One river; three countries

170kms of La Moselle, travelling through France and Luxembourg …………. looking at Germany!

16th to 29th June 2022

We left Toul part way through a heat wave, with temperatures in the higher 30°C expected for the next few days. We were still on the canal de La Marne au Rhin for one km, going under two very different bridges – one that was part of the original fortifications around the city, and the other a modern lift bridge.

Then we went through two locks at right angles to each other and dropped down just over 6 m to join the river Moselle. At the second of these locks, 27 bis, the window of the old lock office had been replaced with a mirror! It’s me having fun – definitely not being vain.

And then we were on our way out to join the river.

In all the Moselle is 545kms long so our travels, just beginning, were along less than a third of its length.

The first section of the river, towards Pompey and onward to Metz forms the northern arc of ‘la boucle de Nancy’, a vaguely circular set of waterways comprising La Moselle and La Meurthe which go through Nancy at their south-eastern edge. It is an attractive stretch passing through lots of countryside, and in areas the river widens out to form lakes covered with swans.

After our ‘loop’ down the Moselle and up the Saar we would be heading for Nancy and see more of the ‘boucle’. For now the northern arc was our direction, and a gentle 16 kms of that on our first day.

Boating friends had told us of an ultra shady mooring at Liverdun, ideal for enjoying two or three extra hot days. There were two locks along the way and at the first we found a yacht form the UK waiting for us so that the lock keeper could drop two boats down together. They looked even smaller than us in the mighty cavern of the second 7.3m lock at Aingeray.

It was one of those locks where we needed to move our fore and aft ropes down the ‘step bollards’ in the wall of the lock.

Pleasantly, in this lock, the bollards were a comfortable distance apart for Calliope, although not quite as easy for the yacht who had to take both ropes to a mid point , and share step bollards.

Following the yacht, Magic Hen, along the river we realised that they were heading into the almost hidden entrance for the Liverdun mooring, and its 20m pontoon …….. would we both have space to moor there?

Luckily the answer was yes; the pontoon is ‘moorable’ on both sides and soon we were both secure in the small inlet with trees all round.

There was only one thing. At this tine off year, midsummer, the sun is so high in the sky that there is never any shade until sundown! Ah well, with our usual selection of parasols and drapes we will keep Calliope cool enough.

And there were colourful picnic tables under the trees just right for meals and drinks with new friends in the shade. (We discovered that the crew of Magic Hen were not only from the UK, but were from Winchester – a city we know well and not far from our town home).

During our stay there we went for a walk up (and up) the hill to the old town of Liverdun, perched way above the mooring.

There are many interesting old buildings up there, including the chateau and the church. There are also great views up and down narrow streets, some with pieces of artwork to decorate the way.

There was even a very smart lavoir building, dating back to 1901. Prior to this the washerwomen of the village had to go right down the hill to the river, then carry it all back up again!

I’m hoping that my photo of the sign outside the lavoir will give you an idea of the change for the local villagers!

It was easier on the way down!

We were also there on Farther’s Day – and had a great surprise. Our daughter called to wish the Captain a Happy Father’s Day, and said that as she could not take him out to lunch she had transferred some money so that we could go out for a meal courtesy of her!

Straight across the inlet from the mooring is a casual bar restaurant with plenty of trees and umbrella’s to keep customers cool. An evening stroll round the water meant we had a wonderful few hours eating and drinking. I think that looks like a happy Father/Captain!

The assiette of cheese and charcuterie to keep us going until our food arrived was HUGE! Sadly no room left at the end for any of their tempting desserts.

And all within sight of Calliope – actually about 50 yards away, although it looks like I could touch her. if you are observant you will realise that we are now on the inside of the pontoon. Magic Hen had gone, so we moved onto the slightly shadier side and were later joined by two holiday boats for the night.

After three nights at Liverdun the weather cooled a bit and we decided to move on down the Moselle to discover more of her charms, starting off under the bridge at Liverdun – a long and graceful arched structure.

The first lock and town we passed was Pompey – a special for me because that is my home town, the nickname of Portsmouth. It is not an exciting or scenic photo I’m afraid.

