Heading l’Oeust from Moissac to Agen – Canal de Garonne part 3

swing bridge Moissac

Swing bridge opens for us to leave  Moissac

Leaving Moissac, and the operator of the swing bridge spies us out of her little green window, sopping the traffic for Calliope to glide through.

next_to_the_tarn

First three kilometres alongside le Tarn, then a huge widening of the river waters as le Tarn joins la Garonne.

The Garonne continues next to the canal for another five kilometres, always just in sight through the trees, and less than 50 yards away.

Ecluse 27 Petit Bezy

Ecluse 27 Petit Bezy

There are not many locks along this stretch,  but this one at Petit Bézy must have been important at some time join the past. as evidenced by the much larger lock keeper’s house.

Good to see that someone is loving in this one – so many are abandoned and boarded up.

And while I am talking lock language, I noticed on this gentle journey that the locks on this canal have been extended at some point in time – you can see where the old gates used to be and the change in construction materials beyond to the ‘new’ gatess.

ecluse_pomevic

Abandoned little Pommevic lock keepers house

We had half a plan to moor up at Pommevic, having heard that it was a delightful rural mooring.

S and L cruisingFrom the little Pommevic lock onwards we had our eyes trained forward. We were therefore initially disappointed to see the small pontoon already taken by another boat, and on room for us. However a different, and in many ways better, mooring was in store four kilometres further on at Valence-d’Agen.

valence_arrival

Looking across to the port at Valence-d’Agen

At first we thought there was not space for us here either, but after passing three beautiful barges on the left bank pontoon and quay we found there was room for us on the grass bank beyond.

valence_first_mooring_2

Valence-D’aged first mooring

Two helpful bargees emerged from the other boats to help with ropes and we were soon secure.

For us Valence-d’Agen was a great town to visit. For a start it has three lavoirs for lavoir loving Lesley! These were built sequentially as the town officials gradually cleared swampy land around the town and looked for healthier, cleaner lavoir sites.

(Sorry, I have to include a few details from the lavoirs, including me enjoying being there!)

Then it has two market places, both with character, and plenty of interesting streets in-between. There are enough shops, bars and restaurants to more than satisfy our simple tastes so we stayed for four sunny warm days.

The church is visible from may directions, including from our mooring, and has a great modern twist outside the back door – not sure if it is the Madonna and Child…..

Parallel to the Canal de Garonne from PK74 up to and past Valence is a second canal – Canal de la centrale nucléaire. This takes waters from la Garonne to the nuclear power station, and re-enters le Garonne further downstream. I walked back to the old bridge to try to photograph bot canals together, but not possible from my vantage point.

valence_aground

Our mooring experience was mixed – finding ourselves aground after night one (the water level dropped about a foot, possibly with farmers irrigating crops), then afloat again after some judicial re-tethering by Stu.

After the second night one of the other barges moved on and we took a backward step – of about 30 yards – to moor up in their place on a wooden jetty with our own little wooden steps. Progress has been wonderfully slow and relaxed this year, though today was the first time we actually went backwards. . . . .  

A relaxed Captain makes for contented crew; we have our own ways of relaxing, some of which coincide!

We were not the only ones to enjoy the sun either – lots of dog walking going on, and one dog in particular whose love of life and water had us smiling for ages.

Before we left we were able to see the market places in action with a very good large market, full of local produce, wine, kitchenware, beds, tablecloths …..

In some ways we were sad to leave, but we knew further treats were in store so we headed on WNW with another half plan. This time we were aiming for another peaceful stopping place by le lac bleu.

golfech_church

We passed by Golfech, a little village now dominated by the cooling towers of the nuclear power station.

golfech_bridgeIt was at Golfech that I finally got to grips with the PK markers on this canal – they are displayed on bridges to the third decimal place – how’s that for French accuracy? Not the only thing to be displayed as you can see.

And each kilometres is marked by a metal plate on the ground, not easily seen by passing barges!

At le lac bleu again we were thwarted by another barge, but who can blame other bateliers from choosing the same good spots?

