The Magnificent Meuse part 3

Canal de la Meuse from Charleville to Troussey

25th May to 10 June 2022

[Be warned – this is a longer blog than usual, but then the Meuse is a long river!]

In truth many parts of the Meuse are canalised, all the way down to Givet and the border of France with Belgium. However it is more canal than river from Sedan up to Troussey, and when we left Charleville we were on course for Sedan after a few days on the Canal des Ardennes.

It was previously called the Canal de l’Est northern branch, and is a long stretch of almost 200 kilometres and 42 locks, taking us up into a different landscape, and past a succession of towns, villages, and through the city of Verdun. Due to our 4 days on the Ardennes we only had 12 days for the rest of the trip as were heading to Toul for a rendezvous, but we still had time to enjoy some great moorings, discover new boating friends, and have one good meal out and one not so good!

The day we left Charleville started well, for about the first half hour! Then as we approached the first lock, leading out of Charleville-Mézières, we met a small cabin cruiser coming the other way. They were English, like us, and after passing us they turned round and chased us towards the lock!

When we managed to speak to them we discovered that there remote control would not work on the lock so we agreed that they would follow us in, as long as ours worked – which it did.

But what also did not work was the lever to set the lock operation in progress! So now both boats were stuck at the bottom of the lock.

Calliope crew to the rescue – I climbed up and up the slippery ladder to get service for this unresponsive, quite deep, lock – while the Captain remained on duty on his ship!

Soon we were on our way again, our new friends with a new remote control, so everyone happy. We passed by some of the impressive centuries old fortifications of Mézières which we had visited from the other side a couple of days before, and before long we were out in the country.

There were a few locks to share with the other boat, including this one at Dom-le-Mesnil where we had an audience of a couple and their bike-riding dog!

The way off the river onto the lock cut was interesting!! Can you spot the arrow telling us which way to go? Luckily the Captain’s eagle eyes did.

The lead out of the lock was interesting too – with an old ‘weir-keeper’ cottage on the island between the two channels, and some rather large timber to avoid as we rejoined the river.

Our ways parted as Calliope turned onto the Canal des Ardennes, the detour of which is described in a separate post ………. and when we re-joined La Meuse four days later it was with the intention of mooring at Sedan.

That was not to be; a combination of two large barges already on the wall mooring, and the floating pontoon being loose from its stanchions meant that we needed a Plan B.

Our Plan B was a super-quiet mooring in the countryside near Remilly-Aillecourt. We have stopped there before so know that there ARE bollards in that long grass – you just have to step ashore and wade through it all to find them.

We had just one night out in the sticks; it is beautiful peaceful place to be as you can tell.

But we needed a few new supplies, so next morning we ‘set sail’ for Mouzon. We had a special sighting along the first mile – storks on their nest with their young.

You will have to take my work for it that we saw this clearly through the binoculars – I could not get a good ‘sail-by’ photo on the iPhone.

More easily photographed was a family of swans, with most of their cygnets much whiter than I am used to seeing.

We had heard that the little port at Mouzon did not have much space for bigger boats like ours and that we might have to go in or come out astern. That is not necessarily a problem, but we still approached with fingers crossed – and found the whole quay just waiting for us.

It is an interesting little town – worth a wander to see the old Abbey and its gardens, a huge mural depicting the town’s famous personages and industries, the one old gate that still exists into the town, and various towers and other old buildings.

The famous family of the town is the Sommers. In addition to owning a now defunct but massive felt factory and an automobile part industry, the family included a famous racing driver, Raymond, and an early aviator, Roger. The Sommers also gave money to the town for several community buildings and charities. Much of this can be seen in images on the mural.

The evening there had us sitting inn the sun, looking out from the back deck onto the canal, almost in the shadow of the abbey, and toasting the town!

