June on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin – weedy in parts; ultimately glorious

June 10 – 18 2019

Monday 10th June – we had left Soulanges on the Canal de L’Aisne á la Marne in the morning and by lunchtime we had turned to port at the T junction at Vitry-en François and were heading up the Oest (West) section of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin.

Leaving industrial Vitry

We had 111 kilometres to travel uphill to Void, with 70 locks to help us. We had been warned by other boaters that the canal was full of weed, growing and floating, and indeed the VNF issued a warning to battle.

Before long the blue skies turned to grey and the rain that was to be with us for several days, on and off, began to fall. With locks to negotiate every kilometre this is not as much fun as it might seem.

We were following a commercial barge that was making particularly slow progress; however slowly we tried to go we kept catching her up, and then had to hang around at a lock waiting for our turn, but that’s what sharing canal space is all about.

And it is good to see he canals still being used for commercial purposes – taking freight of the road.

It was not too long before we reached the very pleasant mooring we had picked out on the map – Bignicourt-sur-Saulx. It is a delightfully peaceful place to stay the night, and a walk round the village elucidated some history from World War 1, when the village tried desperately to hold back a German advance across the river and canal, but were overcome and many lives were lost.

The village includes a chateau that is a small hotel, and opens its gardens to the public on a Saturday.

This was Sunday!

This bridge over the Saulx was a focal point of the fighting.

This beautiful snail was my other major find of the evening.

The next morning seemed drier so we drew in our ropes and went on our way. There was a need to find a baguette for lunch if possible. Google maps located one in the next village, where there was also a good long jetty so we felt our luck was in. However every space was taken apart from a short length at the far end, quite close to the next lock.

A plan was hatched – Stewart would put the bow into the small space, I would (somehow) jump off and rush to the boulangerie and back while he hung about mid stream waiting for me and the lock.

It worked! I arrived back with baguette in the wet weather baguette bag just in time to watch the lock gates open and Calliope glide in.

When will the sun shine again?

We continued in the rain, eating lunch along the way. By the tenth lock of the day we were wondering if it would every stop – and still 5 more to go to the night’s mooring.

It got so chilly that we thanked Piper for the heater that blows warm air up from the engine room!

This kept the Captain warm – I meantime was out in the elements. Lucky I like water.

Things got interesting around Sermaize-les-Bains, where a lock is followed in short succession by two bridges, a sharp S shape bend under a third, followed by a basin leading into the next lock, out of which was reversing a large commercial barge!

Astern astern

Uo until now sensors either side of the canal had detected our approach to a lock and begun to prepare it for us, but as we reached lock 55 the system changed.

Now we could put to use the telecommander, or zapper as we preferred to call it, pointing it at each lock when we reached the command sign on the edge of the canal.

On up through another three locks and we reached Revigny-sur-Ornaine where we hoped to stop for the night. We had been warned that the wooden jetty was taped off, but still usable, so headed towards it. But the owner of the Belgian cruiser already tied up there, came gingerly towards us to want us off – most planks of the jetty had rotted through – so Plan B came into operation.

Plan B – moor up against the VNF ice breaker, Asterix

Plan B came to be the best plan! At about 8pm, in great agitation, our Belgian friend came to our boat to point out that the water level in the bief was rapidly dropping and they were already aground! He phoned the pompiers (fire service) and gendarmes, the latter of whom duly arrived looking very perplexed. Raising the water in a canal had not been in their training.

ut they were trained in making phone calls to useful people and after another 20 minutes two VNF cars sped up. By then we had discovered that several of the ‘vantelles’ which allow water into and out of the adjacent lock had remained open and water was simply pouring out of our stretch of the canal (bief). The VNF cavalry got to work once more, partly opening up three next locks up the canal and over night the level gradually rose.

And us? Well moored to Asterix we were further out into the channel in deeper water, and unharmed by the experience.

I like to note the different style of lock-keeper houses on the different canals. On this canal the houses are built on 3 levels at the back, and two at the front – reflecting the fact that the canal is built up on a levée

Some are no longer occupied and left in varying degrees of decay and neglect.

This one has almost been captured by nature – it’s glazed entrance porch scarcely visible.

We had been told that the pont-levée (lift bridge) at Mussey would not be lifted between 11am and 2pm, so although only 6 kms away we set off at 8am in case there were problems at any of the 4 locks between us and the bridge.

And as luck would have it, we got stuck in the first lock!

Stewart tried to clear the masses of weeds that were stuck around the sensors on the lower lock gate; the lock was not filling with water and our best idea was that the system did not know that the lock gates had shut – but to no avail.

So Lesley’s ‘lock French’ to the rescue, phoning the éclusier’s office to explain where we were and what the problem was.

It worked, and we were soon free and on our way, enjoying an artistic array of canal weed as we left the lock.

The art of floating weeds
Mussey Pont-Levée

We reached Mussey pont-levée in time to get through and onward before lunch. And then two further lift bridges to arrive at Bar Le Duc.

We moored up on the quay alongside the camper van park – all very civilised. It was possible to see the old town in the distance on top of a hill so once rested from our cruising exertions we started walking towards it.

We went over the river Ornain, and began to go upwards – steps and roads – onto a rampart style walk with stunning views of the roofs of the newer, but still old, town below.

The ‘higher’ town, dating from medieval times hosts so many interesting buildings, so here are a few – the Chateau, now a museum, the church (where we had a private tour from an enthusiastic guide in his eighties, and pretending did to understand),and the c13 covered market, the clock tower.

My favourite weird story from Bar de Luc is about the wife of a Prince of Orange who, when he was killed in the siege of St Dizier asked for a sculpture to be made of what he would look like 3 years after he died (if dug up!)

Here is the strange (full size) result!

So weird to my mind.

We strolled and rolled back down the steep roads to the newer town below and found a pavement bar to revive us before and relaxation before returning to the barge for the remainder of the evening.

Next day was mainly a boat day – filling with water, cleaning winter green from window edges, and re-stocking with provisions.

Then we went out to walk round another part of town before beer and pizza.

This took us over the lovely Notre Dame bridge over the Ornaine river, with old houses flanking the banks.

Michaux, inventor of the bicycle

We discovered another of Bar de Luc’s famous son’s – Michaux – though I am sure he did not look like this!

We found a second bar with Stewart’s favourite game! And he came up against a mini pinball wizard; they enjoyed what was apparently a good pinball game.

The pizza itself was interesting on three levels/Police outside pizza place, and lovely old church. First, it was delicious, and cooked by a Tunisian, not an Italian. Second, whilst eating a table on the pavement we were suddenly disturbed by two police cars, sirens screeching, once of which drove onto the pavement. The police jumped out and arrested a young lad who looked quite innocent, but unsurprised.

And then there was this lovely old church – a complete mish-mash of styles.

Easterly leaving of Bar de Luc

We continued our journey on Friday, following a yacht at first, under a pont levée. We soon lost sight of them, being surprised by a big barge after an S bend under a bridge!

Bye bye Bar de Luc, as the bridge comes down

Later that day we had another lock that would not open – leading to an hour’s wait in a peaceful spot – then the same again 3 locks later!

On this one I had to scramble ashore from the bow into who knows what undergrowth, in order to reach the lock and use their phone.

It was too remote for us to have reception on the mobiles!

We were unable to tie up, even to a tree trunk, and with the engine off we drifted pleasantly and quietly from side to side.

But all good fun!

Once we were on our way again we passed by many moss laden lock doors, water lilies, and pieces of old lock keeper’s equipment, (I think these structures were to hold the long barge poles). Ah, this is the life!

Reached Tonville-en Barrois and found a delightful mooring just at the edge of the village, but out of sound of any road. Just birds, and later rain drops, to soothe us.

We took a walk round the village and were pleased to find a boulangeries for the morning, plus an amazing old fortified church, going back to the c12. And, more exciting for me, the first lavoir of the season.

The singing of the rain

Overnight it poured and poured with rain, hammering down on the roof of the boat – we love that sound – but it had consequences for the weediness of the canal next day, as you will see.

I made a quick trip to the boulangerie before we left Tronville, with a plan for the day of 17 locks – but we fell at the first hurdle. The first lock was chock-a-block with weed, and once full the doors would not open to let us out.

Captain Stu had a go at clearing the sensors with a boathook to no avail, so on the phone to the VNF and then settle down to enjoy the enforced break, plus wash down the side of the barge following the previous days spattering from the guy cutting and strimming the grass next to our mooring.

That was lock 27. Subsequently we were held up at locks 20, 19 and 17 – in every case waiting outside the lock because the doors would not open and the ‘deux feus rouges’ appeared, meaning ‘en panne’ again.

