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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.

4 days on the Canal des Ardennes

(The first 28.5 kms there and back to be precise!)

As we only travelled one third of the way along the Canal des Ardennes I will just give a short description of our few days there. Others who have travelled the full canal have far more credibility in talking about the journey.

We were on our way up La Meuse towards Strasbourg, but having a few days to spare decided to check out the first 30 km of the Ardennes.

Leaving Charleville on a bright and sunny morning we only had 15 km until the entrance to the canal. It all began with a bit of excitement in the lock out of Charleville, but that is all in the Magnificent Meuse part 3 blog.

Eventually we approached the three meter lock that leads from La Meuse up to the Canal des Ardennes. We now knew that we would operate locks on the canal with the same tele-command (remote control) as on the river.

Immediately we are in the lock we notice a difference – the way that the bollards are set into the lock quay.

Being a bit of a lock nerd I recorded this, ex[pecting it to be a feature all the way along the canal; it wasn’t!

Just this first lock.

We spent our first night moored below lock six at Pont-à-Bar. The bollards there were spread out rather widely and so for the first time in years out came a mallet and the stakes to be banged into the ground for a secure mooring. And we joined the camper vans for the night.

We were there in time for lunch and I couldn’t wait to try my blue dessert! It’s an Ardenoisse I had bought in Charleville to eat just as we joined the Ardennes canal.

It’s a very delicious series of layers of chocolate sponge. a nutty mélange, and a blue moussey/ custardy/creamy bit on top.

Definitely worth a try.

It wasn’t a particularly splendid place to stay but we did have a nightingale singing and when walking back to lock 7 for some exercise I got this nice photo of some of the old aiguelles from a needle weir.

I cannot help but be intrigued by these old weirs, that stopped the water by a line of these needles (aiguelles). The men, and I suspect they were all men, who walked along the weir adding and removing these wooden stakes according to the flow of the water deserve huge credit and admiration in my opinion.

This rather grainy photo is of the Charles family, a farming family, who earned a ‘few more pennies’ by being at the beck and call of the local weir management, and when the river Saone was in flood they would adjust the needles and thereby the flow.

On a lighter note, the verges of the canal were covered in all manner of wild flowers and grasses, just a couple of which are given space here.

leaving the Po0nt-à-Bar mooring

As we set off next morning we were joined by family just starting out on a holiday boat. They were learning about locks as we passed through the first, and helped by operating the levers.

We were up and off, into a very different terrain. The landscape around this section of the Canal des Ardennes is open pasture with dustan woods ands hills; very calm and beautiful.

The next obstacle that we all encountered was the two locks and tunnel at Saint-Aignan. We all went through together– I guess quite an exciting trip for a family on holiday.

Then at Malmy lock we were all held up by a lock with no lights on the ‘traffic sign’ and nowhere obvious to stop for me to go ashore and call the VNF service. 

Canal des Ardennes

OK – no lights on lock, no response from telecommand, and nowhere to drop off crew ……. Except onto little metal platform attached to lock bridge. That’s one for me then!

Stewart was magnificent in approaching the bridge just slowly enough for me to leap onto the platform. This allowed me to get to the intercom at the lock – which also was not working! Hmm – what next?

The phone number we had for the VNF did not work, but luckily a short discussion in broken French across the water to the holiday family ascertained they had a different number and would call up. This worked, and help was on its way.

In the meantime Stewart was manfully keeping Calliope midstream whilst she was being pulled towards the pumping system that puts water back above the lock. I realised that by sliding down the bank through long grass and nettles I could secure Calliope to a giant drain! This was done.

I love it when there’s a bit of adventure. Then a short wait for the VNF van …. and all was back to normal.

La Cassine

We had been advised to stop at La Cassine and were delighted to find the mooring completely empty when we arrived. The family stopped too – but just for their lunch. Then we were alone in the landscape.

There are two outstanding things about this morning.

One is its location out in the country with nothing but a couple of chickens from a local house to disturb the peace.

And some cattle to show benign interest.

La Cassine

The other spectacular thing about the mooring is it closeness to the ruined chateau of La Cassine.

The ruined chateau at La Cassine is such a find! Originally C17, and destroyed by a thunderbolt, it has had various owners and iterations. Finally it succumbed to fire in 1920 I think.

La Cassine

Now used every summer for Son et Lumiere spectaculars, it used to have acres of formal French gardens, of which little now remains.

All of this is a short walk from this peaceful mooring on Canal des Ardennes, as many of my boating friends will know!  If you are ever near La Cassine and you like old buildings we strongly recommend you go and have a look.

sun set at La Cassine

After our peaceful night we carried on at the canal to Le Chesne. This was just a 12 km 2 lock journey!

Along the way we noticed several places where the canal bank was being restored with huge sandstone boulders.

In places the canal is quite shallow, with a fair amount of weed growing. It is good to see that work is being carried out to maintain this old cross country canal.

Le Chesne

We moored up in the middle of town and soon discovered an excellent boulangerie for our lunch.

Le Chesne

The afternoon was spent having a look round the town on both sides of the canal. It is a quiet place with just enough in the way of food shopping to keep us going. The old church next to the canal is interesting, with its side tower. The town seems to have been founded on its agriculture, but I have struggled to find much information and am open to correction.

Locks after Le Chesne

In the evening I walked along to see the start of the dramatic drop of almost 60m over 8 kms and through 25 locks. This is much described in other peoples’ blogs etc; one day we will do the journey up or down. For now, here is the start.

Le Chesne

Then back to the boat for a perfect summer’s evening aboard Calliope.

We were then at  PK 29 and the extent of our short exploration! So the next day we used the winding hole to turn round and go back towards La Cassine.

This time we were not so lucky! The mooring was full and we had to continue on downstream . But then our luck turned and we found the mooring at Malmy completely empty.

For the second time on this canal out came the pins and we moored up to one bollard and a couple of stakes in the ground. It’s funny how those old skills of jumping ashore with mallet and pins come back to one, and for the skipper, his hammering in of the pins is a never forgotten art!

Whenever we stop at one of these quiet rural moorings we are so glad we made the decision to have a good set of PV panels rather than a generator. It means that we can go days without needing to plug into shore power, and without disturbing the peace with generator hum.

Once again we had something to explore. This time the 13th century church just outside the hamlet of Malmy. We were disappointed not to find a mooring space at La Cassine today, but stopping at Malmy has meant we could visit this little C13 Romanesque church. It is interesting to see the features that are very similar to the church at Le Chesne – note the roof on the tower.

It had come to my consciousness rather late that the mooring at Pont-à-Bar was so called because of the bridge at that point over the River Bar. I then noticed on the map that the river tracked the canal nearly all the way up to Le Chesne, and was in fact alongside us here in Malmy.

I went to investigate and found the river close by. The map shows Malmy at the bottom, with the canal shown as the main blue channel and the smaller wriggly blue river to the right. My photos are up and down stream at Malmy bridge.

Back on the boat we had a quiet and very peaceful night with a beautiful sky at sundown, before heading back towards La Meuse next day. 

On the way we noticed the interesting little hamlet of Omicourt. It has quite a history – worth googling.

Then we had the Saint-Aignan tunnel to go back through, on our own the time.

The tunnel is a shortcut through the hill that the River Bar winds slowly round. You can see in the map above how much time is saved!

