The secret tenant finds out whether canal-living floats his boat

Tim Lowe enjoys life on a Hackney canal boat at only £350 a month. But it's not winter yet...
Click to follow

THE RULES OF THE GAME: Tim Lowe, a 26-year-old graduate property surveyor, is testing budget rental options in Zone 2 for young Londoners. He changes home every three weeks and his rent — all in — must be no more than £500 a month. So far, he has lived above a Kwik-Fit garage and at The Camden Collective. Now he walks on water — aboard a Hackney houseboat.



From glorious evenings spent cruising along the towpath on my bike, to waking up in the middle of the night to find our boat has come loose of its mooring and is drifting down the canal crashing into anything in its way, on-board living is proving eventful to say the least.

For the latest in my Lowe Cost Living series — to find options for renters to live in Zone 2 for under £500 a month all in — I've taken to east London's extensive canal network in search of a bargain.

I got on my bike and travelled along Regent's Canal knocking on houseboat cabin doors to see if anyone would have me. Fortunately it wasn't long until I was lucky enough to meet Dave, a canal boat owner who had moored up along Victoria Park in Hackney.

Priced out of the housing market he decided to purchase his very own floating home. After doing some research, Dave opted for a widebeam, which is similar in length to the common narrow boat but double the width, giving him 500 square feet to play with — the added advantage being that he could create an extra bedroom to rent out.

Widebeams are surprisingly cheap to buy. A brand-new hull and engine will set you back around £40,000, and a further £20,000 to fully furnish it. On paper, this is a genuinely affordable option to buying your own home. Rather than paying £8,000 in rent each year to a landlord and not seeing any return, Dave will be able to pay off the cost of his boat in less than six years and have an investment which will keep most of its value.

But what about the mooring costs? There are two types of moorings you can go for. A fixed mooring will guarantee you a permanent spot in a prime part of London, with electricity and water on tap. However, not only are these very difficult to get your hands on, they will set you back many thousands of pounds a year.

The affordable alternative is to go for a roaming mooring. This entitles you to stay in one spot along the canal for a maximum of two weeks at a time before having to move along a minimum of about 550 yards in either direction, or pay a fine. The system is controlled by the Canal & River Trust and ensures that the waterways are kept unclogged.

As part of my rent, which sets me back £350 for the month, I've agreed to help Dave with the renovation of his boat. Task number one is to create my own room at the bow. After a couple of late evenings, we manage to put in some partitioning and, after much trial and error, two fully functioning doors.

With running water yet to be installed, shower time consists of mixing a kettleful of hot water with cold water that we have collected from one of the water points along the canal. It is quite a challenge, sitting in an empty bathtub — which has yet to be plumbed in — with one bucket of water for everything. Thank goodness it isn't winter. Once finished, with no plughole, the bath has to be emptied. I must admit to a slight sense of humour failure when Dave breaks the cord on the generator, our main source of power, knocking out the kettle and leaving me to have cold bucket showers by candlelight. At this point, canal living isn't so idyllic.

Overall though, the positives outweigh the negatives. It is hard to pick a particular highlight — cycling along one of the most colourful stretches of canal to work each morning, and arriving back after a long day in the office to go for a sunset cruise to the pub are major contenders. My time on the boat is also giving me a sense of community with others living on the waterways, something which increasingly seems lacking in many areas of London life. But before I get ahead of myself, I would repeat that it isn't winter, which everyone tells me can be tough going on the canal.

Next up, I will be staying in the wonderfully named Y-Cube, a flat pack home developed by the YMCA which has been earmarked as a serious contender for providing affordable living in London.

An original version of this piece appeared in Estates Gazette. To follow Tim's progress visit Follow him on Twitter @lowecostliving, Estates Gazette @estatesgazette or Knight Frank @knightfrank. 



Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty, Facebook and Instagram