A tale of entering the inland waterways
The tale of how I acquired my, now beautiful, narrowboat Pea Green, in 2016 is one of ridiculous split-second decisions. It reflects a lack of forethought perhaps because life was a bit wobbly. Having returned from a year living in Los Angeles I had begun a PhD, taken part-time, grim contract work as a substitute teacher, and started a relationship with someone whom in retrospect had more issues than me. (As he lurks in this tale, he will only be referred to as Willy Nilly – names are changed to protect someone, maybe him, or probably me!) It was this perfect storm work/study/man/residual-travel-angst that resulted in my moment of madness. With zero knowledge of canals (other than the 1975 Ladybird ‘The Story of Our Canals’) I bought the first boat I viewed, little more than a week after my first visit to an inland marina.
Finding a marina
The tale begins in July 2016. As the summer entered a recognisable summery time -it was 2 days in July- Willy’s stated enthusiasm for narrowboats led us to Oundle to visit its marina on the River Nene. I say ‘led’, but actually the marina took such finding we ended up doing other things before we finally worked out the magic marina-finding-code. This hiding of marinas is not unique to Oundle, and since that very first visit I have learnt that marinas are elusive, invariably situated in a parallel universe to ‘normal’ land-dwelling/ cars and life.
Marina finding is the equivalent of going through the wardrobe or platform 9 ¾. You need to know the marina finding rules otherwise they remain hidden. For the uninitiated: first locate water, next seek out a a dirt track or poorly signposted road, then look for wooded areas, or buildings. I see it as an antiquated way to weed out non-boater folk. Once over this first hurdle you are half-way to the dubious honour of boat ownership.
Oundle Marina was hidden to us landlubbers. As we drove up and down the road into the town with Google maps directing us in ever decreasing then increasing circles. Finally, we ended up on a private road, in someone’s front garden. This, we surmised, was unlikely to be the marina location, not least because it was on top of a hill. Having back tracked and asked around (no-one knew) we finally spotted a wire fence, water, a mini industrial estate and miraculously what appeared to be boats.
I had no idea that the next 30 minutes in the marina would be life changing for me, OK that sounds ridiculously melodramatic, but put simply it was visiting Oundle marina that led me to buy a boat – a week later. Oundle Marina might be seen by some as not having the most attractive location; alongside a busy main road, and with a mini industrial area and warehouses onsite. Yet, once inside (having passed the test of finding the entrance) it was peculiarly magical.
The magical scene was probably aided by the brilliant sunshine, swifts (or were they swallows?) swooping around, and a heron lurching from boat to boat. The only missing element were the singing dolphins. (I should perhaps declare at this point that I have always been a water person… Piscean, scuba-diver and I do love baths.) We trudged around ‘gongoozling’ the boats. Willy enquired about mooring costs, strange really as he had less than no cash for a boat, let alone mooring. The friendly member of staff then handed us the keys to look at a boat that was for sale. (She could clearly see we would have no idea of how to start or move it.)
Sowing the seed
The boat was, in my opinion, quite grim, too much brown, both in colour and dirt. Despite this the split second, ‘I am going to buy a boat’ moment happened right there on that boat. It was the dawning realisation, as I stood in the boat looking out of the windows, that I was standing below the water line, looking directly at a horizon of water. And that was it, the singular moment when I decided to buy a boat.
I don’t remember much about the rest of that day but within a week I had found a boat. A 32ft 1973 narrowboat built by Chris Barney, spending £8,000 from my redundancy emergency fund. The money had been carefully squirrelled away for 2 years since leaving my lecturing job at UCL. Unfortunately, ‘The Story of Our Canals’ Ladybird book circa 1975 had little in the way of advice for perspective narrowboat owner, other than a jaunty page of illustrations entitled ‘clothes of the cut’. (I am still looking for one of those bonnets…) And that is how the tale of the Pea Green boat begins.