A most unusual barge floats on Regents Canal, which flows amid the office-littered landscape of King’s Cross. Step aboard the vessel, and you’ll find a trove of literary treasures waiting to be discovered.
Word on the Water, a 1920s Dutch barge, houses an assortment of cult, classic, and contemporary fiction and nonfiction books, as well as a large array of children’s books. Its items fill the space both inside and outside the barge, so even those a bit wary of stepping off solid ground can still peruse parts of its collection.
The store, which the brainchild of Paddy Screech, Jonathan Privett, and Stephane Chaudat, has been open for nearly a decade. But it wasn’t always so easy to find. Previously, canal regulations meant the barge had to change location every couple of weeks, popping up wherever its owners could snag a spot. After breaking the rules and squatting in one location for six months, the canal trust finally relented and gave the bookstore boat a permanent berth—thanks largely to public outcry and a successful campaign led by the store’s many supporters.
In its spot along Regents Canal, the barge has become much more than a bookstore. In the winter, its woodburning stove is lit, offering bookworms of all ages a cozy refuge from the dreary cold. In the summer, the barge hosts a variety of performances, bringing anything from folk groups to jazz bands to poetry slams to its rooftop garden.
Word on the Water is a beloved feature of Granary Square, an area developed out of the old King’s Cross train sheds. The particular stretch of Regent’s Canal the barge sits on is home to a small portion of London’s large boating community, some irascible geese and swans, as well as a fine scattering of moorhens.