The Longer Way Home

Tournai to Kortrijk, via Gent

24th September to 5th October 2021 plus a week in Kortrijk

We were sad to be losing our visitor Hugh, but taxi companies at the next places up the river were less than co-operative, and with his luggage Hugh was not keen on using a series of buses to get back to his car – don’t blame him!

So once we had given him a good send off in Tournai it was our turn to be moving on.

We left Tournai, on the Escaut or Scheldt or Schelde river (depending on your language preference) heading North, enjoying the ever changing glimpses of the city as we went.

There were only two locks along the way that day; here we are at the first one, waiting as it is prepared for us, as signalled by the red and green lights. Before long we we’re in, alone in quite a big lock lengthwise, although not deep and easy to navigate.

We have been up and down this section of the Haut Escaut (also known as Schelde) a few times now, but I am still inspired by things that we see – maybe in a different light or from a different angle. It is such a mix of ancient and modern, rural and urban.

We intended to look at the mooring below Bossuit lock, hoping that not would be empty and looking good; it was, on both counts. We managed to get there by lunch time; it was an almost perfect place to arrive at for the weekend, and on a beautiful day too.

The nose of the big barge seen towards mid-left on the photo indicates the entrance two the Bossuit lock. If we were in a hurry to get home we would be going up through the lock (quite a deep one) and along the subsequent canal to Kortrijk and our winter mooring. But we had time to spare!

We had a beautiful afternoon and evening there, watching people come for weekend fun in speed boats and on jet skis – and on Vespas! There is the only Vespa hire place I have ever seen in my long life there at Bossuit!

Stu and I had a gentle stroll around Bossuit, discovering its ‘chateau’ and long avenue, now unused. There is also a marvellous church that was destroyed in WW1, rebuilt then partially destroyed again in WW2. It os now left as a shell to show what has been and what is now. It is rather beautiful.

I found this moth on board, sadly dead, and was fascinated to see how colourful the back wings were, underneath the rather dull front wings.

A bit of research seems to indicate that it is a Large Yellow Underwing – which is pretty much how I would have e described it!

Later, after the Saturday boaters left us all alone, we watched the sun go down ….

… with a glass of wine!

Sunday morning was a bit misty, but the early sun soon came slanting in, catching Calliope broadbeam and creating a warm light space in the wheelhouse for breakfast.

We were now onto new waters for us, continuing downstream towards Oudenaarde. We have not cruised along this part of the Schelde (Escaut) before, and were surprised to see some distant hills in a normally quite flat Belgian countryside. The early blue skies were sliding towards greyness as we travelled northwards., and the scenery kept changing, though mostly rural.

Then we reached Oudenaarde. Ahead off us was a lift bridge, and its was not until it actually began to left that we realised it was one of the rather modern ‘verticals take-off’ ones! More modern miracles to see.

When it came to mooring he we had listened to the advice from Belgian barging friends and tied up to the wall. This is opposite the lift bridge entrance to the marina where most leisure boats go. Calliope would fit in the marina, but the wall was more convenient for the town and saved the faff of asking for another bridge to be raised, and hoping for a space within the port.

As usual, once lunch and a short rest were out of the way, we were off to explore our new surroundings, starting with a nearby park.

Then into the centre, and what a town Oudenaarde is! We were not prepared for yet another of Belgium’s hidden wonders!

The main square, is replete an d picturesque with gilded town hall, bars, restaurants and high quality shops. I have rarely seen such a good collection of independent clothes shops.

And the colourful paper spheres hung across all the streets in the centre brought a sense of fun and fiesta to the town.

There is a towering cathedral, watching over everything across there town. In its shadow was an ancient bar; we chose this from the multitude on offer and watched Oudenaarde’s evening promenades over a couple of beers.

Then on to what turned out to be one of the best Italian restaurants we have been to. The pizzas were superb – hand thrown dough and excellent topping.

The carafe of rosé wine was good too!

Thank you Google maps and all those who bother to review restaurants, so that we can quickly see which one of many pizza places was likely to one best.

