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 Рthe 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. ūüėĘ

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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 Рalways 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. ‚ÄúNo‚ÄĚ, I assured them. ‚ÄúI have an email from the VNF saying it shuts next week‚ÄĚ, 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 √©clusier to make sure that my version of canal closures was correct ………. except it wasn’t!

The √©clusier 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‚Äôs 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 Рtemptingly 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‚Äôt.

 

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 Рboth 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 Рwell 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 Ch√Ęlons, 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. Ch√Ęlons-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 Рand still three weeks until the canal re-opens.

So most of the rest of this chapter is an outlook to and insight of Ch√Ęlons-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 (Ch√Ęlons 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).

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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 ‚ā¨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 hach√© 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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 Cond√©, 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 Rh√īne and La S√Ęone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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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 Sa√īne 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 S√Ęone ¬†chapter of our trip you may recall our need for diesel and ‘shock horror’ finding the expected pump on the S√Ęone 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 Рa 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¬†√©clusier 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?).

214A3F7A-0709-44BC-8176-AA7F4F2C597B

 

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.

E97F8589-C4E2-4D67-B1C6-2F53BFBFA621

 

The final day of the working week took us on down to Joinville, past the majestically rusting point lev√©e at Massey – now permanently ‘lev√©ed’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

87470206-8E86-4FD6-8832-0AF99E932FAE

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 Рus! 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 Sa√īne

August 21st to 25th

We liked the Sa√īne. 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 M√Ęcon¬†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 M√Ęcon 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¬†M√Ęcon’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-Sa√īne, 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 √Čcuelles without finding anywhere to moor I phoned ahead to Seurre marina. When they too responded with a “Non, je suis desol√©e” 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¬†√©clusier 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¬†Sa√īne, and next morning it was our last ‘√©cluse¬†√† 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 D√©rivation 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 Sa√īne 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 Rh√īne

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 Rh√īne 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 Р22.5m Рthe big and beautiful one!

497FC330-3F22-4F5C-B5E4-97F06EB8078BThe scenery changed to a far more vertiginous look, and I added to my collection of ‘old towers and castles of the Rh√īne valley’.

We went up past Montelimar (of nougat fame) to look for a mooring for the night.  We decided to try the little marina at Cruas, having been told that they would accommodate a 20m barge if we asked nicely, which I did in my best French.

442E9C76-0D4F-4780-AF33-52F7C3B3EDAB

 

 

It was a bit interesting to get in with a lively flow and breeze, but once in we were made very welcome and had a very safe and pleasant berth for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

667D6F8B-1DC0-472F-845E-B6CEF3C7783A

 

 

Next morning the wind had definitely dropped, as certified by the steam coming out of the local nuclear power station cooling towers confirming a Beaufort scale 0 !

 

 

 

 

 

015F593F-ABAC-4993-8035-5B444AF11F41We had the Logistic-Neuf lock just round the bend – a mere 11m, and which has suitably wine-stained coloured edges.

 

Then on up the river another 50+kms looking for somewhere for the night. We asked at Valence if they had room for us, but sadly no, so on to Tournon where we moored up on a nice new pontoon.

Tournon is an interesting little town; we managed a quick look round, a visit to the wine cave (‚ā¨2.50 a litre for very nice ros√© in an empty plastic water bottle), and a back street pizza (with a very nice jug of ros√©).

 

3344C2FC-EF76-475E-BF02-551B173950A2

Moored at Ampuis

Next day, Saturday, was to be our last full day and night on the Rh√īne, and a full day it was of over 50kms and 2 locks that took us up past some beautiful scenery, vineyards and towns, ending up at Ampuis.

Ampuis was everything we had hoped for from a Rh√īne mooring – superb views, great swimming, blue skies. I was happy crew!

 

We were moored just below the lock at Tournons, and on quite a busy commercial route, as proven by the wonderful working peniches powerfully passing by (most of them unbothered by the implications of a Plymsoll line . . . ).

And as we enjoyed the Tournon ros√© on the back deck the Captain was a contented man, watching the sun go down over a peaceful river – our last evening on Le Rh√īne.

