Late summer in Belgium part 3

Down the Belgian Sambre

with some Haut Escaut, and Canals Nimy-Blaton-Ath, de Centre and Brussels – Charleroi

August 15th to 26th 2021

We left Antoing and friends Mieke and Frans, setting off up the Haut Escaut towards the two big locks at Péronnes; these still ring alarm bells in the mind of the Captain as we had something of a rude awakening (6am) when we came down through them two years ago in the company of two large commercial barges and several smaller craft. (See blog post from July 2019 – ‘A River and Three Canals in a Week’).

The 2021 experience was much better – even pleasant! For a start we now had a means of communicating from end to end of a 65′ barge, with the accompanying noise of lock mechanisms and rushing water!

As the photos show, we had much more stately progress through the two Péronnes locks this time. It was made easier by being the only boat in the lock and able to choose our position on the bollards to suit the length of Calliope. Also experience, and the Nautic-talk made a difference. Quite enjoyable overall!

The wide straight section of canal after the locks was the perfect opportunity for crew to take over at the helm for a while – the only thing to avoid on a Sunday being the fishermen!

We were now on the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes canal, heading East, enjoying the quietness of a mainly non-working day for the commercial barges.

(Of course we recognise and respect the big contribution that these working barges make to the waterway network and love them really!)

Further along the canal we were surprised to suddenly find the green carpet of duckweed normally associated with smaller, less used canals. It looks glorious, but is a bit of a nuisance.

Once through the duckweed we began to see interesting reflections. I love the way that the reflection of the steps seems to go back under the bank!

We knew where we were heading – Pommroeul! This huge, currently unused, basin with its long long mooring pier, is somewhere we have stayed before. There was a slight trepidation that it would be full of week-ending commercial barges, but, as you can see, it was totally totally empty!

This huge basin is the entrance to the ill-fated 12km long Pommeroeul-Conde canal, built to form another link between the French and Belgian canal systems. It opened in 1982, but due to heavy silting had to close 10 years later. Dredging from the Belgian end has taken place, and the French section (with the help of EU money) is almost clear as well. The canal is due to re-open in 2022, so probably no more peaceful mooring for leisure boats then!

Beyond the drop down from the lock is a ‘lake’, currently enjoyed by bathers, jet-skiers, ribs and other water sports; the cormorants wait for their turn when everyone has gone home! I took a walk along to the next bridge, round and back, to take it all in before it changes next year.

Then to settle down to a peaceful evening on the boat – or maybe not! I still had unspent energy so with a silent disco in my ears I danced up and down the pier. Poor Captain, with such crazy crew!

The sunset and sunrise were equally beautiful in their way, although Monday dawned with a lot of cloud and the threat of rain to come.

And as we set off next day it was immediately evident that Sunday and passed and a new working week was beginning!

We waited to allow a commercial barge, Karin, to go ahead of us – a slight mistake as she turned out to be travling rather slowly due to a heavy load.

Ah well, we were in no great rush!

A few kilometres on Karin drew in to a widening in the canal to let us pass, giving a friendly wave as we went by.

As we passed Mons the canal became the Canal de Centre and we looked ahead to the two locks we would go up that day. Luckily I had previously written in the map book what kind of bollards we should expect, so we were pleasantly prepared. We shared the locks with a small cabin cruiser, who found it a bit more difficult as the bollards tend to be around 15m apart, but they managed too.

We were heading for Thieu for the night, hoping to stay on the long quay by the entrance to the Canal Historique. And once more we were in luck, with only one other boat moored up there. Plenty of space for Calliope!

Although it was a bit wet still we went for a walk over the river to the village of Thieu.

We were looking for somewhere to buy bread the next morning, and having found the only boulangerie closed on Tuesdays we carried on to make sure the little minimarket was still there, and would be open!

Next morning I was back over the bridge to buy some bread, and a few other essentials – a short trip, but one that logged 3000 steps and got me a nice photo from the bridge of our resting place.

But then we were off – off to ascend the marvellous piece of engineering that is the Ascenseur Strèpy-Thieu. We have travelled this boat lift twice before, but of does not cease to amaze. It is a 75.3m vertical trip with awe-inspiring views of both machinery and scenery!

As we prepare to cast off Elan, a barge full of scrap metal, comes past and will be our company on the way up.

We reach the basin below the lift and wait a while until first the ‘doors’ open, and then Elan goes in.

We continued along the Canal de Centre, a wide, straight, modern canal, planning to reach Viesville lock for the night. However after only two and a half kilometres an alarm went off on the boat and we realised that the engine had overheated.

There are few places to stop and tie up along this stretch of canal but we were luckily just passing an industrial wharf, currently empty.

Captain Stu took us alongside, we tied up, and had lunch while we waited for the engine to cool down and understand the ‘problem’.

It turned out that we were short of water in the engine cooling system – that will teach us to get complacent about something that has always been fine whenever Stewart checked!

A short while after adding some water and testing the engine (now seemingly OK) a barge arrived to sue the wharf for commercial purposes, so we went on our way again.

Sadly then repair was not quite as simple as initially expected and within 5 minutes the engine overheated again. This time we were right beside the only reasonable public mooring along this part of the canal, so quickly tied up and switched off to wait for the engine to cool again, and further investigations to take place.

