Kortrijk to Dendermonde – on the Leie and the Scheldt

The continuing adventures of Calliope, with observations from the wheelhouse in italics.

28th June – 6th July 2020

It is interesting how new cruising seasons begin. There is always a certain amount of apprehension, re-learning the maritime tricks that were so familiar 6 months ago (or in this case over 9 months ago because of the coronavirus lock down). The Captain had serviced the engine with good friend Ian Williams back in February, so it should be all systems go.

The ‘river arm’ with Calliope in the distance; Captain reversed out of here.

Reversing out of the river arm onto the main river with its huge commercial barges, in a strong wind, under a bridge only just high enough has its own excitement. Halfway into the manoeuvre realising that the bow thruster batteries had died during the winter added an extra piquancy!

Out onto the main river by the ‘Beach Bar’, waving goodbye to friends

Nonetheless super Captain Stu navigated its gently out onto the main river Leie, turned us to face North East, and we were off past the war memorial on our port side, stark against the blue sky.

Following distant Doris under Kuurnebrug at Harelbeke

Our days cruise plan was just 20kms, 2 locks and one lift bridge to Deinze; an ‘ease-yourself-in’ sort of a day. Actually it took 5 hours! We were surprised at the amount of commercial traffic out on a Sunday and it did not take long to accompany big barge Doris into the Harebeke lock.

We both had a long wait at Waregem. My efforts at learning Dutch all winter are useless, but luckily we understood enough of the lock keepers’s French to understand that we were in the second lock with Doris!

Initially we had to wait mid stream for about half an hour, until another 150m commercial ahead of Doris entered the lock. Then at least we could moor up to wait, and enjoy a quick sandwich.

Moving on out of Waregem Sluis

Eventually it was our turn and we moved gently downwards with Doris. As we left the lock, or sluis as I should say here in Vlaanderen, we found a bit of a queue waiting to come up as well! There is a huge amount of work going on at Waregem, building a new much longer lock to take today’s commercial traffic.

After another hour or passing even more of the ‘big boys’ we turned away from the commercial route and onto the old Leie river into Deinze, coming under the lift bridge and onto a mooring on the almost empty town quay.

And here at Deinze the Captain raised my colourful WOB (Women on Barges) flag to stream out in the high wind.

Next day the captain turned mechanic/electrician and began to problem solve the bow thruster issue. It turned out to be the batteries. After five and a half years of driving an electric motor they were on their last legs.

Starting to lift out the dead bow-thruster batteries

Luckily Stewart found a battery shop only a few hundred yards away. Unluckily we had left our sack truck in the UK, and batteries being the weight that they are (44Kg each in this case) we needed a sack truck to shift them – and the sack truck shop was almost 2 kms away. Good – I can get some of my 10,000 steps in for the day.

Sack truck under arm we went to the battery shop, which were all for cars and unsuitable. But we were directed on to a big chandlery; they tried their best but could not get the AGM styler that we prefer so it was back to Calliope and onto the internet, looking for batteries. It was not as easy as we had hoped.

We were rewarded for our efforts that evening by lovely skies over the church at sundown – note the still empty mooring…..

But next day it was wet and misty. We holed up aboard most of the time continuing on the battery mission. To cut a medium length story short, we eventually managed to order the ones we wanted, to be delivered from Antwerp direct to the boat by the end of the week. So we settled into a few Deinze days.

I ventured out in the wet for a walk downstream, enjoying the fresh air and greenery

Later Stewart and I took a walk around the lovely De Brielmeersen park. The best thing we saw was a stork, really close, but I couldn’t take a photo as we were using the phone to talk to granddaughter at the time. So you get the fountain, Stewart and a nice blue flower.

Wednesday dawned even wetter; in fact it had cured with rain all night. This is more the Belgium weather that I expect! I discovered that the Deinze market is on a Wednesday and persuaded Stewart that this would be a good place to look for provisions – lovely …..

Belgium is still taking the coronavirus seriously, which is a good thing. Although this is an outdoor market we were stopped at the entrance, given a mask to wear and our hands were sanitised. What a suspicious looking pair!

Buying ready made moussaka – cheating but delicious

We bought from several stalls, including a new table cover for the wheelhouse to smarten us up. My favourite stalls are the vishandels (fish mongers) and slajeris (butcher/delis).

Back to Calliope with our small haul, and for lunch.

That afternoon the weather began to cheer up. While the Captain took his customary siesta I had an extra excursion, walking up the Markt, or main street, then going down a wide side alley to discover a secret little garden, perhaps attached to a big house once upon a time, but overlooked by industrial units now.

I continued on my unknown way, emerging near the museum which has its own flock of hens and cockerels, all very showy. Here are my favourites.

I returned to the boat to find Stu ready to do a quick Carrefour shop to get the things the market could not supply, and as we returned to the boat we saw the lift bridge swing into action (that’s not right!) to allow a convoy of four more Piper barges through to moor behind us!

Deep Thought, Otium, Mimosa, Archangel, and Calliope – a pick of Pipers….

There was just room for the five of us, plus the other craft already moored up, and after some rope throwing and tightening everyone was secure. It was good to meet up with 8 other Piper people, and a very pleasant evening was spent together on a widening of the pontoon by Otium drinking beer and wine, exchanging yarns – and all pretty much socially distanced as required!

Next morning the row of boats looked even more splendid in the morning sun when it peeped between the clouds. And the day began with the ‘Arrival of the Batteries’ – hooray. Stewart and I moved them to their new home under our bed and I left him to install them while I started saying goodbye to everyone.

Astene

We left Deinze min-morning with super powered bow-thrusters, and continued down the Leie, passing through the old lock and under the manually lifted bridge at Astene.

There is a row of rather lovely old boats moored up below the lock – always worth a photo of at least one. Beauty.

We ate lunch on the go, in the rain, winding our way around the curves, bends and hairpins of the river, enjoying the wildlife. This included, surprisingly, two terrapins basking in the sun on a log!

We noticed last time we came along this part of the Leie all the big posh houses, old and new, with their robot lawn mowers and some interesting sculptures. I hope the owners of the one on the left like geese!

At Sint-Martens-Laten we were lucky enough to find the 24 hour mooring empty and although we are a bit long for the official space we decided to stop and hope we were not in anyone’s way. It is a lovely, usually peaceful, place to stop for a night (think Bray-sur-Leie).

Quite quickly we discovered that we were moored next to the location for a live Belgian TV programme to be filmed that evening! Two Dutch singers, André Hazes Jun and Günther Neefs, were to be interviewed by Belgian journalist Karl Vannieuwkerke, and we were asked if they could light up Calliope in the background – our barge a TV star now!

While we awaited the excitement to come we went for a walk round the village. It has been an ordinary rural village with a windmill to grind corn. Then a group of artists moved in at the end of the C19, augmented after WW2. It became a home for Expressionists, known later as the Latem School.

It is still a very artistic place, with at least three good modern galleries, and sculptures placed all round the village. I felt uncomfortable taking photos in the galleries, but here is the garden of one of them.

There was an especially noisy young coot chick at the mooring, harassing its exhausted parent for food non-stop! But cute, in an ugly sort of a way, all the same.

The fishing three

After an exciting evening of being a backdrop we woke up to find the TV crew had gone and we were back to the peace and green of the village, with three quiet attentive ‘fishermen’ nearby.

I did my usual sprint-walk to the nearest bakery to ensure we had fresh bread for lunch, and this time I allowed myself to take a few art and sculpture photos.

And then it was time to go – to continue our meander down the next bends of the Leie towards and into Ghent. There is always something to look at along here – boats, pieces of art, the houses, the gardens. An entire blog could easily be filled with photos along this stretch of the river.

The river would continue to change shape, create new bends, shallows and currents if not for the number of riverside residents encouraging boaters not to leave a damaging wash behind them. We are certainly try to leave a very light ‘wake-print’ behind us.

Eventually the river leads through the pretty village of Sint-Denijs-Westrem and to the diversion of the Leie across the Ring Vaart (a watery M25) and on into Ghent.

An empty Ring Vaart

We were lucky, arriving at the super waterway around Ghent when no huge commercial barges were coming in either direction – indeed no small barges were around either – only a few canoes making a mad dash across from one side to the other.

acres to spare!

About half a mile inside the Ring as we went under a bridge we met our first traffic coming the other way – a cruiser, sensibly on her own side of the river.

We came on into Gent (now spelt the Belgian way), starting to recognise various features from last year. As we came into the centre, past the entrance to Coupure canal, we saw our friend the Capitain of the port watching out for us.

We knew that this time there was no space for us at the main Lindenlei mooring where we had been the previous year. We were to turn to starboard and enter Ketelvest. He was ready to jump into his little red dinghy and lead us to our new mooring.

Soon we were tied up and comfortable between two bridges, with skies filling in from grey to black.

Undeterred we soon set off for one of several walks around Gent. I took so many photos here last year that I have tried to restrict myself this time. Here is a small gallery, definitely not showing all the main tourist attractions.

Remember, this is the year of Covoid-19 and all of its restrictions. Although Belgium is ahead of the UK in the unlocking of social distancing, there are still many reminders of the virus – streets that are one way for pedestrians, many people in masks, hand sanitiser at the entrance to everything.

