NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST
With the ongoing revival of Scotland’s canals, more people are choosing to make their homes on the water, finds Morag Bootland
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.