(Comments in italics from the silent one)
Up early (groan from one member of crew) bearing in mind we had moved forward to French time, to be at the sea lock by 0730 as instructed for the one 30 minute slot of the day to pass through. An éclusier appeared through the morning mists and half light, opened the lock gates, and we were in, up and through in. Despite several phone calls and messages left for the PCE (who manage the rest of La Somme) to say that we were moving up river there had been no reply. Captain Carr therefore looked for somewhere to moor so that we could make contact and arrange for an éclusier to open swing bridges and locks for us along the river.
We saw an old jetty with bollards and managed (just in time) to secure Calliope against the strong downstream current and outgoing tide. Stewart set off to find the éclusier or someone at the marina in order to get more information. He returned with welcome fresh bauguette and croissants – but no information. It was Saturday. Maybe they would not pick up our messages until Monday, so it was decided that we would ‘Carry On Up The Somme’ to Abbeville.
((i) The river was falling rapidly and we were on Neap tides (ii) Ray and Hilary needed to get to the railway station at Abbeville (iii) We have a dismountable wheelhouse (iv)It was 21Euros a night at St Valery and free on the Somme)
It was an interesting journey! Calliope has an air draft (height) of 2.8m and we had been ‘reliably’ informed by many Piper boat owners and experts that she was built at just the right height to go under all the bridges on the navigable waterways of France.
So no problem going under the 8 bridges between us and Abbeville then?
Bridge 1, no problem; Bridge 2 looks a bit tight – Ray on foredeck and Lesley on Back deck guaging and re-guaging whether we would fit under as we got closer and closer …….. aaah …. phew … just squeezed through. Checking the Guide Fluvial we noted that the bridge had an official clearance of 2.7m, and was a turning bridge that the éclusier would have turned for us had we managed to make contact.
Never mind; no damage done. What about bridge 3, growing closer by the second? Oh no! An official clearance of 2.4m!!! Too late to turn round or back – we are half way through already and the wheelhouse roof is … is not … maybe is …. Whoops, slight graze to the canvas cover, stern digging in as Captain pushes the boat through with full throttle, and double phew, we made it again!
(Bags of room . . . . )
So no worries at bridge 4, with a clearance of 2.5m – a full 10cms higher than the last one! And the last four are all well above us 2.9m, 7.93m plus, plus.
With all the excitement not a single photos was taken of those few kilometers.
And so we arrived at the outskirts of Abbeville, slowing down as we passed the canal to the lock entrance to check out our course once we linked up with the éclusiers – only to see it blocked by a working boat and barge. Hmm – could be here for a while!
We turned the bend onto the old town wharf wall – a very high wall left from the days
of big trading ships coming in to tie up. We had an interesting minute or two finding a suitable mooring for us, with unreachable huge ancient rings atop the wall, and sparsely spaced modern steel ones along the side of the wall.
And then we were tied up fast, safe and secure, and could relax and enjoy our surroundings.
After enjoying a farewell supper in a local restaurant (except for those who chose andouiette) it was time to get a good night sleep. Next day, Sunday, we were up and off to ‘la gare’ to say goodbye to our essential crew – Ray and Hil – who were off back to England.
We like Abbeville – it’s a typical little French town with quirky ancient corners, a couple of nice bars (with pinball machines!), a selection of shops and a few good restaurants.
We got to know it quite well, staying longer than expected because on Monday when we finally made contact with the éclusier team – (two of them called round in their bright orange van) we discovered that we had caught them on the hop.
Although all the info says that High Season starts on April 1st, they were going to be working on the canal for another 10 days or so, and that was when it would ‘open’ with éclusiers to operate locks, swing bridges etc.
That gave us a small problem. Where we were moored there was no water or electricity supply; round the corner just after the lock there was a mooring with both these facilities. In halting French we explained all this, and our friendly men went off to find a solution.
The solution was that they could let us through Abbeville lock on Wednesday to the other mooring, where we would have to stay until April 15th. Excellent.
In fact we were able to move on Wednesday. Those few hundred meters were an adventure in themselves.
- Calliope is 20m long. The river at this point is about 22m wide, partly obstructed by branches.
- There is a very strong downstream current.
- The town wharf juts out a couple of meters just downstream from our mooring, narrowing the river.
So, a difficult turn!
Let’s just say it was exciting, and we made it without hitting anything more than a few branches ….
… and temporarily lowering the French courtesy flag.
After that, turning into the canal cut, going through the lock and onto the new mooring were all relatively simple manouevres.
We plugged in to electricity ………….. and discovered that there was no water!
