The Lemon Boat in Kensal Rise offers a slice of rural peace within zone 2

The Lemon Boat is on the Grand Union Canal in Kensal Rise, W10

The Lemon Boat is on the Grand Union Canal in Kensal Rise, W10 - Credit: Archant

Being surrounded by nature within a village-like community in the heart of London is a rare opportunity. For these boat dwellers it has provided the ultimate compromise.

Zoe and Mat on the boat. Photo: Amy Gwatkin

Zoe and Mat on the boat. Photo: Amy Gwatkin - Credit: Archant

After getting married, Zoe Gahan was desperate to leave London for a place in the country. Her husband, Mat Laroche, had always lived in London and was equally keen to stay in the city. Finding a compromise that would offer her the peace she craved and yet still allow Laroche, a film director, to cycle to meetings in Soho seemed unlikely and Gahan was beginning to despair.

“I just thought ‘I can’t bear to stay in the city’ and I looked and looked for a compromise,” she says. “And then when I was cycling along the towpath one day I saw the boat and I knew it could be my little piece of countryside in London.”

With swans and geese as neighbours and a little patch of land on which to grow carrots and strawberries – to swap with fellow boat owners during a glut – The Lemon Boat certainly sounds like a rural village idyll, despite its location on the Kensal Green stretch of the Grand Union Canal.

Gahan extols the sense of community that abounds amongst the boat dwellers: “When we’re away someone will feed our cats and then, if I walk past and someone’s got their washing hanging out and it starts to rain, I’ll take it down for them and let them know.

“It’s not like being in London where people are so suspicious of each other.”

Alongside this sense of community, Gahan, a journalist at Vanity Fair magazine, loves the unique features of living on the canal, from the way the sunlight bounces off the water onto the walls and ceiling of the boat, to the sound of the ducks’ and geese’s beaks tapping on the hull while they eat the weeds that grow on it.

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These elements of living on board are perhaps even more noticeable because the interiors are not designed like a traditional boat. Because the Lemon Boat is on the canal rather than the river, it moves very little, so the furniture can be freestanding rather than fixed. This allowed Gahan to avoid her detested “Rosie and Jim look” and instead get pared down, French-inspired interiors, with stripped wood floors and vintage furniture, as well as a log-burning stove and underfloor heating throughout.

The proportions of the boat are also remarkably “un-boaty”; Gahan jokes that her 6’4” step-brother can even stand up straight inside, while the 106-year-old boat is also comfortably wide, a relic of the time when it would have been pulled by horse bringing coal and wood from Birmingham to the solid fuel gasworks at Kensal Rise. This makes it remarkably good value per square foot for the area and a similar sized, non-water bourne property would fetch several hundred thousand pounds more.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s the challenges of boat life that the couple prize the most.

“Living on a boat there are all sorts of things you wouldn’t have to contend with in a house,” says Gahan. “Finding ways around things has been very bonding.”

The couple are being dragged back to land somewhat reluctantly by the practicalities of having children. Their son Phoenix, 2, has been fully boat-trained and the couple made the most of the unusual space created by the pointed bow by building a triangular cot into it, but it was the thought of repeating the whole process again with a new baby born less than a fortnight ago that prompted their decision to return to a more urban existence.

The family will have to get used to being surrounded by architecture rather than nature. As Gahan says: “You’re so much more involved with the elements on the boat. When it snows it’s so beautiful, because there’s no building around so it seems to snow more, which is strange. I’m going to cry a river when we leave.”

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