Back on the Midi with Stu

8th – 14th June 2018

 

 

 

 

Last episode I left us at Le Somail, with the huge ancient bookshop, brebis (sheep milk) ice cream, and mooring under the fig trees, shady enough to eat outside on the warm summer days.

 

 

 

We also ate at one of the local restaurants – great pizza, mine with duck and foie gras!

 

 

 

The skies, especially at sunset, just encouraged amateur photography!

On our last evening I cycled down to St-Marcel-sue-Aude where they were due to burn Joan of Arc – if I read the leaflet right. Unfortunately I was there a day early and all the merriment, food, music and burning was to be 24 hours later – so I cycled back.

 

 

 

Could it get any better than La Somail? Let’s go see – actually we had to go see, because we are on our way to Carcassonne to meet grand daughter and friend from the airport on 17 June – so onwards and westwards we go.

37F54BDF-0F5D-4185-9EA2-1B72BDF0F281Day one’s mini voyage was the 6kms to Ventenac-en-Minervois where we found the same mooring below the bridge that we enjoyed two years ago.

9098772F-7607-4DC8-8575-C0EDA1938A2C

 

After an hour repotting herbs that had been refusing to grow happily …..

 

 

 

 

 

 

… we went for a stroll round the village, ending in the excellent wine cave on the quay, filled in the afternoon. A game of Scrabble (I nearly won) provided the evening’s mental challenge, and so to bed.

69EAB045-FE7C-4850-B4BE-2DBD2E1E0092Day two was to have been 24 kms to Homps, but after 10kms and one lock (rather cosily shared with a ‘bumper boat’ and a yacht, we found an empty stretch of moorings below the castle at Argens-Minervois.

We stopped for lunch, stopped for an explore, stopped for supper, and then stopped overnight!

 

 

 

The village has many ancient aspects, a few of which are shown here, regrettably not on the best day for photographic light. We now know, for next time, there is an epicèrie, several bars and restaurants, some wine caves, and a short walk to a bridge over the river Aude.

 

 

There’s also a fine example of a well-cum-pump, probably used to bring water up for cattle to drink.

7CBB8073-83D6-41C1-986B-F9BC52C3E887I maybe should have mentioned the hairpin canal bend going over the Répudre aqueduct – a lovely line of stone wall, always difficult to catch right on film!

B1EB84A0-3625-4DE4-AE94-9D216E60F07D

Moored up in Homps

Onto Monday – a wet day, made wetter by the number of locks to negotiate. We still made it to Homps, and our previous mooring, by lunchtime, and it was not long after this that the sun came out.

22657DDE-B474-4884-8E35-68786068F520

Homps blue passerelle – as Calliope left next day

We took a walk over the blue passerelle, up the track to the lake, where I inspected the ‘beach’ that could provide a swimming place for visiting grand daughters.

647CB9C1-96E7-4778-A201-F7E229A1F527

Here comes Safran

Not long after we came back a bike skidded to a halt next to Calliope, and we at last met in person Andy and Jayne of Safran, another Piper boat. Seeing a mooring just ahead of us he ‘veloed’ back to his boat and gracefully progressed into port. We were able to enjoy a few glasses of wine with them later.

59E6120D-656E-4850-A02E-C9037E061F4A

 

Next day we were off again, running ahead of the rain to reach La Redorte without getting wet! It was a great day for barging.

 

 

 

 

Just outside the village is the lovely Argentdouble aqueduct; I got a slightly better photos this tie as the skies had cleared.

7B23C84A-238D-4E4B-BFD4-D4C66292CBC0

Calliope meets Tesserae at La Redorte

It was to be another Piper meeting day, this time with David and Louisa on Tesserae, who kindly moved up to make space for us. The two barges rested stern to stern for two nights, whilst those on board made better introductions over wine, then a meal at the quay side restaurant. (I do like he go-faster stripe along the rubbing strake; might have to get the masking tape out this coming back-end.) 

 

 

My evening walk at La Redorte resulted in a couple of unusual images ….

B0684E90-C413-4FFE-A03C-E1CC7CFCC3D1Then moving on again, slowly towards Carcassonne.  It was definitely slower than planned! The three double and one triple locks all had queues, and we had to share locks on almost every occasion – this proving easier sometimes than on others! (Indeed …..)

 

 

At the first lock, Puichéric, we waited for a hotel barge to go up and two boats to come down – a beautiful place to wait, with the village church in the distance.

 

 

We ended up sharing the lock with a couple of holiday boats – nice friendly people, doing their best to manoeuvre round us with bow thrusters, stern thrusters and, worst of all, boat hook thrusters!