It’s such a lovely view when you emerge the other end, heading towards écluse 4 for the first drop down ……..

……. and then, after a neat 90° turn to port, go into écluse 5 for second descent.

Of course we were lucky with the weather; it makes the scenery all the more stunning.

Less than an hour later we were motoring slowly past all the boats moored up in Pont-à-Bar, some seemingly still waiting their awakening from winter.

We also noted the very useful looking chandlery and small boatyard. These places are surprisingly rare along the waterways and you never know when you will need some ropes or boat cleaning products etc – or even the help of a boat mechanic!

We continued on to the lock, dropping down behind the big metal doors that would let us out on to the river; that tell tale gap at the bottom letting us know that we were level with La Meuse and the doors would open any minute.

And turning to starboard we set off towards Sedan, and eventually Strasbourg.

A short but pleasant sojourn on the Ardennes! One day we must return to do the more exciting flight of locks down the other side.

The Magnificent Meuse 2

Part 2 – From Givet to Charleville

13th to 24th May 2022

(This year we joined the Meuse in Namur and headed upstream. The first section of the journey is in the previous post – https://calliope.blog/2022/05/26/the-magnificent-meuse/)

Across form the mooring in Givet

After our one night in Givet next on the agenda was Vireux-Wallerand. To get there we had three locks, 10 kilometres, and a small tunnel to navigate.

At Givet we had been handed a telecommand, or remote control, to operate the locks for the foreseeable future.

It’s always quite nice to have this control, and not be radioing lock keepers in my faulty French!

The first place to put it into use was at the beautifully named ‘les 3 Fontaines’ écluse – although the three springs were not to be seen from the lock!

We were nonetheless pleased to see the arrival of a lock keeper to help us with our ropes in this 3.28m deep lock. It is not all that deep in the scheme of things, but with the bollards set back out of sight from the deck below it was more than handy to have the ‘hook-on-a-long-stick’ lowered to pick up our ropes and drape them cosily around bollards!

As the water raised Calliope to lock-keeper level Captain Stu got quite chatty with our new friend.

From the lock is it a matter of around 200m before the entrance to Ham tunnel – and 564m to the other end. This 142 year old tunnel has no foot or tow path through, and no lights, but as one can see the daylight at the other end it is not too bad.

The only thing is ….. we know that the middle section is not lined, and has quite rough overhangs, and ‘underhangs’ of rock, so the crew’s task was to help light the way with a torch.

As usual Captain Stu steered us through perfectly, and soon we were rediscovering the daylight at the top, south west, tunnel cut.

This tunnel cuts out a huge 8-10 meander of the Meuse, and we avoided passing Chooz Nuclear Power Station, which is situated at the end of this Meuse loop. Probably just as well as two of the reactors are currently closed down due to corrosion!

At the 3.2m deep Ham lock the other side of the tunnel we were pleased to have the assistance of an éclusier again – her you can better see the passing down of the hook!

You can also see how I, on deck, have absolutely no sight of the bollard that I would otherwise be throwing a rope around!

The cut leading away from Ham écluse and tunnel is about 1km in length. At it’s end is an old pont levée, now permanently raised in a salute to the many boats that have passed beneath. As we left the cut I looked back at the difference in width between the main Meuse and the channel we had been following!

The next things to catch the eye are the white sculptures lining the bank. These are by the late artist Georges-Armand Favaudon who died in the village here earlier this century. There is more to come of his work in Fumay.

I am sure I have commented on the stunning scenery of the Meuse valley in Part 1 of our Meuse journey, but I have to say it again! And I will repeat this several times as the days go on. The open expansive space, the colours unspoilt by pollution, the air, all lift the spirits and just put a wide grin on the face!

Another 4 kilometres and we arrive at our stop for the day. The river separates the two small Vireux towns (Vireux-Wallerand and Vireux-Molhain) and the mooring, on the Wallerand side, is near the bridge that links the two.

A walk round the two towns did not take long; sadly they are past their prime, but the mooring was agreeable, and looked great from the far side.

We were next to a small local chateau, now hotel; we had visiting water fowl, a friendly Capitaine, and a good place to cool hot toes!

And also we had a friterrie very close by!

I forget whose turn it was to cook, but a decision was quickly made that one more fritterie meal was in order!

This was just a one night stay, with Viereux-Mulhein delightfully illuminated; in less than 24 hours we set off for Fumay. We had heard good things of this town, recent host of a DBA barge rally.

We were lucky with yet another beautiful day; I have to say that this style of retirement might not suit everyone, but it absolutely suits us – the ever changing scenery, the interesting places, the overall tranquility, and always just that slight frisson of adventure and challenge.

The largest photo above illustrates this perfectly – wonderful scenery, calm waters, an interesting bridge – and just ahead a much narrower opening to steer through. Never a dull moment.

We arrived to find two barges already on the long quay, but the space at the upstream end was empty and just waiting for Calliope. Two other boats arrived later – plenty of space for all.

So what did we think of Fumay? We liked it; we stayed two nights! Here is a taster of the town.

Fumay’s history is in slate mining. I said that the sculptor Favaudon would be mentioned again. He made a memorial to the slate workers of the past – a long bas relief showing much of the hard labouring that this industry required.

There is only one pit head left to see now, high on a hill above the town, but the many slate roofs and walls are good evidence that it was much used locally.

Whilst in Fumay we discovered a need for that old thing called cash!

The Capiatine only took cash, as did the very special butcher (where I bought some of his boudin blanc with onion, rillettes, tête de fromage and paupiettes).

The only cash point in town was not working, so we walked a couple of kilometres back down the river to Heybes, where we had stopped on our Meuse cruise downstream three years before.

The ATM was easy to find, just by the town hall.

Phew – back to pay our debts!

It was pleasantly hot while we were in Fumay – a good excuse to get the front windscreen down for its 2022 debut. It’s a feature of Calliope that we really value in hot weather, especially when cruising. (And yes, we really do own that many hats – and a few more in a cupboard below!)

It was sufficiently hot for another 2022 first – my first swim!

It was lovely.

And after the swim, chairs draped with black towels to dry off in the sun.

(Sadly one of these chairs was misappropriated that night. I hope it is enjoyed by a Fumay resident.)

It is clear that Fumay has had a busy commercial past. The town steps up and back from the quay along quite steep and narrow lanes. There are some fine houses, and even the smaller abodes have plenty of character. Many date back to the 17th and 18th centuries – a few older still. Naturally there is many a slate roof, and quite a few are decorated with bright tiles.

Our time there coincided with the town swans family visit – and not just on the water! I’m not sure if they are looking for the Salle des Fêtes of the Voie Verte.

There is not a lot of space for gardens up and down the streets, so this wall high display of irises made a real splash of colour.

The quayside has more than a row of pretty houses. Almost hidden is a little courtyard that leads to the offices of a drinks wholesaler, Ets Deillon Billuart, and their super little wine shop!

All looking far too good to drink except on a special day – so I expect a few special days will be invented very soon.

Luckily we had ‘every day’ wine stocks aboard so could do justice to sundowners on a back deck on a warm evening – our good-bye to Fumay as it was time to move on upstream.

Looking on the map we found we were within striking distance of one of Stewart’s favourite moorings – Revin. A plan was hatched to move on there and keep fingers crossed for a mooring space.

