An unexpected sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne

So with spirits high and buoyancy in our step and our ship we turned starboard out of one canal, and then port into another Рthe Canal Lateral à la Marne. We were on schedule to reach our Winter mooring in Sillery six days later, including two, or even three, nights in Chalons-en-Champagne. Little did we know that this would stretch to at least thirty-two!

And, sadly, be my last bit of cruising for months and months. ūüėĘ

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In our innocent unknowing state we left Vitry-les-François behind and began to experience the new canal. We were back to grabbing and rotating poles suspended over the water to operate the locks Рalways good fun.

 

 

 

 

 

There was a completely different style of lock keepers house – regrettably still mainly abandoned.

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And long stretches of straight straight canal, unlike the twists and turns Entre Champagne et Bourgogne.

B9C1111A-AA26-4564-AA60-9EF3E453AED2We were wondering where to spend our first night when turning a bend (yes, there are a couple of bends linking the straight bits) we saw one of the most beautiful moorings ever. A long stone quay, flanked by the remains of industrial stone buildings, stood waiting for us.

G(nIt was surrounded by peace and tranquility, with lizards and butterflies the only other obvious inhabitants.

Calliope’s crew had a wonderful time exploring the stone walls, arches and crevices – without managing to uncover the original purpose of the quay, but probably it is linked to a nearby quarry and was used to load stone into barges for onward journeys.

Later we were joined by Troubadour, another British owned barge, and in addition to having fun discussing our separate epic voyages, doubt was cast on our future plans! It was suggested that the canal to Sillery, our winter mooring, was closed. ‚ÄúNo‚ÄĚ, I assured them. ‚ÄúI have an email from the VNF saying it shuts next week‚ÄĚ, and showed them the email to prove it.

 

The sunnny evening gave glow to the stone, and next morning the sun shone down on us once more, casting shadows as we cast off, to move on to Chalons-en-Champagne.

9FC4AC3A-47B9-4A61-8DF9-86CED8E7845CThe cruise was uneventful; 7 locks and 29 Kms under blue skies, past sleepy villages, glimpses of La Marne, and a series of grain silos, indicating local agriculture.

9FBF7BB6-8833-4B29-AB01-6B4224468819Calliope arrived at Chalons to find plenty of mooring along the port quay, next to Bird Island and the Grand Jardin; a nice spot. We booked in for two, or maybe three, nights and I went to talk to the √©clusier to make sure that my version of canal closures was correct ………. except it wasn’t!

The √©clusier rang the VNF office and was told it had closed on 10th September. I rang my email contact at the VNF and was told it does not close until the 17th. Then I rang the agency doing the work. It’s closed. The water has been drained out. There is no way we can navigate until October 15th!!!

 

Hence our enforced sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne. Let‚Äôs make the best of it – not difficult here. We’ll start with a beer in the square, then a pizza – but not in this restaurant because it didn’t open!

Our time in Chalons was divided between working on the boat – painting, cleaning, varnishing, polishing – and enjoying the town.

The first weekend there was also the town’s Patrimonie weekend. This means that a vast array of activities and tours are laid on to give local people (and incomers like us) a better understanding of their history and culture.

 

 

Chalons-en-Champagne is a major Centre for circus arts, and one of the more surreal performances was in the gardens about 200 yards from the boat! So plastic tumbler of rosé in hand we went to watch.

752CCE74-D729-440F-8153-02892ECC4B99The next day I was up and away by 8.30, heading for the massive Porte Saint-Croix, an Arc de Triomphe look-alike edifice that was open for breakfast on the roof!

 

I was there in time, climbed the wooden spiral staircase, and out into an azure morning sky. Black coffee, orange juice, and mini croissants etc held me together for looking down and out at the views across the city.

 

I could see so many steeples and spires, it was inspiring! (Sorry.)

 

Before I returned to boat duties I called in at the Saturday market Рtemptingly delicious as always. The grape harvest is definitely in, and the range of plums is wonderful. I resisted most things, but bought some pork pie with mushroom and crême fraiche under the top pastry, some good fresh fruit and veg, and baguette.

 

My journey through town took me along little back streets adjacent to the River Mau which appears and disappears along its route.

The next few days involved work on the boat. We had cycled out of town to a brico to buy ‘stuff’ that was needed – to replace a tap, to bleed radiators, to mask edges for painting, brushes for varnishing, I could go on but won‚Äôt.

 

So in amongst going into a town full of ancient buildings we (mainly Stewart) got to grips with maintenance, sometimes in a ‘one step forward, three steps back’ manner.

I made a quick dash to see the Préfecture, a lovely classically French building, and later dragged Stewart out to an art nouveau hotel where I knew tasty morsels were on offer Рboth part of Patrimonie. Far too many people crowded into the art nouveau, so we escaped to a local square for a beer.

 

Later that evening I was back in town for further surreality. I sat with others in rows of chairs in the middle of the road by Norte-Dame-en-Vaux for a carillion concert with a light show!

Next day was full of boat duties in the morning, then a final dip into Patrimonie with a strange ‘concert’ in medieval cellars. It turned out not to be our thing so we crept out and up, and instead visited the cloister museum. It’s a museum because it was allowed to crumble away and get covered by other buildings, but was discovered in the sixties. Everything that could be reassembled is in the museum, with a garden showing the original outline next door.

609FB697-7DE1-4614-90A5-8493D40274F5We also found time for a walk round the Grand Jardin, over the passerelle and back along the canal. Gave us a view of the starboard side of Calliope.

DB616C47-31D6-4546-BF58-D454BB3D1963The new week had us starting on painting Рwell preparing or painting initially. For me this meant clearing  and washing decks and roof, hunting out little rust spots for treatment, and eventually masking all round the deck ready for the master painter and his roller. Looks good now!

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Despite all the work we managed to fit in a gentle stroll most days, trying to explore different parts and arts of the city. ¬†I took the skipper to see some of the Nau and the Mau – two small rivers that cross Ch√Ęlons, mentioned earlier. At one point the angle of the light on the twin steeples of Notre=Dame-en Vaux made it worth an extra photo.

A pigeon flew by obligingly at the right moment!

 

 

The next day was just a great laundry day – sunny, warm and breezy. So I used the excellent marina facilities and soon had my washing drying all round the back deck.

D18BB952-5043-4BD5-9B2B-703809A1DB27We stayed on board carrying on more jobs inside and out, and as evening faded in we had a surprise visit from Damien, the Port Capitaine, with a bottle of champagne left over from lunch with his colleagues at their end of summer season pic-nic.  He poured us a glass each and continued to the other occupied boats in his port. What service!

(You can tell the Skip’s done this before with two flutes inclined at just the right angle to get most liquid and least bubbles…)

It’s worth mentioning here the other great things that Damien does to earn the port’s Blue Flag. There are the basics like a working pump out, to discourage boaters form discharging their waste tanks into the port waters; a book swap; very clean showers and laundry room; selling environmentally friendly cleaning products; an array of recycling bins and a composting box; collect from us batteries, old light bulbs, plastic caps etc, and even taking things we no longer need and finding new homes for them.

 

So another evening drew to a close. We had a final /visit from the swan family, who adopted a stray goose when it was a gosling and brought it up worthy their three cygnets. They are now inseparable!