And, luckily for us on the following morning, there was also a full set of commerce in town, including a brico, or DIY shop, about a kilometre’s walk from the boat. We wanted some nuts and bolts, a new mop and I got a pipe cleaner while I was there.

Those purchases led to a bit of boat maintenance, before lunch, and then a bit more exploring.

We had been told that the museum and the beguinage were well worth seeing. Sadly we were there on the one day of the week that the museum is shut, the beguinage is always open; people live there still, though no longer as beguines. (A beguine was a single woman wanting to live a life of safety amongst other woman, but not under holy vows. There were many such groups across Flanders from C13 onwards).

When we were not in the town we were enjoying the mooring between the lift bridge and the lock. Although this photos os serene we did have a lot of commercial traffic passing by – probably 30-40 barges a day – but not causing us more than a small amount of turbulence.

We stayed two nights and could have enjoyed Oudenaarde for longer. We always say we love the rural moorings best, and indeed we do, but there s something about the lights of a town playing on the water that makes urban living very palatable too!

Just before we leave Oudenaarde I will use the town as an example of the enthusiasm with which the Belgians have added Halloween to their festivities.

From early October, and in this case late September, shop windows become spooky and homes have heaps of pumpkins outside.

However we were keen to get to Gent to meet our good friends and spend a few days with them, so with a fair day dawning we prepared to go off along the river. Over on the right, across this wide basin, you can just see the lift bridge entrance to the port, back at a hairpin angle to Calliope’s direction.

There was the usual activity in and out of Oudenaarde lock as we set off, and we waited our turn below Liefman’s brewery – home of one of my favourite Kriek beers. Fancy discovering that as I am leaving!

Soon we were through the lock and on our way towards Ghent – or Gent as it is spelt in Belgium.

After a gentle journey through the countryside we arrived at Asper lock, our last of the day (or so we thought).

We had followed Avary down from Oudenaarde, where we had let her into the lock first. We prefer to be behind the big boats, rather than in front.

It is just another 2.4m lock, but this was an other of those occasions when the spacing of the bollards, on the quay and in the wall, is not in our favour.

Not a problem; just a quick change of plan and we do the one rope trick!

On we went through the September sunshine. At one point Avery and Calliope passed a little Visuris (Flanders Waterway Authority) survey vessel. They are good at keeping an eye on the state of the canals and infrastructure, and even take responsibility if your boat is damaged b y something they should have moved or repaired – or at least warned you about.

It was not too long before we were crossing the Ring Vaart, the ‘express’ waterway that surrounds Gent, allowing the commercial boats to avoid the little twisting rivers that enter into the heart of the city.

For us, crossing to the narrower part of the Schelde was essential for our plan to enter the city. It is a mostly pretty way to enter Gent and with the sun behind us Calliope made happy progress. We came to the junction with the Muinkschelde – a canal built by the monks of St Peter’s Abbey in the Middle Ages to make out easier to transport their goods. It still leads to the city centre and two of the main moorings (Lindelei and Ketelvest), but we were heading for Portus Ganda and took the right fork.

Then came a slight surprise! We had forgotten that we had one more, small, lock to go through – Brusselse-Poort. It had been out of action every other time we had been to this majestic city, so we had always used another route. This time we needed to call and ask to descend the lock.

Soon after the lock we turned left onto the Visservaart up to the Portus Ganda basin. The lock keeper had asked our height and on hearing we were 3m he said that we would fit under the Lousbergbrugg. It looked a bit tight to us when we arrived there, but we squeaked under, PV panels intact!

We always enjoy entering a city by water and seeing the homes and businesses that have grown up around the river or canal. Gent is no exception.

And so into Portus Ganda – a lovely basin in central Gent. We were surprised to see two other boats on the Rood Touren quai where we have moored before, but there was still plenty of room for us and soon we were tied up at the bridge end; makes a change as we have always moored at the other end of this quay!