At least we were not as unfortunate as this Norwegian yacht, which ran aground and was truly stuck for quite some time.

They did get free, and caught us up later.

We heard that another yacht had had its keel snapped off in the low water and had to be craned out of the canal – I hope that is not true.

We ate lunch on the go, enjoyed the sunshine and lockside flowers, and had a visiting dragonfly on the deck (sorry the desk is so dirty!)

At one of the ‘stop-locks’ I had time to study and photograph the system of pulley wheels that must have been used to haul barges under the bridges, while then patient horses walked round.

All of this had a good outcome – we stopped short of our planned mooring and found a countryside idyll at Naix-en Forges, with a grassy bankside and woods of birdsong above.  

Naix-aux-Forges also possesses quite an unusual lavoir, with steps down from a front doorway, arched windows, and an oval shape wash basin, still with fresh water running in, presumably from a stream.

And what is more, by then we appeared to have left behind the thick carpets of weed. Hooray!

All clear for tomorrow we hope.

Next morning before we left, and in the interests of my new resolve to lose weight (go, I forgot to tell you that didn’t I?) I then took a walk up to the road bridge and down the canal path to the next lock, while Stewart got under way and met me at the écluse.

We were now out in the weed-free glorious cow studded countryside, with blue skies, billowing clouds, and scarcely ever a boat to be seen.

We passed pastures full of flowers, little villages in the distance, and big hunting birds – mostly red kites, soaring above us.

The locks all worked perfectly, ready and open for us as we approached.

This was definitely one of the most enjoyable days on this canal – one of those days when you want to shout “this is why we did it!”

It is only with photos that I can do justice to the colours, the clarity of the water, the natural surroundings. Sorry not to wax more lyrical, but a picture paints a thousand words after all.

This day took us up to the top of the canal – next task the 5km tunnel to the other side. So we moored up just before Lock 1 at Demange-aux-Eaux, attached in a relatively precarious non-maritime way; each rope across the pontoon and round a signpost on the bank! But there were no bollards or cleats on the pontoon so little choice.

From the lock bridge at Demange

Luckily there is only a long distance view of this outrage.

We went for our customary walk around the village – a village with no shops, cafés, bars or restaurants. But they have a lovely bridge over the (much narrower than Bar De Luc) Ornaine river, and a church visible across the fields that has its entry over a tributary. Yes, that’s me posing on the church bridge.

Naix-aux Forges lavoir

As we crossed a smaller bridge we noticed what must have been in the past a lovely long, sunlit lavoir, and now seemingly used to store village bits and pieces. It was all locked up, netting across the washing area and the beautiful wood sides left to perish.

I managed a photo from yet another bridge. I can almost see and hear the chatter and splashing of the women as they washed their clothes; quite pleasant on a sunny summers day, but far from attractive to have that chore in the winter.

Maybe some day the villagers will decide it is a nice idea to restore it all.

I had a bit of ‘really-me’ time sitting on the pontoon, my feet in the water, and with a perfect mini world of nature below me. In the clear waters were tadpoles and little blue and yellow fish. Flying above were several types of dragonfly, bee and butterfly, darting from flower to flower, or water weed to water weed. All of course moving too fast for me, apart from these two feeble attempts, plus the dragonfly sex scene on our geraniums.

Stu and Boris swap canal and wine stories

That evening we made the enjoyable ‘mistake’ of inviting our neighbours, Boris and Marsha, across from their cruiser African Queen to swap notes on canals, locks and moorings.

They are lovely friendly people and we got to know them very well over some wine, breadsticks, and a remarkably good rum – from St Nicholas Abbey, Barbados.

With the knowledge of the tunnel in front of us, we called an end to the fun before it got too late – but definitely up for it next time!

Off to bed with a full moon shining – and is that Venus just to the right?

And so it was Mauvage tunnel day. I make it sound more frightening than it is of course. It’s just that I know Stewart doesn’t like the narrowness of the tunnels and the way they suck Calliope into the side.

Still we started off brightly, through lock 1, and heading for the left hand turn towards the tunnel. Seemed a shame to be going underground on such a beautiful June day, but only for an hour.

The arm up to the tunnel entrance passes the old ‘Towing Service’ building. Until quite recently all boats and barges were towed through the tunnel and some of the service boats were moored up outside.

Then into and out of the tunnel – all 4.785kms of it, well lit and with a path running alongside the water where our éclusier friend rode his bike to keep us company. It took almost an hour of Stewart’s undivided attention to make sure we kept a straight path, and we emerged into the sunshine undamaged and undaunted.

There are 12 locks down into the next town, Void-Vacun. That felt good after the 70 upward locks of the previous week! We took on the first 7 and then stopped for lunch, allowing nature girl a few more photos!

An hour later and we arrived in Void, to find all the official moorings full, the bridge about to be closed for work next day, and the shops closed – it is Monday in France after all!

But all worked out fine. We were permitted to moor up on an old industrial wharf where goods from huge silos (we are not sure what) were once moved by barge, and now by lorry. It was surprisingly peaceful, the occasional lorry on the weighbridge gone by 4pm, the gates locked, and the space left to us and dozens of house martins.

Evening view across to Void-Vacun

After a tranquil evening and night we were up in the morning to watch the VNF tug do its mighty work pushing an iron barge topped with a massive girder for the bridge repairs. We watched as we walked over the passerelle to the town for food shopping.

The town was far more interesting than we had expected, with another old covered market place, with 44 columns to reflect the Roman buildings of nearby Nasium. For some bizarre reason, 4 are rectangular and the best are circular, in no particular pattern that I could detect.

A small river runs through the back of the town, the river Vidus, right by the little Proxi supermarket. We also found a good boulangerie and a great boucherie, with typical slightly raucous butcher’s chat!

As we walked back to the boat we cut through under Les Halles, the old market place, and found ourselves on front of a mighty fortified gateway, through which are the church, the chateau …

… and a characterful, part fortified, pigeon house. So much more to Void than immediately catches the eye.

The old Void bridges and lavoir

And in case you thought I had forgotten the lavoirs, Void’s lavoir has now gone, but a photo including women doing their washing is next to the canal bridge where it used to stand.

And then I went for a walk round the back of town and found another lavoir, on a branch of the River Vidus, next to a pretty tumbling area of the river.

Back to Calliope for the evening and a quiet time on the back deck waiting for sundown – rather late at this time of year, with the summer solstice only 3 days away!

Tomorrow morning it will be good bye to Void, and good bye to the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, Oest.


Late start to 2019 – Sillery to Vitry

(Skipper’s note: Loose plans for this year had seen us heading further north towards the Lille/Cambrai area for next winter. However with two of the three canal choices we had to get up there currently closed half way through, we decided to go Route Four – and turn south – About Face . . . . )

So eventually – after moving house, a full service and eight new solid solar panels on the roof (well done Skips) we are off, heading south on the Canal L’Aisne à La Marne – and within 10 minutes and under grey skies we met our first lock – my first for 8 ½ months!  Luckily I remembered what to do, and had good French instructions to aid me..

We had half a plan to go all the way to to Condé-sur-Marne that day, but after two hours, 3 locks, and the threat of an ‘orage’ (thunderstorm) with 98kph winds we decided to moor up on an old industrial wharf in a basin at Sept-Saulx.

The wharf edge was decorated by poppies, my favourite flower, so we took this to be a good omen and tied up. Sitting back and planning next steps it occurred to us that we did not have canal guides for the two canals we were aiming for, and it is not easy to have post delivered along the canal ….. however a call to Damien, the Capitaine we got to know so well during our 5 week sojourn at Chalons-en-Champagne last year, and somewhere we would be passing in two days time, resulted in agreement for the new guides to be delivered there.

Skipper’s aside: I have, for as long as I am still a European, furled my Red Duster and raised a defaced European Union flag – nailing my colours to the mast as it were.

I find this photo of Lesley’s poppies doubly poignant, being a symbol of the utter futility of the millions of young European lives destroyed in the First World War by the machinations of a small number of power crazed autocrats determined to reorganise obsolete frontiers for their own benefit.

At the time of writing, my simple flag is a big plea to my countryfolk not to put those frontiers back in place.

Clouds gathering at Sept-Saulx

 We managed a walk round the village before holing up as dark clouds gathered and sure enough it did begin to rain – big fat drops that splattered the calm surface of the canal. Later thunder lightning and a strong wind joined in as forecast, although not anywhere near 98kph.

Panels still looking good though . . . .

Waiting for the Billy Tunnel green light

The next day it was still raining so we hung on until about 10am before setting off to Condé– a trip of  only 14.5 kms, but including a 2.3km tunnel and 8 locks. 