6F2F9C97-DC4B-4A96-A71E-9A8994B7D198Friday was a left bank, bonkers conkers and soup day. It was a bit colder ands greyer so what better than a nice bowl of home made soup for lunch – especially when blended to a creamy consistency. It helps not to turn the base of the blender the wrong way so that the soup pours out the bottom. It also helps not to have the blender spray the soup across the wall and curtains. Finally it helps not to drop the curtain in the canal when you are hanging it out to dry. ¬†Sadly, this is all true ….

 

The bonkers conkers began Friday in earnest. and continued madly dropping until Sunday – more and more and more! We are moored under long rows of horse chestnuts and they fall on our steel roof with wonderful clunks, sometimes bouncing off into the water. They are a noisy but decorative distraction!

 

After lunch we went for our rive gauche (left bank) walk, crossing the canal, the Marne and the railway line to get there.

 

Quite unexpectedly we came across St Pudentienne, a church part deco and part something else (I think the word you’re looking for is the afore mentioned Bonkers)¬†– strikingly different, and a delight.

 

On our way back we walked up into the town centre, looking for somewhere to eat out that night. The sun caught the gold and blue atop the town hall, below which a production team was in full swing preparing for a concert that night – a band called Natchez ….. (Yes, that’s the Captain peering into a shop window on the left).

We eventually went out for a Chinese meal – a bit odd to do in France, but we decided that the French restaurants were best visited at lunch time, both for the prices and to give more time to digest the good rich food before going to bed!

 

Saturday was an exciting one for me. Ch√Ęlons-en-Champagne had laid on lots of free fun that was right up my street (less so for Stewart). The day time had a succession of world percussion events held at different locations back on the left bank. And the evening had a ‘colour run’ followed by a big outdoor concert.

 

Out came the bike and I cycled over the canal, the Marne and the railway line, and on to find the first venue and a Brazilian street drumming band. I honestly had tears of pure joy listening and moving to them; just loved it! Then onto to venue two and three to hear two different types of African drumming, one with great dancing, and the other with some fabulous singing. I had three hours of mesmerising musical entertainment.

Then the evening; well suffice it to say that I was not one of the official 2000 people registered to run 5 kms through the parks and streets, past Calliope, going through mad colour spraying stations, and accompanied by music at various stages. But I did manage to join in ……

 

Thank goodness the rain held off for that!

7E1B7550-D980-4F41-9594-D240EF351CD1Sunday was a different story, with storm force winds, pouring rain, and a temperature drop that had us lighting the stove. But then it is autumn, and it is northern France, pretty much Рand still three weeks until the canal re-opens.

So most of the rest of this chapter is an outlook to and insight of Ch√Ęlons-en-Champagne, in no particular order.

 

We had plenty of time to wander the streets, taking in the architecture from medieval to gothic. Almost every turn of a corner brings something interesting into view – a gateway, a roofline, a statue or a church.

 

Some are big, grand, and somehow survived the revolution. Others are small, functional, part of the real life of the Chalonnaise.

 

We walked down to La Marne, by now quite a big river and a long way from her source up near Langres where we were a few weeks ago.

 

The autumn colours glowed in the sunshine, and the earlier sunsets went from pink to yellow to purple as we watched.

 

There have been so many glorious days enjoying the sun on the back deck in comfortable warmth, rather than hiding from the blazing high temperatures of summer in the South.

 

Then there’s been swans …..

 

….. there’s been meals out – that good Chinese supper, an interesting French lunch in an old Parfumerie …….

 

…… there are local characters including many a fisherman (they are almost all men), and students affirm the crisis school practising tightrope between there trees (Ch√Ęlons is a major cents for circus skills) …..

 

…… and the ever changing light on the structures of the Jards. (Jard is local colloquial for public garden or panted promenade, so almost the same as jardin, but not quite).

 

There was yet another event in the Grand Jard – an afternoon for crazy skate-boarders, cyclists, scooterists and skaters, with a DJ sending out good music, burger van, and a nice big air bag to catch the more acrobatic. We spent a while spectating, with quite a lot of amazement!

C5512502-D5D7-4682-99B3-17973C457524The Grand Jard includes a chalk board where you can add your bucket list wishes – ‘Avant de mourn je veux ….’ I love some of the wishes – fromage (cheese), miel (honey) and cheval (horse) – whether to eat or ride is not clear!

And as the weeks wore on we ensured we had seen the more cultural aspects of the city too – the Museum of Beaux Arts, the inside of the Cathedral and Notre-Dame-en Vaux, and a walking tour of the architectural wonders (Gates not the city – or where they used to be, houses of all ages, bridges over the many canals, rivers and tributaries of the Marne, statues etc).

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Joan of Arc, as a peasant girl

This includes my favourite statue of Joan of Arc ever – and we have seen quite a few on our journey – still as a young peasant girl, rather than as leader of a revolution.

 

 

We cycled south to Domaine de Coolus, a wooded nature park, which took us along next to La Marne and gave wonderful views of the weir and the old, now closed, municipal swimming area, with diving boards into the river.

 

 

The evenings gradually drew in, the leaves and conkers fell, and the time spent on the back deck decreased. But there were still some lovely early evenings there. My favourite Autumn drink made an appearance – white Aligote wine with a touch of Chataigne, chestnut liqueur.

2818C5B3-3598-41D5-8623-E9C10FDA32BEOut for an evening stroll on October 1st I discovered that Calliope was the only remaining boat on the port with people aboard – everything else, the hotel boats, other barges and cruisers, had either left or been ‘winterised’.

 

With only a couple of days before I was leaving Stewart alone to await the canal opening we went for a proper French lunch – a three course menu for ‚ā¨17 which for me included delicious herring and potato salad, a wonderful tripe dish (!!!!)¬†with some of the best frites I have ever had, and a tangy fromage blanc. Stewart’s meal was also excellent, his steak hach√© arriving unexpectedly topped by two eggs!

My last full day arrived wet and windy, requiring a good sweep and mop of the decks to clear leaves, twigs, conkers and dust!

After lunch the weather changed – “Here comes the Sun doo be doo be” – (for those of a certain age) so we went for my final walk round. I didn‚Äôt take many photos, just of things I had not seen before, plus Stu and I in front of the one city gate still standing.

5A75CB0A-BC09-4237-82C5-3F2880EB86C4I’m not very good at good-byes, so started with my garden – at least the floral part of it. The herbal part is up on the foredeck.

So that‚Äôs it from Calliope crew for 2018, but the Captain is on board for another two weeks and will, hopefully, continue the tale………

………………

……. So – it’s gone very quiet on board¬†all of a sudden I’ve noticed, but we have a plan. There is still have another week to sit out in Chalons until the canal to Reims re-opens – though as you may have noticed from the above, this is not much of a hardship.¬†

At that point my old schoolmate Billy will arrive who, after a further couple of days R&R in Chalons to help him get over TGV-lag will help crew us through the last couple of days to our winter mooring at Sillery.

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The autumn winds are definitely blowing the new season in, though the nights are still balmy enough for Billy to check his racing results on the back deck . . . . 

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And then – right – we’re off! First day is planned as a very leisurely 8k and three (descending) locks to a quiet stop-over in the small town of Cond√©, which boasts a church, a boulangerie and three champagne houses.¬†

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The journey was sedate – and slowed down even more with a 3 hour delay in a wonky lock with an absent lockie – but we made landfall late afternoon at an empty quay. New crew did well and got the hang of the ropes quickly, despite being more of an obstruction to look round than I’ve been used to …..

