Staying on a narrowboat in Bristol

Last week Gerry and I packed our small car full of art and drove to Bristol. He was exhibiting at The Other Art Fair. I tagged along, excited because art fairs can be a lot of fun and because we were going to stay on a narrowboat.


It’s always been a dream of mine to live on a narrowboat. It’s one of those impossible, impractical dreams. In my mind it would mean a bohemian and free sort of life. Camp fires, black cats and people playing the guitar. Never settling, going from one canal to the next, surviving alongside nature, making my own soap and foraging for nettles and blackberries. I think about the freedom of off-the-grid life and the money that could be saved. You can buy a narrowboat for around £40,000 and then you have a home. There are mooring fees, but there would be no big mortgage and no rent.


I’ve done my research. Real life living on a narrowboat also means cold winter nights. Pumping out the toilet. Making sure you never run out of water and electricity. Struggling to get an address. Paying expensive mooring fees. And then there is the fear, but more about that later.



Our little narrowboat in Bristol was lovely. It ticked all those bohemian boxes. A guitar on the wall, books crammed into every nook and cranny, a half empty bottle of rum on top of the fridge. A gentle rocking made it easy to fall asleep. I felt cradled by the water. I didn’t mind the occasional smelly waft from the composting toilet. I have after all spent many holidays at my family’s rural summerhouse in Finland where, for a long time, the only loo was a composting toilet in the garden.


The second night on the boat was different. At around four in the morning I woke up and realised someone was walking on top of the boat. Heavy, slow and deliberate footsteps. Not jumping, drunken footsteps, no cheering and laughing from mates on the shore. I was wide awake and nervy. I have watched too many scary movies in my youth. I can be quite neurotic at the best of times. The only thing I could think about was the thin glass door with its flimsy lock. The fact that there were only a few boats around ours and not many other people nearby. What if a serial killer/a robber/a mad person broke into the boat? What would I do?

I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out the best way to fight off an intruder. In the end I decided that screaming really loudly and setting off the incredibly noisy gas alarm might do the trick. I also decided that if I owned a narrowboat I would buy one of those realistic plastic guns that shoot small plastic bullets. Boatlife seems a lot less romantic now.


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Journalist, writer and coffee lover in London.

One thought on “Staying on a narrowboat in Bristol”

  1. t’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.- Hemingway

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