Something that was new to us when we started our life on the water was the trade-boats. Strangely, neither of us remembers seeing any when we were on our canal holidays pre-Kantara, but then that could be just down to our ageing memories. Either way, they’re now a common sight.

Possibly the commonest are the old working boats carrying diesel, gas, fuel for stoves, sometimes fluid for toilets.

Four Counties Fuels
Jules’ Fuels

These traders go up and down particular stretches of canal, often selling to regular customers who arrange to meet them by email or social media. Others will seize the opportunity to buy from them when they happen to come their way.

Then there are the more casual traders, working from narrowboats, moving around the system and mooring where they can expect people to be gathered; locals, sight-seers and boaters. The range of goods and services being sold from these boats amazes me. Arts and crafts are very common, but equally varied; paintings, knitted and crocheted toys and garments, greetings cards, jewellery, glassware, face-painting, fenders and ropes, leather goods, woodwork, and boatware, the buckets, jugs, cans and many other things painted in old canal tradition.

Foods are commonly seen; cheeses, jams and chutneys, street foods, sweets, ice-cream, wines, ales and spirits. (Okay, not all of those are foods!) Clothing’s a popular choice, too. And second-hand books, pet food and accessories, aromatherapy oils and equipment. Amazingly there is at least one floating cinema, and two theatre groups – Mikron and Alarum.


You’re less likely to see boats that sell services such as hairdressing, massage, reflexology and manicure, but they’re out there. If you know of any I’ve missed, please tell us about them in the comments box below.

Keep a look out for these traders, and please support them. A good place to find several, even lots of them is any one of the regular Floating Markets around the network throughout the year – Paddington, Banbury, Rickmansworth, Snarestone… If you know of any more, comments below, please!

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