What is it like to live on the Cam River?
Slowly winding through central Cambridge, the River Cam is an essential part of the city’s identity.
Cyclists, dog walkers, passing swans, pub drinkers, rowers and gamblers make the river environment a lively one.
The Cam’s leisure scene is popular with residents and tourists alike, but the river is also a place many call home.
Dotted all along the shore, from Jesus Green to Stourbridge Common, around 70 residential riverboats moored.
United and diverse
This “Camboater” community is tight-knit, diverse and passionate about Cambridge and its river.
It brings together scientists, writers, gardeners, teachers, farmers, caregivers, retirees and young families.
“After you’ve been on the river for awhile, it gets into your blood. It’s part of your life, ”said Ruthie Collins.
The 39-year-old writer and curator, who has lived on the river for 15 years, currently resides on his boat “Liberty” with her husband and six-year-old son Otis.
“He loves it. He loves his house, loves other boaters,” she says of her son.
“For the kids it’s a bit like swallows and amazons. And it’s good that there are other kids of boaters in the community.”
For Otis, his trip to school is just a short walk with his mother on the shore, holding a satchel in one hand and a toy in the other.
“Playing with toys” is his favorite thing, but he also loves his bed on board his boat, his mother and father and his friend “Gus” – another child of Camboater.
Ruthie started living on an unused boat owned by her father and quickly fell in love with the boating lifestyle.
“There is something timeless about Stourbridge as a place,” she explains. “It’s a very smooth and slow pace of life. Beautiful.
“I remember walking along the river there and felt very, very lucky.
“I fell in love with the romantic side of the lifestyle. I loved the community and the people. Lots of independent, eccentric and quirky people.
“Very normal people too – living a little differently. As a young writer, working in the arts, that was perfect.
“There have always been a lot of artists and writers living on the river – drawn to the inspiring setting and affordability. Writers like Bee Lavender lived on Cam. ” adult chat
The sociability of the Camboater community is what other local residents say is one of the best things about life on the Cam.
“Everyone who lives on the river is Camboater,” said Jim Ross, a 44-year-old building designer and treasurer of the Camboater community group.
“People come and visit. When the weather is better, you can take the plow to Fen Ditton,” he adds. “The kids can try to pilot the boat and you can have lunch in a pub.”
“ There is something wonderful about being in the heart of the city ”
The uniqueness of Cambridge’s residential moorings is their proximity to the city’s parks and open commons and the absence of permanent light fixtures, charging points and other utilities.
“The idea of having a boat lined up with other boats on the jetties wouldn’t appeal to me,” Jim said.
“There is something wonderful about being in the heart of the city.
“Summer in Stourbridge is wonderful, people are barbecuing and there is always someone there to feed the cat.
Jim arrived on the Cam five years ago to shorten his journey from Swaffham and get closer to his son who was due to attend sixth form locally.
He now shares his boat with his partner Sarah and their cat Perry, moving between Stourbridge Common and outside the Fort St George pub.
“I didn’t enjoy the ride, I didn’t want to get on and off the train,” he said.
“I had my name on the waiting list and 18 months later I got a license and this weekend I bought a boat.
“I thought it was a bit of an adventure. It wasn’t about thinking it was a particular way, it was just a fun thing to do.
“I’m pretty practical and I love technology, so that aspect appealed to me.”
Jim says he met people “very quickly” and was delighted to find out how “open, interesting and creative people” were.
Being able to cycle to work makes him healthier, lives more economically and even sleeps better.
‘I have never slept so well’
“There is this gentle sway on the river. I have never slept so well since living on the boat, ”he jokes.
New mom Ana Terriente Felix, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge, is a newcomer to the Camboater community.
Originally from Granada in Spain, she lives with her boyfriend and her three month old daughter, Estrella.
“We have a lot of friends and we help each other as much as we can,” she explains.
“On a Saturday you go shopping and you stop every five minutes with someone different talking.
“If the weather is nice, everyone is fixing something on the boat. I don’t think this is happening in any other neighborhood. It’s a fairly compact community.
Having lived in different countries before, Ana found that she had adapted quickly to boat life and had no difficulty with a very young baby.
“I had to reduce the amount of clothes and shoes to proportions that I couldn’t imagine,” she said.
“I like to be cozy and warm, but I don’t need a lot of gadgets. I can adapt very well. It makes me very flexible and it’s a challenge. It’s something to explore.
“I’m going to remember those times more than if I lived in a house. Let’s see if Estrella likes the boat when she has an opinion.”
Ruthie is also proud to have exposed Otis to the “alternative possibilities in life”.
“It’s inspiring and courageous to live differently in a world that is quite normative about how to live. I’m really proud that he always had it,” she said.
Being so close to the elements and with limited space, Camboaters must maintain a constant routine of refueling, maintaining engines, filling water tanks and emptying toilets.
‘To the rhythm of the seasons’
“You are very much in touch with the seasons and the weather,” explains Jim. “You can’t just turn up the thermostat, you have to put in some effort.”
Ruthie adds, “In the winter we have to deal with things on a routine basis. Like when my son was a baby we had floods and snow and then the river froze.
“But you’re just going on. Yes, that can be quite difficult. You have to be well organized – having a good central heating system really helps.
“You become very aware of the amount of energy and water you use and the waste you create. You become aware of the environment.”
Jim also says he remembers at least four occasions when Camboaters helped rescue people from dangerous situations on the river.
Another challenge is dealing with preconceptions about who chooses to settle along the river.
“You have to navigate the ‘oh you live very differently, what is it like? Said Ruthie.
“I sometimes fear that narrow-minded attitudes towards boaters and our homes could have an impact on children.
“But the best thing to do is educate people. The lifestyle itself is just different and comes with practical challenges, but it’s a fantastic community and an incredible asset to the city – when you think about it. ‘there is a shortage of affordable housing in the city. ”
“We’re not a separate part of the city, we all have jobs and lives,” Jim said.
“The number of tourists coming down to take pictures of the boat. It is clearly part of the image that many people have of the city. ”
“The neighbors in the area like having the boats because they can walk at night and they know there is someone with a stove on,” Ana said.
“We have a very good relationship with the people who live in the houses.”
20 years of waiting
Anyone wishing to have a taste of life on the river should not be in a hurry, the waiting list for city council permits is closed.
Those lucky enough to be part of it still have to wait 10 or 20 years to get their license.
Licenses cost up to just over £ 1,000, while a well-equipped boat can fetch prices of £ 120,000 – still well below the cost of a town center house.
“It’s an alternative way of life, but it’s rooted in an urban community,” said Ruthie.
“We are truly part of the city. We work here and our children go to school.
“It appeals to creative and fairly innovative people. There are people out there for spiritual purposes, who are tuned in to the natural world. ”
While Anna simply adds, “I really like waking up in the morning and if it’s spring, open the door and have a coffee by the river and you can talk to the swans.”
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