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 Winter trips to Calliope’s hivernage

This is not really much of a boater’s blog!  I ended up with a break of almost 8 months non-cruising, so this episode is a quick reflection of how that time has been filled, including 4 trips to Calliope and some other boating references – plus the family. Skip over those latter bits if they are of no interest, which I guess they won’t be to most of my readers.

 

I have also completed this rather quickly, just to get it out there and begin the proper cruising blog for 2019, so apologies for typos, repeated photos, and all other mess-ups.

Coming into Dover after the December visit

Having said au revoir to Calliope and left her for the winter we decided to make two speedy visits during November and December. The first was to collect the wheelhouse roof cover and bring it home for repair and cleaning. Then a second visit was required to affix the said cover back atop the wheelhouse.

E23B51BD-5446-4157-A7D2-0F6C02DF664BBefore we went there was plenty to do at home sorting out the garden which took on an autumnal misty feel and deer pranced through every morning looking for fallen apples, tasty shoots, and anything else that I don’t want them to eat.

 

(yes, there is a deer in this photo)

 

There were also plenty of grand children duties, especially across half term.  Its good when the second youngest can read to the youngest! and when the youngest still thinks that a trip to a garden centre is fun.

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We got to the end of October and discovered Halloween was upon us, so dressed to kill.

Caused quite a stir at the neighbourhood party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then at last we were off eastwards through the Hampshire countryside towards Kent and the ferry port.

EA4BFF60-BEA7-4A34-9D06-0C691A841E13

 

The trip across was calm and grey, leaving behind blue skies and white cliffs ………

 

 

7F2A07E5-5CA4-40BF-B132-378487E5D7AD

 

 

 

 

…… finally to arrive at Calais.

 

 

 

The road trip down to Silvery (just south of Reims) only took about three hours, not bad considering we hit the Reims ring road at rush hour. Being November it was dark by then, so looking for the requisite ‘à droites’ and ‘à gauches’ was not easy, but finally there we were aboard again, warming up the boat as quickly as possible and toasting our return in true French style.

58DCEF7F-18ED-4A3B-AF4F-4A53E404A70DNext day dawned bright and Stewart set to work removing PV panels prior to the canvas being taken off next day. He had plenty more maintenance to do so I had a go at removing the accumulated leaves, cleaning some windows, shopping for food and some other good first mate chores.

Over the two days I was also able to take a series of photos in the Silvery WW1 cemetery.

It was a very moving time to be there – 8 November 2018, just 3 days before the centenary of the end of the war. In the cemetery were soldiers who had does just a few days before the ceasefire – they nearly made it. And rows of christian and muslim soldiers lying side by side, just as they had  fought side by side a hundred years before.

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With the canvas off the wheelhouse roof (it was coming home for some TLC) it was time to put the tarpaulin on to keep things watertight in our absence.  Not a pretty job, but it worked, and stayed on through the following weeks of wind and rain.

So for us, time to head home.

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We awoke to a golden winter dawn, beautiful to behold. And as we packed up to go the wintery light became even more lovely across the water of Sillery marina.

DCEECE42-8BDD-4AA5-8C3B-40CCD06BE2B0

4FD2D088-362B-4155-A994-DD3347C0C5D0Our drive back to the ferry was uneventful, and in such good time that we diverted off the motorway through a couple of villages to find a good local French bar/restaurant with a menu de jour.  

Our diversion took us through an unexpected arch – luckily with no oncoming traffic.

 

And so ended he first hivernage trip, but we were to return again before Christmas to fit the repaired canvas wheelhouse roof ……

 

But while we were home we packed in lots of family activity.

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Celebrating eldest grand daughter’s 20th  birthday ….

 

 

 

 

 

… having fun with youngest grand daughter whenever possible …..

48503760_Unknown…. watching grandsons play football …

… seasonal cooking including mixing the Christmas pudding and using up our apples in roasted garlic and apple chutney …..

….. getting our photos taken, so that friend David could practise his new art ….

… and discovering totally unabashed deer and fabulous fungi in the garden.

 

We swept up lots and lots and lots of leaves, piling them behind Stewart’s lovely whirly-bird wheel sculpture.

Then the unexpected kicked in! We suddenly decided to buy a new house, which has the necessary consequence of putting the current one on the market!  Plenty of cleaning, tidying, maintenance etc, and it all paid off. We had a buyer and really did have to sort out down-sizing.

And we still needed to go back to Sillery with the new wheelhouse cover, and complete Calliope maintenance. It was a quick 3 day trip in December.

IMG_4423Mission was accomplished and we saw more beautiful wintry dawns ….

IMG_4422and we saw Sillery at its most festive.

Then it was headlong towards Christmas, including delightful times with youngest grand daughter with fish and chips on Southsea sea front.

 

Christmas Day was a big family event – our last at Bishopswood with comfortable space for all 12; good fun all round.

New Year’s Eve is another chance to celebrate with family – grand daughter No. 3’s birthday – then back home to see the new year in before we set to in earnest with the house move.

January and February were a haze of giving, eBaying, Freecycling, auctioning and charity donating all the many things that would not fit into our new home. It was a mixture of reminiscing, delight and some sadness. No photos fit for this!

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But one beautiful occurrence on January 21st was the appearance of a ruby moon – so amazing that my camera did a double take!

On March 5th we moved out of our lovely rambling wooden bungalow and its huge field of a garden. We said goodbye to the robin, the greenhouse, the many many trees, and had one last bonfire

We were then expecting to be homeless for a couple of weeks. In amongst a short holiday and visiting family we were able once more to make the trip to Sillery and start the de-winterising of Calliope.  We had a lovely few misty morning spring days on board, clearing to blue skies, and we were longing to be off cruising, but still had the house move to complete.

IMG_4887So back to England, and with a push and a shove we managed to fit ourselves and our belongings into The Mixing House – a home looking out onto a creek off Portsmouth Harbour.  We just love to see water – canals, rivers, sea, lakes.

Our new house has both a historical and maritime heritage.  It is built within the blast walls of the old Shell Filling Houses where the shells for the navy’s were filled with explosive and run along rails to be loaded onto the ships.