We passed various riverside industry that day, from the derelict to the functioning. I love the colour and structure that they add to the landscape.

Calliope cruised on until we reached Pont-à-Mousson, named after the bridge that went over the Moselle towards the hill named Mousson where a castle once stood.

We found the hoped-for mooring empty – one that has a notice suggesting that only VNF and commercials to use the space but the DBA (Dutch Barge Association) mooring guide says it is commonly used, so we used it and had no problems! It is a dead end start to the re-routed Meurthe river, and a nice place to stop.

There is a big abbey the other side of the Meuse, seen here through the huge windows of a building that is the covered market, open on a Saturday. Sadly, for me, we were there on a Monday!

There were other lovely historic buildings and quirky modern additions around the town, seen on our quick walk in search of a shop that sold fresh milk! The old lavoir building on the left now seems to be a centre of music, both learning and performing, and on the right is an innovative way to encourage people to recycle their plastic bottle tops – to my mind a great idea that could be adopted all over the world.

I went for a second walk later, round the park and leisure grounds adjoining the mooring. It was great to see all kinds of sport going on – tennis, boules, football, a gym, rugby – and a stunning sky as a backdrop.

We had planned just the one night stop here so were off next day after breakfast, passing by the afore mentioned abbey at closer quarters.

Before long we found ourselves part of a little convoy of four bateaux de plaisance, moving dow the Moselle through lovely scenery on another blue day.

Calliope shared a few locks with them – plenty of space for all.

And in one lock I saved the life of a little fish caught on the platform of a bollard in the wall as the water drained from the lock!

My good deed of the day.

Now we had a different set of sights to take in. On the left is part, I think, of an old roman aqueduct. Certainly there is one in the vicinity, so I hope this is part of it. And secondly the paraphernalia required on the water to repair a bridge from below.

It is one of the delights of our cruising life to every day be gently (mostly) introduced to interesting and/or beautiful things to look at. To be honest it is the main reason we chose to do this wonderful crazy thing, seeing Europe from the waterside rather than the roadside.

We were heading for Metz, apparently a vibrant historically interesting city. To make sure of our place there for three nights we had contacted the Capitaine of the port and reserved ourselves a hammerhead mooring. Unfortunately it was not to be. When we arrived another, much shorter, boat was moored across ‘our’ hammerhead and refused to move. The Capitaine could not be reached by phone and was not in her office – so after hovering around for a while in the middle of the port we decided to leave Metz to another day and find ourselves a good mooring for the night.

Continuing down the Moselle our nerves were soothed by the countryside around us, including this little old watermill on the eastern bank.

We knew, via the DBA, that there was somewhere to stop in an old unused commercial port, miles form anywhere. That sounded like our kind of place – and it was!

I had imagined lots of old half-ruined buildings, rusty cranes etc. Instead we found that all traces of industry had been raised to the ground, apart from the old quayside, and nature allowed to take over. We were moored to a high sheet metal piling quay – always a slight challenge for fendering until a commercial boat or two had passed the entrance to the port and we had tested our method.

The weather was heating up again, so time for some shade to be added to the back deck, and for the Captain to take a rest from a longer day at the helm than planned (I expect I took a turn – I always offer!)

Then all was calm.

Now some might look at this mooring and think it awful, but I suspect those of you who read this blog read it in part to see how peaceful the world of inland waterways can be – so this photo is for you.

My final two photos from PK287.7 are these – our damsel fly visitor – the only visitor we had that evening – and the final view over the top of the sheet metal piling before the sun slid below the horizon.

One task I had set myself for that evening was to find a mooring where we could book in for a few days, top up with water (although we still had almost half a tank) and top up with food. I chose Basse-Ham, and what a good choice that turned out to be!

But first a mini-review of our journey there – all good!

First of all, on a grey but warm summer day, we came to our first double lock at de l’oren. This is where one of the locks is a much smaller one for leisure boats – see it here on the left just after we left it. On the right is the ‘grand écluse’ we have usually been in.

Not much further down river we passed the one remaining furnace complex of the old steel mill at Ucknage, now a museum piece with exhibition hall.

