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!
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.
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!
We 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.
Ahead 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.
There 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.
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.
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.
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 …..
….. 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.
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!
One 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.
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!
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.
During 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.
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.
The main square in the old city provided plenty of shade under red brick arches for welcome coffee and relaxing after all the walking.
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.
So 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.