As we walk along the bank taking in the beautiful countryside, many of us don’t realise that the Lancaster Canal is not just a place where people visit, walk beside, cycle by and holiday on, some people are actually lucky enough to live on a canal boat. Features Writer Rob Bullock chats with canal resident and illustrator, Brian Hughes.
The Lancaster Canal snakes majestically down through our district with views of our rolling green fields, woods, Morecambe Bay and the mountains of the Lake District. Some people are fortunate enough to enjoy those views every day, through every season and I’ve been chatting with someone who lives on the Lancaster Canal, Brian Hughes, and picking his brains about what canal life is like.
Q. Hi Brian. Thank you for agreeing to chat with me for the Lancaster District Magazine, I’m sure our readers will be intrigued to discover how long you’ve lived on the Lancaster Canal and why?
A. Hi, Rob. I’ve lived on the Lancaster Canal, on and off for the last three years or so. Our idea, originally, was to set up a floating art gallery and travel the country with our cats making tons of money selling our art but, as it turned out, I’m the worst shopkeeper in history.
Q. You’re the worst shopkeeper in history?
A. Absolutely! Whenever a potential customer appeared on the towpath, I’d hide behind the hatch in panic. Then the boat turned twenty, which meant that for business insurance purposes I’d have to have it hauled out and surveyed – a costly business, especially for someone who runs away from customers and never actually earns anything! So we changed to ‘domestic insurance’, dropped the business licence, and now I work from a friend’s shed for three days a week instead.
Q. What was the thing that drew you to canal life?
A. I think that one of the reasons why I enjoy the canals so much in the first place is the solitude really.
Q. Is it the first time you’ve lived on a boat?
A. I suppose… if you don’t count the summer holidays spent on the Oxford Canal as a kid as living aboard (which you can’t, because it isn’t the same sort of thing at all, really) or the voyages on my father’s Morecambe Bay shrimper (a.k.a. a nobby), which mainly consisted of going out to Lune Deeps and indulging in a spot of fishing.
Q. What do you call your boat?
A. Ha! I call it a lot of things, most of which I won’t repeat here, especially when one of the windows is leaking or the bilges need emptying or the engine’s not working, but for official purposes she’s a sixty-foot narrowboat…she’s actually called Wendy Elizabeth. Not my choice of name. She was called that when we bought her. I toyed with the idea of changing the name to the Mouse Boat (or the Lancashire Rose…I quite liked the idea of the latter for some reason) but I’ve never got around to it.
Q. Do you live on Wendy Elizabeth all year round?
A. Yes. We’re on a continuous cruising licence, which means that I have to move the boat to a different district once every couple of weeks.
Q. What’s winter like on board?
A. Cosy, would you believe? I know the obvious answer would be ‘cold and miserable’, but when you’ve got the wood stove going and all the mud swept up off the carpet (because there’s a lot of mud out here in the winter), it’s surprisingly warm and comfortable.
Q. Do you have all the mod cons of a ‘bricks and mortar’ home on board?
A. After a fashion. We have a gas powered fridge (which, to be honest, I just use as a cupboard), a flushable loo, television, CD player, gas oven and four ring hob, shower, running water (sometimes in the form of rain through the leaking window in my office)…basically all the usual stuff.
Q. What are the pros and cons of a life on water?
A. Cons: Having to empty the Thetford. Those things just don’t hold enough. (Not for the amount I eat and drink, anyhow.) It’s no worse than emptying the cats’ trays really, though. Having to refill the water tank/gas bottles etc when it’s freezing cold outside and there’s horizontal rain blowing into your face. Running out of electricity without warning and then having to pretend that you’ve no idea what time it is, because you’re not supposed to run the engine to power-up the leisure batteries after six p.m. The lack of shops in canal side villages nowadays and the expensive gastro pubs that seem to be everywhere. Pros: Well…the Lancashire countryside. Waking up in the middle of nowhere with such fantastic views is unbelievably good for the soul.
Q. Any nuisances?
A. Yes, the ducks can be a nuisance at times! They’re noisy little beggars!
Q. Do you go on other canals around Britain?
A. We brought the boat up from South Yorkshire originally, if thatcounts. But we’re content enough to potter up and down th’ Owd Lanky for now.
Q. Finally, Brian, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, I understand you’re a writer?
A. Writer, illustrator and archaeologist…failed on all accounts. It doesn’t stop me from trying though.
From everyone at the Lancaster District Magazine, I would like to thank you, Brian, for taking the trouble to chat with us today, we wish you and Wendy Elizabeth well!