Nonetheless we had arranged to stay three nights in Gent, with the second night being a bit of a celebration. We had ‘celebrated’ both our birthdays and our wedding anniversary locked-down at home, so now with the bars and restaurants open in Gent we were set to celebrate 32 years of living together with a tasty meal. And we did.

Our final day required some tasks too be achieved. Firstly we needed to top up our water tank; easy peasy, normally. However this time it ended up requiring two visits to the Brico for a connector (We left ours in a tap in Kortrijk) (Doh!), two visits from the Capitaine of the port (the euro payment mechanism in there water bourne had jammed) and three lengths of hose. (Don’t ask!).

While Calliope was being watered she was ‘assaulted’ by masses of crazy canoeists, many of them out of control of their craft! It was all good fun and part of a birthday celebration. The people of Gent like to use their waterways to celebrate everything, in a very happy, sometimes boisterous, way!

Other tasks, like taking on of provisions, cooking, cleaning etc were achieved more easily! The day was exceptionally windy, and initially grey, grey, grey.

But it ended almost entirely blue, clouds all blown away, and flags horizontal from the mast.


On Monday morning we were due to set off into waters new. This would involve the Boven-ZeeSchelde – a mix of rivers leading towards Antwerp. We had been warned that it might be difficult, that the tides needed to be right (it’s tidal from Antwerp right up to near Gent) and that there could be a lot of commercial barges around coming out of lockdown.

South East outskirts of Ghent, on the Schelde

So how did we do? Well we set off in the sunshine, a new way out of Gent for us, past interesting buildings and boats.

After about half an hour we joined the main Schelde river and continued on down to the Marina where we were due to join the Ring Vaart – main waterway circling most of Ghent.

Marelebeke Marina

We had aimed to time this right for the tides. Going out through the narrow entrance of the previous lock (or barrage) would take us into Marelebeke double lock waiting area, and the top of the tidal river Schelde.

Into one of the two locks at Marelbeke

We arrived as the last of the downstream barges was in the locks and we only had 15 minutes to wait before our turn to follow.

If you ever need to do this, aim to be at Marelbeke about 4 hours after high tide at Antwerp. High tide at Melle and Marelbeke is 3.5 hours later than Antwerp, and as the tide turns any commercial barges going to Antwerp will set off. We wanted to be just behind them; somehow it worked!

All alone in a great big lock we descended gently, about 1m, to join the high water of the Boven-Zee-Schelde. It was all remarkably straight forward. The lock ‘guillotine’ door rose, and off we went, riding the tide. (But as always we were careful not to get smug.)

Timing our speed

Stu decided to work out what speed we were travelling. Our RPMs were kept to just over our usual cruising of 1100, and then timed how long it took us to go 6kms. It took just half an hour, so a speed of about 12kph – over 50% faster than normal due to the fast flowing tide.

Notes from the dashboard: Top line – VHF is on at channel 10 as always on busy commercial waterways. Second line – we’re in 15.1 feet of water, it’s 10.20 local time and we’re heading due south – you don’t need a compass when the sun is shining …..

The Boven-Zee-Schelde is not a wide river, mostly through countryside, with the occasional small town. The skies were threatening, but so far, so far, no rain.

For a long time we saw no other craft, but eventually we went through a town with some river action – a barge that was collecting up the masses of floating debris in the river – mainly reeds – plus a ferry and a small working boat.

Other things along the way, a flotilla of geese across the bow ….

…. a very low ‘flying’ aeroplane ….

… and shallow sandy shores on some of the curves as the tide retreated.

Didn’t she do ‘Puppet on a String’?

As it got close to lunch time I had some time at the helm so that Captain could eat. Even I was safe in such wide, empty waters. It began to rain, quite hard, but I know where the switch for the wipers is!

Our one piece of passing traffic

We came a long way down the gently bending river, almost to our turn-off, with no traffic around. Then, just as we approached the turn onto the Dender on a shape double bend, our first commercial barge of the day appeared, pushing hard against the flow. Luckily Stu was alert and smartly side-stepped to starboard! Smiles and waves from the commercials skipper.

Then it was our turn into the Dender and the Dendermonde lock. I had radioed ahead and the lock-keeper had prepared the lock for us; the gates were opening as we turned upstream.

It was a lock with high sides, but with bollards set into the walls so that we could put ropes round low down and move them up as we rose a couple of meters. Once more guillotine gates opened, and we were onto the scenic Dender river.

The first thing we saw was a commercial barge being unloaded of huge coils of metal – maybe not as scenic as we thought …

We had read of a mooring 2km up river and thought that would be good for us – but would it be empty? As we approached we could see a cabin cruiser moored there, but as it is a 30m pontoon still probably room for us?

As we got closer, the cruiser left! How lucky are we? And the sole occupant was a fisherman. We gently moved alongside, tied up, and counted ourselves lucky.

We had arrived at Dendermonde! And on a lovely peaceful mooring we enjoyed a wonderful evening sky.

Late summer start from Kortrijk – the Covoid-19 affect

21st June – 28th June 2020

[the bits in italics are added by Captain Stu]

Yes, it wasn’t until 21st June that we could return to Calliope and start the summer aboard! Of course it was all due to the Covoid-19 coronavirus pandemic and it was absolutely essential that we neither spread the virus ourselves, or were ill in a foreign land – Belgium.

Setting off from St Pancras on our masked journey – wing-nut and wife, waiting for a train.

So we sat tight until the authorities on both sides off the channel deemed it safe for us to travel from UK, through France, and into Belgium. Our original April 1st Eurostar tickets to Lille had long since been exchanged for vouchers. On rebooking we found that the train was not currently stopping at Lille, so, masks fixed as required, we went to Paris, then back to Lille, and finally to Kortrijk. Phew!

Bars are open in Belgium!

We left the UK part way through the easing of the three month lock-down; no bars, restaurants, cinemas etc open amongst other things like hairdressers and gyms. We were therefore delighted and slightly shocked when leaving the station at Kortrijk to see our favourite bar open with plenty of customers! As long as it is safe, hooray!

No time for bars that day; more important to get to our boat and relax, which we did with beer, luckily left in the fridge from our February visit!

I just had to have a quick late evening walk to see the river, the city, and the quite amazing skies. The colours here are somehow extra vibrant.

Next day was about starting to get shipshape. We had returned to a very dirty boat due to a mix of sticky sycamore sap and builders dust from nearby developments. It was also time to re-varnish the wheelhouse and repaint the roof so ….. here we go ….

Painting the cabin roof (only 30 feet to go…..)
The reward (We’ll tidy up later …..)

In amongst the days of work we took lovely walks around Kortrijk, both sides of the river. I cannot avoid taking photos when there are so many interesting shapes and colours. Here’s a taste of this fascinating small city.

There are many more photos of Kortrijk in other parts of this blog, both Summer and Winter, so I have not repeated them here.

And we continued to enjoy the fact that bars were open! One of our favourites is under the trees in the park at Plein, only 5 minutes from the mooring. Coronavirus had instituted a new ordering method – sending your table number and order by SMS, in Flemish! We did manage, but only after I had apparently sent our order top some unknown unsuspecting person in Eire.

Most evenings ended up on the back deck appreciating being back afloat, looking up, through the tress to the sky, down into the water, and along the river at the constantly changing view.

One of the things I like best about the mooring in Kortrijk is the birdlife on the water. Ducklings are always engaging and I have the chance to watch the way their mothers’ herd them and talk to them.

The moorhens were building a nest, the coots were visiting to ask for food ……..

…and the heron made evening visits, with a roof roost across the river.

After several days of blazing sunshine and temperatures into the low thirties we had a couple of days of rain and showers, and a thunderstorm.

The greyest day

Once that blew over it seemed a good time to get on the move and continue our exploration of Belgium, its beers and its waffles – and maybe on into the Netherlands!

Bye bye Kortrijk, until the autumn.

Calliope check – two winter trips to Kortrijk

The December Trip – shopping

During the 5 month winter season we made two trips out to check on Calliope – and to enjoy the city of Kortrijk too. The first trip was in December. We had thoughts of enjoying a Christmas Market and buying some unusual presents for all and sundry – that bit didn’t quite work out but we had an enjoyable few days just the same.

Leaving home on a winter’s morning, bound for Belgium

The ferry trip and road journey was uneventful and we arrived in Kortrijk with enough daylight to see that the pontoon and Calliope’s deck were nestling under a blanket of leaves; Autumn had visited during our absence! Sweeping to be done.

It was quite cold and wintery outside, but down below, the the stove going, a cup of tea and a hot water bottle I soon felt snug. I love being aboard in winter; she’s such a warm boat to live on.

Once I started clearing off the leaves it became apparent that quite a lot of dust and grit had arrived with the foliage – hmmmm, extra cleaning tools required! But there was an artistic element to the affair – the leaves had left stencilled imprints across the roof, some worthy of photography.

Looking better with barge and pontoon cleared of fallen leaves

Our few days in Kortrijk gave time to see the Christmas illuminations – very pretty, and here are just a few. The Broel Towers and the covered ice rink in the Grote Markt with its guardian reindeer were especially lovely.

