narrowboat nomads

narrowboat nomads

how we came to the cut

I blame a lot of it on YouTube but in truth, the catalyst was created long before my access to the internet, indeed walking along the Brecon Monmouth canal first engaged me and provoked my earliest thoughts of a narrowboat life. The concept of drifting through the countryside on a boat was so evocative, like a snail with its house on its back, you are free to roam in your floating home.

world heritage site, Hampii, southern IndiaBut the thoughts were buried deep whilst I was seduced by promises and snared by the rat race. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all toil and trouble, I have made the most of meagre opportunities, seen life and straddled continents on a journey of work and play.  The game changer came in the summer of 2017 when Donna and I met in Portishead and within a few weeks we were getting off a plane in Sri Lanka.  We had chatted about the spellbinding wonders that travel affords one and in particular, the crazy, frenetic tropical wonderland that I consider my emotional touchstone, so we spent our first winter together in India.

pembrokeshire coast dog walkingUpon our return to the UK, we bought a run down 1900’s cottage in rural Pembrokeshire and spent the ensuing two years renovating our forever home with sea views, our life had settled into an easy routine with part time jobs and dog walks through the seasons.  But then…  all of a sudden, it started as a sneeze far, far away sending ripples across the oceans to rock the world and the “Vid” had landed on our shores.  This new phenomenon made from unfamiliar words and conspiracy theories made us all think and consider our futures. “Life is short so do we sit here in Gods’ waiting room or is there time to roll the dice and have one more adventure”?

We sold the house bought a motorhome and got through the tunnel heading south west to La Rochelle and a trip along the Atlantiqué Highway, only to be locked down in Portugal at the end of 2020 and then when Brexit came into effect on the 1st of January, we were given 90 days to get out of Europe and our life on the road had hit another road block.

Portuguese sunset, Cabanas de TeveraDuring the first lockdown, like so many other people, we had binge watched stacks on YouTube hence where the motorhome life had materialised but I suppose all along I knew that Donna liked the narrowboat boat lifestyle and its possibilities more. Both options had been discussed when we were in Wales and we were still in Portugal when we decided on a life afloat. We searched the net for our next home, we clearly weren’t the only ones with the same idea because boats were selling like hot cakes and plenty of Brits were fleeing Europe and the Schengen zone.

Millau Viaduct, Massif Central, France

We crossed the newly opened Portuguese/Spanish border with some trepidation and hugged the Mediterranean coast on our way back through Spain avoiding crowds. By the time we had reached Valencia the stakes had been raised again with lateral flow and PCR tests, ferries fully booked and dubious reports of road closures. We had our tests, only to be told afterwards that they were the wrong ones, nevertheless we made a charge north at full throttle to cross the border with France only to be hauled up near Perpignan by the Gendarmerie with machine guns. They read through our passports and test results then whilst holding our papers and looking perplexed wished us “bon voyage” with a cheery wave. We wondered did the Frenchman reading English and Spanish documentation know what he was looking at and we doubted that any of us really knew what to do!

In the space of 24 hours the temperature had effectively dropped by a degree an hour as we went from shorts to bobble hats heading north and high over the Millau viaduct and the Massif Central mountains.

canal near Eppernay in the Champagne region of FranceWaking to frozen puddles and fading sun tans we pushed on, whetting our appetites and dallying up the French canals past the myriad of different styles of craft.

When our ten-day saunter through France came to an end, we had some more tests and doggy tablets then spent the last of our Euros on the finest Bordeaux wines and French delicacies before being rushed back through the all but abandoned tunnel at Calais.

We self-isolated on a campsite in Surrey for the obligatory ten days eating stale bread and cheese and drinking nasty plonk, desperately looking for a boat that we liked. We created a spreadsheet with our requirements and a list of available boats on Apollo Duck. Only to look again the next day and see that anything that caught our eye had sold overnight. On Good Friday we had compiled a list of 15 boats we were interested in and by Saturday afternoon 8 were gone.

Jeremiah Lee lying at Droitwich SpaYou hear people say, “you’ll just know it when you see the boat for you” and that was exactly what happened. Following Donna onto the boat, I felt a smile coming on my face and asked her, if she liked it? she turned around beaming and just nodded vigorously, we followed the owner through the boat and returned to the saloon where I asked Donna “do you want it”? Once again, she nodded vigorously, there was no denying it Donna was moved by the Jeremiah Lee.

We broke the cardinal rule and didn’t get a survey, moved aboard one week later and for the first 24 hours we basked in triumph. It wasn’t until day two that we started to note things that were wrong with her. Our pump out tank was full and in our first flight of locks, we lost propulsion and we were lucky to have Vince a fellow Taffy and resident at Hanbury to pull us out of the lock on the centre line, the problem was quickly identified and shortly after we limped into Droitwich Spa Marina where we were able to make some remedial repairs.

narrowboat fitted kitchenWe got going again but by the time we had got to Worcester, our new batteries were near to flat and we limped into Diglis Marina where we were able to get a residential mooring and make a proper start on her refit. Now the inside is mostly complete and due to come out of the water for blacking, painting and some new solar.

So even though our route here has been somewhat circuitous, we know it to be; no more remarkable than plenty of others who have chosen life afloat. Since joining with kindred spirits and the boating community we have forged friendships that will endure.  We are almost set to continuous cruise the cut and start again on our peripatetic life. You can follow our journey on our YouTube channel: Narrowboat Nomads

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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.