And the creek (or Forton Lake as it is properly known) has the remains of many old hulks and other marine artefacts, just marvellous to explore for any boat lover.

Our view includes Portsmouth’s spinnaker tower and the new super carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth II, when she is in harbour.

We had a fabulous 5 weeks settling in, providing Stewart with plenty more opportunities to use his practical skills; no photos of this shy retiring working man.

IMG_1898During all this time we needed another canal fix so went up to the Grand Union Canal to visit family living aboard a narrow boat – so lovely!

There was also the exciting event at Wembley to watch my football team, Pompey, win the Checkatrade Cup on penalties.  I know, it’s not that fantsactic an achievement but when you support Pompey you take every trophy that you can.

05f4b04f-3294-4798-9100-30c864c7f47bEaster was fun with all the family coming to squeeze into the new abode – yes they do fit!

Then back to Sillery once more, via another night at Folkestone. We have come to rather love that town.

When we arrived in Sillery the weather was not promising and I had to dig out the wet weather baguette bag for the boulangerie run, but by tea time I was sitting in sunshine.

48504800_UnknownWe found we had a new neighbour, Jacana, a lovely old Tjalk, but no crew aboard.

 – this time to bring and fit our new PV solar panels, and for Stewart to become an engineer. He completed a full service on the barge – gold star.

IMG_2374Between us we also got some painting done – I am only let loose on the wooden struts to support the PV panels, but managed to do this without getting wood stain where it shouldn’t be.

We managed to fit in a bit of a canal walk and had a day out driving through the champagne vineyards, and also buying champagne, Ratafia and beer to take home after our 9 day stay.

I also got into photographic mode about Sillery bridges – scroll on down if this is several bridges too far!

48505088_UnknownAnd, as always, we met lovely new people on other boats – then say good-bye as they cruise away.

IMG_2173My particular joy on this trip was managing to bring back the geraniums that were on Calliope last year, wintered in our greenhouse (see photo somewhere above), then sat outside the new house until we loaded them into the car and reinstated them aboard.

IMG_2541One last trip to England before cruising begins, with three aims in mind; first to celebrate son’s 50th birthday (he has some interesting obsessions!), second to see youngest grand daughter over half term, and third to oversee the final bits of snagging on the new house.  The first two were easily and enjoyably accomplished. The third – well that is an ongoing, different, story.

IMG_5161So on June 2nd we finally finally left the UK for Sillery, leaving our lone poppy behind.

Stewart finished fixing the new solar panels and they work!

Let cruising begin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An unexpected sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne

So with spirits high and buoyancy in our step and our ship we turned starboard out of one canal, and then port into another – the Canal Lateral à la Marne. We were on schedule to reach our Winter mooring in Sillery six days later, including two, or even three, nights in Chalons-en-Champagne. Little did we know that this would stretch to at least thirty-two!

And, sadly, be my last bit of cruising for months and months. 😢

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In our innocent unknowing state we left Vitry-les-François behind and began to experience the new canal. We were back to grabbing and rotating poles suspended over the water to operate the locks – always good fun.

 

 

 

 

 

There was a completely different style of lock keepers house – regrettably still mainly abandoned.

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And long stretches of straight straight canal, unlike the twists and turns Entre Champagne et Bourgogne.

B9C1111A-AA26-4564-AA60-9EF3E453AED2We were wondering where to spend our first night when turning a bend (yes, there are a couple of bends linking the straight bits) we saw one of the most beautiful moorings ever. A long stone quay, flanked by the remains of industrial stone buildings, stood waiting for us.

G(nIt was surrounded by peace and tranquility, with lizards and butterflies the only other obvious inhabitants.

Calliope’s crew had a wonderful time exploring the stone walls, arches and crevices – without managing to uncover the original purpose of the quay, but probably it is linked to a nearby quarry and was used to load stone into barges for onward journeys.

Later we were joined by Troubadour, another British owned barge, and in addition to having fun discussing our separate epic voyages, doubt was cast on our future plans! It was suggested that the canal to Sillery, our winter mooring, was closed. “No”, I assured them. “I have an email from the VNF saying it shuts next week”, and showed them the email to prove it.

 

The sunnny evening gave glow to the stone, and next morning the sun shone down on us once more, casting shadows as we cast off, to move on to Chalons-en-Champagne.

9FC4AC3A-47B9-4A61-8DF9-86CED8E7845CThe cruise was uneventful; 7 locks and 29 Kms under blue skies, past sleepy villages, glimpses of La Marne, and a series of grain silos, indicating local agriculture.

9FBF7BB6-8833-4B29-AB01-6B4224468819Calliope arrived at Chalons to find plenty of mooring along the port quay, next to Bird Island and the Grand Jardin; a nice spot. We booked in for two, or maybe three, nights and I went to talk to the éclusier to make sure that my version of canal closures was correct ………. except it wasn’t!

The éclusier rang the VNF office and was told it had closed on 10th September. I rang my email contact at the VNF and was told it does not close until the 17th. Then I rang the agency doing the work. It’s closed. The water has been drained out. There is no way we can navigate until October 15th!!!

 

Hence our enforced sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne. Let’s make the best of it – not difficult here. We’ll start with a beer in the square, then a pizza – but not in this restaurant because it didn’t open!

Our time in Chalons was divided between working on the boat – painting, cleaning, varnishing, polishing – and enjoying the town.

The first weekend there was also the town’s Patrimonie weekend. This means that a vast array of activities and tours are laid on to give local people (and incomers like us) a better understanding of their history and culture.

 

 

Chalons-en-Champagne is a major Centre for circus arts, and one of the more surreal performances was in the gardens about 200 yards from the boat! So plastic tumbler of rosé in hand we went to watch.

752CCE74-D729-440F-8153-02892ECC4B99The next day I was up and away by 8.30, heading for the massive Porte Saint-Croix, an Arc de Triomphe look-alike edifice that was open for breakfast on the roof!

 

I was there in time, climbed the wooden spiral staircase, and out into an azure morning sky. Black coffee, orange juice, and mini croissants etc held me together for looking down and out at the views across the city.

 

I could see so many steeples and spires, it was inspiring! (Sorry.)