Disappointingly the 2019 Christmas Market was a lot smaller than normal, and in a large marquee. However the atmosphere within the marquee was good, with gluwein abundantly available, and music, dancing, food and gifts happening too.

We had a chance to catch up with some boating friends up and down the pontoon, hearing about the weather we had missed and the weather still to come. It’s good to know that friends are keeping an eye on your boat while you are away.

The best three boat watchers for us are Martin and Sally on the permanent mooring behind us, and Peter whose barge is moored ’round the corner’ on the canal. Not every day was gloomy; I took a sunny opportunity to catch a photo of Martin and Sally’s boat just 50 yards away.

They invited us, and Peter, to lunch aboard one day – a wonderful lunch that started at 1pm and had us staggering home at 2100. We started our Christmas celebrations early!

And then it was time to set off home. We had a beautiful calm ferry crossing, with one great excitement when we spotted whales off the starboard bow! (No photo to prove it – sorry.)

Back in Gosport we were soon into full swing for Christmas decorations, card writing, present wrapping, and general family fun – no time at all to miss Calliope.

The February Trip – servicing

The main reason for the timing of this trip was to coincide with our good friends Ian and Nicky travelling north from their barge in Auxonne to spend a few days with us. It was so good to spend a few days with them, rather then the usual few hours.

And on top of that, Ian is a time served marine engineer, willing and more than able to help Stewart service the boat engine, advise on other maintenance issues, and problem solve a couple of niggly bits! [Ian has now set up a small business servicing and repairing boat engines in France and England – send me a message if you want his details – he is good!]

We left our winter ‘mooring’ in Gosport with the sun rising golden above Portsmouth. I must explain that our winter ‘mooring’ is tethered to the ground – a house – but at least it looks out over water!

Captain and crew (or Communications Officer as I am apparently to be known) arrived a couple of days ahead – long enough to warm up Calliope, get some provisions aboard, and become reacquainted with this lovely city.

Once Nicky and Ian arrived, with dogs Freddy and Milly, the fun could begin in earnest. Evening one was a short introduction to Kortrijk, it’s local beer (Omer) and our favourite bar by the station – followed by an enormous meal of ribs and frites!

A fair amount of Belgian beer had been sampled before we slightly staggered home.

Next day had to begin with work for the engineers. Luckily Nicky and I don’t fall into that category so we took the dogs for a walk along the river, and then headed into town for a look round – a good mix of history and food.

By late afternoon the mechanical stuff was done – engine oil changed, gear box oil changed, filters replaced, tensions checked, rudder stock greased, engine mountings tightened, and a needy home found for a spare nut found on the floor! At last the marine-engineer-in-chief was free to join in the Kortrijk walk-about.

The delights of Belgium – waffles, chocolate and beer!

We did walk along the river, stare at some of the beautiful old buildings, read some of the history, and listen to the carillon on the Groot Markt. But the weather was miserable, so after some shopping to buy chocolates for the family (funny how much tasting one has to do) we retired to a waffle shop with the unlikely name of Lord Nelson!

As always I went OTT with my waffle, this time covered in really good fresh fruit, with a side of advocaat custard to pour on top – het was lekker! (Ah, my Dutch lessons are paying off at last).

Back to Calliope and the Captain, who had remained on board. It was time for a glass of wine while we waited to eat the massive and delicious lasagne that Nicky had brought with her.

Milly was official observer.

Sunday, another grey day, allowed time for a couple of niggles to be problem solved – a radiator not keen on heating up, and a light that had stopped coming on (no, not needing a new lamp!) Super hero Ian sorted both of these while Nicky and I walked the dogs and bought bread and sausages before a giant English/Belgian fry up brunch. Mmmmm!

More walking was required to make room for the planned evening meal – pizza at our favourite Kortrijk pizzeria. Thanks Nicky for the photo.

Next day our guests were due to leave. But it was Monday, market day, so we walked round all the stalls before they left. I bought new white asparagus for a risotto later, and further chocolate purchases were made too. Then it was time to wave them all good-bye.

The weather had not being very kind over these few days, but soon after Ian and Nicky departed the sun came out and blue skies prevailed. Looking up and down the river Leie form the boat all was calm and beautiful, for a while.

And then hail blasted down, making a right racket on the roof and turning the pontoon slippery with ice. Winter still had a grip on Kortrijk, but all was to carry on warm and welcoming below.

The Bossuit-Kortijk kanaal, where Peter keeps his barge

That afternoon Sally, Martin and Peter, three friends from other barges, came round for a catch-up-chat and cup of tea, which became a glass of wine, and slid imperceptibly into more wine, asparagus and parmesan risotto, and the remains of tiramisu and rijstaart from the days before; more good times with friends.

Stu and I were left with one last day to tidy up and pack up before we were making the return journey to the UK. The servicing of the engine had identified a few things we needed to buy – anti freeze, some spare fuses, filler – so we walked a couple of kilometres to Plan-It, a DIY store. The walk back was less fun. Why didn’t I realise how much a 5L container of anti freeze would weigh?

But it gave us an excuse to stop along the way for lunch in our second favourite fritteur, by the station. And this was the first of four days of fish and chips for me!

Back aboard we settled down to enjoy our last evening and night on Calliope for a few weeks. In the morning we packed the car and by 9.30 we were on the road to Dunkirk and our ferry.

The ferry was a bit late, but once aboard we grabbed our favourite seat in the restaurant and I soon had my second plate of fish and chips before me – actually the best fish and batter off the four days.

Exploring the ship I discovered that one area had recently been refurbished and now housed a pizza and pasta café. Of course it was too late for our meal for this trip, but definitely one to try out in future.

The other discovery was a secret corner to sit in, with big comfy chairs, and a round window through which to view the channel.

So here to finish this min-trip are a series of ‘through the round window’ images.

And now we are back home, waiting and planning for a few weeks before the 2020 voyage towards The Netherlands begins, with a ‘bottom-blacking’ experience booked into a boatyard near Gent beforehand. This will be a whole new country experience for us – new lock and bridge systems, mooring rules, and finding our way around shops, bars and restaurants. Bring it on!

Winding our way to our winter mooring

27 September – 10 October 2019

We were taking the long autumnal way round. We had left Kortrijk in late August and set off on a loop of northern Belgium and France, in order to arrive back where we started and tie up for the winter.

Now we were on the last lap, crossing borders, changing waterways, and soaking up the last of the sun, or getting soaked, depending on the weather.

If you are crossing into France between Veurne and Dunkirk you have to phone 2 days ahead and plan to meet a VNF person at the Ghyvelde bridge where your papers will be checked before the bridge is opened and you are allowed to pass into France. We had all this sorted and set off from our mooring in Veurne in plenty of time – until we wound round the first bend, saw another (low) bridge, and had to phone to ask for this to be lifted !too

waiting in Veurne for the Ieper bridgeto open

Unfortunately there was a problem with another bridge in the vicinity so we had to wait – just half an hour – for the lock-keeper-cum-bridge-lifter to appear. That put a little pressure on our run to the Belgian border, but all was fine.

The bridge, interestingly (to me) was not a lift bridge at all. It was a swing or turntable bridge, swinging round so that it was parallel to the canal, on the right on this photo.

Then we were out onto the Nieuwpoorte to Duinkerke Kanaal, the sun behind us in the East and the flat, almost coastal, farmlands of Belgium stretching out under grey skies on each side.

In some ways it was an unremarkable journey, so I took the opportunity to put my feet up and observe Stu at the helm.

Looking back at Veurne I saw some of the historic towers I had not managed to photograph while we were there (too much rain), and then looking forward to enjoy the final flat farmland as we edged towards France. 

crossing the border

There was no definitive border line on the canal, although the border town of Adinkerke was interesting – packed full of Tabacs, brazenly selling cigarettes at lower prices than neighbouring France! The closest to a border that we saw was a bridge that used both languages to explain its presence.

Before too long we were through the first, and then the second, French lift bridge – or pont levée as I should probably now write.

waiting at Dunkirk

We traveled on to Dunkirk (Duinkerke), arriving at a ‘red-light’ lock as we entered the city. There were not many clues as to whom we should notify of our arrival. I walked up to the lock; no éclusier; no notice with a phone number or VHF channel to use for communication.

The Stu noticed the new sensors just in front of Calliope! Moving forward we triggered the sensors, the doors opened and Calliope sailed in.

We tied up and looked for a way to operate the lock – no poles, levers, remote controls – but a faded sign said to press the black button?????
Stu climbed up the long ladder on the other side found a red and green button, pressed the green, the normal lock-operating colour in Framce, …… nothing.

Then suddenly I saw, on the other side of the lock, in an alcove, something dangling on the end of a chain! We moved Calliope over, grabbed the chain, and hey presto, there was a black button (or white to go to in the opposite direction back to Belgium).

the canal through Dunkirk 1

One press and we were on our way again, Captain Stu steering us through the outskirts of Dunkirk.

the canal through Dunkirk 2

Not far after the lock we took a 90 degree turn to the left onto the Canal de Bergues – an 8 kilometre connection between Dunkirk and the lovely fortified town of Bergues. Do go there if you get a chance! I will tempt you with the following photos!

Bergues has been fortified for centuries, with the famous Vauban applying complex finishing touches – zig zag ramparts, moats and islands. This map gives an idea of it all -red dot marks our mooring.