It wasn’t long before our friend Captain Frans was on the quay to say hello. Annoyingly I had picked up some throat infection thing and was soon asleep, but expecting to be better next day – and was!

We did some food shopping in the morning – it’s nice to be in a place that you sort of know and can just go to the shops with our too much thought.

Later we got an invitation to supper with Frans and wife Mieke on their barge, Dreamer – moored just 150 yards along the basin. Dreamer is the last third boat from the right along the tree lined Voorhoutkaai in the photo above. And that evening we were treated to a Brazilian fish soup with rice, cooked by Masterchef Frans! It was delicious.

We were full of intentions to return the culinary favour next day, but then Stewart caught my throaty thing and it was his turn to be asleep for most of the day. Our plan of a walk round the evening bright lights off Gent, followed by a frites supper had to be called off.

I went for my own walk around the parts of the city that I love best, and came across this wonderful roof in a street I had not come across before. It is the old City Hall started in the 16th/17th centuries. My Super Gent Guide Mieke tells me that construction came to a halt because of religious disputes. When the dust had settled there was no more money left …

Although we were going the next day I knew there would be time for a breakfast treat at one of the excellent local coffee shops and an opportunity to say goodbye. In the end it was just Mieke and I who did this – Frans being busy dismantling a mast, and Stewart being busy doing manly things in the engine room.

As you can see we had a very good breakfast! Far more than I expected, and ‘lekker’ (delicious) too.

By 1015 we were off, leaving Mieke with the white chrysanthemum that had been one of my deck plants for the two months aboard.

It would be far happier in the warmth of Dreamer’s saloon than left out in the winter winds of Kortrijk!

Back through the Portus Ganda basin, along Visservaart and under the low bridge (which we had raised for us this time), up the Brusselse Poort lock, and along the Scheldt to the Ring Vaart ……

…. which we joined this time, to take us round to the Leie river – eventual direction Kortrijk! Before peeping out of the Schelde I checked the traffic movements on the VisuRis website – it is very helpful for checking the position of big barges if you don’t have AIS own your boat.

The Leie between Gent and Deinze is as beautiful as it is bendy! Some of the bends are hairpin, and many are right angle, so the Captain is constantly on his toes in case anything appears around the bend. Usually it is just ducks and coots at this time off the year.

We were heading for and hoping for one of our favourite moorings – Saint-Marten-Latem. The VisuRis system was showing a boat there already, and we know it is only a 20m pontoon, so no room for us if another boat is moored up.

Then, just as we got to the last 200 yards, I saw on the screen that the boat was moving towards us! How lucky were we? Just as we came round the final grey bend we saw the ‘offending’ cabin cruiser come towards us, and beyond an empty pontoon. Hooray! (There is a smile on my face under that hat, I promise!)

There was a gap in the showers and we set off for a walk – only for it to start raining before we had gone 100 yards! Normally at Saint-Martens we walk around the village and marvel at the art gallery and sculptures that abound in this well heeled yet bohemian place. This time we went along country paths, wet, green and dotted with sheep.

Then back to a cosy evening aboard with our Refleks stove lit for the first time in 2021. I love Calliope on autumn and winter nights, so warm and intimate.

We only stayed one night. The cruise next day had three distinct themes.

The first theme was older houses. There are many striking modern houses along the edge of the Leie, but this time ~I thought I would capture some of the older properties, with their big lawns and sense of belonging.

The second theme was pastoral – stretches of water meadows feeding herds of cows and sheep, many inquisitive about this boat passing them by.

Then, just as we were navigating some of the most tortuous twists in the river, wide came upon the third theme!!

We came upon a rowing event. This comprised something like twenty coxed skiffs of various sizes from pairs to eights. They were well spread out and each time we asked a boat of they were the last one they replied “No, many more boats to come!” And come they did, usually just as we went round a sharp bend! I stood in the bow calling out to each one to make sure they had seen us; we didn’t hit any, and they did not hit us. There was a series of friendly happy exchanges between different craft on the same river.

