A once wandering 1920’s barge has taken up permanent residence along York Way on London’s Granary Square, just a short walk from Kings Cross and the British Library. Yet, this is no ordinary passenger barge, it’s a floating bookshop called Word on the Water – a trove of new and pre-loved books stacked amidst a funky bohemian ambience.
It was July and the summer sun was beaming down, the sultry tones of jazz floated through the air as I walked towards the barge, where I was greeted by two men casually seated on the dock. They welcomed me to step aboard and pour myself a refreshing glass of water infused with lemon, a much-appreciated courtesy on such a hot summery day.
For a few minutes I had the whole barge to myself, which meant I could fossick through their eclectic book collection uninterrupted, except for the gentle snores of the resident dog, Star, who had quite dozily received a pat on the head before drifting into a deep slumber. I couldn’t help but consider what a dream life that must be.
Inside there is a wood-burning stove that would maintain optimal levels of cosiness in the cooler months, and large leather chairs to relax. Books are stacked in every available space, yet it doesn’t feel poky or claustrophobic. Their collection is mostly contemporary, with a gorgeous selection of children’s books. Outside, the barge is loaded up with book displays, plants, artworks and equipment for live acoustic musical performances.
After sifting through boxes and perusing the shelves for half an hour, I settled on a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, her influential 1792 pamphlet about the plight of women and education. The vibrant orange cover of the Vintage Feminist edition caught my eye and easily made its way into my bag. Upon disembarkation of the vessel, I handed over my money to Paddy and Jon, who I learned were two of the three original owners of the book barge. They seemed to thrive on having a banter and sharing their love of literature, quite happily perched on stools basking in the sunshine, drinking coffee and living the dream.
Word on the Water may not contend with rough seas, pirates or tidal waves, but she has seen her fair share of challenges, from leaks to homelessness. Once located on the main Regent’s Canal, the book barge was forced to find a new moor every two weeks, which was not ideal for the growing legion of loyal customers who were continually having to track their local bookstore down. When more than 6,000 people appealed to the Canal Trust, Word on the Water was bestowed with a permanent home at Granary Square, to the delight of many.
Word on the Water
Regent’s Canal Towpath
York Way, Granary Square, London
For an insight into Word on the Water, check out this short documentary on You Tube