We adapted our red ensign to be the Belgian red flag of ‘immobile’ and made the decision to stay there overnight in order to fully let the boat cool down and understand the issue. In the morning an exchange of messages with the ever helpful Piper boats team pointed towards an airlock in the coolant system following the top up the previous day. Captain, turned Engineer, spent some time in the engine room and soon sorted it out! Simple really, as long as our know what to look for and what you are doing.

We were soon on our way again, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge, which remained reassuringly low.

Before long we were turning to starboard onto the Brussels-Charleroi Canal and heading for our next few locks.

The skies changed from light grey to dark, from potential sunshine to potential downpour. The scenery was changing to rise higher each side and become more wooded. There was evidence of the summer holidays with youngsters our learning the art of rowing.

We were in needs of fresh milk – the Captain is not very keen on the homogenised milk that is most common on the shelves of the supermarkets here.

I was pleased to see a Carrefour on Google maps that was seemingly near the canal. They usually have fresh milk – so all we had to do was find a mooring close by.

And we did; an old bollard hidden in the grass and something that the Captain tied onto.

And the Carrefour was really close! The roof was visible form the mooring!

We had made a plan to stay at Viesville lock where we have stayed overnight before and been very comfortable amongst groups of working barges waiting for the early locks down next day. But having announced out intention to the éclusiers he recommended that we carry on to the next lock, Gosselies, and stay there – so we did.

Having dropped down the lock we discovered that our mooring options were not as great as anticipated – a long wooden pier one side, with bollards about 30m apart, or a long high wall where the bollards were more comfortably spaced for us. We thought we would get as far from the lock as we could, only to find a ‘No Parking’ sign part way along, meaning that we had to moor close to the lock than we would have preferred – but all seemed OK – in fact very pleasant and calm.

It was an ideal opportunity to start cleaning off the grime that accumulates as you cruise through the more industrial areas – a good evening’s exercise when you cannot get off the barge to go walking!

It was less so in the night when we were woken a couple of times – once by a spider that had fallen in through the window and into our bed! Once by a sense that Calliope was leaning to one side, due to the water level falling and the mooring ropes holding her up on the starboard side – easily rectified by a swift trip up on deck. And then from 6am the barges starting to come and go through the lock, and the planes beginning their daily schedule from Brussels-Charleroi nearby! All good fun, and part of life on a boat.

We were looking forward to the next day’s cruising as it would take us, eventually, away from the industrial canals and onto the Haute Sambre – a smaller and much less used river. But first it was through the current and past working life of the Charleroi area. There is a huge amount of scrap metal business the area, but past evidence of steel works and their, now green, slag heaps.

We had one lock along the way and had to wait a while to use it. A gaggle of hybrid geese helped to pass the time and eat up our left over bread.

The lock itself, Marchienne-au-Pont, is only 7m and has floating bollards, so not a major obstacle. Although when the bollard at its highest floating point in somewhat below the level of the fore-deck it does require a bit of leaning over and swinging rope hopefully to catch it!

But of course once you start to go down in the lock it evens out and all is well.

Less than 3 kilometres on we were into Charleroi and turning right onto the Sambre.

This sign is confusing as it shows the turning towards Bruxelles, Mons and Tournai that we had just come from!

We turned onto the Haute Sambre in the direction of Thuin.

We were finding the riverbanks ever changing, from industrial to residential, from city park to countryside. And within 5 kms we were at our first Haute Sambre lock, Monceau-sun-Sambre. I had phoned ahead to the éclusier as normal good practise and he said that he would prepare the lock. So we were surprised when we came round a slight bend to go into the lock to find that the gates were closed.

Thinking that the éclusier would be keeping a watch for us to arrive the Captain held Calliope midstream as best he could, given the cross wind! After a while, lock gates still closed, I called again. Ah yes, he would now prepare the lock! And after another five minutes we saw that the lock was beginning to empty.

After another five minutes the gates opened and we went in – both looking as always for the best option for securing both ends of the barge. It was difficult; we went to the front of the lock looking for options. It is only a 4.9m lock, but the bollards at the top are set back and impossible to see from the bottom of the lock. I was just climbing onto the roof in the hope of throwing a rope from there when the éclusier appeared and gestured to us to come astern and tie to two bollards low down in the wall.

This was seemingly odd advice as there were no bollards higher in the wall to move up to as the water n the lock rose, but we obediently did as we were told. And then all became clear!!!! The éclusier appeared above us with a big hook and a long piece of cord, which he let down, we hung our ropes to, and we took up and passed round d the hidden bollards on the quay!

Voila! It all worked perfectly.

Soon the lock was full and were ready to carry on up river, under grey skies.

A quick few things should be said about the Sambre. For 15 years the river could be cruised from its French side and its Belgian side, but not all the way through. Now this beautiful route between the two countries has been reopened (July 2021), following reconstruction of the aqueducts at Vadencourt and Macquencourt. The French Government paid for half the cost of restoring the canal, the rest of the €15 million investment being covered by the local authorities.

