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.

We went for our customary walk around village as usual, calling in at the Capitainerie on the other side of the river next to the camper van park. She had helpfully lent us the correct connector to the water supply when she came for the tarif. As we crossed back over the bridge our shadows were starkly delineated by the high bright sun.

There was a fair amount of crashing and banging early next morning, from the opposite bank. I had read that the region was famous for its metal work; I should have recognised the logo symbol on the factory wall!

The village obviously celebrated its metal-ness with this fabulous 9 foot high horse.

As we left Chateau-Regnaut we were starting to see the Belgian influence in the gable ends of houses, and also rather liked the very art deco municipal baths

A bit further along the river bank I saw some intriguing parts of the river’s history. Above are photos of a lovely old lock wall, made of individual stones. We also passed a fascinating, complicated, still in use, sluice mechanism; it was being used as we went by.

Then there was my greatest excitement – a pile of needles for an aiguille (or needle) weir. These weirs have always appeared to me, but have largely disappeared and are replaced with modern technology weirs.

They comprise of a complete wall of wooden needles, with walkway behind, and were operated by a man (think it was always a man) walking along and adding or removing needles to control the flow of water – a very dangerous job in some weathers.

There’s link below to a 9 minute explanation (in French) of how they are built.

We kept being amazed by the wondrous scenery. Round every bend, and from the top of each lock, we were stunned into silence by yet another vista of blues and greens, with occasional villages and spires.

At Dames des Meuses lock there is an old pont-levée, seemingly always open, pushing its rusty metalwork into the sky, and just nicely setting off the Captains’s neat rope work.

And we glided out of that lock into more scenery to gawp at, including a lovely topiary effect on the top of the hill.

Later that morning we arrived in Revin, passing the tunnel on our right that we would go through the next day (see boat just coming out of the tunnel channel) and wondering if we would find a place to moor the other side of the bridge.

Our hot spirits raised as we saw a long empty stretch of quay! (Yes, the heatwave was still on). Not long before I had found a boulangerie with a ham baguette for Stewart’s lunch and some delicious ‘pain complet’ for me to have with hummus and salad.

Revin is a very well run port. It is totally enclosed, with code numbers for the gates, a pleasant garden, tables and chairs in the shade, and the usual showers etc. It was €14 a night for our 20m boat, worth every penny.

Once fed, watered and rested we went shopping. That’s met a usual past time for us but Stu needed some cool short sleeved shirts and there was a clothing superstore within a 5 minute walk.

We also managed a good food shop, stocking up so that we could aim for rural moorings over the next few days.

Work done we decided that our walking tour of the old town, the other side of the river, should include a beer and a pizza. Both were easy to find, and worth the walk.

Back on board, with the sun going down and night drawing in, Stewart spotted a young cormorant that had flown up onto a high branch instead of going back to nest with its mother. It was there for ages – and not there in the morning, so we presume all was well in the end.

There was a shiny metallic smooth sheen to the water in the morning; a lovely backdrop to breakfast, before another boulangerie trip, which this time included some galettes de Revin, to be enjoyed next time we have visitors.

Off we set for our trip through the tunnel , which began by Calliope needing to make a 180 degree turn into the tunnel channel. Always fun being cross ways to the stream, wondering if anything will come speeding round a bend into you. But all was well and we were back onto the river with its mountain high tree covered banks, blue sky, and more hot hot sun.

We hadn’t encountered a broken lock for some time, so it was a bit of a surprise. Stewart managed to out me ashore to walk up and phone for assistance (no mobile reception out where we were), at which point I discovered a cross and overheated German man, whose boat was stuck at the bottom of the lock; he had been waiting for an hour for service, (‘shitting in the shade’ as he told me!)

The wait was not so bad for me with shade, several ripe cherry trees, and an old sluice to keep me amused. In fact the VNF man arrived within ten minutes and we were soon on our way again.

We arrived in Heybes, thinking we would stop there just for lunch, but we settled into the mooring, realised it was still hot and we were tired, and decided to stay the night.

Heybes and surrounding area is famous for its slate mines, so it was not surprising to see some wonderful slate roofs, this one being the town hall.

What a history this village has. Heybes is another of these villages totally destroyed in WW1. across a period of just 3 days in August 1914 the village was bombed and burnt to the ground with 600 houses destroyed and 61 civilians killed. I am pleased to say that it is now rebuilt and thriving.

Prior to the war the village had 8 lavoirs. Once there was a new water supply it was thought that only one was needed, and this was rebuilt into the slope up to a higher row of houses. The image on the left is as it is now; the one on the right is from the past, with lavoir half way down the hill in the same position.

