I planned not to do a blog for a while, but the temptation to share some of the things we have seen and done proves too great.
To be precise, 25 days were spent on the Midi, 1 on the Hérault, and 5 on the Canal du Rhône à Sète, which connects to the Mediterannean all over the place, so is sort of the sea. Also crossing the Étang de Thau is definitely a sea crossing, even if only two hours!
We have moved on from Castelnaudary, where I had rejoined Stewart after my week in the UK. The simple way to show it is with a copy of our calendar as I enter our mooring place for each night.
Although I realise you only see part of the longer named locations! Ah well, sorry. I’ll explain.
We left Castelnaudary on 30 June and after a relatively calm descent through various locks and a very shady lunch time stop we came to St-Sernin where we stayed the night. Despite my desire to desist from taking photos, the light and the shapes drew me in, so here are a few.
We travelled 5 kilometres and 5 locks next day in order to spend a night near Villepinte,
then on for a night at Villeséquelande ….. well it was supposed to be there, but when some (pleasant) local youths came to fish, drink, listen to music, and then collect wood for a bonfire we decided to just move a kilometre to a more peaceful night time mooring for old folk!
next morning, bright and sunny, we moved on to Carcassonne. The heavens smiled on us and a rare free mooring above the lock, long enough for a 20m barge, appeared to port.
What happened next is a minor happy blur of barbecued lamb, rosé, melon, salad and bonhomie. Somehow within minutes we had been invited aboard Escapade for lunch, taken food and drink contributions, helped in the kitchen, and sat around on the top deck making merry. Thank you David and Evelyn.
That evening we still managed to get to the Irish Bar to watch England in the quarter finals of the World Cup v Columbia, and, even more unlikely, managed to get going again next day – but only after Evelyn sold me her bike for a bargain price. More thanks due.
it was a week of lucky moorings. After leaving Carcassonne we initially made slow progress, queuing with other boats over the lunch hour for the double+single locks at Fresquel. The consequence of this was that we arrived at one of our favourite places, Villedubert lock, at a convenient time to stop.
The lock keeper said we could moor up below the lock, just beyond the waiting pontoon for boats going up. Ah, peace. Just so lovely all evening ……
….. until first one holiday boat arrived to spend the night – then a hotel barge came in for the night – then a second holiday boat ……. and in the morning, before we had even had breakfast a further two boats arrived to join the queue ‘going up’.
We made a quick escape and still in travelling mode we went for another one night stand, this time at Marseillett. Lo and behold, the wooden pontoon mooring we had hoped for was free.
This mooring is next to a canal-side gite and it was not long until we had made friends with the English couple staying there.
Their recommendation for the local vignonier led firstly to us making a trip to buy a case of rosé, secondly to sharing some of said rosé with our new friends, and thirdly to them coming aboard for a cruise down the canal next morning!
So after another beautiful evening on the canal, we were off, with the addition of Arabella, Ian and Charley the dog for the first few kilometres.
I don’t know which god we had pleased but s/he was smiling on us again. We came round the final bend into La Redorte to see the end of the wooden quay free and waiting for us. This meant a happy two days, encompassing the France quarter-final in the bar and the England quarter-final on the boat, utilising a Heath Robinson-esque assembly of wires, electronics and books to get sufficient reception for the best part of the match – we won!
Our social life continued to be busy with the arrival of Tesserae and an invitation to celebrate the victory with them. Thank you – lovely evening.
Carrying on downstream on 8th July we planned a stop in the countryside just below Ognon lock and ‘garden’, preferably in the shade because of the extreme heat (which continued for the rest of the month!).
We had something of a wait at both Ognon, and the previous lock, Homps, due to a large number of holiday ‘bumper boats’, many of whose helmsmen (and women) were very much learning the ropes! Éclusier’s lunch hour intervened, holding up six or seven boats at each lock – but the young éclusier at the double Ognon lock was keen to get down to ‘no waiting boats’ and had us passing one on its way up in between the two locks as we went down! Good man!
There is an artist based at the lock who has many of his vibrantly coloured sculptures watching from vantage points around the lock! It makes for a slightly bizarre but interesting experience.
Our mooring was in the shade, and allowed me one of my canal-dips. I cannot resist when it is so hot!
And afterwards a pre-dinner drink on the deck, watching the passing boats negotiate each other with varying degrees of chaos!
Stewart meanwhile was irritated by flies; I discovered on the internet that various herbs keep them at bay, so a small defensive wall of basil and rosemary was built, and seemed to work!
Next days cruise included going round the hairpin bend of the Pont-canal de Répudre, one of Riquet’s earliest and bravest pieces of canal architecture.
(Check out Paul Riquet on the internet – astonishing engineering 150 years before Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born>)
On then to Le Somail – we like this little hamlet. This time the ‘fig tree’ mooring was taken, but we had been told we could just squeeze in beyond the hotel barge mooring – told by a boat that is a few foot shorter than Calliope. We hung over into the ‘no parking zone by a metre and waited to see what happened.
What happened was Algeria! Luckily the captain was gracious and said that a metre here or there was no problem. Phew!
