Devon to Skipton, via Stoke Bruerne – from Jeff Manners

Living on a canal boat can get lonely at times.

I often get asked by old friends, passers by and occasional drinking companions, why I chose to live by myself.

It’s a good, if personal, question and it’s rather hard to answer simply. After all, living out one’s retirement years on a canal boat is hardly a conventional way to grow old.

As I write this, I’m docked up at Stoke Bruerne: one of the most quaint little canal villages I’ve visited in a long time. My journey started in Devon, months ago now, and has taken me up through the epic Grand Union Canal. Tomorrow morning I will continue North and connect to the Liverpool-Leeds Canal and then it’s on to the Oxford Canal. My final destination, a long way down the line, will be Skipton, where I shall meet my son and his young family for a little holiday over at Bowland Fell Park. This pleasant stop will give me the opportunity to sleep on dry land for a few days before heading back onto the canals once more.

The truth is, there are many advantages to living alone on a canal boat, advantages that, in my opinion far outweigh the negatives on boat life.

For a start, life on a canal boat forces one to live very practically. With limited space for extraneous belongings, your life becomes much simpler. Whereas other men my age might be umming and aahing over buying their first sports car or a new widescreen TV, I have no garage to park a Porsche and my 18-inch flat-screen monitor already dominates my little living area. The same applies to the consumable luxuries that one associates with retirement. I’ve no space for a wine cellar or whiskey collection and I only buy as much food as I can eat in a few days.

With no rent or mortgage to pay on the boat, my overheads are extremely low. I paid off my mortgage on my 3-bed home in Devon some years ago and now rent it out. With my only child, Simon, long gone and raising his own family, I was never going to use all that space. Living on the boat you pay no council tax and, for the most part at least, you can tie up on the side of the canal for absolutely no charge. I live an almost monastic kind of life only really paying for food, fuel and gas.

I understand that for many people this existence might seem like a living hell – but at the age of 63, I really can’t imagine anything better.

From my 60-foot vessel I can observe England from it’s prettiest angles. On the rare occasion that I don’t like the look of a particular village or town, then that’s fine. I just moor up for the night and leave early in the morning, or put on a fresh pot of coffee and while away the evening, drifting on to a more pleasant docking spot.

The down sides of living the canal boat life are very few.

Obviously, if you like your space then it’s probably not the lifestyle for you. The limited space in the typical narrow boat is something that requires a certain level of determination to adapt to. If you’re living by yourself on the boat then you’ll no doubt have more space but, if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to spend much time under deck.

Tonight, for example, I docked up at Stoke Bruerne and ventured out to the Boat Inn where I was met with a warm welcome and a good pint of ale. Over a wonderfully filling meal, I got chatting to the locals at this charming pub and spent the evening discussing the possibility of me writing a piece on what living on a canal boat is really like.

In short, life can get lonely on this boat, but days like these more than make up for those isolated moments.


Every now and again we’re lucky enough to have visitors to Stoke Bruerne send us writing about their experiences in the village. These opinions are all original and do not reflect the opinions of those residing in Stoke Bruerne. Should you wish to send us your own piece you can get in touch with us on the ‘Say Hello’ page. 

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