Why you should care
Because getting your hair cut should really float your boat.
Today’s workers are continually breaking the boundaries of where and how we earn a living, and with remote working becoming mainstream, new ideas are flowing. Nicola Dawkins, a West End London hairstylist, decided to go mobile, first to people’s homes and then to the water. She bought the shell of a wide-beam canal boat with her partner, and while cruising the canals of Britain, they transformed their home into a full-service hair salon, providing the most uniquely personal hairdressing experience that floats.
I hopped on the train to Bradford-on-Avon, a couple of hours out of London, where the Floating Salon was moored. Nicola appeared out of the boat hatch, short bleached-blond hair with quiet streaks of blue and red sweeping across the front curl. She made me feel right at home as I let down my hair, revealing a bedraggled nest. A classic hairdresser’s chair and a large mirror had replaced the living room furniture in the center of the boat, and a separate room had been set up for hair washing and scrumptious head massages. As my haircut got underway, we got chatting.
Nicola explained that clients from her mobile hairdressing days were so excited when they heard she was opening a salon on a boat that many of them wanted their first haircut on water, before she’d even finished refurbishing the boat. Her clientele has now expanded to include enthusiastic tourists looking for a novel experience, but it’s her long-standing clients who have kept the business afloat. After all, things can get turbulent when you break away from the mains.
A few years back, England was struck by a particularly cold winter, and many canals froze, locking the Floating Salon into 6 inches of ice. With the holidays around the corner, it was peak season for haircuts, but the water tank was dry and the hoses were frozen solid. Nicola and her partner found places to fill huge yellow plastic containers with water and hauled them back to the boat, trip after trip. Some of her loyal clients offered to wash their hair at home before their appointments to save her precious water supply. In exchange they arrived at a snow-dusted boat with wood burner smoking away, fairy lights aglow and magic scissors at the ready.
When it came time to blow-dry my hair, Nicola popped outside to turn on the boat’s engine. Hair dryers suck up power, so a little extra oomph was needed to style my locks. It’s still the most eco-friendly haircut around, though, as the floating salon is powered by the sun and runs completely off the grid.
So, if you’re looking to drift a little portside of mainstream culture, this snappy experience might really float your boat. Even the rich and famous are beginning to get on board, including a recent visit by actress Prunella Scales. But the Floating Salon’s crowning achievement may have been last year when it was invited to participate in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant, an outrageously glamorous — an incredibly wet — spectacle that included the largest flotilla of boats ever assembled on the River Thames.
Businesses on boats are quickly capturing entrepreneurs’ imagination with floating bookshops, floating cinemas, floating puppet shows and even floating classrooms bobbing up across Britain’s waterways. Once the primary transport system of the country, the canals are fast becoming the destination of choice for anyone looking to slow down, step off the tracks and capture some calm. Come on in, the water’s lovely.