Although interested, we did not stop as we had plans for another revitalised old steel mill on the Saar.

Then another lock experience at Thionville where, despite there seeming to be a small boat lock we were asked to wait for the large one.

The waiting was initially moored to a long lead in quay, but when we saw the very wide commercial barge that was to leave the lock and pass us by the Captain realised we had better move one further out of the way so that the working boat could swing her stern round to get back on track on the bend in the river!

It is hard to see at this distance but I hope you can see that the barge is almost the same width as the lock. I reckon there was half a meter each side, if that!

As we left the lock and headed towards Thionville town there was a neat juxtaposition of bridges and modes of transport – shame there wasn’t a train passing lover the railway bridge when I took the photo!

It was getting on for lunchtime by now so, knowing there was a pontoon in Thionville, we quickly hatched a plan to stop for half an hour, buy readymade sandwiches as a treat and have a lunch stop.

But, as you can see from the skipper’s face, the Thionville pontoon was sadly in a state of disrepair. We could have tied up to it, but exposed metal might have scratched Calliope – a risk not worth taking for the sake of a sandwich!

There is always the making of a snack lunch on board – I forget what we had that day – and it was only 7kms to Basse-Ham.

We knew the port was next to an aquatic centre, and through a narrow entrance channel, so easily caught sight of the huge sailing/canoeing centre building, and the Port de Plaisance sign.

And there we were on our home pontoon for the next three days, with the skies turning blue. Apologies for the messy ropes and hose – we were still sorting out the mooring and the water filling at the time!

Just to try and give you an idea of how pleasant this port de plaisance was, we were surrounded by reed beds, still waters, and reflections worth keeping.

There was bird life to watch and be perplexed by. The kingfishers, magpies, crows, starlings, moorhen chicks and swans were easy to identify.

But this fuzzy creature, in fact a quite large startlingly black and white winged bird, with a pinky buff breast, foxed us for quite a while.

As did the very deep note croaking frog that was somewhere in the reeds, croaking regularly all day and night.

That is until we realised they were one and the same! The bird is a Little Bittern – a beautiful and relatively rare bird, especially in the UK, which is where most of our bird knowledge comes from. It hangs onto a reed, turns its long bright orange beak to the sky, and emits this strange deep sound. For those who are interested, this Youtube video is much better than the video I managed to take, although the sound of our bird was a lot louder!

We treated our three days as a bit of a holiday. Evening one was a stroll round the quite large area of the Centre Nautic, with its campervan park, playground, beach volley ball, chandlery and quirky outdoor ‘bar-in-a-hut’. And a fantastic sunset over the river.

Day two was partly taken up with a longish walk to the nearest supermarket for a re-stock. It involved starting off around the port, and all the permanently moored boats that we could see from our visitor’s pontoon. (the sunflowers are growing a bit at last!)

We were the recipients of a random act of kindness from a couple in a car who, seeing us walking steadily under the weight of our purchases, stopped and offered us a lift! Merci beaucoup. Next time we will get the bikes out!

That evening the skies changed! We knew we were in for a storm and sat on the back deck watching the black clouds stream in from south, hearing the rolls of thunder getting closer and more prolonged, and eventually having our share of the downpour. I always love this, for two reasons. First I love the cosiness of the wheelhouse when storms rage outside, and secondly heavy rain always gives the roof a good wash!

We ended up with our share of the lightning too.

I always admire those who can get good photos of lightning. Here is my best attempt.

That certainly cleared the mugginess from the air anyway.

Next day, back in sunshine, we walked to Basse-Ham village; the port is actually next to Haute Ham. It is a short country stroll, part along by the river, and then back through the fields. It is altogether a lovely area to spend a few days in.

Time to leave Basse-Ham – next stop Luxembourg!

Stewart took Calliope carefully out of the port’s entrance channel into the river, where a large barge was just passing so he slowed down to let her pass.

It was ideal cruising conditions and we followed Rumardo at a steady pace, noting our move into vineyard country – the famous Mosel region!