There is evidence of the infrastructure being improved further, with river side roads and paths being relaid, new pontoons and water/electricity supplies for plaisanciers, and dredging of sections in danger of silting up. Travel this waterway! It’s worth it.

Now we really did feel we were out on the country. We saw a king fisher – our first this year – mild mannered cows chewed peacefully as we went by; fisherman nodded and pulled in their lines; the small village of Landelies came into view.

The next lock is at Abbaye d’Aulne, a mere two and a half kms further, where we were to moor up for a couple of days. Once more we helped at the lock, and then onto the long quay just beyond where there was plenty of space for us.

The Abbaye is a monumental place – just full of interest, history, ruins and architecture. Lunch came first but then a walk round the ruins was a must. According to legend (and the English guide book) the Abbey was formed in 637 and there have been monastic structures here ever since. It was in the 12th-13th Century that the Cistercians settled in here, forcing the local inhabitants to sell their property to the abbey on pain of excommunication. Not exactly a kindly thing to do.

That evening in part of the Abbey grounds on the far side of us a big non-dancing disco was held. I did walk up and have a quick look and listen, but then back to Calliope for a quiet sunset rosé with my lovely man.

But our evening out was to the Mini Golf Terrace bar, overlooking the weir stream of the river. We both sampled the Abbaye beer – it is still brewed in local town Thuin, but no longer by the monks! I tried their Cherie cherry flavoured beer – sadly not a patch on the Kreik cherry beers, brewed in a different way. Stewart’s blonde was just right for a summer evening.

To complete our ‘date night’ we went for a meal at one of the many restaurants around the Abbey, and recommended to us by a local couple. Our aperitifs were served with the ruins as backdrop.

After a shared starter Stewart chose jamboneau – it was huge and we brought home what he could not eat to use for another meal! I had a platter of cold smoked fish with salad – also huge! But we still struggled through a shared ice cream dessert!

With stomachs full we staggered across the weir stream bridge and back to Calliope for a peaceful night, only disturbed, occasionally, by the lovely gaggle of geese.

Our next stop was not far away. We were heading for Thuin. The description of the mooring and the town both sounded nice.

It was to be one of those windy rural trips, cruising gently through nature, with three small locks along the way.

The map book shows that all the phone numbers for the locks have changed over the past few years, but luckily we had been provided with a new list at the first lock.

And the locks were enjoyable too!

At one of them, right out away from towns and villages, the Captain attempted to recruit some canine crew, whilst I chatted to a goat, after being the one to do the manual work of opening the lock gate. It’s what crew are for really!

By lunch time we could see the Thuin moorings and were lucky to find plenty of space at the upstream end. Here the quay was a better height for Calliope.

Although there is a Steak House alongside this is not open yet, and it was one of the quietest town moorings we have ev er encountered.

Currently there is not water or electricity on the moorings, but a big sign to say that all of this is being developed and will be available soon.

Already there is a useful tap inland of the path approximately half way along the low pontoon mooring.

After lunch it was on to exploring the town which is divided into the Haute Ville at the top of the hill, and the Bass Ville at the bottom, by the river, which is known as the batellier’s, or boatman area. Day one was to explore at the top, including following a route to see the .hanging gardens. These are residential gardens built onto small terraces down the southern slopes of the hill – there is little flat land to be had!

It certainly was a hilly route, with narrow paths and alleys winding up and down. To be honest little could be seen of the gardens as they tended to be behind walls and gates, but it was an interesting walk.

And the considerable effort of the walk was a good reason for a beer in the square at the top before going back to Calliope for a floating supper.

As mentioned above, this was a peaceful mooring, quite some way from roads, bridges and railways.

We passed a tranquil night.

We always enjoy our encounters with animals as we pass along our way.

This young cat lived nearby and is obviously fascinated by boats. She would sit looking at our boat for ages, and then come aboard in quite a proprietorial manner.

Sunday morning she was at her bravest, inspecting the waters from the bow.

But things did get noiser later, as you will read.

We could hear something being set up along the quay – there was a PA, the start of a bar, and a gathering of people. But time for us to walk around the battelier’s area first.

Back at the boat we began to get an idea of the event that was to unfold. There was to be a race on the river, using unusual craft, for reasons not quite understood by its, but obviously to be fun. We went to watch the start, and were surprised to see the ‘starting gun’ was some kind of old fashioned blunderbuss!

Here is a link to a video of the start, including the first capsize, within 20 seconds! https://youtu.be/Yg543RuXGKU

They held the race again and again and again, some of the competitors being fuller and fuller and fuller of beer and Flambée!

Cherries and Griottes being two of my favourite flavours in an alcoholic context it is not surprising that I managed to but some samples – just €1 for a shot of La Flambée, a 33% d’eau-de-vie with a 12 month sozzled cherry at the bottom of the glass – so strong that it almost blew my head off!

Yes, it made me quite cheerful!

As evening arrived we thought we would try the frituur on the corner, after I had a walk to get closer to my 10000 steps for the day! Just as I returned the heavens opened and rain absolutely poured down!!! I dashed to cover under one of the umbrellas set up but the Confrèrie, and watched as the street began to turn into a secondary river! Hmm, an excuse for another shot of La Flambée!

