4 days on the Canal des Ardennes

(The first 28.5 kms there and back to be precise!)

As we only travelled one third of the way along the Canal des Ardennes I will just give a short description of our few days there. Others who have travelled the full canal have far more credibility in talking about the journey.

We were on our way up La Meuse towards Strasbourg, but having a few days to spare decided to check out the first 30 km of the Ardennes.

Leaving Charleville on a bright and sunny morning we only had 15 km until the entrance to the canal. It all began with a bit of excitement in the lock out of Charleville, but that is all in the Magnificent Meuse part 3 blog.

Eventually we approached the three meter lock that leads from La Meuse up to the Canal des Ardennes. We now knew that we would operate locks on the canal with the same tele-command (remote control) as on the river.

Immediately we are in the lock we notice a difference – the way that the bollards are set into the lock quay.

Being a bit of a lock nerd I recorded this, ex[pecting it to be a feature all the way along the canal; it wasn’t!

Just this first lock.

We spent our first night moored below lock six at Pont-à-Bar. The bollards there were spread out rather widely and so for the first time in years out came a mallet and the stakes to be banged into the ground for a secure mooring. And we joined the camper vans for the night.

We were there in time for lunch and I couldn’t wait to try my blue dessert! It’s an Ardenoisse I had bought in Charleville to eat just as we joined the Ardennes canal.

It’s a very delicious series of layers of chocolate sponge. a nutty mélange, and a blue moussey/ custardy/creamy bit on top.

Definitely worth a try.

It wasn’t a particularly splendid place to stay but we did have a nightingale singing and when walking back to lock 7 for some exercise I got this nice photo of some of the old aiguelles from a needle weir.

I cannot help but be intrigued by these old weirs, that stopped the water by a line of these needles (aiguelles). The men, and I suspect they were all men, who walked along the weir adding and removing these wooden stakes according to the flow of the water deserve huge credit and admiration in my opinion.

This rather grainy photo is of the Charles family, a farming family, who earned a ‘few more pennies’ by being at the beck and call of the local weir management, and when the river Saone was in flood they would adjust the needles and thereby the flow.

On a lighter note, the verges of the canal were covered in all manner of wild flowers and grasses, just a couple of which are given space here.

leaving the Po0nt-à-Bar mooring

As we set off next morning we were joined by family just starting out on a holiday boat. They were learning about locks as we passed through the first, and helped by operating the levers.

We were up and off, into a very different terrain. The landscape around this section of the Canal des Ardennes is open pasture with dustan woods ands hills; very calm and beautiful.

The next obstacle that we all encountered was the two locks and tunnel at Saint-Aignan. We all went through together– I guess quite an exciting trip for a family on holiday.

Then at Malmy lock we were all held up by a lock with no lights on the ‘traffic sign’ and nowhere obvious to stop for me to go ashore and call the VNF service. 

Canal des Ardennes

OK – no lights on lock, no response from telecommand, and nowhere to drop off crew ……. Except onto little metal platform attached to lock bridge. That’s one for me then!

Stewart was magnificent in approaching the bridge just slowly enough for me to leap onto the platform. This allowed me to get to the intercom at the lock – which also was not working! Hmm – what next?

The phone number we had for the VNF did not work, but luckily a short discussion in broken French across the water to the holiday family ascertained they had a different number and would call up. This worked, and help was on its way.

In the meantime Stewart was manfully keeping Calliope midstream whilst she was being pulled towards the pumping system that puts water back above the lock. I realised that by sliding down the bank through long grass and nettles I could secure Calliope to a giant drain! This was done.

I love it when there’s a bit of adventure. Then a short wait for the VNF van …. and all was back to normal.

La Cassine

We had been advised to stop at La Cassine and were delighted to find the mooring completely empty when we arrived. The family stopped too – but just for their lunch. Then we were alone in the landscape.

There are two outstanding things about this morning.

One is its location out in the country with nothing but a couple of chickens from a local house to disturb the peace.

And some cattle to show benign interest.

La Cassine

The other spectacular thing about the mooring is it closeness to the ruined chateau of La Cassine.

