Living On A Floating Piece Of History: How These People Swapped London’s Crazy House Prices For A Life On The Canals

Touring two very special boat homes in the UK

Emma Freemantle lives on an English narrow boat in a part of London where house prices are so high, only the very wealthy can afford to live there. Life on a ‘floating Gypsy caravan’, as she calls it, is much cheaper than renting an apartment, and is a great place to unwind after the hustle and bustle of the city center.

English barges and narrow boats (read about the differences here) have a long and fascinating history going back to the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain around 1760. Canals were built to transport coal, textiles and other cargo from place to place, the first one opening in 1761 (well before the first British railway line in 1860). Narrow boats did not have engines in those days, and were pulled by horses who dragged the boat by walking along the towpaths (banks) of the canals. These waterways, which make up an enormous network hundreds of miles long, are no longer used commercially. Narrow boat and barge weekends have become popular holiday experiences in Britain, providing an opportunity to enjoy nature at a snail’s pace. Other people choose to live on their boats full time, either moving around the country or paying fees to ‘moor’ the boat in a marina.

Some narrow boats are less than seven feet wide, but when the space is used well they can be transformed into impressive homes. Emma has a wood burning stove, gas canisters for cooking and water heating, and uses pre-paid cards for electricity. Her boat is homely and full of personal knick-knacks , but other narrow boat designs aim for a clean, crisp feel. Another video (a montage of photographs) shows how one couple with two young daughters turned the same kind of canal boat into a family home that is clean, white, stylish and deceptively big:

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