The first lock was not far away so crew got kitted out ready:

  • headset ✅
  • sunglasses ✅
  • lifejacket (required on Moselle in locks) ✅
  • sun visor ✅
  • cheeky grin ✅

[And I have not decorated my right ear to look like the skipper’s profile!]

Before long we were passing the castle at Serck-les-Bains. This time it is not down to Verbaun, but to a student of his called Cormontaigne – although his is just the latest restoration. There has been a fortress here since Roman times, which more latterly has belonged to the Ducs of Lorraine. These days it is open to the public, but we did not stop; it is there for another day.

Now the vineyards are really becoming the dominant landscape – neatly aligned rows of grapes growing on every hillside, using all available space.

And then, 4 kilometres after Serck-les-Bains, we are at the border of France with Germany and Luxembourg.

As we go through Apach lock with another commercial barge I am scrambling around on deck to take down our French courtesy flag and get ready to attach one for Germany – and I am still scrabbling as the big boat leaves!

And then it was done! This is where the Moselle divides Luxembourg, on the left, from Germany, on the right. Unfortunately we had not managed to find a Luxembourgian courtesy flag, so our EU flag, and ‘Women on Barges’ flag, had to suffice for the starboard yardarm.

We motored past the famous Schengen, and agreed that we both still agreed with the Schengen agreement! There is a museum and a mooring there, but the latter is mainly used by passenger boats.

Anyway we were in a bit of a hurry! We had heard that the diesel at Schwebsange, the next port, was cheaper than most places on the European waterways, so we had a plan to fill up with fuel. If you are reading this years later, 2022 was the year when oil/ petrol/diesel prices were rising crazily, for various political reasons. So filling up in Luxembourg where the duty and tax on fuel was cheaper was a good idea.

It was a Saturday and we knew that the fuel pump closed at 2pm, and was not open again until Tuesday.

We arrived by 1pm, with a big smile on our faces, and before long we were moored up at the fuelling quay with 500 litres of diesel pouring in.

The Captain sort of kept a close eye on proceedings – you never want the fuel to overflow! My old orange striped trousers were ready to soak it up if necessary.

The Capitaine of the port, Pascal, is an interesting and charming man. He had reserved a good long space for us to moor and before long we were secure.

That left us free for a walk round the little wine-growing village of Schwebsange before the storm that was brewing arrived.

The village was neat, small, and at every turn a reminder of its wine heritage. It was like an outdoor museum of the history of grape glowing in Luxembourg – fascinating. We had planned to have supper in one of the marina restaurants, and Luxembourg wine was now definitely going to feature.

We had a fine supper. We sat outside on the terrace overlooking the river and marina.

Pascal joined us for a beer, and advised us on which wine to try – a Luxembourg Pinot Gris from the very hills we had been looking at – under two kilometres away. We were not disappointed.

Then we chose a very local dish – gromperekichelcher. They are a rosti style potato, but much tastier, much crispier, and in our case made even more delicious with cheese and bacon.

We wandered back to Calliope, expecting a quiet evening waiting for the impending storm, but were invited to join a couple at their camper van, and another boating couple we’d met a few days previously, for a good franglais style conversation. The few words of Luxembourgish I had learnt – moien (hello), äddi (goodbye), and the easier merci for thanks – were not much needed until we left. But we did try another very good local wine – a smokey Chardonnay from Remich, a few kilometres downstream.

All of this was a prelude to the storm. It did come. As it it began to splatter rain drops on us we all bid a hasty äddi and watched the storm unfold from under our own cover. At first it was mainly high gusty winds and the rain, all in a strange pink sky.

And then we had the spectacle of pink lightning to complete the show.


Reversing out at Schwebsange

We finished our time in Luxembourg with two short cruises. The first began with Calliope going astern out of the Schwebsange port, past the fuelling quay and onto the river. The weather still looked heavy, but was dry.

Our mini map of locks on the Luxembourg Moselle, and then the German Saar (next blog) showed that we had one lock on each day’s cruise – today would be Stadtberdimus/ Palzem.