D0CC8599-A7A3-47BE-B214-A3DBD750B89ELater, at St Martin écluse a long queue began to develop, right on lunch time when the locks close for an hour. If you’re not in a rush, and you already have food aboard, its a pleasant place to eat and wait.

3F3639C6-B5E0-4CF4-BEF0-046AE492E0EDBy the time we came through the last, triple, lock we had had enough boating for one day, so we were extremely pleased to find a rural mooring, spotted a few weeks ago, empty and just waiting for us.

 

 

After supper I took a walk ……

34042A3C-D6EB-4291-BB6D-4AC6E92BB534… and the Captain had a quiet time with his little black book.

A lovely sky, light until nearly 10pm, finished the day, and another week.

C3F17485-1855-436F-A243-6F1B8AF5BBD9

 

 

 

Up the Jonction

 

I didn’t do my research properly for the blog going down to Port de la Nouvelle. I regret that I used the names Canal de la Robine and Embranchement de Nouvelle interchangeably and incorrectly!

9E22BBC1-52C6-4DCD-A1BF-B4224D466B8B

Calliope moored at Quai Victor Hugo, Narbonne

So let’s put that right. Narbonne is key. A mixture of Romans digging a channel to connect Narbonne to the sea, and a need for water from the Aude for Narbonne during the Middle Ages resulted in what became the canal de la Robine. A further 5 kms was required to link this, north of the Aude, to the Canal du Midi. When this was built it was named Canal de Jonction. The two together are known as the Nouvelle branch, or Embranchement de La Nouvelle.

When I returned from the Greek wedding Stewart and Calliope were still at Gua lock and mill, north of Narbonne, so we still had 8 kms of Canal de Robine before the Aude crossing and into Canal du Jonction.

D2D3E55F-2C35-45B8-837B-98E9F6DCCB56

Stu preparing Calliope to leave Gua

We accomplished this easily in a short morning’s cruise, arriving in Sallèles-d’Aude in time for lunch.

93FFD71D-B9F5-4100-9197-406946F00726

On the way we saw several Azure Winged Magpies -sensational, unexpected, thrilling! But no chance of a photo, so bird book must suffice.

 

 

 

The crossing of the Aude, past the weir, upstream, and a sharp right turn into the Canal de Jonction had the usual frisson and gentle tension of the unusual, with all going well. We are now truly ‘up the Junction’.

Then Gailhousty lock, with its dry dock to the side of the mostly unused lower lock, and it’s maddeningly scenic steps, plants, angles.

We moored up in Sallèles-d”Aude for a couple of days, allowing time for a restock at the 7 Écluses wine cave, rekindling of friendships on Papyrus and Escapade, and a bird watching walk back down to the river.

The lock at Sallèles is quite deep – deeper than it says in the navigation book – and deep enough to have, and need, poles down the side of the lock walls for batteliers to slide their ropes up and down.

Once more we did not manage to photograph anything exciting, but I will share with you my shadowy images of crested lark, swallow and nightingale!

FFB02605-7CBE-4142-B172-D869400B10BB

Captain Stu was able to take in the full extent of L’Aude weir from the firm footing of a salmon jump grid!

 

 

 

 

404EF502-52A0-4E11-9182-D088EA209EE0On the second evening it began to rain, and rain, and pour with rain. This did not dim the night-time lighting of our neighbours boat!

By next morning the skies had cleared and we steamed off for our final 4 kms of the Jonction. It is a very straight stretch, pleasant, and with 5 self-operated locks – all very similar except the last one, Cesse, which has there only operations bourne of its kind I have seen!

46D78F6B-D97E-47D1-9414-B0C247F52275Our final excitement was seeing a HUGE barge reversing through the little bridge we were aiming for, where Midi and Jonction meet. Luckily he was a skilful skipper with a boat load of school kids, and manoeuvred in to moor on the bank and let us past.

Then good-bye Jonction – we have reached the junction with the Midi, and a wide sweeping turn to starboard took us on our way.

Of course I should be ending this chapter now, with the end of the Jonction, but to finish the week off I will just let you know that we had a hectic half hour wiggling round two bends that included a narrow bridge, a narrow aqueduct, lots of moored boats, two big barges coming towards us, and two relatively idiotic holiday boats in front of us. Captain Calm negotiated all.

We moored up 3 kilometres further on, at La Somail, and settled down to finish our week in a delightful mooring just below the famous bridge.

The weather moved from sun to storm and back again over the next few hours, the bridge transformed against the skies.

Another wonderful week, and plenty more to come.

Canal de Robine – the start of the return

Saturday in Port-la Nouvelle was like Friday but better, and interesting!