The ruined chateau at La Cassine is such a find! Originally C17, and destroyed by a thunderbolt, it has had various owners and iterations. Finally it succumbed to fire in 1920 I think.

La Cassine

Now used every summer for Son et Lumiere spectaculars, it used to have acres of formal French gardens, of which little now remains.

All of this is a short walk from this peaceful mooring on Canal des Ardennes, as many of my boating friends will know!  If you are ever near La Cassine and you like old buildings we strongly recommend you go and have a look.

sun set at La Cassine

After our peaceful night we carried on at the canal to Le Chesne. This was just a 12 km 2 lock journey!

Along the way we noticed several places where the canal bank was being restored with huge sandstone boulders.

In places the canal is quite shallow, with a fair amount of weed growing. It is good to see that work is being carried out to maintain this old cross country canal.

Le Chesne

We moored up in the middle of town and soon discovered an excellent boulangerie for our lunch.

Le Chesne

The afternoon was spent having a look round the town on both sides of the canal. It is a quiet place with just enough in the way of food shopping to keep us going. The old church next to the canal is interesting, with its side tower. The town seems to have been founded on its agriculture, but I have struggled to find much information and am open to correction.

Locks after Le Chesne

In the evening I walked along to see the start of the dramatic drop of almost 60m over 8 kms and through 25 locks. This is much described in other peoples’ blogs etc; one day we will do the journey up or down. For now, here is the start.

Le Chesne

Then back to the boat for a perfect summer’s evening aboard Calliope.

We were then at  PK 29 and the extent of our short exploration! So the next day we used the winding hole to turn round and go back towards La Cassine.

This time we were not so lucky! The mooring was full and we had to continue on downstream . But then our luck turned and we found the mooring at Malmy completely empty.

For the second time on this canal out came the pins and we moored up to one bollard and a couple of stakes in the ground. It’s funny how those old skills of jumping ashore with mallet and pins come back to one, and for the skipper, his hammering in of the pins is a never forgotten art!

Whenever we stop at one of these quiet rural moorings we are so glad we made the decision to have a good set of PV panels rather than a generator. It means that we can go days without needing to plug into shore power, and without disturbing the peace with generator hum.

Once again we had something to explore. This time the 13th century church just outside the hamlet of Malmy. We were disappointed not to find a mooring space at La Cassine today, but stopping at Malmy has meant we could visit this little C13 Romanesque church. It is interesting to see the features that are very similar to the church at Le Chesne – note the roof on the tower.

It had come to my consciousness rather late that the mooring at Pont-à-Bar was so called because of the bridge at that point over the River Bar. I then noticed on the map that the river tracked the canal nearly all the way up to Le Chesne, and was in fact alongside us here in Malmy.

I went to investigate and found the river close by. The map shows Malmy at the bottom, with the canal shown as the main blue channel and the smaller wriggly blue river to the right. My photos are up and down stream at Malmy bridge.

Back on the boat we had a quiet and very peaceful night with a beautiful sky at sundown, before heading back towards La Meuse next day. 

On the way we noticed the interesting little hamlet of Omicourt. It has quite a history – worth googling.

Then we had the Saint-Aignan tunnel to go back through, on our own the time.

The tunnel is a shortcut through the hill that the River Bar winds slowly round. You can see in the map above how much time is saved!

It’s such a lovely view when you emerge the other end, heading towards écluse 4 for the first drop down ……..

……. and then, after a neat 90° turn to port, go into écluse 5 for second descent.

Of course we were lucky with the weather; it makes the scenery all the more stunning.

Less than an hour later we were motoring slowly past all the boats moored up in Pont-à-Bar, some seemingly still waiting their awakening from winter.

We also noted the very useful looking chandlery and small boatyard. These places are surprisingly rare along the waterways and you never know when you will need some ropes or boat cleaning products etc – or even the help of a boat mechanic!

We continued on to the lock, dropping down behind the big metal doors that would let us out on to the river; that tell tale gap at the bottom letting us know that we were level with La Meuse and the doors would open any minute.

And turning to starboard we set off towards Sedan, and eventually Strasbourg.

A short but pleasant sojourn on the Ardennes! One day we must return to do the more exciting flight of locks down the other side.

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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