Our very helpful Somme amis were onto it immediately. One van after another came to try and sort it out and by next day we had super water pressure.
The new mooring was great and it gave us a good opportunity to get to know Abbeville. We had many pleasant walks round the town.
There are lovely buildings (many very very old)
Interesting parks and open spaces
Friendly bars and restaurants
We also went travelling by train to Mers Les Bains and Le Treport on the coast- a grand day out.
Belle Epoque extraordinaire at Mers Les Bains
(The Banksy half way up a cliff walk was an especially astonishing discovery and very powerful, sprayed over an WW11 German gun emplacement.)
The old fishing and commercial ports of Le Treport
We were in Abbeville for both of our birthdays, and each enjoyed being Queen or King for a Day, feeling decidedly rosy as night fell on 12th and 13th!
Finally, on April 14th, the canal opened for 2016 business. So good bye Abbeville and the beautiful sunsets and reflections.
We cruised upstream, meeting the éclusier, right on 11am as arranged, at Pont-Remy lock, and stopping just after for lunch. We moored opposite a ruined chateau – elegantly dilapidated some would say.
It was a beautiful sunny day with plenty of normal river birdlife – heron, ducks, coot, moorhens, Greylag and white geese etc. There were surprisingly strong swirling currents on the river (would have been ‘yellow boarded’ on the Thames), but Stu coped well. (It was nothing . . . )
After lunch we carried on upstream to Long, where we again met the éclusier, locked up, and moored in a lovely location by the Hotel de Ville and bridge.
Long has some interesting heritage – a chateau called Folie de Buissy, with an amazing run of pergolas and glass houses next to the river …….
… and a hydroelectric power plant built in 1900, providing electricity to the town until 1968. – but no bars . . . .
Next day we said goodbye to Long, and a local goat.
We continued towards Amiens, this time having lunch soon after La Breilloire lock, at a pleasant pontoon next to Pont de Bourdon.
The sun shone, the birds sang, and the water flowed, through a canalised river between huge lakes of Somme water, apparently created in part from digging for peat..
Our target mooring at Picquigny was reached early and we moored up below the lock waiting for the éclusier to arrive.
It was the first time this lock had been used since winter and the poor eclusier had to remove a huge load of debris, twigs, small logs and boughs (and a dead cat) [poor thing] from the lock gates before we could come through to our mooring.
Picquigny is another interesting town. Walking up the hill towards the church we suddenly discovered that it is effectively placed on an inland cliff, with old fortifications built round it. I must discover the history!
We walked along the bank to Samara Ancient Village Museum one afternoon, and although we did not go in we did enjoy more wildlife and riverama.
The mooring at Samara is longer and tidier than we expected; we did not stop there as our course was set for Amiens.
We left Picquigny on a green, blue and gold Spring day, passing a good view of the castle and church on the ‘cliff’.
The Captain was alert to every bend in the river, with navigation buoys to negotiate and wicked eddying currents to manoeuvre.
We went through locks at Ailly-sur Somme and Montière with the help of another great eclusier.
And after the Montière lock we came up a lovely straight stretch towards Amiens, with the Notre Dame silhouetted against the sky
(apparently twice the size of the one in Paris; it were ’uge).
Calliope reached Amiens lock a little early, but the èclusiers had opened the gates before their lunch so we cruised right in. From the depths of the lock it was almost impossible to see the little green bollards set back from the edge, but by standing on the roof, and very lucky rope throwing, we got a bow and stern line attached and waited, having lunch, for the èclusier to return.
Then we came through lock, round the canal, and into a ‘pleasant’ mooring at Port Amont, opposite the park on one side – and the ‘English Pub’ on the other!
[It became less pleasant at night, with happy local young making their way home from nightlife at 2am – no harm done, but a bit noisy!]
Amiens cathedral is truly magnificent, and the story of its protection during the world wars shows great dedication from a team of civilians and soldiers.
Amiens has many lovely ancient buildings, old streets, characterful bars and a whole network of small canals giving it the name ‘Venice of the ~North’.
It also has hectare after hectare (how big is a hectare? Very big I hope) of Hortillonages – small market gardens surrounded by a maze of tiny channels, about 4′ wide, navigated by special narrow punt like boats. Individual bridges, built to their owners spec, link paths and gardens.
We enjoyed Amiens, but after two days and nights we were ready to set forth for waterways new, and headed off towards Peronne and to complete our voyage of La Somme.
(Apologies for all errors – have to leave free wifi in library now as due on another boat for drinkies!)