The first lock, amusingly called l’Uf, is around a long bendy loop in the river; in fact it is more than 90% of a full oval. When we arrived we had to come up quite close in order to see the lights – and found two reds. This means the lock is ‘en panne’, or out of order. Stu thought we might moor up to wait, but the thoughtless crew distracted him and the current from the weir unhelpfully pushed us away, so the Captain took us back down stream a bit to turn round and return.

By this time we could see that another barge was waiting to come down the ‘broken’ lock (just visible far right on photo) so when the VNF service man arrived we had to wait for their locking down before we locked up. A small hitch in a beautiful area.

The wait gave me a chance to get a photo of the weir – these new ones have replaced the old needle weirs over the past 20 years or so.

Up and on we went. I cannot help noticing the grand houses built on the banks.

What was it like to live there in its heyday?

Probably Air BnB now 😅

Then we just had 8 kilometres and one more lock before the lock and tunnel complex at Revin.

We have been through the lock and tunnel before 3 years ago, but in the opposite order.

Then out of the lock, an immediate left hand turn, and into the tunnel. It’s a short tunnel, with very definite light at the end of it!

Then after an about turn in the river and a sweep round the curve we came into the port. The photo here is taken next day from the bridge over to the main Revin town. Calliope is in her favourite place – the very far end!

Revin port is very pleasant. Trees, flowers and shrubs are planted along the bank, and a hedge separates the port from a park.

Deciding to stay two nights or more is always great for a bit of maintenance – or cleaning in my case!

Stewart fixed up our pump that uses the river water and I was off on one of my enjoyable ‘cool morning of a hot day’ sprees.

Messing about with water is my forté.

(The bridge in the background is the aforementioned bridge over to the main Revin town)

After two good days in Revin, with food and drink supplies taken aboard, we were ready to go back to the county life and wilder moorings. Once more it was to be a short day – 10 kilometres and just two locks.

But what a 10 kilometres! This is without doubt one of my favourite parts of the river. The railway bridge near Anchamps exemplifies this; who could fail to be impressed by the river, the bridge, reflections, hills and scenery?

The second lock, just after the railway bridge, is called Dames de Meuse. It is named after the giant rock formations just upstream of the lock. Unfortunately I did not know the importance of the Dames rocks until later. I was more interested in the new lift bridge at the lock, and other work going on there.

This photo shows us just leaving them behind.

Here is the legend: in 1080, the Lord of Hierges had three sons who married the three daughters of the Lord of Rethel: Hodierne, Berthe and Ige. Shortly after their marriage, the men set off for Palestine to fight in the Holy Land. Hodierne, Berthe and Ige, the 3 sisters, betrayed their promises, welcomed 3 knights into their castles – their marital beds. But on the very day that Jerusalem was taken, God punished the adulterous wives, changing them into three enormous rocks, attached to each other, and overlooking the Meuse. They were given the name the “Dames de Meuse”. 

Just one kilometre further is Laifour – a tiny village famous now only for its links to the Dames de Meuse and the walks to the viewpoint to see them. But it is a totally delightful spot for those who love rural mooring. The quay sits beneath some of the highest wooded hills around, almost ‘ravine-ous’ in parts.

Here are a few of the buildings of Laifour, important in their day. In fact there is still a station; you could visit!

We were recommended a walk to the ‘red fountain’ a kilometre or so along the other bank. A walk round the little village only took ten minutes so we had plenty of time for red fountain exploration.

Here is our trip to the red fountain – a ferruginous stream bursting out of the rocks. Fable has it that it’s the blood of a young girl who spurned the advances of a local lord and took her own life. We started off across the railway bridge just outside Laifour, down the other side, past some foxgloves, and on along the opposite bank.

It really does run red – well rusty red to be honest. And that is no surprise, because rather that it being a young’ girl’s blood, it is the iron laden rocks of the area that lend the ruddy colour to the water.

On the way back the Captain strode out to avoid an impending rain storm.

Calliope was in his sights – on the opposite bank, in the distance.

Whilst I dawdled, took photos of flowers, and got caught out.

Luckily I could shelter under the railway bridge until it blew over.

Soon after I got back the wind got up and it really did start to rain, – and thunder. There is something nice about battening down the hatches and watching the storm from the warmth and dryness of a snug wheelhouse!

Soon after the dry weather returned. We were moored at the upstream end of the mooring on our first night, but when another boat arrived and could not get satellite reception at the other end we obligingly moved downstream! Here we are coming back in to moor behind them.

(We don’t understand why watching TV is more important than watching the nature and scenery – unless maybe your football team in a cup final?)

The most engaging of the local natural world was this family of goslings – the word cute is overused, but what else can I say?

Having said above that scenery is more important than watching screens, we do like internet connection for various things, including the news and this blog. The old iPad we have been using as a wifi hotspot was slowly dying and we needed a shop that sold mobile wifis, so reluctantly we left the Laifour paradise after two nights to head for the metropolis of Charleville.

On the way we made two stops – one for lunch at Chateau-Regnault, because they have a boulangerie, then on to Joigny-sur-Meuse.

Before we even reached Chateau-Regnault we there were a couple of locks.

The first, just outside Laifour, still had us sharing the wonderful scenery of the Dames de Meuse region.

The next, at Deville, was a little more interesting, being 3.30m deep and bollards set out of sight of Captain and crew.

Climbing on the roof is the answer, and soon we were secure.

Then there was a ladder …….. next to a pair of every muddy levers.

The debate – to climb up to a clean section, getting muddy hands and feet on the way, or just grab the blue pole and get one slimy hand?

I went for the slimy hand option.

Coming out of Deville lock we entered a 3km narrow canal which led us back to the main river.

We were lucky not to meet another boat on this section, and the barrage at the end looked quite narrow for Calliope, but it was all fine.

Montherme

There is really no need to add any more photos of our journey that day, but it looked so nice going through Monthermé, and a lot of people choose to stop there, that I have included one picture of the town.

So after the lunch stop at Chteau-Regnault we carried on the last 7 kms of the day. The little pontoon at Joigny looks a bit ordinary, but for us it was another afternoon, evening and night of tranquility.

And the reflections, evening and morning, were amazing! It was good to have all this calm as the next stop was big city Charleville.

Joigny lock was just around the corner, and was jolly sight with its various metallic works.

After this just 1 lock and 10 kms separated us from our destination.

I had it in my head that the lock into Charleville would be our last using the zapper (remote control) – mainly because it says Givet – Charleville on the back.

So I zapped with verve as we arrived.

Our journey there had been relatively uneventful, but entering the city was funkily colourful!

We fully expected to be able to moor on the long quay just outside the marina – especially suitable for bigger boats like us who cannot easily fit under the bridge entrance to the marina. But it was full, full, full.

Charleville

We knew from the DBA Waterways Guide that there was another mooring opposite, but some people had described it in less than glowing terms. Nonetheless we were determined to stop in Charleville, even if just for lunch, so we moored up on the South bank by a café.

Charleville

It turned out to be absolutely fine. In some ways we were lucky to arrive on a Sunday; we found out from boating friends across the water that a very local nightclub exuded a lot of noise on a Friday and Saturday! Whereas our evenings were brightly lit in an alternative way!

We had hoped to buy a new mobile wifi in Charleville but that was not to happen. What we did achieve was a good walk round an interesting city, created and designed by Charles Gonzaga in 1606. A good size statue remembers his efforts.