We spent two nights at le Somail, both with startling colours in the sky and on the boat – I’d vowed to take on more photos here, but these colours just draw me in.
The following morning lit up another palette of colours, this time reflected n the water. After a quick photoshoot including a view of the ‘other side’ of the famous le Somail bridge, we left for a dalliance on Canal de Jonction for reasons that will become apparent. We turned off the Midi and went down through 5 locks to Salleles d’Aude, mooring up as before near ……… the Domaine de 7 écluse cave!
Before long we had completed a re-stock of our favourite red and rosé wine boxes, plus a few bottles!
This photo is just part of the special purchase.
That evening was the hour of England’s finest football hour for many a year – reading the semi-final of the World Cup. We invited friends Carol and Martin to a quick early supper, then down to the bar to cheer our team on – sadly not to victory.
This was definitely only to be a one night side-stop so next morning Stewart, with great skill, turned the 20m that is Calliope around in the winding hole at Salleles. I was proud! Then back up the straight 3 kilometres and 5 locks that is the Canal de Jonction.
Just below the Midi, there was another shady mooring waiting for us for a night. (It doesn’t look so shady in the photo, but it shaded over beautifully.) A few natural moments here – a cicada, hardly visible on a tree trunk (one among many thousands that were ‘singing’); part of a fir cone; the fruit of an unknown tree; a sunset.
Moving on on Friday we re-joined the Midi, turning east this time. Once more we sought a shady rural spot to hide from the blazing sun (temperatures in the mid to high thirties every day), but the hoped for spots were either taken, or not shady. We ended up in full sun near Pont Malvies in amongst quite a row of live-aboards.
There was quite a breeze, and with our various covers over windows and hatches we were fine. A walk in the cooler evening air resulted in watching the sunset through the reeds.
But next day, with even higher temperatures predicted, we decided to find a cooler spot. First we cycled to Capestang for stores – sounds simple enough – a 12 minute ride according to Google maps. But we decided to go along the (extremely bendy) canal bank, rather than down the straight road! After an hour cycling, much in full sun and on hard baked bumpy tracks, we found Intermarché, but lacked the will of the energy to cycle back!
We bought Coke and sandwiches, found a shady spot, and took a rest. Then, fortified, we began the ride back, still on the canal bank because Stewart had a plan! We had passed a super shady spot on our way and by cycling back to that point Stewart could leave me and the shopping while he went to fetch the boat!
Great plan – worked a treat, especially for me with an hour to sit in the shade with my toes in the water! And nice for Stu too, who found two Azure-winged Magpie feathers on his ride.
And when he arrived back with Calliope and we had an afternoon, evening and 2 nights there. Our only disturbances were ‘bumper boats’ that chose not to slow down past moored boats and threatened to pull out mooring pins out. However nothing amiss occurred.
Now came time to pass under Capestang bridge. For those who do not know, this is often referred to as the lowest bridge on Canal du Midi – it is true in part. It has particularly low shoulders, making the edges of wheelhouse roofs vulnerable.
Stewart was keen to know just how much space we had, so armed with tape measure and camera I attempted to take photos as we passed through! We had had ideas of mooring in Capestang, but no room at the port so we continued to second choice Poilhés – and I am glad we had that choice forced upon us!
What a lovely little village. It was a recommendation from our mates Carol and Martin, and justly so. I cannot describe the pure visual delights of the sun moving across the old stone walls.
We were joined by other friends for lunch at the slightly funky Les Plantanes for very delicious food on one day, and stayed on for another two nights just because we liked it – oh and to use up time before our booked mooring at Béziers; more of that to come.
With two nights to fill before Béziers we aimed for Colombiers, going through the Malpas tunnel along the way.
We were hoping for a 20m space, but none appeared. As we were leaving the village past a row of long-term moorings a very helpful Frenchman appeared from his cruiser to let us know that there was a space we could use a little further along!
We found it, half hidden amongst the reeds, and a very fine space it was.
And so it was we spent two nights at Colombiers. This is yet another fascinating and scenic village, steeped in history.
There were insects and flowers to enjoy too – apparently the largest wasp in France, but not dangerous to humans. Certainly we escaped unharmed..
Then finally the short stretch into Béziers, along the narrowed canal, then down the 9 écluses de Fonserannes and into the port.
(Our resident raconteur makes light of the Bezier locks; it’s a spurs earning achievement – especially going up ’em!)
We had booked for two nights, but stayed for three, fitting in a good look round the old city, the servicing of our central heating boiler (ironic in such heat), and a new bottle of gas thanks to new friends George and Pam on the boat next door who had a car.
They also saved me a cycle ride to the Brico for necessary timber to mend the parasol – I was all ready to go when George found a suitable piece of wood down below.
We took walks along the river Orb in evening and morning light …
… and a lively evening drinking and talking with George and Pam, plus Lee and Kristie from the cruiser next door.
There were colours and shadows drawing the eye and the camera all around the port. Maybe it was the time of the year, but the sun light was painting such beautiful pictures everywhere I looked!