The Billy tunnel is described in the Du Breil canal guide as ‘attractive‘ – an odd word for a tunnel. But it is in a lovely area with a delightful mooring place to wait your turn, and runs in a good straight line so that you can see light at both ends of the tunnel all through your journey. We waited for a full sized commercial barge to emerge before it was our turn.

Captain Stu also noticed this time (it was Calliope’s 3rdvoyage through) that the commercial barge leaving was hugging the towpath side. On closer inspection in the half light, the wooden rail just above the water line that we previously thought was a crash barrier turns out to be a rubbing rail, and if you allow yourself to get ‘sucked’ onto it (Stu’s words) you slide through ‘like a rocket slid on rails (Stu’s words).

Truly marvelous’, Stu

We ate lunch during the wonderfully simple ‘chained’ set of 8 locks down, ie the next one prepared and opened for us as we approached.  And at 2.30 we arrived and moored up at Condé-sur-Marne; day 2 of our 2019 odyssey successfully completed.

Moored at Conde-sur-Marne with lock number 8 behind us

“So far so good,” says Captain Stu.

While the Captain became galley slave I took myself off to find what the maps called an aqueduct. And this is what I discovered – a c19 way to take water from the river below up into the hills. The tower is/was a pumping house. I later met a school teacher from the village who told me that the water is for the canal, nit for agriculture as I first thought.

I returned to the French equivalent of sausage and mash with onion gravy – mmmmm – and a quiet evening aboard reading more of my latest Ian Rankin.

The only disturbance was watching another storm moving in and waiting for the heavy rain and thunder. Still, there’s nothing finer than been tucked up in the wheelhouse in a good old proper storm is there?

Next morning was far better – grey skies, but no rain – so we slipped the ropes and set off back down the Canal Lateral de la Marne towards Chalons en Champagne, our home for 5 weeks last Autumn and where we planned to collect our maps.

We were accompanied along the way by a casual stow away with an orange head.

As we came into Chalons we were amazed to see a tall tall crane above the cathedral, with a group of people seemingly clinging on at the top! I watched with a certain degree of shock, wondering what they were doing – maybe protesting about something, as the French often do. And then I saw them begin to slide down one at a time! They look like flies in these photos, but zoom in!

It was only later when we had moored up that I discovered this was part of some elaborate preparations for a huge sound and light show occurring at the cathedral in two days time, sadly after we expected to have left Châlons.

The Furies festival, taking place in the park adjacent to the mooring

Ah well, Châlons still saw to it that we were entertained. We had managed to arrive one day onto the famous Furies festival. This is a 5 day free festival held mainly at outside venues around the city, with links (I think) to the Circus school here. It focuses on the bizarre and surreal, a mixture of street theatre, circus and music.

Stewart and I had an early evening wander round, and I found plenty to intrigue; their festival currency of ‘the furie’, the airstream crepe cafe, the music of Babil Sabir 2 (google them!), the strange play illustrating the aftermath of a car crash, and the very unusual tightrope strip and sex-act-on-the-wire show (luckily rather blurred on account of my shock)!

And you know you are in the Champagne region when only alcohol that the relaxed pop-up bar by the lake serves is 2 types of champagne, ratafia and rosé wine!

The plan was to carry on next day, with our new maps to guide us. However they were not delivered by 2pm, Captain’s cut-off time for slipping away on what turned out to be another wet and windy afternoon. Well at least we are near Stewart’s favourite boulangerie, so I got some of their quiche for a comforting supper.

And in the end we were waiting another two days for our new map books to arrive. In fact it was so windy most of those 48 hours that we were quite pleased to be tied up in such a nice town.

It also have me two more days of the Furies festival! Friday was fun with the crazy ‘A Good Place’ team, where their snaking waiting crowd was encouraged to join in dance routines and other entertainment; an incomprehensible (it was in French) promenade in the Jardin d’Anglaise with the two male performers running and shouting amongst the audience and round the park; and a bit of trapeze mastery when the wind died down.

Sally, Tin Tin, Morphios and Stu

Being in Châlons on Saturday also gave me the opportunity to go to the market and buy some delicious fruit, veg and bread. We took a stroll down to the River Marne in the afternoon and returned to find our lovely neighbours on Pavot suggesting champagne in the ‘Cosy Bar’ by the lake with their dogs. How could we possibly refuse?

The evening developed into a festival before I went into the centre of town to watch a great tightrope performer in the square, with a backdrop of some of Chalon’s beautiful old buildings.

Then a rapid march back to the Cathedral for one of the most dramatic and astonishing spectacles of my life. It began with an angel appearing on the roof of the Cathedral.

Then other angels appeared, in ones, twos and threes, seemingly from the night sky. As they ‘flew’ towards earth they began to scatter white feathers which gently drifted down on us mortals below.

The angels became ever more daring, and with ever more feathers

Until finally we were showered with feathers from every direction. The delight that swept the crowd was infectious and people behaved as if in a snowstorm, throwing feathers in the sir, dancing to the music, and laughing.

I am so glad that I didn’t miss this!

My boat is covered in feathers. Did I miss something?

Next day we were up on time and raring to go. There was a quick run to the boulangerie for fresh bread, and then we set off south down the Canal Lateral de La Marne watching Châlons fade away in the distance.

Before too long we were at the first lock, pleased to see the green and red lights that told us the lock was being made ready for us

And on we went down past the villages and silos, the winding holes for big barges to turn round, locks and countryside.

Occasionally we saw wildlife, usually herons. There are plenty of young herons trying out their fishing skills at this time of year.

He’ll not catch much sat on that bollard . . .

He’s not sitting. He’s standing! Look closer.

Our lunch time stop at La Chaussee sur Marne

We carried on until we reached Soulange, knowing it to be a peaceful rural mooring and just right following city dwelling in Châlons. I have to admit that we were a little disappointed when another small cruiser squeezed onto the jetty behind us – notwithstanding that it is important always to welcome and help others to moor – even if they are rather noisy.

I took a walk over to the river Marne and along the bank for a while. There was a lovely view back to Soulange church through the undergrowth, and tranquil scenes of the river.

It seemed to be the first day of the dragonflies – they were everywhere, flitting about just out of range of my camera most of the time, but I did get a few ‘on film’.

Then back to our mooring to discover that old friends Matthew and Helen on a sister Piper barge Havelock had arrived – we shared a jetty with them at the T&K marina on the Thames when we were first in the water. A rare treat, although as Stewart was a bit under the weather it was just me who was able to enjoy their company.

Soulanges sunset

The day finished with one of the most beautiful canal sunsets I have seen, ah La Belle France.

Next day was destined to see us down to Vitry-en-Francois, and the end of our known waterways. We would be launching into a new canal by afternoon, so we enjoyed the last of the Canal lateral de la Marne.

I think that the most memorable ‘look back’ was to the quarry mooring where we stayed last year and our ropes were covered with blue butterflies.

Then at last, the junction at Vitry, and we turned left onto the Canal de La Marne au Rhin, and new vistas opened before us.

The Longer Way Home

Tournai to Kortrijk, via Gent

24th September to 5th October 2021 plus a week in Kortrijk

We were sad to be losing our visitor Hugh, but taxi companies at the next places up the river were less than co-operative, and with his luggage Hugh was not keen on using a series of buses to get back to his car – don’t blame him!

So once we had given him a good send off in Tournai it was our turn to be moving on.

We left Tournai, on the Escaut or Scheldt or Schelde river (depending on your language preference) heading North, enjoying the ever changing glimpses of the city as we went.

There were only two locks along the way that day; here we are at the first one, waiting as it is prepared for us, as signalled by the red and green lights. Before long we we’re in, alone in quite a big lock lengthwise, although not deep and easy to navigate.

We have been up and down this section of the Haut Escaut (also known as Schelde) a few times now, but I am still inspired by things that we see – maybe in a different light or from a different angle. It is such a mix of ancient and modern, rural and urban.

We intended to look at the mooring below Bossuit lock, hoping that not would be empty and looking good; it was, on both counts. We managed to get there by lunch time; it was an almost perfect place to arrive at for the weekend, and on a beautiful day too.

The nose of the big barge seen towards mid-left on the photo indicates the entrance two the Bossuit lock. If we were in a hurry to get home we would be going up through the lock (quite a deep one) and along the subsequent canal to Kortrijk and our winter mooring. But we had time to spare!

We had a beautiful afternoon and evening there, watching people come for weekend fun in speed boats and on jet skis – and on Vespas! There is the only Vespa hire place I have ever seen in my long life there at Bossuit!

Stu and I had a gentle stroll around Bossuit, discovering its ‘chateau’ and long avenue, now unused. There is also a marvellous church that was destroyed in WW1, rebuilt then partially destroyed again in WW2. It os now left as a shell to show what has been and what is now. It is rather beautiful.

