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
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