‘I’d never go back to a house - a boat is stressless’

Les and Karleen Cross who live on the Lancaster Canal
Les and Karleen Cross who live on the Lancaster Canal

As an increasing number of people are attracted to life on Lancashire’s canal network, Stef Hall meets two families who have made their home afloat.

The Lloyd family have an astonishing place to call home.

Each morning they wake to the sound of the canal lapping at their bedroom, and eat their breakfast while enjoying the colourful views of neighbouring longboats across the Garstang basin.

Research shows that Lancashire’s waterways are sailing ahead and pulling in growing visitor numbers - read more

In winter they are kept toastie warm with an onboard heater, and in summer they can sail their home to virtually wherever they like.

The Lloyds are among an increasing number of families drawn by the attraction of the boating life.

Couple David and Celia are bringing up their six-year-old son Jamie aboard their barge “Arthur’s Dream”, which they share with their two dogs, Goldie and Bundle.

Even though the Lloyds don’t know who ‘Arthur’ actually is, it is considered bad luck in nautical circles to change a boat’s name, so they have stuck with it.

It is moored outside the Owd Tithebarn in Garstang, where Celia works part time, and is a stone’s throw from Jamie’s primary school.

David, 76, originally from London, used to come to Lancashire for holidays with his first wife, Jane.

The couple bought a caravan in Carnforth, but sadly three days into their first visit, she became ill and was diagnosed with bone cancer.

After she passed away, the retired fireman moved to an apartment in Majorca and then, craving a change of scene, to Lake Balaton in Hungary.

It was there he met like-minded boat enthusiast Celia, from Dorset.

He says: “We had our little boy and decided it would be better for his schooling to come back to the UK.”

So from one body of water to another, the family left the shore side of the largest lake in Central Europe for the Garstang section of the Lancaster Canal.

David adds: “We have been in Garstang two-and-a-half years.

“Bringing a child up on a boat has been fine. We love the community spirit and the slower pace of life.

“We have everything we need. It is a simple lifestyle I love.”

While the waterways are 200 years old, live-aboarders no longer have to live a frugal Victorian lifestyle.

They have working bathrooms and kitchens, clever storage ideas for toys and other possessions, heating and even wi-fi.Boating mod cons have meant

people like Les and Karleen Cross are able to keep in touch with their six children as they sail around the country, and enjoy the soaps on a widescreen wall mounted flatscreen TV.

Karleen says it was a “sixth sense” that inspired her to sell up and live aboard a narrowboat.

The couple, who have been boating for a decade, recently upgraded from their first 43ft narrowboat to a positively palatial six-foot wide 56ft long one, christened -

Les, originally from Cockerham, retired from his job as an agricultural engineer at around the same time as Karleen, a retired Blackpool and Fylde college lecturer, who is originally from Preesall.

They have bought a black kitten called Loki to keep them company on board.

Karleen explains: “I had a strong sense about the way the economy was going and we wanted to get out of the rat race and cut down our expenses.

“It doesn’t cost half as much as people probably think, compared to a house.”

The couple took the plunge after a trip to Foxton locks in Leicestershire and within five weeks they had found their first narrowboat.

Karleen adds: “My mind frame has totally changed. It has made us take stock of how greedy we were just buying stuff for the sake of it for the house.

“It was hard to make the adjustment at first in terms of space and mindset but now I would never go back. I never realised how much worry I created myself.

“Les lost his older brothers and I lost my younger sister recently and it makes you realise life is precious and short.

“It is literally stressless - well, until we do locks!”

Couple Kathy and Peter Wilson-Ellis and their children Joseph, 16, and Katie, 12, have also fallen in love with the boating life.

The family, from Standish, near Wigan, say they live in a house during week but “go home to the boat every weekend”.

Highways worker Kathy, 41, is the current commodore of the Lancaster canal boat club, which started in the 1960s to encourage boaters to get together and promote the waterways.

Their current boat, the Waterwitch, is their seventh boat, but their first narrowboat.

She says: “We bought a boat approximately 11 years ago when our children were one and five. My husband’s family had a boat in the ‘70s and ‘80s and we wanted to create similar memories for our children.

“In fact they love it so much they have their own little cruiser to enjoy.

“It’s safe to say that when the canal gets under your skin it becomes a major part of your life, and we’ve loved the family aspect as much as the wildlife, slow pace, peace and quiet and the friends we’ve made along the way - not to mention the evenings sat around a roaring fire under the stars, or evenings with boating friends in a warm and cosy pub.”