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.
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.
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.
We had half a plan to moor up at Pommevic, having heard that it was a delightful rural mooring.
From 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.
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.
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.
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.
We passed by Golfech, a little village now dominated by the cooling towers of the nuclear power station.
It 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.
He 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.
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.
The Google maps aerial view gives the mooring its context within the landscape – consider the blue dot to be Calliope!
Another 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.
Along 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!
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!
Next morning the sun shone again, through a watery blue sky ….
… 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.
At 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.
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!
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.
However we moored up above the port between two strategically placed thorny bushes – just the right length for us.
The 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.
By 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.
Back 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).
To 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.
At 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.
And 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.
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.