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A London Waterside Home for under £10,000

Why more young people are choosing life on the canal?

Before the days of the railways, industry relied on Britain's extensive canal network to move their goods between town and port. The Grand Union Canal linked Birmingham to Paddington and, from there, the Regent's Canal cut through London's fashionable West End and now trendy East End to the Docklands.

After commercial traffic dried up over half a century ago, the Regent's Canal was a wasteland of abandoned warehouses and eccentric water nomads. But today, the canal is not only seeing a new lease of life with a younger demographic, it's throwing them a lifeline with more Millennials choosing life on, or along, the canal.

An Alternative Lifestyle

There's something quintessentially English about the canals in this country. About the long narrow boats, dressed with bicycles and flowers, that timidly ply them, and the slow life along the understated towpath. In a city of 9 million people the Canal is a quiet thread of alternative British life.

Travelling the canals is no longer the bastion of working class sailors and their families. In fact, the trade element has almost completely gone. And while most of us think of canal boats as a nice holiday idea, there is a growing number of people who live their lives on their narrowboats either continuously cruising the 2000 miles of British canals, or setting up permanently in one spot.

In a recent survey by Canal & River Trust, of the 3500 boats in London almost 60% of respondents stated they lived permanently on a boat in the London Waterways and 30% have done so for more than 5 years. A surprising 12% are families.

It isn’t all retirees either. In fact, only 5% surveyed were over the age of 65. The biggest demographic is the 25-35s and the Gen X-ers run a close second.

For the generation least likely to get on the property ladder, the benefits are obvious. You can get a waterside London pad for a fraction of the price of any London land-based accommodation and none of the hassle of trying to sell up if the suburb goes to pot.

A narrowboat costs in the 10s of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands. If your not too fussy, you can even snap one up for under 10 grand. What you pay in rent in one year could feasibly get you on the water and living rent free forever. Mooring fees can cost a bit but, for digital nomads happy to keep moving, you can legally get away with not paying a thing.

Size Matters

It’s true canal boats look small. But are they any smaller than a London studio?

Narrowboats vary in length but the average is 50ft (15m) with width and height each about 6.5ft (2m). If you can't visualise the size, this may help: the average narrow boat is a tad under the proportions of a tube carriage. In square footage its 350 sq ft (32sqm). The average UK one-bedroom home is larger, at 495 sq ft (46sqm). But this is London where studio flats can be as small as 87 sq ft (8sqm) yet cost £780/m.

Is it Green? Boaters aren’t connected to sewerage and may not be connected to mains. Waterways do provide waste management and mains energy plugs but facilities are only part of the consideration. The more people that live on the water the more strain there is on the infrastructure. While local authorities are attempting to address the increase waterways use they also note it's important for boaters to reduce their waste and be more aware of the chemicals they use on board.

Are narrowboats cool? If your thinking living in a water caravan with a dinky kitchen and fold out beds is not your style. Think again. The tiny house movement has revolutionised how we design small spaces so that they are functional and super cool. Anyway, it's yours, do what you want. And hey, if you don't like the inside just go out on deck. The view of the canal is a lot nicer than the one from that ex-council flat by the railway tracks or the tiny studio that looks onto a pebble dash wall.

Hipster Friendly: Life on the Towpath

But it's not just the boaters who have warmed to the canal life.

When Regent's Canal opened it was no more than a commercial transportation link. The wealthier classes around Regents Park weren't fond of the idea of bargemen cussing and cursing loads of coal and merchandise past their neatly manicured backyards. So parts of the canal route were changed to accommodate their disgust.

Today, luxury apartments vie for canalside space. Disused warehouses are being turned into waterside offices, restaurants or cafes. But it's a different kind of gentrification. Buried in the East End, this former working canal still has enough industrial grit and graffiti to make it interesting.

Stretched out around Hackney and Shoreditch are tables and chairs in styles ranging from ultra modern to vintage chic. Kingsland Basin is where sustainable mooring meets cafes and craft beer. And between Haggerston Park and Victoria Park is Broadway Market. It's a hipster haunt that harks back to Hackney history. In the 1800s, the market sold fruit and veg and that East End London delicacy, jellied eels, all along its length to the bawdy local mob. You can still buy the eel but most folk go there for the coffee.

Further up the towpath, the Kings Cross redevelopment is ambitiously turning 20 industrial heritage buildings and surrounding decommissioned industrial land into creative warehouses and eco friendly public spaces. The project has been named by English Heritage as "One of England's 20 Best Heritage-Led Developments". And for those of us who like our creative flair with an industrial conversion edge, it looks pretty promising.

Walking along Regent's Canal you do feel as if you're off the beaten path. But this quiet oasis cuts right through the centre of London's East and West Ends. Step a few meters off the towpath and you're in the city's busy inner suburbs, serviced by a dozen tube or overground stations and the national and international hubs of Kings Cross and St Pancras. And, as more and more people choose a waterside lifestyle, there's an increasing range of services setting up right on the towpath itself.



Regent's Canal runs 8.3miles (13KM) from Paddington Basin (Tube: Warwick Ave or Paddington) to Limestone Basin (Tube: Limestone). There are also accessible tube and underground stations at Camden Town, Camden Road, Kings Cross, St Pancras, Angel, Haggerston, Hoxton, Cambridge Heath and Mile End. You can walk and cycle the Towpath.


FLICKR 00 | London



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