I found this moth on board, sadly dead, and was fascinated to see how colourful the back wings were, underneath the rather dull front wings.

A bit of research seems to indicate that it is a Large Yellow Underwing – which is pretty much how I would have e described it!

Later, after the Saturday boaters left us all alone, we watched the sun go down ….

… with a glass of wine!

Sunday morning was a bit misty, but the early sun soon came slanting in, catching Calliope broadbeam and creating a warm light space in the wheelhouse for breakfast.

We were now onto new waters for us, continuing downstream towards Oudenaarde. We have not cruised along this part of the Schelde (Escaut) before, and were surprised to see some distant hills in a normally quite flat Belgian countryside. The early blue skies were sliding towards greyness as we travelled northwards., and the scenery kept changing, though mostly rural.

Then we reached Oudenaarde. Ahead off us was a lift bridge, and its was not until it actually began to left that we realised it was one of the rather modern ‘verticals take-off’ ones! More modern miracles to see.

When it came to mooring he we had listened to the advice from Belgian barging friends and tied up to the wall. This is opposite the lift bridge entrance to the marina where most leisure boats go. Calliope would fit in the marina, but the wall was more convenient for the town and saved the faff of asking for another bridge to be raised, and hoping for a space within the port.

As usual, once lunch and a short rest were out of the way, we were off to explore our new surroundings, starting with a nearby park.

Then into the centre, and what a town Oudenaarde is! We were not prepared for yet another of Belgium’s hidden wonders!

The main square, is replete an d picturesque with gilded town hall, bars, restaurants and high quality shops. I have rarely seen such a good collection of independent clothes shops.

And the colourful paper spheres hung across all the streets in the centre brought a sense of fun and fiesta to the town.

There is a towering cathedral, watching over everything across there town. In its shadow was an ancient bar; we chose this from the multitude on offer and watched Oudenaarde’s evening promenades over a couple of beers.

Then on to what turned out to be one of the best Italian restaurants we have been to. The pizzas were superb – hand thrown dough and excellent topping.

The carafe of rosé wine was good too!

Thank you Google maps and all those who bother to review restaurants, so that we can quickly see which one of many pizza places was likely to one best.

And, luckily for us on the following morning, there was also a full set of commerce in town, including a brico, or DIY shop, about a kilometre’s walk from the boat. We wanted some nuts and bolts, a new mop and I got a pipe cleaner while I was there.

Those purchases led to a bit of boat maintenance, before lunch, and then a bit more exploring.

We had been told that the museum and the beguinage were well worth seeing. Sadly we were there on the one day of the week that the museum is shut, the beguinage is always open; people live there still, though no longer as beguines. (A beguine was a single woman wanting to live a life of safety amongst other woman, but not under holy vows. There were many such groups across Flanders from C13 onwards).

When we were not in the town we were enjoying the mooring between the lift bridge and the lock. Although this photos os serene we did have a lot of commercial traffic passing by – probably 30-40 barges a day – but not causing us more than a small amount of turbulence.

We stayed two nights and could have enjoyed Oudenaarde for longer. We always say we love the rural moorings best, and indeed we do, but there s something about the lights of a town playing on the water that makes urban living very palatable too!

Just before we leave Oudenaarde I will use the town as an example of the enthusiasm with which the Belgians have added Halloween to their festivities.

From early October, and in this case late September, shop windows become spooky and homes have heaps of pumpkins outside.

However we were keen to get to Gent to meet our good friends and spend a few days with them, so with a fair day dawning we prepared to go off along the river. Over on the right, across this wide basin, you can just see the lift bridge entrance to the port, back at a hairpin angle to Calliope’s direction.

There was the usual activity in and out of Oudenaarde lock as we set off, and we waited our turn below Liefman’s brewery – home of one of my favourite Kriek beers. Fancy discovering that as I am leaving!

Soon we were through the lock and on our way towards Ghent – or Gent as it is spelt in Belgium.

After a gentle journey through the countryside we arrived at Asper lock, our last of the day (or so we thought).

We had followed Avary down from Oudenaarde, where we had let her into the lock first. We prefer to be behind the big boats, rather than in front.

It is just another 2.4m lock, but this was an other of those occasions when the spacing of the bollards, on the quay and in the wall, is not in our favour.

Not a problem; just a quick change of plan and we do the one rope trick!

On we went through the September sunshine. At one point Avery and Calliope passed a little Visuris (Flanders Waterway Authority) survey vessel. They are good at keeping an eye on the state of the canals and infrastructure, and even take responsibility if your boat is damaged b y something they should have moved or repaired – or at least warned you about.

It was not too long before we were crossing the Ring Vaart, the ‘express’ waterway that surrounds Gent, allowing the commercial boats to avoid the little twisting rivers that enter into the heart of the city.

For us, crossing to the narrower part of the Schelde was essential for our plan to enter the city. It is a mostly pretty way to enter Gent and with the sun behind us Calliope made happy progress. We came to the junction with the Muinkschelde – a canal built by the monks of St Peter’s Abbey in the Middle Ages to make out easier to transport their goods. It still leads to the city centre and two of the main moorings (Lindelei and Ketelvest), but we were heading for Portus Ganda and took the right fork.

Then came a slight surprise! We had forgotten that we had one more, small, lock to go through – Brusselse-Poort. It had been out of action every other time we had been to this majestic city, so we had always used another route. This time we needed to call and ask to descend the lock.

Soon after the lock we turned left onto the Visservaart up to the Portus Ganda basin. The lock keeper had asked our height and on hearing we were 3m he said that we would fit under the Lousbergbrugg. It looked a bit tight to us when we arrived there, but we squeaked under, PV panels intact!

We always enjoy entering a city by water and seeing the homes and businesses that have grown up around the river or canal. Gent is no exception.

And so into Portus Ganda – a lovely basin in central Gent. We were surprised to see two other boats on the Rood Touren quai where we have moored before, but there was still plenty of room for us and soon we were tied up at the bridge end; makes a change as we have always moored at the other end of this quay!

It wasn’t long before our friend Captain Frans was on the quay to say hello. Annoyingly I had picked up some throat infection thing and was soon asleep, but expecting to be better next day – and was!

We did some food shopping in the morning – it’s nice to be in a place that you sort of know and can just go to the shops with our too much thought.

Later we got an invitation to supper with Frans and wife Mieke on their barge, Dreamer – moored just 150 yards along the basin. Dreamer is the last third boat from the right along the tree lined Voorhoutkaai in the photo above. And that evening we were treated to a Brazilian fish soup with rice, cooked by Masterchef Frans! It was delicious.

We were full of intentions to return the culinary favour next day, but then Stewart caught my throaty thing and it was his turn to be asleep for most of the day. Our plan of a walk round the evening bright lights off Gent, followed by a frites supper had to be called off.

I went for my own walk around the parts of the city that I love best, and came across this wonderful roof in a street I had not come across before. It is the old City Hall started in the 16th/17th centuries. My Super Gent Guide Mieke tells me that construction came to a halt because of religious disputes. When the dust had settled there was no more money left …

Although we were going the next day I knew there would be time for a breakfast treat at one of the excellent local coffee shops and an opportunity to say goodbye. In the end it was just Mieke and I who did this – Frans being busy dismantling a mast, and Stewart being busy doing manly things in the engine room.

As you can see we had a very good breakfast! Far more than I expected, and ‘lekker’ (delicious) too.

By 1015 we were off, leaving Mieke with the white chrysanthemum that had been one of my deck plants for the two months aboard.

It would be far happier in the warmth of Dreamer’s saloon than left out in the winter winds of Kortrijk!

Back through the Portus Ganda basin, along Visservaart and under the low bridge (which we had raised for us this time), up the Brusselse Poort lock, and along the Scheldt to the Ring Vaart ……

…. which we joined this time, to take us round to the Leie river – eventual direction Kortrijk! Before peeping out of the Schelde I checked the traffic movements on the VisuRis website – it is very helpful for checking the position of big barges if you don’t have AIS own your boat.

The Leie between Gent and Deinze is as beautiful as it is bendy! Some of the bends are hairpin, and many are right angle, so the Captain is constantly on his toes in case anything appears around the bend. Usually it is just ducks and coots at this time off the year.

We were heading for and hoping for one of our favourite moorings – Saint-Marten-Latem. The VisuRis system was showing a boat there already, and we know it is only a 20m pontoon, so no room for us if another boat is moored up.

Then, just as we got to the last 200 yards, I saw on the screen that the boat was moving towards us! How lucky were we? Just as we came round the final grey bend we saw the ‘offending’ cabin cruiser come towards us, and beyond an empty pontoon. Hooray! (There is a smile on my face under that hat, I promise!)