Then we had a serendipitous moment – at first frighteningly bad. We were viewing a potential, but seemingly unsuitable, grass bank mooring opposite a winding hole when the engine began to screech. Stu and I looked at each other in surprise and he quickly switched to neutral which stopped the noise. As soon as he tried to engage the gear, forward or astern, the screeching returned.

Magistere mooring 2He decided to edge into the bank spot that we could stop and investigate, requiring an interesting leap ashore with two ropes, a hammer and a spike between the teeth for me – well, sort of! Anyway, once moored up we investigated the weed hatch, which is where I come into my own.

Weed!I LOVE clearing weed hatches! And there was quite a lot of weed. Stu tried the engine again – all was quiet so we relaxed into having lunch, then relaxed into liking the mooring, and then stopped three nights!

We walked into the local village, Lamagestère, to find we had a small supermarket, boulangerie, station, and a lovely waterfront with la Garonne flowing steadily by (with the nuclear power station calling towers in the background).

It’s a bit of a trek along the canal bank from the bridge to the barge – only 150 yards, but a relatively unused pathway.

Lamagistere mooring 2

The Google maps aerial view gives the mooring its context within the landscape – consider the blue dot to be Calliope!

claremont_soubiran_2Another afternoon we walked in the other direction, north to a hilltop village we could see a couple of kilometres away – Claremont-Soubiran. It was quite a climb on a hot day, but an amazing view for the top.

claremont_soubiranAlong a plateau from the village stretches an Italianate looking green, part of the estate around the chateau being to Les Deux Soeurs, who have a vineyard making luxury wines. Unfortunately it was closed for tasting and buying when we got to the top!

Just a few of the creatures we saw along the way. No, we can’t smuggle the donkey onto the boat . . . . 

It was SO hot for the first couple of days at Lemagistère that we had to take defensive action!

Lamagistere rain

Our stay was partly marked by the unworldly piping song of an unknown bird, which we now believe to be a golden oriole.

But our last day at there was marked by unrelenting pouring rain; a day for reading and catching up with the blog!

 

 

Lamagistere last morning

Next morning the sun shone again, through a watery blue sky ….

Stu and weed

… and Stewart was able to clear the weed that had build up around the boat before we set off. (Yes, it’s blurry, but it is an action shot after all).

We were off on a 14 kilometre stint, with only two locks, to take us to the outskirts of Agen; a gentle day.

Le Garonne wove close and away again as we travelled, at times so close that only the  railway line separated us.

Lock restaurantAt écluse 33, St-Christophe, at Mouynes the ex-lockkeeper’s house was large enough to be converted into a restaurant, probably due to the importance of keeping the river and canal part just along here.

Kingfisher

Yes, a kingfisher

Just after Lock 33 we got all excited to see a kingfisher, the first for some weeks. My attempts at photographing kingfishers are many and pathetic; I promise this is a live kingfisher in that tree!
Boé chateau

As we rounded the curve to Boé –  we passed by the chateau, cleverly hidden from the canal by mature trees.

Initially we were not sure about mooring here; as mentioned on the DBA site the little port has been fitted out with pontoons for small boats, plus the stretch beyond the port was occupied by one (soon to be two) hotel barges.

 

 

Boé mooring

Boé mooring

However we moored up above the port between two strategically placed thorny bushes – just the right length for us.

Boé storm cloudsThe weather was still trying to make its mind up as we went for a walk to explore the area – mainly a little dormitory town with a big out of town commercial centre. We were doing fine, missing most of the rain, although we did resort to a bus shelter for a few minutes.

We took the opportunity to reconnoitre ahead and see what moorings were to be had in Agen. The bus trip was simple and cheap – about 20 minutes for 1.20€ each way.

The buildings of Agen are full of historic interest. I only show a few as an example, but the narrow curved streets are ancient and deserve exploration.

We treated ourselves to lunch out in one of the restaurants under the colonnades – a marvellous meal that advertised itself as local produce, prepared from A to Z on the premises, without freezers or microwaves. The menu du jour allowed us two starters each as well as a main and a dessert – and to my amusement coffee was served with a prune. Of course; Agen is the prune capital of the world.

