Back to Gent, via Leuven

31st August to 16th September 2020

I have promised myself no more than 5 photos a day this time …. unless it is photos of a town or city that deserves more than five – so let’s get started. (Update; I didn’t quite manage this!)

The last post took us to Mechelen on the Dijle and on the Dijle-Leuven canal. We were on the canal and set off from Mechelen towards Leuven, stopping on the way at a quiet-out-of-the-way mooring next to Silos (very posh) restaurant.

It was a short journey, with only one minor event when one of the doors of a lock would not shut behind us. Luckily the guys were there working on the lock, and after changing a fuse (literally) all came back to life.

The restaurant being a bit expensive for our pocket we walked the kilometre back to the lock to find a bar, passing a roosting cormorant along the way. I liked the fact that our drinks were similar colours, though different size glasses (mine was pineau de charentes).

Back aboard we were treated to yet another ‘skies-on-fire’ Belgian sunset

Our peaceful mooring was only slightly disturbed in the morning by the passing of Marvik – just a gentle sway as she passed by.

After breakfast we were off on the last few kilometres to Leuven – just 15 and 1 lock. Just outside Leuven we passed the old Remy tower, with its newer, but still old, one behind. This is not a testament to cognac but to grain. We had been warned, by Flanders waterways, that we might pass the trials of a model commercial barge – and we did!

Then into Leuven, past the new Stella Artois brewery – photos of the old brewery to come!

Having allowed myself extra photos when in an interesting city, I feel I can add in a few here. Day 1 in Leuven easily used up our 10,000 steps per day. The centre of town was very busy with students arriving for university, queuing up to register, meeting friends and cyclin around finding their accommodation. But we found some quite corners too.

The botanical garden, Kruidtuin, was especially peaceful and beautiful.

On the way back to the boat we found, first, a relatively quiet bar, and secondly an Indian restaurant – not exactly Belgian, but very good. Then back to our mooring in the basin at the end of the canal, with the old Stella Artois brewery being dismantled astern of us.

Stella Artois is inextricably linked to Leuven, after a Mr Artois, head brewer at the Den Hoorne brewery, bought the brewery, changed the name to Artois, and grew from then on to the mega global business that it is today. I visited the brewery shown in these photos back in 1987, and remember well the gate posts topped by the lanterns that became part of the Stella image; all now rather dusty and sad. But the beer tastes good!

Day 2 in Leuven we walked up the wooded hill above the harbour, and then on through the city to the groot (big) beguinhof. For those new to the word beguinhof, they are areas which were created to house beguines – lay religious women who lived in their own community without taking vows or retiring from the world, and often offering shelter to single women and their children who needed safe shelter from the world.

In a way similar to Oxford, Leuven is a University city full of separate colleges, each with their own fabulous old buildings and gateways. I could have filled a blog just with these, but chose instead on building, one gate-way, and students thronging the streets, all correctly wearing their anti-coronavirus masks.

Our beverage intake that evening was in four stages. First we found a bar that I had discovered sold my favourite Kriek beer – aged old red by Petrus. Then we sat beneath the old Stella brewery partaking of the famous brew. Back on board, quietly preparing our evening meal. we were visited by a waitress for the Florida bar that we were moored against. She brought us complementary cocktails and a dish of grilled green mini-peppers! This was a total surprise, so stage four was to go ashore and join the owner of the bar and his friends for a round or two more! I slept well that night.

Next day we left Leuven, but I would happily return and certainly recommend it to visitors, whether by boat or other means. Out we went past the massive new brewery, through misty locks, and on to the zoo. Yes, there is a zoo outside Mechelen and there is a pleasant quiet mooring nearby. If there is anything to unsettle the calm it might be a passing big boat, so the Captain watched carefully as the first one arrived – but virtually no disturbance at all.

The tides were right for us to leave the Leuven-Dijle canal within the next few days so we set off towards the northern end of the canal, stopping for a short visit back to Mechelen as we passed through. Being beginhof and brewery fans we managed to see both – the brewery being the one that brewed the special bottle Stu bought last time we were in town, and the beginhof being what was left of quite a small one. Lunch was a light-bite treat, my hummus on toast looking like a work of art and very ‘leaker’ (tasty).

As a souvenir I bought myself a Mechelen mask – such are these strange times. Then off down, or was it up, the canal we went.

We went to the end of the canal and moored up just before Zennegat lock. What a change; when we came through here on the other direction a week before it was misty, rainy, and generally gloomy. This time we could enjoy the landscape.

Zennegat is where the rivers Dijle and Zenne meet, with the canal beginning right between them at the confluence, with a nature park right alongside as well.

