Meet the adventurer and filmmaker who swapped a flat in London to live off-grid on a canal boat

After returning from the Alaskan wilderness, James found himself searching for a wilder existence than bricks and mortar could offer.
After returning from the Alaskan wilderness, James found himself searching for a wilder existence than bricks and mortar could offer. Copyright James Levelle
Copyright James Levelle
By Marthe de Ferrer
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After returning from the Alaskan wilderness, James Levelle found himself searching for a wilder more remote existence than bricks and mortar could offer.


In the third episode of Euronews Green's new video series Low Impact Living, we spoke with adventurer and filmmaker James Levelle about being a 'river nomad' on the Kennet and Avon Canal in southwest England.

It's easy to see why James Levelle made the choice to live on a boat. Just a few minutes into our conversation, his energy and enthusiasm for nature, the wilderness and adventure in general is already clear to see.

James has lived an extraordinary life. From near-death experiences chasing hurricanes to documenting illegal pirate fishermen off the coast of Sierra Leone, he doesn't do anything half-heartedly.

And that applies to his living situation too.

From living in nature to the concrete jungle

After returning to London following several months of filming in Alaska - completely immersed in nature - James found himself struggling.

"It was the wildest, most spectacular existence I'd ever experienced. Every time I opened my curtains in the morning and looked out, it was like a picture postcard on steroids," he tells me. It's perhaps unsurprising that a flat in South London was no longer enough for James.

"I didn't really know what to do with myself," he explains, "but I quickly realised that bricks and mortar were no longer satisfactory."

Unfortunately at the time, James needed to be based in London for his work as a filmmaker - so any "wilder existence" would have to be confined to within the vicinity of the British capital.

James Levelle also made a documentary about his incredible fossil-fuel-free journey from London to Chile in 2019.

But a chance stroll through East London proved to be exactly what he needed.

"While walking with friends, I came across the River Lea and saw all these fantastic, eclectic, beautiful houseboats," says James. "It was like a lightbulb moment. I thought 'Crikey! What if I lived in one of those?' So that's exactly what I did."

So six years ago, in what he describes as a "very therapeutic process", James downsized from his flat to his first houseboat.

"I was in a very beautiful spot near Walthamstow marshes, which is actually a nature reserve," he explains, "that was essentially my solution to a wild, more adventurous outdoor living set-up in the nation's capital."

Nowadays James roams the Kennet & Avon Canal near the city of Bath in his second boat, which is entirely off-grid.

"I decided I wasn't quite wild enough," he says, "so I ended up selling my boat in London and buying a new boat, which I'm on now, called Ellen this summer. I have upgraded - I like to think - to a more wild and rural existence, travelling the Avon River and the Kennet & Avon Canal."

Click on the video player above to see more of James and his life as a river nomad.

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