With family and friends in North East France and Western Belgium
14th to 24th September 2021
We were at Corbehem, just inside Le Scarpe Superieure, which goes on to Arras, with a plan of a slow cruise to Lille; there we would meet with son and partner who were arriving by Eurostar for a short stay.
We also had just 10 days left on our vignette (waterway tax) for France, so good planning was key.
On a rather grey day Stu steered us past the collection of old stationary barges that line the right bank, out to the ‘crossroads’ where we meet the Canal de la Sensée, Dérivation de la Scarpe and La Scarpe Moyenne.
We joined the main waterway heading North (the Dérivation) and into the first of only two locks that day.
It has the lovely name of Courchelettes – the name of the adjacent small town.
We found ourselves needing to deploy our ‘one-rope’ strategy in the lock, due to the spacing of the bollards on the quay and in the wall.
By now we were quite practised at this, so whilst always being aware that things can change at any moment in a lock, we felt comfortable.
Before long we were through the second lock at Douai and looking at the entrance to La Scarpe Inférieure, normally a route through to Belgium and a join with the Escaut, but currently closed. This has meant quite a lot more boats going up towards Lille on the Canal de la Deûle, onto which we had just moved.
We were looking at our journey so far this, shortened, year; shortened by Covid and Brexit.
Our journey, in the dark purple, looked as if we were circumventing Africa! Or India.
This shows us up as far as Douai, with Le Scarpe Inférieure crossed through. We still had a way to go before winter, up to Kortrijk, but that is for future blogs!
Along the way we saw plenty of barges, working and retired, including a large basin full of ‘house-barges’. We also passed under about 17 bridges – I lost count – but the colourful penultimate one, for the A1, was my favourite.
After 3 hours we were nearing our stop. We had considered stopping at Courcelles Centre Aquatique, but on looking through the entrance to its basin it did look rather full up. Knowing that 8 kms further there was a mooring highly recommended by like minded boaters we thought it worth the extra time to get there.
To reach this mooring, in the Park des Berges de la Souchez at Courrières , Calliope turned to starboard at the Canal de Lens.
It is a narrow entrance but helpfully well signed.
The best thing I can say is that the mooring was entirely delightful!
Right next to us was an artificial floating island to en courage wildlife and we sat watching coots, ducks and moorhen coming and going. It was just wonderful for a nature freak like me!
A little later we were unexpectedly joined by an other Piper boat with friends aboard, leading to a pleasant evening chat on the back deck.
Next day Tadham Castle left for a round-about trip to their winter mooring – one of the boats that was having to take the long route due to the Scarpe closure.
We waved them off and decided to have a second day and night at Courrières, it being so tranquil.
But things don’t always go to plan on a boat. We discovered that morning a small but annoying problem with one of the pumps on board – the one that empties the black water tank. We looked locally for a brico (DIY) store in order to buy the parts needed, but there was none within walking distance – so a change of plan was required.
We decided to go on to Lille that day, bringing our journey forward by a day. In many ways this was good, giving us longer to look around Lille as well as find the pump parts. So off we went. The journey was relatively smooth and uneventful, northwards on the Canal de la Deule, and then onto La Deûle itself – somehow I didn’t take any photos en route!
It was nice to arrive and moor up in Lille – just in front of a startled Tadham Castle! – put our feet up and reward ourselves with a glass of wine.
This mooring at Lille is on the dead end old arm of the river up by the citadel, park and zoo. It is close by to a good Greek restaurant. More about all of these below!
Next day we got the parts we needed for the pump and Stewart was able to effect a full repair – which means we felt free to enjoy Lille.
We started by a walk round the citadel park to the next lock we would be passing on La Deûle. We needed to collect a re mote control from here that would let us enter the Roubaix canal when we next set off – and decided this was easier to do in advance on foot than when we arrived at the lock in the boat. This took us on a glorious promenade through the woods, meeting and losing the star shaped moat as we went. And mission was accomplished, with the rem one control obtained.
