Living on the Hertfordshire waterways

PUBLISHED: 09:07 21 July 2020

Cowroast top lock on the Grand Union canal near Tring (c) nobleIMAGES/Alamy Stock Photo

Cowroast top lock on the Grand Union canal near Tring (c) nobleIMAGES/Alamy Stock Photo

Credit: nobleIMAGES / Alamy Stock Photo

Want a simpler, not to mention cheaper, way of life surrounded by nature? Meet those who have taken the plunge to live on our waterways.

James Pettie and his restoration project, NimbusJames Pettie and his restoration project, Nimbus

To live a more relaxed lifestyle, close to nature and at a fraction of the cost of a house, it’s easy to see why some Hertfordshire residents move from mortar to water.

Actor Bob Golding lives with his 34-year-old wife Nikola and their one-year-old Nella on their 70ft by 12.6ft widebeam boat (like a traditional narrowboat but wider), that was specially built for them.

Bob spent many years living in St Albans before deciding to move to the water thanks to a love of boating holidays and a desire to be nearer to wildlife.

The 49-year-old, who usually works in Hertfordshire studios and theatres, as well as around London, says it was after a long walk along the Grand Union Canal in 2015 that they decided that life on the water was worth looking into. ‘We researched widebeam life and loved the sound of it. We’ve not looked back since.

Nella enjoying the Inside of Bob and Nikola Golding’s new boat (c) Bob and Nikola GoldingNella enjoying the Inside of Bob and Nikola Golding’s new boat (c) Bob and Nikola Golding

‘I just wish we had done it sooner. We recently designed and commissioned a brand new boat build and took delivery of it in February. I can honestly say we will never move back on land. It is quite simply the best thing we have ever done.’

The Goldings spent four years living on a Bedfordshire marina on their old boat, Honking Goose, and moved to a marina in Northamptonshire on their new boat Glenfinnan, named after the hamlet in the Highlands of Scotland where Bob and Nikola got engaged.

Bob says living in a rich wildlife habitat is a wonderful thing: ‘Waking up to kingfishers, otters, herons, great crested grebes and all the wildlife and flora that comes with river life is the sweetest gift to the human soul.’

Marinas in Herts include Apsley in Hemel Hempstead, Cowroast in Tring, Stanstead in Ware and Bridgewater Boats in Watford. The cost of buying a boat to live on varies, with a modest second-hand option costing around £30,000 and a newer luxurious model setting you back in excess of £100, 000.

Rosie on Martin Lindridge's  boat, Treacle Bolly (c) Martin LindridgeRosie on Martin Lindridge's boat, Treacle Bolly (c) Martin Lindridge

Martin Lindridge, 63, and his partner Mags, 51, live on their 46-foot narrowboat Treacle Bolly with their nine-year-old dog Rosie.

Martin, who grew up in St Albans and went to college in Hatfield, before working in Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted, runs a brewery but was a recruitment consultant when he first bought the boat in 2016. He was particularly attracted to life aboard when he discovered he could own the boat outright in five years, instead of paying the same amount in rent on the property he was living in.

The couple have a mooring in Milton Keynes but continuously cruise between Tring and Brentford, much of it along the Grand Union Canal through Hertfordshire from Tring to Maple Cross.

‘You don’t get bored of your home because the vista keeps changing every time you move,’ Martin explains. ‘Even when you are in the middle of a town, everything feels very rural.

‘Other people on the canal are usually very friendly and if they are not, you can politely move – no need to fall out with your neighbours.

‘There are the obviously beautiful areas like the Tring reservoirs, Boxmoor, The Grove and Cassiobury Park but most of the Grand Union Canal through Hertfordshire is beautiful. When it maybe isn’t so beautiful, it becomes very interesting and is steeped in history and engineering achievements and there are many great pubs near to the canal.’

During lockdown their boat has been moored in Uxbridge on its way back to Herts.

He cites the only downsides of boat life as reduced mobile phone signal in some places, the occasional muddy towpath and slow repairs to the canal network, because, as he puts it ‘canal time always appears to be slower than real time’.

Martin fully recommends the life, as long as you do your research first and take on the lifestyle 100 per cent. The sentiment is echoed by boating organisations. Lucy Greenwood, spokeswoman for the Canal and River Trust says, ‘Boat living can be a fantastic way of life, which many people love but it comes with its own challenges – having to fill up with water, empty your toilet, do lots of hands-on maintenance, and if you don’t have a home mooring, moving your boat every 14 days to somewhere new can feel like a part-time job.

‘Sometimes people can get a bit of a shock, especially in winter, when they realise it is not just a floating house. We advise that you should only move aboard if you really love the lifestyle.’

The Residential Boat Owners’ Association states there are around 15,000 boat dwellers in the UK who come from all walks of life. Rather than a sub-culture they make up a diverse group with a strong sense of their local community. The association adds that the sense of camaraderie and escape from daily pressures of life ashore are factors that attract them.

It’s not easy to escape it all – there’s the cost of the boat paid for outright, in instalments or rented, and registration, license and insurance requirements. You must pay mooring fees or move every two weeks. And you might be liable for council tax. Other costs and considerations include a TV licence, fuel and any maintenance to the boat.

None of that has put off James Pettie who has just bought Nimbus to live on full-time, drawn by the scaled down lifestyle and reduced cost compared to the colossal expense of buying a house.

‘It’s going back to basics and is greener,’ the St Albans 35-year-old says. ‘I’m tired of the cost of rent and living. I cannot afford to buy a house and have a poor credit rating.

‘I’ve always loved boats and it has always been a dream to one day live on one. A boat came up at a very good price, big enough to live on so I took the leap.

‘Advantages include minimal bills and outgoings, you are more self-sufficient, and no utility bills. Private mooring costs are minimal and you get to live in beautiful surroundings. It’s a much simpler life and you save money.’

A downside is the lack of what he calls ‘the luxury of a bath and proper toilet’, though he is keen to add that he does have a shower on board.

The dad-of-two who works in customer services is living between the 32-foot Creighton boat and a flat while he undertakes a total refurbishment. He plans to moor it on the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire once it’s ready. He has already installed a water pump, improved the paintwork and fitted out a new bed. He says he has never been happier and is excited to fully embrace life on the water.

More information about taking to the water can be found on the websites of the Canal and River Trust and Residential Boat Owners’ Association.

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