Jumping ship - Lancashire Canal Boat

PUBLISHED: 01:02 23 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:21 20 February 2013

Reader and boat owner Geoff Cheshire's picture of the canal at Garstang

Reader and boat owner Geoff Cheshire's picture of the canal at Garstang

More and more Lancastrians are leaving the land to live on the water. Why do they do it? Roger Borrell finds out

TOAD, that hopeless dreamer of Wind in the Willows fame, was an amphibian of simple pleasures - he loved horse drawn caravans, fast cars (parp! parp!) and was once so smitten with a canal boat that he stole it and escaped dressed as a washerwoman. It seems Toad isn't alone in his passion.

Lancastrians don't need to resort to the same tactics to flee the rat race but there's a surprising number quitting dry land to live on the water. It's not just to escape the credit crunch and mortgage miseries - top-of-the-range boats can cost 120,000 or more.

New marinas - several of them in this county - are opening to accommodate the burgeoning interest in boating. Jonathan Ludford, of British Waterways, said:

'There are more narrowboats on the canals now than at the height of the industrial revolution.'

It's an incredible statistic when you consider canals were the motorways of
the steam age, transporting huge quantities of goods before the railways turned them into repositories for old prams and supermarket trolleys.

Today, they are back in vogue - first as a leisure activity and now as a place to call home. Around ten per cent of the boats on our system are for residential use - and artist Meredith Watts Williams is delighted to have joined this happy band.

She's a retired theatre designer who has achieved her dream by living on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near Rufford. The boat she shares with husband, Roger, is named Pedpha, which is Glaswegian for 'No Mortgage.' Next door is their other boat which forms the Seagull Gallery.

It's an ideal spot for Meredith, a self-taught acrylic artist who was born in Blackburn and grew up in Formby before a theatre career which took her from London to Keswick.
She has always enjoyed painting the shapes and reflections created on water along with the flora and fauna found around it.

'I sold my house in the Lake District and we bought the narrowboat - there was quite a difference and now I'd hate to be back living in a house,' said Meredith. 'And my husband feels the same.

'You get used to the space difference and if you love water, this is the perfect place to be. If you don't like it where you are, you can just go somewhere else and you don't need to pack a case. And you don't fall out with your neighbours - if you don't like them, you just move on.' You can see more of her work on www.seagull-studio.com

David Maugham has many years of experience building narrowboats. 'We currently have four wide beam boats under construction and there is usually a waiting list,' said the managing director of Classic Narrowboats, at Wheelton near Chorley.

'They can be anywhere between 80,000 and 120,000 or more depending on what you want. We can produce a boat which looks like an luxury apartment on the inside.

'More and more people, often couples who have retired or those wanting to give up the rat race, are prepared to up sticks and live on a boat. It's a safer, largely crime-free, cleaner and cheaper way to live.'

Don't get carried away Jonathan Ludford, of British Waterways, says the state of our canals is a real success story but there are pitfalls to living on the water.

'It may be wonderful in the summer when the sun is glinting off the water, but you also have to remember that you'll be there in the winter - walking down a muddy towpath in the wet and cold with a big bag of shopping. It's not for everyone. You'll also need to secure residential moorings.'

Ivor Caplan, of the Residential Boat owners' Association, added: 'It's a great way of living but my advice is to do your homework.'
You can find out more on www.rboa.org.uk

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