Canal de la Robine – to the end!

aka Embranchment de la Nouvelle

May 11 – 18 2018

A week of city-scape, landscape, sea scape and port, as we moved the 35 kilometres from the junction with the Midi, through Sallèles-d’Aude and Narbonne, to Port de la Nouvelle, picking up two visitors and lots of mosquito bites along the way.

Looking back, it had been very very windy for over two weeks – force 7 to 8 most days. The locals say they’ve never known anything like it. Exhilarating, but not much fun for persuading large barges into small oval locks, although with super Stu at the helm all has been accomplished without mishap.

 

So we began with a strenuous voyage (ha ha) of 3 kilometres, filling and emptying the 5 locks as we went, all under blue skies.

C19DA1F7-E7C9-4C8F-8E04-38986D32F736We moored up under palm trees in Sallèles-d’Aude with the front wheelhouse window down, and feeling all set for summer!

From 1730 onwards we noticed something strange going on in the building next to our mooring. Cars drew up, people walked up, disappeared into the basement …… and reappeared with strange plastic containers full of red liquid – even children and dogs!


Aah, good, we have unknowingly moored next to a wine cave! We are now the proud owners of a rosé and a rouge BIB (bag in box) – 5L for €10 and tastes very good, plus my latest aperitif – Andréa”

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We awoke in Sallèles-d’Aude on Saturday May 12th – ME Awareness Day and all of the Millions Missing events around the world. Our daughter Hollie is one of the millions missing due to ME, so we played our small part by placing shoes with a message outside our boat for the day.

 

There was time to take a few photos of the interesting passerelle (footbridge) and the local muscovy ducks, and to visit our neighbours who are bravely doing up a huge old barge, with no previous experience of boats, carpentry or engineering!

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We went to sleep with rain clouds collecting  until we had an absolute downpour overnight.

 

Next day dawned a bit better and  we set off for a more exciting trip than anticipated. After the heavy rain (7” collected in our bucket!) we set off into the lock at the bottom of the port with our friends Ian and Jill  who had arrived on their boat Jazz the previous afternoon, and descended over 4m.

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The gates opened, out went Ian and Gill – and as we set off to to follow the huge gates started to close on us. Hard astern saved us from getting severely pincered, and several blasts on hooter eventually raised the red faced éclusier who re-opened the gates for us.

Then in the beautiful Gailhousty lock, with its cleverly designed dry dock, Stewart’s rope got caught on the bollard; eventually he had to undo it aboard and throw it up onto the side, where, luckily, another boater waiting to come up noticed and threw it back on board.

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After Gailhousty you are out on l’Aude river, with this fun little crossing to do.

 

 

1000E1F3-CE01-4CA1-A19E-BB5AD8E6610EAfter joining the swollen rushing Aude for a few hundred yards we followed Jazz towards the calm safety of the canal on the other side we were somewhat distressed to see the huge canal flood doors closed against us!

29800E00-C4D3-4054-9624-8830B7BCC7E7Another éclusier asleep on the job suddenly jumped into action as we bore down (in full reverse) on Ian performing heroic acts of helmsmanship to maintain his position as the gates slowly opened.

Such excitement almost made us stop outside of Narbonne for a beak, but after lunch at Gua, on the outskirts of the city, we felt emboldened and carried on through the lower and lower bridges to the centre.

Merchants Bridge, the last one after the Narbonne lock, is certainly one of the lowest Calliope has encountered, ‘mais pas de promblème’! I’m getting the hang of this language at last.

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Narbonne mooring

We found a pleasant mooring just behind Jazz and settled down for a few days.

Next day we collected the hire car and then collected Keeva and Will from Carcassonne airport. Out to an interesting pizza place for supper!

Next day we four had fun on a gale force day in Narbonne. It is an interesting, and in parts lovely, city – the indoor market, right on the canal side, has far too many delicious and tempting food stuffs.

623BD138-EBFC-45D3-9092-CE3DCBAD397AAnd by night, time to learn some new card games, this one’s polite name being ‘Poo Face”

On Wednesday we left Narbonne in better weather than we found it and took the barge 8 kms down to Mandirac lock – an out on the middle of nowhere kind of mooring – great contrast to Narbonne.

The young ones and I went for an exploratory walk, hoping to find our first étang, but it had been drained for agriculture! However we did find the last surviving barque de patron which is being done up near Mandirac.

Talking of old boats, right next to us was Pytheas – Greek geographer and explorer, no more …..

