Well it is now nine months and six days since we left our lovely Calliope secured for the winter in Kortrijk on the river Leie. We had expected it to be for six months and nine days, not the other way round! However the various twists and turns of Covid-19 have made it difficult to return, either because of UK restrictions or Belgium restrictions.
So here is a little short bloggette about Calliope’s last 278 days of isolation.
Captan and crew went through the normal cleaning and de-cluttering procedures ready to put our barge to bed for the winter – expecting to return in a couple of months to check on her before Christmas and again in February.
Little did we know!
October 22nd – goodbye Calliope, goodbye Kortrijk ducks and coots – our friends on the river Leie.
Then home by Eurostar to the UK and 10 days quarantine – not too bad when you have a pleasant view of the water out towards Portsmouth Harbour. We were all set up with home deliveries of food, jigsaws to complete, books to read and Dutch to learn; the time sped by and we were sort of free, within the Covid restrictions of the time.
It was soon apparent that we could not go back before Christmas, but our friends on nearby barge Pavot were keeping an eye on Calliope, as was Wim, the harbourmaster, so no real concerns. We began to plan for an unknown Christmas; would it be full throttle with 12 of the family, or just two households, or no gathering at all?
In the end it was rather a quiet affair for everyone on the UK!
We had been alerted of the need to have evidence that Calliope was in Europe before Brexit, to avoid potential tax implications, so asked our friends on a barge 100 yards away to take evidential photos on New Years Eve. There she lay, in the great light of a Belgian winter, awaiting our return.
We bowled on into the New Year, certain that by the time we planned to go back to the boat in April the pandemic would have calmed down and it would be travel as usual. In fact our bigger concern was how to get 6 months in Belgium and The Netherlands following Brexit, than any worry about Covid. France was offering long stay visas for tourists, but not either of the two countries we were planning to be in.
There are always boats to enjoy here at home as well as when we are on Calliope. The two new super carriers, RO8 and RO9, made various entrances and exits of Portsmouth Harbour; we have a good view of their berths from the bridge at the end of the road.
In February Stewart fixed up two of the things I had been missing most in a house with no garden – plants to care for and an outdoor washing line. These were both erected on our little balcony and both gave me great joy and a feeling of outdoor living again – while we waited for Coronavirus to pass. And even with this you will detect a background of water – we don’t ever seem to get too far away from sea, river or canal!
We were please and excited to have our two Covid vaccinations during the Spring, and felt fully covered for our trip – except that the countries of the world were winding through a series of red, amber and green states, testing regimes and quarantine periods that were making planning almost impossible.
April arrived and we were still in the UK. Then mid month an interesting email arrived from Wim, the harbour master at Kortrijk – with the subject Omgevallen boom – or fallen tree!
A tree had fallen in the night and partially landed on our barge! You feel so far away and powerless when something like this happens and you are not permitted to travel.
Luckily Wim had things well under control and soon the fire brigade arrived to remove the tree – and our friends on Pavot came along to inspect for damage. There seemed to be nothing more than twigs and leaves – although we still need to check that the PV panels have not been affected. (fingers crossed!)
A further email informed us that in cutting up the fallen tree our electricity connection was broken – but once more the friendliness and resourcefulness of other boatsman came to our rescue and we were sent a photo of the repaired connector.
A new one was ordered on line and put into the box marked ‘boat’ which we hoped would one day accompany us back to Kortrijk.
Another purchase for the boat while we were in the UK was the so called ‘marriage savers’. I was reluctant to buy them, knowing that my marriage was safe, but finally understood that for the Captain’s sanity it would be a good idea of he could talk to me from the wheelhouse to the bow, through the magic of radio. We tried out the Nautic-talk (or naughty talk as I prefer to call it) in the lounge of our house, getting as far apart as we could and trying to replicate the feeling of a 20m long barge going into a 20m deep lock with a gusty crosswind! I think it’s going to work.
The arrival of June still found us in the UK, watching the Covid figures go up and down both at home and across Europe, waiting for rules, tests, vaccinations and the planets all to align in our favour so that we could travel legally and safely to Calliope.
The silver lining of the Covid cloud was being able to see more of the family now that we were permitted to meet inside in groups of 6 and outside in larger numbers. We had a lovely day out at Churt Sculpture Park with youngest grand daughter and family. It gave the Captain a chance to introduce her to navigation!
I watched both grandsons play their last match of the season – and both teams won! Incredibly the friendly matches for the next season began before we managed to get back to Belgium – there no longer seems to be a summer break for football – especially with the Euros being played this summer as well.
June also brought flowers. These ox-eye daisies grow wild in front of our house, partly camouflaging the RN fuel depot the other side of Forton Lake! I began to realise that I would see my agapanthus bloom this year too.
June also took us north – first to the Lake District and the very moving, calm, spreading of our boatman friend’s ashes on Windermere. Then over to the North East coast, Scarborough to visit Stewart’s uncle and aunt.
The wife of our Lakeland Admiral came to stay with us for a few days. She found new waters – those of the Solent – and, I hope, some solace from being with us.
She and her husband had spent several holidays aboard Calliope with us – always good times.
June merged into July; full moons waxed and waned. Still we watched as boating friends went back to France, and as a few others sneaked into Belgium, never feeling confident enough ourselves that everything could legally be put in place.
Then, finally, everything seemed right. Various medical check-ups were complete, Belgium would let us in (with a few caveats such as quarantine and PCR tests), and a ferry booking was available. So that was it. We booked for the next day, went for a final curry, packed the car and were Belgium bound.
The drive to Dover was probably the best we have ever had, and it was just so good to see the harbour below us as we came down the hill to the port.
The crossing was a little choppy, but nor enough to cause any issues, and certainly not to stop us enjoying the complementary meal on offer from DFDS! Stewart saw a seal playing around in Dover harbour before we left. but other than that the crossing was uneventful.
It is strange how delighted and excited we were at each stage of the drive from Calais, past Dunkirk, down to Ypres, and finally to Kortrijk. It did feel like coming home.
And then, there she was – a bit grubby but in every other way shipshape – our Calliope!
The long Covid winter was over – October to July – we were back.
As we left the marina at Spanjeveer dawn was breaking on a lovely late September day. We were on our way to have the hull pressure washed and repainted – part of the five yearly maintenance programme.
The Moervaart was glorious in the early light, and we shared the calm waters with geese preparing for their winter habitat.
Calliope came out onto the big Gent-Terneuzen canal as the sun was emerging from behind the chemical works and other industrial sites.
The hour and a half cruise from Spanjeveer to Zelzate was both pleasant and interesting for me – and required concentration from the captain as we moved through the huge canal towards the boat yard.
We passed our share of wonderful gigantic seagoing ships, powerful little tugs, and plenty of other working boats.
We arrived a little early and had a pleasant wait, getting to know our new surroundings.
Carron Marine is situated right on the border between Belgium and The Netherlands. A border patrol boat was a frequent passer-by, checking that no coronaviruses passed from one country to the other no doubt!
Then the fun began, getting Calliope gently ‘beached’ on the two trolleys that would pull us at the slipway. (Apologies for the washed up rubbish! Not us)
Before too long we were pulled out of the water and placed behind our friend Peter’s boat on the slipway and chocked up for our stay.
A quick inspection showed an intact bow thruster, 6 be-barnacled but solid anodes and a ‘gift wrapped’ propeller.
Our high rise living could now begin, 10’ above the ground and with superb views out across the canal.
Then began a few days of waiting our turn in a shipyard busy getting commercial barges back out to work. The yard is full of photographic opportunities!
It gave us free time to explore the area. There is not a lot to see in Zelzate but there is a small pleasant park between the boat yard and the town. The lake in the park is part of the original line of the river, complete with a small flock of geese and a ‘scenic’ chemical works on the other side!
The town itself is unpretentious, has all necessary shops and services, and a nice church.
It was easy to keep busy. There was end of season cleaning to do aboard and Stu fitted a new water pump one day. The weather was very variable – blue skies one minute and storm force winds and rain the next. The sunsets, directly behind us, were constantly stunning.
We walked a lot and went out for beer and frites with Peter one evening, finding more new beer to try!