 

Before I returned to boat duties I called in at the Saturday market – temptingly delicious as always. The grape harvest is definitely in, and the range of plums is wonderful. I resisted most things, but bought some pork pie with mushroom and crême fraiche under the top pastry, some good fresh fruit and veg, and baguette.

 

My journey through town took me along little back streets adjacent to the River Mau which appears and disappears along its route.

The next few days involved work on the boat. We had cycled out of town to a brico to buy ‘stuff’ that was needed – to replace a tap, to bleed radiators, to mask edges for painting, brushes for varnishing, I could go on but won’t.

 

So in amongst going into a town full of ancient buildings we (mainly Stewart) got to grips with maintenance, sometimes in a ‘one step forward, three steps back’ manner.

I made a quick dash to see the Préfecture, a lovely classically French building, and later dragged Stewart out to an art nouveau hotel where I knew tasty morsels were on offer – both part of Patrimonie. Far too many people crowded into the art nouveau, so we escaped to a local square for a beer.

 

Later that evening I was back in town for further surreality. I sat with others in rows of chairs in the middle of the road by Norte-Dame-en-Vaux for a carillion concert with a light show!

Next day was full of boat duties in the morning, then a final dip into Patrimonie with a strange ‘concert’ in medieval cellars. It turned out not to be our thing so we crept out and up, and instead visited the cloister museum. It’s a museum because it was allowed to crumble away and get covered by other buildings, but was discovered in the sixties. Everything that could be reassembled is in the museum, with a garden showing the original outline next door.

609FB697-7DE1-4614-90A5-8493D40274F5We also found time for a walk round the Grand Jardin, over the passerelle and back along the canal. Gave us a view of the starboard side of Calliope.

DB616C47-31D6-4546-BF58-D454BB3D1963The new week had us starting on painting – well preparing or painting initially. For me this meant clearing  and washing decks and roof, hunting out little rust spots for treatment, and eventually masking all round the deck ready for the master painter and his roller. Looks good now!

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Despite all the work we managed to fit in a gentle stroll most days, trying to explore different parts and arts of the city.  I took the skipper to see some of the Nau and the Mau – two small rivers that cross Châlons, mentioned earlier. At one point the angle of the light on the twin steeples of Notre=Dame-en Vaux made it worth an extra photo.

A pigeon flew by obligingly at the right moment!

 

 

The next day was just a great laundry day – sunny, warm and breezy. So I used the excellent marina facilities and soon had my washing drying all round the back deck.

D18BB952-5043-4BD5-9B2B-703809A1DB27We stayed on board carrying on more jobs inside and out, and as evening faded in we had a surprise visit from Damien, the Port Capitaine, with a bottle of champagne left over from lunch with his colleagues at their end of summer season pic-nic.  He poured us a glass each and continued to the other occupied boats in his port. What service!

(You can tell the Skip’s done this before with two flutes inclined at just the right angle to get most liquid and least bubbles…)

It’s worth mentioning here the other great things that Damien does to earn the port’s Blue Flag. There are the basics like a working pump out, to discourage boaters form discharging their waste tanks into the port waters; a book swap; very clean showers and laundry room; selling environmentally friendly cleaning products; an array of recycling bins and a composting box; collect from us batteries, old light bulbs, plastic caps etc, and even taking things we no longer need and finding new homes for them.

 

So another evening drew to a close. We had a final /visit from the swan family, who adopted a stray goose when it was a gosling and brought it up worthy their three cygnets. They are now inseparable!

6F2F9C97-DC4B-4A96-A71E-9A8994B7D198Friday was a left bank, bonkers conkers and soup day. It was a bit colder ands greyer so what better than a nice bowl of home made soup for lunch – especially when blended to a creamy consistency. It helps not to turn the base of the blender the wrong way so that the soup pours out the bottom. It also helps not to have the blender spray the soup across the wall and curtains. Finally it helps not to drop the curtain in the canal when you are hanging it out to dry.  Sadly, this is all true ….

 

The bonkers conkers began Friday in earnest. and continued madly dropping until Sunday – more and more and more! We are moored under long rows of horse chestnuts and they fall on our steel roof with wonderful clunks, sometimes bouncing off into the water. They are a noisy but decorative distraction!

 

After lunch we went for our rive gauche (left bank) walk, crossing the canal, the Marne and the railway line to get there.

 

Quite unexpectedly we came across St Pudentienne, a church part deco and part something else (I think the word you’re looking for is the afore mentioned Bonkers) – strikingly different, and a delight.

 

On our way back we walked up into the town centre, looking for somewhere to eat out that night. The sun caught the gold and blue atop the town hall, below which a production team was in full swing preparing for a concert that night – a band called Natchez ….. (Yes, that’s the Captain peering into a shop window on the left).

We eventually went out for a Chinese meal – a bit odd to do in France, but we decided that the French restaurants were best visited at lunch time, both for the prices and to give more time to digest the good rich food before going to bed!

 

Saturday was an exciting one for me. Châlons-en-Champagne had laid on lots of free fun that was right up my street (less so for Stewart). The day time had a succession of world percussion events held at different locations back on the left bank. And the evening had a ‘colour run’ followed by a big outdoor concert.

 

Out came the bike and I cycled over the canal, the Marne and the railway line, and on to find the first venue and a Brazilian street drumming band. I honestly had tears of pure joy listening and moving to them; just loved it! Then onto to venue two and three to hear two different types of African drumming, one with great dancing, and the other with some fabulous singing. I had three hours of mesmerising musical entertainment.

Then the evening; well suffice it to say that I was not one of the official 2000 people registered to run 5 kms through the parks and streets, past Calliope, going through mad colour spraying stations, and accompanied by music at various stages. But I did manage to join in ……

 

Thank goodness the rain held off for that!

7E1B7550-D980-4F41-9594-D240EF351CD1Sunday was a different story, with storm force winds, pouring rain, and a temperature drop that had us lighting the stove. But then it is autumn, and it is northern France, pretty much – and still three weeks until the canal re-opens.

So most of the rest of this chapter is an outlook to and insight of Châlons-en-Champagne, in no particular order.