Thursday, and moving on southwards again. The accoutrements of summer surround me at last as the wind drops; early sun on the water, holiday makers on the fore deck, herb garden, geraniums and a parasol waiting to go up!

7285BF56-18D8-4BA3-92EC-A294AC4E1435As the land strip for the canal narrows between Étang de l’Ayrolles and Étang de Bages the trip takes on a surreal feel, moving on water between waters.

Beng a Nature Girl I’d been looking forward to Isle St Lucie – a small island nature reserve surrounded by the canal and a big étang or lagoon. One of its ‘attractions’ is being left entirely natural – including the marauding mosquitos, and although we were warned about them and had sprayed ourselves to excess, we turned out to be easy prey.  Keeva managed 52 bites, Will about 24 and another few dozen between Stu and I!!

This did not deter us from a flamingo hunt on the isle, including going where no man should!  Strange but true, the only flamingoes we found were white!

That evening, and next morning, various of our party walked the mile across the étang dykes to reach the sea, with many stunning shapes and colours along the way.

Next morning was just so beautiful I almost forgave the mosquitoes!

C06DE8E4-6D8F-4776-BBFF-17EF63884026We had just 3 kilometres and one lock to our final destination, so that won’t take long will it? Into the lock, start our descent of 0.8m. Hardly a troublesome distance, until the lock mechanism jams in some way and we are stuck!  A phone call to the éclusiers soon has us fixed and on our way ……

1175C167-EBE5-4AB6-ACA0-7C8B67861810….. down a rather reedy stretch!

 

2589EDFE-F1CE-47AF-A2C4-CC3EE9742FE9Nonetheless we cruised gently on to Port-la-Nouvelle, trying out a couple of moorings (one had us aground) before settling just before the bridge at the end of the canal.

It may not be the most scenic of our moorings, but is generally quiet (especially at the weekend), very handy to the town and beach, and we quite like it!

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It also has better reception for video phone calls home than when we are out in the wilds of nature!

 

More about Port-la-Nouvelle next week, including combatting the mosquitoes!

 

Semaine Trois

Will we, won’t we, windy, windy, windy.

Deciding when to leave Marseillette is a wind blown decision – waiting for the gusts and gales to diminish so that our progress on down the canal is more enjoyable.

D530CC5C-C44D-4EFB-8B96-0C3F16F84C36Eventually on Friday, mid morning, the leaves are rustling less and the Red Ensign drops below 90 degrees, so we cast off, although I still needed to travel with plaits so that I could see the way ahead!

We have half an eye on what other boaters are on the move in the hope of having locks to ourselves – not because we are greedy – just makes it easier and quicker. So having glided into the first lock and hearing the gates close behind us we are a little surprised when  they reopen – and another boat appears around the bend to join us.

It turned out to be a group of 6 Australians on holiday – lovely people and good at handling their boat, so all proceeded pleasantly through the next few locks, in company with them.

27480E49-2AF5-45CE-8F78-584A60466D47But we did meet less able boaters, including coming upon a luckless family with papa aboard, mama and children in the bank, and the boat across the canal! All was sorted eventually.

CF3BDA95-69CE-4719-879B-9F6BAFDA8513We reached the inevitable 12 o’clock-lunch-lock-down at l’Aiguille and enjoyed a blue-sky break before continuing on towards La Redorte – long stretches where ‘the plane trees were gone but the roots linger on.,

0B03D5CB-98E7-4C7B-B4A8-51182D923909Our luck was in – the best mooring in town, for us, was empty and we were soon tied up ready to enjoy a sunny sheltered few days.

 

La Redorte is a nicer village than expected – lots of narrow curvy streets up a hill, a chateau, a church, a good boulanegrie and boucherie ……..

F0CB672F-EBCC-49C1-9E3A-E26501A0858B… and a bar on the quay!

 

We stayed 3 night at La Redorte, allowing me time for an early sun photo once the weather improved.

Eventually we set out for the wonderfully named Homps, which I now know was a major trade crossroads for tin and wine, dating back to Roman times, and also having a strong connection in the 12th century to the Knight Templars (later of Malta).

 

Our route took us past the stunning stonework of the Argentdouble épanchoir, where water can overflow from the canal into the river below when necessary. Then we went over the Argentdouble aqueduct, before passing a buoyancy defying concrete boat. (The Captain has explained the physics of it – so I kind of understand!)