Our thoughts had been to go to Deinze that day, but as we reached Astene and came through the manually (note man in red jacket) lifted bridge we saw that the pontoon there was empty.

It has always been full when we have passed before so we had not expected to stop there, but now was our chance.

So here we are moored up next to a reed bed on a grey October Saturday; very pleasant, calm and secure – although it poured with rain that night and the river rose at least 20cms! But before all that I went for a walk.

I went along a loop of the old Leie, now sensibly cut off by a simple straight bit of canalised river through Astene. That has left a beautiful piece of countryside, full of waterscapes. Just look at those 5 views – all with part of the Leie – including bottom centre the straight bit at Astene with Calliope moored up.

I got back in time to cook a good warming supper, and just before the rain began to lash down – for the next 14 hours non-stop! We realised in the morning that the river level had gone up 20cm overnight; all safe and sound for us on a floating pontoon.

We waited and waited in the morning for the rain to stop before we set off, and eventually gave up as we were only going about 3kms!

So off under grey skies to Deinze.

We know Deinze quite well now and were soon easily tied up on the long curved quay. By then the skies had started to clear and the rain had stopped, so after lunch we were off to take a Sunday walk around town and the park.

There are so many interesting little corners of Deinze it is hard to know where to start. A new feature was this inside/outside dining room where you are invited to bring your own meal a sit down to dine. Next to this fascination is a small park, with a duckweed filled channel adding to the greenness. And outside the fire station a slightly larger than life statue of a ‘brandweerman’ at work.

We moved on into the main park – De Brielmeersen – a big open area on the ‘corner’ between the Leie and the Schipdonkcanal.

It looks to me as if ti includes some more old loops and twirls of the Leie, now cut off fro the main river.

It includes a collection of animals – not quite a zoo, but interesting and entertaining just the same.

There are sheep – some more interested in me than others!

There are donkeys (my favourite), humans having too much fun, and storks.

But back to boats and barges!

We went back aboard to enjoy our last evening and night out on the waterways, planning to steam along the final stretch in the morning, to reach Kortrijk and our winter mooring .

Monday morning was beautiful – just right for a cruise with just two big wide locks to go through.

But as we were getting ready to go just after 9 o’clock I received a VisuRis notice to say that the first of the two locks on front of us was closed for the morning due to underwater damage.

We were concerned that there would be a build up of large commercial barges either side of the lock, and that even when it opened there could be considerable delay in us getting through. We could risk spending our last night away from ‘home’ moored by a lock in a queue of other barges – or stay in Deinze in the sun!

So we stayed another night in Deinze.

We sat back and enjoyed the extra time we had had donated to us. It enabled me to notice the one rosemary flower that my little rosemary bush had produced all year; time to note that the river level had dropped quite a bit and ropes were now slack; time for the Captain to enjoy a glass of wine as the autumn sun went down – a sun so brightened low that he needed to wear his panama hat in the wheelhouse!

As the sun went down clouds began to appear in the West – was this a harbinger of what was too come tomorrow?

My walk to the bakery in the morning was in golden-hued sun, shining in on the old disused mill complex.

I was glad the buildings were so well lit as they appear to be due for demolition and this might be my last chance to see them.

I love to think of the years of workers and barges coming and going here; it would have been a busy wharf, noisy and by today’s standards quite dangerous!

Back on board we got ready to go just as the sun disappeared – as forecast! We knew to expect rain by the time we reached the second lock, but in the meantime the Captain concentrated on taking Calliope through the two lift bridges on the way out of Deinze.

The second one, on the right, is very new, only opened a few months previously. It is a useful footbridge connection across to the park – very modern.

By the time we reached the first lock at Sint-Baafs-Vijve the weather was definitely turning. The flags show how gusty the wind was becoming, and the rain was threatening to arrive any minute.

We allowed a hotel barge that had been following us to slip ahead of Calliope, and behind a freycinet at the front of the queue.

The lock keeper had explained over the radio that we would be waiting half an hour for some other boats to come down the lock, so we tied up and had a cup of tea.