The activity on the canal was never ending, day and night, from little metal skiffs to huge ocean going ships, tugs and Dutch border patrols.
Then, on a wet windy day, came our turn for work to start – the pressure wash, to remove the relatively small amount of weed, baby mussels and tiny barnacles. It felt strangely exciting!
The following week was a time of weather watching – waiting for weather windows that were long enough for sanding down, priming, top coating.
At last the grey skies were considered right enough and the guys got to work on the preparation, searching out all the little places where five years of enjoyable intensive cruising have left their little marks – all surface level scars thank goodness!
Then followed a couple more days too wet for painting, but good for watching what goes on around us and searching out interesting objects to photograph in the shipyard.
We also did more walking around Zelzate, discovering amongst other things the Mietje Stroel – their female equivalent of the more famous ‘mannekin pis’ statues found around Belgium.
And we bought a near impossible jigsaw to keep us busy – night and day!
And there was one glorious sunset after another, often flooding the yard with such golden light you would think I had a filter on the camera!
Then the weather set fair for a day’s painting on Friday! The first coat above the waterline was applied!
A glass was raised that evening in honour of the next stage being accomplished! This was not the best time of year to be attempting outdoor re-painting, but the coronavirus had put paid to the more sensible plans earlier in the year.
We waited on tenterhooks through a very wet weekend, watching the skies and the forecasts. Would Monday allow the second coat?
I did have some fun on Sunday, persuading the Captain to push me out on the metal skiff to grab a water logged branch that was trapped on the slipway rails!
Disappointingly it was grey and moist on Monday morning so we walked into Zelzate market and bought one or two goodies, then found a moment of sunshine in a the park for an impromptu picnic!
Amazingly when we returned to Calliope we found the team drying off the last of the rain drops from the boat and about to add the second coat! And on it went, followed by the requisite six hours without rain; hooray – great progress.
The jigsaw too was making progress – which would be finished first, the barge or the puzzle?
There was constant daily activity on the canal, but that evening saw 10 minutes of big sea going ships with attending tugs, border patrol boats and commercial barges all passing in a rush hour mass.
But it was clear that the seasons were changing and we made ourselves extra cosy with our Refleks stove – toasty warm.
We had everything crossed for good weather to continue for the final paintwork, so were relieved and smiling to see the sunlit dawn.
After two weeks the better weather meant that things were beginning to draw to a close – with the below-the-waterline paint being applied, and the jigsaw nearing completion.
In fact after a bit of a last minute shock when the ‘last’ two pieces didn’t fit ……
…. we were able to place the 1000th piece! So the jigsaw won.
The following day the final coat was applied and we stood back and admired what the team at Carron Marine had done – beautiful!
That evening we drank a toast to the ‘blackened’ Calliope as the sun went down.
While the work had been going on we kept busy with odd jobs around the boat, an autumnal clean, and more walking around the area.
There are things here that fascinate me, like the last old house in the old town of Zelzate, quite grand amongst all the cottages, and the potato vending machine!
And our last day was also the last day of pubs and restaurants being open in Belgium for the foreseeable future, because of coronavirus.
So we treated ourselves to a delicious meal out at the local Italian restaurant as a ‘last supper’. (There seems to be quite a bot of raising a glass of rosé in this blog! There must have been plenty of things to celebrate.
Although sad to be leaving the area it was time to move on. Three weeks out of water trying to keep the repainted hull as dry as possible meant that we had been unable to use our black water tank, grey water tank and sink as normal. We were also running short on fresh water and had been bringing jugs of water on board from a nearby tap.
The steps down from the barge, and up to the loo and tap were getting colder each day, although always adventure and a bit like camping out.
But nights were quiet, dark and cosy.
Got going early removing chocks and blocks that had supported us and lowering us gently onto the wagons that would run us down the slipway.
Splash down was faster than we expected! Luckily Peter was on hand to take this video as I was not ready for the moment.
Having splashed into the water, we then needed to splash some water in and on Calliope before we sailed away. We and wash down filled the fresh water tank enough for the rest of the season, and I had a happy bit of wet-play hosing off all the dust and much that cannot help accumulating on the boat when you are in a busy yard for three weeks.
At last it was time to bid a fond goodbye Carron Marine, Alex, Joey, Tim, Martin and the rest of the team.
Then we were out on the canal heading south to Gent and going towards the Zelzate bridge that we had never seen open – today it opened!
Here are two happy Calliope crew – we’re back on the water! We are on the big Gent-naar-Ternuezen Kanaal, and enjoying every minute.
On the outskirts of Gent we stopped to replace our two gas bottles as we were just about out. The first place we moored up next to unfortunately did not have the right fittings for our gas system. Luckily less than a kilometre along the road was an alternative supplier so we set off with the sack truck – there and back twice and replaced both bottles.
We felt really good then. We had gas, freshwater, empty grey and black water tanks and fully charged batteries. All the utilities one takes for granted in the house are always much more interesting on a boat and you learn to use them wisely.
Before long we were through the bridges, round the bends, and back into Portus Ganda. Calliope settled her gleaming hull beneath the glowing October creepers. ….
… and we paid a short outdoor socially distanced visit to our great friends on Dreamer. Coronavirus sadly put paid to our plans for a reunion supper together, but there was just enough warmth left in the evening air for a half hour chat together.
Next morning we planned to leave at 9, but a quick glance at the waterways notices showed that the first lift bridge, just round the corner, was going to be closed for repair apart from a short spell between 1200 and 1230. This gave me time to walk into Gent for some more great bread, and a couple of treats – a mini Merveilleuse de Fred each, and a worstbroot to share.
Add to that the Gent mustard that appeared as if by magic on our roof that morning (thank you naughty Mieke mustard fairy!), and we were set to leave.
We said goodbye to a grey Gent in style with a sail-by of Dreamer and a farewell salute to Frans.
We had good views of some of the tremendous street art of the city, encouraged by the council, and appreciated the autumn colours along the banks – these at at Tolhuissluis.
Soon we had turned onto the Verbindingscanal, our chosen route out of town, passing all the interesting boats that are moored along both sides.
We had another wait before we went through the swing bridge as that is closed between 1230 and 1300; lunch is important. But after that we were truly on our way.
We turned to starboard to join the Brugsevaart, past many colourful houses and under a bridge that is in the process of being demolished, or so it seemed to us; we passed under without incident.
Next we approached the Ringvaart, the M25 of the canal world around Gent, often busy with mega-barges in both directions; we consulted the AIS system to see what was around.
All was clear so we poked our nose out, a quick visual check, and dashed across towards Brugge.
After a few kilometres a turn to port into the Kanaal van Schipdonk, or Afleidingskanaal van de Leie, took us on towards Deinze where we wanted to stay the night. Once again we checked the AIS and could see we would be following another barge along the canal.
That turned out to be a rather heavily laden, slow moving barge so we crawled along behind it until we reached the turning for Deinze.
There was a pleasure turning onto the Leie at Deinze. We have been up here a couple of times before. We knew where we were going. We had phoned ahead and checked that the bridge into the town quay was operating and that there was room to moor.
Our only two, pleasant, surprises were the new almost completed footbridge ….
…. and a ferris wheel next to the church. looking glorious as the sun began to set. It seemed to be there for half term and was going to bet going the following night. We would miss it – “shame”, said the Captain!
The weather was slightly less glorious when we left Deinze in the rain the following morning, but we had had yet another pleasant evening in this unassuming little town.
I missed most of the trip eastwards along the Leie due to a conference call Trustee meeting of a charity I work with, but I was called upon to be on deck for the two locks we passed through. At the first lock it was still raining, but by the second the skies were clearing.
Harelbeke Lock, the last one, on the outskirts of Kortrijk, has just finished a major design and rebuild, and is looking very smart.
So finally we came into Kortrijk, our current home port. What a wonderful, calming, end-of-the-season feeling, even though we had to squeeze into the 21 metre space waiting for our 20 metre boat! The Captain ceremoniously took down the flags and we were officially tied up for winter.
That left us a day and a half of cleaning, maintenance and winterising, moored up in our favourite spot.
