Part 2 – From Givet to Charleville
13th to 24th May 2022
(This year we joined the Meuse in Namur and headed upstream. The first section of the journey is in the previous post – https://calliope.blog/2022/05/26/the-magnificent-meuse/)
After our one night in Givet next on the agenda was Vireux-Wallerand. To get there we had three locks, 10 kilometres, and a small tunnel to navigate.
At Givet we had been handed a telecommand, or remote control, to operate the locks for the foreseeable future.
It’s always quite nice to have this control, and not be radioing lock keepers in my faulty French!
The first place to put it into use was at the beautifully named ‘les 3 Fontaines’ écluse – although the three springs were not to be seen from the lock!
We were nonetheless pleased to see the arrival of a lock keeper to help us with our ropes in this 3.28m deep lock. It is not all that deep in the scheme of things, but with the bollards set back out of sight from the deck below it was more than handy to have the ‘hook-on-a-long-stick’ lowered to pick up our ropes and drape them cosily around bollards!
As the water raised Calliope to lock-keeper level Captain Stu got quite chatty with our new friend.
From the lock is it a matter of around 200m before the entrance to Ham tunnel – and 564m to the other end. This 142 year old tunnel has no foot or tow path through, and no lights, but as one can see the daylight at the other end it is not too bad.
The only thing is ….. we know that the middle section is not lined, and has quite rough overhangs, and ‘underhangs’ of rock, so the crew’s task was to help light the way with a torch.
As usual Captain Stu steered us through perfectly, and soon we were rediscovering the daylight at the top, south west, tunnel cut.
This tunnel cuts out a huge 8-10 meander of the Meuse, and we avoided passing Chooz Nuclear Power Station, which is situated at the end of this Meuse loop. Probably just as well as two of the reactors are currently closed down due to corrosion!
At the 3.2m deep Ham lock the other side of the tunnel we were pleased to have the assistance of an éclusier again – her you can better see the passing down of the hook!
You can also see how I, on deck, have absolutely no sight of the bollard that I would otherwise be throwing a rope around!
The cut leading away from Ham écluse and tunnel is about 1km in length. At it’s end is an old pont levée, now permanently raised in a salute to the many boats that have passed beneath. As we left the cut I looked back at the difference in width between the main Meuse and the channel we had been following!
The next things to catch the eye are the white sculptures lining the bank. These are by the late artist Georges-Armand Favaudon who died in the village here earlier this century. There is more to come of his work in Fumay.
I am sure I have commented on the stunning scenery of the Meuse valley in Part 1 of our Meuse journey, but I have to say it again! And I will repeat this several times as the days go on. The open expansive space, the colours unspoilt by pollution, the air, all lift the spirits and just put a wide grin on the face!
Another 4 kilometres and we arrive at our stop for the day. The river separates the two small Vireux towns (Vireux-Wallerand and Vireux-Molhain) and the mooring, on the Wallerand side, is near the bridge that links the two.
A walk round the two towns did not take long; sadly they are past their prime, but the mooring was agreeable, and looked great from the far side.
We were next to a small local chateau, now hotel; we had visiting water fowl, a friendly Capitaine, and a good place to cool hot toes!
And also we had a friterrie very close by!
I forget whose turn it was to cook, but a decision was quickly made that one more fritterie meal was in order!
This was just a one night stay, with Viereux-Mulhein delightfully illuminated; in less than 24 hours we set off for Fumay. We had heard good things of this town, recent host of a DBA barge rally.
We were lucky with yet another beautiful day; I have to say that this style of retirement might not suit everyone, but it absolutely suits us – the ever changing scenery, the interesting places, the overall tranquility, and always just that slight frisson of adventure and challenge.
The largest photo above illustrates this perfectly – wonderful scenery, calm waters, an interesting bridge – and just ahead a much narrower opening to steer through. Never a dull moment.
We arrived to find two barges already on the long quay, but the space at the upstream end was empty and just waiting for Calliope. Two other boats arrived later – plenty of space for all.