At last the rain stopped enough for Stewart to join me and the beer I had ordered for him – and to meet one of the senior figures in the brotherhood.

And from our new friend I was also able to buy some of the pork paté with cherries – very rich and much more to my taste than to Stu’s!

All the more for me then.

Other than a somewhat disappointing frituur experience that I had to queue half an hour to buy, that was the end of a wonderful time on Thuin. We would recommend to anyone making a stop there! So next morning it was cast off under a down cast sky and head on upstream towards the French border. Only two more stops until we are there; we could have dashed across in a few hours, but we are enjoying our amble along the Sambre.

Merbes-le-Chateau appealed because of its DBA (Butch Barge Association) description as a ‘basic mooring in a quiet area’. We had plenty of water from the last time we filled up Leers Nord just over two weeks ago, and our PV panels mean we virtually never need to plug into a marina’s shore power.

We were back to rather grey travelling, but that often leads to calm waters and good reflections.

We had three locks to navigate before we reached Merbes. And it was at the second that we had a surprise

A big sign at the end of the lock warned of work going on in the river on the next bief, or stretch of water.

And sure enough as we rose up with the water in the lock we saw almost the whole width of the river blocked by three working vessels.

By the time we reached our last lock of the day the rain had begin to fall – a light summer rain, but still capable le of giving you a good soaking while you stand in the bow at a lock, so I was prepared!

He was able helped by his mate – maybe also an éclusier – so that despite the manual potation of everything we were soon on our way.

Our mooring was a couple of kilometres further along, one side or the other of the bridge at Merbes. It was up to us to choose what looked best for Calliope as we arrived. For us having the bow, with our cabin beneath, furthest from the bridge was likely to be quietest overnight.

It wasn’t long before we began to wonder who had described it as quiet! A lorry, a large van, a JCB, some men with an angle grinders and a huge street cleaning vehicle all reversed down the slope behind us and began to work along the riverbank road! But it did not take long, and in fact it is all part of Wallonia Waterways bringing the river up to scratch for an increase in boaters now that the river is open through France.

Our other interruptions were the regular ‘pushers’, bringing the mud barges to and from the works down stream.

They all had friendly crews, and again it is good to see waterways being brought back to life.

We went off for a walk, as usual, after lunch. This time, after a quick tour of the small village, we set off to cross the river on a footbridge and into a green pathway.

Signs of autumn are coming in already, ands n to even the end of August, There were masses of sloes that will be ready for sloe gin in a few weeks, but we will have moved on.

On our way back we got up close to the dinosaur at the opposite side of the river to our mooring. I tried offering food, but to wasn’t interested!

As the day drew to a close, with lorries and mud barges gone home, it did become the promised quiet mooring.

Through the trees we could just see the unusually shaped church steeple, and could listen to it strike the hours.

We were delighted to have this Jersey Tiger moth aboard at the start of the journey.

When it opens its wings to fly the underwings are bright red.

The roof was still wet with dew, hence the bubbly effect of the roof!

On the port side we came upon the place where the mud was being unloaded from the barges, and presumably taken away in lorries.

This sillty soil will be welcomed by many gardeners I think!

We came through Écluse 1 of the Belgian Haut Sambre – a small, happy lock, with the bollards painted different colours.

This made it very easy for the Captain to let crew know which bollard to use – “You take the red one and I will take the blue”.

There is a large port at Erquelinnes, with a narrow en trance from the river.

Calliope could fit through, but as usual we went fore the quieter more solitary mooring a bit further up the river.

We were very content on the customs quay. Behind us was over 100 yards of empty wall – occasionally used by fishermen and women and young lads swimming. Overall a perfect place for us, so we stayed two nights!

We were in need of a re-stock of the cupboard and fridge, so we set off on a half hour walk to the road with three good size supermarkets – and with fresh milk at the top of our shopping list. We filled up several shopping bags – but not with fresh milk. None was to be had in Erquelinnes!

So that created the plan for next day. We would walk along the river, over the French border, and in the next town, Jeumont, go to the Carrefour where fresh milk is normally to be found.

It was a successful walk in every way. The weather was perfect – sunny but not too hot. The industry and the nature along the riverbank was interesting; we saw disused factories, the site of an old pont levée, a rat, a lizard and more besides.

Jeumont Carrefour came up trumps with the milk, and also my favourite salmon parmentier and the Captain’s favourite St Felicien cheese, all smuggled back into Belgium undetected ….

We inspected the halte nautique next to the bridge, but could not tell if the electricity and water now worked – a DBA member passing a few years ago mentioned that they had been switched off.

The sun continued to shine all the way back, lighting up the teazle barbs.

We found out that the nearby port was originally very much a working port

In the afternoon we went to have a look at the port. It is very big – 300m long and 45m wide. Although the entrance, under a railway bridge, looks narrow it is easily wide enough for our 4.2m wide barge, as can be evidenced by the barges already in the port. I have tried to discover the historical industries off the town, but apart from seeing plenty of farms around I cannot work it out.

As we returned from our exploration I was tempted to go for a swim myself – but this time I was more restrained and only my toes got wet.

The bush at the end of the quay marks the en trance to the port, and Stu was on our back deck taking this photo – so you can see how close we were.