There was also time for a final gobbled wafel! Due to the closure of cafés and restaurant ts it had to be a take-away, eaten in a cold grey, empty square, but delicious just the same.
There was left over bread that allowed plenty feeding of the ducks and coots and moorhens, causing more than one coot-war!
It was time to go home until next year, but also still time for an evening walk around Kortrijk to get a few more images to help me remember how lovely it is to be here.
Our journey home on three trains was straightforward enough, though was masks-on for the full six hours against the virus. Ever since we left the UK four months ago we have been wearing masks in public places so didn’t feel too afflicted – and, so far, it has kept us in good health – so well worth it.
And so – another great summer, with wonderful memories of places and people (and beers)we got to know along the way. The people in particular that you meet on boats are from all walks of life, but share the same insane and wonderful common denominator of a floating maintenance schedule – and will rally round anyone within that community needing assistance.
It’s a special life, and I’d just like to finish off Lesley’s last blog of the year if I may, by saying that we pinch ourselves all the time for these years we are enjoying afloat.
We were heading for Holland this year before the virus persuaded us to stay within the Belgium borders – and it has been a delightful adventure. We’ve been to fascinating places we’d not heard of months previously, and enjoyed every one.
Where will we be next year? It doesn’t matter, it’s all good!
We left Gent on the Tuesday, with a lovely send-off, knowing (or should I say thinking?) we had almost 2 weeks to kill while waiting to go into the boat yard for the 5-yearly hull cleaning and painting.
The cruise out of Gent was interesting in itself, up through the working parts of the port, going past not only big canal commercial barges but also the huge seagoing ships – some seeming to have lost their Plimsoll line!
And a few interesting little boats too.
Some kicked up a good wake; we almost felt back at sea!
The turn onto the little Moervaart canal (this is what the river Durme is named as it goes through the moor lands north of Lokeren) seemed very calm in comparison.
We had imagined turning immediately into the countryside! But there was a kilometre of industry to travel through first.
It was not far to the port where we had booked in for the night – the one by Spanjeveerbrug at Mendonk .
We were soon pleasantly settled in right next to another bailey bridge – that must be our third bailey bridge next to a mooring this year, and in fact in our lives.
It was so pleasant that we decided to spend a second night there too. I had cycled into one village for bread both days so Stewart and I took a walk in afternoon in the other direction out amongst the flat fields of the polders.
The first stage of our cruise one down the river towards Lokeren gave an indication of the lovely scenery to follow.
The journey down the Durme through the 7 lift and swing bridges, spaced over 16 kms, is done in the company of any other boats going that way – 2/3 chances each day depending day of week etc. We went to the first bridge and moored up for lunch, ready for a 1315 start.
The cruise down to Lokeren is constantly fascinating. We were lucky enough to go down in September sun, enjoying the rural views along the way. I loved the now defunct, non-moving, Vapeurbrug – more photos of this one on our way back!
We went through a succession of bridges in a small convoy of two boats – us in the lead – and at the last bridge our companion barge peeled off to moored on the waiting pontoon for the night.
We continued on towards Lokeren, with the river becoming increasingly bendy, including several hairpins. It also became increasingly busy with kayaks and small electric hire boats.
We would come upon these as we rounded a bend, towering above them, with the Captain making sure we didn’t hit any!
As we rounded the final bend into Lokeren port we were hailed from the bank by Tony, a Brit who lives on a boat there. He strongly suggested that we turn round in the slight widening of the bend and go astern into the moorings. So we did
It wasn’t that easy, us being 20m long and the winding hole being about 24m wide, and plenty of people stopped to watch super Captain Stu manage it slowly and carefully. At one point we were beautifully broadside on to the river, stopping all other water traffic.
But before long, at the end of quite a long day, we were comfortably moored up in the park-like surroundings of the town port.
We stayed for four warm sunny days, enjoying Lokeren’s ambience. The city is small with a centre that only retains a few old buildings – the allies bombed it by mistake towards the end of WW2. But there is still plenty to enjoy, with the river running through the centre, a lively central square, and quite a few fountains! It’s prosperity was built on making felt for hats, which involved cutting the hair off rabbit and hare pelts – hence the rabbit statues.
We treated ourselves to a frituur supper one night, in a funky 50’s diner style fritterie.
The food was good too!
We had a nature day, walking along the river and up into one of the many parks, a history day at the museum, and an art day, engaging with some of the sculptures that are all around the city – much of it metallic.
The art day was quite hot so we rewarded ourselves in the shade with a new beer for Stu (note the very classy bottle) and a new Kriek for me (note the rather bling glass!).
Apparently the beer was ‘thumbs-up’ good.
It was a very pleasant place to spend some September days ……..
……. although we awoke next morning to a completely different scene!
This was the day of our departure – the geraniums the only brightness in sight.
We had booked the first bridge at 1030 so Stu set off very slowly, round the twists and turns of the river, often only visible from the wheelhouse at the moment the bow reached the bend!
This took a lot of the helmsman’s concentration.
By the time we reached the first bridge at Daknam the midst was starting to clear, but it had been an exhausting trip and the waiting pontoon (with a 30 hour mooring limit) seemed delightful – so we decided to stop our voyage until the next day.
Moored up in the rising mist there was a sense of relief – no urgency to continue now; lovely lovely.
And as the mist cleared we discovered just how lovely it was, a very peaceful rural place to wait for 24 hours.
Just looking out of the window in the morning was a joy, watching the moorhens and coots finding their breakfast around the water lilies.
The little village of Daknam is quite close to the mooring. It has developed its own fame a being the site of the Lions Court in the medieval story of Reynaud the fox, who cheats the King out of his gold. A stuffed fox proudly stands beside the church and other reminders of the story are around the village.
But as I walked round the village my phone rang and it was the shipyard to let me know that our arrival date there was delayed by 5 days! New plans had to be made.
Only one night is allowed on the Daknam pontoon so we were still ready to go next morning at 1030, on a day with much greater visibility than the one before!
The sunshine and fresh air pulled me towards the other side of the river from the mooring and a quick walk between maize fields before we set off.
I promised more photos of the old Vapeurbrug on our way back – here they are. What a fabulous piece of industrial history.
We decided to enjoy our delay and headed for the recommended willow tree mooring at The Bavohoeve brasserie. This must be one of the prettiest places we have stopped, although the high winds that arrived later that day did rather cover Calliope with willow fronds!
The mooring is free but one feels obliged to eat there, so we had an extremely pleasant meal, isolated from the next table by big polythene sheets! I hope I did not disgrace myself too much by showing my appreciation of the mussel juice!
We asked to stay a second night, and promised to come up for a drink or two – equally enjoyable. The colours in the morning were glorious across the river, surprisingly with rape in bloom in late September.
It gave us a day in pleasant surroundings and I took a walk in breezy sunlight before a storm brewed up around us, whipping the willow branches around the wheelhouse while we were cosy within.
We had booked back in at Spanjeveer marina for our last few days on the Dorme/Moervaart and cruised up there in the sun before lunch next day. It took all of 5 minutes! We were only just round the bend, so soon tied up.
By the afternoon Storm Odette was spinning towards us alternating sun and squally showers. Captain monitored his ropes carefully as we were in for a night of it!
It absolutely poured with rain all night, and the wind blew noisily all around us. It was still raining in the morning, so a day aboard looked likely and I started the autumn cleaning of all the drawers on the boat.
The geese began their day on the mud at the side of the river, but as the waters rose a foot they climbed up onto the bank and watched from there.
Later the sun surprised us and made an appearance. We were running short of one or two essentials like milk, potatoes and onions, so I cycled off to the closest mini-supermarket at Zaffelare. It was a pleasant 15 ride there, and a pleasant 30 minute ride back, as I got lost!
I came back to the boat to a beautiful evening of racing clouds and happy cattle, back out after sheltering from the storm.
Two lazy days left until we are off to the shipyard. On Sunday Stewart and I walked to the closest village bakery for fresh bread – a country walk, much of it along a footpath between fields. We had plenty of time to do some internal boat cleaning and maintenance, getting ready for the winter shut down.
I was drawn outside again later and found another circular walk around country lanes and wooded tracks. I passed by this lovely little chapel, dedicated to St Bavo.