Agen music 2By chance Agen was hosting a weekend of music, the Folies Vocales, with seven stages set up through the city and other events inside. We both like music, but with Stu wanting to get back to the boat I stayed on to enjoy some jazz and some blues – at one point the band left the stage and played amongst the audience.

Agen mooring 1Back to Boé for our second night there, and to prepare for the next day’s move into Agen. Our voyage was to be a short one – just up to Agen basin where we hoped to find the same nice spaces we had spotted the day before; luckily we did.
Once moored up we went to do a spot of shopping in the market (great little indoor and outdoor markets).

Agen passerele over railwayTo reach the city centre we crossed the canal and also the mass of railway lines at Agen station, using a 1930’s footbridge which forbids the ‘circulation’ of bikes and motorbikes. The lovely sign is definitely showing its 80 year old age.

Agen prune stallAt the market I discovered that there is such a person as a Prunelier, who specialises in all things prune.

 

Then after lunch, back to the music festival. There were all sorts of music, including some lovely chorale music in a little c13 church.

Agen music beer 2And we enjoyed an early beer or two sitting back stage of Texas Martha and her excellent band, watching the Argenaise of all ages dancing, strolling, drinking and chatting in the sun.

Agen contemplating storm clouds

We like Agen and stayed one more day, walking round the city’s avenues and alleys. Back on the barge for the evening a threatened thunderstorm arrived, with spectacular lightning across the darkening sky. Captain Stu pondered the retreating storm, and reckoned we could process next day.

So, for now, au revoir Agen, until we meet again.

Agen mooring

Agen mooring

Stowaways – Canal de Garonne part 2

When I got back to Grisolles from my weekend in the UK I was in the company of our friend Hilary – first guest of 2017.  What I had not realised is that there were two additional ‘passengers’, who emerged to take the sun on day two! They were welcome to join us on the two day cruise to Moissac.

pk_40.5

Hilary and I arrived at lunchtime, and almost as soon as we stepped aboard Captain Stu cast off and we were off down stream. This was a gentle day; just 12 kilometres and no locks, arriving at our wild mooring (PK 40.5) within a couple of hours and moored up ready to enjoy the sunshine.

pk__40.5_wid_flower_bouquet

Hilary went for an exploration walk while I slept to recover from spending the previous night on a bench at Gatwick airport (another story altogether); she returned with a wild flower bouquet – beautiful.

pk_40.5_evening

The sun began to set on our quiet, tranquil mooring. We love these out of the way places, close to nature.

Lock 10 Lavache

Steps at Lock 10 Lavache

The next morning the sky was as blue as before and the sniper was keen to make headway before it got too hot, or indeed thundery.

After a swift breakfast we ‘de-staked’ and set off the few hundred yards to our first lock, Lavache

As we left the lock, under the typical Canal de Garonne brickwork bridge, the waterway opened up before us.

Leaving lock 10 Lavache

Leaving lock 10 Lavache

montech_flowers

A true flower bed, Montech

Before long we arrived at Montech where we stopped for bread, and discovered it was market day. Hooray. Hilary and I used our 30 minutes shore leave to stock up with strawberries, asparagus, salad, avocados ….. and got back just in time to see another boat go by to enter the Montech flight of locks.

Montech looking at Montauban arm and Blue Gum

Blue Gum emerging from the Montauban arm

The Captain was a bit glum (no comment), anticipating a wait of up to two hours as we were nearing éclusier déjeuner, but we were in luck and first one, then two, and finally three éclusiers appeared to take us, and the boat in front, through the flight of four locks.

As we awaited our turn I looked towards the entrance to the Montauban arm of the canal – and there was a Piper sister ship, Bluegum, with Sally as figurehead.

Leaving Montech

Leaving Montech

Our turn came for the flight. As we left Month we passed a small basin next to a huge chimney – remnants of the massive paper factory that was an important part of the local economy for well over 100 years.

And then we were off – with an impressive flypast of black kites. I counted 10 of them in the sky far above us at one point.

It is an extremely pleasant descent on a sunny day, with a path of blue sky leading down between shady trees. Most of the lock houses were empty – a sign of the times. It was interesting to see the different size houses according to the size and placing of the lock in the flight – here’s one of the smallest.

