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  • Writer's pictureDan Brown

My First Steps into 10 Years of Narrowboat Life

As the tenth anniversary of my first day of narrowboat life passes, I have been looking back at the videos and images of that wonderful, exciting but also nerve-racking time. To me they are not just grainy "old smart phone camera" images, but reminders of little moments barely clinging to the edge of my memory.

I've talked at great length about my experiences in the first weeks of boat life, but obviously that was an extraordinary time, over the last decade boat life became "normal". The passing of the seasons, the sometimes seemingly endless, wet, winter and autumn months, the sights of herons opposite the boat, and of course the fantastic long summer evenings.

These are the experiences that simply become part of life, for better or for worse. The image below shows Narrowboat Tilly on her first winter mooring, complete with a pitiful handful of lights for Christmas... and an awful decision to place a GLASS bauble on the front fender!

In this first winter I would learn the meaning of cold, but then steadily figure out how much fuel and when to load it into the fire to ensure the best results without creating the opposite problem of a boat too hot for comfort!

It would be during that winter mooring period that I would seriously start putting my diary entries and experiences into a coherent manuscript, which I would later release as a very short book "The Narrowboat Lad" (still available here!). This would set the scene for writing to become a big part of my life for years to come. It was an almost perfect life for a time.

Working part time in a shop as a secure income allowed me to then run away to the canal for the rest of the week, writing books and filming videos, surrounded by an ever changing rural landscape. That early era of endless creative output couple with extreme rural peace will always be one of the best periods of my life. Everything was so simple and the internet a much more straightforward place back then!

I used to take a lot of photos of the smokey chimney back then, as I thought that it was the true image of a cosy, warm boat, on a cold winter's night... the reality is that using smokeless fuel, the smoke would only last for a few minutes as the fire got going, soon it would be replaced by little more than the shimmering waves of heat dancing up from the fire.

Another thing I notice on some of these old photographs is the presence of tall, upright candles. Even in an old brass holder, as seen above, I would never dream of having such a potential fire hazard onboard.

Small flat tea lights maybe, but it gives me the willies to look back and see pictures like this, thinking how easily that candle could fall over, or out of the holder if a boat passed by too fast, or butted up against Tilly. Live and learn!

Speaking of living and learning. I wanted to throw this classic Dan Vs Giant Dessert picture into things here. This was taken at the popular canal side pub at Chirk, back then known as "The Poacher's Pocket". If I had realised the multiple painful tooth extractions, cavities and fillings I was eating my way too... well... I probably still wouldn't have had the will power to eat better until it was too late!

All I can say is that mooring the boat for the winter months, practically on the doorstep of a place that served desserts like this... took its toll!

Taking Tilly over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was a fantastic first experience, another important life lesson about boating in this area was that no matter how busy I expect it to be during summer... it is going to be busier! So visits to this top end of the canal became a purely out of season event. As you can see here, I am keeping the late winter chill out with my coat, essential wear for a lot of my subsequent out of season trips!

Cutting wood was another new addition to the cycle of the year. Luckily for me I had a landscape gardener in the family with a near endless source of wood and tools... plus the all important grandad to cut the wood down to fire size and then store it while it dried out for use! Even with these two hugely helping hands I would somehow end up cutting my fingers and shins multiple times a year in the firewood preparation process!

This post has been very winter focussed in hindsight. The wet, dull, chilly or overcast times of the year are not only a huge part of the British weather, but also brought with them the most impact to my life on a boat. The warm, summery days were great and didn't change much about the fundamental parts of day to day life, whereas the wet times made life on a tiny boat a lot harder.

The cycling through mud, the condensation from wet clothes, the increase in burned fuel for warmth, all played a more disruptive role to daily boat life than if I had just been in a house, pressing a button to turn on the heating, having space to hang and air my wet clothes etc. But it was these harder times that helped toughen me up for the first time in my life! So I am eternally grateful that I didn't get too disheartened in some of the lower moments of that first winter season!

The final image is of Tilly, moored in Great Haywood Marina, after my first, extremely short boat trip. The trip lasted for only a few minutes, and the mooring was in an entirely empty jetty with space for two boats, yet this was one of the most stressful things I had ever done in my life at that point!

I almost miss that nervous, worrisome, novice attitude, but the fact that I now look back at myself in that era and cringe, is a good sign that I have at least learned the basics of boat life during the last decade!

Keep it boat worthy,

Keep it interesting,



(Want to help me out? Please take a look at my boat life books HERE, and my YouTube Channel HERE)

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