Our last day here at Spanjeveerbrug was wet again – all day! I discovered during our stay that the word ‘veer’ in Spanjeveerbrug means ferry, and I am not surprised that a ferry was needed here in the past – so much water! Actually the ferry went over the old course of the river, now a fishing lake.
So this is how Monday September 28th 2020 looked for us – weather for cleaning the fridge, cooking windfall pears in spicy wine, and dancing to my favourite Youtube videos. Off to Carron Marine in the morning!
Canals Bocholt-Herentals, Dessel-Turnhout-Schoten, Albert, Nete (and river Beneden-Nete) and Leuven-Dijle
18th to 31st August 2020
It was a Tuesday when we left the Blauwe Kai area in Limburg region and moved into the Antwerp province. The latter had been having a bit of a coronavirus spike, especially in Antwerp itself, but we felt safe isolated on our barge.
The night before I had called the lock keeper for Mol 1, literally around the corner, some 200 yards away, and stated our intention to set off through his lock next morning. He suggested 6am! I rather balked at that and suggested 9am. This was agreed upon.
There are three Mol locks, (well a Lommel and two Mol), one of them a double, within two and a half kilometres. All three locks were in various stages of dilapidation and requiring modernisation or repair.
And all three lock keepers were lovely, friendly, helpful. It was a glorious morning and a beautiful experience to go down the 11.9m required.
After another kilometre and a half we were in the really huge basin crossroads where the Kanaal Bocholt-Herentals crosses with Kanaal Dessel-Kwaadmechelen to the South and Kanaal Dessel over Turnhout Naar Schoten to the North.
We were taking the latter, adding in an extra Northern loop to use up some spare time. We moved from what felt like the widest to the narrowest of Belgian waterways.
We were not going far – just 5 kms to an area with several mooring options. Along the way we crossed paths with one of the stranger commercial barges – one transporting containers of stinking refuse, driven from the front, and with twin hulls.
We arrived at our planned destination, but no moorings were suitable! And a lift bridge faced us, necessitating a call on the VHF. At the same time we saw our friends’s boat moored at the side where we had thought to stop!
Seeing us they sprang into action and followed us up stream towards Turnhout, both soon following a very slow working barge. Along the way we had close encounters with several commercial barges, including at this bridge where we were commanded to go through first despite the near proximity of the giant the other side!
Through radio conversations we both agreed to phone ahead to Turnhout marina and book a space – except we managed to book different Turnhout marinas! Ours was out in the country where we shared a hammerhead with friends on Dreamer, looking out onto a ‘lake’ in the canal. Theirs was in the centre of town a few kilometres further on.
Many lovely things to say about this place, one being the bar. It was made somehow from half an old barge, with an outside top deck of tables and a cosy inside. Beyond this was a marquee with funky sofas and tables beneath the trees.
On Day Two at Het Gevaer Marina we did two cycle rides – one for shopping in Ravels, and one for a new tap in Turnhout. The latter gave us a glimpse of this rather lovely town, well worth a longer visit.
And the former took me past my first ever strawberry vending machine!
Back in the marina we were once more trying out the bar and it’s beer! This one, Zot, was very refreshing and is, apparently, ‘the one and only town beer of Brugges’, from De Halve Maan brewery.
Day three was the start of a very social period. Two generations of Dreamer’s family arrived and we spent a lovely time with them playing boule, enjoying a barbecue, and lots of happy chat. I managed not to disgrace myself too badly at the boule game.
The evening ended with a sunset display that both Ferre, Mieke’s grandson, and I found irresistible.
The following day we made use of the petrol station round the bend. It was planned in advance that we should arrive and moor up at 10 and wait until a tanker could arrive with our diesel. It was a nicer wait than we expected.
Especially when accompanied by this little beauty.
All was done by 1230 and we had a tank full of fuel at a very decent price.
Back at the marina I found an enjoyable way to update our devices! I could use the marina wifi, sitting downstairs in the bar with a beer and a view.
There was one more evening to enjoy the company of the Dreamer family, then off we went blazing a trail towards Schoten with the expectation that we would be followed.
What a send off!
There were many lift bridges at which to request passage and we made way steadily……
….. until we approached our first lock and were told it was under repair until noon, or 1pm, or maybe 2. So we moored up for a lunch stop. Yes, we moored partly under a bridge; we thought it was just for an hour or so.
But when the lock eventually opened Captain Stu said he felt settled here at Sint-Jozef, Rijkevorsel, and so we stopped for the night. Not long after we were joined by a cruiser going in the opposite direction which foiled our plan of moving away from the bridge. Can be a funny one, mooring under a bridge, but we were fine here.
We took our usual promenade around our surroundings, discovering a few things of which this area is proud. Firstly it’s been a major brick making place, sadly now mostly gone.
Secondly their author, Aster Berkhof, now aged 100, who has published loads of novels over a 70 year period.
Thirdly the village is the site of a major bridgehead in WW2, leading to the liberation of this part of Belgium by British Infantry and Canadian army.
Most old buildings have gone, presumably during the war, but two shrines remain. There is also a hidden blue lake in a sandy wood, which I am guessing was a originally a pit and source of sand for the brickworks.
We were totally spoiled by nature that evening, with this golden sunset.
Then up and ready to continue our journey in the morning. As we cast off at 9.30 the boatman next door ran up asking where we were going. We explained we were going through the lock – and he explained that the locks on this canal don’t operate on a Sunday!
So one more day in Sint-Jozef; we moved the boat forward, in front of them and away from the bridge, (that’s better), and settled down to a day of RnR. A short days’ cruise even by our own high standards …..
Stu – Mention the black tank? No; boats are a floating maintenance schedule, and it was sorted.
I couldn’t resist another walk up to see the lock that we will eventually go through Sluis 1 – which has an amazingly modern office. Much of the quayside has been carefully and interestingly renovated.
Our second evening here had more striking skies to keep an amateur photographer happy for hours!
The evening looked so lovely that I was off again, walking up the canal, passing another reminder of the area’s brickwork history, then through the darkening woods into the back of the village, and ‘home’.
Warning – rather a lot happens over the next two days, so more words than usual; sorry!
Monday morning we were ready to go and moved up to Sluis 1, making contact on the radio as we did so. A charming and friendly female lock keeper came to manage the operation, and it was at this point that we became aware of the work going on along this section of the canal top modernise the locks and bridges – not yet complete! Here, at Sluis 1, she had to carry a heavy box of tricks from end to end and side to side of the lock, plugging it in at each corner to open/close gates and open/close sluices. It took a while.
Many of the locks have these high poles attached to the upstream gates. They allow the Captain of a big working barge to see from his/her wheelhouse if the gates are open or closed – and presumably safe quite a few damaged gates.
At sluis (lock) 2 we waited a while for the lock keeper to set us in motion, and as we left the lock a working barge was waiting behind us for his attention.
When we reached sluis 3 an elderly lock keeper appeared to help us. Through my usual interrogation techniques, initially in Dutch, I discovered that he had been a teacher of English, Greek, Latin, French and Dutch – so we soon landed on a common language to use! I discovered that he was responsible for the nice flowers at the lock, and, as we left, he added conspiratorially that actually his son was the lock keeper, and ‘sshhh’ we must not mention that he has operated the lock! He was a lovely man.
The hold up at Sluis 4 was partly of our own making. We now understood that each lock keeper was responsible for two locks and any associated bridges, (cycling on a Waterways bike between the locks) so equally understood that the lock keeper for locks 4 and 5 was currently down at lock 5 bringing a commercial barge up, while we waited to go down.
Then just as we saw the boat arising before us another commercial, Ibis, appeared behind us. We would not fit in thew lock together so I got into the radio and asked his who would go first, him or us. “Oh thank you”, he replied. “I will go first.” Which meant we were waiting for Ibis to go down two locks, and then for an over-relaxed lock keeper to come back to see us through. It took hours – literally.
Well that was enough for one day; we moored up after lock 5, with the mobile phone number for lock 6 in my pocket.
This was Sint-Job-in-t’Goor, a lovely mooring in both extremes of weather that came upon us.
Off I went for my exercise, finding the calm blues and greens of a canal basin just along the bank.