Charleville

The main square, Place Ducal, is huge. My photo does not do it justice and when we were there a huge marquee sort of spoilt the view.

Charleville place de Ducal

It is surrounded by bars and restaurant in typical French style, and we found ourselves first at a bar, and then out for a pizza; all very pleasant. I hope my (squiffy) photo from the restaurant gives a better idea of the ambience of Place Ducal.

Next day we decided to walk into the adjoining 1000 year old town of Mézières. Some of the fortifications are still in place, and currently being renovated to show them off better.

Even more amazing in Mézières are the wonderful stained glass windows of the Basilica Notre-Dame d’Espèrance. They are surprisingly modern, made between 1954 and 1979 and based on the cartoons of the painter René Dürrbach. I rarely manage a good photo of stained glass windows, but the pools of rainbow light they throw onto the floors and columns of the church are easier to capture.

On our way back I noticed that the time was 1550 – ten minutes before one of the Marionette clock ‘performances.

There is a puppeteer school in Charleville and a clock has been set up with an automated puppet show every hour. Each show only lasts about two minutes, and is part of a total story.

The bit we saw was spectacularly uninteresting, with four shadowy black puppets slowly making there way across the stage – if we had understood the story, told in French, it would; have been better I know.

And I am not knocking it – it is a marvellous thing to have going on every day.

Charleville

We really did like our mooring – closer to town, completely safe, and free! We ended up staying three days, which is quite a long time for us constant travellers.

We were on the town side of the passerelle over to the main mooring, marina, night club and various other leisure pursuits.

We had old friends on two of the barges opposite, and made new friends with another, and able to meet up with them in one of the bars; it is always congenial to have a bit of a waterways gossip.

Charleville Rimbaud museum

We were right next to the old mill building which now houses the museum to local poet Rimbaud. It is a glorious monument, specifically placed by Charles Gonzaga at the end of a street leading out of the main square.

The arches underneath were no longer used to turn waterwheels, but made good photographs.

And outside on the pavement is a lovely installation of chairs, the back of each one designed by a different artist.,

All good things come to an end, and we had many other good things ahead, so after three nights we got ready to continue our Meuse experience, but with a dalliance on Canal des Ardennes along the way – the topic of the next edition of the blog.

The Magnificent Meuse

– part 1 From Belgium into France

7th – 13th May 2022

 

We didn’t start at the bottom, or the mouth, of the Meuse; we joined at Namur, so this account does not do full justice to the river. It was a rather overcast day when we left the Sambre and found turning upstream to head South a somehow counter-intuitive experience, but at least we were heading towards the sun!

The first lock on the Meuse looked quite small, despite the width of the river, after the bigger ones we had been through on the Sambre. Probably there is not a lot of difference

We shared the first lock, at Namur, with a pretty little passenger boat, seemingly out for an afternoon of female fun!

We didn’t stop in Namur this time but carried on to Profondeville, on the way passing some of the many many grand houses that border the river.

Here is a taste of a few!

And when we were not looking at mansions and chateaux we were looking at increasingly wonderful hills, trees, and rocks – often with people, like ants, climbing up.

Once there we spent a little bit of time working out which was the official 40m mooring place. Luckily the 30 meter barge ‘Cinclus’ that was already moored there offered to budge up a bit so that we could fit on too. Ecco and Sasha from Cinclus were to become good friends as we all motored on up the river.

It’s a nice spot on the edge of the little town and we were able to use the small supermarket and excellent boulangerie to top up for a few days. Apart from the view of wooded cliffs there is not a lot to see, but I enjoyed the giant ‘coq gauloise’, the street art, and the ability to exercise while sitting down!

Despite the beautifully lit cliffs, we had something of a disturbed night with water levels going up and down by at least 18 inches because of a great deluge up-river the previous day necessitating frequent adjustment of the ropes. Even this great effort did not avoid one of the ropes ending up so taut and tight that we could not undo it and it had to be cut. That’s the first time in eight years we’ve had to do that.

Onwards the next day through Dinant, firstly past the Leffe brewery, just spotted by the towers and steeples of its Abbey, and the gaping black rectangle where the Leffe river joins the Meuse.

Then on past more tall graceful buildings and churches, and under the bridge celebrating the famous Mr Saxe, native of Dinant.

Leaving Dinant the scenery became even more dramatic, with colourful little houses crowding onto strips along the river, below the mountains.

Our destination was Waulsort where we were due to meet up with friends. As we moved slowly up river the cliffs became craggier (and the people climbing them braver); the houses more fascinating.

We had no idea what to expect at Waulsort and we therefore delighted to find the long pontoons set out from the riverbank in a glorious part of the valley.

Acquaintances were very soon re-made, especially with TinTin who ran down the pontoon to greet Stewart whenever he appeared!

By evening the Captain was taking on a saintly appearance under the setting sun – all perfect!

 There began a perfect four days of working on the boat; Stewart did useful things like painting, but I am dangerous with a paintbrush so got to catch up on the washing.

Our views were this ….

……… and this ……

…… and this ……..

……. and this.

What is not to like?

There were walks in the woods (one longer than expected), trips across the (free) man-hauled ferry – and yes, I asked if I could have a go – meals shared with friends and such a good time that our four booked nights flew by.

Part way through we moved to there opposite side of the pontoon to give Stu a chance to touch up the rubbing strake on the port side – in the process of which a fender escaped and we had to take a short trip downstream to retrieve it with a boathook!

Such is the life of the sailor.

The best and most exhausting walk was when we offered to take Tin Tin (ship’s dog on Pavot) out and in trying to follow our own instincts got lost at the top of a hill which then required descending into and scrambling out of a series of ravines. All good fun, but not what we had signed up for!

The views and the flowers more than compensated for the energy expended.

The whole experience – only 8 kms, but rough up and down terrain for two pairs of 70 year old legs – led to a relaxed evening on the back deck, as far as I can remember …..

The fifth night was guaranteed by friend Sally calling the captain ‘Honey’ and inviting him to a curry on the pontoon. This has to be one of the most wonderful evenings of my life – except that poor Sally came a very painful cropper onto a bollard, badly bruising her ribs.

While there we also walked along the river, past the weir, to the next village, Hastière, for bread. The church there is rather lovely, sitting next to the water by the bridge.

Actually the 2 km walk on old legs already tired from the hill top excursion made us decide to buy ready-made sandwiches instead and sit by the weir to eat them on the way back! Well we all deserve a treat from time to time.

It was sad to be leaving our Pavot friends, especially after Sally had fallen and hurt herself on our final evening. Still, off we went, waving goodbye, and heading upstream to Givet, just across the French border.

In no time we were crossing the border – goodbye Belgium, for now. We have loved being with you for the past three years. And hello France; thanks you for being the country who would offer us a 6 month visa.

Although it is a town mooring with a quite noisy bridge nearby, it is also okay for shopping, good for boulangeries, and great for bars!

The long quay is divided into commercial and ‘pleasure boat’ use; I think we got ourselves into the right place! 😁

Many of the towns and cities along the Meuse have huge forts (citadels) perched on hills way above the river – the Meuse has been a frontier in many wars. Givet is no exception with its Fort de Charlemont, and also the ancient old watch tower, named after St Grégoire’s chapel that once was nearby. I have added the simple old church opposite the mooring too as it glowed in the setting sun.

