Why do it on land when you can do it on water? From a private floating hot tub to a sail through ice cream parlour and beauty salon on the waterways, these boats are now venues for some of the coolest activities on the UK's rivers and canals

The ice-cream van on water: Two Hoots and Full Moo ice cream boats
With a black and white cow on the roof, the Full Moo ice cream boat

Credit: Peter Hatcher

Originally an old bomb scow used to rearm flying bombers, The Full Moo now has a more peaceful life – selling delicious ice creams and sorbets along the River Ouse in York.
Steve Blakeman bought the vessel in Falkirk, where it had already been converted into a floating café. He brought it back down to York, running it as a café before turning it into a floating ice cream parlour.
He built The Full Moo’s ‘sister ship’ – Two Hoots – in 2012 out of an old diesel powered tug and an old ice cream van from Whitby.
“I thought it would be a good idea and decided that the best way to do this would be just to put an ice cream van on a boat,” recalls Steve. “It ended up being more complicated as I had a lot of resizing to do”.
Two Hoots made its season debut in 2013 and hasn’t looked back.

A red and blue tug with an ice cream van

Credit: Martha Maguire

The Full Moo is based at Lendal Bridge near the York Museum Gardens. It is one of the most photographed boats on the river, with its distinctive black and white cow on the roof and containers of flowers.
Two Hoots, with its figurehead of a strawberry ice cream cone complete with flake, is usually at the Millennium Bridge and is used mainly by locals.
“I love the fact they (locals) say ‘Summer’s here – the Two Hoots boat is out’. I love the idea that Two Hoots is helping to cement a memory and giving the children happy memories,” said Steve, who has lived on a boat since 1994, and currently resides on a converted ferry.
The ice cream and sorbets served on board are sourced locally, and there are always at least six standard flavours, one special and three choices of sorbet to choose from.
Both boats are run from April until late September/early October, depending on the weather. They are then sterilised and mothballed over the winter before being re-sterilised and made ready for the new season.
Beautiful onboard: The Floating Salon Narrowboat
A hair and nail salon on a narrowboat
If you think you can’t look glamorous while boating…think again!
The Floating Salon Narrowboat is a fully functioning hair and nail salon based on board a traditional narrowboat.
Run for the last nine years by Nicola Penney, it is usually moored in and around the town of Bradford on Avon on the Western end of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
“I love the waterways and I love hairdressing so I thought combining the two would be a wonderful idea,” explained Nicola, who used to work in the West End of London.
“Floating Salon does what it says on the tin really. We move around, stop off and open up the doors to the public for hair cuts, colours, anything to do with hairdressing.”
 The salon is run completely off grid, using solar power, carrying its own water supply in a large tank and harnessing hot water as a by product from running the engine to travel to each mooring.
The boat is also fitted with a powerful electrical system, including a generator, large bank of batteries and an inverter – vital for power hungry essentials like a hairdryer.
Nicola has a range of customers – even famous ones! She has styled the hair of Fawlty Towers star Prunella Scales while the actress was making the Channel 4 series, Great Canal Journeys with her husband, Timothy West.
 “I have a lot of different clients that come, I have my regulars, I have people who are walking their dogs who just knock on the side of the boat for an impulse cut,” said Nicola.
Get inspired by nature: The Boat Studio
 A blue narrowboat which acts as a studio on the waterway
The Boat Studio is a 55-foot semi traditional narrowboat, which hosts arts residencies, exhibitions, performances and events.
Original set up for living aboard, Amber Mottram, along with her partner, converted the boat, knocking through the bulk heads to create a spacious studio and living space – even a small library.
“We offer a unique moving arts residency. Our aim is to provide opportunities for emerging and established artists to take part in a collaborative journey on board our boat,” she explained.
Those taking part start from the Llangollen Canal on the English-Welsh border. It is then a gentle, and (hopefully) inspiring journey to one of the “cultural hubs” in England, before the trip back again.
“In doing so we aim to deliver high quality contemporary art to canal side communities,” explained Amber. “The slow pace and the rich and varied source of inspiration found along the towpath provides excellent stimulus for the making of new work. Throughout this project we wanted to not only establish a novel platform for contemporary art, but to invigorate and showcase all that is great and unique about canal life.”
The first student arts residences were run in spring 2016, and included artists studying Fine Art at Worcester University.
Amber says, so far, the feedback has been positive.
She said the first year has taught some valuable lessons such as not expecting “to get anywhere too fast, and always plan for a few days having to deal with the inevitable engine problems that happen along the way!”
Amber is now in the process of upgrading to a “narrower narrowboat” after finding out that her current boat couldn’t easily fit through the bottom Hurlston lock on the Llangollen arm in North Wales.
“It feels like a little step back but we have learnt so much in a year that we feel confident that we can get our new boat ready for residencies in summer 2018,” she said.


