iron hole – an introduction

The title Iron Hole was drawn from combining an acerbic comment reflecting the costly realities of renovating and maintaining an old narrow boat, which went something like this:

“Boats are little more than holes in the water you throw money into…”

with the fact that our historic day boat Eileen was originally made of iron. ‘Iron Hole’ conflates the two.

Iron Hole posts are about a love of boats. They follow the renovation of Eileen, they share my research into her fascinating history and my experiences navigating the inland ‘Water Road’. They also include a more general celebration of historic narrow boats and Birmingham day boats in particular.

But Iron Hole posts are also a reaction to the following quote:

We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape […] to somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. I have for some time been imagining such transitions as ‘border crossings’. These borders do not correspond to national boundaries, and papers and documents are unrequired at them. Their traverse is generally unbiddable, and no reliable map exists of their routes and outlines. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, tree-line or snow-line, or enter rain, storm or mist, or pass from boulder clay into sand, or chalk onto limestone. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographies, leaving known places outlandish and quickened, revealing continents within counties.

pg.78 Macfarlane, R. 2012 The Old Ways Hamish Hamilton ISBN 978 0 241 14381 0

For me the point of transition or border crossing to somewhere we feel and think significantly differently which Robert Macfarlane describes is found very powerfully in the Eileen.

She’s perhaps the most eloquent of my ‘Thin’ Objects.

In working on renovating the boat, exploring the inland waterways on board her and investigating her history  a point of connection between myself and both the emotional and physical landscape around me has emerged.

The boat represents my search for a little bit of paradise.


I’ve been fortunate to have been around boats pretty much all my adult life. But when I got married and the kids came along I knew it was time to take a break and focus on the family. However, in summer 2011 we began searching for what my wife Claire called ‘a boat with soul’ – something characterful, a project boat that’d grow and evolve as our family evolved.

And we found it, in the form of the ex. BCN iron day boat called Eileen built in 1903.

In the posts relating to this notebook, and alongside more theoretical navigation of ideas relating to ‘sense of place’ and ‘identity’ I’ll share the ups and inevitable downs, of owning and renovating Eileen who’s identified as “meriting inclusion in the National Register of Historic Vessels of the United Kingdom” and I’ll explore the wonderful world of historic narrow boats.

Perhaps I should stress from the start, that what we’re doing is empathically not a restoration project [after all a full restoration would involve stripping out the engine, ripping off much of the steelwork above the gunnels and purchasing a tug – or a horse!]. No, ours is much more a renovation project, one that will acknowledge Eileen’s long, fascinating and varied history, and one that will keep her afloat a while longer.

Above all we’re aiming to create a family boat, one that’s respectful to tradition but not in an inflexible way. And, as importantly, we’ll be off exploring – after all it’s about the journey and about going ‘inlanding’ together.

(The Iron Hole Notebook posts can be accessed HERE.)



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