The view from the top of the mountain

Nearing the summit

Just a brief update for anyone who’s ear we haven’t managed to chew yet.

I don’t know if you have ever climbed a mountain or not but if you have you will know that you rarely have continuous sight of the summit the whole time you are climbing. There comes a point though in most ascents where you can clearly see the top and you become confident that you are going to achieve your goal and reap the rewards for all of the effort that you have put in. That, metaphorically, is pretty much where we are now on our narrow boat journey.

The view from the top of the mountain

Last week we completed the sale of our old home which brought our final goal of retirement and cruising the canal network into sight. It’s been very much like climbing a mountain in that there have been easy bits, hard bits and down right miserable bits but suddenly all the effort seems worthwhile and we can almost touch our summit.

We have made the decision to retire at the end of March and once the necessary maintenance work on the boat is complete we should be away on our travels by the end of the following month. We have revised our plans a little and now intend to travel for around six months returning to our berth in the marina for the winter. And before anybody asks the question; “have you planned your route yet?” the answer is no and we won’t be doing so either. Just about everybody that we talk to asks us that question but the nearest we have to a plan is to head vaguely south and allow curiosity to be our compass.

New horizons beckon

Our original idea was to take off this Spring and just cruise indefinitely but having had a taste of marina life and because we are already making good friends here we thought we would come back for the winter. It will also give us plenty of time to work on any changes we want to make to the boat and to decide with a greater depth of hindsight if we want to repeat the same pattern in future or just become permanent nomads for a few years. Not knowing how it will work out is what makes it so much fun I suppose.

Where we are now is not unlike being tantalisingly close to the top of your mountain and anticipating the spectacular, but as yet hidden views that will surely appear any moment now. We now know that we will be on top of our mountain in April, looking out over a whole landscape of adventures and new experiences. It’s going to be a great view I’m sure.

Who knows what adventures lie ahead?

Wishing for the moon.

I have just read an article by micro adventure advocate Alastair Humphreys. As usual, it got me thinking.

Reflection on a long wiggly line

Reflection on a long wiggly line twelve months on

It is one year today since we got home from our long cycle tour around the coast of Britain. The anniversary brings with it a lot of reflection on what the trip meant to us and how it changed us. These challenging thoughts are accompanied by big decisions as we get closer to the time when we are in a position to stop working should we choose to. Right now, my thoughts are like a collection of washing tumbling backwards and forwards in a drier. Complex, tangled and not yet ready to be folded and stacked into neat organised piles.

In one sense we certainly got what we wanted from our break. It shook us up and gave us the thrust we needed to break away from whatever shackles every day life had tied us down with. We hoped that it would lead us in new directions and in some ways it has. We just aren’t too clear on which direction yet. Having a taste of adventure leaves you hungry for more, whatever form it might take.

We have made a decision recently that both excites me and worries me at the same time. We have been talking about the idea of living on a narrow boat and having weighed all the pros and cons we have come to the conclusion that it might be better to wait until we are in a position where we can do it without having to work. That’s fine except that it is probably at least five years away and that is where I am struggling. You see before we went away, and to some extent the reason we went away, was because we were really starting to understand the importance of living in the present. Making a five year plan feels like the very antithesis of ‘carpe diem’, or ‘seize the day’. In that sense our current idea seems like an abandonment of everything the trip taught us.

The plan I am talking about is to buy a cheap park home by cashing in some savings and to live rent free whilst clearing a mortgage on a house we own. That house produces a rental income and is part of the retirement plan. At about the same time that the mortgage is cleared a small private pension matures and we could then sell the park home, buy a narrow boat and sail off into the sunset free from the burden of earning a living. It sounds great when written down like that but for the small matter of wishing away those five years. So there lies our challenge. How do you maintain two focuses, one on today and the other years in the future, the second of which we have no guarantee of even reaching.

It doesn’t help that I happened to talk to a couple on a boat last week who live on board and manage to hold down part time jobs. Conversations like that fill me with doubt over whether we are doing the right thing. Maybe we should just throw caution to the wind and go for the narrow boat option now rather than wait. Who knows, we might not even like life on board. We might be waiting for five years only to find that actually, it wasn’t worth waiting for. I doubt that somehow though.

The challenge now is to seize the day, every day, just in case that distant dream, for whatever reason proves to be beyond our grasp. It’s a tricky one and it’s a good reason to set the alarm for 2am tomorrow and to get up and look at a giant red, eclipsed super moon because there wont be another one until 2033. By then, if we survive, we will know if we did the right thing waiting five years to do the right thing.

Moon

It’s not a boat but it is narrow.

I know it's not a narrow boat.

I know it’s not a narrow boat.

I’m sorry to disappoint all those who thought they could look forward to tales of life on the not so high seas. The narrow boat is still very much a part of the plan but it has taken more of a back seat for now. As the sign in the picture says the above park home is under offer. Our offer. We are quietly optimistic of taking possession of this narrow but cosy establishment some time before Christmas. The most significant element of the purchase being that it will be ours entirely and we will no longer be paying rent to anybody. This is how our thinking went:

Although we might be in a position to buy a narrow boat now and live on board we would have to continue working part time to make ends meet. This adds all kinds of complications to life on a boat, not least the fact that we would have to have a permanent mooring and almost certainly run a car in order to secure work. We would also be limited to cruising short distances in between work with the possibility of longer trips for holidays. This is far less attractive than being able to travel around the country on the boat, free to roam as we please. For that we need to be financially independent and that isn’t going to happen any time soon. It just isn’t the life that has caught our imagination whilst talking to other liveaboards.