 

Judicious messaging ahead to friends on ‘Tell Us Tomorrow’ let us know that there was a mooring on the quay in Homps if we were quick! We settled in gently, put the washing out to dry in the continuing wind and went for a walk round the village.

 

Given my love of Malta I very much enjoyed the centuries long links that Homps has to the island. the Knights Templar’s 12th century stronghold has all but disappeared now, but a few craggy remains are resplendent with the Knights Cross, which it seems to me has transmogrified into the Cathar’s cross.

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We were spooked, then amused, by crackly broken music emerging from the village loudspeaker system. This turned out to be the prelude to something more sombre and serious – the village’s commemoration of VE Day – Victory in Europe Day, when La France, so long an occupied nation, was at last freed.

Quite a few villagers turned out to march along the quay behind flag-bearing veterans, then to the church to give thanks.

 

 

 

That evening we went out for a beer with ‘Tell Us Tomorrow’. This slid imperceptibly (almost) into a decision to dine together at the restaurant no more than 10 yards from Calliope. Delightful, ending up with more wine and a chocolate course on board! Chin chin!

 

The next day was still windy – really windy* – but we cracked on down towards our planned destination of Narbonne. The Ognon trio is interesting – a double lock into a right hand bend over an aqueduct and immediately through and under a very narrow ‘écluse de garde’ – or means of closing off the canal in times of flood or emergency. *40/50 mph they reckoned on t’web, and they weren’t exaggerating . . . 

E05A88C8-3F8D-4864-8623-3AF58B90432EWe waited for the lock in the company of a journeying snail, reminding us that some creatures travel even slower than us, every day.  Hmm, lunch for some over here . . 

B01309A4-D48F-4986-8280-53181AF1A654Rounding a more comfortable bend we saw a wild mooring that seemed just accessible – Bassanel.  Good – time for lunch.

 

Captain and crew decided that a walk ashore was required and we set off up through woods (nice flowers) and down again, back to a tightrope walk entry to the barge!

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After a quiet night in the wilds we awoke to a seemingly calmer brighter day. A patch of poppies on the other bank suggested that all was good in the natural world and a sure sign that we should journey on.

 

 

 

 

With the sun before us and the rocky hill of yesterday’s walk behind us we felt on top of a blowy world.

 

We found ourselves accompanied by creatures once more at the next lock, herded through the double by an enthusiastic collie who was bent on ensuring we could not dodge to either side and get away!  He saw us off downstream very efficiently.

 

On past Argens-Minervois with its chateau on a hill, Roubia, and then a pit stop at Paraza for bread before going towards Ventenac.

A0E7D3C2-E322-4C83-866B-AB32C6071AC2The lock at Argens is the last one for over 58kms. Just as well because our kindness in allowing two holiday boats to go down in the lock before us led to over an hour waiting. The éclusier hoped to fill the ascending lock with three boats, but one that she had spotted distant over the plain failed to materialise. In reality we are so lucky to be retired, with all the time in the world to enjoy where we are while we are there; holidaymakers are always in such a rush . . . .  

 

Just past Paraza is the first ‘pong-canal’ built in France in 1676. It was built by the famous creator of the Canal du Midi, Paul Riquet, who stayed at the chateau on Paraza during the construction.  Its hard to get a good photo as you go over it on a hairpin bend.

Finally, 17 kms on, we got to La Somail hoping for a mooring. Our hopes were dashed as the entire port and quay were jam packed with boats and we realised it was lunch time on a sunny French public holiday. On we went.

 

I had decided not to take many photos that day, but this section of our trip includes a real mix of ancient bridges, so they had to be snapped up – sorry!

So at about 1.30pm, after a long day for us of four and a half hours travelling (old retirees that we are), we arrived at Port la Robine where the canal to Narbonne leads off from the Canal du Midi.

6ADD5EFB-59A0-4596-809B-223FDC0D60DAAnd we were so lucky – the little mooring area before the first lock was full, so we tied up in the wide mouth of the junction and found ourselves in the perfect spot – for the next  fifteen and a half hours.

 

We had our own little patch of flowers and a bar across the bridge – a heavenly sunny evening.

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Fifteen and a half hours later, at 4am, the tranquility was broken as the factory across the canal started up its machinery after the holiday!  But a rude awakening led to a lovely morning view from the wheelhouse.

 

We climbed the bridge to look at our voyage for the day, down the Canal de Robine towards Narbonne – another week was about to begin.