Here is an aerial view (not my photo) showing the Zenne above, canal central and the edge of the Dijle on the right.

The view across to Calliope on my evening promenade

We had a definite plan to just have one night at Zennegat, but two things conspired to change our mind. One was the pure delight of being there. The other, more important, was hearing out of the blue from friends on a Piper boat who we had not seen for almost 6 years when they set off across the Channel and we were going round the Kent coast for our winter in Portsmouth Harbour. Gerald and Janet were arriving at the next day to begin their own cruise down to Leuven.

And arrive they did, mooring up in front us on their new Piper boat Affinity (their third!) – causing us to look a little on the scruffy side!

Our second day at Zennegat was a lovely mixture of time with Affinity crew, and time walking next to all the nature. Leaving their boat, perfectly sober, the wind caught our map and into the canal it fell, quickly followed by the Captain’s reading glasses. The former was recovered and dried; the latter were not.

At 11.45 we slipped our ropes and left our mooring in calm clear waters and skies.

The first obstacle is a pedestrian/cyclists bridge that opens in quite an unusual fashion – very slowly too.

Then into the last of our double-oval locks, this time with a slidey pole for the rope.

We dropped down two or three metres – obviously a variable depth because we were off out onto a tidal river, with the last hour or so of outgoing tide.

And there we were, set loose on the river current.

Well I’m sorry, but the days on the rivers had too much going on for the five photo restriction; I really tried, but you would have missed too much. So here goes..

First we were on the Dijle, but not for long. We soon joined the Rupel, and before long we began to see navigation lights atop tall poles, hinting at the changing tide depth and mudbanks each side.

A further 12 kilometres and we were joining the Zeeschelde, hopefully as the tide started to turn and carry us up towards Ghent.

Initially it seems quite a hard push, and although Calliope’s engine was more than a match for the waters we made relatively slow progress.

Then, as slack water time arrived, we moved faster up this broad river. It was a Sunday so little commercial traffic around – just buoys to mark our channel and ….

…. a few Sunday leisure craft leaving his well in their wake.

We had set off at 1145, expecting to be at our Dender turn-off by around 1600, and knowing that the locks stopped operating at 1800 on a Sunday. So we were very pleased to see this gloomy but welcoming sight – Dendermonde lock – at about 1730. In, up and out, all within about 15 minutes.

We were back on the gentle Dender, where amazingly, and truly, 20 minutes after leaving the lock the sun had come out. There was an initial disappointment – we found the pontoon occupied, but the timber piles just beyond were ready and waiting for us and actually became our preferred place to tie up

Monday was a lovely autumn day. We walked down the old Dender into Dendermonde and found it was market day. In addition to buying one or two essentials we bought yummy hot dogs and sat down by the river to eat them listening to the carillon from the local church.

The evening with Calliope was so peaceful, only ‘disturbed’ by a laden barge gliding by, scarcely ruffling the water as she passed.

Calliope enters the lock cut

We were up and at it earlier than usual the following morning; I had asked the Dendermonde lock keeper the best time to leave and catch the tide up to Ghent, and this meant casting off at 7.45 – when I am normally in bed drinking tea, or asleep!

We were quickly through the lock – at high tide a drop of only 1m – and about to join the Zeeschelde.

It was a mucky start! The water running off the rising guillotine style lock door was full of mud! We were totally splattered!

I did manage to get it quite a bit cleaner as we went along, but closer inspection led to plenty more work once we were in Gent!

It took less than 2 hours to reach Merelbeke lock, whizzing along at up to 14 kph at times and almost twice our normal cruising speed. The voyage was fine though – we passed interesting looking small towns, a few commercial craft from large barges to small ferries, and plenty of countryside. If you get the tides right there is nothing to fear from this trip.

We continued round the Ring Vaart – the waterway ‘ring road’ of Ghent – until we reached the much smaller Brugse Vaart where we had decided to turn off and head into the city – only to discover our progress suddenly arrested by an unmarked mud bank caused, as we found out later, by the wash from the large commercial vessels powering round the corners to Brugge and Ghent Seaport. It wasn’t a big issue though, as the bow wave from the first commercial gave us enough lift to reverse off the bank and back into free water.

This was a new route for us into the city and we looked forward to some new sights. There were plenty of good places for houseboats to moor, many of them old working boats.

One of these was the ….. bridge – an interesting road bridge on a central turn table, with a fixed pedestrian bridge above. Sadly the light was all wrong to get a good photo of this but I hope you get the gist.

Then we came to Tollhuissluis – a lock that was due to close a few days later but we sneaked through beforehand. It’s the first time I have been in a lock with a tram running alongside I think (yes it is there through the trees). And the bollards were set at a deliberate angle that I have not seen before either.