There was a gap in the showers and we set off for a walk – only for it to start raining before we had gone 100 yards! Normally at Saint-Martens we walk around the village and marvel at the art gallery and sculptures that abound in this well heeled yet bohemian place. This time we went along country paths, wet, green and dotted with sheep.

Then back to a cosy evening aboard with our Refleks stove lit for the first time in 2021. I love Calliope on autumn and winter nights, so warm and intimate.

We only stayed one night. The cruise next day had three distinct themes.

The first theme was older houses. There are many striking modern houses along the edge of the Leie, but this time ~I thought I would capture some of the older properties, with their big lawns and sense of belonging.

The second theme was pastoral – stretches of water meadows feeding herds of cows and sheep, many inquisitive about this boat passing them by.

Then, just as we were navigating some of the most tortuous twists in the river, wide came upon the third theme!!

We came upon a rowing event. This comprised something like twenty coxed skiffs of various sizes from pairs to eights. They were well spread out and each time we asked a boat of they were the last one they replied “No, many more boats to come!” And come they did, usually just as we went round a sharp bend! I stood in the bow calling out to each one to make sure they had seen us; we didn’t hit any, and they did not hit us. There was a series of friendly happy exchanges between different craft on the same river.

Our thoughts had been to go to Deinze that day, but as we reached Astene and came through the manually (note man in red jacket) lifted bridge we saw that the pontoon there was empty.

It has always been full when we have passed before so we had not expected to stop there, but now was our chance.

So here we are moored up next to a reed bed on a grey October Saturday; very pleasant, calm and secure – although it poured with rain that night and the river rose at least 20cms! But before all that I went for a walk.

I went along a loop of the old Leie, now sensibly cut off by a simple straight bit of canalised river through Astene. That has left a beautiful piece of countryside, full of waterscapes. Just look at those 5 views – all with part of the Leie – including bottom centre the straight bit at Astene with Calliope moored up.

I got back in time to cook a good warming supper, and just before the rain began to lash down – for the next 14 hours non-stop! We realised in the morning that the river level had gone up 20cm overnight; all safe and sound for us on a floating pontoon.

We waited and waited in the morning for the rain to stop before we set off, and eventually gave up as we were only going about 3kms!

So off under grey skies to Deinze.

We know Deinze quite well now and were soon easily tied up on the long curved quay. By then the skies had started to clear and the rain had stopped, so after lunch we were off to take a Sunday walk around town and the park.

There are so many interesting little corners of Deinze it is hard to know where to start. A new feature was this inside/outside dining room where you are invited to bring your own meal a sit down to dine. Next to this fascination is a small park, with a duckweed filled channel adding to the greenness. And outside the fire station a slightly larger than life statue of a ‘brandweerman’ at work.

We moved on into the main park – De Brielmeersen – a big open area on the ‘corner’ between the Leie and the Schipdonkcanal.

It looks to me as if ti includes some more old loops and twirls of the Leie, now cut off fro the main river.

It includes a collection of animals – not quite a zoo, but interesting and entertaining just the same.

There are sheep – some more interested in me than others!

There are donkeys (my favourite), humans having too much fun, and storks.

But back to boats and barges!

We went back aboard to enjoy our last evening and night out on the waterways, planning to steam along the final stretch in the morning, to reach Kortrijk and our winter mooring .

Monday morning was beautiful – just right for a cruise with just two big wide locks to go through.

But as we were getting ready to go just after 9 o’clock I received a VisuRis notice to say that the first of the two locks on front of us was closed for the morning due to underwater damage.

We were concerned that there would be a build up of large commercial barges either side of the lock, and that even when it opened there could be considerable delay in us getting through. We could risk spending our last night away from ‘home’ moored by a lock in a queue of other barges – or stay in Deinze in the sun!

So we stayed another night in Deinze.

We sat back and enjoyed the extra time we had had donated to us. It enabled me to notice the one rosemary flower that my little rosemary bush had produced all year; time to note that the river level had dropped quite a bit and ropes were now slack; time for the Captain to enjoy a glass of wine as the autumn sun went down – a sun so brightened low that he needed to wear his panama hat in the wheelhouse!

As the sun went down clouds began to appear in the West – was this a harbinger of what was too come tomorrow?

My walk to the bakery in the morning was in golden-hued sun, shining in on the old disused mill complex.

I was glad the buildings were so well lit as they appear to be due for demolition and this might be my last chance to see them.

I love to think of the years of workers and barges coming and going here; it would have been a busy wharf, noisy and by today’s standards quite dangerous!

Back on board we got ready to go just as the sun disappeared – as forecast! We knew to expect rain by the time we reached the second lock, but in the meantime the Captain concentrated on taking Calliope through the two lift bridges on the way out of Deinze.

The second one, on the right, is very new, only opened a few months previously. It is a useful footbridge connection across to the park – very modern.

By the time we reached the first lock at Sint-Baafs-Vijve the weather was definitely turning. The flags show how gusty the wind was becoming, and the rain was threatening to arrive any minute.

We allowed a hotel barge that had been following us to slip ahead of Calliope, and behind a freycinet at the front of the queue.

The lock keeper had explained over the radio that we would be waiting half an hour for some other boats to come down the lock, so we tied up and had a cup of tea.

Then we were in the lock – a huge new lock that was still being built this time last year.

It is about 200m long!!!!

For those of a civil engineering mindset, here is a link to a one minute speeded up video of installing the new 43 ton lock gates:

By the time we reached Harelbeke, the second lock of the day, and the last of the season, the storm had arrived.

Thank goodness for my mother’s old sailing trousers! It was not nice out there, although I do like to be out in all weathers to be honest.

The Captain, meantime, stayed in the dry!

Three hours later the storm had blown over, we were moored up in our home port of Kortrijk for the winter months, the mast was up and all was good.

Our shortened season was complete. Instead of our usual 6 months aboard each summer we were curtailed in 2021 by Covid regulations and by the new Brexit rules.

Nonetheless we had had a really good time, exploring new waterways including the Sambre, and revisiting old favourites like Pommeroeul, Antoing and Leers Nord.

The map shows, in purple, our route, with just the final section across the top from Waregem to Kortrijk rising.

We like Kortrijk and have enjoyed it as a home port for three years now. Each time we come back I post a few photos to give an idea of the city – small, historical, arty, friendly. This year there has been a huge art installation exhibition across the city called Paradise in Kortrijk.

Here is my Autumn 2021 election.

I seem to have done a lot of my walking and phogtobgrapohing in the dark this time, but it is dark by about 7pm at this time of year.

Autumn was certainly upon us, with inside in the shops and outside in the early morning mists, that could last until midday.

We made the most of autumn – enjoying the city socially, and going out with boating friends two nights running and having a good food fun meal at the Egyptian Restaurant that we like.

But then down to work!

Preparing and varnishing the wheelhouse, mast and dog box is an annual task, keeping the wood nice and shiny. I’m involved in the prep work, but the Master does the skilful stuff as I’m not to be trusted with a paint brush!

We had arranged in advance for new canvas top covers for the wheelhouse and the dog box. Once Elvis (yes, he is called Elvis) had been to measure up and take the old covers as a guide I went up atop the wheelhouse to give the wood a good clean before the new cover arrived

Nice view along the port from there!.

A few days later Elvis was back for the final fitting – just in time as we watched the dark skies gather around us!

He was meticulous with his fitting, returning one more time to his factory to do some finishing off before he was done.

He did a great job; Calliope looks really smart.

Another task we had set ourselves was to try and choose a new winter mooring place for the next year. As I have said we do like Kortrijk a lot, but wanted to explore more of the waterways of France in 2022, where we can also more easily get a long-stay visa.

That included a short trip by car across to Wambrechies – a port on the Deûle in northern France, and just a 30 minute journey away. We liked the port, the town, and a very pleasant park behind a chateau (now library and museum) all very close by.

The empty quay shown is due for a makeover, to include water and electricity – maybe by winter 2022, and maybe not! So for now we will keep looking.

Before we knew it it was time to go. We left the PV panels down off the wheelhouse for the winter and closed all windows and hatches tight. Captain Stu ‘winterised’ the electricity and water systems, I set the thermostatically controlled plugs for the winter heaters, and we were off.

It `always feels a little sad to look back at Calliope, tucked in between the other boats and left alone for a few months – but we should be back to see her and Kortrijk in December for a few days.

Before long we were on another boat – a much larger one – and crossing the channel from Dunkirk on a perfect calm and sunny day.

No ropes to throw; no wheel to steer, apart from the car on the way back to Hampshire from Dover.

So that’s it for another year – our seventh happy summer with Calliope.

Visitors aboard for our last days in France in 2021!

