Tag Archives: narrowboat

Druids afloat

We’ve just had our first anniversary of moving to the boat, which seems like a good time to reflect on the experience. Boat life has definitely changed me, and altered the dynamic in my family.

The first and most obvious issue was space, moving from a large two bedroomed cottage to a narrowboat meant paring down our possessions. A lot. Tom had already done that to change country. I had to consider what to put in storage, what to bring, what to give away. James had to contemplate his vast array of toys. The process turned out to be similar – what has good memories associated with it, and what reminds us of things we would rather forget? We took the opportunity to get rid of anything with unhappy associations. What do we really use and enjoy, what is just ‘stuff’?In the space of a few weeks, we contemplated our need for and relationship with every physical thing we owned. And I have to say, we judged well. We swap books and toys around with those in storage every so often, but I don’t miss any of the things I let go of. Rather than having a lot of toys, James now has a few that he really gets good use out of, and a better idea what to pick out for himself when looking for new things.

The shortage of space inside means we are outside a lot. It also means we have learned to work and move around each other, careful of each other’s space and needs, co-operating to make what space we have work for us. That’s been really good too, and I think in terms of inter-personal skills, has fine-tuned the child’s sensibilities. He defaults to tidying up now, has learned to manage his own space and possessions, and has become very good at fitting in. We’re a quiet boat, and a happy one.

Electricity as been an interesting issue. Boats are self contained units, which means generating your own power. This has made us super-conscious of what we use, and absolutely careful about not wasting it, or frittering it away on pointless things. Computer time is really focused, and if we can find a non-electrical solution we use that instead. So we have a wind-up radio, and sometimes we use candles. It makes for a more relaxed and peaceful environment.

I’ve always loved to travel although I don’t do well in cars. Boat life means moving at least every two weeks. A change of views, a different route to school and in the holidays and at weekends, adventures further afield. There are a lot of villages that are a bit like ‘home’ and we go to events all over the place. We meet a lot of people. And of course all the other boaters are moving too, with a shifting, transient community of friendly people. The flow of neighbours, the webs of friendship and the real sense of community amongst boating people is lovely, and I’ve really enjoyed that aspect.

I’ve learned a lot about me in the last year. I have learned how little material stuff I need in order to be happy, but I have also learned what I cannot do without. I’ve fallen in love with small-space living, I can’t imagine I’d ever want to live in a big house after this. I love the compactness. I love having to think carefully about what I need, and what is useful. I had thought before this that I wasn’t a materialist, that I was mindful of electricity and water consumption, but I’m even more aware now, and it’s a good awareness to have. Living small means living lightly, but rather than feel restricted by this, I find it increasingly liberating. Inside the boat is a warm, contained space, outside is everything else, and room for adventures.

I miss having the space to grow plants, and I would like enough room for all my books, and I do occasionally hanker after the kind of kitchen that has a table in it and room to feed large gatherings of people, but there will be time for that in the future. I find I don’t hanker after gadgets, or even furniture that much. I could imagine living in a traditional Japanese style house where beds are rolled up each day and people kneel at a low table to eat. The trouble with ‘normal’ is that we can so easily forget it isn’t necessary, or inevitable much of the time. I don’t need much, and my child, with his one box of toys, his stack of books, a bike and a lot of open spaces, is happier than he’s ever been. He doesn’t seem to miss the gadgets either. His main desire for more space involves room for bookcases and his wish to have his now considerable book collection to hand too.

River stories

I’ve spent the last few days on rivers – The Severn and The Avon. I grew up near the Severn, longing to get into the water by any means, but unable to do so. She’s a magical river, home to the goddess Sabrina. There was a Roman temple to Nodens on her banks, no doubt other temples too and she has seen human activity since there were humans around. She’s also a fickle, moody, changeable river, which makes her dangerous, and every so often she takes a blood sacrifice. The Severn kills.