Next on our list was a relaxing drink at the Greek restaurant – you can see Calliope in the photo, meaning that there was not far to get back home.
And there was good beer and kir pêche on offer, before a very good moussaka and salad. We definitely recommend a visit here if you are in Lille.
Lille has hundreds of iconic and beautiful buildings. It is a university city, with many old colleges, gardens, and rich merchants homes. On this trip I failed to take photos of these, apart from this one doorway that I liked for its irises.
Next day was the zoo – quite a gallery from here! It’s a small zoo, but with a range of animals from white rhinos to meerkats, and a proliferation of birds. Here is a selection of animals.
And a selection of birds!
Plenty more on offer if you get the chance for a stroll around. The whole area around the citadel is lovely, and you can go into the fort itself as well, although we did not on this occasion.
Our last evening was warm and full of wonderful colours in the sky at sunset. We were all set for the first of our visitors to arrive the next day.
Son Ashley with partner Theresa were due to arrive on Eurostar at lunchtime; I met them, came back by bus, and we were ready to cast off by 1430.
Our guests had a good varied start to barging life – first backing out of the mooring to turn round in the widening 250 yards astern, then out on to the big commercial waterway of La Deûle. Here they were impressed (ha ha) to hear me talk in French on the VHF to the lock keeper and arrange for us to go through a largish lock.
Before long we saw the sign for the Canal de Roubaix, and soon turning, under a bridge, into this much smaller channel – another experience for A and T.
We were ready for the first lock along the canal, knowing that we needed to use the remote control collected two days before.
We saw the sign, saw the lock, and began pressing the button to prepare the lock for us.
But nothing was happening.
We got closer and closer – still nothing.
Then the Captain realised why! A big commercial barge was coming backwards into the lock from above! It had obviously been working upstream at a quay where it could not turn round, so was backing out of the canal to reach La Deûle with its wide waters! We would need to wait – in awe – until this clever manoeuvre was complete.
We now had almost 4 kilometres to cover before our booked meeting at the next lock with the local éclusier team – and we were not going to make it! So I rang and apologised, delaying our arrival for 30 minutes.
Calliope got to the lock at Marcq-en-Baroeil at the newly appointed time, to find three smiling éclusiers waiting to take ropes, operate the lock, and generally be incredibly helpful.
This was to be the third type of lock operation in two hours for our new bargees – quite an introduction!
Marcq-en-Baroeil was our overnight stop. There was a small commotion on the pontoon at the idea of a 38 ton steel barge mooring up amongst the plastic pedals, motor boats and kayaks that were awaiting hire, but all was soon sorted.
Then first evening was celebrated by an early evening visit to two of the villages bars – the second being an Irish bar, packed with Lille football supporters watching TV and cheering their team on. It was the ‘Northern Derby’ against Lens – a crucial match!
Then back to the peace of the back deck for supper and a drink or two to end the day.
A beautiful end to our first day back together.
The morning was as beautiful as the evening had been. We went off relatively early to the boulangerie to get a full French pastries tasting experience for us all – Ashley looking particularly delighted! Then off towards the autumn sun to our first of 5 locks of the day.
We turned sharp to port to enter Trieste lock past a dazzling display of graffiti.
I enjoy seeing these splashes of clever colour in otherwise rather dank places. Certainly I couldn’t do what these street artists create on blank walls!
I was now able to hand over to the Trainee crew and do other useful things like deck cleaning, making tea, and talking to the lock audience – who inevitably watched our progress as it was a Sunday morning and at the edge of a park.
We thought our day’s journey was well under way, but on the water there is so often something to slow you down. This time we were asked by the éclusier team if we would mind waiting, before going through the next lock, for another boat that was on it’s way up to join us. If both boats will fit in the lock together this is an obvious work and water saver, so naturally we agreed.
This gave us a beautiful hour and a half to sit in the sun for a prolonged coffee break. We were moored mid-stream against a row of bollards, just before the next lock, so could not go ashore for a stroll. All we could do was ….. relax. Theresa had finished her self-imposed drying up duties, and even the Captain can be seen relaxing if you look carefully.
