When Dreams Come True

Anyone who has been following this journey of mine for the past few years may be feeling my pain and disappointment at the recent turn of events. To have boldly announced my dreams to the world and have them come crashing down in full view is indeed a lesson in humility. 

Yet in a strange twist of fate, as one dream disappears into the distance, another one is realised. 

In this bitter-sweet turn of events, an old abandoned dream has come true. 

narrowboat life garstang
Sights of the British waterways

It is a dream that I had long forgotten, one that could only be realised on British soil…

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say on British waters…

Can you guess what it is? 

Read on to find out 😉 

Seed Planted 

This dream was seeded over 10 years ago during a trip to London for New Year. 

At that time, I was still fresh from my travels around far-flung places of the world. I had taken in vast new continents, new cultures and capital cities, yet  my own capital city was an unexplored entity.  

So upon returning from travels in 2012, I decided that it would be an interesting adventure to get to know my own country better. 

Being a resourceful traveller used to travelling on a shoe-string budget, I contacted some friends of mine that I knew who lived in London. I arranged to go and stay with them for a few days. This was the first time I had seen the streets of Camden Town with its colours and quirks. 

Specifically, its canal life. I remember seeing a few narrowboats go through the locks there. Two bohemian types with flat caps on and colourful clothes were talking to each other as they went past. 

There was laughter and banter and camaraderie. I wanted to join in, but could only stand admiring from the towpath. I immediately liked the vibe. Here there was colour and community; life and creativity, exactly the things that I felt were missing from the adult world that I was reluctant to enter. 

narrowboat life London
If it hadn’t been Madrid, it would have been here
London travels
Oh to be so young and fresh faced 😉

Watering 

Fast forward to 2015. I was already living in Madrid but I had just returned home from my backpacking trip in the Azores.

I was with some friends cycling along the canal near their house. Each narrowboat was a fascination for me. I liked the quirky nature of the lifestyle and the idea of living on a boat appealed to my romantic nature. I was keen to know more. 

Then a boat appeared at the lock that we were passing. A man was steering whilst the woman got off to open the lock. I saw my chance and got talking to them.

I asked them all kinds of questions which they were more than happy to answer: 

Do you live on your boat? 

How long have you had it?

What made you get one? 

Then the real question I was hoping to find out the answer to: 

How much did you pay for it? 

Thirteen thousand pounds”, was the reply. “But it was old and needed doing up. We did the work on the inside ourselves and kitted out as we wanted it”. 

Only thirteen thousand? That seemed cheap! My mind filed away this information for a later date. 

The seed buried deeper into my mind. However, it was destined to lie dormant for a few years as my life in Madrid started to take form. 

More Watering 

The next time it was watered was on a family trip for New Year’s Eve on the Lancaster canal in 2018. My dad and my step-mum were planning a canal boat holiday with some friends, however the friends pulled out at the last minute and luckily for me, I got to go instead. 

Finally I was getting to experience narrowboat life! I loved sailing through the  beautiful countryside and stopping at canalside pubs for some food and a cup of tea. I loved sitting out having a hot drink as the sun went down.

Winter trees Garstang
Winter trees weather the storms

 I loved mooring up in Lancaster in front of the cathedral and hearing the bells chime when the clock struck 12. It was one of my best New Year Eve’s ever and I was completely enthralled. 

After this trip I began doing some serious research about how much it cost of living on a narrow boat. I watched YouTube videos and made detailed notes.  I was seriously on fire with a desire to live onboard a narrowboat and was quite convinced that it was a possibility for the future. I just needed to save some money to buy one first! 

After that though I returned to Madrid and forgot about this narrowboat dream. Things developed with Sergio and come 2019, my future was looking like it was going to be in Spain. 

My dad and my step mum were also inspired enough to buy a one for themselves for short canal boat trips. I was content to think that I could live my narrowboat dream vicariously through them and possibly get lucky enough to take a trip out with them when the stars aligned (UK weather permitting!).

Break Up to Break Through 

Fast forward again to September 2023. I was back in the UK with no where to live and no job other than my online classes. My family were kind enough to put me up for a while but who wants to be lumbered with their 35 year old adult daughter or sister for any real length of time? 

I had no idea where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. The shock waves were still permeating through me but the pressure was on to find an answer to the question: “What are you going to do now?”.

