4 days mid-May 2016
The T junction at Condé-sur-Marbe looked tempting both ways – so we turned right for a couple of days, then came back and went down the left arm.
Turning right had Calliope faced towards Epernay – but we did not get that far.
We were on the Canal lateral de la Marne, and wended our way, next to the river, through calm countryside and vineyards.
After just two locks and a ‘pont-mobile’ we came upon Mareuil-sur-Ay, a village steeped in champagne history, boasting 14 champagne houses, and a small port.
Although pretty and pleasant, Calliope was too big for the port, but we had spied a new tranquil mooring just outside the village on the way and promptly accomplished a U-ey.
Fantastic – absolutely right for us. We could walk to the village for bread and La Poste, then retire to our own isolation.
The mooring was also just right for us to give the boat a clean and for me to sit on the grass and ‘prick out’ the herb and tomato seedlings – so housework and gardening done we relaxed.
The evening brought a set of swirling black clouds, followed by rain and thunder. In one whirlwind blow almost all the blossom of the chestnut tree opposite descended into the river and drifted into pink patterns on the water.
As darkness fell we enjoyed a nightscene of the village and a statue on the hill opposite. At last we find something beneficial to come from a Straight and Narrow.
Next day was fine again. We walked up the hill to get close to the statue and the vines, and a hillside view of the village.
We had the added benefit of a marvelous view back down to Calliope at her mooring, and a close up of a linnet.
You have to be at least as old as us to understand the link with ‘we’re in the boat with our ‘ome packed in it’, but in all those years this is the first linnet I’ve ever actually seen . . . .
And we checked on the progress of the next vintage champagne …
Our other ‘bird-find’ at Mareuil were two American geese – goodness knows why!
After two nights at Mareuil the barge turned round to head up for Chalons-en-Champagne, stopping at Conde for lunch. We had an interesting journey; on arrivale at the Tours-sur-Marne lock, ready to turn the hanging pole and open the lock gates, there was no pole. We kept looking and wondering if there was another device to operate the lock, but eventually moored up and phoned the VNF in my broken French. “je suis á l’écluse Tours-sir-Marne et il n’y a pas un pole pour tourner.”
I was not believed, and told the to turn the ‘peche’. (a peach?) “Non Monsieuer. Le pôle a disparu!” After repeating this several times he agreed to dispatch an éclusier, who soon turned up and agreed that the pole/peach was missing and set about operating the lock for us.
That was not our only difficult lock of the day. The locks from Condé to Chalons nearly all had a strong jet of water swooshing out just below the lock, pushing Calliope sideways. Of course our man at the wheel took account of this as much as he could, but at Juvigny, with the water pushing the boat into lock wall – a zigzag fender rope was broken with a good loud twang! Your Honours I do maintain that it was the merest of kisses and the line was indeed a little frayed already . . . . .
We arrived at Chalons-en-Champagne to find plenty of space for a nice mooring, above the lock by the Grand and Petit Jard parks, and beneath the towering cathedral. These are very pleasing spaces, and include plenty of waterfowl – more coots for me!
We quickly decided to spend two nights there. The town is full of ancient timbered buildings, and intersected by two tributaries of La Marne, Le Mau and Le Nau.
Our boating neighbours were an interesting group of people. One, an ex-diver, managed to lose his bow thruster and then his propeller mid-channel. Mark, who we had met at Sillery, tells us he is a millionaire farmer, and had on board with him his friend from East Anglia, Steve, who is an ex Baptist missionary, wants to be a writer, and shares our love of birds.
And then we were joined by Robin, who, in trying to moor, drove his big barge Magansar2 bow first into the quay three times (proper T-bones) whilst trying to get a rope ashore with inexperienced crew. All were very friendly, accommodating, humourous and helpful to each another nonetheless.
So after just two days in a lovely place and with good company we set sail again, towards the end of La Marne. But one more night still to spend on this canal.
Up stream we went, stopping for the night at a 10/10 mooring for us -Soulanges. Initially all alone, later we were joined by a commercial barge that moored up behind us for night.
I found time to do a little gardening – get those herb and tomato seedlings sorted out!
It is a pretty mooring and although the village is small it had an interesting walk up the hill between a series of crosses to a statue.
Looking down we could spot Calliope peacefully resting.
Alongside the canal La Marne flowed on. We crossed over the bridge to take a look at the river. The nearby car park was almost empty; just a few fishermen and one camper van – (skillfully hidden behind Lesley by the photographer) occupied (as we later discovered) by a Belgian story teller and his wife. After enjoying a glass of wine with them we all settled down to a calm night.
Next morning the sun still shone and we were off to where we would join the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne at Vitry-Le-Francois – the next chapter!