Near St Porquier

Near St Porquier

We were getting hungry now, as well, presumably, as the éclusiers. We were on the watch out for somewhere to stop for lunch.

There’s always something unusual to look at along the way – this time a disused barge disguised as a bankside garden.

St Porquier lunch stop

St Porquier lunch stop

Then we found it – St Porquier picnic park! We gathered the goodies form the market and soon had a delicious meal. The sun was blazing down, making it quite hard to get a decent photo – just TOO bright.

Lock 2 Artel

Lock 22 Artel

Off once more after lunch we took the next 6 locks in our stride – all automatic, so the sequence of turn pole, enter lock, tie up, press button, descend, cast off and drive out became natural team work. Some locks, such as number 22, Artel, have nice features; in this case an ironwork bridge.

 

And then there we were moving towards the open blue of the aqueduct over the Tarn and the gateway to Moissac.

Pont Canal du Cacor at Moissac, over Tarn

Pont Canal du Cacor at Moissac, over Tarn

Hilary and I both had cameras ready for our slow majestic crossing . We had brilliant views in all directions – wonder what its like to cross in a rainstorm or blizzard!

25 Moisac Lock

Lock 25, Moissac 

 

So with the last few of our 16 locks that day we came down into Moissac.

 

Moored up in Moissac

Moored up in Moissac

Before long we were in our appointed mooring, guided in by Capitai Jim. We had the last slot on the right before the bridge – perfect.

As Stu will probably tell you there was a bit of an escapade between the last lock and the mooring, involving a large hotel barge, Rosa, heading towards us and wanting to turn right into the locks down onto the Tarn .. but all ended happily for both barges.

Tarn Pont Napoleon Moissac

Tarn Pont Napoleon Moissac

Before long Hilary and I disembarked for a walk, staring off by walking down to the Tarn – Moissac was on the Tarn long before it was on the canal de Garonne.

By now the blue skies were fading to grey, changing the light but not affecting the stunning views – the huge Pont Napoleon, the old mill, now a hotel, and the quay, where Rosa sat prettily.

There is also an old lock through which boats must pass if travelling downstream. I found this odd until I discovered that the rest of the river is a huge weir, currently under water due to the last of the Spring high waters.

Next Hilary and I explored the town – true to the tourist descriptions in every way – ancient and atmospheric. We agreed to explore the Abbey and cloisters the next day.

The evening ended with a celestial display as good as any I have seen in my rather long life. The red skies were less about a shepherd’s delight, and more about the thunderstorms to come.

And next day we went to the Abbey …….

moissac_cloister_5

… and to the cloisters. This religious complex was started in the 8th century and mainly finished in the 11th.

The Cloisters are beautiful and so quiet – I suppose when masses of monks lived there it was not so quiet unless they had a vow of silence.

moissac_railway

 

One of the strangest things about the Abbey and associated buildings is that when the railway arrived in Moissac it was put smack bang through the middle of the area, splitting the Abbey from many of its original buildings!

Hilary and I returned to Calliope full of historical wonder, and just in time for lunch with her brother who had arrived to take her (and our stowaways) away.

Stu and I however stayed on in Moissac for a few days more – to see out the promised thunderstorms and rain.

The rain certainly arrived; we thought the thunderstorms were distant until smoke began to arise from a house  by the canal. It had been hit by lightning, and we watched as the poor owner watched her house go up in flames. The Pompiers are stationed within two minutes – but were that day away on a training session, along with their fire engine, so it took some time before water was sprayed onto the fire,

Stu and I took several walks around Moissac and I found a new architectural interest – doors! The old doors of Moissac are marvellous – so strong and making huge statements about the owners behind them.

I also found a new (to me) set of rings in the side of the canal. I have never seen hinged rings like this before; love them!

Moissac swing bridge

Moissac swing bridge

It began to feel like time to move on and in anticipation We took a look at the swing bridge – our way out of Moissac. Yes, that’s fine; ready to go.

