River stories, Suffolk people who live life on the water

PUBLISHED: 03:06 22 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:12 20 February 2013

River stories, Suffolk people who live life on the water

River stories, Suffolk people who live life on the water

Claire Holmes stretches her sea legs as she discovers what life is like for those who spend their time on Suffolk's rivers and waterways

Claire Holmes stretches her sea legs as she discovers what life is like for those who spend their time on Suffolks rivers and waterways

The houseboat dweller

From the peaceful River Stour to the serene banks of the River Orwell, Suffolk is well known for its beautiful waterways. And with such stunning views and calm surroundings, its no wonder that so many in our region choose to spend their days and nights aboard boats.

The Residential Boat Owners Association estimates that around 15,000 people live afloat in Great Britain and Cherrie Stevens, who lives on her houseboat in Woodbridge with her dog Reuben, is one of them.

Walking along the quay at Woodbridge, its easy to see the appeal of this lifestyle.

Seagulls paddle in the mud, mooring ropes creak in the wind and the fresh air although a little bracing brings an invigorating blast of nature.

Cherrie is what youd call a free spirit. Returning last year from 12 years of travelling the world and living in New Zealand, she decided to settle back in Suffolk.

I love Woodbridge and I love living here, she explains, and living on a houseboat is a way I can do this.

Its also about living somewhere different. Having lived abroad for quite a while I didnt want to come back and live like I used to.

For Cherrie, her boat, De Barre, offers opportunities no other house could.

Unlike some of the houseboats, De Barre has an engine, and can be moved whenever Cherrie wants (tide permitting).

Bringing the boat down to its home in Suffolk from where shed bought it in Norfolk was an experience she loved.

It was fabulous, she says. It made me realise that I dont just want the boat to be stuck in the mud here, I want to go places in it.

Eventually I want to be able to take the boat down to the French canals. De Barres made for it shes got great manoeuvrability.

Cherrie loves her houseboat life. I am much more in touch with nature then when Im living in a house. The tide comes in twice a day and with it come the birds waders, ducks, swans and more. Theres always something to see.

Inside, its much bigger than what youd expect something Im sure Cherrie is used to hearing.

There are two bedrooms, a toilet and shower room, a living area and what she describes as a proper kitchen.

Whats amazing is every inch of it has been designed to have a function, she says, showing me a secret cupboard built into the table.

Cherrie is quick to assure that its not all fun and games though. I dont want it to sound too romantic, she says. Its obviously got its upsides, but it is hard work. A house takes a lot of maintenance but a boat can take twice as much work.

Theres the cold to think about too. Having spent the last few years in warmer climates, Cherrie admits shes struggled with this winters temperatures. So much so in fact, she took up a friends offer to stay in her studio over the coldest period.

Talking about her neighbours, Cherrie says: When you live in a boat you live in a community, she explains. Theres always someone to help you if you need it, and youre not embarrassed to ask because youd be there for them.

People do things for you, and you do it for them. Theres a real feeling of camaraderie here.

The two boat family

Another person who shares Cherries love of Woodbridge is author Julia Jones.

Julia and her partner Francis Wheen have two boats moored on the River Deben: Peter Duck, a sailing boat built for the writer Arthur Ransome, and Goldenray, an old motor fishing vessel which is now a houseboat.

One of the main reasons we have Goldenray is that we love Woodbridge and we love going there, Julia says.

The family visit Woodbridge frequently Julias mum lives in the town and the couple often need to carry out maintenance on Peter Duck.

Its therefore very convenient for the pair to have a place in Woodbridge where they can stay the night.

Julia has always been interested in boats. Her father used to own a yacht agency in Woodbridge (now an Indian takeaway that Francis frequents) and Peter Duck has been in the family since Julia was three.

This has obviously inspired her in her work her last two books have been Suffolk-based sailing adventures called A Salt-Stained Book and A Revelled Flag.

While Peter Duck is Julias passion, Goldenray is really Franciss boat.

He uses the boat as a place to work and concentrate, and finds it easy for when he needs to commute to London, where he works at Private Eye.

Although the couple live in Essex, Woodbridge is very much a hub for the family. And, for Francis and Julia, as well as their five children and grandchildren, Goldenray is a place for the family to get together.

