From the Haut Escaut to the Meuse

Up the Nimy-Blaton-Péronne, through the Canal du Centre, down the Brussels-Charleroi and along the Sambre.

April 28 to May 7 2022

After 3 splendid nights on the new curved pontoon of the Royal Yacht Club of Péronnes it was time to move on.

While there we had had a couple of good walks around Le Grand Large, and along part of the old canal. The old Pommereul-Antoing canal came up out of the Petit Large, along the western edge of what is now the Grand Large, then off around the hill, using 5 small locks to gain the necessary rise.

Looking towards Lock 1 (Maubray-Péronnes) from Lock 2 (Péronnes)

The new Nimy-Blaton-Pommereul canal replaces the old canal; it was opened in 1826. At that time, the Borinage mining area needed an efficient means of transport for the enormous amount of coal mined in the region. This meant a much wider canal and two much taller locks; this would be our route when we left.

In the meantime we took advantage of the on-site bar and restaurant, treating ourselves to a few Belgian beers and to a burger and meatballs meal.

The mornings across Le Grand Large were mystical in their slow beauty.

And we had the breakfast bonus of swallows flying and landing all around us.

There was a pleasant array of wild fowl to watch on the water too – grebes, cormorants, ducks, geese, swans. Apparently in the autumn the area is full of migrating birds and a sight to behold.

Then it was time to go. We were lucky with Maubray-Péronnes lock – the 12.5m giant (although not as deep as several we went through on the Rhône) – it was prepared for us immediately and we were soon on our way up.

The opening of the rising lock door is such a lovely experience on a day like this, so I have tried to embed a video. Let’s see if you can view it!

Off went Calliope, down the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes on a beautiful April Sunday. There were few other boats around, commercial or leisure, so we had the canal mostly to ourselves. As we left the lock we looked back at the jetty on the right where we moored up a few years ago, in the dark and amongst about 6 commercial barges and 4 other leisure cfaft! It was something of an unplanned stop and the whole exciting adventure is described in a previous blog! (https://calliope.blog/2019/07/15/a-river-and-three-canals-in-a-week/)

On nice clear, wide, quiet sections like this the crew sometimes takes the helm. I do love steering and feel very comfortable to be at the wheel, but I prefer the action of throwing ropes when it comes to locks and mooring up; the Captain is far better to be in charge at times like those.

We passed the closed off end of the old canal (on the right), and continued on to look at one of our favourite moorings – another Grand Large. This one is at the entrance to the Pommereul-Condé canal which, despite being modern, has been closed for several years due to silting up at the French end. It is due to re-open this year, so dredging is going on, this making it a less attractive mooring proposition.

Soon after this we passed the Mons basin which marks the start of the Canal du Centre and the end of the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes.

There were two locks ahead of us before our chosen stop for the night at Thieu.

The first is the 5m Obourg-Warton. And the second, which we are heading towards in the photo, is the 10m Havre. The welcome green light allowed us to steam straight in.

(talk about locks)

Many of the big locks have a door/gate half way along. This means that it is possible to only use half a locks worth of water for smaller boats like us.

We rarely see this in action, but the Captain always takes Calliope to the front of the lock so that it is possible if the lock keeper chooses.

This time we did find the tall midway doors close behind us.

Then onwards over the last 4kms of the day to Thieu!

Looking down at the Thieu quay, and Calliope, with the New Ascenseur in the distance, and the historic Ascenbseur to the right

We like the quay at Thieu – just a kilometre from the stunning 20 year old 240 ft high Strèpy-Thieu Ascenseur (boat lift), This giant structure was completed in 2002 and allowed far larger vessels to travel the Canal du Centre.

The quay is next to the start of the Historic Canal du Centre, which is the route we had planned to take this time. But unfortunately we discovered that it is currently closed for maintenance.

The original canal, now renamed the Historic Canal, has a series of 4 boat lifts to achieve the same height as the one newer Ascenseur.

It starts, at its lower end, here is this lovely basin.

Happily ensconced at Thieu it felt sensible to enjoy the sun and the view by sipping cold beer on the back deck.

And then there are the sunsets top enjoy too!

Next day we were joined by fellow Piper Pilgrim, on their way in the opposite direction; a good opportunity to talk through the delights of life on the waterways of Europe.

Being moored up on a nice steady high quay gave the Captain a chance to become my water engineer and rig up a pump to squirt canal water on the deck for cleaning purposes – I let him try to out first!

After two nights and a full day enjoying being at Thieu we decided to carry on towards our main objective fo the summer, Strasbourg.

So we waited until a commercial barge came past heading for the Ascenseur, and tagged along behind.