So what did we think of Fumay? We liked it; we stayed two nights! Here is a taster of the town.
Fumay’s history is in slate mining. I said that the sculptor Favaudon would be mentioned again. He made a memorial to the slate workers of the past – a long bas relief showing much of the hard labouring that this industry required.
There is only one pit head left to see now, high on a hill above the town, but the many slate roofs and walls are good evidence that it was much used locally.
Whilst in Fumay we discovered a need for that old thing called cash!
The Capiatine only took cash, as did the very special butcher (where I bought some of his boudin blanc with onion, rillettes, tête de fromage and paupiettes).
The only cash point in town was not working, so we walked a couple of kilometres back down the river to Heybes, where we had stopped on our Meuse cruise downstream three years before.
The ATM was easy to find, just by the town hall.
Phew – back to pay our debts!
It was pleasantly hot while we were in Fumay – a good excuse to get the front windscreen down for its 2022 debut. It’s a feature of Calliope that we really value in hot weather, especially when cruising. (And yes, we really do own that many hats – and a few more in a cupboard below!)
It was sufficiently hot for another 2022 first – my first swim!
It was lovely.
And after the swim, chairs draped with black towels to dry off in the sun.
(Sadly one of these chairs was misappropriated that night. I hope it is enjoyed by a Fumay resident.)
It is clear that Fumay has had a busy commercial past. The town steps up and back from the quay along quite steep and narrow lanes. There are some fine houses, and even the smaller abodes have plenty of character. Many date back to the 17th and 18th centuries – a few older still. Naturally there is many a slate roof, and quite a few are decorated with bright tiles.
Our time there coincided with the town swans family visit – and not just on the water! I’m not sure if they are looking for the Salle des Fêtes of the Voie Verte.
There is not a lot of space for gardens up and down the streets, so this wall high display of irises made a real splash of colour.
The quayside has more than a row of pretty houses. Almost hidden is a little courtyard that leads to the offices of a drinks wholesaler, Ets Deillon Billuart, and their super little wine shop!
All looking far too good to drink except on a special day – so I expect a few special days will be invented very soon.
Luckily we had ‘every day’ wine stocks aboard so could do justice to sundowners on a back deck on a warm evening – our good-bye to Fumay as it was time to move on upstream.
Looking on the map we found we were within striking distance of one of Stewart’s favourite moorings – Revin. A plan was hatched to move on there and keep fingers crossed for a mooring space.
The first lock, amusingly called l’Uf, is around a long bendy loop in the river; in fact it is more than 90% of a full oval. When we arrived we had to come up quite close in order to see the lights – and found two reds. This means the lock is ‘en panne’, or out of order. Stu thought we might moor up to wait, but the thoughtless crew distracted him and the current from the weir unhelpfully pushed us away, so the Captain took us back down stream a bit to turn round and return.
By this time we could see that another barge was waiting to come down the ‘broken’ lock (just visible far right on photo) so when the VNF service man arrived we had to wait for their locking down before we locked up. A small hitch in a beautiful area.
The wait gave me a chance to get a photo of the weir – these new ones have replaced the old needle weirs over the past 20 years or so.
Up and on we went. I cannot help noticing the grand houses built on the banks.
What was it like to live there in its heyday?
Probably Air BnB now 😅
Then we just had 8 kilometres and one more lock before the lock and tunnel complex at Revin.
We have been through the lock and tunnel before 3 years ago, but in the opposite order.
Then out of the lock, an immediate left hand turn, and into the tunnel. It’s a short tunnel, with very definite light at the end of it!
Then after an about turn in the river and a sweep round the curve we came into the port. The photo here is taken next day from the bridge over to the main Revin town. Calliope is in her favourite place – the very far end!
Revin port is very pleasant. Trees, flowers and shrubs are planted along the bank, and a hedge separates the port from a park.
Deciding to stay two nights or more is always great for a bit of maintenance – or cleaning in my case!
Stewart fixed up our pump that uses the river water and I was off on one of my enjoyable ‘cool morning of a hot day’ sprees.
