With the on­go­ing re­vival of Scot­land’s canals, more peo­ple are choos­ing to make their homes on the wa­ter, finds Morag Boot­land

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Life on a canal boat in the shadow of the Kelpies

Ev­ery­body needs good neigh­bours. Be­cause al­though most of us put a lot of thought into where we might like to live, very of­ten we won’t get much say in who might be liv­ing right be­side us. How­ever, some of Scot­land’s res­i­dents have the lux­ury of be­ing able to move their home if they hap­pen to end up liv­ing next to some­one that they’d rather not.

Ray and Becca Chan­dler, and their dog Jax, live on their 57ft nar­row boat at the Kelpies Ma­rina, just out­side Falkirk. And they wouldn’t change their fa­mous neigh­bours for all the tea in China. In fact, there’s no­body that they’d rather live next door to. Duke and Baron are just about per­fect and they’re pretty easy on the eye. Open­ing your bed­room cur­tains to a view of the world’s largest equine sculp­tures is cer­tainly un­usual but it suits the Chan­dlers down to the ground.

‘When the morn­ing sun hits the Kelpies they look ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful,’ Becca tells me. ‘And in the evening when they’re all lit up they’re re­ally stun­ning.’

The Chan­dlers have lived at Kelpies Ma­rina for just over a year and now that Ray has re­tired the life­style suits them very well in­deed. Their boat, Starry Night, is small but it is cosy, with cen­tral heat­ing, a work­ing kitchen, a shower room with an

“It’s not glam­orous, it’s not easy, but when you’re out there it’s ab­so­lutely mag­i­cal

im­pres­sively sized shower cabi­net and flush­ing loo and a large dress­ing room/bed­room which the cou­ple moved to the front of the boat so that they can open the dou­ble doors in the morn­ing and en­joy cof­fee in bed with ‘that view’.

‘I think at this stage of life the canal boat is per­fect for us,’ says Becca. ‘It’s about the right speed – four miles an hour. I’ve lived on a boat be­fore but this is our first canal boat. It’s not glam­orous, it’s not easy, but when you’re out there it’s ab­so­lutely mag­i­cal. There are some places that we moor and when you look out of the win­dow all you can see is trees – no houses, no wires, you don’t hear any­thing but birds. I can’t de­scribe how your whole body re­laxes. Your shoul­ders drop from up around your ears, your stom­ach re­laxes, you feel way more ac­tive. You’re very close to na­ture – the swans come and look in the win­dow at us – the ducks go by and the moor hens go by. It’s just that step away from the chaos and the bus­tle.’

Frogs and toads make their home in the wa­ter plants on the side of the tow path and herons wait pa­tiently for their din­ner as king­fish­ers dart by. There are even a fam­ily of ot­ters just up the way. And all of this lies just a few hun­dred feet from the M9 mo­tor­way and the tourist hub that sur­rounds the mighty Kelpies. ‘We like this moor­ing,’ says Becca. ‘The road is there but you can hardly hear the traf­fic due to the sound bar­rier and the peo­ple who come to visit the Kelpies tend to stay on the other side of the canal. We just get run­ners and cy­clists pass­ing by. Any noise that we get from vis­i­tors is happy noise – peo­ple en­joy­ing them­selves. We’re also right by the Helix park and there are lots of great events there.’

De­spite the dis­tinctly ru­ral feel of liv­ing on the canal, Ray and Becca are just a short drive or cy­cle from the shops and fa­cil­i­ties in Falkirk and even when they are out and about on the canal, they’re never far from civil­i­sa­tion. Or a DIY store to grab es­sen­tial hard­ware should some­thing go awry. ‘Scot­tish Canals are great for be­gin­ners,’ says Becca. ‘If some­thing does go wrong you’re never far from a bus route or some­where that you can grab a cup of

“Your whole body re­laxes. It’s a step away from the chaos and bus­tle

cof­fee. Then five min­utes later you’re back in na­ture. It’s the best of both worlds.’

Becca and Ray are now moored for the win­ter, but have spent the sum­mer months get­ting out and about on the Forth and Clyde and Union canals. This in­volves go­ing through a lot of locks – 14 to be pre­cise. Most of them are so large that two peo­ple are needed to crew the boat, mean­ing that Ray and Becca rely on the as­sis­tance of canal vol­un­teers, with­out whose help it would be im­pos­si­ble to tra­verse the canals. ‘The vol­un­teers are won­der­ful,’ says Becca. ‘It’s not easy for them. They’ll help you through a lock then cy­cle down to the next one, help you through that and cy­cle to the next one.

‘We can just de­cide to go up the canal and get away from it all and up the locks we’ll go, through the Falkirk wheel, un­der the Union and we have some spots where we will stop and you feel very close to na­ture. The peace and the free­dom is re­ally the best thing about liv­ing on the wa­ter.’

But what price free­dom? The berth at Kelpies Ma­rina costs around £200 per month. ‘When the re­ces­sion hit peo­ple were tak­ing this as a cheap op­tion,’ says Becca. ‘Rent-wise it may be cheap, but re­pair wise it cer­tainly is not.’

Starry Night cost £40,000 and had only 145 hours on the en­gine, very lit­tle for a 12-year-old boat. This meant that the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior were in great shape, but the en­gine needed some TLC and a fair bit of cash to get it up and run­ning.

“The peace and free­dom is re­ally the best thing about liv­ing on the wa­ter

‘They don’t call them boats for noth­ing. It stands for Bung On An­other Thou­sand,’ laughs Ray. ‘The per­cep­tion of hav­ing a boat is per­haps that you buy it and that’s the out­go­ings over. But to re­ally en­joy­ing liv­ing on a boat you’ve got to spend a bit of money in or­der to make it into the type of en­vi­ron­ment that you would want to live in. And there’s lots of es­sen­tial main­te­nance re­quired.’

But, sit­ting on board Starry Night on a crisp win­ter morn­ing, gaz­ing at the sun­light shift­ing on the dap­pled metal of the Kelpies, sip­ping tea and al­low­ing the gen­tle rock­ing mo­tion of the canal to re­lax your body, I can cer­tainly see the ap­peal of life on the wa­ter.

Right at home: Ray, Becca and Jax live in the shadow of the Kelpies.

Above: The in­te­rior of Becca and Ray’s boat is cosy and wel­com­ing. Below: Boats moored in front of the res­i­dents’ stor­age sheds at Cause­wayend Ma­rina in Lin­lith­gow.

Top: Ray and Becca en­joy the win­ter sunshine on the roof of their boat, watched over by Duke. Above: The Falkirk Wheel, a ro­tat­ing boat lift con­nect­ing the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.

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