The Craftholes Afloat

March 4, 2010

I’ve tried to give an account here of our basic boating history, just under two years of it. I haven’t tried to include much in the way of anecdotes about our time afloat, but maybe I’ll put these things into another post later.

Crafthole & I have quite a nostalgic turn of mind (clearly) and the idea of living in a narrowboat with no mains electricity, no piped water and no timed heating actually appealed to us very strongly. After many many evenings in The Harcourt Arms playing gin rummy and talking about nothing else, we finally sprung into action.

I made an advertisement based on a scan of a little drawing Crafthole had done on the back of an envelope in biro, which I coloured in photoshop. This we put up on notice boards along the canal. I really wish I had a copy of it to put up here but it’s one of the many things that I didn’t back-up and was lost when our desktop died last year. That’s going to be a recurring theme in this blog.

I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, but the Oxford Canal community is quite tight-knit and getting to rent our first boat was a bit of a challange.

I have no idea how long it took to get a response. I do remember being incredibly impatient: I was living with friends in Jericho and Crafthole was a very regular visitor (or unofficial resident). We were desperate for a place of our own (sounds familiar).

We got only one response: an upper middle-aged couple who ran a small-holding in Kirtlington (about thirty miles north of Oxford, accessible by a very rickety country bus). We jumped at it and set about throwing out or giving away everything we owned that we didn’t think we really needed (including the majority of Crafthole’s books), which was surprisingly liberating.

Its name was Pan. It had a four-poster bed and was connected to a constant water supply. It was next to a wooded quarry and was wonderfully peaceful (except for the little farm terriers and the odd duckling falling on the roof, but that’s okay).

There were three main reasons why it was unconventional to say the least: 1) access to the boat was through the family’s front yard, 2) the boat was permanently moored, we were not allowed to untie it because 3) the back of the boat was the farm shop.

This was great on saturday mornings, just pop up back and get our bacon & eggs (they were my pre-vegetarian days). It did make a small space smaller however and when the farm couple went through a marital crisis, and the suggestion that one of them might need to move into the boat was made, we started looking for somewhere else.

And so we found Redwing, the purple boat pictured at the start of the post. (just noticed the “plenty of experience” line. Three months. Cheek)

This was much more like it. We had space in here to make it our own, and it did feel more our own. It was on the main stretch of Agenda 21 mooring space in Wolvercote, straddling the north of Oxford, and could be moved. We could go on holidays! Also, it had a BATH: the height of opulence when you don’t expect such things.

We moved into Redwing in the autumn and were soon to earn our boating stripes. That winter (2004?) was COLD. The canal froze over completely for weeks and our diesel heater BROKE. We had ice on the inside of the windows and in the bath. We actually had to put on EXTRA clothes to go to bed. It was pretty grim. We still felt like we were on an adventure though so we accepted it as par for the coarse. That’s how I remember it anyway, and that’s not to say we weren’t incredibly grateful when spring finally arrived and the ice thawed.

In complete contrast, that summer was lovely. I grew herbs, tomatoes, garlic, spring onions, strawberries and flowers on the top of the boat, where I used to lie and read and feed the ducks and swans and massive carp. At night you could lie on your back and watch the bats. It was every bit as idyllic as it sounds. Except that we didn’t really click with the other boaters (hippies, one & all) and we were forced to spend a couple of very awkward weeks living in the boatyard – the one that appears in His Dark Materials – right at the time it was the scene of protests at its proposed closure (it did close in the end. I think the plot of land is still empty to this day).

I did my bit by amending the advert I had made, and the image ended up in loads of people’s windows all over Jericho, which was nice for me. I have a vague memory that it got sent to Philip Pullman as a card too as he was a vocal supporter of the protests.

(apologies for the shoddy quality, it is a scanned hard copy)

Before the next winter we left Redwing because our landlady wanted to sell the boat. Again we advertised and again received only one response. Petrushka.

Petrushka was BEAUTIFUL.

It had TWO sitting rooms, a dining table and side doors that could be fully opened in the warm weather (Redwing was like a long thin floating metal oven in the summer heat). It was while we were here that I started doing my Open University work, which says a lot about how much space we suddenly felt we had.

We were only there for another three months or so, after which time we ended our two-year narrowboat experiment and moved onto land. We were very sorry to leave (especially as we did it all with wheelbarrows like refugees) and only did so because of changes in British Waterways rules, making it far less financially viable for people to rent out their boats, at least on that stretch of canal (plans had been drawn up to reopen the old Oxford marina, currently a car park, and BW were apparently trying to tidy up the approach to Oxford).

We found a strange little lego-like chalet just by the canal in Walton Manor, north of Jericho (we were very lucky), where we stayed for eighteen months. We soon had some furniture, a computer and a digital SLR so we knew our canal days were well and truly over.

It seems strange now to think how luxurious a hot shower or a bright reading light or radiators that come on automatically or a flushing toilet seemed to us when we came back to land. It was alarming how quickly we took it all for granted again and started amassing STUFF. We are far too married to our modern conveniences now to think about doing it all again, but it was a brilliant experiment and I’m so glad we experienced it.

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4 Responses to “The Craftholes Afloat”

  1. Crafthole said

    Petrushka was about as long as a narrow can be 72′ and had the distinction of being still in the undercoat and therefore Battleship Grey. With its sloping fore cabin it had a bit of a Confedserate Ram look to it. Huzzah!

  2. annmucc said

    Uhh – living on a narrowboat! Since moving to the UK that has sounded like the perfect thing to do for a holiday…not sure I have the guts to take the plunge and live on one…jealous of you though ;)

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