Six Months Living on my Narrow Boat: How is it Going?

What is life like living on my narrow boat? How am I adapting to this new change of lifestyle? What have these cold winter months been like on living on board? Read on to find out!

It doesn’t seem like it has only been six months since I have been back in the UK. Life moves on quickly and takes us with it whether we are ready for it or not.

And so life has taken me to the small market town of Garstang, living afloat on the Lancaster canal in my 40ft narrow boat. Six months in and I am pleased to report that I still haven’t sunk it. Me and Gralyn are still alive and kicking and in fact getting along quite well. 

six months living on my narrow boat
Six months living on my narrow boat

People said to me when I arrived here that if I can get through the winter on my boat then I will absolutely love the spring and summer. 

Well, are we there yet? 😉

I had forgotten how long the winter is here in the delightfully cloudy and rainy north west England! When is the sun coming out? 

Jokes aside, I am happy to say that I am alive and well, as is my boat, after almost six months living on board. As anyone who has been through loss and breakups before well knows, it is not exactly the best of times. More often than not, it is the worst of times. 

But as spring approaches, the sun is finally returning. In this post I attempt to share what these first six months have been like in this new life, living aboard my little narrow boat. 

living on my narrow boat
Lancaster canal

I arrived here at the end of September, just as the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn. The initial excitement helped to offset the grief I felt for what I was leaving behind. My head was still spinning as I went out for my first sail with boat man and friend of the family, Stu. 

“I can’t believe that this is my new life”, I kept saying to myself. 

As we sailed down the Lancaster canal towards Garstang, I just couldn’t believe that I had my own boat. It didn’t really seem real. 

first sail on my narrow boat
My first sail

We sailed for a while and then moored up in the village and went for a drink at The Tide Barn, a local pub with a great terrace overlooking the canal. 

“Maybe this can be my local”, I mused as I sat looking at all the other boats moored up and wondering who owns them and how I can find a way of meeting them. 

cruising the Lancaster canal
Autumn cruising on the Lancaster canal

With such a brusk change of direction the first few months felt like a whirlwind. With the excitement of the boat, seeing old friends and then Christmas, I hadn’t been able to fully register the changes that had occurred.

I was drinking tea galore, eating butter pies (a newly discovered Lancashire delicacy) and overdosing on chocolate hobnob biscuits. I even broke out of my vegetarian diet when offered a lamb curry and a sausage butty.

“Fuck it”, seemed to be my new motto. It is a new life and I will do things differently. 

I felt like I was on holiday, travelling, experiencing a new culture, fully embracing it all. The only difference being that this wasn’t a temporary trip. There was no going home. This was my life. This was my home.

swans lancaster canal
My neighbours

Once my feet started touching the ground of reality, the heaviness and the weight of sadness began to pull me into real life. I yearned for some familiarity yet there was none.  This was all new: new place, new lifestyle, new people, new ways of doing things, different food, different language. 

Familiarity gives us comfort and security. Not having any felt disorientating and bewildering. “Where the hell am I? And what the hell am I doing with my life?” are thoughts that have been frequent yet unwanted visitors to my mind.

living on my narrow boat
Getting ready for the winter
Lancaster canal
Lancaster canal

Log Burner

My log burning fire has been a great comfort during this time. When I first arrived I had to learn quickly how to use it as it got quite chilly on board since Autumn had set in. 

I remember how I felt in the little round house that I stayed in in the Spanish mountains of Gredos back at Christmas 2021 and how much I appreciated the warmth of the log fire there. Now I have one of my own! 

This was (and still is) very exciting for me. Making my fire everyday makes me feel like I am living my dream, even though I am living on water, not land. It represents the earthy, rustic life that I had been longing for. Now it is here, in a different form than I expected but it is here all the same. 

living on my narrow boat
Home sweet home

It was this fire that got me through the cold winter months. Anyone from the UK will know that the days are short and the nights are long here in winter. The weather is blustery, cold and more often than not, wet. Drinking tea and sitting close to a fire is the crème de la crème of British winters and I am lucky that I get to do it on a daily basis.

Keeping the fire going all day and learning how to keep it going all night have made these long, seemingly never ending winter nights aboard truly toasty and cosy. Especially when we had a brief snowfall and cold snaps that froze up the canal various times! With bright blue skies reflected on the frozen water, the canal looked stunning, as did the village. I felt lucky to live in such a pretty place. 

winter on my narrow boat
Snow fall on the marina
frozen marina
View from the back of my boat

One of the biggest tonics for me during this time has been living so close to nature. Regardless of how I feel, Mother Earth is always there for me.

 I used to have to ride my bike for half an hour to get to any resemblance of nature, and the train and hour and half to get to anything remotely wild. Now I have swans tapping on my window and ducks taking up residence on the bow of my boat.

I love looking out my window at the water and the trees, and walking straight out of the marina into the country roads or along the canal. I even love the smell of muck spreading on the fields! Swapping car fumes for cow muck is a welcome change.

Lancaster canal
Winter views from the canal

This is what I had been dreaming about, isn’t it? To live closer to nature?  I used to sit on my doorstep in Madrid and look at the few trees on my street and yearn for more. Now I watch herons standing only metres from my window and watch other birds that I am yet to know the names of, catch fish and gulp them down in one. 

I love feeling once again connected to my land, the land that I grew up on, the land my ancestors walked on, the same trees, flowers and birds that I learnt about as a child. I finally have a sense of place, rootedness, something that I have been craving for a long time. 

Lancaster canal
Lovely crisp day, ideal sailing weather

Boating Community 

The boating community has also been very welcoming. There are around 30 other people living on boats in this marina. Within a day of being on my boat, I was already drinking tea with my next door neighbour! 

