where in the UK should we move to?
June 6, 2012 5:44 AM   Subscribe

where in the UK should we move to? looking for a small berkeley/fitzroy with a canal where we can live on a barge :)

Hello hive,

can you please help us choose a place to live in the UK?

My partner and I are talking about spending a few years living in the UK during the northern summer, and back in Australia during the southern summer.

My partner is english, I'm not, but I will have a right to work in the UK.

we have three kids - an almost eighteen year old, a two year old and a four month old.

Our eighteen year old will be off doing his own thing, perhaps in London.

My partner thinks she probably doesn't want to live in London

We're talking about buying a barge to live on, so we're looking for somewhere with a river or a canal.

I'd like to find somewhere where we can moor that has open space nearby where our little kids can play outside.

a mooring spot parallel to the canal, alongside a busy commuter cycle path or walking path along the canal would work well, as we plan to run a business from the barge and morning foot traffic would be good.

As adults we've lived in melbourne: (fitzroy/north, st kilda, carlton + brunswick)
and the bay area (berkeley, san francisco + oakland)

We'd like to be somewhere:
at least politically progressive leaning,
with green space nearby
a university would be good.

any suggestions?
posted by compound eye to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can't just moor up in one location generally on canals, you can only stay in one place for two weeks without a mooring. And if you are looking for a residential mooring, they are difficult to come by regardless of location. Living on a narrowboat will tell you more about the practicalities of your plan.

But, an actual good location is probably Oxford. People live in boats along the Thames, there is a university, lots of green space and I'm sure there are progressive politics somewhere in the city. In a similar vein, Cambridge might also work. I'm not sure that there is otherwise a big overlap between inland waterways and politically progressive areas.
posted by plonkee at 5:59 AM on June 6, 2012

Birmingham has several universities (Birmingham, Aston) and a huge canal network, but I'm not exactly sure how progressive it is.

I have to agree with Oxford, I hear it's fantastic looking at where you've lived previously.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:08 AM on June 6, 2012

Cambridge would fit your criteria (depending on your definition of progressive) and it's pretty close to London. You could try the camboaters email list (I think it is still running) if you want to talk to some people already living there. You do need a mooring permit as plonkee says.
posted by crocomancer at 6:11 AM on June 6, 2012

I would suggest you read Canal Junction quite carefully. The question is less "where should I live?" and much more "where might a single mooring be available?" While canal boats are in good supply, residential moorings are not; Cambridge is idyllic and ticks all your boxes and has a 5 year waiting list.

Generally therefore you would be best advised to buy a canal boat with a mooring. When we were looking at this as an option, the number we had was a minimum of 150K. The better the location (much more so than the boat), the higher the price.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:14 AM on June 6, 2012

Sorry: Canal Junction.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:15 AM on June 6, 2012

Welcome to Birmingham!

We're progressive, we've got good parks in the city, beautiful countryside outside it, our University came up with Project Protium and we've famously got more canals than Venice.

For your business, I'd look into a commercial spot on Brindleyplace (lots of foot traffic from the Sea Life Centre, the National Indoor Arena and the International Convention Centre) and living at Sherborne Wharf (good central location, but more secure than mooring on a public towpath).

Feel free to memail me. I don't live on the canal, but can put you in touch with people here who do.
posted by the latin mouse at 6:20 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Scottish people spend a lot of time arguing about whether they prefer Glasgow or Edinburgh in terms of amenities, culture and politics. Happily a canal links the two cities so you could moor in Edinburgh or Glasgow - whichever you prefer: both do well on your "universities" or "green space" criteria. Since Scotland has a 10th of the population of England moorings might be a little easier to find.

I know you mention the UK - but don't overlook continental Europe. You could consider a city like Strasbourg or Amsterdam for example. One major advantages is that continental barges tend to be wider than their British cousins - hence a little easier to live on.
posted by rongorongo at 8:52 AM on June 6, 2012

Oxford and Cambridge strike me as more establishment than progressive - at least, in terms of student life. (A working-class friend of mine is a research fellow and spent much of his first few years aghast at how classist many people were, and how rude people were to service staff etc.) However, this is my and others' experiences of the university/students, not the town in general, which may be different.

Manchester is a beautiful city with many many canals. Chorlton is hippy/lefty paradise and there's tons of green space. It's also great for kids, there's lots to see and do, and aside from Manchester University there's also the Metropolitan University and it's close to Salford Uni too. From memory there are a lot of cyclists alongside the canal in Castlefield, where there are a lot of moorings.

And similar to Amsterdam, I absolutely loved Utrecht when I visited earlier this year. It's the student city of Holland and the wealth of independent shops there made me think that it would be the perfect place to open the vintage junk/sewing/boardgame shop of my dreams. It's quieter than Amsterdam and it's also the home of the Miffy Museum which, when I visited, made me really wish I had kids to take along.
posted by mippy at 2:57 PM on June 6, 2012

Oxford's probably it, though the Union canal in Edinburgh is definitely a very fine thing too. I've seen a lot more people moored/living on the river and canal in Oxford, though. Both would work; I remember, a few years ago, seeing a bunch of twenty-year-olds on a narrow boat pull in to a mooring on the river at the Port Meadow in Oxford and almost yelp with joy at having found such an amazing place to moor for the night--quiet, green, no buildings visible from the riverbank in any direction, but actually about half an hour's walk from the very centre of town and much less to the nearest shops.

I love both of these canals, and I'm sure the Forth-to-Clyde at Glasgow has some cool bits too (only cycled along it once). The ones in Birmingham are good too, though you'd want to seek the latin mouse's advice--some bits of the network near the city centre are lovely and others considerably less so. Canals also radiate out in all directions from there, for example down to the Severn at Worcester (about 35 miles by canal), which might open up some other possibilities for you.

I know you said you're not that interested in London, but there's always Limehouse Basin, where a friend of mine lived happily on a rented boat for about three years. Living on a canal boat is that bit more bearable if you know that there's a hot shower just on the wharf if you need it. Finally, there's also the Leeds–Liverpool. Between us I think we've opened up almost the whole of Great Britain to your consideration...
posted by lapsangsouchong at 4:15 PM on June 6, 2012

Leamington Spa, on the canal, lots of students from Warwick University live there, currently a Tory seat, but....was Labour not that long ago and has an active lefty, green community and hosts events such as the Peace Festival. Lots of green space not far away.

Or how about Hebden Bridge? Highest number of lesbians per head in the UK and the 4th quirkiest place in the world according to Wikipedia and the British Airways in flight magazine.

Your biggest problem will be finding a mooring. And moorings on the cut (along the bank) are harder to find than ones in marinas. It's not for the faint hearted, but have you thought about continuous cruising? You will have to move on every two weeks or so at least, except in winter when you can get a temporary mooring. If your kids aren't going at school age it could be grand adventure. There are many people who run businesses out of boats this way, such as the various Book Barges.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:30 PM on June 6, 2012

Yes, Hebden Bridge is a lovely town and very lefty/bohemian. It's also reasonably affluent which I think, if you're going to set up shop, is something you need to consider.
posted by mippy at 2:42 AM on June 7, 2012

thanks for all the great answers.
I think this will be a really great starting point from which to begin exploring.

Europe would be good too, but we have family in the UK. And as I have three British children and an English partner, the UK is willing to let me work and is willing to consider granting me citizenship once I've shown I'm going to stick around.
posted by compound eye at 4:29 AM on June 7, 2012

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