Simply being afloat and on the river was an intensely emotional and spiritual experience for me. You see the world differently at water level, familiar cities and landscapes came at me very differently. Travelling at the slow speed of a narrowboat, I also saw a lot of wildlife – kingfishers, egrets, herons, cormorants, an abundance of ducks and swans as well and lots of trees. It’s been a beautiful few days.

So, what have I learned? That I want longer ropes on the boat, for one. But on a spiritual level, it’s harder to pin down. I saw mist on the flood meadows where sheep and cattle have been grazed for thousands of years. I saw ducks sleeping afloat, ours the first boat in the early morning, catching the river as it is before the people come. People, boats, and noise change everything. Most of the time we don’t even get a glimpse of what life is like without us. But I had a little of that – a sense of the lives lived beyond human awareness, the secret lives of creatures and plants. I want to be a smaller, quieter presence, better able to blend in, to move amongst other living things without frightening them off. What I really want is to be on the river at dawn, in a canoe or coracle, paddling quietly, making few ripples, not breaking the air with sound. That would be true magic.

The more I think about this as an ideal, the more I feel it’s how I want to move through the world all of the time – as unobtrusively as I can, catching glimpses of those other worlds and existences. Going slowly enough to be able to see them, quietly enough to hear them, taking the time to look, and the care to notice. I think there is always more to see, deeper to go, and I wonder how much further I can take my own understandings in my day to day living.

Living Small and Green

Somewhere back in the depths of winter we started talking about small living. The smaller a property, the less it takes to heat it, the less land it occupies, and the more conscious you have to be about how you use the space. No owning things for the sake of it, if you have next to no room. In terms of living greenly, living in a small space seemed the way to go. At that point it was all theory, but the Gods were clearly listening… things happened and we took the decision to live on a narrowboat. I can’t claim the main reason was green, but that was in the mix.

So here we are, off the grid, generating our own electricity, and in a very small space. We’ve been doing this for a few months now, so I feel able to comment.

The process of moving in involved a radical rethink of everything we own. What do we actually need? What can we stash in the available space? What will suit our lifestyle? Having spent a lot of years in long skirts, I’ve become a jeans girl, because boats and cycles do not go well with long skirts. My son had to weigh up the fun to space ratio of his various toys. And it must be said, he gets a lot of use out of the things he picked, and has not missed anything so far as I can tell. He’s learned a lot about himself and how he likes to play. We brought a lot of books, by agreement, and that was a good call. The stripping down process created self awareness, and made us conscious of everything we do. From a Druid perspective, it’s been a great teacher and awareness raiser.

One of the effects of living in a relatively small space is that you spend more time outside. There’s a great deal of outside with a canal, all of it beautiful. We go places and do things, work outdoors, eat outside, play outside as much as we can. It’s made me increasingly aware of the relationship between ‘in’ and ‘out’. Currently the norm seems to be to go after ever bigger and more luxurious houses full of stuff. The more houses we have, the more inside we create, the more ‘outside’ we destroy. On the whole, I’d rather have my home be a small space, and there be lots of wild outside everyone can share and benefit from.

Smaller homes do not require as much cleaning, which is a plus for work, and a plus for not using cleaning products. Fewer rooms equals less lighting, a radio on in the boat entertains us all. The smallness of space encourages us to interact and co-operate, unlike families in big houses who all have their own rooms and a television in each one. We share, entertain each other, and that living closer is a good thing. And if we need space, there’s an abundance of outside right there.

I’ve had to rethink my priorities, my whole way of living and doing. It’s been a good process. I feel cleaner, lighter. I like owning less but having the exact things I want and need. I like the green electricity, and I love how much ‘out’ there is. No vacuum cleaner required. No television. No hot and cold running conventionality. I can’t claim it’s been easy all the way, there have been a lot of challenges and a great many things to learn, but that’s part of the joy of it. Challenge is good. Without challenge, there’s precious little scope for growth.