Givet is a town of towers! The Victoire Tour is just along the quay and was originally a corner tower of the seigneurial manor that occupied the south west corner of the old fortified town. It has been utilised both as a toll house, for river traffic, and as a prison over its long life. For sone reason I did not get a good photo of this tower, but it can be partially seen from our table at the local bar.

As twilight fell the town across the water looked more and more attractive, with the full moon shining down from the sky and up from the river.

With all that history the town probably deserves a longer visit, but we wanted to get into the countryside upstream so we were off next morning, but not until a good French baguette was found for our first morning back in France .

Sorry I’m a bit bleary – must have been the wine from the night before!

Next on the agenda was Vireux-Wallerand, a complete unknown to us. All is to be revealed in the next chapter – The Magnificent Meuse part 2!

From the Haut Escaut to the Meuse

Up the Nimy-Blaton-Péronne, through the Canal du Centre, down the Brussels-Charleroi and along the Sambre.

April 28 to May 7 2022

After 3 splendid nights on the new curved pontoon of the Royal Yacht Club of Péronnes it was time to move on.

While there we had had a couple of good walks around Le Grand Large, and along part of the old canal. The old Pommereul-Antoing canal came up out of the Petit Large, along the western edge of what is now the Grand Large, then off around the hill, using 5 small locks to gain the necessary rise.

Looking towards Lock 1 (Maubray-Péronnes) from Lock 2 (Péronnes)

The new Nimy-Blaton-Pommereul canal replaces the old canal; it was opened in 1826. At that time, the Borinage mining area needed an efficient means of transport for the enormous amount of coal mined in the region. This meant a much wider canal and two much taller locks; this would be our route when we left.

In the meantime we took advantage of the on-site bar and restaurant, treating ourselves to a few Belgian beers and to a burger and meatballs meal.

The mornings across Le Grand Large were mystical in their slow beauty.

And we had the breakfast bonus of swallows flying and landing all around us.

There was a pleasant array of wild fowl to watch on the water too – grebes, cormorants, ducks, geese, swans. Apparently in the autumn the area is full of migrating birds and a sight to behold.

Then it was time to go. We were lucky with Maubray-Péronnes lock – the 12.5m giant (although not as deep as several we went through on the Rhône) – it was prepared for us immediately and we were soon on our way up.

The opening of the rising lock door is such a lovely experience on a day like this, so I have tried to embed a video. Let’s see if you can view it!

Off went Calliope, down the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes on a beautiful April Sunday. There were few other boats around, commercial or leisure, so we had the canal mostly to ourselves. As we left the lock we looked back at the jetty on the right where we moored up a few years ago, in the dark and amongst about 6 commercial barges and 4 other leisure cfaft! It was something of an unplanned stop and the whole exciting adventure is described in a previous blog! (https://calliope.blog/2019/07/15/a-river-and-three-canals-in-a-week/)

On nice clear, wide, quiet sections like this the crew sometimes takes the helm. I do love steering and feel very comfortable to be at the wheel, but I prefer the action of throwing ropes when it comes to locks and mooring up; the Captain is far better to be in charge at times like those.

We passed the closed off end of the old canal (on the right), and continued on to look at one of our favourite moorings – another Grand Large. This one is at the entrance to the Pommereul-Condé canal which, despite being modern, has been closed for several years due to silting up at the French end. It is due to re-open this year, so dredging is going on, this making it a less attractive mooring proposition.

Soon after this we passed the Mons basin which marks the start of the Canal du Centre and the end of the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes.

There were two locks ahead of us before our chosen stop for the night at Thieu.

The first is the 5m Obourg-Warton. And the second, which we are heading towards in the photo, is the 10m Havre. The welcome green light allowed us to steam straight in.

(talk about locks)

Many of the big locks have a door/gate half way along. This means that it is possible to only use half a locks worth of water for smaller boats like us.

We rarely see this in action, but the Captain always takes Calliope to the front of the lock so that it is possible if the lock keeper chooses.

This time we did find the tall midway doors close behind us.

Then onwards over the last 4kms of the day to Thieu!

Looking down at the Thieu quay, and Calliope, with the New Ascenseur in the distance, and the historic Ascenbseur to the right

We like the quay at Thieu – just a kilometre from the stunning 20 year old 240 ft high Strèpy-Thieu Ascenseur (boat lift), This giant structure was completed in 2002 and allowed far larger vessels to travel the Canal du Centre.

The quay is next to the start of the Historic Canal du Centre, which is the route we had planned to take this time. But unfortunately we discovered that it is currently closed for maintenance.

The original canal, now renamed the Historic Canal, has a series of 4 boat lifts to achieve the same height as the one newer Ascenseur.

It starts, at its lower end, here is this lovely basin.

Happily ensconced at Thieu it felt sensible to enjoy the sun and the view by sipping cold beer on the back deck.

And then there are the sunsets top enjoy too!

Next day we were joined by fellow Piper Pilgrim, on their way in the opposite direction; a good opportunity to talk through the delights of life on the waterways of Europe.

Being moored up on a nice steady high quay gave the Captain a chance to become my water engineer and rig up a pump to squirt canal water on the deck for cleaning purposes – I let him try to out first!

After two nights and a full day enjoying being at Thieu we decided to carry on towards our main objective fo the summer, Strasbourg.

So we waited until a commercial barge came past heading for the Ascenseur, and tagged along behind.

After speaking to the ‘lock keeper’, or should I say Ascenseur Operative, we were asked to wait for a barge that was coming down to leave the boat lift, and then we could go up with the commercial.

This is what the inside of the boat lift looks like – a complete giant ‘bath’ of water, complete with its boats, ascends (or descends).

Up we went! It is always a spectacular experience, The vista that gradually opens up before one as the lift rises with your barge tucked safely inside never fails to impress. And this particular day was the best – clear and sunny.

Leaving the Ascenseur we cruised along the new wide Canal de Centre until its junction with the Brussels – Charleroi Canal.

On our way we watched out for a strange short-stay mooring, usefully next to a Carrefour supermarket. We were in need of fresh milk – to always an easy purchase in Belgium and France, but usually to be fund in the larger supermarkets.

The stop requires spotting a bollard often hidden in long grass, and an arrangement of ropes, metal bars, nuts and bolts. We found it; we moored up; we shopped!

I didn’t discover the reason, but all customers were being given a fresh rose, with lily of the valley. all in a little plastic vase.

Makes a nice addition to the wheelhouse!

Viesville lock

Our aim for the night was to stop above the lock at Viesville. It is not an immediately desirable mooring, but we have stopped there a few times and find it a peaceful spot, despite the trains that rush by now and then.

One of the fascinations of this lock is the installation of 3 giant Archimedes screws. These, by each raising 9000 cubic metres of water per hour, replace upstream the water that is ‘lost’ when the lock empties.

For those as interested as us, here is a link to the company that proudly installed the screws. https://www.besix.com/en/news/the-three-locks

We also has an unexpected visit from the Belgian Navy – well two of them, off duty, cycling he canal and interested in Calliope. They were welcomed aboard and given the grand tour!

Next morning, while I was slowly getting up, I was informed by the Captain that the lock was full and the gate open, with a green light – an invitation to get going! So we did.

