Voyaging on through Eastern Limburg

Albertkanaal (a little), Kanaal Briegden-Neerharen, some of Zuidwillemsvaart and Kanaal Borcholt-Herentals, plus Kanaal de Beverlo

8th to 17th August 2020

Up we came through Visé lock and back onto the Albert Kanaal, with El Perro Negro not far behind. It was a boiling hot day – well up to 36C – and part of a 10 day long heatwave. I never thought that cruising in Belgium would be as hot as the Canal du Midi!

I was just as surprised by the landscape surrounding the canal. We were up in Belgium’s hill country; it’s not as flat as one expects.

An hour after casting off we were passing the massive locks down towards Maastricht. This was not for us in 2020; coronavirus put paid to our plans for a summer in the Netherlands, with 2 weeks quarantine in either direction across this border.

Cruising on between the hills – almost mountains in Belgian terms – I became aware just how close to the Netherlands border we were – it was just over the hill to our right!

I have complemented the Belgian’s on their bridge building in the past, and here is another interesting one. Yes, it is rather straight and flat, but built into its left side support is a very modern restaurant, with a balcony looking out over the water. Here is my day time photo, and the much more atmospheric architect’s night time one.

Not long after this we moved on to our next Limburgen canal – the little Canal from Briegden to Neerharen, a mere 4.5kms long, with two deep locks. The junction of this canal with the continuation of the larger Albert Kanaal was at a big widening of the canal, offering us a choice of left or right forks.

We chose to go right, entering a much narrower world, and a rural wait at the first lock while the lock keeper who managed the whole stretch brought a commercial barge up from the other end.

Before too long we, with El Perro Negro, were moving into the lock, and discovering that it was quite a long way down, and not an easy ride. I was unable le to move my mooring rope down the bollards in the wall as normal, and Calliope’s bow swung over to the other side of the lock. Luckily I could connect with a bollard there and we moved on down diagonally across the lock!

We chose to moor up for the night above the next lock, just a kilometre or so further along. It was a pleasantly quiet place, with a metal grid pontoon holding a surprise.

A pair of coots had built their best on one of the wooden supports to the pontoon, directly below the metal grid, which was extremely hot to the touch in the 36 degree heat. And the eggs began to hatch – here is one little coot with mum, while expectant dad swims about nervously.

And who else was swimming, although not nervously? I did have a purpose this time, to try to look at the bow thruster which might have stuff caught in it – but I really needed a mask for that, and anyway it all worked fine next time we used it.

As the evening rolled we enjoyed yet another hour or two on the back deck watching the sky turn pink and the wine glasses empty.

Sunday morning was cloudy, though still warm. I went off early, for me, to buy bread from a supermarket a kilometre up the canal. It deliciously began to rain as I went – that summer rain with big splats throwing up dust, and like a cooling shower after all the hot weather. But by the time I got back it had stopped. And in the meantime the Captain had been finishing repairs to the mast.

With supplies in place and repairs complete it was decided that we would move on that afternoon – not far, but to explore Eisden. This necessitated going down the deep Neerharen lock, but this time we had spotted the wires set into inlets down the wall and, being the only boat in the lock, we could position ourselves to use these bow and stern. An easy peasy glide down was achieved!

Within half a kilometre we had joined the Zuid-Willemsvaart at a wide, open junction.

And soon we were going through a series of beautifully labelled bridges, each with its kilometre marking too!

Eisden is an interesting place. It’s history is mega-coalmining, with a patriarchal system providing decent homes, gardens and environment for the miners – and grand houses and offices for the owners!

Most of the industrial side has now gone, but two mine shafts remain and a hotel now occupies the main administrative building.

A modern outlet shopping village, apparently similar to Vista near Oxford, has been built and is impressive in its layout and shops – although I am not a shopper and just did a quick walk through!

There is a small mining museum in the town but only open at weekends so it did not coincide with our visit. However it was still a pleasant walk into the town with its leafy roads.