There was a choice of moorings; our preference was just before the canal turned in front of the old walls of Bergues – a tranquil slightly isolated spot, but within easy reach of the town.  Perfect.

We had two days and three nights here. The weather veered between gale force winds with lashing rain and bright September sunshine; fairly typical of northern Europe in autumn I think.

To encapsulate our time in Bergues, we were entertained by 94 geese …… or as they say in Nottingham – Ey up ducks

We walked the ramparts, in rain and in sun ……..

We walked the streets to better understand the layout ……

We went to the two old towers – one a steeple that used to be a guide to sailors when the coast was much closer to Bergues, and the other part of an old abbey built on a ‘green hill’ that was the founding of the town.

And we enjoyed all of it.  The autumn light and colours created such golden green views in every direction.

The maze of water channels, sluices, locks, water gates and moats could fill a blog of its own.

On  Monday it was time to go. Got up on time for a change and quickly walked into town to see the Monday market (still setting up) and buy some Bergues specialities – saucisse and fromage (very smelly, but thrice dipped in beer), plus other local delicacies from the boucherie/charcuterie I had visited before.

blue/green bridge on Canal de Bergues

We had arranged with Friday’s lock keeper to be at Jeu de Mail, the lock to leave Dunkirk (West) at 1030 and had a pleasant cruise up the Canal de Bergues in the sun. Then just as we reached Dunkirk the phone rang.

I struggled to fully understand what was being said – it seemed that the lock Jeu de Mail was closed for 3 weeks starting that morning; we couldn’t wait for it to reopen as we did not have time.

We were told that we could instead go out into the Post of Dunkirk where all the ferries and cargo ships are, join the Bassin Maritime, a wide channel just in from the coast, then go through the big Mardyck lock into the Mardyck Derivation. That would bring us back to where we wanted to be.

But we could not see how to get into the Port from where we were, so arranged to meet up with the eclusier. With the aid of several maps of Dunkirk port area she showed us the way. Off we went into the Gare d’Eau, a big basin that included a lock through to Darse 1 in the Port.

But the lock had 2 red lights, indicating it was broken. Who to call? The two phone numbers on the notice had no reply, so onto the harbour master VHF and try to explain in my French what was happening. It was no-deal. Bateaux de Plaisance could not go through the commercial Mardyck lock, even if they were 20m long!

Warning – work happening on the canal!

So what to do? We presumed we would have to retrace all our steps (if you can have steps on a boat), return to Veurne, to Nieuwpoort, to Brugges, to Gent, to Deinze and finally to Kortrijk. I was back on the phone to ask for them to open the two pont-levées on the route back to Veurne, leaving messages on two different numbers because no-one answered. All good fun!

Dunkirk

Just as we approached the first, automatic, lock eastwards my mobile rang. I could hardly believe that I was understanding correctly – in exceptional circumstances they were going to stop work at the Jeu de Mail lock, open it just for us, and then start work again! Another explanation might be that this was easier for them than driving all the way back to open the bridges but, hey, we’re in France – that’s how they are and we just love them for it.

And that is what happened. We turned into the Canal de Bourbourg and waited for two work boats to move over and let us through to the lock.

gloomy day in Jeu de Mail lock

We were the last boat to be allowed through the lock for three weeks! And then we were off again, and actually all of that excitement had only held us up for an hour.

Now we were on the big wide part of the Canal de Bourbourg, empty but for us.

After an hour or so we joined the Mardyck line for a couple of kilometres.

Then the canal de Bourbourg peels off and continues to the left, narrow and pretty, past a set of lucky live-aboards.

As we continued towards the town of Bourbourg, our target for the night’s mooring, the canal became a countryside waterway with swans and coots peacefully co-existing.

We came to Bourbourg écluse with the intention of going through and mooring up just off the main canal – but our phone fun continued with no-one answering the supposed correct numbers. I walked down past the two town lift bridges looking for alternative numbers; none to be found.

entrance hall to Bourbourg Mairie

I tried a canal side bar, who sent me to the Mairie, who helpfully gave me a number, that gave me another number, where I made contact with an éclusier who could not come for two days – or maybe tomorrow if I was lucky!  I was lucky, and we settled down for pleasant evening below the lock.

I was fascinated as I walked around Bourbourg to see two vending machines selling local produce, from local people’s gardens and chickens! So fascinated that I went back in the morning before we left and bought some of the eggs and tomatoes you can see here – what a brilliant idea!

We were all ready for the éclusier to arrive before the stipulated 0900. He came at 0845 to get the lock ready – all by hand; a truly manual lock. I helped wind open one of the gates so that Calliope could glide in, and then one of the éclusier’s mates arrived and took over the winding duties.

After the lock there are two pont levées to be opened so we cruised slowly round the town, giving our new friend time to stop traffic and then open, hydraulically, each bridge.

One of the canal side building walls has been transformed into an open air art gallery, with ;paintings of famous Bourbourg people through the centuries. There is a sign there naming them all, but I regret I did not make a note.

Then we were off towards the end of Canal de Bourbourg where a double-doored lock would let us out onto the river Aa. The skies to port were on the heavy side and we hoped we would escape the storm.

By the time we reached the lock things were looking celestially better, or at least the sky was a lighter shade of grey, and the water a brighter shade of lime. I went to help the double winding required for a double door lock! Yes, it was another manual one. Stu meantime could gently spectate.

Then we were out on L’Aa – wide open spaces again! Cruising on L’Aa had been a long term ambition after we had driven over the Aa valley time and again on our trips from the UK to various points in France.

The day became bluer as we traveled South, meeting up twice more with the éclusier who opened two bridges for us at Saint Nicolas and Bistade (Hmm, sky still looks a bit grey in the Saint Nicolas photo!).

Then we were past the turn off for the Canal de Calais, and could see hills in the distance! After so many weeks in the joyous flat lands of Belgium and North France hills were quite a novelty!

Before long Calliope reached Watten and the Y-junction with Canal de la Haute Colme – part of the wide water highway linking the coast with Lille. The history of the rivers and canals in this region is complex, especially as all the Google searches I am doing come up in French – but it is interesting so worth looking up again when I am in the UK.

Suffice it to say that without turning to left or right you could find yourself on the Canal de la Haute Colme, L’Aa, Canal de Neufossé, or, further down, Canal d’Aire! They are all linked up to create a Grand Gabarit, or ‘big size’ canal, for the giant commercial barges.

Within another 3 kms we were looking out for the entrance to La Houlle – a short river that ends at Houlle itself, and a place to moor for the night away from the barge superhighway.

The next few kilometres were fascinating. After passing under the bridge onto the Houlle we went through a large basin, and then into a narrow winding river lined by highly individual cottages – those on the left linked to the road on the right by flat bottomed chain ferries – one per dwelling!

We arrived at the Houlle pontoon without any trouble, disturbing the resident ducks as we threw our ropes around the cleats. What a peaceful undisturbed place we had found! One lonely fisherman appeared for a while, and someone walked a dog past – otherwise we saw no-one.

We took a walk round the village – no photos of note, but there is a very old church and a good gin distillery, plus a bar and a restaurant. With rain very much in the air we cut our walk short, missing the chance to walk from Houlle to Moulle, where (as the Captain says) they probably play boulles!

Before long the rain was upon us, accompanied by this beautiful rainbow. That led into a perfect evening on the River Houlle. It is an interesting river, not just because of its short length, about 4km, but because of its origin in a series of artesian wells that also provide millions of gallons of water to the people of Dunkirk.

In the morning the weather was perfect. Stu took the barge another 100 yards upstream to a widening where all 65 foot of Calliope could turn with ease.

Then back down the Houlle in the October sunshine (yes, it is the 2nd of October already), passing by the interesting houses, the many fishing platforms, and the many many little channels going off at each side. It would be great to have a canoe here and go exploring!

After 40 glorious minutes we were back at the bridge out onto the Grand Gabarit and its attendant giant barges. At this stage the canal was once more named L’Aa, to my delight; out on the L’Aa again.

Saint Momelin

We had a 25 kms southbound journey to accomplish before our planned exit form the superhighway and onto the River Lys, including two locks. The canal seemed deserted as we passed Saint Momelin village and skirtede Saint-Omer. We had high hopes of going through the locks alone rather than with a big commercial barge.

Then, just as we approached the first lock, Flandres, I looked through the rear window (stern window?) and saw Dakota bearing down on us. She overtook us with ease, and just as well because we would much prefer her in the lock first; we followed her in.

It was not a particularly easy lock. It was almost a 4m rise – not too much – but without a series of bollards up the wall to secure to. There was one for each of us at deck level, and then as we rose it was necessary to climb on the roof and try to lassoo the bollard sitting back on the quay. I missed twice, but luckily was third time lucky, just in time. The Captain was expert with his first throw.

Then just 2 kilometres further was a mightier challenge – the 13m lock Les Fontinettes. After the earlier experience I radioed ahead and asked if they had ‘bollards flottant’ – and phew, they did, even if they were spaced rather a long way apart. This lock has a striking art deco bridge over it, but I was requested not to take photos in the lock, so I only have one of us leaving.