And with one last reminder from nature of our cruise along the Belgian Haut Sambre from Charleroi to Erquelinnes I will end this chapter.

(We think it is an owl feather)

Late Summer in Belgium – part 2

The voyage to meet Mieke and Frans

Canal Bossuit-Kortrijk, L’Escaut and Canal de L’Espierres

5 – 14 August 2021

Sluis 11 Kortrijk-Bossuit Canal; our first of the season.

(Think I have included far too many photos! Apologies, but hope you enjoy them)

Here we go at last! After 9 months of Covid- delay in the UK, and then quarantine in Kortrijk when we returned to Calliope, the day finally dawned when we could go cruising again. When we planned and bought Calliope in 2014 our whole idea was to spend six summer months of each year travelling the inland waterways of Europe and seeing cities, villages and the countryside from canal and river perspectives. So after 5 years of all going to plan it was disappointing in 2020 to wait until mid June to get started, and even worse this year to wait until the start of August! All Covid rules driven of course, and we do realise that we are so much luckier than many, having the health of ourselves and our family intact and owning this beautiful craft to escape to.

This was our first ‘naughty talk’ (Nautic Talk) experience. During the winter we had followed the advice of Mieke and Frans, Belgian bargee friends, to buy these in order to communicate much more freely along the length of a 19.8m boat when coming in to moor in locks etc. We certainly could hear each other better, including every bit of heavy breathing and burp! Joking aside, they are very useful.

We came up 1, 2, 3 small locks at the start go the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal with the assistance of a friendly lock keeper who journeyed by car between the locks. The last lock came out upon a summer school of excited young canoeists, who dashed safely to one side as we emerged.

Nature was very evident as we moved along – water lilies, young water fowl and plenty of green.

Our friends from Happy Chance cycled speedily ahead and took a photo of us passing through. It is always a treat to get a photo that someone else has taken as it can show both Stewart and I aboard – he is the shadowy figure in the wheelhouse!

We also passed by ‘Miss X’, the boat belonging to a Belgian friend of ours. He has sent many hours converting her from a fuel barge into a boat to live and cruise on. He is doing a great job!

Soon we came to our first big lock of the season. We were still rising along the canal, so easy to attach to the floating bollards at the bottom of the lock and float to the top!

The next lock, Moen, was the start of our descent and before too long after that we were mooring up for the night at the end of the canal just before Bossuit, the final lock down to the river Boven-Schelt / Haut-Escaut (depending on whether you are on the Belgian or French side/end of the river!).

That evening there was more of the constant communication between ourselves and Mieke, working out where we would meet. They would be coming from the opposite direction on the Escaut, having come down the Dender river, but were currently waiting at Ladeuze for a change in the weather. It looked like we would have a few days to kill and could look for a diversion.

A glass of beer – Kreik in my case, always seems to help with map redoing and course plotting!

We had agreed with the Bossuit lock keepers that we would take the 0900 lock down. As I was slowly getting up and enjoying my cup of tea I felt the boat moving and on looking out the window I spied a very large working barge coming out of the lock. She had just come up from the river below.

The lock was now ready for us, but luckily the lock keeper was happy to wait until I had my breakfast before we slowly and calmly dropped down 9.5m.

The lock doors opened and we were out to meet the Haut-Escaut – we were turning to starboard into the French speaking Wallonian section! A change of language was required – the one we find much easier.

The river opened up ahead of us as we set off upstream towards the junction with the Canal de L’Espierres – a small and relatively unused canal that goes through to Lille, changing its name at the Franco/Belgique border to Canal Roubaix.

The morning’s blue skies were wonderful for our trip – but the sun doesn’t always shine and within half an hour we were peering our through a rainy windscreen.

I was looking at the Visuris live water traffic app so that we would know of there were any commercial barges in the vicinity, and (apparently) there were none. Then we went round a bend to find two in front of us – and I realised that Visuris covers Flanders whilst we were now in Wallonia!

As Stewart began to plot his course between them I realised that we were passing the tiny entrance to the canal we wanted!

Luckily there is a very wide junction to allow barges to turn into the canal at the right angle, and after an unplanned 360 degree turn we were heading towards the Canal de L’Espierres, which looked so narrow we were not sure we would fit!

Of course as you get nearer it starts to look wider and as the Captain expertly steered is through, despite the cross wind trying to take Calliope off course, we saw that we had at least 1ft to spare each side!

Then we were through and the canal opened up a little wider as it bent away to the left. It was green and calm; here is where we could enjoy whiling away a few days until Mieke and Frans were moving towards us.

Soon we met our team of éclusiers for the L’Espierres part of the journey. They met us by the first lock and explained they would be with us through the next 3 lift bridges and another two locks.

The first lock was a delight, and a reminder of all the locks on small canals we have travelled. Then after the first lift bridge we saw a quiet mooring with a good pontoon so asked if we could stay there overnight. It was agreed they would join us again next  morning.

So moored up at Sainte-Leger we settled down for a quiet afternoon and night. The only excitement came from my walk the other side of the canal where I discovered a wonderful little dairy farm shop and returned with a bag of goodies! Oh and the arrival of another boat on the pontoon, owned by a very pleasant French couple who shared the journey with us next day.