Onward and slightly upward – Canal de Garonne part one

mouth_of_garonne_canal

We entered the Canal de Garonne on a fine April afternoon, having expected to spend the night in the Port d’Embourchure at Toulouse because of a canal closure. However jst as we were picking our spot for the night our friendly eclusier Henri appeared and waved to let us know that the canal had re-opened; hooray!

start_of_canal_garonne

footbridge_to_stadium

We went through the brick bridge separating the port basin from the canal and were off on a long straight stretch. This included going past the football stadium, where a swing bridge is brought into operation on match days facilitate fans crossing to the game; no match today though.

start_of_canal

The sport that was in full swing was rowing, seemingly for a group of youngsters who had never rowed before. Their antics retying to set their boats in the right direction and not be under our prow!

lalande_lockWe reached the first écluse, Lalande,  and moved through without mishap. These locks are brick lined – different to the stone lining we usually see. They also have an overspill taken just above the lock, round into it’s own stream, sometimes trough a mill, and back into he canal below the lock; more of this later.

lacoutensort_lockAhead of us at the second lock, Lacourtensort, we could see a min-queue of two boats waiting to go down. Stu slowed our speed and we almost drifted along towards the ‘pole-that-we must-not touch-until-those-boats-have set-the-lock-in-motion.’ It seemed to take ages, and when they did finally move ahead into the lock the first seemed to get stuck in the entrance. We watched what we could see through the binoculars, and finally they were in and going down. I turned the lock pole correctly and we moved forward.

Now it was our turn and as we entered there was our friend Henri, yellow control box round his waist. Yes, the lock was out-of-order, but his magic yellow box could see us through. Merci Henri. We bid him au revoir and à bientôt as we steamed on downstream.

fenouillet_lockThere was no waiting at the next écluse; pole turned, lock filled, gates opened, we went in, tied up, button pressed and the gates closed …. almost! We stood in the sun awaiting the descent, but nothing. Just an attractive old lock house and an old Citroen Dianne bleu.

fenouillet_lock_1

After a while Stewart noticed that the top gate was not quite shut. He tried to close it; no luck. So he pressed the ‘please come and help us’ button; no reply. He tried again, I tried, and I tried again; no-one answered. Hmmm.

It’s very nice in this lock. We wouldn’t have minded staying there for the night. But we thought we had better keep trying. I phoned a number written in biro on the control panel; no answer, but in broken French I left a message. Then, the third time lucky approach – I looked up the number of the canal office in Toulouse and phoned that; success.

[While we waited for the éclusier cavalry to arrive I thought I would get a record of the Canal de Garonne locks – here it is – water taken off above the lock into a pond, then reinjected below the lock. Also the way to tie up is different – poles fore and aft down which the rope can slide.]

We had so much success with our various phone calls that two éclusiers turned up – Henri and his colleague. A bit of gate opening and closing and the system had re-booted.

As we were leaving I asked if there was anywhere to moor nearby. My French must be improving because he understood the question and I understood the answer – under the second bridge along was a nice quiet mooring.

Although sounding strange, we though we would give it a try. It was strangely lovely – an almost unused bridge at Fenouillet with grassy banks and pleasant walks.

fenouillet_church

I went for a short walk around the village and its surrounding lakes, got lost, and returned an hour and a half later! The village is a bit of a dormitory for Toulouse, but pleasant nonetheless, with a good group of small shops and a pretty church.

The sun was sinking as I returned, the water calm and reflective.

We considered staying a second night, but with storms forecast for Sunday and a public holiday with closed locks Monday we decided to crack on downstream the next morning. We planned an 18km journey with 6 locks to Grisolles.

lespinasse_lock_4

This was a pleasant and uneventful journey through countryside and rural economy, alongside the railway track.

The first lock, Lespinasse, was a gentle 2.58m deep. As we left I caught a photo of the water coming back into the canal, typical as explained above of the Canal de Garonne.

There was an interesting stretch near Castelnau-d’Estrétefonds, firstly taking the canal over the river Hers on an aqueduct …..

castelnau_lock

….. then into a widening of the canal to allow barges to swing round into the lock entrance, which was at an angle to the aqueduct.

