Our canals and rivers have a way of bringing people together, uniting communities and forging lasting friendships. For Steff and Thomas, their connection to the water helped them find love. Here they share their story to bring us some Valentine’s Day cheer.
When they met, Steff and Thomas were working on London's canals. Steff as chef and crew on an hotel boat, ‘Tranquil Rose', Thomas on a coal boat, ‘Ash', delivering coal, gas and kindling to liveaboard boaters in London. Their paths crossed in 2014 at Canalway Cavalcade, London's largest waterways festival.
Steff takes up the story: “We'd moored up on our pitch just as the working boats were coming past. I saw Tom on his boat; the sun was bouncing off him and he just had this huge smile.” Later that day, Steff introduced herself. They exchanged numbers and arranged to meet. “On the Tuesday ‘Tranquil Rose' had to leave,” Steff tells us, “so we had our first official date in Ware, further up the River Lea.”
Ships in the night
Things got off to an inauspicious start. Thomas was delayed at work and was several hours late for their date. Steff was philosophical. “If you're in a rush, you're in the wrong place on the water,” she tells us. When Thomas finally arrived, things went well. The evening culminated in a moonlit stroll along the riverbank. “In Ware, they've got these houses that overhang the river,” Steff recalls. “They're quite a spectacle.”
They met up several times over the next few weeks. “I certainly had feelings for her by then,” Thomas tells us. Steff, though, was still unsure. “I worked every summer and in the off-season, I'd go home to Plymouth,” she says. “I wasn't looking for the love of my life on the waterways of London.” All that changed a few weeks later, when Thomas surprised her at work. As Steff explains: “Tom turned up with a beautiful big bouquet of flowers. I realised then that I'd completely fallen for him.”
After that, things moved quickly. Within a few months, they were living together on Thomas's narrowboat and they'd adopted two dogs. They've been together ever since.
Tying the knot
Six years on, Steff and Thomas are happily engaged and expecting their first child. Sadly, they're no longer living on the water. “We continually cruised for two years up and down West London,” Thomas says. “Then, in 2016 we moved onto Engineer's Wharf in Northolt.” Several years later, they took the tough decision to move back onto dry land. They now live in a house in High Wycombe. As Thomas explains, “We were living on a 50-foot narrowboat in the middle of never-ending renovations. So actually, we only had about 30 feet of living space for us and our two dogs … It just wasn't practical.”
The couple still have a strong connection with London's canals and rivers. Steff and Thomas still work occasional shifts on ‘Tranquil Rose'. They have plenty of friends in the boating community and they still regularly attend Canalway Cavalcade, where their journey together began all those years ago.
So, will they ever return to their life on the water? “That's the dream,” says Thomas. “Buy a widebeam or a Dutch barge and go across the channel, cruise the European canals and waterways.” For now, the couple are eagerly awaiting their new arrival and looking forward to the next chapter in their lives.