The walk round this village was disturbed by a loud revving of motor bike engines. Closer inspection revealed a biker’s wedding at the church, with all their friends outside revving their bikes. The bride and groom sped away helmet-less on a Harley, she in high heels.

Still on our mission to reach Lille we again only stayed the one night. As we began the next day’s journey I spotted a fishing party camped out in a picturesque curve of the river – a heavenly spot.

We were now heading for the Ham tunnel, a 500m tunnel that saves a 8km loop in the river.

The entrance to the cut leading to the tunnel had an other old pont levée, left continuously in a part open position, maybe signifying the height of the tunnel to come!

Here we are going into the tunnel entrance. It has an interesting ‘ceiling’ roughly hewn out of the solid rock and unlined most of the way through, among for rather uneven heights along the way.

Coming out of the tunnel is quite an experience as you go straight into a lock, and look out over a wide valley, with a different landscape.

That was our last lock down into the town of Givet with its towers and its citadel up on the hill – but more spectacular citadels are to come.

We moored on the quay opposite the main marina, which only has space for smaller boats, but we had our very own ladder to climb off and on and were quite happy there.

As evening drew on we watched storm clouds gather – and indeed rain did, at last, fall that night, thank goodness! The heatwave was ending.

Next day saw another change. Suddenly we were amongst the big boys! Just down from Givet is the écluse named les 4 Chiminées. This has been brought up to European standards, so the large commercial barges can now come to the port there, loading, unloading, and feeding the swans!

From now on we would be sharing the water and locks with these sturdy guys.

And a third big change was the change of country. Our last lock in France and into Belgium we go! Wallonia to be precise.

Lots of things seemed different – the width and length of the locks, the shape and size of the lock gates, the sudden surprise when a huge quiet barge creeps up behind to share the lock with you.

Commercials have the right of way, and this definitely slowed our progress on this stretch. We waited 40 minutes at the forest lock, another 30 at the next, both for barges to come up, and for barges to join us to go down.

All good testing experiences. (ok that’s not a sentence because it hasn’t got a verb, but it works for me.)

I have mentioned the landscape becoming more cliff like, and so much so that it attracts lots of climbers. These are the Rochers de Freyr, south of Dinant. There is a climber in the top left photo, so small she was like a spider on a wall.

It turned out to be a long long day, mainly due to waiting at locks, so we were pleased to arrive at Dinant. We used advice from another bargee about where to moor and were pleased we had used his choice. We had the best views across the river to the Dinant citadel and church, away from the bustle of quayside bars and restaurants. And – after looking at an increasingly faded French courtesy flag for 3 or 4 years – we have a new shiny Belgian one.

I think we all know that the Belgians are famous for their beer, so no surprise that we found this shop, but did not dare go inside! It turns out that Dinant is the famed home of one of the most widespread Belgian beers – Leffe – which was brewed at the Abbey on the outskirts of the town. I dont know what the monks would think of the modern brews like Rituel (subtle flavours of fruit and bitter spices) or Radieuse (delicate hints of citrus and coriander seeds), but I plan to try them.

Stewart began the tasting experience with a Leffe blond outside the restaurant where we had our dinner. I had a Picon beer, more common in the north where it they also serve Picon wine.

And for me the first dinner in Belgium had to be moules, this time with garlic and cream. Mmmmm. Tasty.

But Dinant is famous for something else too – something I had no idea about beforehand.

The saxophone.

There were saxophones everywhere – madly coloured ones that somehow represented all different countries round the world, silhouettes attached to lamp posts, a huge glass one in front of the town hall, and one in the arms of Adolph Sax’s statue next to where he was born.

The moules gave me such energy that I washed down one side of the boat with these amazing views to keep me company as evening wore on.

We set off early (for us) with our first Belgian baguette, in the hope of avoiding too many commercials – we love them really and think it is great that so much is transported on the water, but …… it can seriously delay our journey.

As we left we saw the Leffe abbey, in the distance, so not a good photo.

The shapes of the roofs became more and more ‘Belgian’ – of course. There were some lovely designs, and only a very few shown here. I do love the bell shapes either side of the house in the bottom photo.

Although the scenery had changed to a degree we still saw some high tree clad hills, often with a row of houses clinging near the top. They must have fabulous views down over the river valley.

It was not to far to cruise the final part of our La Meuse journey. Arriving in Namur, we chose to go round the corner into the start of the Basse Sambre river where a) it seemed quieter, b) no fee to pay, and c) away from the big commercial barges, or so we thought!

Within minutes we discovered out was not as quiet as we thought! Barge after barge, laden and empty, growled past, but not upsetting in any way. Didn’t even upset my mug of tea.

In habitual form we went off to take a look at the city, and sample more Belgian beer in a different shady square – this time an Houppo beer for Stu – and for me a Pineau de Charente; very nice.

