I’ve just watched the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of my small Somerset town, before it wends its way up towards the city of Bath and then on to Bristol. This gives me ample choices of places to write about, as I’ve set stories in Somerset villages, in Bradford on Avon, Bath and Bristol. Today, however, I’m going to write about the place dearest to my heart: the Kennet and Avon canal near Bath.
I lived on this stretch of canal in a narrowboat for two years, and it forms the backdrop to my first novel, Barging In. It’s a place of incredible contrasts. There are huge, Georgian houses with their well-kept gardens bordering the canal, tiny cottages with their front doors opening onto the towpath, and boats belonging to the rich and the poor. Where else could you see a luxury weekend boat moored up next to a dangerously listing rustbucket with mossy windows?
I fell in love with the canal the very first time I took a walk along there. The scenery is incredible. If you start out at the locks in Bath you get to walk through Sydney Gardens, where huge trees hang low over the waters. The canal is quiet and sleepy here, the waters dark green and mysterious. As you head out of Bath the buildings fall away and you get to open countryside. There’s a huge tree stump with bicycles stuck in the top—some kind of outsider art statement—and many small fields of goats and horses. There are stone bridges and little scraps of woodland, some of which are homes to men living in makeshift “benders”—the rural homeless.
As you head further out past the genteel village of Bathampton, you find yourself in the Limpley Stoke valley. This really does feel like rural isolation. Herons and kingfishers fly low over the water, sheep graze in the fields, and at the bottom of the valley flows the river Avon. There’s a beautiful spot for river swimming by Warleigh Weir, and then the majesty of the Dundas Aqueduct that carries the canal over the river and the railway lines.
But for me, the very best thing about the canal has to be the boats. I’m fascinated by them. Before I lived on one myself I used to try to surreptitiously peer into the windows, wondering how people could fit their lives onto such a small space. These days I confine my peering to the outside of people’s boats, but there’s still a huge amount to see. When space is at a premium you end up piling your possessions everywhere you can, and most boaters love to customise the outside of their boats.
As Dan neared civilisation, the canal became much more crowded. Admittedly he wasn’t travelling any faster than he could walk, but he’d passed nothing but boats for the last half an hour. It was like a linear city stretched out through the valley, sandwiched between fields of sheep and patches of woodland. There was a conspicuous absence of hire boats, so he couldn’t have reached wherever those tourist moorings were supposed to be.
Dan itched to get shooting but didn’t dare with Tattoo-guy’s words still ringing in his ears. There were so many different styles of boat. He’d assumed they would all be narrowboats, but that was far from the case. There were ones that looked about double the width—too wide for the canal really, so he had to concentrate on his steering when passing them. There were tall boats with high wheelhouses in the centre that looked like they’d be more at home bobbing up and down on the ocean. There were small white cruisers that seemed to be made of plastic—they must be the fibreglass ones. Dan took extra care when chugging past those, dropping his speed from walking to crawling. But even more surprising than the variety of styles of boat was the range of conditions they were in. Boats that gleamed with fresh paint and polished portholes were moored up next to rust-buckets that looked like they should be sunk to put them out of their misery.
Writing this novel gave me a chance to really explore the geography of the canal and river around Bath, as well as give a glimpse of what living on board a narrowboat is really like. If you ever get a chance to visit Bath, do take a few hours away from the hustle of the Georgian city and take a walk along the canal – you won’t regret it!
When the boat’s a rockin’, don’t come knockin’!
Out-and-proud travel writer Dan Taylor can’t steer a boat to save his life, but that doesn’t stop him from accepting an assignment to write up a narrowboat holiday. Instead of a change of pace from city life, though, the canal seems dull as ditchwater. Until he crashes into the boat of a half-naked, tattooed, pierced man whose rugged, penniless appearance is at odds with a posh accent.
Still smarting from past betrayal, Robin Hamilton’s “closet” is his narrowboat, his refuge from outrageous, provocative men like Dan. Yet he can’t seem to stop himself from rescuing the hopelessly out-of-place city boy from one scrape after another. Until he finds himself giving in to reluctant attraction, even considering a brief, harmless fling.
After all, in less than a week, Dan’s going back to his London diet of casual hook-ups and friends with benefits.
Determined not to fall in love, both men dive into one week of indulgence…only to find themselves drawn deep into an undertow of escalating intimacy and emotional intensity. Troubled waters neither of them expected…or wanted.
Contains one lovable tart, one posh boy gone feral, rough sex, alfresco sex, vile strawberry flavoured condoms, intimate body piercings, red thermal long-johns, erotic woodchopping, an errant cat, a few colourful characters you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, and plenty of messing about on the river.