We awoke to another glorious day, passing by the sparkling brown roof of the Ampuis chateau, and cruising on to the first lock of the day, and waiting for a giant, gigantic, commercial barge to emerge. (Two 80 metre gas barges pushed by a shove tug Рyou can just make it out to the left of our mast.) I love to see the waterways still in use for transport Рso much cleaner and more efficient and smoother than road transport.

E66B45DC-13AE-4AFC-82AE-8FD54ECAADA5As we moved north towards Lyon I started what might be a new series – ‘views from the galley window’ – not sure if I will manage to keep it up!

Then at last we reached our final¬†√©cluse of the Rh√īne – Pierre B√©nite – on the outskirts of Lyon. Made it – in good time, and with new friends and new tales to tell.

 

So there we were in the port at Lyon (actually on the Sa√īne not the Rh√īne) in amongst the bright lights, shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife! Whoa, this is different! We gave ourselves a day off for rest and recuperation, stocking up on vittles, a walk round town and a beer on the quay before we began to think about our next chapter: the river trip up the¬†Sa√īne.

 

 

 

Leaving the South behind

August 1st to 11th  

Canal du Rh√įne¬†√† S√®te, Petit¬†Rh√įne, and the start of Le¬†Rh√įne¬†

1st – 4th still at la Peyrade

D9780A84-C566-4901-81E9-C25CEE389450We started August where we finished July – la Peyrade – and settled in with a live-aboard community, cycling back and forth to the Intermarch√© supermarket and the Brico. Stewart fitted grill vents above and below the fridge to help it breathe; I generally pottered. (I’m good at that!)

47E2873F-A256-4C30-A7E7-956725133E67

And our new friends were not all human or canine – a preying mantis took a fancy to Stewart’s bike, but we persuaded him off before he took a trip with us!

 

 

23EA2C0D-2B00-4808-8728-160A6C39207A

 

And snails made long journeys to the ends of grassy stems to wave hello.

 

 

We had hopes of the new batteries arriving on Friday 3rd, but no delivery email arrived so we went out for the day on our bikes to Balaruc-les-Bains, a fascinating village opposite Sète.

It has been famous since Roman times for its thermal springs, and has a spa history up to the present day. It was a very hot and tiring (for us) cycle ride, but drinks, a good meal and a swim/paddle in the Med made up for it all.

3C01E4E1-1F42-447F-BAD6-27F756A11039

Last evening at le Peyrade

One more evening and day at la Peyrade saw us waving goodbye to our new friends Christian and rasta Anna and her three dogs as they sailed off into the¬†√Čtang de Thau to test her yacht prior to a voyage to Greece.

 

5th – 7th back at Frontignan

Next day, Sunday, we moved the 2 kilometres back to Frontignan canal port where our new batteries were due to arrive at the tourist office next day.

We set to work to remove the six old batteries, each weighing 60kgms, from behind the stairs in the engine room. Two oldies with a combined age of 136 managed to do this in a 32 degree day, with the help of strategically placed lanyards, lots of rests and lots of water!

We celebrated with a beer in the square under the plane trees followed by a demi-pizza and salad each – a menu combination we both approve of.

Whilst we waited for the new batteries to reach us we watched the comings and goings of all the craft going under the lift-bridge that only opens for a few minutes three times a day. It is always an interesting spectacle, as some boats do not understand the procedure of allowing downstream boats to come under the bridge first!

8758D7BD-3006-4DFD-9648-E2CA075EA3CCOne of the best sights however was not a boat going under the bridge, but a boat that arrived with swimmer power!

We had a powerful thunder and lightning rain storm while we waited – much needed refreshment form the 33 degree temperatures!

88816EB9-80B2-43B9-BFDF-90FA3121639BOver the next few days I managed to see the old batteries to a scrap metal yard, have them collected, and, with the help of some French boating friends, we got the new batteries to the boat.

Time for another celebration – this time a beer under the plane trees followed by a Vietnamese meal!