The final approach was through some lovely old docks and a right hand turn down a pretty short canal into Portus Ganda…..

…. and our mooring on Roodtorenkaai.

We stayed for a week in Ghent, getting to know the city much better, partly thanks to our friend Mieke who lives (with husband Frans) on boat their Dreamer in Ghent and is herself and is an official city guide!

So here are just a few images from our stay.

We walked round the city a lot. I have taken so many photos of Ghent on previous visits that these are an odd jumble of images, including one at the Friday Market.

We had a few beers, and a pizza!

We had visitors who, charmingly, arrived by boat and brought their lovely dog Google.

We went to the Open Monument Day at the Abbey St Bavo.

We got more of the Zeeschelde mud off the boat.

We had coffee and Coke.

And we went to watch our friend Bart play in, and ultimately win, a boule tournament.

The mooring was lovely, morning, noon and night and we had glorious weather!

Then woke to a misty morning for our day of departure!

But the sun soon cleared and we were underway with a lovely send-off and a final glance back at the past week’s mooring.

From Blaton to Namur; a journey of 3 canals

22 – 27 July 2020

Canals Nimy-Blaton-Peronne, du Centre, and Brussels-Charleroi

As we left the Ath-Blaton Canal at Blaton and joined the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes our hearts sank a little; we were leaving a narrow-gauge rural canal for the width of the commercial , industrial, super highway canal system again.

But we needn’t have worried, al least not at the start. Having negotiated the final 7 locks in the Ath-Blaton we still reached our next mooring by midday.

This was the Grand Large de Pommeroeul – an amazingly peaceful mooring on a very long pier in a large basin.There was only one other barge on the pier – somewhat larger than its and making Calliope suddenly microscopic! (It’s a bit of an optical illusion in fact, but don’t let that stop a good story…)

The basin was to be the start of the new Pommeroeul-H….. Canal, linking Belgium and France. However after 10 years of operation from 1982-92 the ‘siltation’ was so bad that out had to close. The Belgians dredged their side; the French, so far, have not – although it is due to be done by 2021.

In the meantime all the necessary equipment – locks, sluices, piers etc – remain unused. The huge lake after the first lock is now a leisure amenity for the locals, great for swimming, canoeing, fishing, jet-skiing and more.

We took a walk (2.5kms) into the village of Pommeroeul, famous for its ‘croncq clocher’, the crooked steeple of the church, and its iguanodons. I have photos of the former, but not the latter. The museum of the iguanodons should be visited if you like dinosaurs; in the 19th century coal miners discovered a huge mass of fossilised dinosaur bones including several full iguanodons, crocodiles, birds and other.

Our view out across the Grand Large changed rather when a second commercial barge joined us. It was from the Infinity group; we have met up with several of these barges and the crews have always been polite and friendly, so no surprise when later on the Captain walked along the pier for a chat.

The change in view made no difference to our enjoyment of the evening in the sun at (almost) the centre of a wide open water space. Cheers!

We awoke to another glorious day and were off Eastwards along the canal.

Now it did begin to seem more industrial! This would continue through most of our journey past Charleroi and a bit beyond! (Great photo LJ)

At Mons we moved seamlessly from the Nimy-Blaton-Peronne canal onto the Canal du Centre. The occasional more rural scene did appear.

And we had the first of our larger locks, 5m deep and about 80m long, shortly followed by one of 10m depth. We ascended both with no problem, with the floating bollards in the big one making things much easier.

At Thieu the quay was mainly empty; we were soon moored up and could have lunch. All very peaceful.

Boats went by.

Fisherman (Tweedledum and Tweedledee) came and went.

Then there were three things of interest that happened over the next 21 hours …..

….. we walked up the old Canal Historique, getting great views of Ascenseur 4, the final downstream one of the four that took barges up and down prior to the new(ish) method.

We were also allowed into the working area. The old Ascenseur works using two boat lifts and the counterbalance of water to raise and lower them. Although water supplies the ‘muscle’, it is still manually operated. (Smelled like an old machine shop too – Mmmmmmm)

It is a lovely walk along the old canal historique to Strèpy. Last time we were here the annual festival was on and it was a very lively place all along the canal bank – much quieter this time.

We searched for a bar with a nice open seating area – still on the 1.5m distance coronavirus rules – but only found this one bar open; friendly and good beer.

You can get good sense of the grandeur of the aquaduct leading up to the top of the modern boat lift when walking the old canal path.

And also good views of the ascenseur (the boat-lift) over the top of the lower part of Strépy.

On the return from our walk we were a little alarmed to see lots of blue flashing lights near Calliope! As we got closer it was clear it was not a boat in trouble. A car had gone into the canal, luckily with no people inside.