Next morning dawned bright and sunny; just right for some toast with butter form the dairy farm, and the cows who made it seen in the distance.

Our team returned and the two boats set off. All seemed very tranquil until the second lock of the day at Leers-Nord, where three small boats came down, we went up, and then found our hoped for pontoon for the next few days was full.

Luckily we could see that there was also mooring against the steel shuttering along the bank, with good metal Ts to tie up to. But wanting to turn round we first made a short excursion into France to the nearest winding hole. 

Then back to Leers-Nord and tied up to the yellow Ts. And there we were right next to another Piper boat, ArchAngel, belonging to people we met briefly last year; lovely to see them again! We were invited on board that evening for a drink or two, and plenty of good conversation.

We all know each other far better now! And Stewart has met a new Belgian beer – a strong blond!

Apparently it means slob!

Back home for supper, followed by a glass of wine.

Sometimes the contrast between the outward natural calm of the waterway and inward mild chaos of our lives is almost captivating.

The weather was being very variable, from downpours and thunder to bright breezy sunshine. Seizing my chance I set off in the latter for an evening walk along the bank, briefly saying goodbye to Wallonia, then turning back as the skies darkened again!

Next day was a day at Leers Nord. There was a bread run to the local Del Haize supermarket, clearly set up for its role on the French border to see tobacco at a cheaper price than the shops over the border – the other side of the street!

And there was more maintenance and cleaning of Calliope in between the thunderstorms – she is starting to look quite spruce now. My cleaning efforts were observed by some very sad fishermen on the opposite bank! Eventually they did pass the time of day with something like a smile.

Each day I take at least a short promenade along the canal, mostly for exercise but also to discover flowers, insects (the non-biting varieties), birds and occasional animals. I have been amazed by burdock – presumably of the dandelion and burdock variety, which I have never knowingly seen growing before. I also love the wooden steps put against the bank to help her climb to of they fall in – only at the French end!

Then there are the incursions of the natural world into the wheel house – normally winged, and sometimes just the feathers picked up along the way.

And each evening, weather permitting, we sit on the aft deck, wondering at how lucky we are to lead this life.

Day 3 was a Sunday. Stu and I went to Del Haize again, for a bigger stock up this time. I turned a bit later to buy a few pants to replace the weeds in our two plant troughs. I was too late for geraniums this year and have made do with these.

Fingers crossed they will develop and become a bit more of a floral display!

In the early evening we went with our ArchAngel neighbours to the local bar, conveniently placed along side the lock only 150 yards away. Stewart was introduced to two new Belgian beers, each with its own special glass, while I had my usual Kriek. Only another 2990 of the current 3000+ Belgian beers to track down and try!

Then back to supper and another beautiful evening on the back deck, facing the setting sun and the new set of wondrous reflections in the water and across the stern.

We decided to stay one more day, mainly to make it easier for us to fill up with water when ArchAngel left the pontoon the following day. In fact Tony from ArchAngel appeared with a long hose at Calliope’s bow, offering this to Stewart so that we could fill up where we were! An ideal solution, but by then we were content to stay the fourth night at Leers Nord. This would fit well with what was now an arrangement to meet Mieke and Frans at Antoing in a few days time.

Overall it was a good lazy day. In the afternoon we thought we had time between showers for a walk along the canal into France, over the first bridge, and back into Belgium and Leers Nord on the other aside of the canal. But as can be seen, we got caught in a short downpour and sheltered under the trees. Nothing like good summer rain to freshen everything up.

Next morning we were joined by Kati – a local lady who Stewart had met the day before and invited to join us for the cruise to Tournai. She has cycled and walked the canal and river paths in the area all her life, but never travelled them on the water. The same friendly group of éclusiers joined us for the set of locks and bridges Calliope must pass, each a new experience for Kati who loved it all.

After an hour or so we reached the junction with the Escaut, and the opening up of our horizons.

Almost immediately Kati understood thew difference in traffic on the narrow rural canals, compared to the big rivers!

The river in this area is a real mix of rural scenes and industry.

The industry itself is another mix, from derelict to ultra modern, providing some interesting shapes, shadows and outlines.

By now Kati and I decided that it was a good time to open the bottle of Clairette de Die that she had brought, and enjoy an aperitif with our mini cruise.

The poor Captain could not join in!

Before long we were entering Tournai under the ancient watergate bridge which is currently undergoing massive modernisation to allow for the passage of the biggest commercial barges. Of course it is sad to see the dismantling of the 13th century Bridge of Holes (photo from our voyage two years ago), but also good to see that the rivers and canals of Belgium have a thriving barge transport system.

The artists impression of the final ‘new’ old bridge is not so bad so maybe it will be OK when finished – and if you, like me, thought the artist had made a mistake with the rounded towers, take another look. The towers are rounded as you approach Tournai, and flat within!

So this CAD drawing shows the bridge as approached from Bossuit direction.

We came on through the city, under the newest bridge – a slim attractive modern structure, looking for, and finding, the ‘port’, tying up just before Strelitzia appeared round the bend. Already Mother Duck had brought her brood to look for bread!