Stewart and I reversed the procedure for removing the batteries, and again using the lanyards lowered them all into place. Before long my Chief Electrical Engineer (Stewart again!) had wired them up, and at the 1pm opening of the Frontignan lift-bridge we were off east ……

ACB037C6-DA2A-4213-9255-D08655B8DF67

 

….. past the pretty wooden sail boats we had been moored next to on the quay.

 

 

8th one night near Pavalas-des-Flots

Our travels along this section of the Canal du Rh√īne¬†√† S√®te were picturesque, cruising along a canal that has been built in the middle of a series of lagoons, with flying flamingoes, wonderful ‘waterscapes’, fisherman’s shacks, and no locks to divert us.

4CC08C92-1C8A-4458-BB7A-6528E2F1BCB4

The hoped for mooring, until we came adrift

We had hoped to moor up near the old cathedral on an island at Maguelone, but it was too busy so we continued for a while and found a perfect wild mooring. We tied up to two posts, plus two of our stakes, and settled down to a gentle afternoon and evening – until a commercial barge, travelling very slowly and considerately, came by and pulled out our stakes and the two permanent posts! Whoops!

So onward another kilometre to the outskirts of Pavalas-des-Flots where there were some proper bollards for the night! (Certainly not pretty enough to photograph though).

 

9th -10th close to Gallician

Another days cruising, past the giant ‘doors where the canal crosses the river Lez, ¬†brought us up to the outskirts of Gallician where there is a small port, but, from a distance, it looked full.

And then we suddenly saw a short section of sturdy wooden fencing right on the canal bank, and perfect for mooring!  Our luck was in.

D0F5443D-D76F-4229-BA16-41C923278CB6We arrived just as a downpour began, washing all the dust and salt water from Calliope’s decks. (Photo taken next morning). By the time the skies had cleared I had managed to check the configuration of the new batteries to our monitoring systems, and convinced myself they were correct (thank you MasterVolt Support and all the Piper Barge Owners who advised me).

20F0A9E4-CBF8-4ECE-B652-12B61A6AF2E8Time for another celebratory drink.

A1EA2381-4A85-4787-BBE6-7F03B3606AD7

And another glorious, slightly stormy, sunset.

We thought we would stay just the one night, but the flow on the¬†Rh√īne had increased because of major thunderstorms to the north so we stayed a second, with the open Petit Camargue the other side of the canal and interesting bird life coming and going. We saw king fishers, bee eaters, purple herons, stilts and night herons too, plus many we could not identify.

 

11th – a night on a very high wall at Arles

With the flow on the¬†Rh√īne decreasing we set off through the St Giles lock onto the Petit¬†Rh√īne, hoping to moor just at the end where it meets the mighty Big¬†Rh√īne, but that was taken so moved out onto Le Rh√īne itself and went to look for a mooring suggested to us by Swiss boating friends Alfred and Heidi down in Arles.

 

We found it, tied up, and decided to go and look at the old town across the river. It all looked beautiful, and I knew it had a Van Gogh history. However as we set off we were concerned to see a potential ‘ne’er-do-well’ watching the barge, so cut our visit rather short.

 

Nonetheless it is an attractive town, worth a proper visit I think. And all turned out to be fine on Calliope.

FF319B15-D9B3-4E06-B5FD-31613A420ABDAs the sun dropped in the sky, Arles appeared to float in the golden light – gently psychedelic.

 

12th – 14th – a longer than expected stay in Avignon

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So we begin our trip north on the¬†Rh√īne, initially still in the South, from Arles to Avignon.

We began to pass the varied forms of energy generation on the Rh√īne, including wind and water in various forms.

Trying to make up for lost time due to the battery renewal and Rh√īne flow we thought we would just have one night at Avignon. We planned to make the most of it, with a climb up to the gardens above the river, then a saunter through the touristy areas around the ostentatious papal palaces, and a pleasant explore of some of the quieter narrow streets.

FE86DADD-968C-41E1-8EE8-37EDDC73DE19Surprise surprise we ended up in a square (actually a triangle) under plane trees with a beer!

