Living on a boat. In summer 2010, Paula Haydock was cycling to work along the London canals, when she had a revelation. She could live on the water. Since moving to London in her early 20s she had moved from one flatshare to another, with no prospect of buying a place. She had been left some money by a relative – too little for a house deposit but just enough, she realised, to explore a different option.
Haydock spoke to a colleague who was living on a boat, stayed there to see whether she liked it, then started looking on a website called Apollo Duck. She found a 56ft houseboat for £24,000, and decided to go for it. There’s a tiny bathroom with a shower and toilet, a living space with a kitchen, and a separate bedroom compartment, which swung it for her, she says.
Permanent moorings can be difficult to find in London “because those who have them keep them” and so instead Haydock has a continuous cruiser license, which means she has to move every two weeks. This is included in her annual boat license, she says, which costs around £800 a year. Moving suits her because, as a freelance, she works in offices all over the city, and it allows her to “pull up near work. I don’t have a big commute, which is nice.” In fact, “being on the canal is an amazing opportunity to be in the centre of London … You’re so lucky, you can be in Regent’s Park, and not that many people could afford to live there normally, could they?” Being able to buy the boat outright also freed her from some of the pressures of her work, “because when you’re freelance you’re always thinking, ‘when’s my next job, when is the next contract coming in?’ And that’s not quite as stressful now.”
The downsides are the cold in winter and having to empty the toilet every few weeks, but these haven’t fazed her. She lives on the boat with her rescue dog, Rupert, a staffie cross, and remembers evenings last summer, with her hatch open, as being magical. “A swan will go past, and it’s very calm and quiet. You think of London as being so noisy, but it’s much more relaxing on the canal.”