Other areas were down as wild flower meadows – altogether a well managed place.

There seemed to have been a ‘decorate your own oil drum’ festival with lots of interesting variations along the streets. One was a robot, another a cocktail bar; this one had a ballet dancing theme.

The temperature was still way up in the high 30s during our time at Eisden. The visiting swans looked so cool I took a leaf from their book.

After two nights in Eisden we moved on to a village called Tongerlo where we hoped a) to fill up with water, and b) to have a beer in the bar next to the mooring.

Neither were to be. The water tap was set way back from the pontoon to service camper vans and our hose was too short! And the weather was so hot that the bar was closing from 1300 to 1900 each day, so our thoughts of beer before our 7pm supper time were dashed!

That evening the weather broke and I had another excuse to get drenched, crawling on the roof to get the canvas cover back onto the dog box. For me such moments are real fun. Yes, I’m weird!

After the rain I took a quick walk round the village. Then I want to nice older buildings amongst the more modern homes. And also a welcoming Muscovy duck!

We had heard of a nice peaceful morning not far away near Bochult lock, so in the morning we set off to find it. Our friends on Dreamer were still there and we tied up behind them with our back deck facing this tranquil scene.

There were a couple of interesting things in the immediate area. One was a bailey bridge, still standing 75 years after WW2. We heard the rumble of traffic across the bridge from time to time, but sometimes it turned out to be thunder!

Next day Dreamer set off under the bridge and we waved goodbye to our friends Mieke and Frans, and their dog Google.

Later we cycled over the bridge and into Bochult town for a re-provisioning trip.

The trip took us to the far side of the canal (I always think of Gary Larson when I type those last three words); this gives a good perspective of the mooring.

I’m going to interject a technical note here because I was so impressed by it! Apparently it’s not at all unique, but a first for me. At the side of the lock was a sluis allowing all extra water to whoosh through, with all accompanying debris caught on a grid – except that this machine periodically scoops it up and puts it into the adjacent skip! Love it!

The peace and quiet, day and night, (apart from the occasional passing cycling team or commercial barge), was so delightful we stayed three nights.

Despite the (continuing) heat we went for a good walk up the canal bank, mostly in the shade. Stu caught me wondering which way to go.

We worked it out – it was to the local ice cream/ bar with friends from another boat for a socially distanced beer! This being Limburg, home of Kriek cherry beer, I had yet another of those.

Next morning it was our turn to go under the Bailey bridge and on along the straight misty canal.

Three things caught my attention as we cruised gently along. All along these canals near the Netherlands border are ‘pill box’ type buildings with slits for guns to guard the canals during the war. On a lighter note we’re the graffiti style artwork under each bridge, and the way the bridges are named.

And thirdly I was taken with the Captain’s comment about these birds – “geese taking a gander.”

We had more than half a plan to get to Blauwe Kai, a big basin at the top of the Beverlo canal, and moor up with El Perro Negro, but 5 kilometres beforehand and right on lunchtime we saw other friends on Dreamer in a neat little cutting, looking very rural. Frans came out and immediately started his engine to move up and make room for us! It’s the power of WOB (Women on Barges) friendships that does it.

After a bit of jiggling we were moored behind them and a plan for drinks at 5pm emerged. Before that we had a walk in the woods, which turned out to be a big Centre Parcs site too.

A lovely evening was had by all, even if a rainstorm brought our planned al fresco drinks into the wheelhouse. It culminated, for me, with a dusk time walk and dance along the canal a kilometre or so; altogether a wonderful evening,

The next morning had shrugged off last nights rain and together we and Dreamer set off to Blauwe Kai, just 5 kms on. This is the name of the big basin where Beverlo joins Bocholt-Herentals. It’s name derives from the algae in the water here which apparently can produce rashes and diarrhoea! No swimming for me here then,

The first thing for Calliope was to fill up with fresh water, tying up behind fellow Piper boat on the water pontoon.

