11th to 17th June 2022
If you have been following the blog you will know that we were making our way to Toul to meet our good friend Hilary at Toul station on Sunday evening.
We thought it best to get there the day before so that we had plenty of time to find a good mooring, get some food and wine in and prepare the guest cabin and en suite!
On the 10th of June we had arrived at the top of our voyage up the Meuse and it’s lateral canals, stopping for the night at Pagny-sur-Meuse. That meant we would be dropping down into Toul; the De Breil navigation map showed us that we had 13 locks and a short tunnel to go, but only over 14kms.
It looked like a nice half day’s cruise, the descent feeling easier than the ascent of the past 35 days. The weather was more than fine, so we slipped our ropes 20 minutes after the two Dutch cruisers who had been our travelling companions the day before.
It was one of our favourite days when not is warm enough to put down the front windscreen and feel the fresh air wafting through the wheelhouse. (Looks a bit of a mess! But we have all these things ready – binoculars, sun hats, navigation map, log book ….. and the fine collection of feathers we have gathered over the years!
Such a beautiful calm start along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin!
I used the first part of the day to clean some off the roof. I think I have said before that I love all the jobs that involve water and for me it is fun to catch buckets of water from the canal and throw them down the decks.
It wasn’t long until we saw the tunnel before us – the Souterrain de Foug, a mere 867m. But even so it must be taken carefully and slowly.
I always love the entrances, usually with ivy hanging down and plenty of vegetation around.
This was one of the ones where we could ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’ as we went in.
There were lights in the tunnel as well. On this occasion the Captain asked me too shine our torch along the side to help make sure Calliope did not graze herself on either edge.
All was well.
We came out into a wonderful sunlit scene. There is a wide ‘pond’ between the tunnel and the first lock, including a small tree covered island that used to be one side of a lock that no longer exists.
Two smaller locks were combined into one larger one and that is the one we now needed to wait for.
In the meantime the two cruisers who had started ahead of us were making their descent.
After about 20 minutes the lights were green for us to enter the lock. The lock keeper came out to say ‘bonjour’ and to collect from us the trusty remote control that had taken us through locks for the past several days and kilometres!
That first lock is 6m deep, compared with about half that for all the rest, proving the point that this lock replaced two previous locks before the tunnel.
The doors opened and we were set free to make our gradual way down to Toul.
From then on each of the subsequent 12 locks opened automatically as we approached. Most of them had bollards set just below the top of the wall, in a recess, and easy to use. Once moored ready to go we set the lock in m motion using the usual blue lever.
There was always a waterfall at the upper end as we went down, helping to cool the space – it was a hot day, and due to get hotter.
And in this way we descended 27.8m gradually and sedately to Toul, ending up after the penultimate lock next to the port. The port was quite full, especially the longer berths, and we had fingers crossed that the mooring we wanted a bit further on would have space for us.
We had already decided, on the advice e of our good friends on Pavot, that we would also descend lock 26 and hope to moor on a lovely long quay that separates the canal from the ramparts and moat around Toul.
There is always this slight trepidation before a planned mooring -will there be space or not? And in this case we were rewarded with a wonderful totally empty 80m+ quay!
Not only that, but sheep had been ’employed’ to graze the grass round the ramparts. It may seem odd, but we love sheep. My uncle had a farm and we used to help with lambing each year, so developing a fondness for this rather stupid animal.
We settled in very comfortably. Enough shopping was done to see us through Hilary’s first evening next day, and after that it would be fun to shop with her.
But while we are mentioning the sheep I should quickly explain our ‘Lamb Rescue’ moment. I was having a nice siesta when the Captain yelled to tell me a big fat lamb had fallen into the water! I jumped up and together we went to rescue the poor struggling animal.
First Stewart had to switch off the electric fence that enclosed the flock. Then we climbed over, making our way through long grass and brambles to a small old weir where the lamb was trying to get out. The wall was far too slippery for the lamb to make it, but my sitting on the weir, half on the water, I could grab it by one ear!
The Captain followed up by getting a hold on the scruff of its neck, and together we hauled a wet, very unhappy, adolescent lamb from the water and onto my lap! It did not take long to regain some sense and leap from me into a very muddy reed bed below before struggling back to the flock!
