■ The actor loves life on the canals, but his move from a cottage to a houseboat wasn’t without its surprises
What was the first property you bought?
A two-bedroom cottage near Carlisle in the Lake District. I was 26 and I was in Hollyoaks at the time. I bought it as a project while I was up there as the show is based in Liverpool.
Had you looked at many other places?
I saw a few. I wanted something to do up but some were complete shells and the work would have been too much. I saw one place which had a turret and a circular staircase. It was listed so I decided to stay away from it. Everything inside was falling to pieces. I wanted to buy something I could work on myself and for an investment. My dad has worked in construction his whole life and I helped him do things up as a kid so I really wanted to have a go myself.
What did you do to it?
Stripped it all out, moved the staircase, put in a downstairs bathroom and put new floorboards in. It had electric radiators which I didn’t like so we put a wood burner in and heating mats on the ceilings. We had a joiner to do the staircase and someone to do the plumbing, but I did most of it myself with my dad.
What were the biggest challenges?
I became really busy with work so building on the house moved back, which meant we had to do it in the winter. It was freezing but there were no massive dramas. The work took three months in total which was quite quick as there weren’t any snags.
Where are you now?
I bought a houseboat two years ago. It’s more affordable than buying a property in London. I had a friend who owned a boat and it seemed a nice way to live. Living in a canal boat in London is quite calming in a place which can be quite mental. The first weekend I bought it, the hot water tank exploded and I woke up with squelching floorboards and thought it was sinking. That was a bit of a shock and getting it repaired was an unexpected expense.
How do you go about buying a houseboat?
The website apolloduck.com is like Rightmove for boats. There’s loads on there. You can pick them up very cheaply but you need to make sure there’s nothing wrong with them and find out as much history about the boat as possible. I did a lot of research and saw a lot of different boats. You hear some horror stories — people’s boats can tip over, but mostly it’s pretty great.
What about mooring?
If you get a permanent mooring, it’s the equivalent expense of paying London rent. Without a permanent mooring, you have to move every two weeks and hope you can find a spot. The canals, even since I’ve started doing it, are getting busier. The stretch between Angel and Haggerston is absolutely rammed. I enjoy moving around and getting a taste of different areas. Some people don’t even know the canals are there. It’s a really good alternative way of living but it isn’t for everyone.
Would you go farther afield?
I’d like to — I really want to go along the Oxford canal or to Bristol or Birmingham.
Why is living on a boat becoming more popular?
A lot of it is to do with London property prices. You see lots of young couples along the canal. Living on a boat allows them to save for a deposit and try to get on the property ladder.
Will you stay on the boat?
I love it so I could do it for a long time. I’d like to get a permanent mooring but maybe out of London as prices are very expensive and there aren’t many available.
What’s your dream home?
The boat has taken me to areas of London I might not have gone to otherwise — I really like Victoria Park and Bethnal Green. A town house around there would be amazing. But then I don’t see myself being in London forever. I’m a northern boy so I’d like a home up there one day. And lots of my friends are moving out to places like Margate. So any of those would suit me.
■ James can be seen in Porters on Thursdays on Dave, dave.uktv.co.uk
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