While Stu managed the water loading I cycled off to find bread – initially along the wrong road! The heat had returned and I was a bit tired when I returned, exaggerated by finding my boat and Captain had disappeared!

But all was well. On questioning a nearby fisherman I discovered that he had had to move off the water pontoon and was now ‘round the corner’ at the top of the Beverlo Canal. I climbed the bridge – another Bailey – in time to see a long commercial barge carefully negotiating first the bridge and then Calliope!

We liked this mooring, just tucked into the top of the canal. Passing working barges were moving very slowly because if the bridge and we were hardly stirred, let alone shaken.

In the afternoon we went for a walk between two big lakes and back along the canal.

The sun was behind us on the last stretch and I found a new use for my super sun hat, this time as a shoulder protector!

That evening we went for a good rib supper with El Perro Negro crew (quite the socialites these days) at the local restaurant, with the obligatory beer course first! It had been raining but the large parasol was not required that evening.

We awoke to our last day/s in Limberg. The plan was a cruise down the 15kms of the Beverlo canal and moor in Leopoldsburg for a day or two. It is mostly a very pretty canal, a gentle journey.

Some work was being done to improve the edges and banks just after we began – cheerful workman with his crane.

There are interesting bits – for example the lift bridge that has yellow ‘hard hats’ on its four supports!

And we found the huge industrial quays where the commercial barges had been heading.

When we reached Leopolodsburg a helpful harbourmaster came to see if he had space for or almost 20m boat, but all the spaces were 15m so Stu performed a perfect 9 point turn in the basin at the end of the canal and we began our return journey. I was so busy looking for a mooring that I didn’t take any photos!

But I got a couple of a Bailey bridge with Bailey style wooden supports, which was pleasing.

After a few kilometres we decided to moor up for lunch at a spot that said no anchoring but had posts for mooring.

It was a nice spot for lunch and we were considering staying there for the night. There were water lilies everywhere, dragonflies and flowers.

Our plans were foiled when a Flanders Waterways man appeared to let us know we must not moor there …… so we cast off and retrod our watery steps to the top of the canal where we began, passing by the places constructed for deer to climb back out of the canal and the mix of rural and industrial areas.

It was our last evening in Limburg. While Stu took to the galley I took a walk round the Blauwe Kai basin and down by the first two Mol locks that we would go through the next day.

Then we settled down to a peaceful evening and a good nights sleep in preparation for our departure from Limburg and entry into the region of Antwerp.

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Lower Reaches of the Meuse (or Maas) in Belgium ….

… with a little bit of the Albert Canal, and the two tiny canals of Monsin and Haccourt-Visé

28th July – 7th August 2020

We were back on the Meuse after a year and a month. Last time we came downstream from France and turned off at Namur. This time we popped out of the Dendre at Namur and turned downstream towards Liège.

It was excellent fun having new special crew abroad who had not cruised with us before.

Broken rails over door at Grand-Malades lock

We had two locks to go through and we were very pleased to have the assistance at the first, where the bollards were widely spaced and also the ropes needed to be re-hung at different levels as we went down. Someone had had greater problems than us in this lock – the lock door is the type that rises from under the water. It looks like someone did not wait long enough and tried to drive over it!

Both crew took a turn at the helm and show themselves very capable!

And gave us all time to put our feet up as well.

The blend of old industry and nature was all around us – destined to become more industrial as we approached Liège in a few days time.

We came into Huy under the modern bridge of which they are very proud – ought to be one of the 4 wonders of Huy –

– and chose to initially moor up next to the bridge in the middle of town, despite the sign saying no mooring without authorisation.

So what did we do? We went to the tourist office and got authorisation – In fact they were surprised we asked and said nobody else ever moored there.

So moored up and lunched we set about exploring this rather interesting and characterful small town.

This began with a climb to the top of the rock opposite the boat where a huge triangular citadel, Li Tchestia, sits looking out over the river, (Huy wonder 1). There is of course plenty of history to this 1818 fortress but for now suffice it to say that PG Wodehouse was incarcerated here for a few weeks, along with hundreds of other prisoners, during the Second World War.