After a few hundred yards there was a second lock, taking Calliope down to continue in a straight line North West.

lunch_on_move

I was getting hungry by then so made a lunch out of bits and pieces we had on board and sat on the back deck in the sun. Sometimes barging is like a luxury cruise!

emballens_lockOne more lock before we would reach Grisolles, Emballens. We had to wait for a boat coming up so tied our 20m barge against a 4m pontoon and I held her in check until we could proceed.

[Gosh, that’s two photos of me in a row, even if one of them is only my knees.]

Our luck was holding as we arrived at Grisolles – the mooring below the bridge that we had hoped for was empty. We tied up, and stayed more than a week, moored just in front of the Salle de Fêtes, or village hall!  This was in part to allow me to go back to UK for the weekend and a most important football match – yes, Pompey are League Two Champions, against all the odds!.

In amongst the days that we were there we took a few walks around Grisolles and the surrounding area. It is a small, straightforward and very friendly town.

They are proud of the little bits of heritage still standing, including the church, market hall and some old buildings. I also found three new window shutter ‘figurines’ to ad to my collection.

We took a couple of walks up the steep steep hill looking over Grisolles – quite an effort and quite a view, over the town to the plains and river Garonne beyond.

We went up the hill a third time in order to walk to the local vinyard – Chateau Bellevue de Fôret. The water was almost more welcome than the wine by the time we arrived! And we were pleased to discover that if we bought some wine they would delver it to the barge, so we could scamper back down hill unencumbered, ready to enjoy a glass of 100% negrette grape.

grsolles_salle_de_fetes

Calliope, in full view of the Salle de Fetes

On 30th April we noticed tables outside the Salles de Fêtes, and drinks being set upon them. Two people from the crowd round the table emerged closed the grass and stated talking to us.  After a good bit of Franglais we discovered that they were setting up for a dance in the hall that night and were invited as guests of honour. Apparently to is customary in their village, Canals, to hold a party the evening before the May 1st Public Holiday. They downed the Ricard and whiskey in their plastic tumblers, and left to continue preparations. Needless to say we did attend the dance, were made most welcome and danced to a great band of accordion, saxophone, trumpet and keyboards. My those French can waltz!

grisolles_breakfast_1_may

Our new friend Gilles then invited himself for an English breakfast the next morning, saying he would bring the wine – and he did! First time I have washed egg and bacon down with vin rouge.

(He wasn’t so sure of the HP sauce though . . . . )

Gilles said that we should visit his village, Canals, just two kilometres away. I was tempted by the promise of a lovely lavoir and cycled over a couple of days later. The lavoir, just below and next to the little church, was quite a treat for a lavoir lover.

Overall the village had character; it seemed an honest place, that had some splendour in the past.

The walks around Grisolles were dotted and coloured by masses of a yellow flower which I alternately took to be marigold or dandelion!  Whichever it was, it created huge puffball seed heads, just right for children to blow away.

IMG_0927.jpgDuring our stay at Grisolles we had a grand day out to Montauban, taking the train one grey morning from Grisolles station.

We liked Montauban. As the day progressed the weather improved, so some photos are celestially bluer than others.

We liked the Pont Vielle, with its views to the old city, and decorative lamp posts – see how the sky changed!

We liked the ruined old mill with its disused lock and overgrown surrounds.

I loved the weir across the Tarn from the mill – the longest weir I have ever seen!

And in the trees of the long thin island just below the Pont Vielle we spotted a young heron or stork – maybe one of the rarer species for which the isle is famous.

montauban_convent

 

Stu and I both enjoyed the peacefulness atmosphere of the old convent cloisters, even though it is now part of the school of music. The young students seemed caught up in the atmosphere, talking quietly as they moved around the area.

 

montauban_square

 

 

 

 

 

The main square in the old city provided plenty of shade under red brick arches for welcome coffee and relaxing after all the walking.

 

montauban_lock_into_tarn

Just one more task before we set off back to Gristles – a look at the lock down from the canal into the Tarn – a voyage that we plane to take some time soon.  Looks ok, although the Tarn is still closed to boating traffic at the moment, waiting for the Spring currents to abate.

IMG_4210So back to Grisolles – its feeling like home now! But on my return from the UK we will be on the move again, onwards and slightly upwards, in a north westward direction towards Moissac.