 

We had plenty of time to wander the streets, taking in the architecture from medieval to gothic. Almost every turn of a corner brings something interesting into view – a gateway, a roofline, a statue or a church.

 

Some are big, grand, and somehow survived the revolution. Others are small, functional, part of the real life of the Chalonnaise.

 

We walked down to La Marne, by now quite a big river and a long way from her source up near Langres where we were a few weeks ago.

 

The autumn colours glowed in the sunshine, and the earlier sunsets went from pink to yellow to purple as we watched.

 

There have been so many glorious days enjoying the sun on the back deck in comfortable warmth, rather than hiding from the blazing high temperatures of summer in the South.

 

Then there’s been swans …..

 

….. there’s been meals out – that good Chinese supper, an interesting French lunch in an old Parfumerie …….

 

…… there are local characters including many a fisherman (they are almost all men), and students affirm the crisis school practising tightrope between there trees (Châlons is a major cents for circus skills) …..

 

…… and the ever changing light on the structures of the Jards. (Jard is local colloquial for public garden or panted promenade, so almost the same as jardin, but not quite).

 

There was yet another event in the Grand Jard – an afternoon for crazy skate-boarders, cyclists, scooterists and skaters, with a DJ sending out good music, burger van, and a nice big air bag to catch the more acrobatic. We spent a while spectating, with quite a lot of amazement!

C5512502-D5D7-4682-99B3-17973C457524The Grand Jard includes a chalk board where you can add your bucket list wishes – ‘Avant de mourn je veux ….’ I love some of the wishes – fromage (cheese), miel (honey) and cheval (horse) – whether to eat or ride is not clear!

And as the weeks wore on we ensured we had seen the more cultural aspects of the city too – the Museum of Beaux Arts, the inside of the Cathedral and Notre-Dame-en Vaux, and a walking tour of the architectural wonders (Gates not the city – or where they used to be, houses of all ages, bridges over the many canals, rivers and tributaries of the Marne, statues etc).

1CB48EEB-E78D-423C-A36F-F247754B73B7

Joan of Arc, as a peasant girl

This includes my favourite statue of Joan of Arc ever – and we have seen quite a few on our journey – still as a young peasant girl, rather than as leader of a revolution.

 

 

We cycled south to Domaine de Coolus, a wooded nature park, which took us along next to La Marne and gave wonderful views of the weir and the old, now closed, municipal swimming area, with diving boards into the river.

 

 

The evenings gradually drew in, the leaves and conkers fell, and the time spent on the back deck decreased. But there were still some lovely early evenings there. My favourite Autumn drink made an appearance – white Aligote wine with a touch of Chataigne, chestnut liqueur.

2818C5B3-3598-41D5-8623-E9C10FDA32BEOut for an evening stroll on October 1st I discovered that Calliope was the only remaining boat on the port with people aboard – everything else, the hotel boats, other barges and cruisers, had either left or been ‘winterised’.

 

With only a couple of days before I was leaving Stewart alone to await the canal opening we went for a proper French lunch – a three course menu for €17 which for me included delicious herring and potato salad, a wonderful tripe dish (!!!!) with some of the best frites I have ever had, and a tangy fromage blanc. Stewart’s meal was also excellent, his steak haché arriving unexpectedly topped by two eggs!

My last full day arrived wet and windy, requiring a good sweep and mop of the decks to clear leaves, twigs, conkers and dust!

After lunch the weather changed – “Here comes the Sun doo be doo be” – (for those of a certain age) so we went for my final walk round. I didn’t take many photos, just of things I had not seen before, plus Stu and I in front of the one city gate still standing.

5A75CB0A-BC09-4237-82C5-3F2880EB86C4I’m not very good at good-byes, so started with my garden – at least the floral part of it. The herbal part is up on the foredeck.

So that’s it from Calliope crew for 2018, but the Captain is on board for another two weeks and will, hopefully, continue the tale………

………………

……. So – it’s gone very quiet on board all of a sudden I’ve noticed, but we have a plan. There is still have another week to sit out in Chalons until the canal to Reims re-opens – though as you may have noticed from the above, this is not much of a hardship. 

At that point my old schoolmate Billy will arrive who, after a further couple of days R&R in Chalons to help him get over TGV-lag will help crew us through the last couple of days to our winter mooring at Sillery.

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The autumn winds are definitely blowing the new season in, though the nights are still balmy enough for Billy to check his racing results on the back deck . . . . 

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And then – right – we’re off! First day is planned as a very leisurely 8k and three (descending) locks to a quiet stop-over in the small town of Condé, which boasts a church, a boulangerie and three champagne houses. 

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The journey was sedate – and slowed down even more with a 3 hour delay in a wonky lock with an absent lockie – but we made landfall late afternoon at an empty quay. New crew did well and got the hang of the ropes quickly, despite being more of an obstruction to look round than I’ve been used to …..

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(Sorry Bill)  So – the last day’s cruise of the season starts bright and early and we’re off up the Canal Aisne a la Marne with eight 3m locks ascending to the wonderfully apposite tunnel of Billy-Le-Grand followed by three more descending to this year’s home port. There was however a bit of an Ooops ….

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Having negotiated all locks with aplomb up until the last before the summit, the boat in that lock rose way above the bollard on the quay and somehow Billy got hung-up while going up – which is quite an accomplishment.

(To be fair, the skipper also snagged a zig-zag on the very next lock gate and lost a lanyard, though I don’t seem to have any photos of that.)

So, during the year Lesley and myself would always acknowledge the ‘Last Lock of the Day’. It’s down to me and Bill this year to salute the ‘Last Lock of the Season’.

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And so here we are, the winter mooring at Sillery. Another wonderful 6 months, and another winter to work out next seasons adventure. I still would love to go to Berlin . . . . 

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Over the top to Champagne

Canal Entre Champagne et Bourgogne

25th August to 11th September 2018

This is a seriously exciting and enjoyable canal. It is 224 km along with 43 locks on the way up and 71 locks on the way down plus a 5 km tunnel through the summit – the Balesmes tunnel.

