Canal Knowledge: life on the urban waterfront

We love the Regent’s Canal here at Gasholder – and in this new weekly series we meet different folk who’ve made their home afloat

Craig Wilmott: ''
Craig Wilmott: ‘This is a city you can lose yourself in if you don’t keep wits about you.’ All photos: © Dan Hall

#1. Craig Wilmott, craft beer merchant

How did you come to live on a boat?
Five years ago I moved here from Australia. I’ve been on this canal boat, belonging to a friend of mine, for about six months. While he’s away, I look after it for him, and as I work at independent craft beer delivery specialists Honest Brew, it suits me.

Where do you like to moor up?
Mostly over in Hackney Wick, but sometimes in King’s Cross, if there’s space.

Bikes on roof, the railway line behind.
Bikes on roof, the railway line behind. Photo DH

Talk us through a typical day.
If I’m on the move, I’ll get up pretty early, and make sure I’ve enough water, which goes into a massive tank underneath. I’ll check that I’ve got plenty of diesel to keep going, and ensure the rudder is nice and clear, as rubbish gets stuck on it. We use smoke-less coal in the burner, and so really it’s a case of just having to organize yourself – there are barges that go up and down, for example, selling gas and coal.

A more gruesome detail is that you have to empty out the toilet every now and then when it gets quite full – that’s another little trial that people don’t think about when they look at the idyllic life of a canal boat.


Cup of tea in Camley Street wharf. Photo
Cup of tea, Camley Street wharf: Photo DH

How many does your boat sleep?
This is a standard length which fits snugly into the locks. There’s just one bedroom, with a little space you can fold out, like a sofa bed, so four can sleep here with a squeeze.

Is there a genuine community on the water?
Some people I see regularly, like those on the coal barges who are always good for a laugh and a chat; others are more cagey if they’ve been living on the canals for a lot longer than myself. They might see me as encroaching on their life, since more and more people are afloat with fewer mooring spaces. The Canal and River Trust are putting pressure on continuous cruisers like myself to keep moving longer distances, and stay less time in certain places.

Craig Wilmott:
Craig Wilmott: ‘It’s really a way to calm things down a bit’. Photo: DH

How hard is it to find a permanent mooring?
Very. And it’s expensive. If you’re renting a mooring it can be well over £1K a month in Little Venice or King’s Cross. In fact, a home mooring almost triples the price of a boat.

Finally, what do you like most about canal life?
Seeing London from a different perspective that you wouldn’t get if you didn’t live on a boat. Cruising down the water and enjoying a slower sort of pace: this is a city you can lose yourself in if you don’t keep wits about you. It’s really a way to calm things down a bit.

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Find out more about Craig and his work at Honest Brew here . Next week: meet the hardy lass who steered her vessel 300 miles along the canals to set up a floating business in King’s Cross.

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