There were still 13 kms to go to reach La Lys; that is about an hour and a half in cruising language. We took it in turns to helm and to eat lunch. Knowing there is a lock at the start of La Lys I phoned ahead (no VHF channel for this one) and asked if we could go through Fort Gassion écluse.

Oh dear – we are such beginners in the art of autumnal cruising in northern France! There was no chance of gong through the lock today, but maybe tomorrow …. so we settled our minds on an evening in the little basin outside the lock, but at least off the superhighway.

We still had one more encounter with an industrial size barge however. As our turning came into view and the Captain prepared to turn across the other side of the canal a big fully laden gas tanker appeared steaming towards us! We slowed down and waited; nothing else for it apart from getting run down! And then turned into our haven for the night.

We were moored just across the big canal from Aire-sur-Lys (the river Lys straddles the big canal) and we could see one or two towers of the city in the distance.

We also needed milk and set off for a walk to the city for a look round and quick shop. The city is another of those full of little waterways. Apparently it was a centre for moving goods from water to land in days gone by. This led to some magnificent buildings, all symbols of power!

Back to Calliope and what looked a nice peaceful mooring for the evening.

Don’t be fooled! At the end of the channel behind Calliope is the big big canal Neufossé. When commercials go past a wash is sent up the channel – usually producing gentle waves. BUT when a big barge went past fast we could almost surf on the first surge that arrived, throwing our boat in the air, then hitting the lock gates in front of us, sending up spray, before bouncing back at us while at the same time further waves were still coming in! All chucked us about a bit!

The sky was reflected, gilt edged, in the water so wonderfully that I went for a walk downstream to get another view.

In the morning as we were entering the lock, another big barge went past the end of the river entrance, throwing the slow moving Calliope forward towards the far lock gates, then throwing us backwards again as the surge rebounded!
Very exciting, and safely managed by Captain Stu!

That lock behind us we travelled onwards along the Lys, through the countryside of Pas de Calais. It was an other of those bright sun days and we were steering directly into it, with dew glistening across the cabin roof.

Our journey, with our friendly female éclusier, took us thorough a pont levée and another lock.

The lock was in the middle of nowhere – such a peaceful place. It must have been wonderful; to live there when there was a lock keepers house to occupy.

I also noted some nice rusty old ironwork, linked to part of the water management system. I love this stuff!

By midday we had arrived at Saint-Venant, a place we have been to, and enjoyed, earlier this year. The mooring was empty, although the marina across the river seemed full of boats packed up ready for winter.

We had a plan for the evening – to visit again the Restaurant by the marina. So we had an old fogies date night, got dressed up a bit smarter than usual boating attire, and walked over. The food is good, casual, substantial and very tasty!

My carbonnades flamandes and Stu’s braised jambon were SO good, and then I really pushed the boat out (ha ha) with a slice of french fried chocolate brioche topped with caramel sauce and cream! I could not resist licking every sugary drop from the plate!

looking for Lorenzo

We had been warned that Hurricane Lorenzo would be with us next day from mid morning, so we deployed our thick ropes, battened down everything on deck and planned a cosy day on board. But the day began azure skied!

There was still time for a walk first, over the river and along to the next village, Haverkerke, over a passerelle, and back along our bank.

In fact we discovered that we were moored by chance in a sheltered spot and despite seeing flags blowing horizontally across at the marina we remained fairly calm through the storm.

Then it was time to leave Saint-Venant and complete our voyage back to Kortrijk and the winter mooring. This meant being back onto same waterway as we enjoyed in August – the river Lys (France) / Leie (Belgium) so I will restrict myself to just a few words on the journey.

We went through the locks , at Saint-Venant, Merville and Bac Saint Maur amongst the start of the autumn colours.

We stopped for one night at Armentieres – an enjoyable mooring once again, this time with an October feel to the air.

Then on to where the Lys joins the Canal de Deule and becomes a monster canal once again. At the junction two spots of colour on a grey day – the bale packaging of a colourful farmer, and the giant ‘scooper’ used to move dredged up sludge from one barge to another – but not on a Sunday!

I nipped up to the office at écluse Comines in order to show our ship’s papers and get permission to enter Belgium once more. At the next lock, on the next day, we would move from Wallonia to Flandres and need to pay for our license to be on their waterways for the next 6 months.

Then a slow cruise into the Comines mooring just half a kilometre after the lock. It was still grey, but after lunch we went for a walk, arriving back before the heavens opened for the rest of the day – pouring rain, hail, thunder and lightning and a strong wind were our accompaniment for the last night out on our 2019 cruise!

But a rainbow cheered us up, plus a game of Scrabble that cheered up the Captain – he won! – Don’t start ……

And so finally we came back to Kortrijk. There were no dramas on the last day. We fitted snugly under the bridge into the port, and the entire pontoon was empty, waiting for us to choose our berth.

It was nice to tie up firmly on familiar territory, all prepared for the winter months ahead. In the few days before we left Calliope alone and drove back to the UK we fitted in a day trip to France to buy a new bottle of Butane (our gas connector is a standard French one).

On the same trip we visited the magnificent Villa Cavrois, near Lille. It is an Art Deco palace, built for a family at the start of the 1930s, with the architect given free rein to design house, garden, furniture, decor – the whole lot. And despite a chequered history, especially during WW2, it was able to be restored to its amazing former look.

one of the Broel towers, visible from the mooring

That’s it for 2019. A final evening walk around Kortrijk to admire the buildings, bridges, river, squares and people before on Thursday October 10th we set off for our land based home in the UK. See you in the spring …..

Moving on from Ypres to Veurne

23rd to 26th September 2019

This was the last few days in Belgium before we slipped out into France for a week – then to return to Belgium for the winter. But more of that later.

Calliope in Ypres port

Two days was not really long enough to do Ypres justice, but we had our winter mooring to get to. So we found ourselves leaving on a sunny Sunday morning – that was not to last!

Up the Ypres Ijzer canal we cruised, and through the first lock. The surface of the water was as iridescent green as before.

Just before the second lock we knew there was a pontoon; we stopped and moored up – our rural retreat for a night, totally quiet once the last of the few boats went through the lock.

We were lucky with this mooring. So many of the pontoons next to locks are for one hour waiting only, This one, and the one not far upstream, are 72 hour pontoons!

With the surface of the canal still so green I determined to find out what it was; it is known in Belgium as eendekroos, and in English it is simple duckweed. I was intrigued to know how it grew, seemingly without roots in the mud somewhere, so picked some out.

The internet tells me that duckweed is one of the smallest flowering plants in the world. The tiny plants consist of one to three leaves, with a single root-hair protruding from each frond. This hangs below the surface to obtain nutrients from the water rather than from soil. They multiply by flowering. Don’t let them take over your garden pond!

As the afternoon drew on the wind began to strengthen, blowing masses of autumnal leaves from the canal side trees – all of which floated above the duckweed, like leaves landing on a lawn.

An autumn carpet.

Before the evening was out a big rain storm hit us, lashing down on Calliope with us feeling snug and dry within. Next morning the boat was covered in leaves, twigs, water and dirt – a cleaning job for me!

On Monday morning we were up and away through the lock, then to the top of the canal where it joins the Ijzer river.

This time we turned left towards Fintele, finding another famous old Piper boat Para Handy right round the corner coming towards us.

Not much time for a chat beyond ‘Ahoy there Para Handy’ as they headed East for Diksmuide and Nieuwpoort and we headed West towards Fintele and Veurne.

It was not long before we reached Fintele.We had been told how nice it was, but were not prepared for such a lovely mooring, out amongst the polders.

This was another learning for us – ‘polders’. Wikipedia describes them as follows. ‘A polder is a low-lying tract of land that forms an artificial hydrological entity, enclosed by dikes or ditches’ – well and truly in the lowlands low, where the wind most certainly does blow blow blow!

Our first walk around the area uncovered a tiny village, more a hamlet, or a few houses, a bar and two restaurants. One of the restaurants is famous for eels and I was keen to try, but luckily for Stewart they were closed for their annual holiday! Shame…..

There used two be a temporary bridge across the Ijzer here, built each spring and dismantled each autumn, to get the cattle across onto the polders once they had drained of their winter floods. There is still a ‘mock-up’ to be seen, and plenty of bridges crossing the many ditches as well as the river.

That evening the combination of setting sun, storm clouds, and flat lands produced some amazing light across the polders – and then as the skies cleared there were new delights fore and aft, west and east.

One of the walks discovered a new donkey friend, although I suspect he was keener to make friends with the carrots that I didn’t have in my pocket! Doesn’t matter – I just want any donkey that I can have – which is zero at the moment.

Probably the jolliest and most unusual sight around Fintele is the knitted covers for anything that stands still long enough, including bicycle racks and wooden posts! Very alternative.

Calliope was joined by two other boats on the second night, one of which was to travel with us up through the lock and the bridges to Veurne. It was a wet windy day for travelling, so I put on my wet and windy travel clothes.

It is an unusual lock at Fintele – wide, with sloping sides and a pontoon to moor to on one side. As we shared with a Le (hire) Boat the lock keeper suggested that they enter the lock first and go to one side; we then enter and moor to the pontoon and they raft up to us – for the mighty journey of 60cm into the Lovaart.