The sun was warm enough for Stu to take the waiting opportunity to drop down the windscreen, giving us a lovely flow of fresh air through the wheelhouse, and the best of views along the canal.
We both love it when the weather is right for this!
Periodically we looked back at the lock we had ascended to see if we could see our new companion on the horizon – and after about 90 minutes he was coming out of the lock.
Into lock number two of the day, Plomeux, a 3.37m rise, we went. We needed to go right to the front of the lock to allow space for the second boat, which meant having our bow rope round the ladder handrail; not ideal, and not something we would do ordinarily, but the lock keepers suggested it and everything worked out fine.
The system was repeated for the next three locks, along a kilometre and a half, and then one lift bridge to take us on into Roubaix.
We moored up at the nice new pontoon, complete with free electricity and water, and a security gate at the end, with our companion cabin cruiser moored just behind.
We had been given a lovely folder of information about Roubaix, its art works, its museum and history, so were looking forward to exploring the town. We even talked about looking for a restaurant open on a Sunday evening for a meal out.
Ashley and Theresa set out to explore the town that afternoon, and unfortunately were not impressed. Maybe they took the wrong route, maybe it was different with so much closed on a Sunday – but they returned disappointed. I was sad too, because others had told me of lovely things to see there, like the Art Deco Piscine – now an art gallery – so please don’t let this put you off making your own visit there.
It left us with a quandary over our supper, until Ashley discovered a wacky place to go, simply requiring an Uber car to get there.
We arrived at La Friche Gourmande to find a fabulous use of an old warehouse, including removing the central roof panels, so open to the sky. No attempt has been made to pretty it up – just add an assortment of tables and chairs, some shipping containers for various food and drink offerings, and there we are with a very convivial place to eat and drink. So we did.
Then ‘Ubered’ ourselves back to Calliope to find the pontoon transformed by its lighting.
Next morning proved very interesting.
Due to our failure so far to go out for a restaurant meal together I had booked lunch at La Maison du Canal at Leers Nord – our next stop, only 8 kilometres, 5 locks and 5 lift bridges away. Should be a simple enough cruise, with our eager and friendly team of éclusiers ready to go at 10 o’clock that would be an easy cruise. How wrong can you be????
Our first lock was within sight – almost within touching distance! So by 10.05 Calliope was sitting comfortably within, looking back at our companion cruiser who was to join us.
His boat stayed steadfastly still, and eventually we discovered from the éclusiers that his boat would not start this morning. He had only owned it a couple of days and we were all feeling sorry for him. But the super Roubaix team were on the case, phoning up someone to help him.
So on we went, working the crew hard as you can see! Luckily they were both willing volunteers, not pressed men and women, so we were in good cheer as we approached our next obstacle – a double lift bridge for the two sides of a roundabout that straddled the canal.
We were a bit perturbed to see the double red light ‘en panne’, or out of order, showing.
We slowed down and asked the team. Apparently the two bridges had started to lift, then stopped – meaning that it was still too low for us to go under, but too high for traffic to carry on round the roundabout!
Quite a problem! Not to us. We could tie up and wait. But this is a major roundabout, and now traffic from four directions was stopped. And it was stopped for two hours!
All is told in this picture. Calliope tied to the railings; the orange jacket of the technician who arrived to fix the mechanism; and in the foreground, the difference in levels between the partly risen bridge and the road!
Well once we knew that it would be quite some time to wait we realised that our luncheon booking could not be fulfilled. Ashley and I set off to find a boulangerie so that we would have bread for what would now be lunch on board.
We also bought a bag of pastries for the rather glum team of lock keepers, their manager (who had turned up) and the technician who would save the day.
They looked a bit happier once they had their treat!
And Ashley enjoyed demonstrating the difference in levels that meant we now had a team of 10 gendarmes directing the traffic, articulated lorries trying to cross grassy central reservations to turn round, and a good honking of French car horns – as you would expect!