Then we were in the lock – a huge new lock that was still being built this time last year.

It is about 200m long!!!!

For those of a civil engineering mindset, here is a link to a one minute speeded up video of installing the new 43 ton lock gates:

By the time we reached Harelbeke, the second lock of the day, and the last of the season, the storm had arrived.

Thank goodness for my mother’s old sailing trousers! It was not nice out there, although I do like to be out in all weathers to be honest.

The Captain, meantime, stayed in the dry!

Three hours later the storm had blown over, we were moored up in our home port of Kortrijk for the winter months, the mast was up and all was good.

Our shortened season was complete. Instead of our usual 6 months aboard each summer we were curtailed in 2021 by Covid regulations and by the new Brexit rules.

Nonetheless we had had a really good time, exploring new waterways including the Sambre, and revisiting old favourites like Pommeroeul, Antoing and Leers Nord.

The map shows, in purple, our route, with just the final section across the top from Waregem to Kortrijk rising.

We like Kortrijk and have enjoyed it as a home port for three years now. Each time we come back I post a few photos to give an idea of the city – small, historical, arty, friendly. This year there has been a huge art installation exhibition across the city called Paradise in Kortrijk.

Here is my Autumn 2021 election.

I seem to have done a lot of my walking and phogtobgrapohing in the dark this time, but it is dark by about 7pm at this time of year.

Autumn was certainly upon us, with inside in the shops and outside in the early morning mists, that could last until midday.

We made the most of autumn – enjoying the city socially, and going out with boating friends two nights running and having a good food fun meal at the Egyptian Restaurant that we like.

But then down to work!

Preparing and varnishing the wheelhouse, mast and dog box is an annual task, keeping the wood nice and shiny. I’m involved in the prep work, but the Master does the skilful stuff as I’m not to be trusted with a paint brush!

We had arranged in advance for new canvas top covers for the wheelhouse and the dog box. Once Elvis (yes, he is called Elvis) had been to measure up and take the old covers as a guide I went up atop the wheelhouse to give the wood a good clean before the new cover arrived

Nice view along the port from there!.

A few days later Elvis was back for the final fitting – just in time as we watched the dark skies gather around us!

He was meticulous with his fitting, returning one more time to his factory to do some finishing off before he was done.

He did a great job; Calliope looks really smart.

Another task we had set ourselves was to try and choose a new winter mooring place for the next year. As I have said we do like Kortrijk a lot, but wanted to explore more of the waterways of France in 2022, where we can also more easily get a long-stay visa.

That included a short trip by car across to Wambrechies – a port on the Deûle in northern France, and just a 30 minute journey away. We liked the port, the town, and a very pleasant park behind a chateau (now library and museum) all very close by.

The empty quay shown is due for a makeover, to include water and electricity – maybe by winter 2022, and maybe not! So for now we will keep looking.

Before we knew it it was time to go. We left the PV panels down off the wheelhouse for the winter and closed all windows and hatches tight. Captain Stu ‘winterised’ the electricity and water systems, I set the thermostatically controlled plugs for the winter heaters, and we were off.

It `always feels a little sad to look back at Calliope, tucked in between the other boats and left alone for a few months – but we should be back to see her and Kortrijk in December for a few days.

Before long we were on another boat – a much larger one – and crossing the channel from Dunkirk on a perfect calm and sunny day.

No ropes to throw; no wheel to steer, apart from the car on the way back to Hampshire from Dover.

So that’s it for another year – our seventh happy summer with Calliope.

Published by lesley-jane

Wife of Stewart, mother of 3, Granny of 6 (yes, I am happy to define myself by my family; I value them more than anything), and living abroad Calliope, our replica Dutch Barge, currently cruising the inland waterways of France, Belgium and The Netherlands. Retired from a couple of enjoyable careers, and now being closer to the real, outdoor me. Love water, fascinated by animals, enjoy music, support Pompey and try to find fun in all parts of my life.

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