E832CFE6-BA43-47C8-9C9C-9B71CE5B18A9It passes through glorious agricultural countryside, forests, villages and somewhat industrial areas with the kilometres marked off by small white stone markers all along the way. Nearly all of it is tranquil, very rural, and somehow real whilst totally charming.

It is also very different to the rivers we had just left, Le Rhône and La Sâone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After waking to a very misty morning in Maxilly Stewart and I jumped on our bikes and cycled off for a restock of the fridge and cupboard; There are very few shops on the way up to the summit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then with provisions aboard and the Sun shining we set off for our first day on the canal. We covered 23 km on day one going through 10 locks and rising 30 m. We found a lovely lunch spot-very pleasant thing to be able to stop for lunch after all the full days on the rivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We passed under the beautiful viaduc d’Oisilly, through plenty of locks ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…. and eventually found a very tranquil mooring spot for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Next day was a shorter cruising day-only 17 km, nine locks, and 28 m up. We began to pass more livestock – mostly cattle, but occasionally a horse. And dragonflies appeared to join the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrive at Cusey in time for lunch and siesta, and then walk round the Village. This has obviously been a busy agricultural centre in the past, full of old barns and houses, and even 14th century Chateau.

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There were no people there to greet us but we did make one new friend.

 

 

 

03EF09EB-4E7A-45F5-B6D5-34E493ACED14

 

It was a peaceful mooring, even though a couple of other boats did arrive later to keep us company.

 

 

 

5DF753A9-3EE8-49EE-9383-624A87265563

 

 

 

The following day, Tuesday, began with a bit of boat cleaning. The heavy overnight dew provided just the right amount of water to clean the roof!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We only covered 14 km but we went up 14 locks taking us  41m higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The locks on this canal are mainly operated by a mix of a remote control, to prepare the lock and open the gates, and pulling blue levers (often rather slimy!) to fill or empty the lock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For some reason the light was just right for photographs so I took quite a few; here are a couple with nice shadows, to my way of thinking.

6E6E359D-5BED-4A4B-A2B7-594A96000038At one point I jumped off the boat and ran, well sort of jogged, to get a photo of the Pont Canal de Badin from below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had by then begun a series of photos ‘through the galley window’, a couple reproduced here to show the varied buildings we passed by.

2A36F989-B09A-4202-9EC4-960946C09062We had not planned to go quite so far but it took a while to find a mooring. Eventually we stopped outside Villegusin-Le-lac under the trees; gentle light for the Captain and his crossword. (Oh, he and I together had cut off his curls a few days before, so here is the convict look!)

8EB90A44-8CC1-47E5-86B2-DBF68A92C385Once more there was time to eat, sleep and go for a walk. This time our new friend was a young Whip snake at the side of the road, behaving very bravely and threateningly given his size compared to mine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of fruit trees bulging with ripe fruit, many just growing at the side of the canal or the road, so some scrumping was in order! This continued for the length of the canal, with me collecting and tasting lots of varieties of plums and apples, some eaten raw, and some cooked with added alcohol!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thunderstorms forecast for Wednesday so we decided to have a day moored up under the trees. Before the rain arrived I cycled back down the canal to Dommarien because I knew there was a Lavoir there – and as it turns out there is also a pretty bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon the storm arrived and the rain absolutely poured down! We stayed in snug and warm with cups of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then when it had abated we walked into Villegusin-le-Lac and found the one bar, attached to the one restaurant, and had a pleasant evening along with the locals.

9D57D254-F76C-4E0C-8C0E-986DCA568CB7Throughout the bad weather the big commercial barges must keep working. Many of them are quite new, but one beautiful old barge came past ……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good night’s sleep prepared us for what was to come – the final assault on the Saône side of the canal in order to reach the top. This meant 8 x 5m locks, each about half a kilometre apart, followed by the 5km tunnel. This required hours of concentration from Stewart, getting in and out of each lock without mishap, and then avoiding being sucked into the sides of the tunnel for an hour and a half!

2072489B-A6A0-4313-A2B5-186B44E3B721We stopped for a well earned lunch by the side of the canal and a field of 5 mares and 5 foals. Delightful. Then pressed on for two locks – downwards! – to reach Langres. We moored up with two other Piper boats, an unusual event since leaving the south where we were in the company of quite a few Piper owners.

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Distant view of Langres

Our objective in Langres was fuel. If you read the Sâone  chapter of our trip you may recall our need for diesel and ‘shock horror’ finding the expected pump on the Sâone closed. So it has been an ongoing concern.

So we made it to Langres and I thought it would be easy. But when I  phoned 4 companies who apparently deliver to boats all I got was ….. “non, non, non, non”.

Next day I asked the girl in the VNF office; she found a number, made a call for me, and before I could walk the 150 yards back to Calliope a tanker was drawing into the quay!

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Such a nice guy too, helpful as you like – and patient as well when we asked him for his slowest fill so we didn’t overflow. The only bit of an Oops was when we gave him our card to pay for it, and he apologised that he didn’t take cards . . . . No problem he said though, we would pass by his garage in a village down the canal tomorrow and could drop in and pay for it then! Marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So having spent the rest of the day very pleasantly with a trip to Intermarché (yum yum, head and tongue charcuterie) and an excellent evening with the Rangali crew (fizz and salmon blinis) we set off first thing next morning for Rolampont to pay our bill.

9BF3EBAD-68C4-404C-A76F-0779301A40CCA short day of 9.9kms and 7 locks brought us to our destination. Along the way we were saluted by a lift-bridge, ascending magestically into the blue.

81043F77-C517-4159-B2F6-344F6F0EF0B5There was just room for us to join a cruiser on the 30m quay …. and then another, and another, and another boat arrived. We all squeezed up, moored with stakes, round rocks, and anything else that held fast. We ended up with our nose tucked into the reeds!

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Rolampont bridge and church

It’s a lovely mooring and attractive village, with that great essential – a good boulangerie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And guess what we found – a lavoir! Watch out for more!

724BA6AC-66EA-4588-9F24-D59570B30055Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. A quick visit to the boulangerie also discovered the start of a fishing competition, each ‘pecheur’ having several long long rods that reach right across the canal.