One day my dad suggested going up to the marina to check something on their boat. It was rainy and cold but the idea of having a look at the narrow boats in the marina cheered me up. 

When we arrived we were met by a friend of my dad’s who buys, sells and renovates narrowboats. I had met him the year before when I came to see their new boat. He was a stocky fella with a man’s man way about him. 

Stu is selling a few boats, do you want to have a look at them?

Any chance to have a nosy around a narrowboat! So of course I said yes. 

We went on the first one, at 35ft it was small but perfectly formed. I sat in the sitting area at the bow looking around imagining myself living on one. My dad was standing outside

After a few minutes, I looked up at him and said: “You know dad, if I had the money, I’d buy this”.

Would you, darling?” He said. He had a strange look in his eyes that I couldn’t decipher. 

Next up was another green boat, this time 40ft so it had a permanent bed rather than a bed that you had to make up every night like the other one had. It was more lived in and had a homely feel, like a little floating cottage. I sat on the sofa and took in the wooden beams all around. 

We had only been on five minutes before I was told we were going for lunch. Stu was coming too. We sat down in a local pub. I ordered a good ol’ fish finger sandwich. Pure British comfort food. 

Plot Twist 

That was when my dad broke the news: 

Right Liv, we have something to tell you. If you like one of those boats we will buy one for you”. 

My eyes bulged out of my head. 

What?!

I felt like I had had a bucket of cold water thrown over me.

What the f**k? I had been set up! 

He proceeded to tell me loads of information that I can’t even remember. Something about mooring fees and canal licences, and rent. Stu told me more things that I can’t remember. Something about trying it out for size if I wanted.

I just sat there dazed and confused. No doubt this wasn’t the reaction they were hoping for! 

It sounds bizarre but in the moment, it felt more like bad news than good news. I already felt under a lot of pressure and now I had been landed with another serious decision to make: did I want to commit to life in the UK? And life on a narrow boat?

Oldham heritage buildings
Views from my dads’ flat I was staying in Oldham, Greater Manchester

Plans and Intentions

Truth be told, I had been harbouring an idea about going down south to the Bristol area to volunteer at different permaculture projects whilst I carried on teaching online.

 I wanted to get my hands in the soil and gain practical skills. I had heard that there is lots of cool stuff happening in and around that part of England and I was keen to be a part of it. 

These boats, on the other hand,  were in the small market town of Garstang, in my home county of Lancashire, in the North-West of England. (Strangely enough, a village that we had visited on that narrow boat holiday back in 2018).

 I knew nothing about it. It was just a random rural village where I didn’t know a soul.  What the hell would I do in Garstang?! 

(As my best friend echoed when I told her the news- cue strong Northern accent: “GAAAAARRRR-stang? Where the hell is GAAARRRRstang?!”).

Garstang Market Town
Garstang village

The other stress playing on my mind which was preventing me from seeing the amazingness of this opportunity was that I felt embarrassed. 

“I can’t have my family buy me a boat! They can’t bail me out like this! I am a grown woman, I should be able to look after myself“, my mind raged. 

It was all too much to take in. The rest of the conversation was a blur. I pretended to be cool but inside I was spinning. 

What the hell was happening to my life? 

There was no way I was in a clear state of mind to make such a serious decision. I said I would think about it. 

Realism 

I did think about it. I realised that I had to be realistic about my situation.

My idea of going south was based on the pursuit of finding like-minded people who lived close to the land and learn from them. I wanted to get to know my own country more and see new places. 

But those plans were pretty but not even half-baked. If I was honest with myself, they were just a way of allowing me to feel that I had an idea of what I wanted to do. It was a way to pretend to myself that I was less lost than I actually was.

Really, I wanted to put down some roots. I was looking for my place in the world and had been for some time. I am 35, not 25. I needed a home, a stable base to be able to build something for myself. 

Would a narrowboat not give me that? A space of my own, a place to rest and recover? A way to gain practical skills and realise a dream? 

The slow life narrowboat life
Rest and recuperation

I didn’t like the idea of being bailed out but what other choice did I have? I wasn’t in a strong position emotionally or financially. The conditions that my dad laid out for me made it possible to have low overheads whilst also paying my way and at the same time having some space to get myself strong again.

