Alternative Living: Boat Life

I recently went to visit friends who live on a Dutch barge near Tower Bridge and came away feeling elated and as though I had actually been sailing all afternoon! The wakes from the passing tour boats and occasional yachts sometimes made us hang on to our Phil Collins (Tom Collins made by Phil) and sticky baklava before flying overboard!

The boat started life in 1925 as a working barge on the canals in Holland transporting sacks of grain and other staples up and down the waterways. It then became a pub until my friends found it and bought it as their home. The bar remains but after a discussion over whether to keep the beer tap it was (sadly for some) taken out. The boat retains other remnants from its pub days such as signs welcoming people and banning dogs. It is now docked in a beautiful part of the south bank of the Thames. The neighbours are Tower Bridge, The Design Museum and Borough Market! Getting to the boat is quite an obstacle course as you walk down metal walkways connected to each other passing between the boats, some of which have seriously lush and substantial gardens on the roofs, and then arrive at a line of docked barges that you have to climb onto to get to yours. This felt a little hairy at times with the boats buffeting against each other as river traffic went by (a police boat even sped by with its siren wailing!) so your timing has to be good to ensure that you step over the gap just as it is the narrowest it can be. The neighbours have a gorgeous bandana sporting Airdale who is getting too old to climb over the boats so he is now carried by his owner like a giant prize teddy bear! The docks are not only a beautiful and alternative neighbourhood but a real community. There is the “ArtsArk” (as pictured above) with views of Tower Bridge which is a platform for creative meetings such as film nights, impromptu concerts (there is a grand piano), and even ping pong tournaments! There is also good camaraderie between the docks as boat dwellers occasionally give lifts to each other so getting to and from work can mean hopping on a boat in the opposite docks, St Katherine’s, and being ferried across to yours.

There are some aspects of living on a boat that would put many people off the idea: the lack of space, the cold in winter, being on water. But there is one fantastic bonus: holidays! My friends now go on holidays cruising across the Channel to Holland and France where they sail up canals meeting other boat dwellers and owners and having a real adventure. There can be hair raising moments such as when the boat sprang a leak and a canal in France suddenly revealed spikes on both sides of the  bank (as a warning that the canal narrows! Either you slow down and manouvre carefully or you get spiked!) but then there are astonishing moments such as being able to dock by the Eiffel Tower as my saucy seaman friends did in Paris.

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