7D67162C-D4DA-4A55-A150-FD56EB29CEA8We were off at 9 when the locks officially open for ‘pleasure boats’ (yes we are known as bateaux de plaisance’ here in France). The locks along this section are all newly automated, with nice shiny clean blue levers to lift.

Calliope passed through green/blue scenery, reminiscent of England in some ways, although the Charolais cows are white rather than our brown Jerseys and piebald Friesans. (Do friesans come from Friesland, where I want to go cruising?)

 

6623FFC7-7B94-49ED-9000-5A342C87342BWhere kingfishers had accompanied us on the other side of the tunnel, this was heron country, though most of them take off just as you plan to take their picture!

There were twists and turns in the 15 Kms and 7 locks we covered, running alongside the Marne river and the railways line much of the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This led to interesting combinations of bridges and locks at some points, such as Pommeraye.

C238348F-3B3C-43BB-804B-20B2685843CFWe came to Foulain at about 1215, fingers crossed for somewhere to moor, and hey presto we have the place to ourselves. It is a joy to be in such a lovely place again, and in sunshine after our visit in the rain two years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a walk into the village, and here’s another lavoir. There was added interest for this lavoir lover as it has a little trough all round the edge with drain holes in it, to carry away the splashes form the washing.

3E16C781-228F-42BD-9AD0-5A200A236AEAThe pontoons here are surrounded by meadowlike grassfull of flowers, and my little autumn display on board hopefully complemented the array; a suitable setting for a sunny evening.

We were only allowing ourselves one night on most places, so off we went next morning for a 24kms, 13 lock day – the run down to Riacourt. The first part of this section is not yet automated – the gear is all in place, but it has not been commissioned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This meant that we were accompanied by a young temporary éclusier whose job it was to manually open and shut two pairs of heavy lock gates, and manually operate the ‘vantelles’, or paddles, that manage the water flow through the lock. Stewart helped close one side behind us and I got off open up at the other end of each lock, but it was still mostly his muscle power that saw us through locks 17 to 22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The approach to Chaumont is different, passing the very pretty Chamrandes, then passing along a stone walled stretch. We waited for the Chamrandes lock while a big commercial barge came up, giving me an amusing addition to the ‘through the galley window’ series! We stopped briefly at Chaumont to eat lunch, then onwards to our destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The section through Condes is interesting – we remembered it from two years ago when the lift bridge did not lift and we floated about mid-aqueduct waiting for a VNF service van and man to appear.

9C427E62-810B-4195-B4D0-963DE2D7E7F4Seven hours after we stated we came to the final lock, and looked down, with relief, to see the hoped for mooring place empty and waiting.

9C56D1A3-B8E7-44B5-A28C-DDB1DC858232The mooring at Riacourt is next to a rather ornate ‘colombier’, or dovecote. We have seen many of these across France, of varying age and materials and in varying stages of repair. This one is newer than most, but still at least 150 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took myself for an introductory stroll round the village, and guess what … another lavoir! I had not heard of these structures when we came through the canal in 2016, so was very much catching up on what I had missed. This one was a gem, with lovely stone shelves round for the laundry baskets. But I bet it didn’t have a boat full of flowers outside when the villagers came to kneel on the cobbles and do their washing.

AC4D246F-C0B7-4EBB-A475-6A96294FC7D6Tuesday morning we were off again, starting on one of those misty autumnal days that you know will get better and better as the sun comes up, passing through such lush and beautiful scenery that words escape me. Even pictures cannot communicate the freshness of the air, the stillness and tranquility, or the real darkness of starlit nights. But maybe you will get a sense of the majesty of the wooded hills, and the abundance of the fields.

8CE04AE0-3E40-47CD-BD65-C509BD3E986AI had put in a special request to stop at Vouécourt as (apologies all round) I had heard of a rather special lavoir there, but I think you will be suitable amazed! We had a very short day of 10 kms and 5 locks, all quite easy, although a lot of loose weed in many of them. We hope it has not got wrapped around the propellor.

So this special lavoir – well it turns out that the village has had two previous lavoirs; one of them closed because of the amount of iron ore in the water, turning all the laundry pink! This has been a major metallurgy area in the past. The other, built in 1904, was a floating wash place that went up and down with the level of the Marne river; this no longer exists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So in the 1860s the council built this new almost posh lavoir with water from the source of the Grandvau, 2400 meters south of the village and a little higher. The gravity fed pipework still functions and in addition to the lavoir, water was made available for drinking. The big arched windows, grand doorways, and separate rinsing basin all point to something a bit special here in Vouécourt.

18295657-64C0-408C-8116-A642B6B6AA72Wednesday morning was beautiful; I am quite envious of the people who wake up with this kind of view very day – although it does get very cold here on the winter, just above freezing and with a little snow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cruise took us initially to Froncles, in the company of a young brave heron at one lock. Sorry about the look on my face; I did not expect to be on the photo! We stopped for a short time at Froncles to visit the supermarket, and we were surprised by the lack of boats at this nice little Halte Nautique. It was almost full when we came thorough two years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journeying on we met two boats that only just fitted onto the locks – a wide catamaran and another commercial barge. And we think we have it hard!

E9BE4AC0-4FF1-4DB9-B658-D562651B79EEAfter Froncles we finished the 13 kms and 4 locks of the day and arrived at a tiny mooring at Villiers-sur-Marne. This is a super quiet place. The tiny stone village has its Mairie in the front room of a cottage, and the only commerce is the far that sells milk, butter, cheese etc for two hours twice a week! We missed the slot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next day was not so blue – in fact a bit grey and drizzly. The days scenery included a shepherd inspecting his flock and a quarry with a juxtaposition of an old stone quay and a row of bright red railway trucks; the ancient and the modern ways of moving the quarry’s produce.

DF3540E1-738E-4CF0-ACD9-B64CDCD639CBThe travelling day was very short, just 6.4kms and 2 locks to Donjeux. As we got closer to the village the Donjeux church appeared through the mist above us. It is not the prettiest of places to stay the night, but is perfectly adequate (can those two words be put together?).

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We walked round town, mainly to post a birthday card to our daughter, and found the La Poste in the school, with no collection until next day when the postman called! As we walked back to the boat we found ourselves following one of France’s characters.