First we toured the cells, administration rooms, and displays.

Then we climbed the steps to the top.

The views from the big grassy roof were wonderful. Little Calliope can be seen in the third photo …..

… and from there the Captain, who had stayed with his ship, took a photo of us tourists above.

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that we had worked up a thirst for a beer in the square by the time we climbed back down. We arranged to meet the Captain by the 15th century fountain, Li Bassinia, (Huy wonder 2). He was ready and waiting with a hop and a skip ….

Thee are plenty of bars to choose from on the main square – and plenty of beers to choose from too.

We carried on to supper in the Irish bar – a bizarre concept in the middle of Belgium but they had the best deal on new season moules.

The bridge we were moored next to was the third wonder of Huy, Li Pontia. It had so many guises, depending on the tine of day. Here are just two views.

Due to coronavirus the town could not have its usual summer festival, but a plethora of metal sculptures around the town made it seem an artistic environment.

The following day our crew had to leave, but luckily not until the afternoon. This meant we had time for coffee in the square, an exploration of the market and a chance to buy some good cheeses, bread, fruit and a delicious rotisserie chicken for our lunch.

Masks for coronavirus

Captain and I walked up to the station and waved a sad farewell before returning to Calliope.

Then off for a walk, and over the old railway bridge – iconic in its own way, but not a Huy wonder.

We took our chance to walk through some of the oldest streets of Huy and discovered the quirky museum sited in an old abbey cloister.

The museum housed many old artefacts of ordinary life in Huy over the centuries, as well as more art based exhibits. It also housed some of the Cats of Huy – another summer festival substitute, and to be found everywhere.

We also went top the cathedral and saw the last of thew four wonders of Huy – Li Rondia – the rose window. My photos does not do it justice, nor justice to the East window and part of a wonderful art exhibition that was there at the time.

A last beer in Huy square before checking into the fritterie on the quayside – most excellent!

(Most of my beers look like cherryade, but they are Kriek, Belgian cherry beer!)

Time then to sit back and enjoy the reflections of old Huy across the Meuse.

Now, time to start planning our next move! A split hose in one of the toilets meant that we needed to find an address to which a new part could be posted. Luckily the yacht club just down stream could do that for us so we cast off next morning and travelled a couple of kilometres before tying up in the club basin.

We fully expected to be waiting at least five days for the new part from the UK so we settled in and got to know our new surroundings. To be honest there was not a lot to learn. We were very close to a busy road and rail line with no shops or bars nearby. 

And also close to a nuclear power station and gravel yard.

The saving grace was a small nature reserve that had been created within the adjacent basin. It was a pleasant place to walk around in the evening.

The reserve was built around an old basin that was presumably once busy with industry. A long pier marks the entrance.

Quite amazingly the part arrived the very next day, received by me sitting in the shade by the unmanned Capitainerie, worried that the courier would go away if the delivery was not really easy.

The weather was just entering about 10 days of heatwave, with temperatures over 32, and up to 38, every day – so no surprise that I was back in the water! Stewart thought I would come out luminous green.

We stayed one more night, allowing Senior Poo Engineer to felt the loo, and us to see the cooling towers in the warm glow of evening light before we left.

So after two nights at Corphalie we left the port and were back out on the mighty Meuse.

Our next move, a little further downstream, was to moor up to a high quay in the lea of an island. This gave us some protection from the wash and turbulence of the big commercial barges ploughing up and down the river.

It turned out to be wonderful. We were moored so low down the quay, to bollards in the wall, that we were out of sight of passers-by and could sit on the back deck watching kingfishers and the other birds that used the Island. As usual there are no photos of the kingfishers!

No kingfishers, but we did have one avian visitor who wanted to pose!

Once again we were adjacent to a nature reserve, this time created from a huge old gravel pit. It even had a bird hide, although not much to see at this time of year. Presumably the quay we were attached to had originally been the place for barges to moor and take away the gravel.