What we really want is it to retire to a narrow boat and explore the life style without the constraints of work or place. With this in mind we re-examined our finances and worked out the quickest route to life on the water. Enter a cheap mobile home, bought for cash, and a compact but rent free life that will allow us to reach our goal in half the time previously anticipated.

There is a real danger in this. Living for the future is something that we don’t believe in and on paper that appears to be exactly what we are planning to do. It will be at least five years before we can retire which is a long time and we have no intention of putting our lives on hold in the hope that it will all work out in the end. The challenge now is to squeeze all we can out of park life and to find some kind of balance between working for the future and living for the moment. Not an easy thing to do I’ll grant you but we are up for that challenge.

There is an age limit on the park we have chosen, residents must be at least fifty five. Gill has thoroughly enjoyed having estate agents gently point out to her that it is unlikely that we would qualify. I couldn’t help but notice that they were always looking at her when they broke this news. Of course I am more than qualified already but Gill will have to wait until the New Year to fit the rules. I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be blogging material in life on a residential mobile park, watch this space as they say. That will be a 35′ x 12′ space to be precise. Still, bigger than a tent eh?

A narrow escape?

First of all, apologies for the complete lack of blogging over the last few weeks and thank you to those of you who noticed my absence. (Both of you) I’m very flattered.

The plain truth is, I haven’t had much to write about and even less motivation to try. I think that despite having found work and a nice place to live, we are both still a bit down in the dumps, wondering where the next adventure will come from and when. Life has become too routine in precisely the way that I promised myself it wouldn’t following our big trip last year. You know that feeling when you leave the house and you just know that something isn’t quite right but you don’t know what. Then half an hour later you get to work and find that you’ve left your phone at home. Well it’s a bit like that but on a bigger scale. Like we are getting things sorted but there is some undefined element that is missing. Yesterday however, I think we may have made some progress in finding that missing link. If was a funny sort of day all round really. We only had plans to go for a gentle walk but all the best plans end up in tatters don’t they?

We started by making an offer on a static home on a residential park close to where we live. Five hours later the offer was rejected but what happened in between was amazing. We sailed somebody else’s narrow boat down a canal, made two new friends, viewed another boat that was for sale and considered living on it and finally drove home with our heads whirling and the possibility of a whole new life ahead of us. Let me explain.

Lovely day for a stroll

Lovely day for a stroll

One of the consequences of having so much freedom last year is that we are both finding it rather difficult to settle back down. We don’t want to go off and do the same or similar type of trip again, at least not at the moment, but at the same time we find ourselves doing a lot of foot scratching. (No it’s not a fungal infection, just a bit of wanderlust.) My job working for The Canal and River Trust as a fund raiser has brought me into contact with a lot of people who live on board narrow boats and I think I may have infected Gill with my enthusiasm for the lifestyle. We have been doing a lot of walking on the tow paths and narrow boat envy doesn’t take long to take hold. Some of them are just beautiful. At about the same time we have been considering our financial future, retirement and what we want from the remainder of whatever allotted time we have left. With this in mind when a cheap property came up for sale on a local residential park we started to consider the possibility of getting out of rented accommodation and taking a big step towards making work optional rather than essential. Ok, it wasn’t a boat and nor was it on a canal but it was cheap and it was narrow, so it kind of fitted the bill.

After putting in a cheeky offer on the property we went off to take a stroll along the Leeds Liverpool canal on what turned out to be a glorious sunny day but not quite as forecast. A couple of miles down the tow path we came across Carol, sitting in the sun, alongside a narrow boat and looking more chilled than a frozen chilli. It turned out that Carol and her partner Roy had sold their house last year, bought the boat and moved onto it and had been in a state of euphoric relaxation ever since. We found ourselves pouring out our life stories, desires and dreams to each other and before we knew it we were sailing down the canal towards Parbold, our original walking destination. We had a good look around the boat, had a go at sailing it without going aground or destroying any other boats, spotted a kingfisher and generally fell in love with the whole business. After saying goodbye to our new found friends we began the walk back to Burscough unexpectedly discussing chemical toilets and boat licences. A phone call from the estate agent shattered the park home dream for now but by then it was only one option and we were already moving on to other possibilities.

Saying goodbye to our new friends Carol and Roy

Saying goodbye to our new friends Carol and Roy

Earlier in the walk we had passed a boat that was for sale and after our brief but wildly successful careers as skippers we now looked on it in a completely different light. The owner kindly showed us round and in our imaginations we were already managing locks, fishing for our supper and toasting the moon reflected in the perfect mirror of a midnight canal.

Seems like we might be at a cross roads

Seems like we might be at a cross roads

All of a sudden it feels like the rut we were in danger of getting stuck in is full of opening doors. Over the last forty eight hours we have discussed other park homes, motor homes and narrow boats. Maybe we are trying to find a compromise somewhere between the tent and a house, I don’t know. Whatever the motivation it’s exciting to experience all these potential options opening up before us like a glorious flower blooming. I do believe that we are heading for our next adventure. We might not know what it will be yet but there is a tangible feeling of it’s inevitability. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. It might be the daylight at the end of rather dull period or it may be the light of a narrow boat coming towards us. It’s the not knowing that makes it exciting.

image_pdfimage_print