I also saw more of the special deer ramps built into the banks to allow animals that have fallen in to find somewhere to d ramble out. France could learn from this!
There was information that I don’t entirely understand about tanks, sluices and special camouflaged pill boxes along the bank. I must translate it. Maybe someone can help me?
Evening, night and dawn were all stunning here in Sint-Job-in-t’Goor.
We planned a relatively gentle day to the end of the canal for the following day, stopping just before the last lock, 10, that would take us out onto the canal highway of the Albert Canal. And it began that way, though a bit on the damp side.
We saw plenty more evidence of the works on the locks – quite sad at Sluis 7 where our gentle veteran lock keeper, who had cycled down from Sluis 6, was in conversation with the three young engineers busy with the modernisation that would put him out of a job.
At lock 8 our plans began to fall apart. We were asked our destination for that day, and on saying that it would be before lock 10 we were informed that we could not moor there. Seeing as we had by then passed all other mooring options on the Canal Dessel Turnhout Schoten we had little option but to go on out onto the mighty Albert canal.
We were ok about this. It was easy to be flexible about not mooring at Schoten and set off onto the HUGE Albert Canal. We have been up and down the Rhone, on the tidal Thames, the Canal du Nord. So although it’s not our favourite kind of cruising we were up for the short Albert Canal challenge until we turned off it again.
But we ended up with more than enough excitement for one day. It was still ok when our passage out of the smaller canal was blocked by not one but two giant barges passing by.
I even dealt calmly with VHF to the nearby mega lock, quickly understanding we would be third boat into the largest (I mean l-a-r-g-e) lock and so we moored up to wait.
Then customs, on a boat called Nele, sprang out of hiding and asked for our papers and passports – but as these are all in order and always ready we were still ok. Nice chap, had a good laugh about bureaucracy and wearing a mask in the middle of no-where – which neither of us were …..
But sharing that l-a-r-g-e, d-e-e-p lock with four 80m barges – two strapped together and pushed by a pusher – was not quite so easy. No floating bollards, only bollards in the wall, spaced out so that we could only use one at the bow, and with all the big barges using their propellers to hold their place, so turbulence everywhere.
Initially I was unable to get a bow rope round the intended bollard in the wall, so we had to go further forward to the next mooring position and therefore unpleasantly close to the huge churning screws of Sinbad. No problem though as the skipper drove against my bow rope until the slack time during the lock fill, about half way up, when everyone cuts their engines to move their ropes up to the next level of bollards in the wall.
It took a little bit of doing and manoeuvring, but with Stu in charge of putting the bow where I needed it to be we calmly moved up the required notch. And as the lock filled, and the doors opened, we all steamed out in orderly procession, waving goodbye as we went. All’s well that ends well.
We’ve done a few tough locks by now as regular readers of my beautiful crew’sblogs will know and,though that was one to remember, if you keep your whits about you they’re all do-able.
The next stretch of the Albert Canal was actually quite pleasant, and included passing a floating church!
Soon we were at our turn off onto the Netecanal. Ah, the relative smallness and calmness; wonderful. Ah, agreed, wonderful.
We had various mooring options along here – or thought we did until we looked at each. Gradually we ticked them off as not quite right, taking us closer and closer to friends on Dreamer – and ended up tying up in front of them at Lier.
We had a good chat about the incoming storm that was causing them to spend an extra night at Lier, said hello to Google the dog, then checked and added to mooring lines, battened down hatches, ate and went to bed. It had been quite a day.
Next day became gradually calmer and was full of shopping, cooking and entertaining. Mieke and Frans came for an English supper of stew and dumplings. It’s fair to say that a good time was had by all.
Next day Dreamer set sail towards home and we began our exploration of Lier. There is so much to see in the small town and I begin with some of the old buildings including the peaceful lanes of the Beguinage.
We walked through to the Grote Markt and found the tourist office in the grand surroundings of the town Hall.
There was also a good lunch moment when we found the long sought croque madame for the captain at the café in the square. (3 years – only saying ..)
In the afternoon we visited one of the most intriguing small museums I have ever found. It was all about Mr Zimmer and the amazing clocks he created, the Jubilee clock and the Wonder clock. I cannot begin to do them justice here; I just suggest you google them and read for yourself.
Then there was the Prisoners Gate …
… and the tributaries of the river running through the town. Lier is called the little Brugges and I am not surprised.
After all this sightseeing we were pleased to escape into calm of the park. There are quite a few Fountains around town so I have added one more in here, plus a giant red dog statue that caught our eye.
I expect you have been wondering why the people of this region are called ‘sheep heads’! Well it turns out that after helping duke to fight a war against another town they were offered either a university or a livestock market. They chose the latter and have been called ‘sheep heads’ ever since.
Just one more thing about Lier before we leave and that is the famous cake. I regret it is not my favourite of the regional Belgian cakes, although the sweet spicy taste would be good with hot custard I think.
After a good nights sleep it was our turn to proceed down the Netecanal, through Duffel lock and onto the tidal River. The lock has double doors each end to cope with the tidal changes.
As we motored downstream with the outgoing tide the skies began to blacken.
We were looking for our turning to port onto the Dijle river and eventually saw the small entrance we must go through. It looked as if we might turn away from the rain clouds, but that was not to be.
We came up to Zennegat lock with a warning from the lock keeper not to get too close to the gates until all the water had come out and then moved into a very strangely shaped lock just as the first patters of rain began to fall.
The lock had a double oval shape and was interesting, to say the least, in terms of places to moor a 20 meter barge! But there’s always a Calliope crew found a way to safely negotiate our way through.
The rain began to fall in earnest as we came up to the next lock and through various bridges. Thank goodness for my mothers old sailing wellies that I had on board. And thank goodness I like sloshing around in the water.
We came into Mechelen wondering if there would be space where we wanted to tie up, as is often the case.
Then we found a surprisingly peaceful place along the canal in a residential area. (It was less peaceful next morning at seven when builders recommenced work on a building site alongside!)
The rain stopped, the Sun found a way through the trees, and a rainbow found a way through the clouds. This is going to be an attractive mooring.
Saturday is market day in Mechelen and Saturday was the grey day we woke up to. We set off to the market taking a look at parts of the town along the way. The market was being run in a good coronavirus fashion with masks required, hand sanitiser at every entry point, a one-way system, and distancing of 1.5 m. Everyone is used to it now and it works well. The market is a good one with some excellent food stalls and we came away with some goodies to keep us going several days.
After a bit of lunch out in town, when you can in-mask, we retired to the boat promising ourselves a better look at the place next day.
As so often happens the skies and reflections along the canal were breathtaking.
The better weather attracted me back outside for a final evening walk along the canal. As I turned into the city to walk back along the streets I caught the splendid sight of the lit up Brusselpoorte gate into town.
We chose Sunday as our main ‘Explore Mechelen’ day, knowing there would be less people around. It was a joy – quiet historic streets, and a few interesting modern settings too.
Another park and another bridge for me to stand on.
And another opportunity for me to lose my mask – I don’t think I’ve mentioned how often I drop it! Poor Stewart waiting yet again for me to go searching. Ah, there it is!
We also found the remains of a complex of 7 water mills and sluices, now mostly gone, but the sense of industry past is still there.
We were close to the end of our first visit to Mechelen, planning to return when we came back up this dead end canal. It a few more pleasures were in store – all gastronomic!
Stu bought a special souvenir beer from a new friend, Pete, we had made. He runs the solar powered boat that takes passengers up and down the canal.
The beer is made in the local brewery and is 10% ABV. (We stopped and bought some more from the brewery on our way back – Anker Brewery). It took a adjustable wrench to get the cork out the bottle, but the ensuing beer was well worth the effort.
And we had egg, chips, beans and Mechelen meatballs for supper – with HP sauce. The meatballs had been bought in the market the day before, after we were offered a taste and given half of one each free! They are delicious – a mix of pork and beef, crispy in the outside and tender and moist in the middle. Yum!
So good night Mechelen – and tomorrow will take us to the very edge of the Antwerp province.
And so at 1015 on Monday 31st August – the 33rd anniversary of us meeting – we went off under the double Plaicancebrugge bridges at Mechelen and into our next province – Vlaams Brabant.