After three good days in Béziers it was time to move along the canal, stopping first at the next village, Villeneuve-les-Béziers, meeting up again with good friends Martin and Carol; Martin had somehow managed to keep us a mooring place on the quay in the shade! Marvellous man.
We only stopped for the one night – have I mentioned our batteries yet? A series of misadventures, including two winters where, for different reasons, we lost shore power and drained the batteries, has resulted in us suddenly losing voltage on our domestic battery bank – fridge (with cold beer in it), freezer, air con, water pumps, lights …. computer recharge! So we had to urgently get new batteries. A series of enquiries anded up with us ordering them to arrive in Frontignan and we were now heading that way.
Our journey took us to Vias for one night, where a 5 minute cycle ride brings you to the Med and a nice evening swim!
Then an early, short, journey along to Agde round lock, where we spent two hours queuing, going through, and leaving. This round lock has three entrances, and once we were in with three other boats, the lock emptied enough to open the gates to the lower Hérault connection in order for three small boats to join us, then filled up again so that we could all go off East. We were largest, so first in and last out, allowing Stewart to manoeuvre us 180 degrees to moor and then 180 degrees to leave! Takes a while!
We were soon away from the other boats, turning up the beautiful Hérault.
There was an idea to moor at the pontoon at Bessan, but it was ‘taken’ by three boats we know from the Canal de Garonne. Not to worry – there are plenty of trees to moor under and tie up to, and we found our spot.
A dinghy of two friends turned up from Bessan inviting us to join them for supper, but we absolutely could not get ashore, even trying the ladder into the water, which was far far to deep!
We had a relaxed evening, in our different ways. I swam in the cool extremely clear water – some of the softest I have ever found. Stu found that crosswords (not sure if he was completing them or creating them) and red wine was just as soothing.
I think this is where we picked up a mysterious friend, initially thought to be a grasshopper, but that idea discarded as he (or she) did not have the right back legs, or wings. Various species were suggested by friends on Facebook, the closest, in looks, being a weta from New Zealand!
Then the mission to Frontignan continued, out of the river, and along the final stretch of the Midi and –
– across the Étang de Thau. Note I’m the helmsman across the Étang, which is a little more like open sea and totally loved by me. (Dancing a hornpipe on the inside!) (Doing a crossword by t’other)
We arrived in Frontignan on Friday, were blessed by just a perfect mooring place including electricity, and settled in. Amongst the angst of getting batteries ordered and delivered (can’t be done until Monday) we enjoyed the town, as we had done before.
Frontignan is the Muscat capital of the world, so after a Muscat in the square we went for a pizza, where we had a free Muscat! Next morning dawned with blue skies, sun and reflections.
It was market day, and not only that, I noticed that there was the annual Muscat festival taking place within the market! We headed off there for fresh stores and Muscat tasting. I bought a tasting session to combine Muscat and food – first with oysters (a dry one), then with chèvre, goats cheese (a sweet one) and finally with chocolate ( a densely sweet and aged one – sounds like me, ha ha). It was a very good experience, one to be repeated.
The old town is a maze of the narrowest streets ever, with interesting views round each twist.
Sunday morning we went for a walk around the old salt pans before it got too hot. The flooded pans are full of flamingos, waders, gulls and various fish.
Then, on Sunday evening, a treat. I lived in a fishing village in Malta as a child. Every year the statue would be taken from the church and paraded along the quay, then a fiesta would ensue. This was a smaller version of the same idea. The Frontignan church has as its saint St Paul, who, traditional has it, was shipwrecked in Malta. So one way and another I felt an affinity, even though not religious.
The little wooden statue of St Paul was taken from the church in the morning in a little boat full of gladioli. This boat was taken by boat to the sea, and he spent the day at the seaside, bringing blessings to the fishermen who still work the area, plus all us other mariners. In the evening he returned and was met by a small band of musicians, some traditional dancers, and a crowd of people.
We paraded Paul through the narrow streets and back to his church, where after a short service and some traditional singing – we all drank Muscat out of plastic cups! And we ate little ‘barque’ (boat) shaped biscuits.
Next day, our three allowed days n Frontignan being up, we came out of town a couple of kilometres and moored up opposite old fisherman’s cottages (now mostly holiday homes), to await battery arrival.
Looked like we might be here awhile, so we got the bikes out and started to explore. We went to the Brico, (bought a tough sack trolley for moving batteries) the Intermarché, and, more interestingly, to Sète. It was a bit of an inferno adventure. It was very hot, Stewart ad a puncture on the way; I set off into town with his front wheel, got a new inner tube fitted, and set off back – only to miss him, cycle far further than necessary in midday sun, while he was half carrying a unicycle bicycle and getting just as hot and bothered!
Once we met up, all was well. We had lunch in the town hall square, where a fabulous tenor popped out of a bar to sing Opera (capital O) to us all. Then a walk round town and a visit to the gallery of Contemporary Art before a slow cycle back.
A swim in the salty water of the canal (which also has the small tides of the Med to take us up and down) helped cool me down and the final day of July was spent happily on the back deck waiting for our cabin to cool down from its 32 degrees.
Every finger crossed that our batteries arrive soon and we can switch the air con on from time to time!è