We spent two nights here and did have a mini explore of Amay, the local village. Like so many places in the area it has had an illustrious past. The church and many of the houses were quite grand in style.

Now it was time to move a lot further downstream, to Liège. The days cruising only included one lock, but for that one we had a bit of a wait outside and then a bit more inside, as so often happens. It was all very gentle and pleasant, this time with unbroken railings on the upstream gate, and nice floating bollards to ease our descent.

Above Ovoz-Ramet lock at Flémalle a chateau, built high on a rocky outcrop, peered down at our progress.

It was obvious we were moving away from the countryside and into an area of current and past industry. Some of the buildings and structures that intrigued us included an old blast furnace ….

…. and a series of about 12 ‘station de pompage’ (pumping stations). The latter had been built across a period that included both art nouveau and art deco styles. Here are just two; I should have taken photos of more of them!

We came under the famous bridge at Liège and found the long pier where we planned to moor completely empty! So we had our choice of places to tie up.

The pier offered lots of photo opportunities – on the left is a view from a higher vantage point, and then yours truly posing in the ring sculptures at the land end of the pier. Apparently there is a fountain installed at the far end, sadly not operational during our stay.

And for the eagle-eyed, yes we had been joined by other boats by then! Firstly the Piper Boat previously encountered upstream, with whom we shared a glass or two, and then Dreamer, our friends from Ninove.

The water that floods under the central section of the pier made this a surprisingly bumpy mooring each time a commercial barge went by – and even more so when two passed each other beside us! This is warning for those who follow us; moor towards one end or the other of the pier, avoiding the section where you can see the water flows beneath! We moved after a couple of nights as the commercial boats move from about 5.30am until about 10pm!

We stayed late for four nights, using the days to gently explore the city. It was still a place of coronavirus restrictions, with masks worn in all busy public places, restaurants carefully measuring the distance between tables, and hand sanitiser every few paces (it seemed).

The first building I fell for was this modern blue edifice, home to the Ministry of Finance and at leat one finance company – I think. Next was the stunning and inspiring station just Wow! You cannot trust appreciate it from this photo – just take my word for it.

Then we went for what is, apparently, the top tourist attraction in Liège; this was not one for a hot hot day, so I cooled down by a fountain first.

It is the 374 steps of the Montagne de Bueren, taking you from the old town by the river up to the citadel at the top.

Then a further 52 steps up to the memorial at the very top. We did them all.

It was worth it for the view!

It was now definitely time to sit down for a rest in the shade! Stu found the appropriate spot (to rest, in a knackered sort of a way…)

We found a different way down, through very pretty narrow cobbled lanes, winding between the high walls of gardens and houses; a ‘Zone calme’ indeed. (Whoops, one too many photos of me; sorry) (Whoops, crew has noticed the slightly ironic sign above her…)

Luckily we found Lou’s bar, in the shade, with cool beer to aid recovery.

Liège is the third largest city in Belgium and the old quarter is full of ancient churches, squares and lanes – and also full of the bustle and hustle of a modern centre with shopping arcades and busy streets. But our mooring was effectively on a large island, mostly given over to a pleasant park popular with the Liègoise. (Apologies again – I just can’t keep out of water!)

Our days in Liège meant I had time to photograph the surrounding waterside quite a few times; the trumpeting cherubs are at either end of Fragnes bridge.

Fragne bridge is so lovely, so one more photo at dusk to show it off some more.

Evenings were lovely on the back deck, finally in the shade after hot hot days. Our mooring was at the junction with the Ourthe river, here disappearing South through a bridge.

For just one night we were joined by El Perro Negro and Dreamer; three WOBs (Women on Barges) in a row.

After the four days and nights we were ready to move on to our last section of the Meuse, interspersed with a short time on the Albertkanaal, and also the mini connecting canals of Monsin and Haccourt-Visé.