Next day we discovered that over the next 48 hours there were to be thunderstorms and a mistral wind, so plans were changed and we stayed on, at great expense, for a further 2 nights.

The first of these took on a musical tine when our new friend Rheinhard, from a boat that had been travelling with us, came round with a litre of good red wine and his guitar. Stewart soon dug out his steel guitar and I was the total appreciative audience! The rain came down and the lightning lit up the skies; we were snug with our music and wine., and ended up with rainbows and sunsets.

CF548286-6292-44EC-9209-972C661088E2Stu and I further explored Avignon on our third, windy, day there, including one of the best Les Halles indoor markets I have found.

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I managed to spend a few euros on some interesting food before we left! Sadly I did not buy Porchetta, but got some good rillettes de porc, some very good cooked tongue,and a delicious Saint Jacques scallops) dish, at a high cost.

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Then, with all forecasts for wind, flow and sun in our favour, we began the real trip northwards, leaving Avignon and its famous bridge behind us.

 

Juillet sur le Midi and la mer

I planned not to do a blog for a while,  but the temptation to share some of the things we have seen and done proves too great.

To be precise, 25 days were spent on the Midi, 1 on the H√©rault, and 5 on the Canal du Rh√īne¬†√† S√®te, which connects to the Mediterannean all over the place, so is sort of the sea. Also crossing the √Čtang de Thau is definitely a sea crossing, even if only two hours!

We have moved on from  Castelnaudary, where I had rejoined Stewart after my week in the UK. The simple way to show it is with a copy of our calendar as I enter our mooring place for each night.

 

 

Although I realise you only see part of the longer named locations! Ah well, sorry. I’ll explain.

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We left Castelnaudary on 30 June and after a relatively calm descent through various locks and a very shady lunch time stop we came to St-Sernin where we stayed the night. Despite my desire to desist from taking photos, the light and the shapes drew me in, so here are a few.

 

 

 

 

 

We  travelled 5 kilometres and 5 locks next day in order to spend a night near Villepinte,

59EDBAB8-A565-49DE-B0E6-BC3CAC792AB1then on for a night at Villes√©quelande ….. well it was supposed to be there, but when some (pleasant) local youths came to fish, drink, listen to music, and then collect wood for a bonfire we decided to just move a kilometre to a more peaceful night time mooring for old folk!

BBE0DBD3-2A9C-4BD9-B83C-4827D2789CEDnext morning, bright and sunny, we moved on to Carcassonne. The heavens smiled on us and a rare free mooring above the lock, long enough for a 20m barge, appeared to port.

64DA5402-F69F-42AE-8A80-322E134491BFWhat happened next is a minor happy blur of barbecued lamb, rosé, melon, salad and bonhomie. Somehow within minutes we had been invited aboard Escapade for lunch, taken food and drink contributions, helped in the kitchen, and sat around on the top deck making merry. Thank you David and Evelyn.

225DA1BE-81BF-4C7E-B153-668D75421CBEThat evening we still managed to get to the Irish Bar to watch England in the quarter finals of the World Cup v Columbia, and, even more unlikely,  managed to get going again next day Рbut only after Evelyn sold me her bike for a bargain price. More thanks due.

it was a week of lucky moorings. After leaving Carcassonne we initially made slow progress, queuing with other boats over the lunch hour for the double+single locks at Fresquel. The consequence of this was that we arrived at one of our favourite places, Villedubert lock, at a convenient time to stop.

5FB4D313-9A56-4624-B8AC-083EB62C3012The lock keeper said we could moor up below the lock, just beyond the waiting pontoon for boats going up. Ah, peace. Just so lovely all evening ……

5267163A-5485-45EF-939F-A95209A08E9E….. until first one holiday boat arrived to spend the night – then a hotel barge came in for the night – then a second holiday boat ……. and in the morning, before we had even had breakfast a further two ¬†boats arrived to join the queue ‘going up’.

We made a quick escape and still in travelling mode we went for another one night stand, this time at Marseillett. Lo and behold, the wooden pontoon mooring we had hoped for was free.

