Written by Gary, photos Yafei and Gary
The second stop on our tour around England took us to Semington, a small village just a few miles from my dad’s place in the west country. At the bottom of the village, just past the Somerset Arms public house, is the Kennet and Avon Canal. Along with the coming of steam, the canals where the life-blood of the Industrial Revolution in England in the eighteen hundreds; being used to carry goods of all types the length and breadth of the country.
Liveaboard Narrowboats Moored Along the Kennet & Avon Canal
As the use of horses and steam gave way to gas-driven vehicles, so the English canal system fell into disrepair. For decades they lay forgotten, the lush countryside hiding them further and further from view. Then in the seventies, thousands of enthusiastic volunteers started to bring the canals back to life. Today, most canals across England bustle with activity - these have become a place for leisure as well as a place to live.
The Bustle of Everyday Canal Life - Few Traffic Jams Here!
While walking the towpath near Semington, Yafei and our friend Helena met Graeme and Jayne who live on the narrowboat, Escapade. They chatted for a while, and before they left were invited for a jaunt along the waterway. Yafei eagerly accepted their gracious invitation to see more of their floating home and spend a few hours afloat as they moved their home a couple of miles down the bank to another mooring location. Moving is a ritual that takes place at least every two weeks, for all licensed canal boats must move periodically, and over the space of a year travel at least twenty miles from their starting location the year before.
I guess, living on the canals in England can be compared to RVing in the USA. At least it seems to be undertaken by a similar mix of people. There are those that have retired, seeking a quiet, uncomplicated life that allows them to see the best the country has to offer. There are the youngsters, who can’t afford to get into the housing market, and so buy ‘project’ boats to do up while going to university or holding down day jobs. One day, they hope to make the transition to brick and mortar. And, then there are those that prefer their own companionship or don’t want to live in the traditional ‘rat race.’ You never know who you are going to meet.
Plenty of Room Even on a Single Width Narrowboat
Graeme and Jayne fall into the first category. Both come from successful careers but wanted to retire well before pension age - 67 in the UK. Their peaceful cottage in the country was cozy, but the view never changed. As Jayne said, “Bill, went past the window, at 11:45 am every day!” They rented a canal boat a couple of times for short vacations and the bug bit. Why not have the world drift past your windows?
After much research, they decided on the type of boat they wanted and had one built in 2014. They spent two years moored in a marina near Derby, finishing up their jobs. Then a little over a year ago they started their moving adventure. Now they have come south almost the length of England and will reach Bristol, and the coast, in just a few weeks. Following that, the journey back north awaits.
Graeme and I Discussed the Finer Points of Lock Operation; Our Friend Helena and Jayne Look On
This transition to life on the canals has without doubt been a great move for them. They’re so passionate about this lifestyle, and as Graeme noted as we drank coffee chugging slowly between pastures green, “I hope to be doing this the rest of my life.”
Lunchtime View on the Kennet & Avon Canal - What Could be Better?
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