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(Sorry Bill) ¬†So – the last day’s cruise of the season starts bright and early and we’re off up the Canal Aisne a la Marne with eight 3m locks ascending to the wonderfully apposite tunnel of Billy-Le-Grand followed by three more descending to this year’s home port. There was however a bit of an Ooops ….

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Having negotiated all locks with aplomb up until the last before the summit, the boat in that lock rose way above the bollard on the quay and somehow Billy got hung-up while going up – which is quite an accomplishment.

(To be fair, the skipper also snagged a zig-zag on the very next lock gate and lost a lanyard, though I don’t seem to have any photos of that.)

So, during the year Lesley and myself would always acknowledge the ‘Last Lock of the Day’. It’s down to me and Bill this year to salute the ‘Last Lock of the Season’.

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And so here we are, the winter mooring at Sillery. Another wonderful 6 months, and another winter to work out next seasons adventure. I still would love to go to Berlin . . . . 

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5 days and 4 nights on la Sa√īne

August 21st to 25th

We liked the Sa√īne. It is generally a pretty river and in the southern part there are plenty of places to moor – not so many after Tournus for a biggish barge like Calliope. It would have been easy to spend far longer on the river, exploring towns and villages, but we were on a mission, catching up on the two weeks we lost trying to get new batteries down at Frontignan.

 

So this chapter is short, and actually quite sweet. We left the port at Lyon in the morning, getting a good view of the city and its fine buildings as we drove through.

594BE8D7-D839-4C01-89F0-71713AC70CC2All the way along, after Lyon, there were gentle rural views interspersed by old villages, small towns and churches; always something to see. By side afternoon we were ready to find a stopping place, and saw a pontoon at Anse just the right size.

6202478D-D31C-46B6-A5FE-71F52A727000During the evening I went for the short walk to the Anse swimming lake – an exceedingly popular spot on the hot day. And in the morning before we left a kingfisher joined us long enough for me to make a photo through the window!

Despite rather liking the mooring we had only allowed ourselves one night in each place, so next day we were off to M√Ęcon¬†where we hoped to meet a passing ship (a Westerly actually) from the same Haslar Happy Hour Yacht Club, the antidote to yacht clubs, ¬†that we belong to back in the UK.

2B026251-806E-4608-A405-15C9D957BCB8Just before we cast off, yet another seemingly overloaded commercial barge went by – literally looking as if it was under water amidships!

370DE7E5-A4EB-4E5C-829B-F344910A8FDDWe had heard of a new long pontoon in M√Ęcon just before the multi-arched old bridge. and heading for it, we found it completely vacant – wow!

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Once moored, rested and showered we went into town to meet the crew of Kraken, and there, in mid France and almost 500 miles from the official club house, we had a happy hour or two together.

 

 

 

 

 

A3FA649B-1DBF-4B34-AE76-940E0B9FD878Our mooring was also popular with local teen-agers, again, who decided that their favourite place on the long long quayside to eat burgers and fries at 1am was the part of the quay adjacent to us!  Ah well, we were also able to enjoy the modern instalation nearby.

 

Once more only one night allowed, so on another blue sunny day we carried on north, passing¬†M√Ęcon’s waterfront houses, and also passing Kraken and crew heading in the opposite direction.

D983CF00-D385-4DEC-A343-F903FF862706With such a wide space to drive in, and such broad bridges, the cabin girl was able to not only take a turn at the wheel, but go under bridges too! I could even drink tea at the same time.

BFF41E2D-006D-4804-B86A-7F00253D3BE7Our trip was becoming increasingly rural, and a different kind of farming appeared. Dairy and beef herds were all along the banks, with cattle frequently standing in the water to cool down as we went by. Some evidently found us as interesting as we found them!

 

Unusually for us, who spend most of our time as a twosome, we were again heading to meet up with friends. This time it was to see Tam and Di, our ICC barge tutors from 2012 who now have a home not far from Tournus. Once more the mooring fairies smiled on us and there was space on the wharf.

51C2E98E-8450-4591-A36A-14131B58FD0FIt was wonderful to see them again and we had a lovely evening with a to-die-for prawn rice dish from Di’s famous cuisine and very nice white (or two) from Tam’s cellar. The evening was made complete for Stewart when Tam got his new banjo out and put it through its paces. Happy days!

 

 

 

Before we left Tournus the next day I went in search of bread and milk, allowing me a quick walk round in a rather grey light, but enough to show off a little more of the local stonework.

65228F81-D50B-44EA-97F5-AEC526F88CF4Then on upstream, occasionally left in the wake of hotel barges – bouncy bouncy!A6EF558C-0E48-402E-BC27-03E54B24F983We passed through Chalon-sur-Sa√īne, remembering it form two years before when we had stayed nearby on the barge for a week and had quite a good look round. This time, a whoosh under the bridge and we were gone!

This is when mooring began to be difficult. We had planned a 4 hour day, but after 6 hours and passing by Gerry, Verduns and √Čcuelles without finding anywhere to moor I phoned ahead to Seurre marina. When they too responded with a “Non, je suis desol√©e” we decided to try mooring at the lock.

D585C8AF-3A53-489C-BD45-D1D2619D56CCWe have heard of many boaters mooring at the big river locks, but have never needed to do it ourselves until now and radioed the¬†√©clusier on he VHF. Asking in my very best (Portsmouth High School)¬†French if it were possible he immediately replied ‘Yeah, no prob’ (or something similar) so hence this wonderful, very very tranquil Seurre lock mooring.

 

There are several ‘lasts’ around this. It turned out to be our last night on the rivers, last night on the¬†Sa√īne, and next morning it was our last ‘√©cluse¬†√† grand gabarit’, or big gauge lock of 185m length and 12m width. From now on it would be more like 39m x 5.2m!

We were set on a course to buy gazoil (diesel) at St-Jean-de-Losgne so that we could confidently carry on up north and we drew into the fuel pontoon expectantly. But we were disappointed. Despite it being a Saturday in August the fuel office was closed until Wednesday! And the supposed self-service option was out of order! So on we went.

3A697964-2428-4B7F-B35F-98C2604DBE91Once more we had plan A, B and C overnight mooring choices. This meant that we went up past Auxonne through the first of the little locks, number 20 at D√©rivation d’Auxonne¬†– oh so narrow – and hoped to¬†moor at A ………. no luck.

C09EF10D-3ED5-4777-B18E-4383A783B093The skies began to darken in an alluringly velvet manner and we carried on to pass B (Lamarche) and C (Pontailler).

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Hmm – nothing for it but to carry on to the entrance to the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne, and leave the Sa√īne behind, and we finally reached the turning into canal.

 

0CA36A40-D371-4BD6-8802-602DC607F9E9The canal looked so tiny, after the river, but small is very very beautiful.

378150A6-BEC1-439F-84A2-AAFB2C49FE70Within minutes we came into Maxilly to find a commercial barge just leaving, thus providing us with a space to tie up. We are off the river and back on the canal system again!

 

 

 

“Je veux montant s’il vous plait”

Avignon to Lyon – 5 days ascending the Rh√īne

August 15th to 20th

 

Feeling confident about diminishing wind and current speeds, and not too much in the way of Meteo alarms we set off from Avignon. There is always a little bit of apprehension about the Rh√īne for us. There are not that many places to moor, the Mistral wind can appear from nowhere, and a couple of thunderstorms in the catchment area can suddenly change the flow against us. So we are always cautious.