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21 kms, Carcassonne to Marseillette

April 27 – May 4

After three nights in the middle of town we were straining at the tow ropes to be out in the country again. After a rapid excursion into town for bread and tomatoes we left Carcassonne, on a grey but warm day, heading for a rural mooring outside Trèbes.

4B5ADEF5-22F0-45AE-A70E-7DD173669751At the first lock, St-Jean, we caught up with a large holiday boat that was having problems mooring up to wait it’s turn descending, so we slowed down, backed up, and hovered.

It was a pleasant place to be stuck, and for the rest of the morning, through the three Fresquel locks and on towards l’Évëque we proceeded slowly, enjoying the scenery.

We had a ‘first’ between the Fresquel ‘simple et double’ locks, passing an ascending  boat in the holding pound in between.

C47627EA-8C6F-43E8-B923-A28552F8FE54The l’Évëque écluse has interestingly large shoulders! Stu says it’s because the lock has been lengthened and that was the original place for the gates. Expect he’s right!

323380E2-B7B7-4A23-B90C-393BC5A6D525We arrived at Villedubert at noon, so ‘moored by the Aude’ for lunch.

Unfortunately although l’Aude is just a few yards away it is difficult to see – just a glimpse! Also glimpsed a heron atop some conifers, ‘tho’ a bit distant for clarity.

But there were lovely irises to photograph. And a tiny frog climbing up the lock wall.

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Our mooring, PK116

We carried on another two kilometres to our planned mooring, only to find friends on Jazz had got there first! However around the bend were a row of sturdy mooring posts near a bridge. We tied up, waiting for the shade of the newly planted plane trees, and got ready for a very blowy night.

That evening we ventured the kilometre into town, becoming overawed over the Aude, for a couple of beers and a pizza – only we didn’t find the pizza! So supper aboard.

Next day was forecast heavy rain so I took a quick and pleasant walk into town for bread before the wetness set in! A lovely Spring morning walk.

Later the rain, and wind, arrived, but cleared for my afternoon tea break, and for sunset.

8D404ACD-5086-419D-9146-8E531C9B9316Stores were running low, so an excursion to the supermarket was planned, with bikes, panders, basket and rucksacks!

On our return we had visitors. Can corn buntings and ducks sense new food supplies?

Our flexible plan had been to leave next day, but we discovered that next day was May 1st, and whilst French éclusiers would not be dancing round maypoles, they do expect a day off, so no lock operations.

4F3442F2-0F81-4A84-A65F-CFF6C4AE93CB.jpegLovely; we could settle down to another pleasant 24 hours at PK116, beginning with a falling sun illuminating our bridge.

3359B9A0-038E-463D-8D4E-5B21C2403A14Its such a lovely bridge that I’m including more photos!

Going out to listen to birdsong, and trying to see an elusive nightingale, I came upon a riot of wild flowers, including, maybe, a marsh orchid.

56722AAC-7DC0-46E8-84EC-EFBF00B035AENext day being a public holiday, next best thing to a Sunday, a full English seemed to be in order – with Spam, not bacon!

To work it off, after a decent spell comatose, we walked into Trèbes through the grapevine fields, with the church tower our landmark in the distance.

And then for our last evening at PK116 we enjoyed a Stewart style tapas supper with accompanying sunset.

A61935FB-C344-4FE2-A3D9-9FA868803122Then next day, Wednesday (I lose track and have to check on the calendar!) we carried on eastwards on the Midi, firstly over the aqueduct and into Trebes.

As we approached the lock we saw Jazz moored up waiting to go down the treble and went in behind her – or tried to, but a gust of wind caught the wheelhouse, pushing Calliope lengthways across the canal!  No time for photos as the Captain reassesses the manoeuvre, aligns us in a hovering position on the other bank, and we await our calm entry into the lock.

We went down the three locks in tandem with Jazz, a refined gentle experience!

Then  on down stream through a pretty portion of the Midi, with Spring greenery and flowers all around us.

B2DE49A2-0B0D-445D-B93A-39A0DF07E7F4We arrived at Marseillette at lunch time, moored up behind Jazz, and stayed three nights!

This was less to do with the delights of the village, although it is ok with its tower and art deco bridge rails, and more to do with the gale force westerly winds that blew and blew and blew.

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Each day I found us a delicacy at the boulangeries (here a salmon and spinach crocque, whilst Stewart had a more traditional crocque madame) …….

 

 

 

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….. and each day we walked round a different aspect of Marseillette, culminating in the final day with a look at our first lock for the morrow.

 

 

 

Week 3 begins in the morning ……