­son Rus­sell Ter­rier, Martha, who blogs from her quirky, ca­nine point of view, so I can’t take all the credit.

I am in my last year of a six-year part-time BA Hon­ours English Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­ture de­gree; study­ing through the Open Univer­sity has been chal­leng­ing yet do-able, and keeps my mind ac­tive.

Lots of peo­ple reach their mid-late 50s and dream of re­tir­ing; I have so much I still want to do that I see liv­ing on the boat as a pre-cur­sor to what­ever life may throw at me next. I guess you could say I’m a hu­man-con­tra­dic­tion.

You see the il­lu­sion of a switched-off, chilled- out and re­laxed life­style, yet, like a swan, un­der the sur­face there is still plenty of ac­tiv­ity – liv­ing on a boat gives me the best of both worlds. If you’d like to fol­low Leigh’s blog, it’s on https://www.leigh­wal­ton.com/cat­e­gory/ trav­els-with-martha/

Leigh and Tom meet Si­mon Cal­low dur­ing TV film­ing

That’s one way to op­er­ate the lock

Grand­chil­dren love cruis­ing

Stor­age has never been a prob­lem

Even the gal­ley is re­lax­ing

Very Pi­nook is the per­fect home

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