Viesville Lock, looking across at the floating bollards opposite to those we used

Down through Viesville (7m), Gosselies (7m) and Marchienne-au-Pont (7m) – a full 21m down the valley to Charleroi. Because of the layout of the floating bollards, designed for 40m and 80m commercial barges, we had to straddle the gates in the centre. We were lucky to be alone! Obviously we could not have done this if we were sharing the locks.

All three locks have these wonderful floating bollards, although a note in our map book from last year warned us that one floating bollard was missing in Gosselies lock, so we made sure we went to the other side.

They also all have lock doors that slide open sideways, revealing the next beef, or stretch of canal, slowly and tantalisingly!

Everything was amazingly smooth and I made the mistake of saying what a good day we were having ……

We reached the awkward right hand bend under a bridge and out onto the River Sambre at about 11.30, pleased to see the illuminated green arrows to the left of the bridge (just visible on photo) indicating that we were free to turn left or right onto the Sambre..

Happily we steamed on through the bridge, towards the almost gothic outline of the abandoned steel works.

Last year we turned right and went up the Sambre, into Fracxne that way. It was a lovely journey. The town of Thuin mentioned on the sign is a fascinating place, famous for its (often alcoholic) cherries!

But this year, 2022, we turned left towards the Meuse.

Then as I called the Marcinelle lock, by then just a few hundred yards from us, we realised we would be queuing behind a working barge.

As I talked to the lock keeper in my inadequate French I came to understand that there was a problem ahead at the lock. 

We managed to moor up, with our ropes across a cycle path (although you cannot see that here thank goodness!) next to and surrounded by the architectural ruins of Charlerpoi’s industrial past.

I walked down to the lock. It contained a large barge, going nowhere, with the top lock gate wide open. The presence of a Diving van signalled an underwater problem, and I managed to discover that it would be about two hours before things would get moving again.

Every cloud has a silver lining. I found a five star sandwicherie only half a  mile away and set out to buy a lunch time treat. We would never have thought we would sit enjoying a tuna, egg and anchovy baguette in the middle the noisy dusty canal at Charleroi, but on that day we did!

And after the prescribed two hours everything got moving again.

We went through the lock with our new commercial friend Sirius, and continued down the Sambre for the next 3 hours, following Sirius in and out of locks.

May is such a lovely month to be travelling on the water – all the wildfowl are raising their young – this neatly camouflaged Egyptian goose standing sentry over a little pile of goslings.

And then there are the surprise new structures – we are sure this smooth blue bridge was not there last time we passed this way.

Finally our paths diverged from Sirius, as they stopped overnight a couple of kilometres before we arrived at our chosen destination – a mooring in front of a disused fire station!

It was a very tranquil rural mooring, with just a little traffic over the bridge a couple of hundred yards behind us. In fact anything seems tranquil after the rush and kerfuffle of Charleroi and its environs!

Next day we set off from our fire station stop (on the market at a mere €850,000) to travel round a couple of bends and one lock before stopping again for some food shopping.

The lock in question was at Auvelais. It is currently in the middle of a major upgrade, and there was some consternation when the lock began to empty next to a small diving platform.

All was slowed down, and everyone was happy again. Apologies for this misty photo – it was not good light on that morning! But I hope it gives an indication fo what was going on as we left the lock.

Then we were tied up in the ‘cut-out’ next to the railway bridge at Auvelais. Up the stairs we went, over the river, and into town for a few bags full of supplies; then retracing our steps a little slower than we went!

We stayed at Auvelais long enough to have a good lunch full of the fresh things we had bought, and then got going for the final 12 kilometres of the day to Floreffe.

Our last lock for that day was Mornimont – just 4.6m down, but without floating bollards and being behind a large commercial brings its own need for careful attention.

Stu is watching here to see how soon he can move his rope from the bollard on the quay onto the first of the bollards in the wall -as you cn see from my rope attached to one of these.

You might also notice the Captain’s headset. This Nauti Talk system makes it so much easier for us to discuss where to tie up, who will move their rope down first, any requirements to move ahead, or astern etc.

And before long we were coming into Floreffe, looking up at the 900 year old Abbey, and looking down for a place to moor.

We were in luck again. The 40m pontoon was empty and we snuggled up to the restaurant/party boat Carpe Diem, with the most amazing scenery all around us.

We wandered up to the abbey during late afternoon (more to follow) but were back aboard to watch the sun go down across the river.

Much has been said about the Abbey at Floreffe, so our take on it is rather inconsequential. It is a good walk up the hill, pleasant to do, and when we arrived we discovered that the complex is now a school. Visitors are still welcome to wander around the grounds; the surprising thing, to us, was all the youngsters happily using the space as their playground, which indeed it is.

It was invigorating to see a game of volley ball going on not far from the bar and terraces for visitors. Students were everywhere, enjoying the sun much as we were.

So here are a few photos of our visits over the two days we were there.

The Abbey has its own range of beers – no longer brewed there sadly, but I guess there are no monks left to do the brewing!

The long distance vista from the top is well worth the climb …….

…… and we could see Calliope way below on her mooring.

The mornings at Floreffe, each following a beautiful clear day, were wistfully misty. We sat happily drinking tea waiting for the mists to clear before making plans for the day.

Plans included more cleaning – was still trying to get rid of the dust of Kortrijk building sites and Charleroi scrap metal works!

And the pontoon at Floreffe is just the right height to make easy work of cleaning the side – well one side at least!

One of the things I really enjoy about being on the barge is the frequent passing of other boats.

For example, this bow of a 40m full laden barge, low in the water, and passing our door at lunch time.

The return of the hot sun later in the day prompted the skipper to try out the new back deck shade.

We have always favoured a lime green shade, but this year there were none to be found in the rectangular shape and size that we wanted, so grey it is this year.

It was lovely to enjoy the long evenings, with darkness not descending until about 21.30. The idea of a walk upstream along the bank just acts as a magnet on my soul! Although I didn’t go far – if you look carefully you can see Calliope moored around the bend.

After two fine and interesting days in Floreffe we were ready for our last few hours on the Sambre. Just 12 kilometres and two locks separated us from the Meuse.

We waited half an hour after a working barge had passed us going down stream, to give it time to go through Florifoux lock without the bother of us. But in fact when we arrived we had a red light and needed to wait for a barge coming up.

Then at the second lock we were asked to move to the front to make room for long a massive barge came in behind us – right up close! But always safe. It was marked with Jaws style teeth on the bow and a photo would have been great, but my phone was in the wheelhouse!

We followed her down into Namur, watching with incredulity as she made her way under low old bridges. She had a wheelhouse that lowers about 8′ to go under low infrastructure, but when in that mode the Captain can hardly see anything ahead!

Something we had not expected and did not know about was the new cable car from Namur town up to the Citadel. Over the last 3 years we have moored a couple of times right next to the new cable car station, and had no idea it was planned!

So a final couple of images to indicate the juxtaposition of old and new in Namur – there is far more than this, and I have included lots of photos on previous blogs, so I will spare you now.

And finally we were out on the Meuse, heading upstream, Southwards on a rather grey day. Apologies for the photo! But we were off, towards Strasbourg, Nancy, Toul, Metz and other joys.

And the next instalment of that journey will be in the next blog. 😊

[PS my onboard garden, for those who are following the planting of seeds, is beginning to appear; flax, carrots, marigolds, sunflowers and snap-dragons. An eclectic mix, that will be explained later]

Short Trip on the Scheldt

(Actually the Haut Escaut; we are in Wallonia!)

