Join our Adventures

One family, one narrowboat and one great big adventure.

Join us as we adventure throughout the canals and rivers of the UK as a family on Bluebell our narrowboat and home.

by Bike & Boat

Where we are now

We are currently moored on the Llangollen Canal

It's just so lovely here by the water. Why not have a day trip and pop and say hello and have a natter and a catch up on the towpath with the crew in person?

Why we're on an adventure

The following piece we wrote for Canal Boat (July 2021) magazing which they have very kindly allowed us to place here. We think that it covers why were are outon this big adventure. Hope you enjoy it! 

I am not a great believer in fate but, as I immerse myself in this life afloat, it’s becoming harder to deny that this life was always meant to be for us. 

Four years ago, my wife, Jackie, decided that she fancied living on a narrowboat. (We had just had our second child, Fleur, and our son, Bobby, was six.) Although it sounded a bit rash, I was all ears. You see, I had fancied treading an alternative path for many years, but I thought Jackie was a fan of the conventional way of life. (Little did I know!)

Thirty minutes later, we were walking alongside the canal in Wolvercote on the Southern part of the Oxford Canal and later that afternoon we visited Thrupp (a bit further up). By the end of that day, the idea of living aboard full time had consumed us – all we needed now was a boat … 

We had plenty of options but decided to head to one of the big brokerages to have a look around. Jackie had not ever actually been on a narrowboat and the last time I went on one was when I was seven, for a school chum’s birthday.  But it just felt right, so we followed our hearts. 

We looked for weeks but found nothing that suited us as a family. We were advised that “you’ll know when you’ve found the right boat – it will just feel right” (or words to that effect). 

We sat down as a family and decided what we wanted in a boat: the seating area at the front, then the galley, a twin cabin or a single that could easily be converted into a twin, then the bathroom and a double at the back. We also wanted a trad stern which was 60 ft or thereabouts. 

Then (fickle, I know) it came down to the name. You see, we had seen some lovely boats, but some of the names put us off. (We didn’t realise then, how easy it was to change a boat name.) We settled on Bluebell, as one of our favourite places to visit is the bluebell wood at Badbury Clump near Faringdon in Oxfordshire. 

The next morning, I had an email from the brokerage about a 60 ft RW Davis trad stern narrowboat with the exact layout we wanted, and  – wait for it – it was called Bluebell

As soon as we set eyes on Bluebell, we felt different. We knew within moments that this was it: we had found our new home. We spent what seemed like an hour (but was actually much longer) looking over her, inside and out – we were in love! 

On 18th May 2017, we took the keys to our new home and set a course for Oxford. 

We had a few good years on Bluebell before the need to move on overwhelmed us. We wanted more for her than to be a floating flat with occasional holidays – we wanted to embrace a more nomadic way of life and become part of the canals, their history, culture and their community. 

When the first lockdown ended, we took one of our short cruises from Oxford to Warwick. But this one, instead of being just the average trip, became a turning point...

It was winding day – the day when the whole crew felt glum as we had to turn the boat and head back.  We all wanted to continue north, to follow our hearts, to go on a proper adventure,  a coddiwomple— But no, my work kept us tied to Oxford. 

We winded just below the Hatton Flight by the entrance to the Saltisford Arm and headed to the water point by the Cape of Good Hope to fill up. In the distance, I could see a chap in his late twenties, cycling towards me. He yelled over the chug of Bluebell’s engine, “Excuse me, mate, is this the way to Wales?” 

As a keen cyclist, I needed to know this guy’s story. It turned out that, like us, he had the urge to live a freer lifestyle for a bit. (Maybe it was lockdown which intensified this feeling for both of us?) We chatted whilst Bluebell’s water tank filled and, when we had finished, we gifted some old maps to him and he went on his way. 

I was well and truly inspired. My mind started racing, thinking about what I could do to earn a living from Bluebell so that we, too, could cruise where our hearts desired and see the country via its inland waterways. 

I thought long and hard that afternoon. Most possibilities were quickly dismissed because of space or financial viability. But that evening fate took another turn. Bobby and I were watching some YouTube videos and YouTube automatically skipped onto the next video: how to make a bracelet from a piece of copper pipe. 

I knew that I had some old copper piping and I started searching online to cobble together a tool kit. Everything was going well until the phone rang … 

It was Mum: "Rich, your Dad is very ill and you need to get home". I cycled from Marston Doles to Banbury to catch a train so that I could get to Bicester, where my folks live. By the time I got there, Dad was very close to the end and, in the early hours of the morning, he slipped away with his family all around him.

I put on a brave face for the others, but inside I fell apart.

Waiting for the train back to Bluebell and the crew, as tears streamed down my face, it dawned on me just how short and precious life is. I vowed there and then not to waste another minute. Our hearts yearned to travel the inland waterways and my job was to figure out how we could quickly make this a reality.

I threw myself into making jewellery, practising at every spare moment. I loved the process of making something beautiful out of something so ordinary and it was great therapy to help me to come to terms with losing my Dad.

Within weeks, I had my first commission and within three months my income from jewellery-making overtook my day job. The adventure could finally begin!

We named our business ‘by Bike and Boat’, as these are the two ways we travel as a family. We are currently in Staffordshire, exploring new waterways, travelling through the summer to Llangollen, Manchester and then Liverpool before heading south for winter. We trade from Bluebell’s back deck a few days a week, depending on where we’ve moored, but most of our orders come via social media. We’ve built up nearly 15,000 followers on Facebook, where our community joins our adventures to see where we’ll be popping up next. 

Oh – and I think I’ve changed my mind on the subject of fate – we just needed to open up and follow our hearts.

Supporting our adventure.

Each and every order that we recieve supports us as a family and allows our adventure to continue. Why not pop over and see our jewelley, find something you love and make us do out new order celebration dance - yes, we really do dance with joy when every order comes through as each one is incredibly exciting for a small family business like ours. 

Find our latest updates on our social media. 

We LOVE sharing our adventures with you in any way we can. We regularly do LIVE Makes and Cruises aboard Narrowboat Bluebell on our social media feeds. 

Have a pop over and see what we've been getting up to!