I have promised myself no more than 5 photos a day this time …. unless it is photos of a town or city that deserves more than five – so let’s get started. (Update; I didn’t quite manage this!)
The last post took us to Mechelen on the Dijle and on the Dijle-Leuven canal. We were on the canal and set off from Mechelen towards Leuven, stopping on the way at a quiet-out-of-the-way mooring next to Silos (very posh) restaurant.
It was a short journey, with only one minor event when one of the doors of a lock would not shut behind us. Luckily the guys were there working on the lock, and after changing a fuse (literally) all came back to life.
The restaurant being a bit expensive for our pocket we walked the kilometre back to the lock to find a bar, passing a roosting cormorant along the way. I liked the fact that our drinks were similar colours, though different size glasses (mine was pineau de charentes).
Back aboard we were treated to yet another ‘skies-on-fire’ Belgian sunset
Our peaceful mooring was only slightly disturbed in the morning by the passing of Marvik – just a gentle sway as she passed by.
After breakfast we were off on the last few kilometres to Leuven – just 15 and 1 lock. Just outside Leuven we passed the old Remy tower, with its newer, but still old, one behind. This is not a testament to cognac but to grain. We had been warned, by Flanders waterways, that we might pass the trials of a model commercial barge – and we did!
Then into Leuven, past the new Stella Artois brewery – photos of the old brewery to come!
Having allowed myself extra photos when in an interesting city, I feel I can add in a few here. Day 1 in Leuven easily used up our 10,000 steps per day. The centre of town was very busy with students arriving for university, queuing up to register, meeting friends and cyclin around finding their accommodation. But we found some quite corners too.
The botanical garden, Kruidtuin, was especially peaceful and beautiful.
On the way back to the boat we found, first, a relatively quiet bar, and secondly an Indian restaurant – not exactly Belgian, but very good. Then back to our mooring in the basin at the end of the canal, with the old Stella Artois brewery being dismantled astern of us.
Stella Artois is inextricably linked to Leuven, after a Mr Artois, head brewer at the Den Hoorne brewery, bought the brewery, changed the name to Artois, and grew from then on to the mega global business that it is today. I visited the brewery shown in these photos back in 1987, and remember well the gate posts topped by the lanterns that became part of the Stella image; all now rather dusty and sad. But the beer tastes good!
Day 2 in Leuven we walked up the wooded hill above the harbour, and then on through the city to the groot (big) beguinhof. For those new to the word beguinhof, they are areas which were created to house beguines – lay religious women who lived in their own community without taking vows or retiring from the world, and often offering shelter to single women and their children who needed safe shelter from the world.
In a way similar to Oxford, Leuven is a University city full of separate colleges, each with their own fabulous old buildings and gateways. I could have filled a blog just with these, but chose instead on building, one gate-way, and students thronging the streets, all correctly wearing their anti-coronavirus masks.
Our beverage intake that evening was in four stages. First we found a bar that I had discovered sold my favourite Kriek beer – aged old red by Petrus. Then we sat beneath the old Stella brewery partaking of the famous brew. Back on board, quietly preparing our evening meal. we were visited by a waitress for the Florida bar that we were moored against. She brought us complementary cocktails and a dish of grilled green mini-peppers! This was a total surprise, so stage four was to go ashore and join the owner of the bar and his friends for a round or two more! I slept well that night.
Next day we left Leuven, but I would happily return and certainly recommend it to visitors, whether by boat or other means. Out we went past the massive new brewery, through misty locks, and on to the zoo. Yes, there is a zoo outside Mechelen and there is a pleasant quiet mooring nearby. If there is anything to unsettle the calm it might be a passing big boat, so the Captain watched carefully as the first one arrived – but virtually no disturbance at all.
The tides were right for us to leave the Leuven-Dijle canal within the next few days so we set off towards the northern end of the canal, stopping for a short visit back to Mechelen as we passed through. Being beginhof and brewery fans we managed to see both – the brewery being the one that brewed the special bottle Stu bought last time we were in town, and the beginhof being what was left of quite a small one. Lunch was a light-bite treat, my hummus on toast looking like a work of art and very ‘leaker’ (tasty).
As a souvenir I bought myself a Mechelen mask – such are these strange times. Then off down, or was it up, the canal we went.
We went to the end of the canal and moored up just before Zennegat lock. What a change; when we came through here on the other direction a week before it was misty, rainy, and generally gloomy. This time we could enjoy the landscape.
Zennegat is where the rivers Dijle and Zenne meet, with the canal beginning right between them at the confluence, with a nature park right alongside as well.
Here is an aerial view (not my photo) showing the Zenne above, canal central and the edge of the Dijle on the right.
We had a definite plan to just have one night at Zennegat, but two things conspired to change our mind. One was the pure delight of being there. The other, more important, was hearing out of the blue from friends on a Piper boat who we had not seen for almost 6 years when they set off across the Channel and we were going round the Kent coast for our winter in Portsmouth Harbour. Gerald and Janet were arriving at the next day to begin their own cruise down to Leuven.
And arrive they did, mooring up in front us on their new Piper boat Affinity (their third!) – causing us to look a little on the scruffy side!
Our second day at Zennegat was a lovely mixture of time with Affinity crew, and time walking next to all the nature. Leaving their boat, perfectly sober, the wind caught our map and into the canal it fell, quickly followed by the Captain’s reading glasses. The former was recovered and dried; the latter were not.
At 11.45 we slipped our ropes and left our mooring in calm clear waters and skies.
The first obstacle is a pedestrian/cyclists bridge that opens in quite an unusual fashion – very slowly too.
Then into the last of our double-oval locks, this time with a slidey pole for the rope.
We dropped down two or three metres – obviously a variable depth because we were off out onto a tidal river, with the last hour or so of outgoing tide.
And there we were, set loose on the river current.
Well I’m sorry, but the days on the rivers had too much going on for the five photo restriction; I really tried, but you would have missed too much. So here goes..
First we were on the Dijle, but not for long. We soon joined the Rupel, and before long we began to see navigation lights atop tall poles, hinting at the changing tide depth and mudbanks each side.
A further 12 kilometres and we were joining the Zeeschelde, hopefully as the tide started to turn and carry us up towards Ghent.
Initially it seems quite a hard push, and although Calliope’s engine was more than a match for the waters we made relatively slow progress.
Then, as slack water time arrived, we moved faster up this broad river. It was a Sunday so little commercial traffic around – just buoys to mark our channel and ….
…. a few Sunday leisure craft leaving his well in their wake.
We had set off at 1145, expecting to be at our Dender turn-off by around 1600, and knowing that the locks stopped operating at 1800 on a Sunday. So we were very pleased to see this gloomy but welcoming sight – Dendermonde lock – at about 1730. In, up and out, all within about 15 minutes.
We were back on the gentle Dender, where amazingly, and truly, 20 minutes after leaving the lock the sun had come out. There was an initial disappointment – we found the pontoon occupied, but the timber piles just beyond were ready and waiting for us and actually became our preferred place to tie up
Monday was a lovely autumn day. We walked down the old Dender into Dendermonde and found it was market day. In addition to buying one or two essentials we bought yummy hot dogs and sat down by the river to eat them listening to the carillon from the local church.
The evening with Calliope was so peaceful, only ‘disturbed’ by a laden barge gliding by, scarcely ruffling the water as she passed.
We were up and at it earlier than usual the following morning; I had asked the Dendermonde lock keeper the best time to leave and catch the tide up to Ghent, and this meant casting off at 7.45 – when I am normally in bed drinking tea, or asleep!
We were quickly through the lock – at high tide a drop of only 1m – and about to join the Zeeschelde.
It was a mucky start! The water running off the rising guillotine style lock door was full of mud! We were totally splattered!
I did manage to get it quite a bit cleaner as we went along, but closer inspection led to plenty more work once we were in Gent!
It took less than 2 hours to reach Merelbeke lock, whizzing along at up to 14 kph at times and almost twice our normal cruising speed. The voyage was fine though – we passed interesting looking small towns, a few commercial craft from large barges to small ferries, and plenty of countryside. If you get the tides right there is nothing to fear from this trip.
