can less be more?

can less be more?

our first year of continual cruising

sunset over water

We were starry eyed and excited as the prospect materialised and we set off into the sunset on this romantic notion of travelling on the canals in our home. Then as we turned the corner and negotiated our first set of locks, we lost propulsion. We were on our own and confused, our dream and wishes had become reality, but our first cruise had become a nightmare.

We were forced to seek the refuge of a marina where we found out so much about our boat and even more about ourselves. We spent too much time and even more money fixing her up whilst we mastered the art of floating. But the build-up to leaving was a rush and a count down. So, it was with equal measures of apprehension, excitement and sadness, that we started the engine and ventured out of our familiar, safe haven.

The second beginning of our odyssey took us up the Birmingham & Worcester and as we were going through Sidbury lock, we encountered our first tourists who quickly pulled out their cameras and started snapping away, photographing “the strange people who live in those dinky little boats”.

Even though we were clueless, we must have looked authentic, and it brought the widest smiles and most peculiar feeling to us; once out of earshot we reflected with embarrassed laughter. Having spent so long as voyeurs contemplating the whim, we were now being observed from the other end of the lens. It has become apparent to us during our journey that gongoozlers are so very, very curious. They want to chat and consider how us odd people live. Some want us to sell the dream, whilst others are disturbed by the prospect but generally the young are inspired, and the elders see the wisdom.

Our trip to date, has taken us through some foreboding milestones: up the thirty-six locks of the Tardebigge flight; through several spookily long tunnels; across some dauntingly high aqueducts; a little bit of Birmingham and the notorious “Wolverhampton 21”; the Shropshire Union and onto the Llangollen canal in north Wales. All of which were wonderful experiences and are now fond memories.

Autumn and nature's last flourish have served up a most spectacular palette of colours and when the mercury dropped, the frozen “Golly” left us basking with a raging log fire and clear blue skies with fabulous vistas. She has shown us the merit of being out on the cut in the cold and we agree with our fellow boaters who prefer the more peaceful winters on the cut without the lunatic fringe on their one-week binge.

autumnal colours

wonderful skies

Though having worked for a hire boat company, I had much empathy for these adventure seekers. Watching them during their boat introduction, politely nodding with their newly acquired captains’ hats, then gingerly negotiating their way out of the marina. Prior to ripping off their shirts and cracking open the booze whilst getting their craft up to warp speed ready to clatter everything on their merry way.

But this playful corruption of an observation can be more insightful... How else do hard working holiday makers manage their downtime? Other than to chuck some clothes in a bag, slam the boot on the car and tear-arse it up the M40, just to slow down their fuel injected lifestyles for a week on the water.

Maybe this yarn is more about navigating life rather than a boat. How one interprets the fundamentals and expectancies of being an upstanding member of society and dedicating ambition to correspond with the indoctrination of authority. Should government philosophy dictate our work ethic and a 40-hour 5-day week, just to spend the ensuing 30 something years trapped on the financial hamster wheel with annual sojourns of piracy and debauchery on our inland waterways.

Or can one relinquish Friday’s gin fizz, Tom Ford, Vorsprung durch Technik for a more sedate life?

Cruising through our shallow waters and deepest thoughts with the time to enjoy them. This choice is not some poetic idyl, there are always jobs to do on a boat and it comes with a diverse set of risks that some may consider reckless. One needs to get down and dirty; it is a frugal existence as we manage our resources and utilise the opportunities when they arise. Be it emptying the loo or topping up the water, foraging or shopping, cleaning, or fixing, making the most of the weather and living on the cut requires a love of nature and the outdoors. But giving up much and sacrificing luxuries for a life aboard is precious and the rewards reveal themselves and life evolves in a different spectrum.

characters of the cut

Because the people who choose this way of life do so for a myriad of reasons. Most have unusual back stories and have tested the constricts imposed on us by our puppet masters. One finds higher incident rates of free radicals bouncing their take on life around the fire. You hear the wackiest ideas and fascinating life stories when engaging with the “Characters of the Cut”.
There exists an acceptance and friendship in this gentle, open-minded community with the understanding and time to support and a desire to pool skills and resources.

There isn’t any need to rush, to achieve and prove oneself has all but evaporated and stress eludes us. Occasionally we hear the hum of a near-by motorway or a dashing siren, but they serve as reminders of what we left behind. The greatest gift this life-choice provides is a slow tranquillity and peaceful priceless moments.

In life, there are more answers than there are questions; But whomever we are, and by whichever means we skid into our grave… our experience of life is a most important question!

frozen canal boats

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About Martin Duggan

As a former overland expedition driver, independent traveller and photographer, getting into scrapes has been the norm. Now, Martin along with his partner Donna are refitting their recently acquired narrowboat before embarking on a new journey as continuous cruisers. You can follow their adventures here and on their YouTube channel: Narrowboat Nomads.