The French Sambre
26th to 29th August 2021
This is a nice short blog, especially in comparison to some of my recent ramblings. We had three nights and the best part of four days on this stretch of the 2021 voyage. Bienvenue en France!
We left Erquelinnes on a blue and sunny morning, crossing the border into France almost immediately at the Belgian 0 kilometre post. A squat reminder of the border crossing.
We were passing through Jeumont and its Haute Nautique a few minutes later, wondering whether the water and electricity borne now worked – others boaters had reported them as out of service.
This is where we had walked to the day before to find fresh milk. All these cows we keep passing, and the only milk in most supermarkets is homogenised on the shelf stuff.
A kilometre on we met the first lock on the French section of the Sambre, mooring up below the lock on the waiting pontoon to find out how these locks will operate.
It keeps us on our toes moving from one water way to another and one country to another at the same time. At least the language didn’t change – Wallonia to France.
Mounting a somewhat underused staircase to the lock we could see that we must collect a remote control from the hut, and do to that we must use the intercom – or filling that phone the command office further along the river. The intercom failed, so a call was made, and after a few translation difficulties we were delivered remote control number 18 through a reverse ‘letter box’.
We were off – and in charge of our own lock operation. We have met this system before in France, and rather like it, although on some waterways the lock operating systems are out of order as often as they work. Fingers crossed!
We were heading for Hautmont and its modern port. That meant another two locks and 18 kms – a good morning’s journey. The lock at Hautmont has an interesting approach, round a bend, under a bridge, and with a weir stream kicking Calliope to one side! All was managed perfectly by the Captain at the helm.
The port is immediately after the lock, large and newly appointed, and deigned for smaller boats within, plus a long pontoon outside, on the river, for larger vessels like us.
All of our moorings so far this year have been free, but we were happy to pay the €20 (€1 per meter) for a night here. We were able to fill up with water, get rid of all our rubbish, and have an easy place to tie up to.
A short walk into town to find a boulangerie for lunch time bread revealed the church and fountain of the main square.
A later, longer, walk took us past again as we went in search of a radiator cap. We did find the Norauto store, but they had nothing as old fashioned as a radiator cap!
However we found another store that sold us a new clock for the galley wall, a new lamp for the back cabin, and some transparent hose that the Captain had a use for.
I will leave that to your imagination!
The view up river from our Hautmont mooring was industrial, but also dramatic as clouds rolled in that evening.
By morning the black skies were blue, and being enjoyed by a young heron on the quay until it saw me and took fright – and flight! I was more excited by the prospect of fresh French croissants on our first morning in France, and returned to yesterday’s boulangerie to buy some – a real treat!
We had read that the new port included a ‘pump out’ to empty black water tanks (the poo tank to the uninitiated) and a diesel pump operated 24/7 by credit card. We couldn’t see either of these facilities, and on asking the Captiaine we were told they were ‘la bas’ with a casual wave of the arm upstream, but not working.
We set off on a short 9 kms cruise to find a country mooring for the next night, and just round the first bend found the pump out and diesel quay – smart and new, but awaiting repair! Maybe next year …..
At Quartes, below the small town of Pont-sun-Sambre, we spied the waiting pontoon for the lock – ideal! We stopped for lunch to try it out, and with no other traffic on the river needing to use the pontoon I phoned the local VNF office to ask if we could stay there for the night. Bien sur! No problemo!
It was a wonderfully relaxed day, with this vista all around us while we were on the boat. We walked up into the town and found the boulangerie ready for use the next morning. It is a fascinating little place in some ways, causing me to look it up on the internet and discover that Robert Louis Stevenson had written an excellent chapter in his book ‘An Inland Voyage’, about his travels in a canoe through Belgium and Northern France.
It is very well worth reading – far better than my paltry way with words! Here’s a link
Despite the charms of Quartes we were wary of overstaying or welcome on a lock mooring and were ready to leave next day. We had realised, looking at the map, that a four mile trip round a loop in the Sambre would place us closer to the boulangerie than walking from the Quartes mooring so this is what we did.
We moored at the ‘official’ Pont-sun-Sambre mooring and I walked a few hundred yards into town – to the most popular boulangerie I have even seen! I joined 8th in the queue and before I got into the shop there were fourteen behind me! We were across the road from the post office, which I was delighted to see had been the post office since 1932.
Captain Stu and I were surprised to find a traffic light system in operation at the next lock, and to see it with a double red light – which means ‘en panne’, or out of order! And as we drove towards it we could also see a fire engine, another emergency vehicle, and lots of pompiers (firemen) looking onto the lock. Had there been an accident?
But almost immediately the lights turned to green and red – lock in preparation – and the gates opened for us to go in.
We had a cheerful ‘Franglaise’ conversation with the pompiers and it seemed they were simply ‘looking at’ the lock, maybe to understand how it now operated with its new traffic lights.
They waved us cheerfully on our way.
Three kilometres on from that excitement, and along some narrow waters with startling skies above, we found the slightly muddy pontoon at Bras Mort de Leval.
The ‘dead arm’ mentioned (Bras Mort) refers to a tight twist of the Sambre that was nipped off in 1836 to make a more navigable canal for the barges working up and down the river. Leval refers to the nearby village which was served by the river traffic almost 200 years ago.
But the evening was perfect – sundown on the back deck and total peace and quiet apart from distant trains. This is what we cruise for!
(Oh, and for the croissants, cheeses, beers, waffles, wines ……….. )
And then in the morning the best bit of nature watching! A stork following the cows and egrets across the field opposite.
Apologies for the lack of clarity – only had my phone to hand!
But the black and white of the cows complementing the black and white of the stork was something a bit special!
And here we are already on our last day on the actual river Sambre. We joined it at Charleroi 10 days ago to come upstream fore the first time. We went the other way last year, down stream to Namur where it joins the mighty Meuse.
Lets enjoy a little more of the lovely River scenery.
Amongst the fields and woods we had locks 3, 2 and 1 to go through . At Number 2, Hashette, the lock keepers house stands empty and deserted because of the automation along the French Sambre.
The big VNF notice on the right tells us that it is available as a ‘project’, which essentially means you pay them a tiny rent in return for doing the house up to a standard agreed with them.
It’s in a lovely remote place. Any takers?
We continued through number 3, Les Étoquies, where we chatted with a retired lock keeper living by the lock with his three dogs, goats and chickens.
Then, as we reached Landecies where the river meets the canal head on, we confusingly meet another lock number 3. This is the start of the locks for Canal Sambre à l’Oise. The first 3 continue going upwards, numbered 3, 2 and 1!
I noticed a very different type of paddle on this lock. (This is the part of the lock that lifts to allow water to pour in from above.)
This is probably a bit geeky of me! But I love locks and all their differences. This one has 8 rounded ‘shutters’ in the gates that gradually lift, allowing more and more water in. Maybe both the other two rising locks on this section will be the same ……
Tomorrow we will move directly onto the Canal de Sambre à l’Oise, and it will probably will seem very similar – except that after the next two locks going upwards we will find ourselves descending.