0FD75DAD-2D32-49D1-955F-2D890D361A00This mooring is next to a canal-side gite and it was not long until we had made friends with the English couple staying there.

BE3BE8B9-2C8B-48CA-B263-0D63B00E6B42Their recommendation for the local vignonier led firstly to us making a trip to buy a case of rosé, secondly to sharing some of said rosé with our new friends, and thirdly to them coming aboard for a cruise down the canal next morning!

B248EDCF-E610-4B70-9FE5-AB89639B2AC1So after another beautiful evening on the canal, we were off, with the addition of Arabella, Ian and Charley the dog for the first few kilometres.

I don’t know which god we had pleased but s/he was smiling on us again. We came round the final bend into La Redorte to see the end of the wooden quay free and waiting for us. DA393C45-C6C3-4FAA-BB6E-7D02706956B1This meant a happy two days, encompassing the France quarter-final in the bar and the England quarter-final on the boat, utilising a Heath Robinson-esque  assembly of wires, electronics and books to get sufficient reception for the best part of the match Рwe won!

Our social life continued to be busy with the arrival of Tesserae and an invitation to celebrate the victory with them. Thank you – lovely evening.

Carrying on downstream on 8th July we planned a stop in the countryside just below Ognon lock and ‘garden’, preferably in the shade because of the extreme heat (which continued for the rest of the month!).

 

 

We had something of a wait at both Ognon, and the previous lock, Homps, due to a large number of holiday ‘bumper boats’, many of whose helmsmen (and women) were very much learning the ropes!¬†√Čclusier’s lunch hour intervened, holding up six or seven boats at each lock – but the young¬†√©clusier at the double Ognon lock was keen to get down to ‘no waiting boats’ and had us passing one on its way up in between the two locks as we went down! Good man!

 

 

 

There is an artist based at the lock who has many of his vibrantly coloured sculptures watching from vantage points around the lock!  It makes for a slightly bizarre but interesting experience.

 

 

Our mooring was in the shade, and allowed me one of my canal-dips. I cannot resist when it is so hot!

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And afterwards a pre-dinner drink on the deck, watching the passing boats negotiate each other with varying degrees of chaos!

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Stewart meanwhile was irritated by flies; I discovered on the internet that various herbs keep them at bay, so a small defensive wall of basil and rosemary was built, and seemed to work!

 

Next days cruise included going round the hairpin bend of the Pont-canal de R√©pudre, one of Riquet’s earliest and bravest pieces of canal architecture.

(Check out Paul Riquet on the internet – astonishing engineering 150 years before Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born>)

 

 

On then to Le Somail – we like this little hamlet. This time the ‘fig tree’ mooring was taken, but we had been told we could just squeeze in beyond the hotel barge mooring – told by a boat that is a few foot shorter than Calliope. ¬†We hung over into the ‘no parking zone by a metre and waited to see what happened.

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What happened was Algeria! Luckily the captain was gracious and said that a metre here or there was no problem. Phew!

 

 

We spent two nights at le Somail, both with startling colours in the sky and on the boat – I’d vowed to take on more photos here, but these colours just draw me in.

 

 

The following morning lit up another palette of colours, this time reflected n the water. After a quick photoshoot including a view of the ‘other side’ of the famous le Somail bridge, we left for a dalliance on Canal de Jonction for reasons that will become apparent. We turned off the Midi and went down through 5 locks to Salleles d’Aude, mooring up as before near ……… the Domaine de 7¬†√©cluse cave!

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Before long we had completed a re-stock of our favourite red and rosé wine boxes, plus a few bottles!

This photo is just part of the special purchase.

 

 

That evening was the hour of England’s finest football hour for many a year – reading the semi-final of the World Cup. We invited friends Carol and Martin to a quick early supper, then down to the bar to cheer our team on – sadly not to victory.

 

 

This was definitely only to be a one night side-stop so next morning Stewart, with great skill, turned the 20m that is Calliope around in the winding hole at Salleles. I was proud! Then back up the straight 3 kilometres and 5 locks that is the Canal de Jonction.