A1A5F9D0-4714-4294-BE51-770943AAE974Just round the corner was our first lock of the trip – Avignon. As we approached each lock we made the obligatory VHF radio or phone call to say we were on our way and wanted to ‘ascend’ – “je veux montant s’il vous plait.”

We discovered just how much wind was still blowing when we exited the lock to a 60 degree windsock!

03720675-1B10-4A6D-8236-671D91A562C1But all was well and we made good time upstream, passing by the old tower opposite Roquemaure where we had moored two years ago on our way south.

Onwards and upwards, through the 8.6m Caderousse lock, a baby compared to what was ahead, although it has to be said that I look a bit worried! Actually I was just squinting into the selfie camera!

1EDF2738-8A84-403B-A3E0-69DE34E810F611kms on was our hoped for base for the night – the delightful Saint-Etienne-Des-Sorts, another of our downstream stop overs. Tension was reduced as we rounded the bend and saw that the pontoon was free!

Before long, not only were we moored up, but also our friend Rheinhard from Avignon who was single-handedly cruising upstream. He moored alongside, came to supper, and enjoyed the glow of the evening sun on the village and the cliff on rive gauche.

Next day, almost in tandem, we and Rheinhard set off for the massive Bollène lock Р22.5m Рthe big and beautiful one!

497FC330-3F22-4F5C-B5E4-97F06EB8078BThe scenery changed to a far more vertiginous look, and I added to my collection of ‘old towers and castles of the Rh√īne valley’.

We went up past Montelimar (of nougat fame) to look for a mooring for the night.  We decided to try the little marina at Cruas, having been told that they would accommodate a 20m barge if we asked nicely, which I did in my best French.

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It was a bit interesting to get in with a lively flow and breeze, but once in we were made very welcome and had a very safe and pleasant berth for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

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Next morning the wind had definitely dropped, as certified by the steam coming out of the local nuclear power station cooling towers confirming a Beaufort scale 0 !

 

 

 

 

 

015F593F-ABAC-4993-8035-5B444AF11F41We had the Logistic-Neuf lock just round the bend – a mere 11m, and which has suitably wine-stained coloured edges.

 

Then on up the river another 50+kms looking for somewhere for the night. We asked at Valence if they had room for us, but sadly no, so on to Tournon where we moored up on a nice new pontoon.

Tournon is an interesting little town; we managed a quick look round, a visit to the wine cave (‚ā¨2.50 a litre for very nice ros√© in an empty plastic water bottle), and a back street pizza (with a very nice jug of ros√©).

 

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Moored at Ampuis

Next day, Saturday, was to be our last full day and night on the Rh√īne, and a full day it was of over 50kms and 2 locks that took us up past some beautiful scenery, vineyards and towns, ending up at Ampuis.

Ampuis was everything we had hoped for from a Rh√īne mooring – superb views, great swimming, blue skies. I was happy crew!

 

We were moored just below the lock at Tournons, and on quite a busy commercial route, as proven by the wonderful working peniches powerfully passing by (most of them unbothered by the implications of a Plymsoll line . . . ).

And as we enjoyed the Tournon ros√© on the back deck the Captain was a contented man, watching the sun go down over a peaceful river – our last evening on Le Rh√īne.

We awoke to another glorious day, passing by the sparkling brown roof of the Ampuis chateau, and cruising on to the first lock of the day, and waiting for a giant, gigantic, commercial barge to emerge. (Two 80 metre gas barges pushed by a shove tug Рyou can just make it out to the left of our mast.) I love to see the waterways still in use for transport Рso much cleaner and more efficient and smoother than road transport.

E66B45DC-13AE-4AFC-82AE-8FD54ECAADA5As we moved north towards Lyon I started what might be a new series – ‘views from the galley window’ – not sure if I will manage to keep it up!

Then at last we reached our final¬†√©cluse of the Rh√īne – Pierre B√©nite – on the outskirts of Lyon. Made it – in good time, and with new friends and new tales to tell.

 

So there we were in the port at Lyon (actually on the Sa√īne not the Rh√īne) in amongst the bright lights, shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife! Whoa, this is different! We gave ourselves a day off for rest and recuperation, stocking up on vittles, a walk round town and a beer on the quay before we began to think about our next chapter: the river trip up the¬†Sa√īne.

 

 

 

Leaving the South behind

August 1st to 11th  

Canal du Rh√įne¬†√† S√®te, Petit¬†Rh√įne, and the start of Le¬†Rh√įne¬†

1st – 4th still at la Peyrade

D9780A84-C566-4901-81E9-C25CEE389450We started August where we finished July – la Peyrade – and settled in with a live-aboard community, cycling back and forth to the Intermarch√© supermarket and the Brico. Stewart fitted grill vents above and below the fridge to help it breathe; I generally pottered. (I’m good at that!)

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And our new friends were not all human or canine – a preying mantis took a fancy to Stewart’s bike, but we persuaded him off before he took a trip with us!

 

 

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And snails made long journeys to the ends of grassy stems to wave hello.

 

 

We had hopes of the new batteries arriving on Friday 3rd, but no delivery email arrived so we went out for the day on our bikes to Balaruc-les-Bains, a fascinating village opposite Sète.

It has been famous since Roman times for its thermal springs, and has a spa history up to the present day. It was a very hot and tiring (for us) cycle ride, but drinks, a good meal and a swim/paddle in the Med made up for it all.

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Last evening at le Peyrade

One more evening and day at la Peyrade saw us waving goodbye to our new friends Christian and rasta Anna and her three dogs as they sailed off into the¬†√Čtang de Thau to test her yacht prior to a voyage to Greece.

 

5th – 7th back at Frontignan

Next day, Sunday, we moved the 2 kilometres back to Frontignan canal port where our new batteries were due to arrive at the tourist office next day.

We set to work to remove the six old batteries, each weighing 60kgms, from behind the stairs in the engine room. Two oldies with a combined age of 136 managed to do this in a 32 degree day, with the help of strategically placed lanyards, lots of rests and lots of water!

We celebrated with a beer in the square under the plane trees followed by a demi-pizza and salad each – a menu combination we both approve of.

Whilst we waited for the new batteries to reach us we watched the comings and goings of all the craft going under the lift-bridge that only opens for a few minutes three times a day. It is always an interesting spectacle, as some boats do not understand the procedure of allowing downstream boats to come under the bridge first!

8758D7BD-3006-4DFD-9648-E2CA075EA3CCOne of the best sights however was not a boat going under the bridge, but a boat that arrived with swimmer power!

We had a powerful thunder and lightning rain storm while we waited – much needed refreshment form the 33 degree temperatures!

88816EB9-80B2-43B9-BFDF-90FA3121639BOver the next few days I managed to see the old batteries to a scrap metal yard, have them collected, and, with the help of some French boating friends, we got the new batteries to the boat.

Time for another celebration – this time a beer under the plane trees followed by a Vietnamese meal!

Stewart and I reversed the procedure for removing the batteries, and again using the lanyards lowered them all into place. Before long my Chief Electrical Engineer (Stewart again!) had wired them up, and at the 1pm opening of the Frontignan lift-bridge we were off east ……

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….. past the pretty wooden sail boats we had been moored next to on the quay.