We were pleased to find plenty of space in the new port and it was simple to be safely moored. Calliope is at the far end, looking quite small despite her 20m! At the moment it is free to stay here in Tournai. There is electricity supplied through very modern low bornes with QR codes on top to access a supply, but our PV panels were keeping the batteries topped up sufficiently.

The new wall built to protect the port works very well so very little wash from the big barges.

After a pleasant sandwich lunch on board, and more Clairette to drink, we ventured ashore for a walk round this intriguing, historic city. Having Kati with us meant we got a non-selfie of the two of us together.

Hooray!

I have only included a few photos of the cathedral and the Grand Place, but there are so many old buildings in side roads and down allies that Tournai deserves much more than an overnight stop. However we were on a mission to meet up with these very good Belgian boating friends the next day, so one afternoon and evening was all we had there.

After a quick shopping trip to buy sunflowers for Mieke and contributions to a planned barbecue that evening we were off, out of port Tournai and saying goodbye to the coot couple living just across from us.

There only 6 kilometres to cover from Tournai to Antoing and it was less than an hour before we turned to port to find a mooring place immediately behind Dreamer, Frans and Mieke’s barge. And in the background, the fairytale Rapunzel style castle of the Prince des Lignes.

What a moment! Back together after 10 months of Covid separation!

Mieke and Me!

Then followed four days and nights of eating together, drinking together, walking together and talking together, captured by this gallery of fun.

All of this includes Google or course, their lovely 20 year old dog who comes everywhere in her own carriage!

We tried several times to visit with the Prince (ha ha!) but had to make do with our wanderings around the perimeter. Actually there are open days, and there was one the day we were leaving, but it was already fully booked so we did not stay on for the extra day.

The Captain and I also took ourselves for a stroll `around the small Antoing park – joyfully mostly in the shade on what turned out to be a hot day!

It is worth mentioning that the mooring here is surprisingly pleasant – and we were almost at the edge of the little basin. We had views out across the Escaut – almost always something going on.

Thus it was finally time to part company again. Mieke picked a wonderful wild flower bouquet to brighten our way ahead. They were on their way to meet up with family, not seen for many Covid-separation months, and we were off to do a loop into France – the next chapter!!!

Bye bye Antoing

Late summer in Belgium part 1

July 28 to August 5th 2021

If you have been following the Calliope blog you will know that we were stuck in the UK well past our normal April return to the boat, and when the usual cruising season begins. At first we more concerned about the Brexit effect than anything Covid related, wondering how we could spend 6 months in Belgium and/or the Netherlands when neither country was offering a visa other than the 90 day Schengen one.

In the end it became immaterial because the spread of Covid-19 in the UK and in the EU meant that borders kept closing, requirements for tests and quarantine both sides of the channel kept changing, and overall we took several months to find a gap in the pandemic that fitted with other (UK) demands on our time.

So it was not until July 28th that we excitedly set forth for Dover and the ferry to Calais. The journey there was most remarkable for its speed and ease – it seems that many potential holiday makers were still being prudent and taking ‘stay-cations’ in 2021.

Our double vaccination certificates, passports and ferry ticket got us past all the possible hold ups at the Port of Dover. We didn’t even have to empty the car and prove we had no meat or dairy products with us. Good law abiding us; we had only brought what was permitted food wise, plus a few spare parts for the boat and a new toaster.

Coming into Calais

The crossing was in a force 5 to 6 south westerly and could have been a little rough, but the ferry ploughed through it nobly and quickly. It was sufficiently smooth to enjoy the complementary meal that DFDS were giving to the few non-freight passengers. And we were reminded of one of the benefits of Brexit (of which we are not great fans overall) – duty free shop! We were so amazed at the prices that we bought Kraken rum, Zubrowka vodka, gin and Bacardi, plus some wine. That should keep me going until Christmas – unless we have visitors aboard, which would be very nice.

The run from Calais to Kortrijk was also uneventful, apart from the joy of coming back into Kortrijk, recognising familiar places, and before too long looking down at our boat from the footbridge over the river.

Hooray! Back where we belong!!!!

Now we just have to find pleasant ways to get through the 10 days of quarantine and the two necessary PCR Covid tests before we are free to cruise on our merry way.

(I didn’t mean that ➡️ kind of ‘merry’! That was just evening one relaxation)

One of the main tasks is to give Calliope a good clean – just outside because inside was as sweet smelling, clean and dry as when we left her the previous October. But the outside was somewhat grubby after an autumn/winter/spring of leaves, blossom, dust and birds. And the geraniums and herbs left on board in the lee of the wheelhouse had definitely succumbed to the weeds!

Plenty to do!!

And so quarantine begins with the chimney skyline opposite, down to Broel towers -a view that I have come to love.

Day 2 – walk two miles to get tested and take opportunity to ‘escape’ quarantine a bit longer by having a baguette by the river on the way back both tested negative – phew! Later there was food shopping to do (yes, it is allowed). This meant passing the bridge at the end of the port that we must revers under soon, and the first lock of the Kortrijk-Bossuit canal that we will go through soon.

The Captain turned shipwright, plumber and electrician later, fixing a new sensor to the freshwater tank (so that the guage reads correctly to show how much we have left) and replacing the electrical connector that was broken during the fallen tree episode last winter.

