Savouring the Sarre in Slow Time 2

Part 2 – the French stretch – Canal de la Sarre (Canal des houillères de la Sarre)

12th to 19th July 2022

We arrived in Sarreguemines with extra crew aboard – son and grandson – who had joined us on the German part of our Sarre (Saar) journey – as documented in the last blog post. We had moored up on the long upstream quay of the port, most of the time with no-one behind us; a very pleasant mooring.

We liked Sarreguemines, for loltys of reasons. One was the flower displays everywhere; someone had spent a lot of time designing and planting these, all round the town.

And then the evenings there, as darkness fell. The river was a magical place to be. especially for the Bastille Day fireworks. Even the secure gate from the pontoon to the park had its own twilight architectural delight.

But probably our greatest enjoyment was on the last day when, despite the heat, we walked back to the junction with the river Blies, and then upstream to the Moulin de la Blies ceramics museum.

The museum is housed in the old ceramics works themselves, and includes everything from grinding the stones to add to the clay through to hand-painting the plates, pots, cups etc. It is fascinating and full of detail; easy to imagine the people still working there.

The views from various parts of the ‘works’ were often onto the Blies, an important part of the process.

Initially, before steam took over, the river provided the power for all the mills and wheels.

It was also the way that much of the raw material arrived, and much of the finished china and porcelain was taken away.

Some of the old ruined industrial buildings have been incorporated into a beautiful garden – very shady and welcome on a very hot day!

It is impossible tfor me to fully describe how interesting and enjoyable the museum is – but do go if you are in the area!

Next day we continued up the river, all prepared with our remote control for the locks, map and binoculars.

Officially we were now on the Canal de la Sarre (formerly Canal des Houillères de la Sarre) with the river running along to port. It was built to allow the transport of coal from the mines around Saarbrucken, hence its name – houillère meaning coal mine.

The weather was still hot – somewhere in the thirties – and we hoped to find a mooring with some shade.

Along the way, at Rémelfing I think, we had a friendly audience as we went through the lock.

All went according to plan and we waved a cheerful goodbye as we continued to Zetting.

Each stretch of river or canal has its own design of a sign to tell us to activate our remote control for the next lock – the ‘zapping stick’ as it’s called on Calliope.

Sometimes the wireless signal can be operated from a hundred yards away; other times only when you are right next to the sign.

I’m not sure what the M signifies. The rest of the stuff around the M is graffiti, in case you are trying to work it out!

Although not far out of Sarreguemines we were cruising through lovely open countryside, with all vents open to catch as much cooling breeze as we could on this beautiful sunny day.

As always we were wondering if there would be space for us at our planned mooring, and as is almost always the case, there was!

The only other boat along the quay seemed to be an abandoned holiday hire boat. No-one came near it while we were there. The life jackets were neatly piled up inside and the bikes on the back. It was bit of a Marie Celeste moment.

At this point the river Sarre is canalised, with the canal passing along the side of a valley, about half way up, and the river Sarre down below. We had a lovely view across the valley from Calliope, and a picnic bench in the shade should we be a bit warm on the boat.

I tried, without much success, to get a photo of the bridge over the canal (next to the lock) and the bridge over the river (in the distance on the left with a car gong over it).

This was just to demonstrate now close together the two waterways are at this point.

One of the daft things that I try to do!

In the opposite direction we could see the fascinating Zetting church, at the top of the hill above the village. The tower was very old, ninth century, and originally a watch tower. The nave is romanesque and the tall choir is C15th. The history is fascinating and worth reading of you like churches.

Stu and I walked up the rather steep hill, through the village, to the church.

I was hot!

Zetting was an ideal place to get a bit more barge cleaning done. Although we have a pump and hose I do rather enjoy sluicing the deck (and myself) down with buckets of water, especially on hot days.

(Whoops, two photos of me in a row.)

All of this ‘effort’ led to the reward of a cold Kriek beer at the end of the day.

There was beer for the Captain too of course.

And a quiet night at Zetting. Mmmmmmm, zzzzzzzzzz.

The following day’s journey was on to Sarralbe, with the canal running right against the river Sarre at some points, making for beautiful scenery and vistas.

It is not a long journey – maybe 3 hours in all – and with a couple of points of interest.

We were well and truly back into France now, and the PK (kilometre markers) were in a new French style. They are very clear and have totally replaced the old stone markers along this canal.

It was also fn to see the vivid green ex-lock keepers house at écluse 21. It is now a VNF office and the larger buildings next door, presumably storage areas, are the same height colour.

Day after day the temperature was around 30°C and harvesting was well and truly under way, leaving behind views of my three favourite colours – blue, green and yellow.

All of this made for a pleasant trip to Sarralbe – so named because it is where the River Sarre meets the River Albe.

A completely renovated port is now available for bateaux de plaisance to enjoy. There is a long pontoon with electricity and water, plenty of bollards, goods rubbish facilities and – it’s all free! A park with paths and shrub style planting pins alongside, all gradually maturing; in a year or two it will be even better.

We tied up at one end where we would be shaded by trees later in the day and had lunch. Then we set put for our usual walk around a new town. What we found amazed us!

Almost every roof and chimney stack had storks on their nests!

We later read that there are about 37 breeding pairs in Sarralbe and that they have been encouraged for the past 15 years to next there.

We were fascinated!!!

Of course there is more to Sarralbe than storks!

The twin steepled church is magnificent (and even here you can see the white markings on the roof of the stork inhabitants)

Then ther is the old mill and mill pond on the Albe – peaceful now but with busy industrial history.

And for those who’ve read a few of these blogs over the years – there was the shadow of a lavoir!