 

 

8th one night near Pavalas-des-Flots

Our travels along this section of the Canal du Rh√īne¬†√† S√®te were picturesque, cruising along a canal that has been built in the middle of a series of lagoons, with flying flamingoes, wonderful ‘waterscapes’, fisherman’s shacks, and no locks to divert us.

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The hoped for mooring, until we came adrift

We had hoped to moor up near the old cathedral on an island at Maguelone, but it was too busy so we continued for a while and found a perfect wild mooring. We tied up to two posts, plus two of our stakes, and settled down to a gentle afternoon and evening – until a commercial barge, travelling very slowly and considerately, came by and pulled out our stakes and the two permanent posts! Whoops!

So onward another kilometre to the outskirts of Pavalas-des-Flots where there were some proper bollards for the night! (Certainly not pretty enough to photograph though).

 

9th -10th close to Gallician

Another days cruising, past the giant ‘doors where the canal crosses the river Lez, ¬†brought us up to the outskirts of Gallician where there is a small port, but, from a distance, it looked full.

And then we suddenly saw a short section of sturdy wooden fencing right on the canal bank, and perfect for mooring!  Our luck was in.

D0F5443D-D76F-4229-BA16-41C923278CB6We arrived just as a downpour began, washing all the dust and salt water from Calliope’s decks. (Photo taken next morning). By the time the skies had cleared I had managed to check the configuration of the new batteries to our monitoring systems, and convinced myself they were correct (thank you MasterVolt Support and all the Piper Barge Owners who advised me).

20F0A9E4-CBF8-4ECE-B652-12B61A6AF2E8Time for another celebratory drink.

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And another glorious, slightly stormy, sunset.

We thought we would stay just the one night, but the flow on the¬†Rh√īne had increased because of major thunderstorms to the north so we stayed a second, with the open Petit Camargue the other side of the canal and interesting bird life coming and going. We saw king fishers, bee eaters, purple herons, stilts and night herons too, plus many we could not identify.

 

11th – a night on a very high wall at Arles

With the flow on the¬†Rh√īne decreasing we set off through the St Giles lock onto the Petit¬†Rh√īne, hoping to moor just at the end where it meets the mighty Big¬†Rh√īne, but that was taken so moved out onto Le Rh√īne itself and went to look for a mooring suggested to us by Swiss boating friends Alfred and Heidi down in Arles.

 

We found it, tied up, and decided to go and look at the old town across the river. It all looked beautiful, and I knew it had a Van Gogh history. However as we set off we were concerned to see a potential ‘ne’er-do-well’ watching the barge, so cut our visit rather short.

 

Nonetheless it is an attractive town, worth a proper visit I think. And all turned out to be fine on Calliope.

FF319B15-D9B3-4E06-B5FD-31613A420ABDAs the sun dropped in the sky, Arles appeared to float in the golden light – gently psychedelic.

 

12th – 14th – a longer than expected stay in Avignon

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So we begin our trip north on the¬†Rh√īne, initially still in the South, from Arles to Avignon.

We began to pass the varied forms of energy generation on the Rh√īne, including wind and water in various forms.

Trying to make up for lost time due to the battery renewal and Rh√īne flow we thought we would just have one night at Avignon. We planned to make the most of it, with a climb up to the gardens above the river, then a saunter through the touristy areas around the ostentatious papal palaces, and a pleasant explore of some of the quieter narrow streets.

FE86DADD-968C-41E1-8EE8-37EDDC73DE19Surprise surprise we ended up in a square (actually a triangle) under plane trees with a beer!

Next day we discovered that over the next 48 hours there were to be thunderstorms and a mistral wind, so plans were changed and we stayed on, at great expense, for a further 2 nights.

The first of these took on a musical tine when our new friend Rheinhard, from a boat that had been travelling with us, came round with a litre of good red wine and his guitar. Stewart soon dug out his steel guitar and I was the total appreciative audience! The rain came down and the lightning lit up the skies; we were snug with our music and wine., and ended up with rainbows and sunsets.

CF548286-6292-44EC-9209-972C661088E2Stu and I further explored Avignon on our third, windy, day there, including one of the best Les Halles indoor markets I have found.

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I managed to spend a few euros on some interesting food before we left! Sadly I did not buy Porchetta, but got some good rillettes de porc, some very good cooked tongue,and a delicious Saint Jacques scallops) dish, at a high cost.

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Then, with all forecasts for wind, flow and sun in our favour, we began the real trip northwards, leaving Avignon and its famous bridge behind us.

 

And then we had visitors!

During the summer Calliope enjoyed becoming a hotel boat! From mid June to mid August we had friends and family aboard for 30 days out of 60 days, and felt quite dazed as a consequence!  It was lovely; our plan when buying the boat was that it would be a pleasant place for people to visit and to enjoy France as we enjoy France.

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First aboard were Hollie, Ric and Sofia for a week, ¬†all described in a previous blog called ‘Short Stretches”. It was very hot and we were glad to find a lake to swim in.

 

Montauban with Ron and Pauline

Ron and Pauline

Then we were joined by friends Ron and Pauline for a few days, also mentioned in ‘Short Stretches’, from Montauban, via Montech, to Moissac – all the ‘Ms’.

It was still very hot – too hot – and typically it cooled down when they left.

IMG_6050Stu and I were then left alone in Moissac for a few days so we ventured out for some local exploring.

We began by having a better look at Moissac itself, walking up through the town, and up the Calvary Hill to take in the views. We could see way way beyond Moissac, across the Tarn and on into the distance.

Moissac must have a good set of creative gardeners – every corner, mini roundabout and crevice was illuminated by bright flowers, adding much to our promenades.

Moissac Suz and Alex

Alex and Suz

I had the chance to walk round all of this again when our next visitors arrived – Suz and Alex. They were only with us two nights, and their plan for these days was to see as much of the area as possible with a view to living in France.

We took them over to see our friends Chris and Ursula who moved from England to France some 15 years ago and have lots of wise advice, especially around pigs, horses and vegetable gardens! It all seemed to go down well, especially the delicious lunch Urs cooked for us all!

It was rapidly approaching 14th July, and we discovered that Moissac began to celebrate the public holiday on the evening before. A jazz band played by the Abbey while children were given lanterns to carry. Then the band led us through the streets to the river where a ‘fire show’ was scheduled to start. This was all quite spectacular, in a small town gentle kind of a way, and ended up with a dance next to the river, close to our mooring. I love all the fun.

IMG_5422We also explored our local riverside, choosing to do this on 14th July, Bastille Day, to avoid too much celebration francaise. We first took the boat downstream to where the Tarn converges with the Garonne – the confluence. It was rather a dull day for such a magnificent aqua-space. (We might go back to try out a little bit of the Garonne, next to the bird sanctuary.)

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This trip meant going through the ancient unused lock, to avoid going over the weir (which is now underwater). Then under the Pont Napoleon that we had been gazing at for some days beforehand.

 

We turned round, came back through the lock and the bridge, and continued up stream.

There are another three bridges to go under in order to proceed upstream – the aqueduct that carries the canal over the river, a railway bridge and a road bridge. All are quite spectacular, but I regret that I did not get good photographs.

After 8 kilometres we reached the extent of the cruising possibility at Ste-Liverade. This is a beautiful spot, below a chateau and next to a sparkling weir and old mill. We put the anchor down – quite an event for us, and prepared to stay the night.