The Lovaart is a small, narrow, peaceful canal named after the village of Lo through which it passes. It runs from Fintele to Veurne and is only 14kms long. Through most of its length to is pleasantly overgrown and I am sure that on a sunny day is is beautiful.

It manages to have 10 bridges along its short length, half of which require opening to allow boats through. The bridge at Kellensaarbrug is broken, and propped (safely) open. Of course we were following Le Boat, so the lock-keepers-cum-bridge-openers were keen for us to pass through together – and the heavier Calliope travels at a slower speed than the plastic Le Boat to avoid destroying the canal banks – but we all got there eventually.

The arrival in Veurne is interesting, requiring a 180 degree turn into the ‘non-lock’, once it is opened, in order to get to the port. But then we were there, nicely moored under the trees on a quiet bend. Our home for two days!

We went and looked at the basin part of the port as well. Ben, the harbourmaster who also looks after Nieuwpoort, had asked us to moor on the pontoon and we could see why – the basin was filling up with boats that were wintering there for the next few months. Autumn is drawing in! (and only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the autumn gales)

The weather continued to be grey and wet. Nonetheless we had a bit of a walk round the town during and inbetween the showers. Veurne is an interesting town with plenty of intriguing buildings, but due to the rain I failed to get any photos apart from one of the station – such a huge edifice for a small town that I just had to!

So that was our last two full days in Belgium for a week or so. We were to leave Veurne heading for the French border on Friday. Typically the day was bright and blue – at first!

Luckily we had learned that in order to pass into France on the Nieuwpoort – Diunkerken Kanaal we had to phone or radio ahead a day or two in advance. This had been done on Wednesday, with a little difficulty! (Two phone numbers didn’t work and the one provided by Dunkirk port had an answering machine waiting for my halting French – but it worked!).

We wanted to get away on time to meet our VNF friend at the French border at 11am. However the first hurdle in Veurne is a lift bridge 200 yards form our mooring, and on phoning to request an opening we discovered that we would have to wait half an hour on a nice waiting pontoon while another bridge was repaired!

Eventually we got away and I grabbed a long distance photo of some of the towers and steeples of Veurne that I had missed during our visit.

Already the weather was turning grey as we steamed westwards away from the still rising sun and through the polders and farmlands of northern Belgium.

After about 8 kilometres we came to a footbridge that more or less marks the border, and slipped into France with just enough time to reach our VNF rendezvous. The story continues …. A bientot…..(with a French hat on the ‘o’)

Bringing the good news from Kortrijk to Gent and Brugges

Kortrijk is a good place to take on new crew and entertain them.

We had son and grandson with us for a few days and managed to fit in swimming, paddle boarding, a summer night market, the Trench of Death and a football match at Lille!

And although Calliope never left the pontoon we did get the youngest one involved as a galley slave and doing bits around the boat like filling the water tank.

But then family time was over and we were ready to set off for the final journey of the summer, starting off downstream on the Leie towards Gent.

We – or should I say Captain Stu – reversed out of the port again, and into the main river between the ‘trainer’ graffiti bridge supports and the Beach Bar, closed at 9 on a Sunday morning.

Downstream we went towards the first lock, hailing them by phone as we approached. We were told we could use the lock with a commercial barge that was ready to go, and we soon saw her on the left bank above the lock. We moored up opposite waiting, and waiting and waiting, for her to enter the lock.

After a while it became apparent that she was not ready – she still had to load her car onto the back deck, fuss with various boxes and ropes, etc. So we enjoyed a pleasant half hour relaxation.

By the time we reached the second and last lock of the day the blue skies were disappearing and it was starting to rain.

The lock was rather impressive in its construction, especially as it was only a 2.6m drop!

We continued past the entrance to the canal up to Roeslare – not our direction this trip.

Then came to the right hand bend in the river that separated us from the canal for the commercials that continued on in a straight line.

There was a bird surprise for us as we turned the bend – a field mainly of geese but with a few storks as well.

We came up to Deinze lift bridge, calling ahead to ask for it to be opened for our tall craft. The skies were still grey, but clearing, as we squeezed through and towards a nice long pontoon with plenty of space.

We moored up towards the far end form the bridge – a lovely mooring. The skies continued to clear and before long we were in full warm sun.

After a bit of a rest we were off for a walk, first up the main street our side of the river, and then into a big park, De Brielmeersen. It has gardens, lakes, playgrounds, animal enclosures and more, and was suitably busy on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

We came back to Calliope as the sun began to descend, leaving us with a gentle evening aboard after the walk.

Next morning, Monday, seemed to be ‘back-to-school’ day and we found that we were moored across the road from a school. Youngsters arrived early in the sunshine to meet up and chat with friends they maybe hadn’t seen for a few weeks. The whole place was alive with happy chatter. And then, at lunchtime, many re-emerged to sit on the sunny pontoon and eat their lunch; a lovely sight.

The brightness of the day meant that we got better views of Deinze bridge and church – both within a couple of hundred yards, and in view of our mooring.

A day without cruising meant plenty of time for another walk, initially across the bridge and into the main part of town, and a second outing to the park once more. Then on Tuesday morning we were off downstream towards Gent, past Deinze mill and its various architectural styles.

After just 3 kilometres Calliope reached Astene old (unused) lock and lift bridge. We radioed ahead for a lift!

There were a number of interesting things we were to see along the Leie that day, starting at Astene watching the ‘bridge-keeper’ manually lower the barriers and raise the bridge, the old tug boat moored up the other side, and an old gold American sedan on the towpath.

The Leie is amazingly bendy along the grey stretch to Gent! The map does not bear full testament to some of the hairpin bends that the Captain had to manoeuvre round – quite a lot of ‘astern’, but no bow thrusters! Sorry the photos are so dark; it was a gloomy day.

It is also a stretch with plenty of monied properties – maybe the homes of the richer Ghent people? (Ghent ghentry?) There were wonderful old houses and thoroughly modern residences, side by side, many with robot lawn mowers humming up and down the acres of grass.

Eventually we made it to the crossing with the Ring Vaart (a wide commercial canal around Gent) and crossed it without seeing another ship. As we went back into the Leie we were into a boat haven with lots of boats of all types moored up, including a new Piper! Sadly, no-one aboard to say ‘ahoy’ to.

And then we were into Gent (local spelling of Ghent) proper and finding our mooring. We had booked ahead and been told we would be in Ketelvest, so preparing to turn to starboard off the Leie and under the bridge.

you can just see us in the distance!

But instead we saw Heinrich, the Capitaine, waving to us from the long long Lindenlei pontoon to come in there. He placed us at the very far end, 200 meteres plus from the road entrance to the port, and therefore conveniently quiet in terms of other boaters walking by.

Naturally we went for a stroll round Gent. Here are a few of the photos of the city.

There are so many many wonderful buildings in Gent, many with fabulous roof lines. If you have been there you will consider my photos rather paltry in terms of conveying this amazing place.

Maybe these are better.

We also walked up to the parks on the other side of the river – and yes, I do mean ‘up’ – we found a hill in Gent! We found lakes, band stands, frogs (can you spot the red frog?) and more.

The second day was design and modern art day. In the morning we spent quite some time in the lovely old house that holds the Design Museum – an eclectic mix of designer objects and special exhibitions.

Then in the afternoon we found the Scandinavian design shop Bolia. It is in an old church and has been fitted out in an indescribably simple, effective, atmospheric way. You must see for yourself if you like highly functional, minimal, beautiful residential interiors. This is just a screenshot of someone’s photo showing how the display dividers are suspended from the high beamed ceiling.

Stewart continued with the culture, walking up to the Modern Art gallery. He enjoyed the time there, although not hugely impressed – and did not take photos. I, meantime, looked up the best waffles in Gent on Google and within 10 minutes I was seated and waiting for my ‘Bridge Waffle’, the best on the menu. It was delicious, incorporating cream, banana, ice cream, chocolate and advocaat custard! Yum yum yum. When in Belgium …… forget the diet ……

Even our mooring provided interest. On our first evening a crazy bunch of paddle boarders meandered noisily along the river, including one board with a dog aboard

.

It has to be said that a fair amount of time was spent in the water as well as on it!

We were then pleasantly invaded by 5 of the Dunkirk small ships for 2 nights. These are some of the actual boats that rescued thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in WW2. They still attend rallies and celebrations – this time guests of the Belgian authorities as part of the 80th anniversary of the end of the war.

Then we had the divers who never reached the water, one on a rooftop and one on a balcony.

And beautiful light in the mornings.

One silly thing, but amused my simple mind. On our last evening we went out with new friends Jim and Michael from the boat Burra Billa for a drink at a canal side bar – very pleasant if a little chilly. In amongst the pretzels placed on our table was this little biscuit with a cheerful Belgian face.

On the third morning we decided it was time to take Calliope on towards Brugges. The voyage began with a spin round to retrace our steps – or retrace our wake maybe. Captain Stu executed one of his great 11 point turns and we were away.

Before long we were back to the Ring Vaart – this time to join it heading north. We were lucky again, with no cross traffic, so turned starboard onto the big wide motorway of a canal and headed for Kanaal Gent-Oostende.

This Kanaal was a little plain to be honest – partly because it runs through a deep cut in the landscape, so mostly all you can see is the sloping sides, although occasional cows, goats and sheep grazed the slopes and gazed blank eyed at us as we passed.