Despite its charms we only stayed one night. I would have liked to be there for their monthly Friday market, held right next to the quay, and with lost of local produce (apparently), but we had just missed it and the Captain was not keen to wait 25 days for the next. As we left we passed one of the Sommer’s old factories – I think for felt making.

You have probably noticed that we often look out for quiet rural moorings! That is just our choice, and we designed the boat with the PV panels and a good size fresh water tank so that we can spend time in more natural surroundings. But for those who prefer, there are plenty of lovely marinas and ports throughout France and Belgium (to our knowledge) and in the Netherlands too.

However our next choice was above the l’Alma lock at a mooring we had noticed three years before, but not had time to stop.

It is such a good little mooring, with the bollards located in concrete bays, along a concrete quay – so easy to locate!

We thought we were all alone in the middle of nowhere, as you can see from the photos, but were later joined by a delightful Swiss couple on their barge.

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And they had a drone! They went it up high and sent us this wonderful photo. We are the two tiny boats in the top left quadrant, above the lock and with La Meuse winding round behind us to the weir in the distance.

We did walk up to the weir which has an unusually configured fish ladder at the side – I don’t think it is for salmon, although efforts have been made to reintroduce salmon to the river. I didn’t see any fish leaping (wrong time of year) and didn’t take a photo of the ladder – apologies.

I also took an early evening stroll in the other direction, to the lock with it’s empty lock keeper’s house, and along the bank of the river – plenty of nature everywhere!

So after one night in the country we were moving on again, this time to Stenay. Again we were lucky with the mooring, as the first one in the ‘dead end arm’ of the port, (the best one for us), was free.

We had been advised to stop there and to visit a particular garden. It is highly productive and one can buy almost any vegetable or herb known in France, and many flower plants too. At the same time it is just a little quirky!

The path to the garden is exquisite in itself, with a lovely old walls either side and tiny stream running along.

We had a lovely walk round the town, finding amongst other things one of my favourites – a lavoir. This one used to belong to the convent of the Minimes. At the moment it is closed due to restoration work nearby, so my photos are a bit askew, taken through fences and front my clambering on forbidden walls. I wish I could have gone inside.

There is also a Museum of beer, just right for an early evening drink. It is on the site of a brewery and oast house so all the buildings were genuine beer making facilities!

My other favourite from Stenay is this old mill. You can just see the waterwheel at one side, although it is no longer turning. The building is now a hotel and restaurant.

The whole town is interesting, with a military history, and many old buildings. This is just a taste of the place. One of these is an old hydro electric plant, I think!

Then next day we went on to our other recommendation – Dun-sun-Meuse. To leave the port Captain Stu had to go astern back into the narrow channel leading to the lock; all was achieved with no fuss and bother.

We were helped through the next couple of locks by a ‘convention’ of éclusiers who seemed to have met up to discuss the amount of weed in the canal, clear some off it from lock gate areas, and have a good chat.

The landscape was changing dramatically. No longer the deep wooded valleys we had enjoyed so much further down the Meuse. Now the land spread out as a pastoral plateau with occasional villages on the distant hill slopes.

Then, as we got higher, the valley began to narrow again. We passed by the remains of two bridges as we got close to Dun-sun-Meuse.

I suspect they were blown up during one of the wars to slow down enemy advances, but this is speculation.

By around midday we had arrived. This place is marvellous. Firstly, for a bargee, there is plenty of mooring ….

…. water everywhere as the Meuse splits up around the town ….

….. an interesting steep walk up to the old mediaeval town at the top of the hill ….

….. to see the views, the old church, and some other features left behind from its long history ….

….. and a steep walk down but a different route (not sure this was such a good idea!).

We reward our walking efforts at a very good French restaurant where we went for lunch …

… followed by a brisk walk back to Calliope with a full tum!

This restaurant was the main recommendation we received for the visit to Dun-sur-Meuse!

And we recommend it to you too – Les Colimencarts.