 

CAAF7F8F-244C-4CBD-8A0D-63AC77E8147DWe even had steak haché and frites cooked for us by the crew!

Our mooring seemed to have gate-crashed a pompier (fire and rescue service) training weekend and we enjoyed watching about 25 young people climbing in and out of wet suits, running by and swimming in the canal, kilometres at a time, jumping off bridges etc.

What with that and food shopping we passed an entertaing morning, and after lunch, with the sun blazing in the blue sky, we went for a walk round town before heading for the beach.

5F1D6E51-6355-4919-BDE7-A34D7CB37AB6The Med felt cold, but we persevered and conditioned ourselves enough for a mini-dip. Somehow feeling cold on the outside demanded feeling cold on the inside, so we repaired to an ice cream parlour, where the cream comes from cows on a farm at the foot of the Pyrenees. A framboise sorbet v vanilla ice cream war began.

E8FFB5EC-2F65-4962-A1D6-EDF020CD935BBack on board Stu and I sat back to watch the gathering clouds while our supper was cooked, expecting a downpour, but none came. All credit to Keeva for the photo.

Sunday morning was another opportunity for Captain and First Mate to view more of Port-la-Nouvelle and it’s étangs from the various bridge vantage points.

Another  sunny beach afternoon was planned but a trio of French strikes, starting with air-traffic control, conspired against us. On the way to the beach Keeva received a text to say their flight home on Tuesday was cancelled and another flight  must be booked. Thence began a frustrating couple of hours for the wee bairn trying to get through to Ryanair. Eventually a flight could be booked for Wednesday – but the rail strike of that day meant that they could not get to the airport! So Monday was booked, the very next day, cutting the holiday short. 😢

So let’s make the final day as French as poss, starting with a breakfast trip to the boulangerie.

042A5C0A-5E1A-40BC-88FA-4214B3296C90Next a walk to ‘la gare’ and a trip to Carcassonne via Narbonne.

9F59B936-99BB-4A59-81F4-C4FF6F9EB1FFI managed to organise a two hour gap at Carcassonne- long enough for a good ‘menu du jour’ lunch in the square before waving them off on the airport shuttle bus.

That left Stu and I to make the trip back up the Robine alone. We made way next morning, passing first into the fishing port in order to turn round, and then back into the canal.

We did not get far. After a kilometre, just as we reached the first lock and Stu was moving into the bank to put me ashore, the VNF van with a frantic lock keeper rushed up. With much waving of arms, shouting of “non, fermé, graves” we picked up that the lock was shut for a grave reason. We provided sellotape for his hand written sign to be affixed to the lock operations box, and settled down to an enforced 24 hour stop at Isle St Lucie, along with its ravenous mosquitoes!

Now those of you who can count will know that we have only met a duo of French strikes so far, and later that day the meaning of ‘graves’, or as it turned out, ‘gréves’, became apparent. It means strike – a lock keepers strike!

 

 

But it gave Stu and I the opportunity for a good long walk out amongst the old salt pans to the ruined buildings (one an old gun emplacement) where the étang meets the Med. And another paddling opportunity for me!

 

3D269729-B5C0-43AD-ACB7-1FBEC66C8FE6

Ready and waiting for Isle St Lucie lock to open

A night behind nets kept us safe from bites and at 9am next morning we were ready for Philipe, our new friend the éclusier, to arrive and switch on the lock mechanism. For a while it seemed that the fates were against us, when the lock filling stopped part way through – but a few hefty well placed jumps on the lock gates got things in motion.

The cruise up was as beautiful as the cruise down. There can be few stretches of canal as stunning as this on a blue sky day.

We were in a bit of a rush to get to Narbonne by midday, where we had set up a lunch date with friends. We kind of made it, to the outskirts, by midday, but it was closer to 1230 by the time we found Stu’s chosen mooring by the theatre. Our friends were undeterred, and a really good lunch ensued at the old mill restaurant by the Gua écluse. This was followed by Calliope coffee time.

After one night tied up outside the theatre, Captain’s expected mooring of choice for a few days, he decided it was a bit more lively than required so we drew in our lines, moved through the centre of a busy market-day Narbonne, up the bright flowery lock, under some interesting bridges, and around to moor above Gua.

IMG_7901.jpgAh, peace and relative tranquility!

 

Next day was Friday – 5 weeks of the season beneath our life-belts already! Also the day I fell ill for a few days, then flew to Greece for a week to go to a wedding’ leaving Captain Stu crewless for 7 days …….. blog to continue on my (healthy) return.

9489366D-C1F3-436B-A606-AE2D167598A9.jpeg