With family and friends in North East France and Western Belgium

14th to 24th September 2021

We were at Corbehem, just inside Le Scarpe Superieure, which goes on to Arras, with a plan of a slow cruise to Lille; there we would meet with son and partner who were arriving by Eurostar for a short stay.

We also had just 10 days left on our vignette (waterway tax) for France, so good planning was key.

On a rather grey day Stu steered us past the collection of old stationary barges that line the right bank, out to the ‘crossroads’ where we meet the Canal de la Sensée, Dérivation de la Scarpe and La Scarpe Moyenne.

We joined the main waterway heading North (the Dérivation) and into the first of only two locks that day.

It has the lovely name of Courchelettes – the name of the adjacent small town.

We found ourselves needing to deploy our ‘one-rope’ strategy in the lock, due to the spacing of the bollards on the quay and in the wall.

By now we were quite practised at this, so whilst always being aware that things can change at any moment in a lock, we felt comfortable.

Before long we were through the second lock at Douai and looking at the entrance to La Scarpe Inférieure, normally a route through to Belgium and a join with the Escaut, but currently closed. This has meant quite a lot more boats going up towards Lille on the Canal de la Deûle, onto which we had just moved.

We were looking at our journey so far this, shortened, year; shortened by Covid and Brexit.

Our journey, in the dark purple, looked as if we were circumventing Africa! Or India.

This shows us up as far as Douai, with Le Scarpe Inférieure crossed through. We still had a way to go before winter, up to Kortrijk, but that is for future blogs!

Along the way we saw plenty of barges, working and retired, including a large basin full of ‘house-barges’. We also passed under about 17 bridges – I lost count – but the colourful penultimate one, for the A1, was my favourite.

After 3 hours we were nearing our stop. We had considered stopping at Courcelles Centre Aquatique, but on looking through the entrance to its basin it did look rather full up. Knowing that 8 kms further there was a mooring highly recommended by like minded boaters we thought it worth the extra time to get there.

To reach this mooring, in the Park des Berges de la Souchez at Courrières , Calliope turned to starboard at the Canal de Lens.

It is a narrow entrance but helpfully well signed.

The best thing I can say is that the mooring was entirely delightful!

Right next to us was an artificial floating island to en courage wildlife and we sat watching coots, ducks and moorhen coming and going. It was just wonderful for a nature freak like me!

A little later we were unexpectedly joined by an other Piper boat with friends aboard, leading to a pleasant evening chat on the back deck.

Next day Tadham Castle left for a round-about trip to their winter mooring – one of the boats that was having to take the long route due to the Scarpe closure.

We waved them off and decided to have a second day and night at Courrières, it being so tranquil.

But things don’t always go to plan on a boat. We discovered that morning a small but annoying problem with one of the pumps on board – the one that empties the black water tank. We looked locally for a brico (DIY) store in order to buy the parts needed, but there was none within walking distance – so a change of plan was required.

We decided to go on to Lille that day, bringing our journey forward by a day. In many ways this was good, giving us longer to look around Lille as well as find the pump parts. So off we went. The journey was relatively smooth and uneventful, northwards on the Canal de la Deule, and then onto La Deûle itself – somehow I didn’t take any photos en route!

It was nice to arrive and moor up in Lille – just in front of a startled Tadham Castle! – put our feet up and reward ourselves with a glass of wine.

This mooring at Lille is on the dead end old arm of the river up by the citadel, park and zoo. It is close by to a good Greek restaurant. More about all of these below!

Next day we got the parts we needed for the pump and Stewart was able to effect a full repair – which means we felt free to enjoy Lille.

We started by a walk round the citadel park to the next lock we would be passing on La Deûle. We needed to collect a re mote control from here that would let us enter the Roubaix canal when we next set off – and decided this was easier to do in advance on foot than when we arrived at the lock in the boat. This took us on a glorious promenade through the woods, meeting and losing the star shaped moat as we went. And mission was accomplished, with the rem one control obtained.

Next on our list was a relaxing drink at the Greek restaurant – you can see Calliope in the photo, meaning that there was not far to get back home.

And there was good beer and kir pêche on offer, before a very good moussaka and salad. We definitely recommend a visit here if you are in Lille.

Lille has hundreds of iconic and beautiful buildings. It is a university city, with many old colleges, gardens, and rich merchants homes. On this trip I failed to take photos of these, apart from this one doorway that I liked for its irises.

Next day was the zoo – quite a gallery from here! It’s a small zoo, but with a range of animals from white rhinos to meerkats, and a proliferation of birds. Here is a selection of animals.

And a selection of birds!

Plenty more on offer if you get the chance for a stroll around. The whole area around the citadel is lovely, and you can go into the fort itself as well, although we did not on this occasion.

Our last evening was warm and full of wonderful colours in the sky at sunset. We were all set for the first of our visitors to arrive the next day.

Son Ashley with partner Theresa were due to arrive on Eurostar at lunchtime; I met them, came back by bus, and we were ready to cast off by 1430.

Our guests had a good varied start to barging life – first backing out of the mooring to turn round in the widening 250 yards astern, then out on to the big commercial waterway of La Deûle. Here they were impressed (ha ha) to hear me talk in French on the VHF to the lock keeper and arrange for us to go through a largish lock.

Before long we saw the sign for the Canal de Roubaix, and soon turning, under a bridge, into this much smaller channel – another experience for A and T.

We were ready for the first lock along the canal, knowing that we needed to use the remote control collected two days before.

We saw the sign, saw the lock, and began pressing the button to prepare the lock for us.

But nothing was happening.

We got closer and closer – still nothing.

Then the Captain realised why! A big commercial barge was coming backwards into the lock from above! It had obviously been working upstream at a quay where it could not turn round, so was backing out of the canal to reach La Deûle with its wide waters! We would need to wait – in awe – until this clever manoeuvre was complete.

We now had almost 4 kilometres to cover before our booked meeting at the next lock with the local éclusier team – and we were not going to make it! So I rang and apologised, delaying our arrival for 30 minutes.

Calliope got to the lock at Marcq-en-Baroeil at the newly appointed time, to find three smiling éclusiers waiting to take ropes, operate the lock, and generally be incredibly helpful.

This was to be the third type of lock operation in two hours for our new bargees – quite an introduction!

Marcq-en-Baroeil was our overnight stop. There was a small commotion on the pontoon at the idea of a 38 ton steel barge mooring up amongst the plastic pedals, motor boats and kayaks that were awaiting hire, but all was soon sorted.

Then first evening was celebrated by an early evening visit to two of the villages bars – the second being an Irish bar, packed with Lille football supporters watching TV and cheering their team on. It was the ‘Northern Derby’ against Lens – a crucial match!

Then back to the peace of the back deck for supper and a drink or two to end the day.

A beautiful end to our first day back together.

The morning was as beautiful as the evening had been. We went off relatively early to the boulangerie to get a full French pastries tasting experience for us all – Ashley looking particularly delighted! Then off towards the autumn sun to our first of 5 locks of the day.

We turned sharp to port to enter Trieste lock past a dazzling display of graffiti.

I enjoy seeing these splashes of clever colour in otherwise rather dank places. Certainly I couldn’t do what these street artists create on blank walls!

I was now able to hand over to the Trainee crew and do other useful things like deck cleaning, making tea, and talking to the lock audience – who inevitably watched our progress as it was a Sunday morning and at the edge of a park.

We thought our day’s journey was well under way, but on the water there is so often something to slow you down. This time we were asked by the éclusier team if we would mind waiting, before going through the next lock, for another boat that was on it’s way up to join us. If both boats will fit in the lock together this is an obvious work and water saver, so naturally we agreed.

This gave us a beautiful hour and a half to sit in the sun for a prolonged coffee break. We were moored mid-stream against a row of bollards, just before the next lock, so could not go ashore for a stroll. All we could do was ….. relax. Theresa had finished her self-imposed drying up duties, and even the Captain can be seen relaxing if you look carefully.

The sun was warm enough for Stu to take the waiting opportunity to drop down the windscreen, giving us a lovely flow of fresh air through the wheelhouse, and the best of views along the canal.

We both love it when the weather is right for this!

Periodically we looked back at the lock we had ascended to see if we could see our new companion on the horizon – and after about 90 minutes he was coming out of the lock.

Into lock number two of the day, Plomeux, a 3.37m rise, we went. We needed to go right to the front of the lock to allow space for the second boat, which meant having our bow rope round the ladder handrail; not ideal, and not something we would do ordinarily, but the lock keepers suggested it and everything worked out fine.

The system was repeated for the next three locks, along a kilometre and a half, and then one lift bridge to take us on into Roubaix.