Dun played quite a significant part in WW2, especially for the US army. In the months and years after the war the station became a central point for the bodies of soldiers to be brought, before being taken back to America.

Of course casualties were on both sides and a quiet German cemetery up a quiet track is a reminder of the many young men from that country who also died.

We actually stayed two nights in Dun-sun-Meuse; we needed that extra time to appreciate everything. I suspect we would have stayed longer if Toul had not been calling and we had to be there on time.

Before we left I went for my customary morning stretch to find a boulangerie and bread for our lunch.

I made the mistake of going before I had my breakfast and succumbed to the temptation of a giant pain au raisin!

It was the juiciest and most delicious I have ever had. Mmmmmmmm!

There was a change in locking habits after Dun-sur-Meuse; we were suddely presented with a lock that had nowhere to zap our remote control – and no ‘traffic lights’ to let us know what was happening. Then we saw our éclusier for the next few locks.

The weed growing in the canalised river along the next stretch was particularly bad.

All the éclusiers we met were as busy clearing weed as they were operating locks and taking ropes.

I am sure it is not what they signed up for, but they worked hard at it.

The lady above was the first of a series of helpful and amiable éclusiers. Some travelled with us for several locks; others did just one or two. Each day we were asked how far we would be travelling and what time we wanted to start next day. Their planning was immaculate and they were always there for us the next morning at the appointed time.

On we went, with Bobby the Ardennes boar keeping look-out for us from above.

The landscape was subtly changing again – still flatter than it had been, but now far more arable and farmed.

The weather just added to it all, setting the colours of field, sky and water more starkly against each other than normaL.

Our next mooring was easy to decide as we have been there before – Consenvoye. We were slightly concerned that there would not be space for us, and were kept in apprehension by the éclusier who was a little late meeting us there.

Another boat had already been waiting 30 minutes and we found a way to leap ashore and moor up to wait with them. Consenvoye lock is very unusual – it has sloping sides and a floating pontoon that rises and falls with the water in the lock. Boats tie to this and have a very calm ascent or descent. Here it is full, with the pontoon at the top, so just a bit of the sloping side can be seen.

We were offered the mooring above the lock, but it was not ideal – two bollards about 50m apart! and we like the little port, so in we went to join a boat we had been travelling upstream with. Shortly after we were joined by one more – space for all three!

It was pleasantly warm when we arrived; time to drop down the front windscreen and open the back doors for a nice cooling breeze!

But we had been warned by Meteo France of thunderstorms, and watched the sky carefully before going for a walk round the little village.

Luckily it didn’t rain much until we were back on board – but then it did rain, and rain! With the forecast next day for more of the same we thought we would give cruising a miss for a day and enjoyed a day’s rest.

During a more lengthy break between showers I went for a walk along the other side of the river.

Apparently I am of great fascination to young cattle as three fields of heifers and bullocks came running across to say a friendly hello.

When evening came the skies were not sure what was coming next, but put on a brave display for us.

We were due more striking sky displays over the following days and weeks, as you will see.

By now we were running out of a few essentials, although our big fridge and dry goods store always has the makings of something. The next stop on the schedule was Verdun, where we certainly could find all the shops and supermarkets we needed, so off we went.

Arriving in Verdun by water is always impressive, which ever direction you come from.

In this case we arrived from the North, past the big Porte Chausée, which unfortunately had a restaurant barge moored in front of it!

There is always this PMT (Pre Mooring Tension) when heading for somewhere popular like Verdun. Last time we went through the quays on both sides were full and quite a bit of rafting up too. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to see several spaces on the long main pontoon and found ourselves a space right at the upstream end.

This was another two day stop. It gave us plenty of time to shop, enjoy café life and sightsee. I don’t think my blog needs photos of Le Clerq Hypermarket, but a few of the old buildings of Verdun might be good to include.

Sometimes sightseeing and cafe life collided! The observant will notice that the two views are looking at each other.