Goldenray is turning out to be a family boat in all sorts of ways, Julia explains.

In fact, what Goldenray is doing is being a focus for four generations of a family from the youngest grandchild who is only a few months old to my Mum who is 88.

Everyone gets something different from it, she adds.

When you walk across that gangplank, off the land and on to the water or mud you are instantly in a different environment.

Its lovely.

The adventurers

Its not just people with houseboats that come to recognise their boat as a sort of home.

Jan and Richard Cowley, who live near Bury St Edmunds, bought their sailing boat, Rosalyn, about three years ago.

She is moored at Ipswich marina, in a quiet spot near other like-minded boat owners. With grown-up children back at the house, Jan and Richard find the marina a relaxing and welcoming haven.

Its nice to have a quiet escape, Jan laughs.

Lifes a lot slower when youre here, she adds. Its like turning the clock back its like the community in a small village a long time ago.

Jan and Richard spend time sailing around the Suffolk waters in their boat and enjoy having weekends away in Norfolk or down the south coast.

It seems theyll be having plenty of adventures in Rosalyn in the coming year too.

The couple are planning to sail down to the Med next month and spend six months exploring the region.

Were both adventurous in different ways, Jan explains. If its mad and outdoors, one of us will have done it.

As they prepare for the trip, Richard and Jan have been spending more and more time on their boat, sleeping there about three nights a week.

With this change in their life, both Richard and Jan have come to view the space in a different way. They no longer refer to their house as their home, instead their boat has taken on this title.

Richard sums up the appeal of Rosalyn in two words: Its alive, he says. When were in the house we miss the liveliness of her.

With our boat we can go anywhere we want, whenever we want and we can take our home with us.

Richard is the more experienced sailor of the two, and loves the challenge of sailing.

For Jan, on the other hand, sailing is about travelling, and she enjoys reaching the destination.

Its like saying do you enjoy the travelling to your holiday, or the holiday itself? For me, the sailing is a journey, she explains.

Saying that though, sailing at night can be one of the most beautiful things. When its calm, you get a completely different perspective on the world.

You see these twinkly little lights miles away and its hours before they materialise into anything.

When its like that the time slows down, Richard adds. Youre living, but youre moving at the same time.

In Suffolk being on a boat is as much about earning a living as it is about enjoying the surroundings.

From the ferryman in Old Felixstowe to the fishermen that head out to sea from Orford, many of our coastal towns and villages have business links with the water.

The fisherman

Bill Pinney, who runs Pinneys of Orford, has been fishing ever since he was young and relies strongly on the waters for his business.

His father, Richard, launched the smokehouse and restaurant in the 1960s after restoring the derelict oyster beds in Butley Creek.

The fishermen who work for Pinneys get some of their fish from the River Ore and Alde but head mainly to the sea to bring home their catch of fish, which includes cod, skate, soles, bass, crabs, lobsters, herring and sprats.

I started doing it as a boy and Ive been doing it for a long time, Bill said, when I asked him how he became interested in fishing. Its just in my blood and its what I like doing.

Although Bill says he has started to spend less time on the water, and describes himself as first reserve on the boats, its obvious that the Suffolk waters are still a big part of his life.

If I dont go out for a long time and then I go, I remember what Ive been missing out on, he explains.

When youre out there you enjoy the challenge and the freedom.

Try on the water for yourself

If you want to experience life on a houseboat for yourself, youre in luck.

Chris and Tracey Wright from Chelmondiston bought their houseboat, the Yare, about three years ago and decided to start letting it out to visitors.

I think its been popular because its something so different. A lot of our guests come from London and if theyre looking for a weekend break its a completely different environment, Tracey explains.

The boat sits on its own on a southern stretch of riverbank in Pin Mill, just ten minutes from the hamlet.

According to Tracey, the boat has sat where it does now since the 1960s and previously belonged to a local artist.

The boat has an interesting history and is currently on the national historic ships register. It was built in 1871 and was one of the last of the barges to carry supplies up and down the River Gipping.

For Tracey, Pin Mill is full of charm and delight. A lot of walkers, artists and wildlife enthusiasts stay on the boat and love the opportunities the area provides.

I like the sense of community down here. We walk down there a lot and you always see someone you know, she adds.

When its not in use we go and spend time down there the kids love it.

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