From Bossuit, at the end of the canal from Kortrijk, it is not far to Peronnes where we were to join the Nimy-Blaton- Peronnes canal – just 27 kilometres. Nonetheless, in our new sedate gentle mindset we took a break of two nights along the way at Antoing, because we like it!

We woke to much brighter skies than the evening before – in fact it paired with rain the night, which helps to wash the cabin roof, so quite welcome!

At 10am we contacted the lock keepers and asked if we could go down in the 11am lock, and were told he would prepare the lock immediately. We were ready to go and within a few minutes we were heading into the lock.

We have been through this 9.5m lock a few times and are quite comfortable with it – but this day was not so easy. A gusty tail wind, strange eddies in the water, and the bollards not where we expected meant that we had a rather inelegant landing. It happens to the best of helmsmen and bargees from time to time.

We were soon sorted, tied up neatly, and ready to descend with the ‘singing’ floating bollards to the bottom. (The ‘singing’ is the echoing squeaks and squeals of the bollards as they roll down their metal runners).

I know I look a bit if a twit here (alright – a lot of a twit), but at tine like the entrance to this lock our nauti talk has been SO useful.

I have to admit to being against these walkie talkie things to start with, but it so nice to converse gently and with full understanding with my Captain when plans have to change from A to B to C … to D!

And then the great doors opened and we were out onto the Scheldt, which, as I have said above, becomes known as the Haut Escaut in the French speaking Wallonian area of Belgium.

I have taken many photos before of the stretch of the Haut Escaut from Bossuit to Antoing, so I will restrict myself to just these few. In the distance, I could see churches and windmills on the horizon.

We love the continuous commercial use of the waterways, apparently keeping 40 lorries per boat load (on average) off the roads!

Along the way is quite a shallow lock, but sufficiently interesting to a group of friendly students to provide us with an audience. I also performed an act if public duty, hauling form the water in the lock what looks like a mashed up traffic cone.

The final image, on the right, is, I think, part of the modern hydraulic system to open the sluices and allow water into the lock.

Going through Tournai we always look to see how the rebuild of the mediaeval bridge is going – all to allow the much wider modern commercial barges to fit through. It is coming on, though after two plus years still not complete.

And this time we found another bridge almost completed – except that at the moment there seems to be a lack of road at either end!

We reached the small ‘port’ of Antoing, in the metaphorical shadow of the castle, in good time and tied up happily for two nights.

We must be getting lazy, because apart from changing two gas bottles at Neptunia chandlery (50 yards away) and doing some shopping at Aldi (100 yards away) we had a quiet time.

Oh, we did get out for a pizza one night -and the glass off wine on board beforehand brought the distant castle into play once more!

The weather was improving and by the second night the glinting setting sun shone across the river to Calliope in fine artistic style.

After two nights, and with a replenished ship, we were ready to travel the three kilometres to the Péronnes lock and join the next canal. This short section of the river is pleasant, though not remarkable.

The actual travel time was about half an hour, but a 40 minutes wait to go through the lock meant we almost felt we had had a half day of travel! We tied up to the ‘dolphins’ before the lock and waited in the sunshine for a working barge to come down; quite right that they have precedence.

We had come to Le Grand Large – a big basin between two large locks that lift boats from the Haut Escaut to the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes canal – and within the basin is the Royal Péronne Yacht Club, and it’s new curving visitors pontoon!

It is rather lovely, although a strange shape to moor a 20m straight boat to! Anyway we did it, and sat back to await the arrival of our dinner guests, and bargee friends, Martin, Sally, and dog Tin Tin.

Just look at that view!

I was down below cooking up a feast (well, a meal created from some Aldi ingredients plus a good tart from the boulangerie) and Captain Stu kept an eye out for our friends to arrive.

Together we had a lovely evening, talking about moorings old and new, locks easy and difficult, friends on boats, food, wine and generally a good time with good mates.

Next day they moved on up the canal gradually towards the Meuse. We will be following tin their wake, but a few days behind.

They left us to enjoy a morning flight of swallows, one of who was cheeky enough to perch on our flagstaff long enough for me to get a photo through the window.

part of the old Pommerœul-Antoing Canal

And then we enjoyed another two days of this wonderful mooring, and its adjacent walks, some alongside the old canal that was used before these giant locks at either end of our lake came into use.

But I get ahead off myself, because officially we are now on the ‘new’ Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes canal, and not on the Haut Escaut at all!

So with a reminder of how peaceful it is here, I’m off until the next episode.

Day One of the 2022 Season

The Bossuit-Kortrijk Canal

25th April 2022

We are very excited about the prospect of the 2022 season – we are going to have a full six months cruising again. This follows the last two years of Brexit and Covid restrictions that resulted in a three month and a two month season.

We went through the necessary paperwork in January with photos and meetings to get a six month French visa and were delighted to discover you can get it without having a permanent port address – the French are pleased to welcome us with our own movable floating home, so are were able to use a few Schengen days to move the boat from Belgium and then enjoy a summer en France.

And we’re off!

Chronologically our journey went taxi, ferry, train, taxi, train, train and finally a walk across Kortrijk, all starting with the crossing of Portsmouth Harbour on a bright late April morning.

A mere 8 hours of travelling later we were throwing our bags aboard Calliope and all set to change gear into summer cruising mode.

But first we needed to relax! So before long we were in our favourite Kortrijk bar in the park, with Omer beer and Kriek Max as our celebratory drinks of choice!

We had allowed ourselves a couple fo days to prepare Calliope, bearing in mind we had been to visit her in December and earlier in April to sort things like engine servicing, central heating boiler servicing, spare parts for pumps etc.

Stewart’s work was mainly below decks, so here is the crew scrubbing the deck and preparing this year’s garden!

There is still more cleaning to be done, but we can set off knowing that our lovely barge is presentable.

It was not all work! A massive fair was installed across the centre of the city – plenty of colour and noise (not the Captain’s favourite!).

We had a walk round and evaded the temptations of being turned upside down 100 feet above the ground, and of deep fried doughnut balls!

There was also the much gentler stimulation of the Kortrijk port wildlife – herons, geese, grebes, moorhens, coots, and of course ducks.

Apparently on average only two ducklings survive from each clutch – lets hope these 8 all make it.

And then it was time to go; we had booked the first lock on the Kortrijk-Bossuit Canal at 10am, so at 9.30 we were straining at the ropes to be off ……..

…… but a glance at the VisuRIS live traffic map showed two big commercial barges on their unstoppable way to cross the port exit. This is where we have to go out astern into the main river before a sharp turn to port and the to starboard to enter the canal. (see bottom left quadrant of the map).

Having let the big boats pass Calliope’s Captain carefully took us out backwards, under the low bridge, and out onto the main River Leie waterway.

A small manoeuvre turned us round and we headed for the small canal entrance at Sluis (Lock) 11. Unfortunately the gates to the lock were closed, so we engaged Plan B and moored up on the waiting jetty.

It was decided that I would to go up and see what was happening, whereupon and met a lovely lady lock keeper – on her first day!

She soon had the gates open and Calliope gently entered her first lock of the year – one of the narrowest in Belgium.