Eventually, almost two hours after arriving at Pont des Couteaux, the bridge was tested, lowered, traffic allowed to move, and then raised again for us to make triumphal progress towards Leers Nord; only 3 locks and 4 bridges still to go!
So here is a taste of the journey – all a bit strange because as the canal twisted round the light changed and the two locks and the one lift bridge shown looks if they were in different days, or at least different times of day! Apologies; it was a nice trip!
Two more colourful things happened as we went along.
First we were joined for part pf the trip by a lovely peacock butterfly that actually stayed put long enough for me to photograph!
And then this colourful faience covered house which Theresa noticed at the side of a lock as we passed through.
(I know I shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’, but sometimes it just works; sorry).
(Faience is a kind of ceramic building material – glazed terracotta faced bricks. I fell in love with them when working for a brewery as many of he pubs in Portsmouth, and nom doubt elsewhere, had this kind of finish.)
And then. at last, at about 3pm, Leers Nord! It seems funny to get so excited about getting to such a little out of the way place on the French/Belgium border, but after the small disappointments of the last 24 hours, and with or visitors only having an other 24 to go, it felt important to reach somewhere we knew and where we also knew it would be good to end a short holiday!
The first thing to do once moored up was to provide a substitute lunch fro the one we had planned. A tapas style meal was hastily put together and en joyed on the aft deck with a glass of something refeshing!
After a bit of a walk an d getting to know the area more it seemed to be time to go to La Maison du Canal for a beer. Sadly they did not do food on a Monday night, but as Ashley had offered to put together a bolognese sauce we were happy to let that bubble like away gently while we tried one or two local brews.
All of which ended up with a beautiful full moon night and an ‘all-too-soon’ final evening with our first guests.
Tuesday, departure day, dawned in sparkling dewdrop fashion, the moon of the previous night giving way to the sun. A plan was hatched. For our guests to get back to Lille for their late afternoon Eurostar they would need to walk from Leers Nord into Leers – about 20 minutes – for a bus.
So lets all go together, and having checked out the bus stop and timetable we could look for somewhere to have a final lunch together.
And so, after breakfast, off we went.
We really hit in lucky in Leers. The brasserie Le Grain D’Orge was not only open, but welcoming, had a nice interior, and a good lunch menu.
My cassoulet de mer was especially delicious, but everyone enjoyed their meal, and the wine.
It was the best send off after our difficulties finding somewhere for a special meal out together on the previous days.
Stewart and I walked back to what now seemed a rather empty barge, and finding the pontoon empty, and very clean (it had been jet washed that day) we moved from the grass bank mooring so that we were close enough to fill up with water before our next visitor arrived. We also plugged into shore power for a while so that I could get the bedding through the washing machine and out into the sun.
Not long after our move a cabin cruiser came up through the lock to join us on the pontoon – and not long after that the boat that had broken down back in Roubaix arrived to see the grass bank.
We were pleased to se he had made it. He told me that his plan was to travel round France – and this was only day 4!
The end of the day was relaxed – boat and spare cabin prepared for our next guests arriving – and so I went for a walk along the canal. It turned out to be a livestock walk, with donkeys and a hare in addition to the chickens and geese seen above! That’s my kind of walk, being a farmer at heart!
And the skies did not disappoint as evening drew in, earlier and earlier now that we near the end of September.
In the morning I went to buy bread …. and having discovered both a great boulangerie and great charcuterie, plus fruit and veg shop, I came back somewhat more heavily laden than expected!
But it was good to have some treats in store for Hugh, especially for the late lunch he was expecting on arrival!
He arrived on time, in fact half an hour early, but we were ready and it was just great to see him.
After lunch Hugh and I went for a walk to stretch his legs after the three hour drive to meet us. As we came back past the Maison du Canal it seemed just the right time for a first beer in the sun. Captain Stu came to join us for a perfect ‘aperitif’; then back deck aperos before dinner in the Calliope café.
We had a sailing plan for Hugh, allowing him to get back to his car, or collect it part way through his three days with us. It meant setting off soon after he and I returned from a foraging excursionto the local boulangerie for breakfast croissants.
