A Porthole View

Boaters and narrowboat holiday-makers enjoy an ever-changing view from their porthole windows, each mooring presenting a new perspective on the world. Danie Couchman chats to fellow canal dwellers about their favourite views.



Some days deliver blue skies, others bring fat rain drops that make their way through leaky gaps in your doorway. One of the many small delights of boating is the ever-evolving view out of your porthole window, which reveals anything from a misty layer of bubbles on the canal surface, to a thin skin of ice around the hull.

We each have our favourite views: telephone pylons, begging swans, flower pots on rooftops and frosty towpaths. For James Levelle (documentary filmmaker), it’s the morning view that he treasures most: “I love the view out the starboard side of my wide beam narrowboat. Every morning I enjoy a good strong coffee as the sleepy river stirs to life and boats begin to ease their way up and down the River Lea. All the while, the resident swans are teaching their little ones the ropes. It’s not a bad way to start the day.”

Alice Nightingale (nurse and boater) prefers an evening scene: “I love lying in bed in the early morning or on a clear night and opening the blind to watch the world go by through the window. Sometimes the swans see you through the window and come over. One of my favourite views was watching the trains travel across the bridge beyond the marshes.”


Often, your vista will be obscured by grass, nettles, brambles or the spokes of a locked-up bike. Boater Jack Milln (junior doctor) says that his favourite view is the friendly face of a boating neighbour: “If anyone’s going to block my view it may as well be my pal Al. She’s much chattier than the swans and we just love having a cup of tea and a natter through the hatch. She will listen to your woes and even absolve you of your sins (advanced bookings only.) There’s a special understanding when you live on the water together.”


Further up stream, another shift in scenery brings a new landscape and a fresh perspective. Boater  Becky Cocker (leathersmith) enjoys the pink skies of dusk on the waterways: “Looking out to a peachy Walthamstow sky from my porthole fills me with hope”.

Porthole sunset

Even if you’ve been moored in the same place for a while, the scene will evolve through the day as spiders spin their webs, your cooking supper steams up the windows, moonlight lengthens the shadows and the lights of a paramedic flash by from a road nearby. “An ambulance pulled up the other day to the estate opposite and made the inside of my boat look like a blue disco!” Ed Harty (boater and lighting designer) tells me.


For Jo Ash (ex boater, care worker for adults with autism), however, the sight of dawn from the boat window is the most special of all: “I love seeing the sun rise from the window. The Countryside, nature and, of course, the duckings!”

Read more boaters’ stories about life on the water:

The Floating Garden: A boat rooftop is an ideal place to grow your own green paradise. Danie Couchman hops aboard Jack’s floating micro-garden to taste a strawberry or two.

My Stretch: The River Story: We explore the meandering River Stort, which twists and flows through the Hertfordshire and Essex countryside.

The Eco Home: Andy Rankin shares his tips for sustainable living from his off-grid, eco floating home on the River Cam.

Danie Couchman