Messing about with water is my forté.
(The bridge in the background is the aforementioned bridge over to the main Revin town)
After two good days in Revin, with food and drink supplies taken aboard, we were ready to go back to the county life and wilder moorings. Once more it was to be a short day – 10 kilometres and just two locks.
But what a 10 kilometres! This is without doubt one of my favourite parts of the river. The railway bridge near Anchamps exemplifies this; who could fail to be impressed by the river, the bridge, reflections, hills and scenery?
The second lock, just after the railway bridge, is called Dames de Meuse. It is named after the giant rock formations just upstream of the lock. Unfortunately I did not know the importance of the Dames rocks until later. I was more interested in the new lift bridge at the lock, and other work going on there.
This photo shows us just leaving them behind.
Here is the legend: in 1080, the Lord of Hierges had three sons who married the three daughters of the Lord of Rethel: Hodierne, Berthe and Ige. Shortly after their marriage, the men set off for Palestine to fight in the Holy Land. Hodierne, Berthe and Ige, the 3 sisters, betrayed their promises, welcomed 3 knights into their castles – their marital beds. But on the very day that Jerusalem was taken, God punished the adulterous wives, changing them into three enormous rocks, attached to each other, and overlooking the Meuse. They were given the name the “Dames de Meuse”.
Just one kilometre further is Laifour – a tiny village famous now only for its links to the Dames de Meuse and the walks to the viewpoint to see them. But it is a totally delightful spot for those who love rural mooring. The quay sits beneath some of the highest wooded hills around, almost ‘ravine-ous’ in parts.
Here are a few of the buildings of Laifour, important in their day. In fact there is still a station; you could visit!
We were recommended a walk to the ‘red fountain’ a kilometre or so along the other bank. A walk round the little village only took ten minutes so we had plenty of time for red fountain exploration.
Here is our trip to the red fountain – a ferruginous stream bursting out of the rocks. Fable has it that it’s the blood of a young girl who spurned the advances of a local lord and took her own life. We started off across the railway bridge just outside Laifour, down the other side, past some foxgloves, and on along the opposite bank.
It really does run red – well rusty red to be honest. And that is no surprise, because rather that it being a young’ girl’s blood, it is the iron laden rocks of the area that lend the ruddy colour to the water.
On the way back the Captain strode out to avoid an impending rain storm.
Calliope was in his sights – on the opposite bank, in the distance.
Whilst I dawdled, took photos of flowers, and got caught out.
Luckily I could shelter under the railway bridge until it blew over.
Soon after I got back the wind got up and it really did start to rain, – and thunder. There is something nice about battening down the hatches and watching the storm from the warmth and dryness of a snug wheelhouse!
Soon after the dry weather returned. We were moored at the upstream end of the mooring on our first night, but when another boat arrived and could not get satellite reception at the other end we obligingly moved downstream! Here we are coming back in to moor behind them.
(We don’t understand why watching TV is more important than watching the nature and scenery – unless maybe your football team in a cup final?)
The most engaging of the local natural world was this family of goslings – the word cute is overused, but what else can I say?
Having said above that scenery is more important than watching screens, we do like internet connection for various things, including the news and this blog. The old iPad we have been using as a wifi hotspot was slowly dying and we needed a shop that sold mobile wifis, so reluctantly we left the Laifour paradise after two nights to head for the metropolis of Charleville.
On the way we made two stops – one for lunch at Chateau-Regnault, because they have a boulangerie, then on to Joigny-sur-Meuse.
Before we even reached Chateau-Regnault we there were a couple of locks.
The first, just outside Laifour, still had us sharing the wonderful scenery of the Dames de Meuse region.
The next, at Deville, was a little more interesting, being 3.30m deep and bollards set out of sight of Captain and crew.
Climbing on the roof is the answer, and soon we were secure.
Then there was a ladder …….. next to a pair of every muddy levers.
The debate – to climb up to a clean section, getting muddy hands and feet on the way, or just grab the blue pole and get one slimy hand?