Maybe this could be an amazing opportunity to get on my feet and also start a whole new chapter? 

I spoke to a friend and told her about it. 

Wow! A narrowboat! That would be brilliant! I can totally see you doing that!”

I voiced my embarrassment about being bailed out by my family. 

It’s only like being helped with the deposit for a house, or being taken on a big family holiday every year, or having a wedding paid for. People don’t even think twice about those things. Why not just accept this opportunity as a gift?”.

I began to open to the idea. I took a realistic look at my life. Taking a narrowboat would mean that I am committing to life in the UK. It would be a firm step away from Madrid and my life there. 

Was I ready for that? 

Lancaster canal narrowboat life
From sunny Madrid to wet and windy Lancashire

But I had already got on the plane and gone through the pain of packing up my stuff. There was no going back now. 

Plus, I didn’t have any better ideas.

F**k it”, I said to myself.

“I’m going to get a narrowboat and live in Garstang!”

New Life 

So here I am, four months and counting into this new narrowboat life. I wanted to be close to the land, and instead I get to live on water. 

Narrowboat dream Garstang
Welcome aboard my floating abode!

I chose the slightly bigger boat, the floating cottage, which is older than the other but has way more character. 

I get to light a fire to keep me warm and feed the ducks from my front door. I get to watch the swans as they gracefully swim past my window. I get to live in a rural place, closer to nature. I get to learn new skills and live in the alternative way I have always wanted to. 

This is an ending and a beginning all in one. 

narrowboat  log burner
New narrowboat skill number 1: learn how to light a fire

Through the sadness and grief, there was joy and wonder; bitterness and sweetness, magic and miracles.

I flew from Madrid on the wings of grace, to live in a place that I visited many years ago, to tend to seeds planted in a distant past. 

The rainbow bridge I set out to create for myself when quitting my 9-5 job to teach English online has carried me here. I didn’t know at the time that I was building a bridge to take me away from Spain, away from Madrid, away from the life I once lived with the people I once loved. 

rainbows
A rainbow marks my path on my walk back to the boat

Who knew? 

Life has an amazing way of both shattering you and catching you at the same time. 

I am so grateful to have the support of my family who have been the instruments of divine generosity. 

This journey just took an interesting turn. This is the plot twist that I never saw coming. 

Let’s see how I can mold the dream into the shape of a narrowboat!

Narrowboat dreams
Here’s to new beginnings!

More to come. 

Stay tuned!

To see where this new narrowboat chapter takes me, sign up to my newsletter and get the next update straight to your email. You can also find me on Instagram and Facebook @shared_earthliving. Feel free to say hi!

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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Accalia

Hola guapa, so happy for you. Congrats! Onwards and upwards my dear!

Stoyd

Well done for spouting forth your honesty, I am delighted for you.
Miles and miles of watery adventures to be documented. I look forward to hearing from you Captain.

Tim

Hi Olivia, this journey or I should say…(voyage) . Already seems/feels more like you! I hope the engine works well and that you are prepared to venture along the canal networks of the UK.
I have spent many hours and miles travelling along the canals in my kayaks, the beauty and serenity is truly amazing. I wish you every success with your new direction… this one’s a winner for you I’m sure. Many of us will be envious of you right now! Xx 🌊🌊

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Gian Marco

Brilliant!

Jesús Blanco Soto

I’ve been reading your blogs for years; this is the first time I write. It truly fills my heart with joy to see that you had the flexibility to adjust the sails around your dreams and also the humbleness to accept the generosity of your family. I have also experienced doubt and even shame when approached by someone who wishes to help, and I always remember the Spanish adage that goes sometthing like this: “those whose hands are always clenched to receive, have their hands clenched to give as well” Often in life you go full circle only to realize that all you ever needed was at the point of origin. But the journey is neccesary, it is only after undergoing the transformation through life experiences that we realize that.
Best of luck in this new chapter of your life Olivia, I certainly hope our paths cross sometime.
https://www.letras.mus.br/joan-manuel-serrat/538442/

Laura

Amazing lady ! I’m so chuffed for you ! Do you mind me asking how much the boat costs? I also nearly bought one years ago and I now have a motor home instead x

Little elf

Loved reading this.

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