Normality ebbs away as you edge along the river path revealing a hodgepodge of has-been boats restored and reimagined.
Shoreham-by-Sea is a small beach town at the mouth of the River Adur that is often overlooked thanks to its vicinity to more popular weekend destinations like Brighton or Littlehampton — which is all the better for the motley, fantastical agglomeration of unlikely houseboats that have accrued on the riverbank.
What has grown along the “Bloomin’ Adur” is a unique bridge between land and sea of cobbled treasures made from another’s trash. The obscure houseboat art collective has been growing since the end of World War II, when decommissioned military ships were retired to Shoreham’s tidal mud flats. Today there are some 50 to 60 boats to be found at the site and, since the structures are waterborne, few building regulations apply, meaning owners can unleash their greatest structural/architectural/artistic fancies in the midst of a wild, natural setting.
The result is a labyrinthine dream afloat — a gaudy Gaudi vision made with love and a lot of hard work. Some highlights include: the Verda, which is made of parts and portions of seven or eight different boats, as well as two buses and a Reliant Robin; the Dodge, which incorporates an old fire engine and is available for rent on Airbnb, making it one of the most magically odd apartments ever conceived; the Clive, a former World War II Motor Torpedo Boat (with an aeroplane fashioned on top, of course) now home to a huge workshop and pop-up cafe; and the Fische, a mid-century German minesweeper that — having been designed for a crew of 30 — now provides its owners with more-than-ample living space.
The Verda, Dodge, and Clive (as well as five others) are all owned by Hamish, a creative crafter of second-hand materials as well as a leading light in the Shoreham houseboat community. The Verda is not only his home, but also includes a community social space that hosts meditation, yoga, film nights, live music, markets, healing sessions, and even a monthly pub night. Hamish is also the guy to talk to if you want to volunteer to get involved in the ongoing creation and maintenance of a unique neighborhood that seems to exist outside of familiar reality.
Know Before You Go
The boats are open for the Adur Festival, Adur Arts Festival, and the River Festival - check online for dates. The train station is in the twee town of Shoreham a hop over the glass bridge, 700 coastal bus service runs regularly from Brighton and beyond.
There is pay and display parking at the Riverside Car Park, and from there is an accessible path that leads across the back of all the houseboats.
Care should be taken due to the haphazard nature of some of the structures and the many steep unfenced drops.