I went for the slimy hand option.
Coming out of Deville lock we entered a 3km narrow canal which led us back to the main river.
We were lucky not to meet another boat on this section, and the barrage at the end looked quite narrow for Calliope, but it was all fine.
There is really no need to add any more photos of our journey that day, but it looked so nice going through Monthermé, and a lot of people choose to stop there, that I have included one picture of the town.
So after the lunch stop at Chteau-Regnault we carried on the last 7 kms of the day. The little pontoon at Joigny looks a bit ordinary, but for us it was another afternoon, evening and night of tranquility.
And the reflections, evening and morning, were amazing! It was good to have all this calm as the next stop was big city Charleville.
Joigny lock was just around the corner, and was jolly sight with its various metallic works.
After this just 1 lock and 10 kms separated us from our destination.
I had it in my head that the lock into Charleville would be our last using the zapper (remote control) – mainly because it says Givet – Charleville on the back.
So I zapped with verve as we arrived.
Our journey there had been relatively uneventful, but entering the city was funkily colourful!
We fully expected to be able to moor on the long quay just outside the marina – especially suitable for bigger boats like us who cannot easily fit under the bridge entrance to the marina. But it was full, full, full.
We knew from the DBA Waterways Guide that there was another mooring opposite, but some people had described it in less than glowing terms. Nonetheless we were determined to stop in Charleville, even if just for lunch, so we moored up on the South bank by a café.
It turned out to be absolutely fine. In some ways we were lucky to arrive on a Sunday; we found out from boating friends across the water that a very local nightclub exuded a lot of noise on a Friday and Saturday! Whereas our evenings were brightly lit in an alternative way!
We had hoped to buy a new mobile wifi in Charleville but that was not to happen. What we did achieve was a good walk round an interesting city, created and designed by Charles Gonzaga in 1606. A good size statue remembers his efforts.
The main square, Place Ducal, is huge. My photo does not do it justice and when we were there a huge marquee sort of spoilt the view.
It is surrounded by bars and restaurant in typical French style, and we found ourselves first at a bar, and then out for a pizza; all very pleasant. I hope my (squiffy) photo from the restaurant gives a better idea of the ambience of Place Ducal.
Next day we decided to walk into the adjoining 1000 year old town of Mézières. Some of the fortifications are still in place, and currently being renovated to show them off better.
Even more amazing in Mézières are the wonderful stained glass windows of the Basilica Notre-Dame d’Espèrance. They are surprisingly modern, made between 1954 and 1979 and based on the cartoons of the painter René Dürrbach. I rarely manage a good photo of stained glass windows, but the pools of rainbow light they throw onto the floors and columns of the church are easier to capture.
On our way back I noticed that the time was 1550 – ten minutes before one of the Marionette clock ‘performances.
There is a puppeteer school in Charleville and a clock has been set up with an automated puppet show every hour. Each show only lasts about two minutes, and is part of a total story.
The bit we saw was spectacularly uninteresting, with four shadowy black puppets slowly making there way across the stage – if we had understood the story, told in French, it would; have been better I know.
And I am not knocking it – it is a marvellous thing to have going on every day.
We really did like our mooring – closer to town, completely safe, and free! We ended up staying three days, which is quite a long time for us constant travellers.
We were on the town side of the passerelle over to the main mooring, marina, night club and various other leisure pursuits.
We had old friends on two of the barges opposite, and made new friends with another, and able to meet up with them in one of the bars; it is always congenial to have a bit of a waterways gossip.
We were right next to the old mill building which now houses the museum to local poet Rimbaud. It is a glorious monument, specifically placed by Charles Gonzaga at the end of a street leading out of the main square.
The arches underneath were no longer used to turn waterwheels, but made good photographs.
And outside on the pavement is a lovely installation of chairs, the back of each one designed by a different artist.,
All good things come to an end, and we had many other good things ahead, so after three nights we got ready to continue our Meuse experience, but with a dalliance on Canal des Ardennes along the way – the topic of the next edition of the blog.