One piece of history particularly interested us – the Pont-Ecluse Saint-Amand. This bridge, built in the 1680s, is also a special lock that can shut the water out of Verdun. This is done using planks lowered within each arch. The mechanism still works – the only one left in France. Along with two other buildings that have long disappeared, it would then flood the ground outside the city making it impossible for the enemy to attack from the south. It is yet another of that redoubtable engineer Vauban’s designs.

After dark the war memorial at the far end of the port was lit à la Française, made even more magnificent with the V shape metallic sculpture in front of it

Leaving Verdun to the South involves going up a lock and through a tunnel. As always the éclusiers were there at the appointed time of 9am and we were up and away

Looking at the map we could see that there were just two more nights to be spent on (Canal de) La Meuse. She had been our companion for over a month, apart from the 4 days on the Ardennes.

As we travelled along with our two éclusiers they did their usual work of clearing weed and small branches from in front of the lock gates; it all gets drawn in as the lock fills and can jam up the gates if not regularly hooked out.

On this occasion, not only was there the usual weed, but also a wooden bench seat! It took both guys to haul it out onto the side.

One night was spent at Ambly, somewhere we had moored before, but only for a lunch stop. It is another calm pastoral mooring, with a small recreation ground separating it from a quiet village.

If you ever got there, remember that the boulangerie (only shop in town) is closed on a Thursday! We of course arrived on a Wednesday and were not able to get fresh baguette next morning!

While there we had yet another big rain storm, which have way to rainbows and extraordinary skies – this is my attempt at a panorama of the evening sky from red/brown to blue/black.

And I cannot omit a rainbow!

As we left we had quite good blue skies with white clouds. but before long the rain set in, and out came my mother’s old sailing trousers.

They have come in handy quite a lot for locks in the rain over the years! Thanks Mum.

Eight kilometres up the river/canal we passed Lacrooix-sur-Meuse, its church standing out even against a grey sky. We have passed through here before and both times commented on how beautiful the mooring looks, but both times it has been full with other boats; maybe next time!

Of course there is natural beauty all the way, and I sometimes almost take it so much for granted that I forget to share it with you. So here, left to right, is a heron in flight, a visiting moth, and a tree I found rather lovely.

The day we left Ambly was to be our last with eclusiers for a while. Once we reached Rouvroy it was au revoir to our companions, until next time. Coincidentally we had discovered along the way that one of the guys had been with us when we went down the Meuse three years before! He looked up his records to check, and their was the name Calliope!

But now we were back to our remote control and ready to use it as we approached St-Mihiel lock.

As luck would have it, or in this case bad luck, the lock was ‘en pann’, that is not working!

As sometimes happens in these situations there was no easy place to stop an d wait so we went into the lock to make contact with the VNF.

It was a case of up the ladder again for Calliope crew to look for the usual intercom connection to the VNF office.

There was one attached to the lock office and I was soon reassured that help was on its way and the message was relayed on to the Captain. Before long we were travelling again.

We did have one more encounter with the VNF that day at Les Koeurs; the weed is so bad in this part of the canalised Meuse that clearing with a JCB grabber. And we had an intrepid engineer sitting on the gates repairing the flashing light that signals the opening and closing of the lock gates.

The only other excitement of the day was the negotiation of a ‘tight turn’, under a railway bridge and through a short tunnel. With Stu at the helm it all seemed a lot easier than the map had suggested!

By 1430 we had arrived at our overnight stop, Sampigny. Friends had described it as very quiet, peaceful, and dark over night, but our stay began with a good deal of (necessary) noise as the grass verges were cut!

We went to see the village while the grass cutting continued and found some interesting buildings, including a chateau above the village which was the summer home of Raymond Poincaré, president of France from 1913 to 1920 – a difficult time to be president! The chateau is now a museum: https://www.meusetourism.com/en/things-to-do/visit/museums-and-cultural-venues/F837000298_musee-raymond-poincare-sampigny.html

Our walk also took us past another lavoir for my collection. I know it was hard work but I somehow feel I would have found some enjoyment in meeting the other women of the village there as we washed and rinsed our sheets and clothes.