All in line with the plan we were through the Leers Nord lock at 0930, and on down the canal with Hugh spreading old bread to the geese – who made a lot of appreciative noise! We then discovered that the small cabin cruiser who had moored next to us was also coming down the canal – but preferred not to share the locks with us. We do understand; 38 tons of steel could look intimidating within the confines of a lock, although we are always careful and considerate of other craft.
The end result of this era that we travelled slower than expected, waiting for the lock to be reset for the smaller boat to follow through.
This gave Hugh the perfect opportunity to take the helm. He has plenty of sailing experience, so steering along a canal was no problem.
But Captain Stu took back the wheel to go through the narrow exit out onto the Haut Escaut!
Hugh was soon back in charge, enjoying the broad waters of the river.
We went through the one big lock of the day with no problem and were soon on the outskirts of Tournai, facing for the first time the big red traffic light, telling us that we must wait our turn to travel the narrow channel that goes through the city. The light has been in our favour in the past; a quick VHF call ascertained that we would not be waiting long for a barge coming in the other direction. We tied up to the quay for a while and then could carry on.
We went through the Tournai Pont des Trous (Bridge if Holes) noting the progress b being made since we were last there.
The bridge is having its central arch widened to accommodate todays commercial traffic, despite much angst from local people and history lovers.
It is a tough call, but as it is happening I will admire the engineering and final design.
We arrived at Antoing to find the whole (small) basin empty, allowing us to choose where to moor.
With lunch behind us I was able to take Hugh on a little exploration of Antoing and a walk around the perimeter of its castle. It was open for visits that day, but all places were booked.
I posted so many photos of the castle last time we were here in August that I will just put one in as a reminder of this fairy tale structure. It was taken on a much sunnier day!
Hugh had offered to take us out for a meal, and we knew of a good restaurant in Antoing that we thought would meet with his approval. I had had a confirmatory phone call from them to let us know that the reservation message I had left on their answer phone in garbled French had been understood!
An excellent culinary evening ensured, starting with drinks in the square, then a good meal in good company – just the apero tray and my dessert on show here!
Having whizzed through Tournai on the way to Antoing we decided to go back there so that Hugh could have an explore. It is an interesting city, with a long and varied history.
As we left Antoing we stopped at Neptunia, literally round the corner from the mooring basin, to top up with fuel,
I forgot to take a photo ofd the fuelling process, but I also got a new mop head – very pleasing!
The short cruise to Tournai took us past some interesting old buildings – maybe all industrial, or possibly some of them military. There is always plenty to see on the river; I am glad we travel slowly.
By half past ten we were coming up to the little port at Tournai – at the end of the fence on the left – giving us plenty of time to have a wander and probably lunch
The Captain was not on top form, so Hugh and I left him aboard to relax.
There are far too many interesting buildings in Tournai to do justice to them here, so a mini-selection of what Hugh and I wandered past.
The moving statue on the left, of a child leading the blind, is by Guillaume Charlier. He made it around 1908 after a visit to Zagreb where he saw children leading the blind through the streets and felt compelled to recreate what he had seen.
It being near lunch time, and having found out that Stu would prefer to keep resting rather than join us, I took High to a locals bistro I had been recommended.
The menu was not too exciting, but my aubergine and halloumi burger was very tasty; Hugh enjoyed his devilled prawns too, and the beer and frites!
I was keen to go to the Museum of Folklore so we retarced our steps and spent about an hour and a half in this extensive and very varied museum. I only include two ‘exhibits’. Top left is the old wood entrance door, showing evidence of the Covid times with all the garish but necessary signs spoiling the beauty of the door. Top right is a trouser press! We found this hard to believe as it is about 7′ tall, but it is true and is from a place where trousers were made, so presumably to press several pairs at a time!
So next morning soon after 9 a taxi arrived, and Hugh departed. We were sorry to see him go.
Stu, me and Calliope would continue on towards Gent without additional crew.