After 2 ambulances, 3 police cars, 2 fire brigade vehicles (one for diving equipment) and a car from the Wallonian waterways authority, the rescue got underway. A car breakdown truck completed the team and a yellow VW Polo was dragged out.

The last of the interesting events at Thieu was the planned one – going up, next day, on the Strepy-Thieu Ascenseur.

We came down it last year, so it was not completely new, but it is spectacular and amazing in its engineering and views nonetheless.

So no apologies for all the photos. I was amused by the ‘Risk of Decapitation’ sign – I managed to keep my head.

We continued along the modern Canal du Centre, through the Porte de Garde, with black clouds looming. But they came to naught.

At the end there is a T junction with the Canal Brussels-Charleroi. We were expecting this to be horribly industrial – our memories did not serve us well because it meanders along between gentle green hills for quite a way. (We know Charleroi itself will be a different story!)

The mooring plan was to be above the lock at Viesville, where we stayed last year. This worked out fine; plenty of space

We knew there was the chance of being gradually surrounded by gentle-giant commercial barges as they came in to rest overnight, but in fact only one arrived, reflected magnificently in the evening light.

Even the lock had an industrial beauty that evening.

More interesting was the boat moored below the lock – another Piper barge that we had been communicating with for about a year, but never met, so we walked down the hill to say hello to El Perro Negro and crew.

They were waiting for a diver to return to fix a new impeller in their bow thruster, to replace the one damaged by something in the water – always a risk along the waterways.

After that pleasant interlude it was back to Calliope for supper and a stroll along the bank, before bed.

As we left next day the rain arrived as we descended the lock – quite a deep one at 7m.

Below the lock we passed El Perro Negro, waving and promising to meet up again soon, which in fact we did that evening, after a long days cruising for both boats.

We had a couple more 7m locks to go down before Charleroi – both happily with floating bollards and small bollards in the wall, spaced reasonably for a 20m boat if you get in the centre of the lock.

It was still felt quite ‘country’ as we came through those last two locks, with herons and other birds still in evidence.

We were ready for the industrial nature of Charleroi, rather run-down and abandoned, and found this graffiti really cheered it up.

Stewart has on his mind that Charleroi is a horrendous place to take a barge through. Certainly last year it was quite early on in our experience of Belgium’s big canals and massive barges. There are double right-angle blind bends moving from Canal Brussels-Charleroi Canal to La Sambre and it is right to proceed with caution.

The lock in Charleroi is right in the middle of current and redundant industry. Sounds of crashing metal ring out all around.

And one must be extra aware of commercial barges coming towards you as you leave this lock as you enter a length of waterway where you drive on the left – not the right! It’s a ‘blue boarding’ area if you are over 20m; with Calliope just under 20m we don’t have blue boards, but Captain said I should be ready with a large blue seat cushion, just in case.

It was now just one day away from additional crew joining us at Namur, so we made an emergency stop at Tamines where you can more up right next to a supermarket – although several feet below pavement level!

Just a few kilometres on and we could finally stop for the night at Auvelais. The pontoon here is quite a sweet place to stop, although there seemed to be more trains than last time we were here! Not long after El Perro Negro arrived, diving work on the bow thruster complete. Cause for a joint celebratory drink with them; just the right end to the day.

After the pleasant aperitif interlude, and after supper, I went for an exploratory walk looking for the local Intermarché. Although we had shopped earlier that day we had not managed to find fresh milk – often a problem in Wallonia. In climbed up and up towards a main road, suddenly finding myself in a lovely woodland war cemetery – far from what I had expected and very quiet and peaceful.

My walk back was on the opposite bank (don’t ask!) and I caught a different view of the mooring along with some old Auvelais riverside buildings.

Next morning we were off down to Namur to moor up and be ready for our guests arrival at the station. First things first – I went over to the village to get some fresh bread for our lunch – in the rain.

We set off quite early for us, now in the sun, and soon reached the first lock at Mornimont, where we were told we must wait for two more boats to join us. Oh well.

It turned out that one of the boats we were waiting for was El Perro Negro! They had phoned ahead to the lock before setting off and we then waited 40 minutes for them to catch us up. Could have stayed in bed!

We continued on down the Sambre, passing the striking abbey at Floreffe, particularly magnificent as we passed with this ‘biblical’ sky behind it.

Two hours later and we were moored up in Namur, on the Sambre, tied to railings and with a hanging wall for company.

The debarkation method was interesting, and tried out after lunch; it works.

Then we rested and waited until time to go to the station and meet new masked crew – our eldest two, Amanda and Ashley, who had travelled ‘coronavirus-safe’ all the way by Eurostar and Belgian rail to Namur.

