Ju­dith Basham is en­cour­ag­ing wildlife back to our canals

Country Homes & Interiors - - CONTENTS -

When I bought my nar­row­boat, I also dis­cov­ered the Cotswold Canals Trust. Set up in 1972, the char­ity pur­sues an am­bi­tious dream: restor­ing the canals as a nav­i­ga­ble route from Saul Junc­tion on the Glouces­ter and Sharp­ness canal, through to Lech­lade on the River Thames. Ev­ery­one who owns a boat be­comes part of a club. You chat at locks, swap­ping anec­dotes and ad­vice. I de­cided to vol­un­teer for the CCT, as a way to give back to this fan­tas­tic com­mu­nity.

I came to canal house­boat liv­ing as a short-term stop gap… or so I thought. Re­cently di­vorced, I didn’t want to tie my­self to a lo­ca­tion be­fore getting to know it well and I also wanted to be near my mum. The last credit crunch was then in play and I needed a low-cost liv­ing op­tion. Mov­ing onto a boat ap­pealed to me as I had pre­vi­ously built my own house and owned a small­hold­ing. I had no ex­pe­ri­ence on the wa­ter, but I thought, ‘I could do that!’

Eight years later, here I still am, liv­ing on my 60ft nar­row­boat called Wa­ter Lily (named for my mum Lily) at Saul in Glouces­ter­shire.

I work at a lovely cafe on the canal called The Laven­der Bake­house. But for two or three days ev­ery week you’ll find me ei­ther at the de­pot at East­ing­ton, where we carry out re­pairs to dredgers and tugs, or work­ing on the tow­path ‘gang’ – lay­ing paths and restor­ing locks. My main role is to skip­per boats for main­te­nance sor­ties with a crew of five or six.

Liv­ing on a boat is mag­i­cal. I love trav­el­ling the coun­try­side, through tun­nels and past bridges, build­ings and bot­tle kilns – though for me all are eclipsed by the mag­nif­i­cent Pont­cy­syllte aque­duct near Llan­gollen. Peo­ple ask what it’s like to live in such a small space. There sim­ply isn’t room for lots of pos­ses­sions, but I think that is an ad­van­tage. When­ever the mood takes me, I can be off, wak­ing up to a beau­ti­ful new view.

On the Stroud­wa­ter canal, wildlife is re­turn­ing. It was built to sup­ply coal to the woollen in­dus­try but aban­doned by the 1950s. Now, ot­ters have been seen play­ing on the grass, wa­ter voles swim in the reeds, king­fish­ers dart by, and the wa­ter is full of fish. It is mar­vel­lous.

The vol­un­teers are a fan­tas­tic bunch of peo­ple! We can­not get through a day without tea, cakes, choco­late and lots of laughs, all in the fresh air. We have be­come such good friends that 25 of us go on hol­i­day ev­ery year. We also have some won­der­ful spe­cial needs young­sters among us who re­ally feed off the ban­ter and laughs.

A day work­ing on the canal can be muddy, wet and ex­haust­ing, but so re­ward­ing. The sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing a re­stored length of canal is amaz­ing and we all take such pride in it. There have been ups and downs, es­pe­cially when the bid for fund­ing from the Na­tional Lottery Her­itage Fund was turned down in 2013. But an­other bid is near­ing com­ple­tion. Fin­gers crossed we will be suc­cess­ful due to the enor­mous ef­forts of so many peo­ple.

To dis­cover more about the

Trust’s work or to vol­un­teer visit cotswold­canals.org.uk

Stroud­wa­ter canal, where wildlife is flour­ish­ing; vol­un­teers on a Stroud Dis­trict Coun­cil work­boat; Ju­dith at work

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