We moored up at the nice new pontoon, complete with free electricity and water, and a security gate at the end, with our companion cabin cruiser moored just behind.

We had been given a lovely folder of information about Roubaix, its art works, its museum and history, so were looking forward to exploring the town. We even talked about looking for a restaurant open on a Sunday evening for a meal out.

Ashley and Theresa set out to explore the town that afternoon, and unfortunately were not impressed. Maybe they took the wrong route, maybe it was different with so much closed on a Sunday – but they returned disappointed. I was sad too, because others had told me of lovely things to see there, like the Art Deco Piscine – now an art gallery – so please don’t let this put you off making your own visit there.

It left us with a quandary over our supper, until Ashley discovered a wacky place to go, simply requiring an Uber car to get there.

We arrived at La Friche Gourmande to find a fabulous use of an old warehouse, including removing the central roof panels, so open to the sky. No attempt has been made to pretty it up – just add an assortment of tables and chairs, some shipping containers for various food and drink offerings, and there we are with a very convivial place to eat and drink. So we did.

Then ‘Ubered’ ourselves back to Calliope to find the pontoon transformed by its lighting.

Next morning proved very interesting.

Due to our failure so far to go out for a restaurant meal together I had booked lunch at La Maison du Canal at Leers Nord – our next stop, only 8 kilometres, 5 locks and 5 lift bridges away. Should be a simple enough cruise, with our eager and friendly team of éclusiers ready to go at 10 o’clock that would be an easy cruise. How wrong can you be????

Our first lock was within sight – almost within touching distance! So by 10.05 Calliope was sitting comfortably within, looking back at our companion cruiser who was to join us.

His boat stayed steadfastly still, and eventually we discovered from the éclusiers that his boat would not start this morning. He had only owned it a couple of days and we were all feeling sorry for him. But the super Roubaix team were on the case, phoning up someone to help him.

So on we went, working the crew hard as you can see! Luckily they were both willing volunteers, not pressed men and women, so we were in good cheer as we approached our next obstacle – a double lift bridge for the two sides of a roundabout that straddled the canal.

We were a bit perturbed to see the double red light ‘en panne’, or out of order, showing.

We slowed down and asked the team. Apparently the two bridges had started to lift, then stopped – meaning that it was still too low for us to go under, but too high for traffic to carry on round the roundabout!

Quite a problem! Not to us. We could tie up and wait. But this is a major roundabout, and now traffic from four directions was stopped. And it was stopped for two hours!

All is told in this picture. Calliope tied to the railings; the orange jacket of the technician who arrived to fix the mechanism; and in the foreground, the difference in levels between the partly risen bridge and the road!

Well once we knew that it would be quite some time to wait we realised that our luncheon booking could not be fulfilled. Ashley and I set off to find a boulangerie so that we would have bread for what would now be lunch on board.

We also bought a bag of pastries for the rather glum team of lock keepers, their manager (who had turned up) and the technician who would save the day.

They looked a bit happier once they had their treat!

And Ashley enjoyed demonstrating the difference in levels that meant we now had a team of 10 gendarmes directing the traffic, articulated lorries trying to cross grassy central reservations to turn round, and a good honking of French car horns – as you would expect!

Eventually, almost two hours after arriving at Pont des Couteaux, the bridge was tested, lowered, traffic allowed to move, and then raised again for us to make triumphal progress towards Leers Nord; only 3 locks and 4 bridges still to go!

So here is a taste of the journey – all a bit strange because as the canal twisted round the light changed and the two locks and the one lift bridge shown looks if they were in different days, or at least different times of day! Apologies; it was a nice trip!

Two more colourful things happened as we went along.

First we were joined for part pf the trip by a lovely peacock butterfly that actually stayed put long enough for me to photograph!

And then this colourful faience covered house which Theresa noticed at the side of a lock as we passed through.

(I know I shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’, but sometimes it just works; sorry).

(Faience is a kind of ceramic building material – glazed terracotta faced bricks. I fell in love with them when working for a brewery as many of he pubs in Portsmouth, and nom doubt elsewhere, had this kind of finish.)

And then. at last, at about 3pm, Leers Nord! It seems funny to get so excited about getting to such a little out of the way place on the French/Belgium border, but after the small disappointments of the last 24 hours, and with or visitors only having an other 24 to go, it felt important to reach somewhere we knew and where we also knew it would be good to end a short holiday!

The first thing to do once moored up was to provide a substitute lunch fro the one we had planned. A tapas style meal was hastily put together and en joyed on the aft deck with a glass of something refeshing!

After a bit of a walk an d getting to know the area more it seemed to be time to go to La Maison du Canal for a beer. Sadly they did not do food on a Monday night, but as Ashley had offered to put together a bolognese sauce we were happy to let that bubble like away gently while we tried one or two local brews.

All of which ended up with a beautiful full moon night and an ‘all-too-soon’ final evening with our first guests.

Tuesday, departure day, dawned in sparkling dewdrop fashion, the moon of the previous night giving way to the sun. A plan was hatched. For our guests to get back to Lille for their late afternoon Eurostar they would need to walk from Leers Nord into Leers – about 20 minutes – for a bus.

So lets all go together, and having checked out the bus stop and timetable we could look for somewhere to have a final lunch together.

And so, after breakfast, off we went.

We really hit in lucky in Leers. The brasserie Le Grain D’Orge was not only open, but welcoming, had a nice interior, and a good lunch menu.

My cassoulet de mer was especially delicious, but everyone enjoyed their meal, and the wine.

It was the best send off after our difficulties finding somewhere for a special meal out together on the previous days.

Stewart and I walked back to what now seemed a rather empty barge, and finding the pontoon empty, and very clean (it had been jet washed that day) we moved from the grass bank mooring so that we were close enough to fill up with water before our next visitor arrived. We also plugged into shore power for a while so that I could get the bedding through the washing machine and out into the sun.

Not long after our move a cabin cruiser came up through the lock to join us on the pontoon – and not long after that the boat that had broken down back in Roubaix arrived to see the grass bank.

We were pleased to se he had made it. He told me that his plan was to travel round France – and this was only day 4!

The end of the day was relaxed – boat and spare cabin prepared for our next guests arriving – and so I went for a walk along the canal. It turned out to be a livestock walk, with donkeys and a hare in addition to the chickens and geese seen above! That’s my kind of walk, being a farmer at heart!

And the skies did not disappoint as evening drew in, earlier and earlier now that we near the end of September.

In the morning I went to buy bread …. and having discovered both a great boulangerie and great charcuterie, plus fruit and veg shop, I came back somewhat more heavily laden than expected!

But it was good to have some treats in store for Hugh, especially for the late lunch he was expecting on arrival!

He arrived on time, in fact half an hour early, but we were ready and it was just great to see him.

After lunch Hugh and I went for a walk to stretch his legs after the three hour drive to meet us. As we came back past the Maison du Canal it seemed just the right time for a first beer in the sun. Captain Stu came to join us for a perfect ‘aperitif’; then back deck aperos before dinner in the Calliope café.

We had a sailing plan for Hugh, allowing him to get back to his car, or collect it part way through his three days with us. It meant setting off soon after he and I returned from a foraging excursionto the local boulangerie for breakfast croissants.

All in line with the plan we were through the Leers Nord lock at 0930, and on down the canal with Hugh spreading old bread to the geese – who made a lot of appreciative noise! We then discovered that the small cabin cruiser who had moored next to us was also coming down the canal – but preferred not to share the locks with us. We do understand; 38 tons of steel could look intimidating within the confines of a lock, although we are always careful and considerate of other craft.

The end result of this era that we travelled slower than expected, waiting for the lock to be reset for the smaller boat to follow through.

This gave Hugh the perfect opportunity to take the helm. He has plenty of sailing experience, so steering along a canal was no problem.

But Captain Stu took back the wheel to go through the narrow exit out onto the Haut Escaut!

Hugh was soon back in charge, enjoying the broad waters of the river.

We went through the one big lock of the day with no problem and were soon on the outskirts of Tournai, facing for the first time the big red traffic light, telling us that we must wait our turn to travel the narrow channel that goes through the city. The light has been in our favour in the past; a quick VHF call ascertained that we would not be waiting long for a barge coming in the other direction. We tied up to the quay for a while and then could carry on.

We went through the Tournai Pont des Trous (Bridge if Holes) noting the progress b being made since we were last there.

The bridge is having its central arch widened to accommodate todays commercial traffic, despite much angst from local people and history lovers.

It is a tough call, but as it is happening I will admire the engineering and final design.

We arrived at Antoing to find the whole (small) basin empty, allowing us to choose where to moor.

With lunch behind us I was able to take Hugh on a little exploration of Antoing and a walk around the perimeter of its castle. It was open for visits that day, but all places were booked.