Despite having bought enough food earlier to make several meals, we collapsed into our first ever experience of Deliveroo, ordering pizza and salad from our favourite Pizza Cotti restaurant in Kortrijk, and being slightly amazed when it actually turned up – albeit on the bank opposite!

Luckily there is a footbridge within 25m, in the centre of which I met the delivery man with arms outstretched, at a quarantine distance!

Day 3 – the start of the clean up, with the aim of getting rid of all the main dirt and then we can do a second ‘shiny’ clean later. Made a good start – just look at the difference, mainly from the Captain taking mop and bucket to the cabin roof and deck.

I made a start on the canvas wheelhouse roof and dog box covers, and cleaned up the PV panels for maximum electricity generation – when the sun shines!

There are various things apart from cleaning Calliope to keep us amused. One of the most endearing is watching the various birds and their antics. We feed them occasionally so they come looking for food every day – not the grebes of course. We don’t have any fish for them!

The rain came to wash off more of the dust and dirt as I had hoped, and left us with an evening of gleaming roofs on the Broel towers and St Michael’s church towers in the background.

Day 4 – we needed for milk and bread and it was Sunday. The only local supermarket open on a Sunday is the Carrefour across the main river so we set off for essential supplies.

Here we are mid stream.

The rest of the day we spent dodging rain showers, cleaning windows, adding a neat white stripe along the hull, playing patience and learning Dutch.

Always plenty to do!

Overnight there was more rain; always a comforting soothing sound to be tucked warm and dry up on your Piper with the rain drumming on the cabin roof! But we did want to do more outside work on the boat next day so …..

…. Day 5 – pleased to see this through the kitchen hatch when I got up in the morning!

The boat cleaning and maintenance continued . It’s surprising all the nooks and crannies that collect dirt, sycamore seeds, algae and spider webs during the winter. And the movement of the boat always takes its toll on the paintwork. Luckily we gave everything a good clean before we left last October so inside and out it is all manageable. And keeps us occupied during quarantine!

Day 6 – we had been warned that we would need to move Calliope before 0830 so that we were not splattered when the pontoon was jet washed.

I was still in bed drinking tea when I heard the early rising Captain out starting to untie ropes, so I thought I’d better get up, dressed. and on duty on deck.

I was just in time! You can see in the photo the difference between the new section of pontoon, and the section waiting to be cleaned up.

Then onto a wonderful moment – casting off and feeling Calliope move beneath us again!

Here we go – all of 300 yards astern down the Leie! We were aiming for the mooring belonging to Pavot and our friends Martin and Sally – they were away cruising in France. And it wasn’t long before we were tied up there.

We have temporarily borrowed Pavot’s mooring before – it’s nice to be among the trees.

And we get a different view from this mooring – we can see the big Commercial barges go past the end of this arm of the Leie, and prepare for the bow wave to move down the channel towards us.

One sees many aspects of nature from the barge – all of it interesting even if commonplace.

This, I think, a Speckled Wood butterfly that came to visit on the wheelhouse.

The bow waves cause wonderful distortions of the reflections in the water – a mixture of Dali and Monet!!

We could se the pressure washing procedure taking place back where we had been moored, and by mid afternoon all was clean and clear for us to return – our second cruise of the day!!

And still officially in quarantine!

That was enough excitement for one day, apart from the phone calls from Brussels Covid quarantine checkers to ensure we were on track for our second PCR test the next day – after which, I was told, my case would be closed!

But still plenty of time to continue with the maintenance tasks, and removing some more spiders.

Day 7 – a day of hope! We went and collected the car to drive to the Laboratory for our second test, and were met again by friendly staff who helped us with form filling and soon had us back out in the fresh air. We used the car to collect a few things from the Brico (DIY store) and a stock up on food and wine before back to the boat for lunch and to await our results.

It isn’t long after that another Piper boat chugged into view and to moor behind us. We had been expecting Happy Chance and although we had not met her crew before we were delighted too say hello and arrange for a meeting over beer that evening.

The plan was to go to our favourite bar in the park (as long as our negative results came through) but just as we were about to set forth the rain came down so we all settled down on Calliope instead.

After some beer, wine and nibbles we all knew each other quite well! But Stu and I had planned supper out so it was time for a temporary parting of the ways.

We set off to one of our favourite Kortrijk casual dining experiences – Pitta Pyramid – Egyptian food from a lovely friendly little restaurant where the owner always amazes us by remembering us! We definitely filled ourselves up here and waddled back to the boat. Our last night in town for a while passed very pleasantly.

Day 8 – We had initially hoped to leaver Kortrijk on the 10am lock up from the river Leie into the Bossuit – Kortrijk canal. But it was already booked, so we slipped down to the 2pm lock. This meant we had a few extra hours before we left.

Kortrijk has a summer of art installations across the city and we managed to see a few as we sped round the centre (on foot) buying a new Ships Log, beer replacements, and looking for a new chopping board (failed on that last one!). Then time for a coffee with new friends on Happy Chance before lunch and …. we are off!!!!

First lock of the 2021 voyage – Sluis 11 Bossuit – Kortrijk canal. Photo credit to Happy Chance crew.