“DOESN’T it get terribly cold in the winter?” That was my first question to Pamela and Edward Burrell aboard their beautiful old Dutch barge, Angelus, when I went to their mooring at Sunbury to talk to them about living on the river.
They both laughed and Pamela said: “One day we’re going to write a book about our lifestyle and that will have to be the title – it’s the question everyone asks.
“The simple answer is no, it doesn’t. We’ve got a wood-burning stove in here with a back boiler and that keeps it beautifully warm. It also heats the radiators in the fore and after sleeping cabins – it’s really cosy. Sometimes, when we’ve had heavy snow, it acts like a blanket and we actually get too warm.”
I’ve often wondered what the pros and cons of a life permanently afloat might be but Pamela and Edward are quick to emphasize the many positives.
Edward has lived on boats for 36 years and Pamela for 30 and it’s quite clear that they wouldn’t even consider living on land these days.
“I find being in a house quite claustrophobic,” says Edward. “I suppose ours isn’t a traditional houseboat – it’s not just a square box that never moves – because we still have an engine and we take her on trips very regularly. This year we went up to Oxford and then down to Whitstable in Kent. You can’t do that with a normal houseboat.”
Edward has even written a book – A Guide to Motor Barge Handling – to provide advice for other owners. (ISBN 0 9550351 0 4).
Angelus is the oldest Dutch barge on the Thames. She was built in Dordrecht in the Netherlands in 1884 and spent her early years as a trading barge carrying stone and other materials.
When the couple found her on the Grand Union Canal she was a shell but that was exactly what they were looking for.
“Edward completely refitted her,” said Pamela. “We had a smaller Dutch barge – called Hoop op Zegen – before this one and the layout was perfect – we just wanted a similar layout but with extra space for our daughter, Emily, and that’s what we’ve now got.”
Emily, I learned, now 24, was able to swim before she could walk. “I made sure she was going to be able to stay afloat right from the start,” said Pamela.
How did their daughter feel about growing up on the Thames, I wondered. “Strangely, she said to us recently, ‘thanks for bringing me up on a boat’ – she’s even got a plan to buy back our old barge, Hoop op Zegen, one day,” Pamela added.
Edward and Pamela do have what appears to be an idyllic existence. The barge has a permanent mooring just beside the Lower Hampton Road with its own garden, parking and sheds for storage – and they look out over the river towards the reservoirs on the southern bank of the Thames.
“We have lots of friends who own boats,” says Edward, “and it’s lovely having them tie up alongside for a visit. We’ve also had some fantastic family Christmases aboard Angelus – people just love coming to stay.
“Generally, this is a beautiful, tranquil life – it’s very good for your head.”
Having spent even just a short time with Edward and Pamela aboard Angelus, watching a particularly vivid sunset, I can certainly understand where he’s coming from.