After speaking to the ‘lock keeper’, or should I say Ascenseur Operative, we were asked to wait for a barge that was coming down to leave the boat lift, and then we could go up with the commercial.

This is what the inside of the boat lift looks like – a complete giant ‘bath’ of water, complete with its boats, ascends (or descends).

Up we went! It is always a spectacular experience, The vista that gradually opens up before one as the lift rises with your barge tucked safely inside never fails to impress. And this particular day was the best – clear and sunny.

Leaving the Ascenseur we cruised along the new wide Canal de Centre until its junction with the Brussels – Charleroi Canal.

On our way we watched out for a strange short-stay mooring, usefully next to a Carrefour supermarket. We were in need of fresh milk – to always an easy purchase in Belgium and France, but usually to be fund in the larger supermarkets.

The stop requires spotting a bollard often hidden in long grass, and an arrangement of ropes, metal bars, nuts and bolts. We found it; we moored up; we shopped!

I didn’t discover the reason, but all customers were being given a fresh rose, with lily of the valley. all in a little plastic vase.

Makes a nice addition to the wheelhouse!

Viesville lock

Our aim for the night was to stop above the lock at Viesville. It is not an immediately desirable mooring, but we have stopped there a few times and find it a peaceful spot, despite the trains that rush by now and then.

One of the fascinations of this lock is the installation of 3 giant Archimedes screws. These, by each raising 9000 cubic metres of water per hour, replace upstream the water that is ‘lost’ when the lock empties.

For those as interested as us, here is a link to the company that proudly installed the screws. https://www.besix.com/en/news/the-three-locks

We also has an unexpected visit from the Belgian Navy – well two of them, off duty, cycling he canal and interested in Calliope. They were welcomed aboard and given the grand tour!

Next morning, while I was slowly getting up, I was informed by the Captain that the lock was full and the gate open, with a green light – an invitation to get going! So we did.

Viesville Lock, looking across at the floating bollards opposite to those we used

Down through Viesville (7m), Gosselies (7m) and Marchienne-au-Pont (7m) – a full 21m down the valley to Charleroi. Because of the layout of the floating bollards, designed for 40m and 80m commercial barges, we had to straddle the gates in the centre. We were lucky to be alone! Obviously we could not have done this if we were sharing the locks.

All three locks have these wonderful floating bollards, although a note in our map book from last year warned us that one floating bollard was missing in Gosselies lock, so we made sure we went to the other side.

They also all have lock doors that slide open sideways, revealing the next beef, or stretch of canal, slowly and tantalisingly!

Everything was amazingly smooth and I made the mistake of saying what a good day we were having ……

We reached the awkward right hand bend under a bridge and out onto the River Sambre at about 11.30, pleased to see the illuminated green arrows to the left of the bridge (just visible on photo) indicating that we were free to turn left or right onto the Sambre..

Happily we steamed on through the bridge, towards the almost gothic outline of the abandoned steel works.

Last year we turned right and went up the Sambre, into Fracxne that way. It was a lovely journey. The town of Thuin mentioned on the sign is a fascinating place, famous for its (often alcoholic) cherries!

But this year, 2022, we turned left towards the Meuse.

Then as I called the Marcinelle lock, by then just a few hundred yards from us, we realised we would be queuing behind a working barge.

As I talked to the lock keeper in my inadequate French I came to understand that there was a problem ahead at the lock. 

We managed to moor up, with our ropes across a cycle path (although you cannot see that here thank goodness!) next to and surrounded by the architectural ruins of Charlerpoi’s industrial past.

I walked down to the lock. It contained a large barge, going nowhere, with the top lock gate wide open. The presence of a Diving van signalled an underwater problem, and I managed to discover that it would be about two hours before things would get moving again.

Every cloud has a silver lining. I found a five star sandwicherie only half a  mile away and set out to buy a lunch time treat. We would never have thought we would sit enjoying a tuna, egg and anchovy baguette in the middle the noisy dusty canal at Charleroi, but on that day we did!

And after the prescribed two hours everything got moving again.

We went through the lock with our new commercial friend Sirius, and continued down the Sambre for the next 3 hours, following Sirius in and out of locks.

May is such a lovely month to be travelling on the water – all the wildfowl are raising their young – this neatly camouflaged Egyptian goose standing sentry over a little pile of goslings.

And then there are the surprise new structures – we are sure this smooth blue bridge was not there last time we passed this way.

Finally our paths diverged from Sirius, as they stopped overnight a couple of kilometres before we arrived at our chosen destination – a mooring in front of a disused fire station!

It was a very tranquil rural mooring, with just a little traffic over the bridge a couple of hundred yards behind us. In fact anything seems tranquil after the rush and kerfuffle of Charleroi and its environs!