It was so good to have them aboard – competent crew to be tested on our cruise down the Meuse.

They arrived a day after Belgium announced that masks must be worn in all public areas, including streets, and only taken off at home or when you sit down at a bar or restaurant – which we did several times over the next 30 hours.

We had a full day next day in Namur, and used it to cross the Sambre and explore the amazing citadel up above the other side. The ‘Searching for Utopia’ by Jan Fabre – it is a self portrait astride the turtle and a copy of the one we saw in Nieuweport last year.

The views from the citadel are amazing as I am sure you can imageine. Here are a few from the top.

The happy captain playing games – can you spot him?

We spent the second evening aboard Calliope, starting with a good selection of starters, which attracted a wasp that got trapped in Amanda’s hair – the brave Captain chased it off!

We were also joined by geese who guzzled up any spare bread we had on offer!

As the sun got lower in the sky there was the occasional swell in the water as big barges with friendly crew passed gently by.

An extra evening stroll found not only another bar to try, but also another marvellous sculpture by the river – a bronze sculpture, encrusted with ceramics, of the magical bay horse Bayard with the four sons of Aymon astride, seeming to jump over the river Meuse.

Stu’s designer eye was drawn to the new art/culture building on the banks of the Sambre, with its beautiful staircase.

Returning to Calliope we all enjoyed the changing skies as dusk drew in.

And so, having looked at the mighty Meuse from several angles, we were ready next day to move onto it and go down to Huy. (Pronounced in French: ‘Oi!’ felt right at home Mush)

In the morning Stu gently took Calliope down the final half kilometre of the Sambre, past buildings old and new …… (I do like that building a lot )

Upstream on the Dender and on to the Ath-Blaton Canal

6th to 22nd June 2020

This journey was both tranquil with at times a challenging edge, as you will discover! It was well worth the effort; there are several places I would stay at longer next time through.

The previous blog had us arriving on the Dender from the Boven-Zee-Scheldt and mooring up here just outside Dendermonde.

Dendermonde has been bypassed by the new canalised Dender, so we decided to walk down the old river, now closed off from the new part, and take a quick look at what has been an important town.

We walked into town on the open side, and back along the wooded side. It makes a very pleasant 3km walk, with young water fowl along the river at this time of year, screeching for more food!

Almost all the way along are huge bollards, spaced out for big commercial barges, evidence of the earlier importance of Dendermonde as a trading town.

Further evidence, if any is required, is seen when you arrive at the town. A huge lock is still in place, although no longer used.

The town square still shows some of its former grandeur, although much of it is rebuilt side the two world wars to look the same as before.

Back to the barge for the evening and wonderful calm after being moored on the centre of Gent for a few days! In fact a group of 4 teenagers arrived with chairs and drinks to sit on the pontoon for a couple of hours; they were very polite, saying hello and asking us to let them know if they were too noisy. We hardly knew they were there.

The mooring is only allowed for 24 hours, so despite it being so peaceful and pleasant we set off the next morning – but only after a good chat to one of the three fisherman who turned up on the pontoon before I was even out of bed. He spoke excellent English and knew some of the other British boats that have moored there.

The river from Dendermonde to Aalst is generally quiet, and mostly rural. However there is some industry, and at one point the factory had commemorated the Tour de France which had its Grand Départ in Brussels in 2019.

Sod’s Law struck again as the only boat we passed on our journey was an extra large one on the narrowest section of the river! But the ‘skipperess’ of the barge neatly steered her to starboard and we passed by unscathed.

As we approached the outskirts of Aalst we made contact with the bridge and lock keeper. There are a couple of bridges in the centre of Aalst that must be raised (or tilted) for boats to move through. The Zwartehoekbrug was the only one we needed to get through to reach our mooring and it was soon raised.

The interesting thing became what to tie up to ….. few bollards, no cleats, no rings ….. but a line of large blocks of concrete to stop cars tipping onto the canal, so the bow rope was strung round one of these. It worked; this large laden barge passing by tested it out!

We were soon off for a walk round the town. We had read that it was a great place to visit, and it’s true. Under normal non-coronavirus circumstances they have three huge carnivals a year – one all about men dressing up as women, though nothing to do with transvestism. The statue above captures the moment a man happily takes off his high heels!

My main memory will be a waffle moment! Crew persuaded the Captain that it would be nice to sit in the shade with a beer – or with a fully fruited sangria and fully fruited waffle!

We stayed on board for the evening and were surprised by visitors at around 8pm, who made a return visit next evening as well. I must admit the bread we fed them was rather good. (Please don’t tell me off for feeding them bread!)