First stop was Ehnen, a mere 13 kms down river. We did not know what to expect and were pleased to find another small , old Luxembourg village which has been dedicated to winemaking. Its streets are narrow and steep, set in amongst the vineyards.

The village is working towards being a major part of the Moselle wine trail; currently the tourist office is open, but the museum is closed, undergoing a massive renovation – still 2 years to go before completion.

The quay we moored up to is part of the renovation, preparing for the cruise ships to disgorge their passengers for tastings and knowledge. It is work in progress, but for us was a safe, sound, quiet place to stay.

We walked up through the village and intro the vineyards where there is a hikers trail.

From there we could look down on Calliope – hard to spot if you don’t know where she is!

And at the bottom of the hill, where the mill stream emerges, is an old bridge which, in UK, I would probably call a pack horse bridge.

I tried it out – it works!

It is centuries old (I regret I forget how many centuries!)

I had planned just to say a few words about Ehnen and maybe two photos, but there is still one more thing worth mentioning.

The small riverside park that separates the quay from the village is home to a set of modern sculptures that display various parts fo winemaking and the people involved. Vines are growing around them. Once the renovation is complete it will be a lovely setting for them.

We were still looking for blue skies when we set off to do the 12 kms to Grevensmachen. The terrain seemed to be leaving vineyards and entering tree covered slopes again, but in the mist it was hard to be sure.

What we could be sure about, and is worth sharing with prospective boaters in the Moselle, is that we always knew here we were.

The german bank of the river showed very clearly which kilometre mark you were at, with the tenths shown on a succession of smaller signs, and a + sign for half way. So for example above we would be at km221, then at km221.5, and later at km221.9.

The changeover of UKW (VHF) channels between locks was just as clear.

Then onto our last stopover in Luxembourg. So far it has made me want to come back by car or train and have a more thorough look round this Grand Duchy. The landscape opened up again and we were cruising past vineyards and pretty communes once more.

Before long we were through Gravenmachen and tied up at the quay. The owner of the boat already moored there, and an acquaintance of ours from several previous moorings, jumped down and brought us good news. This long quay, shared by passenger and hotel boats (who have priority), was empty for a week.

Luxembourg has a great system for quays like this. Often on a 100m quay there is 80m where hotel boats have first choice, and 20m for private boats like ours. If you don’t know when a hotel boat is due you dont know if you can use a big empty space. But in Luxembourg there is a lit up sign telling you when, to the minute, the next hotel or passenger boat is due! There we are down the far end.

So here we are on our first evening at Gravenmachen with the sun going down, throwing a magical light on the German shore

Gravenmachen was another revelation to us. Although modernised to a large extent the medieval centre of narrow streets is still there and some of the fortifications. Unsurprisingly there are many references to the grape!

There is a short and interesting walking trail around the town, including the one remaining tower, known locally as ‘the gaping tooth’.

One of the narrow streets follows around inside the rampart wall; houses have been built into the wall and are still there, mostly lived in, today.

Also just inside the wall is an artistic reproduction of the town’s lavoir which used two be two doors along

I find it a great atmospheric way to display what was there 100 years ago. It does not feel so distant to me. The image of the lady could easily have been my grandmother or one of my great aunts.

We passed two nights in Gravenmachen – our last two on the Moselle and our last two in Luxembourg. On day two we did go and find a local bar with a good outdoor area for a cooling beer before retreating to the boat for supper, and a glass or two on the back deck!

Ah, did you notice my funny one glass? That is because I am notoriously clumsy and it is harder for me to send that one flying!

Our last evening on the river was beautiful. Warm but not hot and with colourful skies and reflections.

We set off promptly the next day to cruise the final 11 kms of the Moselle before we turned off to join the Saar. The Moselle continues on downstream for 200 kms to the Rhine and is navigable all the way I believe. But we were due in Saarbrucken to meet family so needed to take the right hand turn onto the Saar.

So we looked back at the Moselle scenery we had become used to enjoying – those vineyards!

We found our turn to starboard at km200.8. Goodbye Moselle; we have loved cruising you.

And hello Saar – we look forward to what lies ahead! The next blog will tell all!

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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