I posted so many photos of the castle last time we were here in August that I will just put one in as a reminder of this fairy tale structure. It was taken on a much sunnier day!

Antoing Castle

Hugh had offered to take us out for a meal, and we knew of a good restaurant in Antoing that we thought would meet with his approval. I had had a confirmatory phone call from them to let us know that the reservation message I had left on their answer phone in garbled French had been understood!

An excellent culinary evening ensured, starting with drinks in the square, then a good meal in good company – just the apero tray and my dessert on show here!

Having whizzed through Tournai on the way to Antoing we decided to go back there so that Hugh could have an explore. It is an interesting city, with a long and varied history.

As we left Antoing we stopped at Neptunia, literally round the corner from the mooring basin, to top up with fuel,

I forgot to take a photo ofd the fuelling process, but I also got a new mop head – very pleasing!

The short cruise to Tournai took us past some interesting old buildings – maybe all industrial, or possibly some of them military. There is always plenty to see on the river; I am glad we travel slowly.

By half past ten we were coming up to the little port at Tournai – at the end of the fence on the left – giving us plenty of time to have a wander and probably lunch

The Captain was not on top form, so Hugh and I left him aboard to relax.

There are far too many interesting buildings in Tournai to do justice to them here, so a mini-selection of what Hugh and I wandered past.

The moving statue on the left, of a child leading the blind, is by Guillaume Charlier. He made it around 1908 after a visit to Zagreb where he saw children leading the blind through the streets and felt compelled to recreate what he had seen.

It being near lunch time, and having found out that Stu would prefer to keep resting rather than join us, I took High to a locals bistro I had been recommended.

The menu was not too exciting, but my aubergine and halloumi burger was very tasty; Hugh enjoyed his devilled prawns too, and the beer and frites!

I was keen to go to the Museum of Folklore so we retarced our steps and spent about an hour and a half in this extensive and very varied museum. I only include two ‘exhibits’. Top left is the old wood entrance door, showing evidence of the Covid times with all the garish but necessary signs spoiling the beauty of the door. Top right is a trouser press! We found this hard to believe as it is about 7′ tall, but it is true and is from a place where trousers were made, so presumably to press several pairs at a time!

We were back at Calliope well before dusk, and in time for a relaxed evening together on the barge. We spent quite a bit of time trying to organise travel for Hugh back to his car from various places that we could cruise to the next day, but sadly ended up deciding that it was easiest for him to get a taxi from Tournai back to his car at Leers Nord – and onwards to see other friends in France.

So next morning soon after 9 a taxi arrived, and Hugh departed. We were sorry to see him go.

Stu, me and Calliope would continue on towards Gent without additional crew.

Canal du Nord – bottom to top!

Almost five and a half years ago we arrived in France on Calliope at the mouth of La Somme. This was our introduction to boating in Europe, and when at the end of La Somme we turned right onto the Canal du Nord we thought we were really now among the big barges of the continent. We scuttled down to Pont Leveque, looking at the ‘huge’ freycinet barges in awe, and glad to be off this mighty canal at the end.

We certainly gained experience in those years, in the size of locks, of barges, and of waterways in general. Good experience, that we have enjoyed hugely.

We have also found out more about the canal itself, started in 1908 to allow better transportation of coal; halted and the work partially destroyed during WW1; not re-started until after WW2; finally opened in 1966. It is the only canal built in France to the intermediate dimensions between the Freycinette and the huge modern barges.

And now soon to be abandoned when the new Seine-Nord Europe canal is open to traffic. Its is all rather sad – a 95 kms canal through great countryside, so needed 60 years ago and already defunct.

So when, on September 8th, we slipped our ropes at our Pont L’eveque mooring and went through the lock (putting our trusty remote control into the required letterbox) we went with a bit more confidence, but still humbly. If we have learned one thing in life it is not to be smug!

We would be getting used to a different style of lock again – always interesting – how will the bollards be spaced, both on then quay and down the wall; will there be floating bollards; will the lock movement be fast or slow; how do we contact the lock keepers to say we are coming through????? This one, at Libermont, is smaller than some at the Northern end.

Nonetheless this canal calls for our Nautic Talk sets again! I was against having these, but now find them so useful when we have to move back and forth in a lock to allow us each to move ropes down the bollards in the wall – they are rarely spaced so that we are directly in front of a set forward and aft!

It took us 5 days cruising to go from the bottom to the top – albeit they were short days! We rather like to set off at about 0930 and arrive at our next mooring between 1200 and 1300, in time for lunch. Then we have a relaxed afternoon and evening to enjoy whatever surroundings our mooring offers us.

So here are our stops, and any adventures worth reporting.

1. Port L’Ercheu – we stopped at this mooring, way out int the country, on our way South 5 years before. We don’t know why it is called a port, because if is a relatively short quay miles form anywhere. There was a village of Ercheu in the past, obliterated in WW1.

It was a hot when we arrived – a beautiful day for swimming and for washing down the decks! The water at the top of the canal is beautiful – so clear – and hasn’t had a chance to be polluted. It felt very good to swim in it.

On the way to Ercheu we went through the first of the two tunnels on the canal. Panneterie is only 1 kilometre long, getting boaters set up for the 4.5 kms tunnel ahead! Five years ago it was our first tunnel in Calliope, so approached with some apprehension, but this time it was quite straightforward.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the tunnel was being told before we went in that there was a a boat in distress at the other end, with divers down in the water. So we would have to stop.

It turned out to be a Dutch working barge that had got rope so badly twisted around its propellor that divers were called out to cut it off – and even they found it a tough job.

We waited in the shade, wishing we could help, and having our lunch.

Back to Ercheu – just to include one memory of the serene sunset we enjoyed up there amongst the fields.

2. Péronne – the next stop was also one we had used on the way South. It is a small port so we had phoned ahead to make sure there was space for a 65 foot peniche like us. There was, so PMT (Pre Mooring Tension) removed for the day!

The journey there was uneventful, apart from a small slow visitor, a change of scenery, and a new style of lock gate – so maybe uneventful after all!

There are long mostly empty quays on the canal at Péronne, but these are subject to quite a lot of wash from the commercial barges who work long hours. So we went into the little port there, next to and run jointly with a camp site. The entrance is slightly tricky due to some shallow water, but it is marked with tall red poles and with Stu taking it slowly we were soon moored up on a pontoon.

The channel in is quite deep and relatively clear of weed, but to the side the weed grows thickly from the bed, spreading fingers this way and that as the flow changes.

The setting is quite rural; in fact the main, interesting and historic, town is a good kilometres walk, but well worth the effort.

We tied up behind a cruiser belonging to some new UK friends (met briefly at Pont L’Eveque) and were able to get too know them better over a glass or three of wine later that evening.

We walked into Péronne, being in need of food and drink. I tried to resist taking photos but these three give an indication of the town – the typically Northern French town hall, the bullet marked church, and the more ancient fortifications. There are plenty of information boards around the town, in English as well as French; a place to gain some history lessons.

Next morning I did walk back into town, for fresh baguette and for flamische, the local speciality – a kind of leek pie. I went looking at a boulangerie; a mistake. A helpful French lady took me to a little butcher and charcuterie in a side street where I found good flamische. Yum!

I also came away with some of his dried ham, local beer, and paté de tête, shown here on his wonderful butcher’s paper.

And I did remember the bread too.

Back on board Captain was ready to cast off and reverse back onto the main canal, keeping those red marker posts carefully to one side.

3. Ytres, southern end of Ruyaulcourt Tunnel. We had come down from the Panneterie tunnel towards Péronne and the Somme basin, so now we needed to climb once more, up 5 locks to the Ruyaulcourt tunnel. We were pleased to find the first lock being prepared for us, and with no other boat in sight we went in and took possession, choosing a nice central position where we could use bow and stern ropes.

A fair amount of rapid French on the VHF and shouting down into the lock alerted us to the fact that a commercial barge was approaching and we would need to move to the front of the lock – not our preferred position!

I think this is the lock where the new method of roping was deployed – my rope brought back from the bow to the first bit back, round a wall bollard, then to the second bit back.

Here I made a turn so that Captain could drive against it and keep Calliope in position – because there were no bollards within reach for the stern rope.

Each time I needed to take the rope up to the next level Stu slackened the drive on the rope, I made as quick a change as I could, and then back to driving against it.

All this with Anti-lope, a big commercial barge, breathing down our necks, in a friendly kind of a way!

It worked a treat, although I am glad we had our communication devices for this!

When we came out of that first lock of the day we let the commercial barge go ahead of us – so that we could follow her into each of the next 4 locks. Although we still needed to use our new roping system it was easier to do at the back of the lock, at least for us.