Most people here have boats for leisure only, as is the case for most of my neighbours. But there have been a few get-togethers in local pubs and it has been nice to get to know more people, even though I am the youngest person by about 25 years! 

Garstang canal
Sailing in Garstang

Indeed, I am yet to meet any boaters who are of a similar age bracket to me, although I regularly make it my mission to hunt them out when I go walking along the canal.

 I found one once, but she wasn’t able to chat as she had to go and chase her cat back on board her boat. Maybe we will cross paths again at some point, who knows. (Hopefully when her cat is behaving itself).

living on my narrow boat
Wet winter walk

I am always on the lookout for boaters hanging around outside their boat. I have a potential-boater-friend chat up line which goes something like this: “Is this your boat?”. Then comes the clincher: “I have a boat too”. Now the deal is sealed and a lengthy boat conversation usually ensues (unless there are cats involved of course).

I even got invited on board for a cup of tea and a biscuit once. The guy was in his mid 70’s but was a fountain of knowledge about narrow boating. Any chance to have a cup of tea and nosy at another narrow boat and I’m there 🙂

In general people are very welcoming and more than happy to help and give advice. That is the way I am finding out about how this boat life works (something I will share more about in a future post).

winter on a narrow boat
Cold winter’s night

Realities of Rural Life

As you may have guessed, one of the downsides to living in a rural place is that I am finding it more difficult to get to know people my own age. In the city I know how to make friends: you go to meetups, classes, get involved in things that are going on. 

In the village, the only things that are going on involve drinking lots of alcohol (no thanks) or going to knitting classes with people 30 years older than me (hmmm, pass).  Garstang is a place where people come to have families or retire. Right now, I am doing neither. Finding ways of meeting and connecting with local women is not easy.

frozen lancaster canal
Icy canal close to the centre of Garstang

Also, I sometimes miss the stimulation of the city; its art and culture, the melting pot streets and the nutrition it gives me. I miss the street music, the weird and wonderful artistic offerings, the wealth of things to get involved with, the unpredictable sights and sounds that make up life on the streets in a European capital city. 

Whilst Garstang is surprisingly full of pubs and bars and regular live music, there is not much in the way of art and culture. There is the ‘Art Centre’ where there is things happening but not really for my age group. Maybe this can be another long term aim of mine: bring some life and colour to the streets (or the canal) of Garstang. 

frozen lancaster canal
The centre of Garstang and the Tyde Barn Pub on the left

But the good thing about where I am is that I have a few cities quite close by (40 mins on the bus, Lancaster and Preston), and whilst they are hardly comparable to a capital city like Madrid, I am certainly not in the middle of nowhere. 

Weirdly, this is exactly what I had been dreaming about before in Madrid: living in a small, quaint village but not too far from the city. I didn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles away from any source of life. In many ways, I have got exactly what I was asking for. 

The question now is, now that I have it, what am I going to do with it? 

living on my narrow boat
Bird watching from the back of my boat

Final Thoughts 

As you may have gathered, I am still in a period of adjustment to this new life. Sometimes I put pressure on myself to have things all figured out and to be able to report that I am living the rural dream, to rush into fulfilling my dream and be the shining hero of my own story. 

Truth be told, after such a big change, I just want to take it easy and enjoy life for a bit. I want to just enjoy being a normal human that eats and sleeps and works and does it all again the next day.

 I just want to settle into a content happiness without any dramas or upheavals. I am just enjoying the simple bread and butter of life without any great pretenses of more.

living on my narrow boat
Cake and tea, cosy fundamentals of the British winters

I walk along the country roads and watch the robins dotting the hedge rows. I watch the morning sky with awe as a huge flock of birds lines the horizon. I sit with the warmth of the fire and read a book. 

Boiling my kettle on the hob and waiting for its whistle has become a daily ritual. Eating a home cooked meal warms me from the inside. Listening to the rain on the roof of my boat makes me feel cosy and safe.

This is what it was all about in the first place, wasn’t it? The slow life, back to basics, close to the land? 

“So what now?”, my mind demands, not content with any of these small pleasures.

It wants to be hundreds of steps ahead of where I am now, never content with the progress made, never trusting in the flow of life. Always putting on pressure to achieve more, do more, be more, push myself further. 

Or else it wants to dwell on past pain, regrets and disappointments. Never content to just be in the present moment and surrender to the reality of life as it is right now. 

My body knows the score though. Rest, recuperation, fun and enjoyment is what it requests. Ignore what the body needs and it will catch up with you sooner or later. 

For now I just want to enjoy the daffodils on the country roads and drink tea out of my flask as I munch on flapjack in the fresh country air. Enjoy the humanness of normal life for a bit. After almost a decade of adventures in foreign lands, it feels quite nice to have a bit of ‘normality’. 

Whatever that is… when you are living on a boat!

living on my narrow boat
My pet goose Betty- every boat needs one a according to my mum
living on my narrow boat
Betty loves a sail
Lancaster canal
Signs of Spring last!

Stay tuned!

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Olivia Grundy

Join me as I transition from the city to the country, following my hearts desire for a more sustainable life based on respect for the Earth and all the creatures in it.

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Hi O , if I am the black sheep of my family you can be a black swan ( keep an eye out, they are stunning) . So goes the flow. Be gentle, let those calm waters wash your mind to stillness and clarity, no rush ❤️

Shaun Hollytodd. And Anna

Hi Olivia. So glad that things are working out for you on the boat. We have followed your story for a while now. As fellow northerners that have moved to spain we know how difficult things are. Changing your life and moving county!
keep smiling 😊
Shaun and Anna x

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