We tied up and gave some general advice to the lock keeper about what to do next ……. but after ten minutes we were wondering why it was taking so long for the lock to fill.

Unfortunately she had not understood my question about whether she had closed the ‘paddles’ on the bottom gates (not sure of the Dutch term). Water was therefore leaving the bottom of the lock almost as fast as water came in at the top!

This was soon put right and we gently eased on up through the next two of the three manual locks. These three, leading out of Kortrijk, took us our first kilometre. It was just the right pace to start the new season.

After Lock 9 the waterway widens to commercial size so we bade farewell to our ‘lockie’, who now had the experience of three locks behind her.

At this point the beautiful blue sky rapidly went through grey to black and we found ourselves in quite a rain storm. The next lock is a big commercial size one – where one of us has to be on the foredeck with ropes in the rain!

After ascending the lock we thought that we needed to change our (almost) empty gas bottles for full ones – and sooner rather than later. We wanted to be sure of a nice cup of tea and hot supper when we stopped for the night. So I began an online search for a supermarket, a garage, a garden centre, or anywhere that was near enough to the canal for us to stop and buy some.

I found two garden centres nearby. After a quick lunch on board with Stu I set off to check them out. The first did not have any large gas bottles – but did have the potting compost and a small watering can that I needed, so all was not lost.

The second was a bit further away; given that we wanted to carry on with the journey did we actually need new gas yet or not? The clever Captain realised we could weigh our two gas bottles with our luggage scales and compare the weights. In doing so we discovered that we had enough gas for at least another 24 hours.

Phew!

(Normally we replace gas bottles one at a time as each runs out. We do this while we are in port and with a car, but somehow this winter each time we planned to buy some our plan was thwarted.)

The final part of our Day One cruise was lit by golden green sunlight and brooding black skies over the canal; all very dramatic.

The rain held off as we moored up in the basin above Bossuit lock. The horizontal flag indicates the strengthening gusty winds and we were glad of the final flickers of gas for a hearty meal of ham, egg, chips and beans.

The final activity of the day, apart from a soothing camomile tea, was a walk round to view the first lock of Day 2 – the 9.5m drop at Bossuit. The rain began to fall as we looked at the mighty lock gates, so back to the warmth and comfort of Calliope’s cabin, and that feeling of contentment that always comes when we are back on the water again.

A winter visit

6th – 10th December 2021

We had kept enough off our Schengen 90 days to visit Calliope at least once during the winter, and despite Covid rules both sides of the chan new requiring several tests each we decided to go. So with the ‘leaving UK’ PCR test accomplished and negative results received we were off into a beautiful winter sunrise.

Driving through to Kent the skies greyed. The journey was quicker than normal, and the roads leading to Dover Port were early quiet!

It was relatively deserted waiting in the short queue to board the ferry too. Even the seagulls were fewer in number! But just as insistently hungry.

The car deck was emptier than we have ever seen, though there were plenty off lorries to keep DFDS in business and to make sure the kitchens were fired up to cook our lunch.

Presumably the winter season and Covid had kept most travellers tucked up at home, putting up the Christmas decorations and wrapping presents. – tasks that we would undertake on our return.

Two DFDS Christmas dinners and a trip to the duty free shop later we were heading into Dunkirk ready for our 80 minute drive down to Kortrijk.

It’s a good straightforward drive from Dunkirk to Kortrijk – one of the many reasons that we like wintering there. We enjoy seeing Ypres as we go round it, going over the Ypres canal that we cruised down a couple of years ago. And we enjoy coming into Kortrijk, driving through roads that are now familiar as we approach the mooring.

And relax! It is always so lovely to be back aboard and it never takes long to warm Calliope up, unpack and settle down to our first December evening in Kortrijk. The combination of central heating and the Refleks stove lifts the temperature to a gentle cosiness – cheers Calliope!

Luckily the Belgian Covid rules had changed just before we left, meaning we did not need an ‘entering Belgium’ test and could get on with enjoying the few days of our stay. We had some things to achieve while we were there – some on the maintenance front, plus some catching up with friends and some shopping.

Of course the first thing to do is to make sure that Calliope is trim and safe. Our neighbour had been kindly clearing leaves off the boat through the autumn, so she was looking cleaner than we usually find her at this time of year. Nonetheless there is always cleaning to do.

Also we had booked an engine service with a local marine engineering company. They arrived as expected and worked through the maintenance schedule; all done in a morning.

We both had things to do – I collected our new hull ID sign and Stewart screwed it in place, we swept up the last of the autumnal debris, we bought additional anti freeze for the cooling system (just to be sure!), checked the bilges, put away the new ropes and fenders we had brought with us, and generally tidied up.

An important task was to re-instal the PV panels onto the wheelhouse roof, covering up our smart new wheelhouse cover! That allowed us to fully clean the cabin roof and be ready for solar power come Spring.

The evenings were special times, catching up with our barging friends Sally and Martin, going for walks with their dog Tin Tin and enjoying food and wine together.

Evenings were also times to walk round Kortrijk taking in the Christmas lights – one of my main reasons for wanting to come back to the boat in December! There is such a lovely atmosphere in Belgian cities at this time of year.

In the daytime I went supermarket shopping for some of our favourite Belgian foods and drinks to take home, both for us and as presents – some cheese, paté, Ganda ham, Abbey and Kriek beer – and the inevitable Belgian chocolate!

I had to go to the chocolatier twice – back at Calliope after the first visit I found that the carefully selected gluten free chocolates for our daughter had not been put in my bag!

But the benefit of an extra walk out in the rain was finding these beautiful yellow leaves on the pavement.

As next day was expected to be our last in Kortrijk. Covid regulations demanded that we have a negative PCR test within 48 hours of leaving the EU so we went to a very friendly pharmacist who did the necessary swabbing. Within a few hours we had our negative results; hooray.

Then we discovered that ‘Christmas in Kortrijk’, their outdoor winter food, drink and entertainment event, started on our planned last evening there!

Together with Martin and Sally we ent exploring. We were allowed in with our Covid vaccination certificates, and negative test results. And then found that the first beer was free, with good gluwein to follow.

And that a very good jazz band from Gent was playing!

We had struck it just right.

We moved on to the ‘food court’ area, with its wooden cabins, Christmas trees and ‘snow’. Tin Tin, encouraged by the smell of our Bratworst, and perhaps with cold paws, decided that Stewart’s lap was the best place to be.

It was the start of our festive season, in style; Sally and I danced back to the port!

Luckily we had had dry weather for our evening out, but next day, when we were planning to go home, was somewhat on the wild, wet and windy side. A decision was made to delay our return by a day and have a calmer channel crossing.

The wet weather allowed some thinking and planning for 2022 cruising. The idea is to go back to France, at least for the summer. It is a big country and there are areas we have not touched.

So we looked through our French waterway guides and worked out the extra ones we would need to take us down to the Strasbourg area; an addition to our UK shopping list.

The re-scheduled travel day arrived sufficiently blue and calm. We packed up our bags and said goodbye to our lovely second home once more. See you in March Calliope!

Then headed off to Dunkirk, where we arrived with just two hours to spare on our negative Covid tests! They were a little surprised that w were so close to the cut off, but all was OK and we boarded our ferry.

About 5 hours later we were home, driving past all the Christmas lights that had sprung up while we were away.

Now time to do ours. Happy Christmas everyone.

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!