We continued round the Ring Vaart – the waterway ‘ring road’ of Ghent – until we reached the much smaller Brugse Vaart where we had decided to turn off and head into the city – only to discover our progress suddenly arrested by an unmarked mud bank caused, as we found out later, by the wash from the large commercial vessels powering round the corners to Brugge and Ghent Seaport. It wasn’t a big issue though, as the bow wave from the first commercial gave us enough lift to reverse off the bank and back into free water.
This was a new route for us into the city and we looked forward to some new sights. There were plenty of good places for houseboats to moor, many of them old working boats.
One of these was the ….. bridge – an interesting road bridge on a central turn table, with a fixed pedestrian bridge above. Sadly the light was all wrong to get a good photo of this but I hope you get the gist.
Then we came to Tollhuissluis – a lock that was due to close a few days later but we sneaked through beforehand. It’s the first time I have been in a lock with a tram running alongside I think (yes it is there through the trees). And the bollards were set at a deliberate angle that I have not seen before either.
The final approach was through some lovely old docks and a right hand turn down a pretty short canal into Portus Ganda…..
…. and our mooring on Roodtorenkaai.
We stayed for a week in Ghent, getting to know the city much better, partly thanks to our friend Mieke who lives (with husband Frans) on boat their Dreamer in Ghent and is herself and is an official city guide!
So here are just a few images from our stay.
We walked round the city a lot. I have taken so many photos of Ghent on previous visits that these are an odd jumble of images, including one at the Friday Market.
We had a few beers, and a pizza!
We had visitors who, charmingly, arrived by boat and brought their lovely dog Google.
We went to the Open Monument Day at the Abbey St Bavo.
We got more of the Zeeschelde mud off the boat.
We had coffee and Coke.
And we went to watch our friend Bart play in, and ultimately win, a boule tournament.
The mooring was lovely, morning, noon and night and we had glorious weather!
Then woke to a misty morning for our day of departure!
But the sun soon cleared and we were underway with a lovely send-off and a final glance back at the past week’s mooring.
Albertkanaal (a little), Kanaal Briegden-Neerharen, some of Zuidwillemsvaart and Kanaal Borcholt-Herentals, plus Kanaal de Beverlo
8th to 17th August 2020
Up we came through Visé lock and back onto the Albert Kanaal, with El Perro Negro not far behind. It was a boiling hot day – well up to 36C – and part of a 10 day long heatwave. I never thought that cruising in Belgium would be as hot as the Canal du Midi!
I was just as surprised by the landscape surrounding the canal. We were up in Belgium’s hill country; it’s not as flat as one expects.
An hour after casting off we were passing the massive locks down towards Maastricht. This was not for us in 2020; coronavirus put paid to our plans for a summer in the Netherlands, with 2 weeks quarantine in either direction across this border.
Cruising on between the hills – almost mountains in Belgian terms – I became aware just how close to the Netherlands border we were – it was just over the hill to our right!
I have complemented the Belgian’s on their bridge building in the past, and here is another interesting one. Yes, it is rather straight and flat, but built into its left side support is a very modern restaurant, with a balcony looking out over the water. Here is my day time photo, and the much more atmospheric architect’s night time one.
Not long after this we moved on to our next Limburgen canal – the little Canal from Briegden to Neerharen, a mere 4.5kms long, with two deep locks. The junction of this canal with the continuation of the larger Albert Kanaal was at a big widening of the canal, offering us a choice of left or right forks.
We chose to go right, entering a much narrower world, and a rural wait at the first lock while the lock keeper who managed the whole stretch brought a commercial barge up from the other end.
Before too long we, with El Perro Negro, were moving into the lock, and discovering that it was quite a long way down, and not an easy ride. I was unable le to move my mooring rope down the bollards in the wall as normal, and Calliope’s bow swung over to the other side of the lock. Luckily I could connect with a bollard there and we moved on down diagonally across the lock!
We chose to moor up for the night above the next lock, just a kilometre or so further along. It was a pleasantly quiet place, with a metal grid pontoon holding a surprise.
A pair of coots had built their best on one of the wooden supports to the pontoon, directly below the metal grid, which was extremely hot to the touch in the 36 degree heat. And the eggs began to hatch – here is one little coot with mum, while expectant dad swims about nervously.
And who else was swimming, although not nervously? I did have a purpose this time, to try to look at the bow thruster which might have stuff caught in it – but I really needed a mask for that, and anyway it all worked fine next time we used it.
As the evening rolled we enjoyed yet another hour or two on the back deck watching the sky turn pink and the wine glasses empty.
Sunday morning was cloudy, though still warm. I went off early, for me, to buy bread from a supermarket a kilometre up the canal. It deliciously began to rain as I went – that summer rain with big splats throwing up dust, and like a cooling shower after all the hot weather. But by the time I got back it had stopped. And in the meantime the Captain had been finishing repairs to the mast.
With supplies in place and repairs complete it was decided that we would move on that afternoon – not far, but to explore Eisden. This necessitated going down the deep Neerharen lock, but this time we had spotted the wires set into inlets down the wall and, being the only boat in the lock, we could position ourselves to use these bow and stern. An easy peasy glide down was achieved!
Within half a kilometre we had joined the Zuid-Willemsvaart at a wide, open junction.
And soon we were going through a series of beautifully labelled bridges, each with its kilometre marking too!
Eisden is an interesting place. It’s history is mega-coalmining, with a patriarchal system providing decent homes, gardens and environment for the miners – and grand houses and offices for the owners!
Most of the industrial side has now gone, but two mine shafts remain and a hotel now occupies the main administrative building.
A modern outlet shopping village, apparently similar to Vista near Oxford, has been built and is impressive in its layout and shops – although I am not a shopper and just did a quick walk through!
There is a small mining museum in the town but only open at weekends so it did not coincide with our visit. However it was still a pleasant walk into the town with its leafy roads.
Other areas were down as wild flower meadows – altogether a well managed place.
There seemed to have been a ‘decorate your own oil drum’ festival with lots of interesting variations along the streets. One was a robot, another a cocktail bar; this one had a ballet dancing theme.
The temperature was still way up in the high 30s during our time at Eisden. The visiting swans looked so cool I took a leaf from their book.
After two nights in Eisden we moved on to a village called Tongerlo where we hoped a) to fill up with water, and b) to have a beer in the bar next to the mooring.
Neither were to be. The water tap was set way back from the pontoon to service camper vans and our hose was too short! And the weather was so hot that the bar was closing from 1300 to 1900 each day, so our thoughts of beer before our 7pm supper time were dashed!
That evening the weather broke and I had another excuse to get drenched, crawling on the roof to get the canvas cover back onto the dog box. For me such moments are real fun. Yes, I’m weird!
After the rain I took a quick walk round the village. Then I want to nice older buildings amongst the more modern homes. And also a welcoming Muscovy duck!
We had heard of a nice peaceful morning not far away near Bochult lock, so in the morning we set off to find it. Our friends on Dreamer were still there and we tied up behind them with our back deck facing this tranquil scene.
There were a couple of interesting things in the immediate area. One was a bailey bridge, still standing 75 years after WW2. We heard the rumble of traffic across the bridge from time to time, but sometimes it turned out to be thunder!
Next day Dreamer set off under the bridge and we waved goodbye to our friends Mieke and Frans, and their dog Google.
Later we cycled over the bridge and into Bochult town for a re-provisioning trip.
The trip took us to the far side of the canal (I always think of Gary Larson when I type those last three words); this gives a good perspective of the mooring.
I’m going to interject a technical note here because I was so impressed by it! Apparently it’s not at all unique, but a first for me. At the side of the lock was a sluis allowing all extra water to whoosh through, with all accompanying debris caught on a grid – except that this machine periodically scoops it up and puts it into the adjacent skip! Love it!
The peace and quiet, day and night, (apart from the occasional passing cycling team or commercial barge), was so delightful we stayed three nights.
Despite the (continuing) heat we went for a good walk up the canal bank, mostly in the shade. Stu caught me wondering which way to go.
We worked it out – it was to the local ice cream/ bar with friends from another boat for a socially distanced beer! This being Limburg, home of Kriek cherry beer, I had yet another of those.