Next day was rather wet. In amongst some unexciting events like shopping we did get another surprise visitor – this time a moorhen on the roof. They don’t fly much to my knowledge – only when they skitter across the water, so I was definitely surprised too see it there.

Our other main event was a Scrabble match. It was closely fought, but finally the Captain’s superior verbal skills led to his victory.

Then it was time to carry on up the Dender (without Sid James and Kenneth Williams). It was an obstacle course of a journey!

It was like this ….

  • Request and wait to go through the Aalst tilt bridge Sint-Annabrug
  • Through the narrow Aalst manually operated lock by the sugar factory
  • Under a lift bridge .. to find we had to …
  • … squeeze past two moored working barges which were pile-driving a new edge to the river
  • Round a bend to find another large working barge and crane lifting new sections for the pile-driver
  • Round another bend to see a low narrow bridge with several canoes full of children the other side
  • And then, out into the country until our next adventure!

Here is the pictorial adventure.

All was calm until we reached the next bridge and lock at Teralfene. First there was a bit of a wait; no problem. We are happy midstream.

Then once in the lock, the lock-keeper asked us if we would wait half an hour for another boat to arrive so that he could save water; of course we said yes and had lunch in the bottom of a lock – not for the first time.

We continued on with the other boat, a cruiser with pleasant crew. They let us know that one of the bridges on Geraardsberge, just upstream, was closing at the end of the day for 5-6 days! It has to be said that I should have known. I receive all the emails about closures every day, but this one slipped past my (non)eagle eye.

It was either make a dash for Geraardsberge that day (no thank you) or remain downstream for almost a week.

We were following the path highlighted green on the map. Pink indicates a lot of what we did on 2019.

A plan was hatched and we drew in at Okegem, on a sloping wall and very low mooring cleats. The Captain made us safe with re-corded fenders!

As usual we went for a walk, initially around our side of the river in Pamel. Right next to our mooring was a sculpture of Victor de Klerk. He was an unfortunately fat man, around 55 stone, and possibly the heaviest man in Europe during his life in the mid 19th century. His is not a happy story.

Later I went over the bridge to look at the village of Okegem, after a tasty prawn pasta supper.

Skies became blue and the scene changed, becoming beautiful and tranquil. We sat on the back deck until sunset, revelling in the places our Piper has brought us ….

…. and enjoying Stewart’s shadow art!

Although we liked to at Okegem we decided to carry on to Ninove – at least a 4km cruising day! Calliope moved from a pink sunset to a pink bridge, welcoming us into Ninove.

The mooring we had expected to use was occupied so we went astern for a hundred yards or so and came into moor on a good long floating pontoon next to a footbridge laden with petunias; what a beautiful scent.

It was clear that we would be here a few days, so I will not repeat days of shopping in the local Del Haize supermarket! We did attempt to get an idea of the town, including the Graan Markt, where a big building was in the process of being pulled down by a monster munching machine!

Later that day Captain Stu did his good waterways deed of the day, hauling out a huge long wooden log/pole that was floating downstream ready to cause damage to someone or something.

I did go for an evening stroll on the first evening juts as the sky was clearing for sunset. The clarity across the town was superb.

Day 2 we were settling in. We went for a walk up to the next mooring along the river, next to an old rail bridge, to see if it was worth moving along a few kilometres, but the pontoon was filling up as we arrived.

On the way back, dodging the rapid cyclists sharing our path, I noticed the giant colourful ‘cotton reels’ across the river. Not sure what they are, but a colourful display nonetheless.

Early that evening we had a couple more items to buy at the shops, and that morphed into a couple of cold beers (and Sangria) at a local bar, segueing into one more drink and a good burger and frites at an other hostelry – a good time was had by all!

Back to the boat. It certainly is no hardship being here.

Over the days we got to know Ninove a little better, seeking out the remaining older parts of the town amongst the new. Two of the city gates still remain, appearing suddenly along otherwise relatively modern streets! Koeport seems to mean Cow Gate, but I suspect that is wrong. There is a story attached to it – when the town of Aalst, just down river, laid siege to Ninove they were desperate to lock the gate but could mot find the key, so a carrot was used to bolt it shut. A passing donkey ate the carrot, unlocking the gate for the invaders, and ever since the people of Ninove have been known as Wortels – Flemish for carrot.

We also went to the abbey, all that is left of what was a big monastic community. It is huge! Even the size and style of the confessional box is awesome. Outside some archeological work has begin to find the remains of some of the previous buildings.

We were entertained by the young waterfowl as always. The high call of adolescent moorhen, coots, grebes and ducks were all around. The adult moorhens were much bolder than I am used to in UK and happily stalked about on the pontoon beside the boat.