For a special lunchtime treat: Café on the Cut
A red and green canal boat which has been covered into a cafe in Gloucester
For three years, Vanessa Radwell has run the Café on the Cut on the Barge Arm at Gloucester Docks.
No stranger to life onboard, she sold the boat she had lived on for ten years to buy the narrowboat, which she then renovated with the help of her family.
The business largely runs on solar power, which supplies the fridge, water pumps and lights, with gas heating the water and used for all cooking on board.
“This one has been an exciting challenge,” recalls Vanessa.”We are limited in the galley to what we can produce but we have got used to the space now and operate like synchronised swimmers so you do have to be organised,” she adds.
The narrowboat café caters for many different diets including vegan and gluten free, and lunches are made fresh on board.
Summer months the likes of cheese scones with brie, salad and onion chutney, and smoked salmon bagels are on the menu, as well as scrumptious homemade cakes.
In the winter, hot dishes, like soup and curries are added to the menu, alongside more traditional year-round lunchtime fare like sandwiches and salads.
The café also offers high teas and private group bookings for tapas nights.
“It’s a little out of the box, but we always have a joke and a crack with our customers,” says Vanessa.
“If you want WiFi and a mocha skinny latte with ginger you won’t find it here, but if you like quality not fast ‘ping’  (microwave) food and a fun, relaxing time then it’s the place to go”.
Although the narrowboat is mainly based in Gloucester Docks, Café on the Cut does venture out to the countryside if it gets too hot in the city, with customers kept informed via the café’s Facebook page.

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 An experience like no other: HotTug, the private hot tub
Hot Tug
Imagine floating down the river Thames…in your own private hot tub!
This summer, the so-called HotTug launches in London, making the most of the capital’s most scenic canal areas.
The HotTug is a 3.8m x 2m wood fired floating hot tub, heated at an invigorating 38C of fresh water which ‘HotTuggers’ can operate by themselves. It can take up to seven people.
The boat is powered by an electric engine and will be stationed in Old Street this summer at the ‘HotTug House’.
The experience, which costs £220 for 90 minutes, is truly unique…perhaps the perfect way to impress a date or celebrate a birthday
The business has been set up by friends Stuart ‘Tommo’ Thomson and Jack Clegg who “had exhausted London’s ping ping bars and bottomless brunches, and set about finding something that had never been done before”.
It aims to bring “a new lease of life” to all gatherings, work dos and dates.
“I first set eyes on The HotTug in 2012 and knew that it was something that Londoners would love,” explained Tommo.
“The inner pirate in me is so excited to be launching a new business on a boat and I cannot wait to bring this incredible experience to my home city.”
The boys eventual aim is to bring The HotTug to sites across the UK and Ireland to unearth a completely new viewpoint of a city.
Say ‘I do’ on water: HMS Gannet
Dressed in wedding attire a couple ring the bell on HMS Gannet
Designed to patrol the world’s oceans, HMS Gannet is now helping couples tie the knot.
The magnificent three-masted sloop is based at The Historic Dockyard Chatham in Kent and is available to hire for the big day.
Vows can be exchanged on the deck of the ship, which was an important part of the Victorian Royal Navy, protecting British interests around the world.
The 190-foot sloop provides a stunning backdrop of photographs, and there is plenty of room for guests – in its heyday, HMS Gannet sailed with a crew of 139.
The Historic Dockyard even has its own wedding planners to make sure everything goes without a hitch, as well as a range of wedding packages.
There are also other venues around the 80-acre site that can be used for the reception.
The beautiful Georgian Commissioner’s House – Britain’s oldest naval building in use today – has original period features and a gorgeous landscaped garden.
While the stunning mezzanine floor of the immense Sir Robert Seppings-designed No. 3 Covered Slip makes a unique reception venue – however the amazing cantilever roof with its 400 windows might distract from the bride’s dress though!

For the perfect summer day: Alfred Le Roy cocktail bar boat

CRATE Brewery’s Alfred Le Roy is a classic British wide beam canal boat which was been converted into a floating cocktail bar.
Named after the famous Belgian pub landlord of the 1970s, the boat has been lovingly renovated and now offers cocktail cruises along the River Lea at Hackney Wick in north London.
Down below, it is light and airy with comfy booth seats and tables, all of them with a view of the water.
In the summer, the boat’s retractable roof can be opened, letting in the sunshine whilst in the winter, the boat’s heating system is switched on to make it warm and cozy.
The boat might be vintage, but it has plenty of modern technology on board. There is an integrated sound system, WiFi and contactless payments (as well as more traditional means of paying) can be made.
As well as serving CRATE’s own craft beers, the bar has a full range of cocktails, from the ever popular Dark ‘N Stormy to the more unusual Akoya – made with gin, apple cranberry, citrus, kombucha, mint and cucumber.
If food is needed to soak up all that excess alcohol, then sharing platters are available for vegetarians and meat eaters, including open sandwiches and the usual bar snacks.
The Alfred Le Roy can take up to 55 people when moored, and 48 while cruising, and is available for private hire.
Learning on water: the Floating Classroom
A blue barge floats down a canal in London
By day, the Floating Classroom helps inspire primary school children from across London, with lessons held on a purpose built electric barge.
But come the night time, the Electric Barge, which is moored in Little Venice near Paddington Station, becomes a floating party boat, allowing revellers to discover some of London’s green corridors by the water. It is available for private hire for weddings, parties and corporate events.
As well as a fully stocked bar, there is an extensive menu available including sharing platters, a range of buffets and South African braii – where meat is cooked fresh on the back deck of the boat.
All the money raised goes into the projects run by the Floating Classroom, which since launching in 2001 has seen more than 35,000 children get on board.
A team of freelance teachers offer a range of educational programmes linked to the curriculum, with subject areas including science and nature, the environment, history and filmmaking, along with a specially designed programme for those with special educational needs.
Run by the charity Beauchamp Lodge Settlement (BLS), the Floating Classroom also hosts longer-term initiatives like the local area/canal heritage project, Life Afloat, where children can learn about the canals of London and the people who lived and worked on them.