Kanaal Gent to Oostende

Thus it was quite exciting when we had a bridge, a passing boat, and a house all in view at the same time!

Similarly a flock of geese almost blocking our passage was worth photographing, and a barge being filled, or emptied, of grain. (Emptied, the Captain says)

Keer Sluis (Guard lock) Beernem

We had thought to stay at the marina at Beernem until discovering it would be €30 for one night. So our next choice was above the guillotine shaped guard lock a few kilometres further on. We knew that people did moor up to the 3 huge old commercial barges that filled the 250m quay there, but on inspecting it we were not keen and continued on to Brugges.

Here at Brugges our customary luck returned and the free mooring at St-Katelijnepoorte was free. We tied up near the big swing bridge in a bit of a gale, but luckily before the rain that came down a couple of hours later.

Although a bit tired from our enforced longer than planned cruise, we thought we had better prove we had been in Brugges by taking a walk round town and a few photos. It was unsurprisingly full of tourists doing the same thing. We have been here before, so after an hour we headed home to cook up some cold weather comfort food – egg, chips and beans. Yum yum.

morning view from the barge

The morning was a lot lot lot brighter!

Almost as I awoke the swing bridge (turntable bridge in my book) swung, or turned, open for three leisure craft – 2 up and 1 down. It was an opportunity to take photos of the bridge in the sun so I jumped out of bed and got a couple for the blog.

The mooring also looked somewhat more pleasant in the sun, and in this ‘pleasant’ frame of mind I noticed the sign by the pontoon informing me that pleasure craft can wait here for just 24 hours. So we planned our get away to the other end of town – just 4 kilometres so less than an hour, we thought.

The Flemish for Bridge is Brug; it was a clue ……

Gent Poort bridge

From our mooring at St-Kattelijnpoort to Scheepdalebrug there are 4 windmills, an odd shaped lock, and 8 bridges – all of which were lift or swing. We were ready to go at 9.30, but when we asked for the bridge to be opened we were told to wait half an hour and follow a commercial barge through. No problem says we…..

Coupure Harbour

…..except it was such a slow journey, waiting behind Ave Maria at each bridge for traffic to be stopped and the bridge to be raised or turned, depending on its mechanism. We gently passed the entrance to Coupure port, a favourite with many boaters.

Actually it was all very interesting and the slow pace meant that photos were easier to take.

We went through a double bridge at Kruis Poort, separated by a hundred yards and lifting on different sides of the canal.

And then past the four historic windmills, all placed alongside the canal.

The lock was interesting too.

We squeezed through the entrance after the commercial barge which took all of the port side of the lock, leaving us the semicircular right hand side – no problem for those time served on the Canal du Midi.

The lock went down very gently, Ave Maria went out, and Stewart was then able to manoeuvre Calliope into a position where she could exit the lock. I have to say that it took a lot more bow thruster than our normal navigation!

Ave Maria enters the lock for the commercial port

Soon after that Ave Maria turned off to go into the port, and we continued to the fascinating canti-lever modern bridge at Scheepdalbrug.

Eventually that opened for us and we drew in to the pontoon that was waiting for us, three and a half hours after casting off for our one hour journey!

So the lesson is, make sure you allow lots of time to go round Brugge in your boat. It is an interesting journey with plenty to see, but can take a while!

Having moored up, lunched and rested a bit we entered the city from the opposite direction and enjoyed more of the old Flemish architecture, but it was once more very busy with tourists (who can blame them for coming?) so retraced our steps, stopping at a Carrefour to replenish vittles and enjoyed another evening on our very own bit of canal on Calliope.

The weather moved between black clouds and pure sunlight, sometimes allowing a mix of the two.

And we sat cosily in the wheelhouse, watching the rain move in and move away, before an early night. Bye bye Brugges – we are off tomorrow.

A river and three canals in a week!

Well not exactly complete rivers or canals, but we did steam along 53 kms of the Base Sambre river, 20kms of the Canal Charleroi à Brussels, and 24 kms of the Canal de Centre and 40kms of the Canal Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes

And that included an unplanned en panne two night stop, but more of that later.


This was the week that we left Namur on July 3rd, and on July 10th turned onto the Haut Escuaut river. It seems like a rush but there was still plenty to enjoy, including giving Calliope a bit of a scrub down as went along.

We quickly discovered that we were into a new kind of canal, far more industrial than we had been used to on the Meuse.

We were mostly sharing locks with huge 80m+ barges, and the locks themselves were larger, with massive doors, sometimes running sideways on gantries. We often felt very small!

The frequent juxtaposition of ancient, in this case an abbey, and modern waterways transport kept me on my camera toes.

Our first night out of Namur found us at Auvelais – a little town with enough of an edge to make it interesting. Of course Stu and I went for a walk round, and it was quickly apparent that a festival of some kind, including live music, would be taking place that weekend.

There was a second, road, bridge into the village that made it clear that quite rightly the UK was still a welcome part off the EU.

We also saw a somewhat strange statue; we had seen a similar one in Namur, including two large snails as well as the little man. I have Googled this and have not come up with much.

It’s labelled Jean le Porion.

Our actual mooring was in a short indent in the canalised – just big enough for us, another, old, beautiful barge and two cruisers; all friendly, but no time to make real friends.It was a mooring of two halves – the water was mostly peaceful and quiet; the trains running over the adjacent metal railway bridge were clattering and noisy.

Next morning we were the first ones away, with a lock waiting for us just round the corner and wanting to avoid joining a queue to get through. It was our anniversary that day, so we look forward to finding a nice peaceful mooring to gently celebrate.

The journey was along the Sambre until we reached Charleroi where we turned à droite to join the Charleroi-Brussels canal. Moving through Charleroi was a sad shock to the system. It has had a huge steelworks history, pretty much now all gone. It has been replaced by a scrap metal industry with barges moving different size pieces off metal up and down the river, gradually diminishing in size from whole cars to glittering fragments.

That evening turned out to be above Viesville lock, initially very peaceful, but later with giant barges gradually piling in around us. We raised our glasses to 32 years together, watching the boats, full of scrap metal, float by.

As we went to bed a HUGE barge came in to almost touch our bow; ten minutes later another came in at our stern, in a space that should not have been big enough, but, phew, it was!

Friday was to be and exciting day, our first ever in a boat lift, and this one is the second highest on the world! We cruised towards the boat lift on a perfect day – perfect for holidaying youngsters to be to learning to sail, canoe and wind surf.

As we approached they were gathered to one side of the canal by clucking smiley ‘mother hen’ tutors, and in some cases we seemed to leave young wind surfers scattered in our wake.

Just after this we turned onto canal 2 – the Canal de Centre. The waterway opened out wide and clear as we joined the new part of this canal, towards the boat lift. The old historic, narrower, branch of the canal is still open, where the descent of 240ft is actioned by 4 separate beautiful old boat lifts.

The original canal dates back to 1879; its locks and lifts were able to accommodate vessels of up to 300 tonnes. By the 1960s the European standard for barge traffic was 1350 tonnes, so a replacement was needed.

The new gate, or ‘porte’ leading to the boat lift

Not only was the new boat lift required, but also the width and the depth of the canal leading to it had to be increased plus a huge ‘gate’ to close of the water in case of damage to the boat lift structures. It has all worked, with river traffic going up from 256 kT in 2001 to 2,295 kT by 2006!

The 4 older lifts on the original canal became bypassed by the new canal and are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list, because of their architectural and historical value. They are well worth seeing and next time we will travel via the ‘historic canal’.

This is a not-very-good photo of the most downstream of the 4 old lifts, still in use.

As we excitedly approached the boat lift it became apparent that it was not working, with red lights everywhere. There were 2 commercial barges waiting and a small German yacht, so we moored up behind them and had lunch.

arriving at the top of Strepy-Thieu boat lift

Then we suddenly realised that only one side of the pair of lifts was out of operation. The lift on the side where we were waiting had been descending and coming back up while we ate lunch, and was now here to collect the first of two waiting commercial barges. I made a quick radio call to the lift operators and discovered there was room for us and the yacht to fit in as well.

Down we went – what an expereience, what engineering! Look it up – the L’Ascenseur Funiculaire de Strepy-Thieu.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usUwiL2NJiQ

leaving the boat lift

It was less of a good experience when we came out of the lift at the bottom. The Morse control (throttle and direction) became stuck in forward; the German yacht was dithering in front of us, and all Captain Stu could do was switch the engine off completely and glide, with no propulsion or steering, into the quay between the two lifts.

With a bit of adept rope throwing we managed to moor up. And there we were, stranded, broken down. A boat lift operator came to find out why we had moored in this inconvenient place, and on understanding the problem he became very helpful.

We were advised to raise a red distress flag – not the sort of thing we have on board, but a folded round red ensign worked on the mast, and my red dressing gown was ok at the stern!

After Stewart had done several checks, and I had made a few phone calls and requests to other Piper owners for advice, we realised that it was most likely the gear cable that had snapped of jammed. Of course it was a Friday afternoon. If anything goes wrong for us it is always a Friday afternoon, and you cannot get help until Monday.