We set off under the many bridges of Liège, past many wonderful buildings, and my favourite statue. Oh that I had that energy and bounce in my body now.

As we cruised downstream we looked up at the citadel and the hill we had climbed a few hot days before, and enjoyed the fact that it is always cooler on the water.

Before long we met the Albertkanaal, marked at its beginning with the HUGE Albert monument, sadly in the shade on our approach.

That didn’t stop me attempting to capture its height, majesty and style – front and back.

Only two kilometres on and we were at the Monsin lock where we could rejoin the Meuse (or Maas as it is called in Flandria) for a while, away from the hectic swirl of commercial traffic – not that bad really!). We had not realised that this lock only operates three times as day, and that we had three hours to wait, in the shade. It was also our official entry to Flandria from Wallonia so much paperwork ensued in the lock office!

We were travelling with El Perro Negro, and both crews took the time for lunch, rest and relaxation.

Then we were through the lock and cruising along the Maas, fully expecting to find a nice mooring in the shade somewhere. But it was not to be. After the full 10 kilometres of the river between Monsin and Visé, including the port at Visé, we found nowhere suitable.

Eventually, speaking to the harbourmaster at Visé, a very nice and helpful man, El Perro Negro were allowed to use an absent boat’s mooring for a night, and we tied up at the lock back to the Albertkanaal.

This turned out to be a lovely last resort! Calliope, dressed overall with her extreme heat uniform of un-uniform drapes and shades, helped us cool down from a very hot day.

After a siesta the evening light was just right for deadheading geraniums, a gentle supper and cold drinks on the back deck, again! And we were joined by a butterfly – maybe a comma?

The morning was as bright as was expected and the lock was lit by sunlight. It was the 7th August; the heatwave was with us for another week by the look of it!

So into the lock which was pleasantly spraying water all over me; towel at the ready.

And goodbye, Meuse/Mass; we go back onto the Albertkanaal.

From Blaton to Namur; a journey of 3 canals

22 – 27 July 2020

Canals Nimy-Blaton-Peronne, du Centre, and Brussels-Charleroi

As we left the Ath-Blaton Canal at Blaton and joined the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes our hearts sank a little; we were leaving a narrow-gauge rural canal for the width of the commercial , industrial, super highway canal system again.

But we needn’t have worried, al least not at the start. Having negotiated the final 7 locks in the Ath-Blaton we still reached our next mooring by midday.

This was the Grand Large de Pommeroeul – an amazingly peaceful mooring on a very long pier in a large basin.There was only one other barge on the pier – somewhat larger than its and making Calliope suddenly microscopic! (It’s a bit of an optical illusion in fact, but don’t let that stop a good story…)

The basin was to be the start of the new Pommeroeul-H….. Canal, linking Belgium and France. However after 10 years of operation from 1982-92 the ‘siltation’ was so bad that out had to close. The Belgians dredged their side; the French, so far, have not – although it is due to be done by 2021.

In the meantime all the necessary equipment – locks, sluices, piers etc – remain unused. The huge lake after the first lock is now a leisure amenity for the locals, great for swimming, canoeing, fishing, jet-skiing and more.

We took a walk (2.5kms) into the village of Pommeroeul, famous for its ‘croncq clocher’, the crooked steeple of the church, and its iguanodons. I have photos of the former, but not the latter. The museum of the iguanodons should be visited if you like dinosaurs; in the 19th century coal miners discovered a huge mass of fossilised dinosaur bones including several full iguanodons, crocodiles, birds and other.

Our view out across the Grand Large changed rather when a second commercial barge joined us. It was from the Infinity group; we have met up with several of these barges and the crews have always been polite and friendly, so no surprise when later on the Captain walked along the pier for a chat.

The change in view made no difference to our enjoyment of the evening in the sun at (almost) the centre of a wide open water space. Cheers!

We awoke to another glorious day and were off Eastwards along the canal.

