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Local News

Sheffield’s close-knit canal boating community nestled amongst high rises and busy roads


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There are a number of towns and cities across the UK – and beyond – that I associate with canal boating.

Sheffield is not one of them.

Despite this, on a grey and rainy Thursday afternoon I headed down to the city’s Victoria Quays to talk to locals about life on the canal, and found that Sheffield is far better known in the boating world than I could have imagined.

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I will admit that my knowledge about canals is certainly nothing to write home about; though living on a canal boat (if only for a short time) is on my bucket list, and I have been known to enjoy the odd episode of Great Canal Journeys with Prunella Scales and Timothy West.

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There is something quaint and romantic about the notion of drifting down a quiet canal, watching the dragonflies darting around you and the birds soaring overhead, à la Wind in the Willows.

To this end, Victoria Quays was very different indeed – it is smack bang in the middle of a city, for one and, as such, was a little more busy and bustling than my romanticised riverside scene.

But, I was told, what it lacks in serenity Victoria Quays makes up for in community.

“I think everyone looks out for each other here, especially where we have our boat – we have a great community there and we’re all really good friends”, said Simon Stevenson, who has been living at the Quays with his husband for the last 12 years.

Simon and his husband, Richard Henderson, own The Dorothy Pax which is a well-known canal-side bar, serving up food and drink, alongside live music a couple of days a week.

The bar is popular with locals but also those who live further afield and it is not just boaters that have made it their local watering hole, as there are lots of people living in nearby flats and houses, too.

Pictured is a view of the Victoria Quays with high-rise buildings in the background
Victoria Quays is in the city centre, surrounded by high-rises

Simon and Richard had been trying to buy a house when they decided to make the switch to living on a boat, as they were finding that they kept getting outbid on house sales in Sheffield.

Simon, 43, said: “It’s kind of the same as renting a flat I’d say, though we did have a mortgage on the boat at first but we’ve paid all that off.

“I think we’re now sold on boat-life, but it’s much better if you’re retired and you have the time to move it around as much as you want to, because otherwise you’re obviously tied to working.”

For Simon and Richard, most of their holidays are spent on the canals – enjoying the opportunity to take their home out on the open water and see some different parts of the country.

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“We went to the Canary Islands and we’ve been to Cornwall, but then everything else has been boating holidays so it pretty much dictates what you’re going to do with your free time”, Simon said.

And it was not easy to adjust to life on the boat either, especially given that the couple’s first winter was “freezing” which made it a tough learning curve, with having to figure out how to sort batteries and needing to go out in the cold to empty the chemical toilet.

But Simon and Richard would not change it for the world, as Simon explains: “I love Sheffield and, for me, living on the boat is like…well, for other people buying a boat when you retire is the dream and we’ve had some great times.”

Surprisingly, Sheffield is known as a quiet canal – despite being an inner-city mooring spot.

Pictured is a canal boat in Victoria Quays
Victoria Quays is looked after by the Canal and River Trust

“It’s quiet compared to a lot of places”, said John Hallam, an engineer who was working on a friend’s boat when I stopped to chat to him.

John has worked on canals up and down the country, but has been to Sheffield a few times and said that he thinks it is one of the quieter canals with a good sense of community.

Pictured is John Hallam, an engineer who works on canal boats
John Hallam is an engineer who has worked on canal boats up and down the country

He said: “This area is a nice stop, I do like it. It’s like in cities, you get nice areas and the not so nice areas and it’s like that in the boat world as well.

“There’s a massive community in the boating world generally, your parents maybe used to say ‘we could leave our doors open on the street back in the day’ and my theory is that all those people from that era have left their house and bought a boat.”

Though John, 34, has been working on canal boats for years he tells me that he would never want to live in one – he is too attached to his on-land home.

But he gets the best of both worlds, being able to enjoy working on some of the country’s wonderful canals and know that he has a warm, dry home to return to – with no emergency waterside repairs necessary.

Would you ever trade in life on land to buy a boat? Let us know in the comments!

Written by: Rother Radio News

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