He came and sat down by the canal later, deploying his green umbrella as the rain came down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few glimpses of the sun in the evening and as we left in the morning showed the mooring at its best.

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The final day of the working week took us on down to Joinville, past the majestically rusting point levée at Massey – now permanently ‘levéed’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

44BD883B-7F71-4CB5-BBAD-C7F5AA46008EThis bridge leads onto yet another ‘point-canal’, or mini aqueduct, over the Marne, still twisting and turning alongside us. I include this photo more because I enjoyed the inadvertent shadows than for the river!

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Along the way to Joinville there was plenty of countryside, less remarkable than that we had seen recently, but one article of fascination was this lonely and strangely placed book exchange. France has many of these free community operated mini-libraries, where people can browse, leave and take books – but normally in town and village centres. This one was way out in the country, but with a helpful reading bench alongside.

673322F0-38FD-4DA0-8DF8-112EB03EBDF8We are now only 60kms from the end of this canal, but with over 40 locks still to navigate, moored up by the trees and reeds at Joinville.

F51C2E9D-8466-44A9-9EE2-FFA0B57EEAD2In the morning the town, up a hill above the canal, looked almost ethereal.

 

 

 

 

A quick visit to Lidl for bread and wine (that sounds a tad religious) preceded our 9am get away from Joinville ….. and after less than a kilometre we were halted by an ‘en pan’ lock with two red lights to prove it! Having phoned for help we settled down to enjoy the morning sun in the countryside, and within half an hour all was sorted and we were on our way again.

 

 

Signs of preparation for winter were all around with much stock piling of wood at houses and cottages all along the way.

 

 

And random views of inquisitive young herons, cuts along tree lined valleys, sunlight on wet lock walls, and rusty bridge reflections all add to the delights.

 

 

 

 

We were heading for a little rural mooring at a village called Bayard with just room for one boat – us! Around us were ripe apples one side and a railway line the other!  Luckily the trains were few.

 

 

 

 

I walked into the village, strung out along a hilly section of the Mane, and found another lavoir, more utilitarian than many, and fed from a watering hole just above.

 

 

 

 

This felt a bit like the end of our rural moorings as we were heading into the town of St Dizier. I kept remembering May two years ago when we cruised this canal in the opposite direction, in the rain!  These photos compare me at the same lock, 28 months apart.

 

 

 

 

We had our last bit of help from an éclusier who opened the lift bridge at Marnaval for us. Next to this is the old railway turning bridge that used to allow the trains across the canal, long our of use.

BB98077A-D701-4D43-BEAD-867BA8ABF42FThe long quay at St Dizier was almost empty; we tied up and sat down in the sun for lunch.

 

 

Later we had a stroll round the town which is famous for its ironwork, Miko ice cream and its castle.

C5FF2432-4F8D-4F6A-B31E-E2BAF86D4624Back on board for the evening we discovered that even St Dizier can feel like countryside  in the autumnal sunshine!

0A812585-73E5-4B89-A8CC-6A8AE4A153F4With two days to go to the end of our odyssey on this canal Calliope set a north easterly course and 15kms, 7 locks later she was secured to bollards at Orcante, our last night on the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne. And somehow, yet again, we found ourselves in a quiet country spot, with chickens and donkeys almost the only sounds, and as the light fades, beautiful skies. (The two mysterious ET eyes are from our wifi router)

 

The last day dawned brightly and we left a sparkling wake behind us as we began the final stretch to Vitry-Le-François and the junction of three canals.

 

It took about three hours, during which I pondered on the past; lock keepers cottages derelict, idyllic (back breaking poorly paid) jobs replaced by a remote control.

 

Finally we reached lock number 71, the last in line going down the Marne side. The surroundings began to become industrial. Then we had to wait for the lock while a narrow boat came up to start their voyage through all the scenery we have enjoyed over the past two weeks.

34074D5B-9152-46AC-8147-1D21693CF5C6And ironically, this, the last lock, was a bit tricky! The water level came up above the top of the lock walls and a small surround wall has been built to contain the spillover. So the bollards along the side are partly under water; that, with the wall, makes it difficult to throw ropes and the skipper had to step ashore to get the ropes on and fend Calliope off the submerged ledge as the lock emptied !

2440605A-D26C-4488-8553-2A52FB092803But all was well, and we said goodbye to the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne – bring it on Canal Lateral de la Marne ……

B9C1111A-AA26-4564-AA60-9EF3E453AED2…. where we moored up after 3kms, but that’s another chapter!

 

 

 

 

5 days and 4 nights on la Saône

August 21st to 25th

We liked the Saône. It is generally a pretty river and in the southern part there are plenty of places to moor – not so many after Tournus for a biggish barge like Calliope. It would have been easy to spend far longer on the river, exploring towns and villages, but we were on a mission, catching up on the two weeks we lost trying to get new batteries down at Frontignan.

 

So this chapter is short, and actually quite sweet. We left the port at Lyon in the morning, getting a good view of the city and its fine buildings as we drove through.

594BE8D7-D839-4C01-89F0-71713AC70CC2All the way along, after Lyon, there were gentle rural views interspersed by old villages, small towns and churches; always something to see. By side afternoon we were ready to find a stopping place, and saw a pontoon at Anse just the right size.

6202478D-D31C-46B6-A5FE-71F52A727000During the evening I went for the short walk to the Anse swimming lake – an exceedingly popular spot on the hot day. And in the morning before we left a kingfisher joined us long enough for me to make a photo through the window!

Despite rather liking the mooring we had only allowed ourselves one night in each place, so next day we were off to Mâcon where we hoped to meet a passing ship (a Westerly actually) from the same Haslar Happy Hour Yacht Club, the antidote to yacht clubs,  that we belong to back in the UK.

2B026251-806E-4608-A405-15C9D957BCB8Just before we cast off, yet another seemingly overloaded commercial barge went by – literally looking as if it was under water amidships!

370DE7E5-A4EB-4E5C-829B-F344910A8FDDWe had heard of a new long pontoon in Mâcon just before the multi-arched old bridge. and heading for it, we found it completely vacant – wow!