A somewhat different day on the waterways. We did follow it up by finding a way to contact the owner of the sheep, who later came to move the flock away from the brink of disaster and onto higher ground.
But more importantly, our guest arrived. The train was on time, I was at the station on time, and the walk back was short but exceedingly chatty. Stewart stayed on board to cook supper, and we had been shopping for a good French cheese course which seemed to go down well!
I think it is best to opt together our fun of the next few days. Things tended to split between a stroll to buy breakfast pastries, a trip into town to buy food or drink a beer, a siesta, and evenings on the back deck or back in Toul.
We tried the closest boulangerie on the first morning and it was so good we repeated the exercise every day except the day it was closed. And on that day we went to the next closest, which was almost as good. The pain au raisin was especially good and went well with a cuppa.
Toul is a very pleasant small city. At its centre is a ’round’ rather than a square, with lovely gardens and a fountain to enjoy from the shade of the surrounding cafés and bars, as you will see.
Absolutely fascinating to me was the inclusion of architecturally placed crates planted with bright and very healthy vegetables.
This could be seen in several of the council flowerbeds and was just one example of innovation seen around the town.
It wasn’t long before we first tried out the bars around the circle, or Place des Trois Évéchés to give it its nom Français. It means the place of the three bishoprics, and there are certainly some impressive churches around.
I have a feeling many of the photos will evolve beer or wine, and having a good time, but hopefully also evoke the feeling of Toul.
We did spend time on the boat, admiring the water with the ramparts and steeples beyond, and having a necessary siesta. 1730 (the time, mot the year!) found the three of us venturing back out to find somewhere for a meal.
As many of you will know it can be difficult to find a restaurant in France that is open on a Monday, but we did, after an aperitif at Trois Évéchés.
It was an interesting selection of drinks, with two typical French – Ricard (well done Hilary) and kir pêche – one for the Captain who has been cruising in Belgium for three years!
The restaurant, perhaps better described as a funky friendly music bar / bistro, was just what we wanted.
We were not exactly sure what we were ordering, but Hilary and Stewart both chose a baked Munster cheese with fried potato and charcuterie! One delicious serving would have fed the three of us.
(I had an equally tasty large pavé of salmon)
No space for dessert – shame!
We tried a new way back to the boat. Stewart as both Captain and leader of the troup marched to the top of the ramparts to find us a way ‘over the top’.
But that did not work and we reverted to a nice route past the port.
The towers of Saint Etienne rise up in so many views of the city.
Also at the port, and in the background of the photo above, are two examples of the little locomotives that were introduced to replace horses towing barges. The system did not last for long because the barges themselves became powered and no longer needed hauling.
We did a bit of slightly more formal tourism, going to the tourist office to buy post cards for our grand daughters and taking a walk round Saint Etienne Cathedral, Cloisters and gardens. The one extra photo above of a fancy looking blue and yellow building is where earthenware used to be made and sold – at least that is what I read.
There was one more morning beer at Trois Évéchés, linked this time to a visit to the small market that gathers twice a week around the circle.
It could become a very pleasant habit! It is one of the many pleasures of having friends aboard – we are shaken out of our usual routine and happily join in the holiday mode of our visitors.
It kind of works both ways – they involve us in their holiday making, and we can introduce e them to things we have learned about the place or country we are in.
Which makes it kind off weird to say that for Hilary’s last evening with us we went for a Chinese meal! But it was because many of the restaurants chose to also close on a Wednesday, so choice was limited.
There is a tunnel through the ramparts that leads back to the mooring, and we had fun with our shadows as we returned happily for our meal.
I am sure there are many tunnels through the ramparts, but I think this is the only one that is open. The ramparts are part of Vauban’s many military works and are still in a great state of preservation.
Here are a few more illustrations of the fortifications still there to be seen. I went for an evening walk to see most of these after Hilary had left; it all seemed a bit quiet without her!
So, with the timeline of the blog slipping a bit, I go to Thursday, and sadly time for Hilary to go home. One more pain au raisin in the sun of the back deck together, with a quiche also purchased for her lunch on the train, and it was the hour for packing and preparing to leave. It was due to be a very hot day both in France and the UK, so both of us were getting ready to keep as cool as possible,
We walked to the station together. As she waved goodbye to Toul I realised that I would be waving goodbye myself the next day as we left to drop down onto the Moselle – the next chapter of the blog.