Could this £150k city centre home float your boat?
ALONG the historic and up-market area of Welsh Back, finding a place to live usually requires upwards of £200,000 (even for a decent flat), and often considerably more. If your pockets are not that deep, Taylors estate agents has an interesting solution.
The Heloise Bay is an old barge that was given a new lease of life as an unusual residence. It has been home to members of the Cairns family for around 17 years and it's current incumbent, Rowan Cairns, is now selling it for a guide price of £150,000, on behalf of his mother, Vicky, who now lives in Devon.
Built in 1923 at Charles Mills shipyard in Bristol, it was among many similar craft that once travelled to and fro between Gloucester and Bristol loaded with grain.
Its iron hull was rescued from a muddy "graveyard" in Sharpness by Arne Ringer, who is well known in Bristol for his restoration of The Glass Boat (now a restaurant moored at Welsh Back) and also of the Clifton Lido.
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He rebuilt the timber upper structure under a custom-made fibreglass roof, with polycarbonate roof lights, glass side windows and lots of brass portholes. Among the fascinating features is an original iron bulkhead and door, which separate the living space from the bathroom in the bow.
Some of the wooden flooring comes from dockside warehouses and the oak panelling was saved from the boardroom of the former offices of this newspaper at Silver Street. Meanwhile, Victorian windows, which line each side of the Heloise Bay, were once in the old Royal Hotel on College Green.
Carpentry is much in evidence throughout, with pine cladding on the walls and roof, a built-in mahogany kitchen and a former sauna in the stern (that's now a bedroom with restricted head height).
The bathroom is also pine-clad, with the centrepiece a white sunken iron bath flanked by two round portholes, so you can settle back for a relaxing soak and watch life sail, paddle or swim past.
There are two more bedrooms at either end, one with a mezzanine storage area, while the vast open-plan space in the middle is for living, dining and cooking.
A "front door" opens into a room which might be described as a hallway, or studio, with French doors to the deck, and wooden steps descending into the hull below.
Throughout this lower level are chunky old chests of drawers, nooks and selves covered in practical possessions and ornamental nicks knacks, sofas arranged around a colourful rug bought at auction, pictures galore, a wooden swan dangling from the ceiling, plants, wicker chairs and wooden tables of all shapes.
Most distinct, but strangely not out of place among such a varied assortment of furniture, is a shocking red velvet sofa with an ornate gold frame that would look positive gaudy anywhere else, but seems right at home.
Rowan is equally settled here, and has many happy childhood memories of this old barge. It has a cosy, homely feel and I can tell he doesn't want to leave.
Living in the barge he says is "much like living in a house, although slightly more expensive since everything runs off oil, not gas, but it has mains electricity, water and a satellite TV connection, so it has all the functionality of a house".
It's been on the market for a few months and attracted a good deal of attention. Rowan adds: "We've had quite a lot of interest from all sorts of people, and come close to selling it a couple of times. There are a couple of people seriously interested at the moment.
"I have really enjoyed living here. It's a lovely location near Queen Square and there's a parking space right outside.
"At the time mum bought it there was no long-term mooring agreement and it could have been moved on at any point, so it was quite cheap. Now there is a permanent mooring agreement with the council. I am going to miss it here – it has a lot of memories and we still celebrate Christmas here with all the family."
Lending itself perfectly to entertaining, the living space is great for cosying up in winter, while a deck at one end is more of a summer haunt. Rowan has a small motor boat too, that he sometime uses to visit the Cottage pub in Hotwells, or to collect a takeaway.
Like many house boat residents, he's on friendly terms with the many swans as well as his floating human neighbours.
While the Heloise Bay is moored permanently (at an annual cost of £1,700 on a 25-year lease), it must come out of the water and into dry dock every five or six years for essential maintenance to satisfy its insurers, but to counter those expenses, it is exempt from council tax.
On a practical note, there's central heating, plumbing for a dishwasher and a washing machine, while those concerned about the view won't be disappointed since there is glazing on all sides affording river scenes in each direction.
Measuring 85ft by 18ft, it's quite a hulk, and much bigger than it looks. Its next owners must view it as a bit of a project, since it needs some repairs, but it's a hugely appealing property considering its uniqueness and picturesque location between Bristol and Redcliffe bridges.