Back at the boat we were met with nicely cut grass, quietness, and soon after two other boats, both Dutch, about which more later.

That evening, using the long light evenings of June, I went for a walk in the other direction, and between huge flat fields of crops. I also saw my only sign indicating that the Meuse itself was meandering a way over yonder, and we were on the renamed Canal de l’Est.

And now we were on our last day going up. It was to be a slightly more difficult day than normal up to the top, but all manageable. Indeed part of the stimulation of this boating life is the occasional challenges, all of which Calliope and her crew are capable of overcoming.

We waited for the two Dutch cruisers to set off first as they were travelling a little faster than us. Having allowed time for them to get through the first lock, Vadonville, we followed on. Two features here that I liked – the little (sadly empty) lock keepers house, and the change of metalwork design for the railings on the bridge. Each canal or stretch of water has its own design. One day I will make a gallery of them all!

The next ex-lock house was happily inhabited, and by someone with a sense of fun!

It was soon after this that we caught up with our Dutch friends, side by side at the edge of the canal.

We slowed down and asked if we could help. One of the boats with a water cooled engine had repeatedly had the filter blocked with weed. There was nothing we could do and they had it under control so we passed on by

But we did understand the problem!

Luckily Calliope’s engine is keel cooled, meaning that water is not extracted from the canal

Even so weed can become a problem if too much gets wrapped around the propeller, so Captain Stu throws the propeller into reverse before and after each lock to dislodge any loose bits and this usually keeps us weed free.

However it was so bad on this canal that as we approached the last 4 locks and were having some lunch it became apparent that some more thorough untangling was needed!

That’s the crew’s job and I love it!

Calliope sensibly has a ‘weed hatch’ in the engine room, meaning that on the rare occasions when weed, rope, plastic bags etc need to be cleared it can be done easily without having to go into the water.

(Hmm, the engine room looks a bit untidy! But it was just moving things across out of the way fo the weed hatch!)

On we went towards the last 4 locks which would take us up the final 12.15m over 2 kilometres to the summit of this waterway. I remembered from our descent 3 years ago the three bridges – one railway and two road – making nice shapes against the sky.

The water level along the section between the last three locks seemed particularly low, and makes it quite difficult for boats that draw more than about 1.3m

On this we were OK, with a draught of 0.9, but even so we needed to keep clear of the edges!

On up past the cement factory next to lock 2. We were stuck inside the bottom of the lock here three years ago and gained a nice dusting of cement!

Ironically there was a problem here this time too and we called up the VNF service man who was with us in no time at all.

Lock Troussey

And then the last lock, No. 1, of our journey on La Meuse and her associated canals. I felt quite sad in a way. I both looked forward to the new waters ahead – the Saar, the Moselle and more – and at the same time felt I was leaving a friend. Soppy thing aren’t I???

At the top of the lock we lined the Canal de la Marne au Rhin and were invited to turn right towards Void and Bar-le-Duc, or left towards Toul. No question about it – we were meeting Hilary in Toul in two days time so a turn to port please Captain!

In truth that was the end of the Magnificent Meuse adventure, but to finish off the day ….

… we cruised along the ‘top of the world’ towards Pagny-sur-Meuse, so still sticking with our river.

Water levels were down here too.

We tied up in Pagny with blue skies all round. A bit later the two Dutch boats arrived and moored behind us and we all discussed the weed and water level problems.

I went back to the weed hatch to ensure all was c lear – only to find that as well as a bit more ‘non-troublesome’ weed there was a fishing line tightly wound round the propeller shaft. That is a bit more of a nuisance, but I really do like clearing it – anything in the water for me! So with scissors in hand I gradually cut it all away.

Calliope and crew ready for waters new!

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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