Never mind; we reached a fabulous lady boat yard owner who said the would come on Monday with her mechanic and the correct Vetus cable; all would be well. In the meantime we could enjoy a weekend beneath the boas lift, once we had discovered how we could get out to buy food, and more importantly get back in. (We had moored within the fenced and locked compound of the boat lift where only those authorised could get in).

We got that sorted and my first walk discovered a friendly little supermarket in Thieu on one side of the canal.

The next day, Saturday, we walked to Strépy on the other side of the canal – and discovered that it was the weekend of the local fête, all along the side of the historic canal.  You want waffles?  You want frites? You want good Belgian beer, or kebabs, or dried sausages, or pastries?  It was all here, plus music, entertainment, and jolly people

That day we simply looked all round, bought lunch to much along the canal, and walked back to our stranded barge.

Next day we had a plan, starting with a visit to the Ascenseur visitor centre, which was just as interesting as you can imagine. Well worth the time and money, unless you don’t have a head for heights – the visitor centre is a long way up!

One of the boat lift machine rooms, seen from visitor centre

Then a walk back into Strèpy for the continuation of the fun.

It was even busier than the day before and after a good look round we found a quietest place with a seat, by a music stage and bought beer.

I was on a mission to try all the cherry flavoured Belgian beers I could find – not in one day!

We came happily back to Calliope, past one of the old lock houses on the historic canal.

Its a lovely walk, whether along the canal or though the outskirts of the village.

It was easy to find or way back – the boat lift towers over everything in there area. We snuck into the compound by moving Heras fencing, as instructed by the helpful boat lift operator. Without her help we would have had to be back by 1730 when they all go home on a Sunday.

And then it was Monday – boat repair day! We were so pleased to see Majorie and Julian, and even more pleased when it was evident that we had a snapped cable and that Julian could fix it for us. In no time at all, what we had waited for for two and half days was done, and we were able to sail away once more.

More work with scrap metal

Our last section of the Canal de Centre was industrial again. Two green grabbers having fun picking up and throwing graspfuls of old cars, bikes, and unrecognisable metallic mess – it looked like someone’s birthday Red Letter Day experience!

We discovered yet another way to open and close huge lock doors – this time by having them disappear underwater, only to reappear once the boats are in the lock. The photo doesn’t capture the majesty of the movement! (though it does show where a boat had tried to leave before he got the green light indicating the door was fully down and took out a section of the top railing; oops)

Then on to the end of the canal at Mons, where a huge basin includes a yacht club where we moored. There was a very strong wind blowing, luckily onto the low quay where we tied up. It was a pleasant place to stay the night, listening to waved slapping onto the side of the boat, reminiscent of our winter in Portsmouth Harbour.

We did do a bit of a walk in towards Mons town centre, mainly looking for a supermarket, but regret we did not get to the interesting parts – leave that for another day.

Mons is the point where Canal de Centre ends and Canal Nimy-Blatant-Peronnes begins, therefore on the Tuesday morning we were on the last of the 4 waterways in this chapter.

It was a day of bridges against the sky – one delightful outline after another. Here are a few to sample.

The cruising plan was to get most of the way along our 40kms of this canal, and finish it next day – and that is sort of what we did. We reached our plotted mooring at Weirs at about lunch time and, leaving the Captain to sort out our ropes (see above!) and in quite hot sun I marched the kilometre or two towards the village. I luckily found a Spar with ready made sandwiches after 20 minutes. That was lunch sorted!

Later that afternoon I took a walk over the bridge to a distillery marked on the map. It was a small family run business making liqueurs from fruit and spirits, including an excellent pear brandy! The entrance to the ‘maison’ was through a gate on wheels that must have stood there since the start of the company.

So there we were, heading towards evening, a dot below the bridge, and talking to our Swedish yachting neighbours. They had heard that there was a 6 hour queue to go down the next lock, and this was corroborated by friends who went by and sent back a message.

After 7pm, when the locks closed, the Swede decided to get down to the lock ready for the morning to be, he hoped, first in queue. Soon after one then another huge commercial barge went by, then another.

By 9pm my Captain had decided that we too should get down there too and be near the front of the next day’s queue, so, with dusk closing in around us, and with or navigation lights aglow, we steamed the 4kms to Pommereuil lock.

Would we find anywhere too moor or not – that was one questions, closely followed by what wold we do if there was no space? As we approached through the gloom it looked as if we had finally lucked out. We could see through our binoculars about 6 large 80m barges – three old them rafters up against each other due to lack of mooring space.

We knew there was also a small quay for leisure boats and hopes we could fit next to the Swedish yacht, but there was a second boat there. Then, as we closed in on the lock, a space opened up between barges 4 and 5! In almost darkness we tied up to a strange high quay, moving fenders into unusual places to protect us overnight. And so to bed, expecting a lie in and a long wait to lock down next day.

between the two Péronne locks

But the next day began somewhat differently. The skipper got up at 5.45 to monitor progress. Two more 80m commercials had arrived and were floating about midstream as the first in the queue opposite us had fired up his engines, slipped his ropes and started edging towards the gate. Interestingly though, there was also movement on the two smaller boats and when Stewart radioed the lock to tentatively ask if there might be room for the third little boat he was told ‘Ouis si vous est rapide!’

Well rapide we were, and being woken by our engines starting and a loud ‘Ey up we’re off’ I threw some clothes on and climbed up the the wheelhouse to find the skipper in his slippers squeezing us into the tightest of spaces beside the stern of the giant peniche.

leaving Péronne 1 at 6.13am

We came out of Péronnes lock 1 (12.5m) and across the pond towards Péronnes 2 (5.6m) as dawn began to clear the sky.

Not many up apart from the birds! This meeting between a heron and a cormorant looked conversational.

turning into the Haute Escaut river

And once through them both it was hard a’starboard onto the Haute Escaute river where a new adventure begins, and all still before 7am!

The river Meuse – La France a Belgique

Initially it didn’t seem so different, the change from the Canal de La Meuse to the actual river, probably because a lot of the canal section is actually on the river itself.

However as we progressed the geography changed hugely and spectacularly, as you will see.

We left Stenay after my early morning mammoth cycle ride up hill (again) to an Intermarché for a few essential supplies, including batteries for the bathroom scales s that I could find out of my diet and exercise efforts were making any difference at all. It was so nice to cycle before the heat rose – we were still in the middle of a major heatwave.

As we passed down the river we saw plenty of cows (and bulls) taking the sen foible choice, keeping cool in the river.

The day’s trip wound smoothly through meadows, past distant hills, and punctuated by stops at the locks. The high temperatures (34-36C) led to more than just cattle cooling off on the water!

By the time we reached our semi-wild mooring at Pont Maugis I too was ready for a dip. But first we moored up to two far apart bollards, half hidden in the grass and put up the parasol.

I left Captain Stu to have his siesta while I wandered off to have a swim. Should be easy enough when you are travelling on a river! But in fact I struggled to find a place where I could enter, and more importantly exit, the water. Eventually I found nice smooth stones down to the water’s edge next to the overflow from above the lock – mmmmm – cold clear bubbling water.

Later, after supper, I was off for a camera walk to see what I could make of the reflections and the sunset. The light was amazing, and everything so still.

In the morning we were off to Lumes. We had hoped for an early starter at least a 9am get away when the lock opened. But we were faced with a red light and had to wait until a lock keeper came at about 9.20, first to bring a boat up, before we could lock down.

We stopped along the way for a little shopping (beer running low with all this hot weather). We knew there was a pontoon by a supermarket, but when we got there we found that it was at a very strange angle, due to the low water in the river.

And soon after that we saw some goats on the bank – not a usual sight along the Marne.

We found the excellent Lumes pontoon without any problem, immediately recognising the one other boat moored up at the other end, but before reacquainting ourselves with our Piper friends it was time to get over the sweltering heat with another swim in the marvellous Meuse.

The next cool down was cold beer – Cherry beer for me once the froth died down! It was a new one from Borgogne; highly recommended to those who like fruit flavoured beer.

The evening continued by taking advantage of the unexpected and delightful meeting with Vicky and Guy on Manuka; a great catch up on French barging experiences over the past three years.

The DBA guide had an entry telling us to expect lots of kingfishers; sadly we did not see any, and in fact this year has been particularly devoid of them, but at twilight we did get a roosting stork just across the river.

Even after the beer, rosé wine and jollity I still managed a quick walk round Lumes before nightfall – a small village, but evidently one with some history.

It was just a one night stop, setting off towards Chateau-Regnaut next day. The style of lock houses changed again, and we really began to notice the drop in water level in the river. At the lock on the photo above the ladder steps that should reach down under the water to help people get out, now end above the water level. Hope I don’t fall in!

We came down through the deeper locks of Charleville, but saw almost nothing of the town because the main loop of the river through the city has been cut off by a new shortcut.

We started to see ever more spectacular views laid out before us from the top of each lock, and a wonderful stick dinosaur skeleton at the entrance to a lock cut!

We were lucky again with a nice pontoon mooring at Chateau-Regnaut, with a neighbourly noisy frog in the evening , and inquisitive greedy geese in the morning.

It was still very hot – so much so that it was affecting the geraniums, which usually thrive in a Mediterranean style climate, so much soaking required. Suits me – anything that gets me into or almost into the water.