My walks often took me along the river bank and up to the next lock, just over a kilometre away. The locally typical weir mechanism, with its pulleys and chains, was a sight to behold!

We used some of our time for more maintenance and cleaning. Stewart got to grips with some painting whilst I cleaned metal and we both had a real go at all the glass!

I am realising that we are rather good at rewarding our efforts with a refreshing drink – this time at the swimming pool café just across the park. I have rather fallen for the Sangria, a 14% concoction full of fruit so that I can make believe it is healthy.

Dreamer behind Calliope

Two days before we were due to leave we were joined on the pontoon by an even bigger barge than us! Dreamer belongs to Frans and Meike, the latter being a WOB member, so automatically an immediate friend.

the second pot of mussels

After inviting them aboard for a few drinks on the first night we received an invitation back that could not be refused! We are asked to a supper of fresh mussels! We supplied the frites from an excellent local frituur and a red berry gateau from a local bakeri. They supplied and cooked huge pots of delicious fresh large mussels!

Later Meike and I went to see a street theatre / circus performance behind the town hall – all perfectly socially distanced. It was very entertaining in a typically French way, full of mime, acrobatics and comedy.

Throughout our stay we have enjoyed the changing view of the foot bridge before us. The shape of it lends itself to interesting photos against some lovely skies.

Bye bye Mieke and Frans

Finally we got the email to say that the bridge was now open and that next day we could move on upstream towards our next destination – so earlyish to bed, ready for our next voyage, and waving goodbye to new friends as we left.

Soon after we left Ninove we caught up with Piper boat Tadham Castle waiting for us at the first lock. We had a pleasant morning following them through a series of locks and bridges.

We were out in the country at last, with views across farm land, woodland, and left over parts of grand estates.

Waiting for bridge opening in Geraardsbergen

There was a bit of a delay while the lock/bridge keeper moved at his own pace from bridge, to bridge, to lock. Each had to be opened and allow us all through – and we had by now tagged onto a cruiser at the front as well. Finally we all arrived at Geraardsbergen, with its now famous newly opened bridge, just visible in the distance while we three boats wait for it to be raised.

This all took a while, and once we got to the final lock there was of course only room for the first two boats. Calliope was left below the lock, tied up, and allowing time for lunch.

The lock, when it opened for us, was in about the worst condition I have ever seen a lock before. The quays were topped with flaking plywood and the only things too attach to were plastic covered chains part way down the walls! Ah well, it all worked, and they seem well on the way to building a new one along side.

Soon we were cruising into our mooring place, the last space at the Geraardsbergen marina. I was glad I had phoned ahead and booked! We moored just ahead of Tadham Castle; this was fortuitous as they were able to lend us a hose to attach to two of our hoses, to stretch the 50 m. from the water tap to our tank!

Geraardsbergen is spread across two hills, either side of the Dender. A lot of walking up and down slopes is required! We had a couple of nights there, allowing Stewart and I time to sample several beers in the main square.

We also sampled the local ‘delicacy’, Mattertaarte, a sweet pastry, much lighter than it looks in the photo, with an interior of almond flavoured curd cheese – a sort of Bakewell tart without the jam. Our one meal out was far more global – Chinese.

As with many of the Belgian towns and cities we visit there are lots of wonderful old buildings. In Geraardsbergen there is also the original (apparently) Mannekin Pis, complete with a coronavirus mask.

(This is a completely random paragraph, thrown in so that I can show you our little-giant green grasshopper visitor who flew into in the wheelhouse in Geraardsbergen)

We had lovely weather while there, causing us to walk a mile or so to a Brico in the hope of buying a new parasol – our third attempt this year – but to no avail. You will continue to see us sitting in the sun.

one of the two large barges entering a lock ahead of us

When we left Geraardsbergen and arrived at the first lock we discovered that this time we were in a convoy of four boats …….

… two of which were massive barges, slightly unwieldy in these rather narrow waters and locks.

The lock keeper team who were travelling with put all four of us separately through each lock and lift bridge before continuing to the next one. We were the last of the four, consequently frequently in a queue!

Queuing became our new normal for the day!

The passage through Lessines was industrially interesting …. and we left one of the big barges there, shrinking our convoy to three.

Lessines looked an interesting place altogether and it was a shame not to stop their ourselves, but we were on catch-up from our enforced long stay in Ninove.

The éclusier team changed here, carrying us forward with some new faces. It sort of reminded me of days gone by when the team of horses pulling the barge would be changed; rest for horse and man etc. (You may not know that song – look it up – “Home Lads Home” – beautiful and sad, and nothing to do with barges!)

Rebaix

Calliope cast off from the convoy at Rebaix – a very pretty tranquil country mooring.