 

 

Just below the Midi, there was another shady mooring waiting for us for a night. (It doesn’t look so shady in the photo, but it shaded over beautifully.) A few natural moments here – a cicada, hardly visible on a tree trunk (one among many thousands that were ‘singing’); part of a fir cone; the fruit of an unknown tree; a sunset.

3591A8F8-B268-496F-BAF0-2B71A768CF94Moving on on Friday we re-joined the Midi, turning east this time.  Once more we sought a shady rural spot to hide from the blazing sun (temperatures in the mid to high thirties every day), but the hoped for spots were either taken, or not shady.  We ended up in full sun near Pont Malvies in amongst quite a row of live-aboards.

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There was quite a breeze, and with our various covers over windows and hatches we were fine. A walk in the cooler evening air resulted in watching the sunset through the reeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But next day, with even higher temperatures predicted, we decided to find a cooler spot. First we cycled to Capestang for stores Р sounds simple enough Рa 12 minute ride according to Google maps. But we decided to go along the (extremely bendy) canal bank, rather than down the straight road! After an hour cycling, much in full sun and on hard baked bumpy tracks, we found Intermarché, but lacked the will of the energy to cycle back!

We bought Coke and sandwiches, found a shady spot, and took a rest. Then, fortified, we began the ride back, still on the canal bank because Stewart had a plan!  We had passed a super shady spot on our way and by cycling back to that point Stewart could leave me and the shopping while he went to fetch the boat!

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Great plan Рworked a treat, especially for me with an hour to sit in the shade with my toes in the water!  And nice for Stu too, who found two Azure-winged  Magpie feathers on his ride.

 

 

 

 

And when he arrived back with Calliope and we had an afternoon, evening and 2 nights there. Our only disturbances were ‘bumper boats’ that chose not to slow down past moored boats and threatened to pull out mooring pins out. ¬†However nothing amiss occurred.

 

 

 

Now came time to pass under Capestang bridge. For those who do not know, this is often referred to as the lowest bridge on Canal du Midi – it is true in part. It has particularly low shoulders, making the edges of wheelhouse roofs vulnerable.

 

 

Stewart was keen to know just how much space we had, so armed with tape measure and camera I attempted to take photos as we passed through! We had had ideas of mooring in Capestang, but no room at the port so we continued to second choice Poilhés Рand I am glad we had that choice forced upon us!

 

 

What a lovely little village. It was a recommendation from our mates Carol and Martin, and justly so. I cannot describe the pure visual delights of the sun moving across the old stone walls.

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Poilhes mooring

 

 

We were joined by other friends for lunch at the slightly funky Les Plantanes for very delicious food on one day, and stayed on for another two nights just because we liked it Рoh and to use up time before our booked mooring at Béziers; more of that to come.

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With two nights to fill before Béziers we aimed for Colombiers, going through the Malpas tunnel along the way.

We were hoping for a 20m space, but none appeared. As we were leaving the village past a row of long-term moorings a very helpful Frenchman appeared from his cruiser to let us know that there was a space we could use a little further along!

 

 

We found it, half hidden amongst the reeds, and a very fine space it was.

 

 

And so it was we spent two nights at Colombiers. This is yet another fascinating and scenic village, steeped in history.

 

 

There were insects and flowers to enjoy too – apparently the largest wasp in France, but not dangerous to humans. Certainly we escaped unharmed..

 

 

Then finally the short stretch into Béziers, along the narrowed canal, then down the 9 écluses de Fonserannes and into the port.

(Our resident raconteur makes light of the Bezier locks; it’s a spurs¬†earning achievement –¬†especially going up ’em!)

 

We had booked for two nights, but stayed for three, fitting in a good look round the old city, the servicing of our central heating boiler (ironic in such heat), and a new bottle of gas thanks to new friends George and Pam on the boat next door who had a car.

FB1FFA6F-5919-48B7-9BC7-9B59D43B71CBThey also saved me a cycle ride to the Brico for necessary timber to mend the parasol – I was all ready to go when George found a suitable piece of wood down below.

 

 

We took walks along the river Orb in evening and morning light …