We've lived aboard for 28 years and I work as a blacksmith artist from my forge on our tugboat Bronte. It's not the most lucrative, but it's definitely the best way of life... you're out in nature travelling around in freedom, and just being outside is amazing. It's a lifestyle rather than anything, but we make enough to live. I think we've been very lucky.
I've been a blacksmith most of my life, and my dad was too. I decided to build Bronte from sheets of steel and set up my own forge on board after I was made redundant during the recession of the 1980s.
Setting up my forge on a canal boat seemed right for me since the canals in Yorkshire have always been part of my life - I was born practically on the towpath because the house I grew up in had the embankment of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal as its back wall!
Our children grew up on the boat and we lived on the Kennet & Avon Canal when they were little so they could go to the local school there. They loved the boat lifestyle, they didn’t know any different, it was just their home! One year they got a dinghy off Father Christmas. I hid it down the Coal Canal next to someone's boat and then rowed it out on Christmas Eve after they'd gone to bed. In the morning we said, "Go and have a look outside!". The kids have left home now, so we sold it a few years ago and they’re still a bit sad about that.
I work in the forge every day, and sell to passers-by on the towpath. Some of my art sells from our website and we travel to some of the boat festivals. My wife updates where we're going to be on our Facebook page. The challenge for my best designs is to be both beautiful and practical. I think the wine holder is probably our best seller at the moment!
The thing I most love about being a blacksmith artist is the instant few seconds of the process when I have to work with the hot metal to get it right. I do pre-plan the design, but then it’s almost as if the metal tells you where to go with it. My style is to go with the metal, and not force it beyond its natural limits. My candlestick design bends and flows in a way that seems a bit like the meandering of the canal near Skipton.
We'll never leave the boat to live in a house. I’d miss the freedom! The lifestyle is good for you, it's grounding and slows you down. Everybody seems envious wherever we go!
Brian, Jane & Gershwin (the dog!), Wrenbury, Llangollen Canal
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