IMG_6097The silhouettes against the night sky, the peace and quiet, and the fresh air were all totally enjoyable. Hopefully my slightly strange stretched panoramic view captures some of this.

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And we settled down to a perfect Friday night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next morning the boat was covered in iridescent blue and green dragonflies, perched everywhere that they could. We had breakfast amongst the dragonflies, and then it was time for our return 8km voyage back to Moissac ….

IMG_7281…. on a beautiful day.

The very next evening we were off on one of many trips to Toulouse airport (we had already accomplished 4 runs to and fro) to meet (grand-daughter) Kathryn and her friends √Čloise. So exciting and lovely to see them!

Now started lots of fun and activity to make sure our young visitors all enjoyed themselves and got a good taste of France.

We began next morning with a visit to Moissac market and an opportunity for K and E to choose fruit, veg, cheese.  They were rather good at this!

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Then off to the lake and pool at Lafrançaise, where there was more to do than we had anticipated!.

 

 

 

We started with a walk around the lake, the two girls experimenting with their go-pro cameras for Instagram upload.

Part way round the lake we met a camel, a ‘limbo pole’ and a sort of adventure playground.

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Stu preferred to sit it all out on the shade and await the ice creams.

 

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I didn’t partake, but understood the excitement!

There is something very similar between K and I, in terms of a love of fun and action! Must be in the genes.

 

Instead of swimming in the lake the two girls thought they would like to be on Calliope and swimming (amongst the weeds) in the Tarn. So we returned to Moissac for a cool down dip.

Kathryn, Eoise and Leslery washing the roof at Moissac

Kathryn, √Čloise and Lesley washing the roof at Moissac

This was followed by a bit of work for our new crew, washing down the boat a bit – always nice to do on a hot day with plenty of water swashing.

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Their first, busy, day was rounded off by dinner at l’Uvarium – an art deco restaurant at the end of the quay that we had been planning to visit. With a plaiting expert on board (Kathryn) my wayward hair was sorted before we left.

Oh dear – I really have grown longish white plaits!

Thank you Kathryn – I loved it!

 

 

Our meal at l’Uvrium was a happy experience, although we were not totally sold on the food. Kathryn was experimental and chose a snail starter that was very avante gard – a take on snail spring rolls we think.¬†√Čloise, as a vegetarian, selected the one and only vegetarian option – a mix of veg, salad and melon soup. I did well, with a piece of the best fish I have ever eaten, and the drinks and view and ambience were all good, so overall a beautiful evening.

Next day we set off for Montaigue de Quercy where there is another lake for swimming and various boating activities. Its up in the hills, with a white sandy beach and warm calm waters Рlovely. Stu found another tree to sit under while we three swam, and swam again, plus K&E kayaked.

IMG_6143We went home to Moissac for a beautiful sky,  supper on board, and a Kathryn kaleidoscope.

How do these young people do it? I feel I am on a constant techno- learning curve!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The next day K&E went off to explore Moissac while Stu and I went on another airport run to meet Keeva and Will (K&W).

So now four teenagers on board – bound to be fun!

 

 

 

Over the next few days we treated them and they treated us back.

K&E bought us some lovely sunflowers and some wine and helped out with washing up, cleaning the boat, disposing of rubbish and were generally happy helpful crew.

IMG_5573K&W bought a keg of Desparado beer, made us all a delicious meatball supper, and also made themselves useful with the everyday running of a household on a boat – more good crew!

They kept us amused with their antics …

…. their aqua skills, …..

… their choice of head gear ….

… and their general lying around!!!!

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We managed a couple of outings with all four in the car by leaving Stewart in peace and quiet on the boat.

 

 

On one occasion we went back to the lake at Montaigue de Quercy where the four of them swam, played, kayaked, and sunbathed.

Another day, learning of their love of all things retail (I was asked about three times to take them to the local LeClerq hyper market!) I drove them to Agen – a nice old city with interesting architecture, medieval buildings, narrow streets – and shops!

We met up at lunch time at a boulangerie, sitting outside to eat our chosen pastries, baguettes, pizzas etc.

Then a quick photoshoot, before back to retail madness.

That evening we ate on board – delicious mozzarella and tomato quiches from the local boulangerie in Moissac, with some of K&E’s lovely ros√© wine out of the largest ros√© wine bottle I have ever seen!

Next morning, early and sadly, K&E had to go back to the UK – it had been such a great few days having them all there together, but there is always next year!

K&W still had a few more days in France. On the two days following K&E’s departure the land next to the quay was taken over for a big boules tournament. It was fascinating to watch the tactics and throws of the best teams.

IMG_5591We were joined for one day by Pam and Jon, friends from portsmouth who were driving by on their way home at the end of their French holiday,. We decided to take a cruise up the Tarn to Ste-Liverade again, where K&W joined me for a swim, and tried out the new ‘rubber ring’ I had bought. Then, after we had¬†all enjoyed the magic scenery for a few hours, back to Moissac for supper together.

The next evening we decided to try out the bar at the Moulin de Moissac hotel, the backdrop to so many of my Moissac photos. It was extremely pleasant sitting on their terrace, and using their palm tree as an exotic photo opportunity. (Yes, we did get drinks eventually!)

Later that evening I went with K&W to watch the sunset from the Pont Napoleon. Will took a time lapse set of photos of the sun going down, and I was lucky enough to catch birds in flight across a golden sky.

Our tourist leaflet of places to swim included a giant inflatable obstacle course at Monclar de Quercy. It is more than an hour away from Moissac, but we were persuaded to make the trip on the understanding that while K&W throw themselves around the course, Stu and I would visit an ancient hilltop village nearby.

So here’s where K&W had fun (they had the place to themselves) …

… and here’s where Stu and I had fun (Puycelsi). It’s a shame that it was a bit of a grey day.

This was K&W’s last day, and also their ‘8 month anniversary’, so we had planned to go out for dinner in Moissac. They chose the pizza and pasta restaurant near the Abbey where we had also been when K&E were on board – sadly no photos of that meal.

IMG_1570The next day was changeover day, saying good-bye to K&W, and hello to Ashley and Harvey who were arriving at the same time! It has been so good to have all these friends and family visiting this year.

You can see how pleased Harvey was to arrive!

 

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Harvey and Ashley

We whisked A&H back to the barge – our eighth trip to/from the airport in the last few weeks; it was not long before Harvey was in the water, jumping from the roof of the boat into the river. And before long Ashley was in there too.

I had planned trips to the boulangèrie with Harvey, who is learning French at school and loves baguettes. This worked well and he was soon able to greet the owner, ask for what he wanted and thank them Рall  with confidence and in French.

We  had various water-bourne activities as suggestions to keep this energetic 12 year old busy. It began with a trip to the local swimming pool РSt Nicholas de la Grave. He found plenty of ways to enter the water, whilst I, after a bit of a swim and splash, rested in the shade by the pool.

He was also able to try out blade-running, and once he had the right size ‘runners’ was quickly able to bound about.

IMG_5659We ate on board that night, enjoying a strange light at dusk that settled over the river.

Next morning Ashley had a conference call that was going to last several hours, but in amongst it all we managed to take an hour’s trip on an electric boat on the river, with Harvey carefully steering us through the ancient lock and the bridge. It also have us a good perspective of our mooring – the riverside view – not previously accomplished.

That evening we went out for Harvey’s favourite meal of pizza – follow by a good ice cream sundae! ¬†I cannot get over how good the French are at making this classical Italian dish. There was a good Harvey hug to finish the evening off.

