After attending school in Devon and London, Kirk moved to Derbyshire in 1965 where he started work on the railways at the age of 15. He spent five years on the railways in Derbyshire and London. Later, after attending college in Chesterfield, he went to Hull University in 1972 and discovered the coal-burning Humber ferries and spent three summers firing the Lincoln Castle. Together with his wife Katharine he spent fifteen years operating camping, hotel and community boats on Britain’s inland waterways. As well as writing articles on railways, paddle steamers and canals, his time firing London Transport steam engines is recalled in the book Red Panniers co-authored with John Scott Morgan.