7A675266-13FD-42D1-B04A-3075EA1DB3C2

 

 

 

Once moored, rested and showered we went into town to meet the crew of Kraken, and there, in mid France and almost 500 miles from the official club house, we had a happy hour or two together.

 

 

 

 

 

A3FA649B-1DBF-4B34-AE76-940E0B9FD878Our mooring was also popular with local teen-agers, again, who decided that their favourite place on the long long quayside to eat burgers and fries at 1am was the part of the quay adjacent to us!  Ah well, we were also able to enjoy the modern instalation nearby.

 

Once more only one night allowed, so on another blue sunny day we carried on north, passing Mâcon’s waterfront houses, and also passing Kraken and crew heading in the opposite direction.

D983CF00-D385-4DEC-A343-F903FF862706With such a wide space to drive in, and such broad bridges, the cabin girl was able to not only take a turn at the wheel, but go under bridges too! I could even drink tea at the same time.

BFF41E2D-006D-4804-B86A-7F00253D3BE7Our trip was becoming increasingly rural, and a different kind of farming appeared. Dairy and beef herds were all along the banks, with cattle frequently standing in the water to cool down as we went by. Some evidently found us as interesting as we found them!

 

Unusually for us, who spend most of our time as a twosome, we were again heading to meet up with friends. This time it was to see Tam and Di, our ICC barge tutors from 2012 who now have a home not far from Tournus. Once more the mooring fairies smiled on us and there was space on the wharf.

51C2E98E-8450-4591-A36A-14131B58FD0FIt was wonderful to see them again and we had a lovely evening with a to-die-for prawn rice dish from Di’s famous cuisine and very nice white (or two) from Tam’s cellar. The evening was made complete for Stewart when Tam got his new banjo out and put it through its paces. Happy days!

 

 

 

Before we left Tournus the next day I went in search of bread and milk, allowing me a quick walk round in a rather grey light, but enough to show off a little more of the local stonework.

65228F81-D50B-44EA-97F5-AEC526F88CF4Then on upstream, occasionally left in the wake of hotel barges – bouncy bouncy!A6EF558C-0E48-402E-BC27-03E54B24F983We passed through Chalon-sur-Saône, remembering it form two years before when we had stayed nearby on the barge for a week and had quite a good look round. This time, a whoosh under the bridge and we were gone!

This is when mooring began to be difficult. We had planned a 4 hour day, but after 6 hours and passing by Gerry, Verduns and Écuelles without finding anywhere to moor I phoned ahead to Seurre marina. When they too responded with a “Non, je suis desolée” we decided to try mooring at the lock.

D585C8AF-3A53-489C-BD45-D1D2619D56CCWe have heard of many boaters mooring at the big river locks, but have never needed to do it ourselves until now and radioed the éclusier on he VHF. Asking in my very best (Portsmouth High School) French if it were possible he immediately replied ‘Yeah, no prob’ (or something similar) so hence this wonderful, very very tranquil Seurre lock mooring.

 

There are several ‘lasts’ around this. It turned out to be our last night on the rivers, last night on the Saône, and next morning it was our last ‘écluse à grand gabarit’, or big gauge lock of 185m length and 12m width. From now on it would be more like 39m x 5.2m!

We were set on a course to buy gazoil (diesel) at St-Jean-de-Losgne so that we could confidently carry on up north and we drew into the fuel pontoon expectantly. But we were disappointed. Despite it being a Saturday in August the fuel office was closed until Wednesday! And the supposed self-service option was out of order! So on we went.

3A697964-2428-4B7F-B35F-98C2604DBE91Once more we had plan A, B and C overnight mooring choices. This meant that we went up past Auxonne through the first of the little locks, number 20 at Dérivation d’Auxonne – oh so narrow – and hoped to moor at A ………. no luck.

C09EF10D-3ED5-4777-B18E-4383A783B093The skies began to darken in an alluringly velvet manner and we carried on to pass B (Lamarche) and C (Pontailler).

A6A7C71E-2DDE-49E6-A2BA-4B2841D37420

 

Hmm – nothing for it but to carry on to the entrance to the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne, and leave the Saône behind, and we finally reached the turning into canal.

 

0CA36A40-D371-4BD6-8802-602DC607F9E9The canal looked so tiny, after the river, but small is very very beautiful.

378150A6-BEC1-439F-84A2-AAFB2C49FE70Within minutes we came into Maxilly to find a commercial barge just leaving, thus providing us with a space to tie up. We are off the river and back on the canal system again!

 

 

 

“Je veux montant s’il vous plait”

Avignon to Lyon – 5 days ascending the Rhône

August 15th to 20th

 

Feeling confident about diminishing wind and current speeds, and not too much in the way of Meteo alarms we set off from Avignon. There is always a little bit of apprehension about the Rhône for us. There are not that many places to moor, the Mistral wind can appear from nowhere, and a couple of thunderstorms in the catchment area can suddenly change the flow against us. So we are always cautious.

A1A5F9D0-4714-4294-BE51-770943AAE974Just round the corner was our first lock of the trip – Avignon. As we approached each lock we made the obligatory VHF radio or phone call to say we were on our way and wanted to ‘ascend’ – “je veux montant s’il vous plait.”

We discovered just how much wind was still blowing when we exited the lock to a 60 degree windsock!

03720675-1B10-4A6D-8236-671D91A562C1But all was well and we made good time upstream, passing by the old tower opposite Roquemaure where we had moored two years ago on our way south.

Onwards and upwards, through the 8.6m Caderousse lock, a baby compared to what was ahead, although it has to be said that I look a bit worried! Actually I was just squinting into the selfie camera!

1EDF2738-8A84-403B-A3E0-69DE34E810F611kms on was our hoped for base for the night – the delightful Saint-Etienne-Des-Sorts, another of our downstream stop overs. Tension was reduced as we rounded the bend and saw that the pontoon was free!

Before long, not only were we moored up, but also our friend Rheinhard from Avignon who was single-handedly cruising upstream. He moored alongside, came to supper, and enjoyed the glow of the evening sun on the village and the cliff on rive gauche.

Next day, almost in tandem, we and Rheinhard set off for the massive Bollène lock – 22.5m – the big and beautiful one!