We packed a lot into the three and a half days that A&H were with us. On the following day it was decided that we would go off to the inflatable assault course again – but this time Stu and I would wait and watch before we all went on to another hilltop village. Ashley and Harvey scrambled, fell and splashed-down for an hour whilst Stu and I had a good laugh, and a quick lunch!

Before we left there was time for me to have a swim too, and for Harvey to try out the water chute and pool.

Then off to Bruniquel – a fantastically interesting and historic village with two castle on a clifftop overlooking the Aveyron river. We were all impressed by the views, the castles, the history.

IMG_5818But it was hot, and Harvey and Ashley had had no lunch, so a stop at a village café was the next necessity.

That evening, after another excellent pizza, theistime from a takeaway restaurant over the river, we went to the Pont Napoleon for more sunset photos. Harvey took a particularly spectacular shot of the moon.

We were then onto their final day, and a trip to Montaigu de Quercy was the order of the day. In addition to the usual swimming and kayaking, we also went on this ‘thing’ towed behind a jetski.

IMG_5847The photo is not of us, but demonstrates what I mean. It was SUCH fun, hanging on for grim death whilst swooshed at speed from side to side across the surface of the water. I was lucky, in the central position. Both A&H were flung off at different times, all to great laughter!

IMG_5870Later on we watched a couple of people try this other ‘thing’ which gave huge water-jet power through boots, pushing the participants more than 10 foot into the air. Harvey was keen to try, but at ‚ā¨60 a go it was somewhat out of reach!

There was still time on the final afternoon for one more aqua-aport. Harvey was keen to try out a paddle board and Ashley went with him in  a kayak Рon the river. They both seemed very able and came past the barge with big smiles.

After an action packed few days it was time for them to go, so back to the airport to bid them farewell, and into a quiet couple of weeks on Calliope – for Stewart. But not for me, as I flew back to the UK to be at Wickham Festival!

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Once I was back on board we just had time to move down canal from Moissac to Agen and be ready for our final visitors of the year – Pieter and Roy. No airport run required for them! They arrived at Bordeaux and got the train through to Agen.

 

 

IMG_1688We had such a pleasant day exploring Agen with them, including a proper coffee and croissants breakfast at a café Рthe first time Stu and I have indulged in that experience.

Roy and Pieter on passerelle, AgenWe had a good wander round the narrow streets and ancient architecture, then down to the Garonne to try out the (relatively) new footbridge. It’s one of those ones that sways a bit as you cross – Stewart preferred to stay on terra firma. From the footbridge we could see the aqueduct that carries the canal over the river – to be crossed by us all the next day.

IMG_1695I was keen to introduce Pieter and Roy to my favourite French restaurant – one that emphasises local produce, everything made in house, and no freezers or microwaves – Monsieur Jeannot. They seemed to approve.

Next day, in order to give the two of them a short cruise, we set off from Agen, over the aqueduct, down the chain of locks, and through the countryside to Serignac. From here we knew they could get a taxi back to Agen station, and onward to Bordeaux. Another goodbye to be said, and the end of our visitors for 2017 – or so we thought at the time.

Late news in – eldest brother Phil and his wife Geraldine will spend two nights with us mid-September. Hooray!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are quite good at exploring around the canal on foot and on bike, but the car gives us access further afield.

 

Short Stretches – Montech, Montauban and our first 10kms of le Tarn.

It was so great to have some of the family with us for the 9 locks, 1 overnight stop, and 10 kilometres of l’embranchement (canal) de Montech. It also gave us the chance to drop down onto the Tarn and experience some river boating – in all weathers as you will discover.

On the return journey to Moissac we had a new ‘crew’ – two good friends of ours, Ron and Pauline.

Hollie, Rick and Sofia had joined us at Moissac, a few cruising kilometres away, where Grandad and Granny had an excuse to cross the canal and visit the playground by the Tarn, pleasantly under the trees.

We had cruised up the Canal du Garonne, crossing the spectacular aqueduct over the Tarn, and on to Montech, making one ‘wild’ overnight stop on the way.

Montech canal, entering at MontechWe arrived in Montech in time for a trip to the Tuesday market before setting off after lunch, planning a short trip towards an overnight mooring along the Montech canal.

We were blessed with blue skies ……. and somewhat cursed with temperatures of 34 to 39 degrees. It’s quite difficult to keep cool on a steel boat! But there is fun to be had in creating shady places, sluicing down hot metal decks, and finding places to swim.

Lacourte St Pierre mooringAfter only three and a half kilometres we stopped at the little village of Lacourt-St-Pierre where the quay is next to a shady picnic area. Two year old Sofia and I were quickly under the trees with a big bucket of water and lots of pouring splashing implements!

IMG_1334It was soon decided that the whole family needed a cool-down dip. A nearby lake with a ‘beach’ was located, a taxi booked, and before long we were all into the water. It was just what was needed.

Ice creams were on hand too! Felt like a day at the seaside. Then our taxi arrived and took us ‘home’.

Montech canal, willow

Next day we continued on our short trip down a pretty canal towards the port at Montauban where we had booked a berth for Calliope.

Montech canal lockThe 9 locks were operated by a ‘zapper’; nice and easy on a hot hot day.

At one lock we met up with a British couple who have taken a repairing lease on the old lock keepers house, living in their barge while work goes on to make the house suitable for living in; quite a task, but I envy them the lifestyle.

Montauban port mooringIn Montauban our berth was ready and waiting, nicely at the end of the port giving us maximum privacy and furthest from the open air bar/restaurant at the other end! Now we had access to the car, so whizzed back to our lake (La plage du lac de Negret) for another swim – and icecream.

Montauban going out to dinnerCool and clean we set out for a meal at a lovely little traditional restaurant …..

Montauban out to dinner

…. with a shaded garden and a ‘cool mist’ blower too. A huge and delicious meal was had by all.

 

Next day was still hot, but knowing that the central square of Montauban was surrounded by a colonnade we went to town. Young Sofia enjoyed walking round the square, and we treated ourselves to another meal out – delicious bruschetta and salads.

Then down through the Jardin des Plantes through paths large and small, past grottos, streams, bridges and lots of trees and resting place for our overheated party (still temperatures in the upper thirties!)

Montauban jardin des plantes 1At the bottom of the Jardin is a little play park for Sofia, where Grandad removed the gravel from Sofia’s sandals before fun on the swings.

La plage du lac de Negret

Back on the boat we found there was time for another trip to the swimming lake, our favourite venue this weather.

Next day it was time for Hollie, Rick and Sofia to return to a cooler climate – I almost envied them! It really had been SO hot. We took them back to the airport at Toulouse and sadly waved goodbye.

Montauban port snakeAs always there was wild life to enjoy at the port at Montauban. I was interested, fascinated, and slightly apprehensive to see this snake swimming in the same canal as I had been, so looked it up on the internet. ¬†Phew, just a harmless grass snake – unless you are a frog, small bird ……

Montauban port lizard

…. or lizard!

 

 

 

Montauban port jet wash

 

Before we left the port we gave our boat a bit of a bath, borrowing a jet wash to help us along.

Looks good fun to me, but I got the bucket and mop job!

Then a new chapter for Stewart and I – out onto the Tarn river. We booked our descent through the two locks that take you from port to river, looking forward to the expanding view as we went down.