Now it did begin to seem more industrial! This would continue through most of our journey past Charleroi and a bit beyond! (Great photo LJ)

At Mons we moved seamlessly from the Nimy-Blaton-Peronne canal onto the Canal du Centre. The occasional more rural scene did appear.

And we had the first of our larger locks, 5m deep and about 80m long, shortly followed by one of 10m depth. We ascended both with no problem, with the floating bollards in the big one making things much easier.

At Thieu the quay was mainly empty; we were soon moored up and could have lunch. All very peaceful.

Boats went by.

Fisherman (Tweedledum and Tweedledee) came and went.

Then there were three things of interest that happened over the next 21 hours …..

….. we walked up the old Canal Historique, getting great views of Ascenseur 4, the final downstream one of the four that took barges up and down prior to the new(ish) method.

We were also allowed into the working area. The old Ascenseur works using two boat lifts and the counterbalance of water to raise and lower them. Although water supplies the ‘muscle’, it is still manually operated. (Smelled like an old machine shop too – Mmmmmmm)

It is a lovely walk along the old canal historique to Strèpy. Last time we were here the annual festival was on and it was a very lively place all along the canal bank – much quieter this time.

We searched for a bar with a nice open seating area – still on the 1.5m distance coronavirus rules – but only found this one bar open; friendly and good beer.

You can get good sense of the grandeur of the aquaduct leading up to the top of the modern boat lift when walking the old canal path.

And also good views of the ascenseur (the boat-lift) over the top of the lower part of Strépy.

On the return from our walk we were a little alarmed to see lots of blue flashing lights near Calliope! As we got closer it was clear it was not a boat in trouble. A car had gone into the canal, luckily with no people inside.

After 2 ambulances, 3 police cars, 2 fire brigade vehicles (one for diving equipment) and a car from the Wallonian waterways authority, the rescue got underway. A car breakdown truck completed the team and a yellow VW Polo was dragged out.

The last of the interesting events at Thieu was the planned one – going up, next day, on the Strepy-Thieu Ascenseur.

We came down it last year, so it was not completely new, but it is spectacular and amazing in its engineering and views nonetheless.

So no apologies for all the photos. I was amused by the ‘Risk of Decapitation’ sign – I managed to keep my head.

We continued along the modern Canal du Centre, through the Porte de Garde, with black clouds looming. But they came to naught.

At the end there is a T junction with the Canal Brussels-Charleroi. We were expecting this to be horribly industrial – our memories did not serve us well because it meanders along between gentle green hills for quite a way. (We know Charleroi itself will be a different story!)

The mooring plan was to be above the lock at Viesville, where we stayed last year. This worked out fine; plenty of space

We knew there was the chance of being gradually surrounded by gentle-giant commercial barges as they came in to rest overnight, but in fact only one arrived, reflected magnificently in the evening light.

Even the lock had an industrial beauty that evening.

More interesting was the boat moored below the lock – another Piper barge that we had been communicating with for about a year, but never met, so we walked down the hill to say hello to El Perro Negro and crew.

They were waiting for a diver to return to fix a new impeller in their bow thruster, to replace the one damaged by something in the water – always a risk along the waterways.

After that pleasant interlude it was back to Calliope for supper and a stroll along the bank, before bed.

As we left next day the rain arrived as we descended the lock – quite a deep one at 7m.

Below the lock we passed El Perro Negro, waving and promising to meet up again soon, which in fact we did that evening, after a long days cruising for both boats.

We had a couple more 7m locks to go down before Charleroi – both happily with floating bollards and small bollards in the wall, spaced reasonably for a 20m boat if you get in the centre of the lock.

It was still felt quite ‘country’ as we came through those last two locks, with herons and other birds still in evidence.

We were ready for the industrial nature of Charleroi, rather run-down and abandoned, and found this graffiti really cheered it up.

Stewart has on his mind that Charleroi is a horrendous place to take a barge through. Certainly last year it was quite early on in our experience of Belgium’s big canals and massive barges. There are double right-angle blind bends moving from Canal Brussels-Charleroi Canal to La Sambre and it is right to proceed with caution.

