Fifteen days in early May, 2016
The first 6 days
New waterway; new system. Onto the L’Aisne, a river, not a canal and given our first zapper, so alertly looking out for the sign to tell us to press ‘amont’ –
and after a bit we realised that the signs, instead of facing us as we came along the river, were 90 degrees wrong, and facing the river itself! One or two zaps were a bit late.
We soon got the hang of pressing the zapper, watching for a green light, and once in the lock, pushing up the blue pole to get things going!
Our mooring target was Vic-sur-Aisne – though we were not so sure as we first approached and saw huge silos with grain being loaded into a big barge.
How wrong we were – just a few yards further, and …. almost heaven!
We found we were the only boat on a lovely quiet mooring, just past the silos, and extremely pleasant – our only company two courting swans.
A walk round the village followed by a Happy Hour aboard created the perfect evening in the sun. Cheers y’all.
And when morning broke, it was still, and still perfect, or even more so.
Before leaving there was time for a look at the work going on to (sadly) remove one of the last ‘needle weirs’ on L’Aisne.
Before we left Vic we spotted a linnet – one for the I-Spy book!
We came into Soissons to find plenty of space on the town quay ….
…. just in front of the new Pont des Anglaise …….. so named because the English built a bridge across the river just after the war – and this one has just replaced it.
We visited the market which occupied a characterful market hall plus a huge space in front of the green tiled cathedral, and found a food bounty awaiting us – so many traditional charcuteries, forgeries, boulangeries, and of course dew fresh fruit and veg.
Two night in Soissons gave us the opportunity to have a good look round this historical town with its ruined abbey and voluptuously vaulted Chapter House – plus the Captain could buy some ‘stuff’ from a Brocante to mend a fender.
Our walk round Soissons also provided another for the I-spy bird book – a gold finch popping in and out of a hole in a tree near the abbey. (More goldfinches appear later in our journey)
We had Reims in our sights by now, and all that promised champagne! This was planned as a two day trip, staying just outside Reims in a country mooring at Courcy before tackling the city. Luckily we had a plan B.
The next nine days
Joining the Canal de L’Aisne a la Marne
So we left Soissons and it’s marvellous abbey ruin on a super sunny day and delighted in the smooth calm countryside along the River Aisne.
By later afternoon we were looking to moor up, and chose a quiet mooring near Cys-la-Commune – very rural – and between two villages.
A walk from one village to the next have us a perfect view of Calliope surfing a field of rape, and the discovery of a pleasing old church.
During a wonderful peaceful evening watching the sun disappear at the end of the lock pound, I was captivated and mystified by a bird call – black bird like, but a very distinctive different song. I downloaded ‘Warblr’ recorded the sound, but we were too rural for me to get an answer – so forever a mystery warbler. (I think we have since found out it was a frog . . . . .)
Next day, knowing we were nowhere near a boulangerie, we studied the map and thought there would be bread, and indeed cake, at Maizy. What a lovely place to moor – the canal widened out with a wall for mooring and village road that led down to the river, with a cheerful bar close at hand. Not for us the midday beer, but the locals directed us to the boulangerie and a baguette was secured for lunch.
The L’Aisne is a beautiful river to wind through. Working the locks was a joy.
Having motored on to Berry au Bac we easily found a place to stop, mooring below lock. Again we were the only boat there and our only company, apart from a couple of gentle pecheurs, were nightingales, day and night, plus water rats, herons and other wild fowl; a good rest before the long haul to Reims!
The haul to Reims is actually only a day, through the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne, but in that day Calliope and crew had 9 deep locks like waterfalls to ascend.
These were operated by a new (to us) system; a pole hanging above the canal to be turned as we cruised underneath – and another pole to push up once safely inside the lock chamber. Quite a laugh grabbing that pole. Luckily the Captain is good at steering, except when side currents catch Calliope broadside. I learned a lesson at the first pole. Don’t let go after you’ve turned it! It will swing madly pendulum style across the boat, hitting anything, including the wheelhouse glass, as it goes. Luckily no damage, and from then on I walked the pole down the boat.
It was made even more interesting for us because the bollards were spaced for barges twice our size! Anyway, all was fine, if slightly demanding.
By the time we reached Courcy, the last lock before our stop over, we were looking forward to completing the day’s journey – but oh no! The lock was apparently closed for restoration! We quickly moored up to the lock approach and began to think through our options – when a most welcome ‘monsieur’ appeared above us, and with a few words, and lots of gesticulations made it clear that we could rise up to a new level! He and his working companion operated it all by hand for us. Fantastic. Merci messieurs.
And then … the expected mooring was not where we expected and the map had shown – the big ‘bay’ on the left bank that was to be our place of rest was shallow and full of fishermen (the bank was full of fisherman, not the actual bay).
So two tired people had to carry on to Reims, past long commercial wharfs, the small marina and, finally and thankfully, onto the free mooring right by the lock – and a main road! But look at the photo – it looks more like the Med! The canal is an unreal blue – must be full of copper sulphate! (Our mooring is just round the corner after the bridge you can see in the distance . . . . )
Never mind. We know how to relax, so boat safe and sound we walked into town and found first a bar, and then a restaurant under the trees of the main square.
We stayed two nights in Reims and managed to see some of this beautiful city, including the Cathedral, the park, the football stadium and many of the fascinating houses.
It was also our first (but not last) meeting with Beryl and Ray on Vrouwe Catherina, plus briefly Mark on Ariana.
So our journey was progressing – we had travelled a fair way on the map.
We left the city environment of Reims for the more rural atmosphere of Sillery; just a 4 lock trip.
The small marina there looked full , but Capt. Stu sneaked into a space on the wall. We soon met up with Beryl Ray and Mark again. Plus made new friends of John and Martha. This led to two guitars and some singing voices appearing over some wine!
We walked round the village and found a good boulangerie – an essential! Lesley also walked over to petit Sillery and round to the …… military cemetery.
After two nights it was time to move on southwards, starting with a difficult astern manouevre to extricate Calliope from her resting place – all done with an audience, and with aplomb by Stu!
It was 11 locks down to the end of the canal at Conde sur Marne, at the T junction with La Marne. There was also the ‘attractive’ tunnel Billy to enjoy, so described by Du Breille. Its not a long tunnel, but navigation and steaming lights needed just the same.
This, as with most tunnels, is a one way system and we had time for lunch in the sun at a pleasant mooring just outside the tunnel awaiting our turn.
Conde-sur Marne was a sweet place to stop over, in the best sense of the word. We only stayed one night, opposite the old hydro power station, but this was time enough for a couple of walks round the village.
We sought out (recommended to us) Mme Potié’s champagne house with the inevitable tastings and purchases! We bought some Ratafia – a champagne based aperitif. Mmmmm.
We also grabbed a photo of the little engine that used to pull barges through the Billy tunnel at the time of radical industrial revolution.
Next morning was said goodbye to the canal De L’Aisne à La Marne, because we were onto La Marne!