Lock onto TArn 2

Going down the locks from Montauban port to the Tarn – looking through from upper lock

It was a lovely experience. As you descend in the upper lock you can see through the ‘windows’ at the top of the lock gates into the second lock and beyond, the river.

Going down the locks from Montauban port to the Tarn   - going into lower lock

Going into the lower lock

The second half of the double lock takes us under the road and railway, quite noisy if a train goes over while you are going under!

leaving TArn lock

Then the bottom lock gates open and Calliope emerged onto the Tarn.

SAiac mooring 2Our first mooring was a full 300 yards, across the river to the pontoon at Sapiac.

Sapiac logs at mooring

At first site this looked a bit iffy because of several large fallen trees partially trapped under the pontoon and sticking out into the river – but actually it was a relatively easy mooring in a very pleasant place.

The view towards the town was glorious, and the skies magnificent. It’s a short pleasant walling the river bank to a superb boulang√®rie, and not much further to walk into the town.

Mntauban bike rideLooking into the blue blue skies Stewart soon realised that he had left his sunglasses in the car, the other side of the river ….. so it was a convenient time for him to try out the new folding bike. Ho ho, it’s a cyclist in black . . . .¬†We cycled along the river, across Pont Sapiac, and back to the port.

With sunglasses retrieved we continued on to a cultural moment or two. We visited a couple of the sites of the Sculpture Festival in Montauban and found some interesting and arresting pieces.

Another hot day, another excuse for a dip. I went swimming in the river by our mooring, and before long I was joined by an Italian rugby player, a cocker spaniel, and lots of little fishes that swam around the submerged logs.

Later that day we went for a Montuban walkabout. We found more of the sculpture exhibition – this time some large wicker structures cascading down thorough a small park the far side of the ravine that divides the town, and some captivating work in various media, all with the common theme of ‘myths and legends’.

Montauban barThat led us on into the main square, just on ‘beer o’clock’. We sat down and ordered ….. oh dear – when is Stu going to get a beer that is bigger than my wine?????

Next day we took a trip upstream.  There are just 9kms of navigable river from Montauban to the weir beyond Corbarieu, so we cut the journey into two parts and went as far as Bressols.

Bressols sunflowerTo celebrate our arrival at Bressols the first sunflower came out, despite the grey skies; it was a pleasant 23 degrees.

There have been three pontoons built on this stretch of the Tarn, over the last 4/5 years I believe. Sapiac was the first we visited; now Bressols. Its a very adequate mooring, especially for us as we like rural moorings.

We arrived on a cool grey Monday and walked up the gangway, through the edge of the recreation grounds, up a lane and ito the village to have a beer and maybe have supper out. However the bar and pizza cabin are shut on Mondays and the bistro closed for renovation! Luckily our back deck bar has beer and our galley had the makings of a meal so all good.

Bressols has obviously had some grand buildings in the past, but there are only a few outbuildings and a stunning dovecote remaining of the chateau.

More to my interest was the colourful and varied wildlife on the Tarn at Bressols – a rare night heron, starlings meeting to roost, dragonflies mating, the illusive noisy frogs, silhouetted black kite ……

night heron

Black headed night heron

…… how lucky am I to see and hear all of these?

 

We were watching the gathering clouds with interest, looking forward to some rain, when we received a phone call from the Capitaine at Montauban. It was a gale warning!!  The phone call was to say we that must get off the Tarn river NOW as huge winds were due very soon!

19466612_10213915202300977_3682763804384428032_nRunning before the storm was quite exciting in a very safe kind of way – and I managed to get a panoramic photo view as we whizzed downstream.

As we ascended the two locks it was obvious that the winds were increasing. I asked the Capitaine when the storm was due – “maintenant” (now), he replied. As we moved towards a jetty to moor up the winds struck – force 10 blowing us back into the middle of the port basin, as Calliope (and Stewart) strove to get on close enough for me to throw ropes that were being blown back at me! The rain also began in earnest.

So the storm arrived and the storm got me, but it was a safe haven in Montauban port and we managed to moor up, then get dry.

Montauban stormWe could hardly see the other side of the port, just 50 foot away at 4 in the afternoon.

Montauban storm cloudsAnd after the rain, beautiful sunset stormy skies.

We deiced to have an extra day in the port as the weather was still rather unsettled, and it gave us access to the car for a grand day out!

We started out looking for places for teenagers to swim – 3 grandchildren plus two reminds arriving in the next three weeks. The first place, a sweet little beach on a river at Lamothe-Capdeville, and then high up n the hills a pool complex at Lafrancaise. I think both of those will do!

We drove on up in the hills to one of the most famous medieval villages of south west France, Lauzerte. It is a hilltop village, with the narrow streets, ancient buildings and marvellous views that we have come to love.

Lauzerte restaurant

 

We found a good little restaurant with great food just off the square and sat back to enjoy our ‘grand day out’ lunch.

 

 

Then after lunch a walk in the Pilgrims garden on the side of the hill with several stops to admire views and butterflies filled our afternoon.

Corbarieu windyWe both looked forward to going back down on the Tarn and booked ourselves an early descent through the locks, then cruised upstream to the end of the pound, Corbarieu. It was a bit of a windy mooring, with frequent heavy showers.

It is also  a nature wonderland! I may have been sitting on Calliope in the rain, but I was listening to a nightingale Рregret no photo of the nightingale so you have to make do with frogs, a grasshopper disguised as a green spider, and a dragonfly on my toes.

Corbarieu skiesAs the weather swayed from horrendous to balmy, wet to dry, windy to calm, we enjoyed some more lovely skies – this one looking downstream from our mooring.

 

Inspired (I think) by the start of the Tour de France, Stewart suggested a 10km cycle ride today Рalong the flat to the next village, Reynies (and regretted it for the next two days).

 

Went through fruit farms…

… past straying cornflowers and sunflowers …

… saw a Lamborghini tractor …

Corbarieu bike ride

 

 

 

… and rushed back under an impending rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corbarieu fete 6

Stu getting a beer in before the next downpour

That evening, despite the threatening weather, we went to the second night of the  three day village fête Рadvertised to us by the butcher and various members of the fête committee as a meal with wine and music. It certainly was, although not quite as we had expected.

 

There was music and entertainment from a group of singers, dancers and backing tracks,  all determined to help us join in and have a good time. Jugs of wine flooded the tables, salad, paella and tiramisu arrived, and everyone sang, clapped, waved arms, thumped the table and in general the bon temps did rouleé.

Corbarieu fete 4

The rain continued to fall and Stewart’s very British umbrella was commandeered to push up the marquee roof and dislodge huge pools of water.

Sitting next to us at the meal was a French family of four. We had such an enjoyable evening with Ingrid, Florian, William and Robin that Stewart invited them aboard the next day to cruise with us the short distance to Montauban.

 

 

Ingrid and familyThey accepted and arrived at the appointed time in the morning, climbed aboard and we were off.

We headed upstream at first so that I could get a view of the weir on yet another grey day, then back past our Corbarieu mooring pontoon to head downstream towards Montauban …

sunflower

… our only sun being the sunflowers in the bow.

The boys enjoyed the trip up through the double lock, and I handed the camera to Robin; this is part of his record of the ascent.

Montauban portWe came into the port and soon found our mooring, and began the clean up job to prepare for our friends Ron and Pauline who were due to arrive next day.