Next morning it was our turn to go under the Bailey bridge and on along the straight misty canal.
Three things caught my attention as we cruised gently along. All along these canals near the Netherlands border are ‘pill box’ type buildings with slits for guns to guard the canals during the war. On a lighter note we’re the graffiti style artwork under each bridge, and the way the bridges are named.
And thirdly I was taken with the Captain’s comment about these birds – “geese taking a gander.”
We had more than half a plan to get to Blauwe Kai, a big basin at the top of the Beverlo canal, and moor up with El Perro Negro, but 5 kilometres beforehand and right on lunchtime we saw other friends on Dreamer in a neat little cutting, looking very rural. Frans came out and immediately started his engine to move up and make room for us! It’s the power of WOB (Women on Barges) friendships that does it.
After a bit of jiggling we were moored behind them and a plan for drinks at 5pm emerged. Before that we had a walk in the woods, which turned out to be a big Centre Parcs site too.
A lovely evening was had by all, even if a rainstorm brought our planned al fresco drinks into the wheelhouse. It culminated, for me, with a dusk time walk and dance along the canal a kilometre or so; altogether a wonderful evening,
The next morning had shrugged off last nights rain and together we and Dreamer set off to Blauwe Kai, just 5 kms on. This is the name of the big basin where Beverlo joins Bocholt-Herentals. It’s name derives from the algae in the water here which apparently can produce rashes and diarrhoea! No swimming for me here then,
The first thing for Calliope was to fill up with fresh water, tying up behind fellow Piper boat on the water pontoon.
While Stu managed the water loading I cycled off to find bread – initially along the wrong road! The heat had returned and I was a bit tired when I returned, exaggerated by finding my boat and Captain had disappeared!
But all was well. On questioning a nearby fisherman I discovered that he had had to move off the water pontoon and was now ‘round the corner’ at the top of the Beverlo Canal. I climbed the bridge – another Bailey – in time to see a long commercial barge carefully negotiating first the bridge and then Calliope!
We liked this mooring, just tucked into the top of the canal. Passing working barges were moving very slowly because if the bridge and we were hardly stirred, let alone shaken.
In the afternoon we went for a walk between two big lakes and back along the canal.
The sun was behind us on the last stretch and I found a new use for my super sun hat, this time as a shoulder protector!
That evening we went for a good rib supper with El Perro Negro crew (quite the socialites these days) at the local restaurant, with the obligatory beer course first! It had been raining but the large parasol was not required that evening.
We awoke to our last day/s in Limberg. The plan was a cruise down the 15kms of the Beverlo canal and moor in Leopoldsburg for a day or two. It is mostly a very pretty canal, a gentle journey.
Some work was being done to improve the edges and banks just after we began – cheerful workman with his crane.
There are interesting bits – for example the lift bridge that has yellow ‘hard hats’ on its four supports!
And we found the huge industrial quays where the commercial barges had been heading.
When we reached Leopolodsburg a helpful harbourmaster came to see if he had space for or almost 20m boat, but all the spaces were 15m so Stu performed a perfect 9 point turn in the basin at the end of the canal and we began our return journey. I was so busy looking for a mooring that I didn’t take any photos!
But I got a couple of a Bailey bridge with Bailey style wooden supports, which was pleasing.
After a few kilometres we decided to moor up for lunch at a spot that said no anchoring but had posts for mooring.
It was a nice spot for lunch and we were considering staying there for the night. There were water lilies everywhere, dragonflies and flowers.
Our plans were foiled when a Flanders Waterways man appeared to let us know we must not moor there …… so we cast off and retrod our watery steps to the top of the canal where we began, passing by the places constructed for deer to climb back out of the canal and the mix of rural and industrial areas.
It was our last evening in Limburg. While Stu took to the galley I took a walk round the Blauwe Kai basin and down by the first two Mol locks that we would go through the next day.
Then we settled down to a peaceful evening and a good nights sleep in preparation for our departure from Limburg and entry into the region of Antwerp.
… with a little bit of the Albert Canal, and the two tiny canals of Monsin and Haccourt-Visé
28th July – 7th August 2020
We were back on the Meuse after a year and a month. Last time we came downstream from France and turned off at Namur. This time we popped out of the Dendre at Namur and turned downstream towards Liège.
It was excellent fun having new special crew abroad who had not cruised with us before.
We had two locks to go through and we were very pleased to have the assistance at the first, where the bollards were widely spaced and also the ropes needed to be re-hung at different levels as we went down. Someone had had greater problems than us in this lock – the lock door is the type that rises from under the water. It looks like someone did not wait long enough and tried to drive over it!
Both crew took a turn at the helm and show themselves very capable!
And gave us all time to put our feet up as well.
The blend of old industry and nature was all around us – destined to become more industrial as we approached Liège in a few days time.
We came into Huy under the modern bridge of which they are very proud – ought to be one of the 4 wonders of Huy –
– and chose to initially moor up next to the bridge in the middle of town, despite the sign saying no mooring without authorisation.
So what did we do? We went to the tourist office and got authorisation – In fact they were surprised we asked and said nobody else ever moored there.
So moored up and lunched we set about exploring this rather interesting and characterful small town.
This began with a climb to the top of the rock opposite the boat where a huge triangular citadel, Li Tchestia, sits looking out over the river, (Huy wonder 1). There is of course plenty of history to this 1818 fortress but for now suffice it to say that PG Wodehouse was incarcerated here for a few weeks, along with hundreds of other prisoners, during the Second World War.
First we toured the cells, administration rooms, and displays.
Then we climbed the steps to the top.
The views from the big grassy roof were wonderful. Little Calliope can be seen in the third photo …..
… and from there the Captain, who had stayed with his ship, took a photo of us tourists above.
It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that we had worked up a thirst for a beer in the square by the time we climbed back down. We arranged to meet the Captain by the 15th century fountain, Li Bassinia, (Huy wonder 2). He was ready and waiting with a hop and a skip ….
Thee are plenty of bars to choose from on the main square – and plenty of beers to choose from too.
We carried on to supper in the Irish bar – a bizarre concept in the middle of Belgium but they had the best deal on new season moules.
The bridge we were moored next to was the third wonder of Huy, Li Pontia. It had so many guises, depending on the tine of day. Here are just two views.
Due to coronavirus the town could not have its usual summer festival, but a plethora of metal sculptures around the town made it seem an artistic environment.
The following day our crew had to leave, but luckily not until the afternoon. This meant we had time for coffee in the square, an exploration of the market and a chance to buy some good cheeses, bread, fruit and a delicious rotisserie chicken for our lunch.
Captain and I walked up to the station and waved a sad farewell before returning to Calliope.
Then off for a walk, and over the old railway bridge – iconic in its own way, but not a Huy wonder.
We took our chance to walk through some of the oldest streets of Huy and discovered the quirky museum sited in an old abbey cloister.
The museum housed many old artefacts of ordinary life in Huy over the centuries, as well as more art based exhibits. It also housed some of the Cats of Huy – another summer festival substitute, and to be found everywhere.
We also went top the cathedral and saw the last of thew four wonders of Huy – Li Rondia – the rose window. My photos does not do it justice, nor justice to the East window and part of a wonderful art exhibition that was there at the time.
A last beer in Huy square before checking into the fritterie on the quayside – most excellent!
(Most of my beers look like cherryade, but they are Kriek, Belgian cherry beer!)
Time then to sit back and enjoy the reflections of old Huy across the Meuse.
Now, time to start planning our next move! A split hose in one of the toilets meant that we needed to find an address to which a new part could be posted. Luckily the yacht club just down stream could do that for us so we cast off next morning and travelled a couple of kilometres before tying up in the club basin.
We fully expected to be waiting at least five days for the new part from the UK so we settled in and got to know our new surroundings. To be honest there was not a lot to learn. We were very close to a busy road and rail line with no shops or bars nearby.
And also close to a nuclear power station and gravel yard.
The saving grace was a small nature reserve that had been created within the adjacent basin. It was a pleasant place to walk around in the evening.
The reserve was built around an old basin that was presumably once busy with industry. A long pier marks the entrance.