Next day we set off from our fire station stop (on the market at a mere €850,000) to travel round a couple of bends and one lock before stopping again for some food shopping.

The lock in question was at Auvelais. It is currently in the middle of a major upgrade, and there was some consternation when the lock began to empty next to a small diving platform.

All was slowed down, and everyone was happy again. Apologies for this misty photo – it was not good light on that morning! But I hope it gives an indication fo what was going on as we left the lock.

Then we were tied up in the ‘cut-out’ next to the railway bridge at Auvelais. Up the stairs we went, over the river, and into town for a few bags full of supplies; then retracing our steps a little slower than we went!

We stayed at Auvelais long enough to have a good lunch full of the fresh things we had bought, and then got going for the final 12 kilometres of the day to Floreffe.

Our last lock for that day was Mornimont – just 4.6m down, but without floating bollards and being behind a large commercial brings its own need for careful attention.

Stu is watching here to see how soon he can move his rope from the bollard on the quay onto the first of the bollards in the wall -as you cn see from my rope attached to one of these.

You might also notice the Captain’s headset. This Nauti Talk system makes it so much easier for us to discuss where to tie up, who will move their rope down first, any requirements to move ahead, or astern etc.

And before long we were coming into Floreffe, looking up at the 900 year old Abbey, and looking down for a place to moor.

We were in luck again. The 40m pontoon was empty and we snuggled up to the restaurant/party boat Carpe Diem, with the most amazing scenery all around us.

We wandered up to the abbey during late afternoon (more to follow) but were back aboard to watch the sun go down across the river.

Much has been said about the Abbey at Floreffe, so our take on it is rather inconsequential. It is a good walk up the hill, pleasant to do, and when we arrived we discovered that the complex is now a school. Visitors are still welcome to wander around the grounds; the surprising thing, to us, was all the youngsters happily using the space as their playground, which indeed it is.

It was invigorating to see a game of volley ball going on not far from the bar and terraces for visitors. Students were everywhere, enjoying the sun much as we were.

So here are a few photos of our visits over the two days we were there.

The Abbey has its own range of beers – no longer brewed there sadly, but I guess there are no monks left to do the brewing!

The long distance vista from the top is well worth the climb …….

…… and we could see Calliope way below on her mooring.

The mornings at Floreffe, each following a beautiful clear day, were wistfully misty. We sat happily drinking tea waiting for the mists to clear before making plans for the day.

Plans included more cleaning – was still trying to get rid of the dust of Kortrijk building sites and Charleroi scrap metal works!

And the pontoon at Floreffe is just the right height to make easy work of cleaning the side – well one side at least!

One of the things I really enjoy about being on the barge is the frequent passing of other boats.

For example, this bow of a 40m full laden barge, low in the water, and passing our door at lunch time.

The return of the hot sun later in the day prompted the skipper to try out the new back deck shade.

We have always favoured a lime green shade, but this year there were none to be found in the rectangular shape and size that we wanted, so grey it is this year.

It was lovely to enjoy the long evenings, with darkness not descending until about 21.30. The idea of a walk upstream along the bank just acts as a magnet on my soul! Although I didn’t go far – if you look carefully you can see Calliope moored around the bend.

After two fine and interesting days in Floreffe we were ready for our last few hours on the Sambre. Just 12 kilometres and two locks separated us from the Meuse.

We waited half an hour after a working barge had passed us going down stream, to give it time to go through Florifoux lock without the bother of us. But in fact when we arrived we had a red light and needed to wait for a barge coming up.

Then at the second lock we were asked to move to the front to make room for long a massive barge came in behind us – right up close! But always safe. It was marked with Jaws style teeth on the bow and a photo would have been great, but my phone was in the wheelhouse!

We followed her down into Namur, watching with incredulity as she made her way under low old bridges. She had a wheelhouse that lowers about 8′ to go under low infrastructure, but when in that mode the Captain can hardly see anything ahead!

Something we had not expected and did not know about was the new cable car from Namur town up to the Citadel. Over the last 3 years we have moored a couple of times right next to the new cable car station, and had no idea it was planned!

So a final couple of images to indicate the juxtaposition of old and new in Namur – there is far more than this, and I have included lots of photos on previous blogs, so I will spare you now.

And finally we were out on the Meuse, heading upstream, Southwards on a rather grey day. Apologies for the photo! But we were off, towards Strasbourg, Nancy, Toul, Metz and other joys.

And the next instalment of that journey will be in the next blog. 😊

[PS my onboard garden, for those who are following the planting of seeds, is beginning to appear; flax, carrots, marigolds, sunflowers and snap-dragons. An eclectic mix, that will be explained later]

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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