Photo Friday: Narrowboats at King’s Cross

King’s Cross, London; December 2008


There are many ways the Old World is different to the New and it’s not all about buildings and antiques. One of the less obvious ways is the canals. Sure you get canals in the New World but not to this extent. England is literally criss-crossed with canals, most of which were built during the Industrial Revolution but fell out of favour as an important transport network midway through the 20th century.

Sometimes the canals are home to ducks and geese and fringed with trees and flowers. It’s pleasant to run or walk or cycle along the canal towpath near Regent’s Park, for example. Other times they are grim urban wastelands filled with scum and abandoned shopping trolleys. Birmingham likes to boast that it has more canals than Venice but it’s hard to escape the feeling this is missing the point somewhat. The Birmingham canals aren’t that bad but Venice it aint.

One thing the canals do have going for them are the narrowboats. Okay so they’re not gondolas but they are still pretty cool. These colourful long house boats can light up even the most grimly modernist parts of the city – such as this otherwise not terribly attractive part of King’s Cross. The photograph is technically nothing special but I quite like the contrast of the quaint colourful boats and the ugly modernist architecture and grey canal water. This is actually the view from the lunch room at the new Guardian building.

I never think of people actually living on these boats but of course they do, and I met a couple of narrowboat dwellers at a BookCrossing meetup this month. There are two ways to do it, apparently. You either have a permanent mooring and have to pay rent, or you can have continuous travel where you have temporary moorings, which is cheaper but less luxurious.

Oh and by the way, don’t make the same mistake I did and refer to them as longboats. Longboats are a type of row boat that used to be kept aboard a sailing ship. And longships are what the Vikings sailed.

This post is part of Photo Friday, a weekly blogging event hosted by Debbie of Delicious Baby. Please check out all this week’s submissions.

Please see my posts on Chinese food and my move to San Francisco for your chance to win books.

Related posts:


  1. “Venice it ain’t” but those boats are still pretty cool! I’ve always wanted to do a canal boat holiday and go exploring the countryside at a leisurely pace stopping in at little villages along the way.

  2. hi.. i love that. i like boats. photo is good. thanks for shraing.

  3. Nearly right, Caitlin :-)
    Vikings had ‘longships’, not ‘long boats’.

    English-style canal boats used to be called ‘narrow boats’ (two words) but are now usually called ‘narrowboats’ (one word), presumably because in the age of google that defines them in a search more precisely. ‘Narrow boats’ pops up as a term for all sorts of things, like canoes.

    Their 7′ width differentiates them from ‘barges’, which are usually double the width.

    Good to have readers to keep me on my toes! The great thing about the internet is you’re never wrong for long.

    The dictionary lists both ‘narrow boat’ and ‘narrowboat’ as correct but you have a good point that ‘narrowboat’ may be more searchable on Google!

    You are correct about longships. Longboats were something else again… I’ll amend this in the copy. – Caitlin.

  4. What an interesting way to live/travel. I also love all of the contrasts in this image…modern/old, monochromatic/pops of color…nicely captured in words and picture.

  5. Really lovely photo of these long, I mean narrow boats. And thanks for sharing the information behind them!

  6. Those boats look a little ingongruous in such an urban setting – there are many that are lived on in the centre of Bristol and they’re very cosy and convenient

  7. I was so surprised when I learned that London had canals! I had no idea it did until I spent a month there in 2003. I love the way the boats are the most colorful part of the photo.

  8. I remember seeing these boats when I lived in London but never took a ride on them. I kind of regret it now, you know you try to save a few cents while you’re traveling, and then when you’re home you regret it. Not that I say, splurge and spend everything, but somethign like this could’ve been done:)

    Photo Friday – Guatemala Zoo will surprise you!

  9. We saw these when we were in London, quite by accident. Lovely surprise. I actually read about a family that toured all over Europe on one of these boats for years and we considered it.

    Fun way to travel!

  10. Capturing these two ends of the spectrum in a single image is so interesting. I’m fixated on the colors and shape of the boats.

    Lorraine’s last blog post..The Rocky Seashore

  11. I don’t recall seeing many canals around this region of the U.S., although visiting the Cuyahoga Valley National Park northern Ohio you can see some vestiges of the Ohio and Erie Canal (so important in opening up the Midwest to the eastern U.S. during the early 1800s) and walk or ride your bicycle along the Towpath Trail there. Nothing like your canals in England, though.
    I love the way the boats and buildings line up in your picture…looking very orderly and all.

    Dominique’s last blog post..Photo Friday

  12. Living on a narrow boat at Ice Wharf moorings in Albert Dock at Battle Bridge basin Kings Cross is fun, cool, inexpensive for London central for travel, and does has it’s upsides at the weekend when you can take the ‘house’ out for a spin.

    Down side – the Guardian built a monstrosity of a building at Kings Place across the basin blocking our sunshine, not too bad a down side when you can move your house! Oh and you find lot’s of photos of your home on the internet.


  1. [...] Roaming Tales tells us about the people who live on colourful house boats in the center of London and the artistic past of Detroit, Michigan ~ back during its glory days as [...]

  2. [...] for the colder months. I have to admit to some fascination with these colourful houseboats and this is not the first time I’ve featured them on the [...]