This was our peace and quiet at the end of a hectic day!

I went for a walk up into the village, then down to join the river further along, collecting photos as I went, before walking back to a perfect evening.

Forgive me for occasionally sharing my love of the nature we see along the way. At this time of year there are so many young birds own the water – moorhen, coot, grebe, goose, and of course duck – all with their own particular cuteness. At this mooring we also saw, but did not photograph, kingfishers and hares – the latter in a field, not the water!

The morning at Rebaix dawned as bright as the evening before.We had explained the the éclusiers that we planned to carry on to Ladeuze the next morning. This was apparently a little difficult to organise because of so much other boat movement along the river and its continuation, the Ath-Blaton canal.

But something was sorted, and they arrived next morning planning to get us to Ladeuze if possible. (Those’ thank-you’ cans of beer the previous day had been worth it).

Waiting for a new team at Ath

They got us as far as Ath – 3 kilometres – before having to abandon us outside a lock. We were told that another team would arrive in 20-30 minutes, so we settled down for an hours wait.

It is here that the waterway changes from the Dender river to the Ath-Blaton canal.

The next team, two young men, polite but slow, arrived and we set off through Ath with its lift bridges and six locks – all manually operated.

We were not clear of the city when it was their lunch time, so we were left at the bottom of a lock for a almost two hours; quite a pleasant place to be on a warm day and we had our lunch to eat too.

Our ‘likely lads’ returned and we carried on with our slow progress unit suddenly, at a lock, we were surrounded by additional éclusiers. By the time we were through the lock we realised that the team had changed yet again!

I flattered this team, talking them they were the meilleur équipe (best team) and they looked after us well up to Ladeuze. A few cans of beer was their reward.

The mooring at Ladeuze is lovely – a grassy bank with a few trees and picnic tables, plus everything a boat could need – secure mooring, water, electricity and a shower block – although all but the first were unavailable, whether due to coronavirus or other issues I dont know.

The other ‘institution’ of Ladeuze is Chez Gina. This local bar that has been run by Gina for other 60 years – she is now in her 90s and still to be seen sitting in the bar every day, although she has younger help to serve the customers. The bar is a museum piece, and the prices are almost as historic! It was the cheapest glass of Kriek I have had anywhere.

I took my usual walk, this time around sunset, along the canal then back through the fields; wonderful.

‘Breezey’ in our wake

In the morning the ‘likely lads’ returned, almost on time, and, along with the cruiser ‘Breezey’, we travelled to Grandglise. The first part of the day was still in the ascendence ….

…. but then at lock 11 we started our descent towards Blaton.

It was altogether a scenic route, starting with a lovely old lock house – how wonderful to have the opportunity to live in this!

Stu extracts a bike from the bike shed

At Grandglise, between locks 8 and 7, we said goodbye to ‘Breezey’ and crew and moored up for our last night on the Ath-Blaton. I chose to cycle the two and a half kilometres to an Intermarche for extra supplies – a more exhausting trip than anticipated. Must be my age! Or the weight of the beer, wine and mixers!

Despite this I went for my usual promenade around the area. Always interesting, but this time the only photogenic character was this cow, who was in a field at a level above my head!

After a quiet last evening on the canal, providing Captain with a chance to improve the cording to the red ensign, we settled down to a peaceful night.

yellow flower canal side mix

It was a good final day on the Ath-Blaton Canal. In fact it was a half day with just 7 locks within 2 kilometres, a couple of capable guys working with us, and a boat coming up, meaning that half the locks were ready for us.

I enjoyed the lock wall flowers, which get submerged each time the lock is full, and emerge, dripping, as the water empties out again.

At one lock I was concerned to watch a mother duck and three ducklings swim into the lock ahead of us! I made sure we did not crush them against the side, then looked on as the mother climbed out and called to her dizzy babies to follow. Eventually they did. But that was not the end of the story. Our éclusier noticed that a fourth duckling was now alone in the canal stream above the lock, and in a gentle way he herded the mother and three siblings back along the bank to find and join the prodigal son; lovely!

At lock 4 we had been told that we could take on water – and when we arrived it looked as if the lock itself had taken own more water than it could cope with! The lock was overflowing, with the mooring bollards surrounded by water.

Nonetheless we got tied up. Before we could deploy our hose we found an éclusier running a hose out from their shed, all ready for us to fill up as we went down. Somehow it worked, although I felt that ropes and hoses and water were everywhere in a tangle.

Just three easy locks to descend, and we were at Blaton – the end of the canal.

Blaton

We got a glimpse of the town from the old basin as we turned towards the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes canal, one of the main arteries through Belgium, and the start of the next chapter.

Pont des Lilas – gateway to the Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes Canal

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.