Today is exactly two years since we moved aboard Bartimaeus.
When I first started talking about living on a narrowboat, I had suggested that doing so for a year or two might be ideal. When asked about our plans I would often say that we knew we could enjoy it for two weeks and we’d have to see after that. The plan had included Bryn living in our Edinburgh flat, which would have given us an escape route. When he moved to Norfolk for a job we had to make other plans. We were very lucky to fall in to an arrangement with Gail and Rab looking after our flat.
The basics of canals and locks were familiar to us, but we were used to having a large crew to help. Over the months we have learned to slow down. We still move on most days, but we often don’t start moving until lunch time and we might well stop again after as little as an hour. We only drive for many hours at a stretch if we have a deadline, or when the mooring options are limited.
The early weeks were full of new experiences, most of them enjoyable or exciting. We are surprised to find that this is still happening, though perhaps at not the same frequency. The way we have to operate the locks on the Wey and the Kennet, for example, are quite different from each other and those on other canals. Gongoozlers often comment on how smoothly we operate locks too – we’ve both got pretty slick at both parts of the job.
We’ve been pleased to discover that living together in such a small space has not been a problem. I had been concerned that I’d be clambering or tripping over Clare’s things all the time. Apart from an occasional wool stash, this hasn’t been an issue. She has to put up with a cabin full of woodworking tools sometimes, but mostly her complaints are about the noise they make. We’ve found storage surprisingly easy in fact. Only bringing along things we knew we wanted with us has been a good discipline – it also leaves me wondering why I’m keeping quite a lot of the things that clutter up our flat.
Over the two years I have learned a little more about how the on board systems work, and become a lot more aware of the charging characteristics of lead-acid batteries. Some of the early questions I was asking about the systems now have answers that seem obvious to me. I haven’t been given a better description, I’ve just watched the way things interact and it has gradually sorted itself out in my mind.
The winter months were a new thing to us. We got caught out a couple of times by the early dusk. Happily, keeping warm inside the boat was not a problem at all. Staying warm while driving was much more of an issue, but only when we had to travel longer distances. In the months when driving for an hour or so to get the batteries charged was all we needed it wasn’t a problem at all. We’ve only had a few days when we couldn’t move because of ice. During the very cold weather last winter we were not on the boat.
My melanoma diagnosis early last year forced us to change plans again. We now needed to be back in Edinburgh for a while. We were extremely grateful for offers of places to stay in Edinburgh. Gail and Rab were very helpful with communication in the early phases, and then when they were able to let us back in to our flat it was a great relief. Leaving the boat and returning to Edinburgh was quite a wrench. On the plus side, meeting up with Edinburgh friends was a boon.
The year of travelling to Edinburgh for treatment every four weeks had its own characteristics. We needed a clearer idea of how far we’d be travelling each month. Buying a train ticket early enough to get a good price required a degree of forward planning. Stopping for the day when the rain starts, or when we see an interesting village, or a poster for an event can then be much harder. We’re now trying to get back in to the way of going only as far as we fancy each day. We’re getting there, yesterday we didn’t go anywhere – I didn’t even step off the boat!
Nye is now living in the flat in Edinburgh, so we can stay away as long as we like, but still go back whenever it suits. For the next few months we expect to continue cruising. We have not yet decided if we will take a winter break, and so far don’t even know which part of the country the boat is likely to be in if we do.
We haven’t really had a full two years aboard yet. Neither of us are remotely fed up with the experience, and there is a lot of the network still to explore. We have been to the furthest north and south points, but that still leaves two other compass points, and many miles in-between.