The lock in Charleroi is right in the middle of current and redundant industry. Sounds of crashing metal ring out all around.

And one must be extra aware of commercial barges coming towards you as you leave this lock as you enter a length of waterway where you drive on the left – not the right! It’s a ‘blue boarding’ area if you are over 20m; with Calliope just under 20m we don’t have blue boards, but Captain said I should be ready with a large blue seat cushion, just in case.

It was now just one day away from additional crew joining us at Namur, so we made an emergency stop at Tamines where you can more up right next to a supermarket – although several feet below pavement level!

Just a few kilometres on and we could finally stop for the night at Auvelais. The pontoon here is quite a sweet place to stop, although there seemed to be more trains than last time we were here! Not long after El Perro Negro arrived, diving work on the bow thruster complete. Cause for a joint celebratory drink with them; just the right end to the day.

After the pleasant aperitif interlude, and after supper, I went for an exploratory walk looking for the local Intermarché. Although we had shopped earlier that day we had not managed to find fresh milk – often a problem in Wallonia. In climbed up and up towards a main road, suddenly finding myself in a lovely woodland war cemetery – far from what I had expected and very quiet and peaceful.

My walk back was on the opposite bank (don’t ask!) and I caught a different view of the mooring along with some old Auvelais riverside buildings.

Next morning we were off down to Namur to moor up and be ready for our guests arrival at the station. First things first – I went over to the village to get some fresh bread for our lunch – in the rain.

We set off quite early for us, now in the sun, and soon reached the first lock at Mornimont, where we were told we must wait for two more boats to join us. Oh well.

It turned out that one of the boats we were waiting for was El Perro Negro! They had phoned ahead to the lock before setting off and we then waited 40 minutes for them to catch us up. Could have stayed in bed!

We continued on down the Sambre, passing the striking abbey at Floreffe, particularly magnificent as we passed with this ‘biblical’ sky behind it.

Two hours later and we were moored up in Namur, on the Sambre, tied to railings and with a hanging wall for company.

The debarkation method was interesting, and tried out after lunch; it works.

Then we rested and waited until time to go to the station and meet new masked crew – our eldest two, Amanda and Ashley, who had travelled ‘coronavirus-safe’ all the way by Eurostar and Belgian rail to Namur.

It was so good to have them aboard – competent crew to be tested on our cruise down the Meuse.

They arrived a day after Belgium announced that masks must be worn in all public areas, including streets, and only taken off at home or when you sit down at a bar or restaurant – which we did several times over the next 30 hours.

We had a full day next day in Namur, and used it to cross the Sambre and explore the amazing citadel up above the other side. The ‘Searching for Utopia’ by Jan Fabre – it is a self portrait astride the turtle and a copy of the one we saw in Nieuweport last year.

The views from the citadel are amazing as I am sure you can imageine. Here are a few from the top.

The happy captain playing games – can you spot him?

We spent the second evening aboard Calliope, starting with a good selection of starters, which attracted a wasp that got trapped in Amanda’s hair – the brave Captain chased it off!

We were also joined by geese who guzzled up any spare bread we had on offer!

As the sun got lower in the sky there was the occasional swell in the water as big barges with friendly crew passed gently by.

An extra evening stroll found not only another bar to try, but also another marvellous sculpture by the river – a bronze sculpture, encrusted with ceramics, of the magical bay horse Bayard with the four sons of Aymon astride, seeming to jump over the river Meuse.

Stu’s designer eye was drawn to the new art/culture building on the banks of the Sambre, with its beautiful staircase.

Returning to Calliope we all enjoyed the changing skies as dusk drew in.

And so, having looked at the mighty Meuse from several angles, we were ready next day to move onto it and go down to Huy. (Pronounced in French: ‘Oi!’ felt right at home Mush)

In the morning Stu gently took Calliope down the final half kilometre of the Sambre, past buildings old and new …… (I do like that building a lot )