A tiled roof shows where the locals would come to rinse hew soap from their washing and exchange the latest talk of the town. The notice tells of those times now gone and how it looked on the past.

All of this was in temperatures of 30°C+. Captain and I had worn hats and sought shade as we walked the quiet streets. But this was not enough for crew, who could not resist the cooling effects ofnthe fountain on the way back to the barge.

Despite the charms of Sarralbe and the very pleasant port, once more we only stayed one night; we were on a deadline to reach Strasbourg in time for family who were coming to visit.

We were also very aware of the weather forecast and the top even hotter days ahead, so set off towards a known shady mooring next to écluse 16.

Soon after we set off on the Canal de la Sarre we found ourselves passing over the River Albe on an aqueduct. There is something marvellous about one waterway passing over another; they always delight me.

Our next lock clearly indicated when it was built – some 108 years ago.

Quite a few of the locks have inset stones like this – some more decipherable than others.

And my ability to get a photos will usually depend on whether I am needing to work hard with the rope, or have an easy ride!

The cruising time on this day was around 4 hours.

We knew we we must be nearing our destination the we saw the lovely little lock house for écluse 16.

Good to see that this lock house is lived in. Many of the empty ones are available to rent at a low cost once you have entered into a contract with the VNF to repair and maintain it.

We ‘sailed’ on, enjoying the shade, and enjoying the free flow of air through the wheelhouse with the windscreen down.

And then we arrived, to find a perfect spot at the end of the quay, with shade creeping across the grass towards us, boding well for later on the day.

It did not take long to set up a cool lunch under the trees!

We passed a pleasant time at Écluse 16. There is a ‘posh’ restaurant there, sadly closed on the day we moored up, so we provided our own supper and had an early night.

During the afternoon a barge passed by in the opposite direction, carrying the purple, pink and orange flag of the WOBs (Women on Barges). I too am a member, as was the lady on the boat along the quay. We are a friendly bunch, and a bit of chatter rang across the water as we all quickly said hello and farewell.

Note the assortment of drapes the boats deploy to give shade. The was an unusual heatwave for this part of the country and I was glad of our experience in the South on the Canal du Midi where we had invented good shade techniques!

In the morning we realised there was a small problem with emptying the black tank, which was three quarters full. Captain turned engineer checked and cleaned the pump valves, but this did not bring success. The obvious solution was to go to a pump out and empty the tank that way, but we were not sure of the closest one.

Luckily my WOB friend from the night before had a sensible solution. She suggested a mobile pump-out service, such as would go to empty a septic tank at a house. So anticipating there being more chance of finding a local ‘vidange’ service closer to civilisation we decided to make a run for the end of the canal that day – a rather hot one!

Apart from the heat the cruise was lovely, with the canal passing through large areas of lakes on both sides.

We were due to see plenty of locks and their lock keepers houses. The one at éluse 16 is now a restaurant, as mentioned. But most stand empty. Some are large, some small, and all a sad sight compared to their importance in the heyday of canal coal transportation.

In fact there were 15 locks to go through, so I invented a ‘very-hot-weather’ dress style. I kept a bucket of water outside the wheelhouse with a long sleeve cotton shirt in it, and each time I went to the bow for a lock I put on the soaking wet shirt. The water evaporated as we went through the lock, keeping me cool! That plus a hat and lots of water to drink kept me fit. The Captain did the same, minus the wet shirt!

As we approached the end of the canal, after lock 2, we came to one of the last moorings at Pont Albesch. The canal widens here and there is a long quay, some of which is very suitable for mooring, and shady in the evening. We moored up, had lunch, and began to search for a vidange option.

It was the Captain who came up with an answer. He searched for farmers who empty tanks of various kinds as a side-line, and found one ……. within sight of the mooring! The nearest farm to us, whose cows we had been watching (you can just see them in the photo above), also ran a licensed vidange business! How lucky was that???

Having worked out the French for ‘can you empty a tank on a boat’ in French I rang and was soon in conversation with my new friend Eric. He came to look at the task, agreed he could do it and promised to be back after milking the cows that evening.

With this good news I relaxed and went for a cooling swim.

I frequently swim in the rivers and canals – especially if I can see plenty of healthy fish.

I keep my head above water and take a shower when I come out. So far no ill health has befallen me.

It turned out that a farmer’s work is never done; when Eric had not reappeared at about 8.30pm I walked up to the farm, and was introduced to his cattle. I love farms and livestock!

Eric and I agreed that it would be best to leave it for the morning, and as good as his word he was there at 8.30am, with tractor and pump. He and the Captain disappeared into the engine room, where Eric lovingly stroked our Beta Marine engine before connecting the pipes.

Within minutes our black tank was empty, any possible blockage easily removed, and we were ready to bid au revoir to our new friend.

Thank you Eric, and thank you to our WOB friend for the totally logical suggestion.

Off we went to complete our journey on the Sarre / Saar and its associated canals. At the final lock, 1, it was time to hand back our trusty remote control.

All the instructions are there, in three languages. And after some careful peering, without his reading glasses, the Captain returned the ‘tèlecommand’ to its rightful place.

This was all done in a little purpose built modern VNF office on the lockside.

And it was pleasing to see that the lock keeper’s house was being lived in.

The remainder of the canal, we knew, had more big étangs, or lakes, either side. But the banks were built up and we could not see them. All we could see was the circling black kites, watching for fish far below.

It was not long until we were turning to port to join the Canal de la Marne au Rhin Est.

It would only be a few days until we arrived in Strasbourg!

And our cruise down to there is the next edition I must write!

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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