We were moored beneath the Citadel – an amazing piece of architectural fortification and history. The signs around the citadel approach told me that the original citadel dates to Roman times. It achieved its present extent in the 17th century. under Dutch control. Eventually it became part of a new ring of forts around Namur to prevent the city from being attacked with artillery.

My evening walk was a march up to the top of the hill and a march down again, swapping photos with Stewart who was on the boat down below. One or other of us is in each of these photos (mostly me, sorry)

The view from the top out across the city roofs is panoramic and worth the climb. I would spend longer there next time, and go in the day time when the locked up bits are open!

So ends our Meuse meander, although to be fair, turning the corner onto the Sambre meant that we had already left the Meuse; maybe I should not have included these final photos. Well Namur is on the Meuse; it was just us who were now on the Sambre, which is the next, shorter, chapter.

June on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin – weedy in parts; ultimately glorious

June 10 – 18 2019

Monday 10th June – we had left Soulanges on the Canal de L’Aisne á la Marne in the morning and by lunchtime we had turned to port at the T junction at Vitry-en François and were heading up the Oest (West) section of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin.

Leaving industrial Vitry

We had 111 kilometres to travel uphill to Void, with 70 locks to help us. We had been warned by other boaters that the canal was full of weed, growing and floating, and indeed the VNF issued a warning to battle.

Before long the blue skies turned to grey and the rain that was to be with us for several days, on and off, began to fall. With locks to negotiate every kilometre this is not as much fun as it might seem.

We were following a commercial barge that was making particularly slow progress; however slowly we tried to go we kept catching her up, and then had to hang around at a lock waiting for our turn, but that’s what sharing canal space is all about.

And it is good to see he canals still being used for commercial purposes – taking freight of the road.

It was not too long before we reached the very pleasant mooring we had picked out on the map – Bignicourt-sur-Saulx. It is a delightfully peaceful place to stay the night, and a walk round the village elucidated some history from World War 1, when the village tried desperately to hold back a German advance across the river and canal, but were overcome and many lives were lost.

The village includes a chateau that is a small hotel, and opens its gardens to the public on a Saturday.

This was Sunday!

This bridge over the Saulx was a focal point of the fighting.

This beautiful snail was my other major find of the evening.

The next morning seemed drier so we drew in our ropes and went on our way. There was a need to find a baguette for lunch if possible. Google maps located one in the next village, where there was also a good long jetty so we felt our luck was in. However every space was taken apart from a short length at the far end, quite close to the next lock.

A plan was hatched – Stewart would put the bow into the small space, I would (somehow) jump off and rush to the boulangerie and back while he hung about mid stream waiting for me and the lock.

It worked! I arrived back with baguette in the wet weather baguette bag just in time to watch the lock gates open and Calliope glide in.

When will the sun shine again?

We continued in the rain, eating lunch along the way. By the tenth lock of the day we were wondering if it would every stop – and still 5 more to go to the night’s mooring.

It got so chilly that we thanked Piper for the heater that blows warm air up from the engine room!

This kept the Captain warm – I meantime was out in the elements. Lucky I like water.

Things got interesting around Sermaize-les-Bains, where a lock is followed in short succession by two bridges, a sharp S shape bend under a third, followed by a basin leading into the next lock, out of which was reversing a large commercial barge!

Astern astern

Uo until now sensors either side of the canal had detected our approach to a lock and begun to prepare it for us, but as we reached lock 55 the system changed.

Now we could put to use the telecommander, or zapper as we preferred to call it, pointing it at each lock when we reached the command sign on the edge of the canal.

On up through another three locks and we reached Revigny-sur-Ornaine where we hoped to stop for the night. We had been warned that the wooden jetty was taped off, but still usable, so headed towards it. But the owner of the Belgian cruiser already tied up there, came gingerly towards us to want us off – most planks of the jetty had rotted through – so Plan B came into operation.

Plan B – moor up against the VNF ice breaker, Asterix

Plan B came to be the best plan! At about 8pm, in great agitation, our Belgian friend came to our boat to point out that the water level in the bief was rapidly dropping and they were already aground! He phoned the pompiers (fire service) and gendarmes, the latter of whom duly arrived looking very perplexed. Raising the water in a canal had not been in their training.

ut they were trained in making phone calls to useful people and after another 20 minutes two VNF cars sped up. By then we had discovered that several of the ‘vantelles’ which allow water into and out of the adjacent lock had remained open and water was simply pouring out of our stretch of the canal (bief). The VNF cavalry got to work once more, partly opening up three next locks up the canal and over night the level gradually rose.

And us? Well moored to Asterix we were further out into the channel in deeper water, and unharmed by the experience.

I like to note the different style of lock-keeper houses on the different canals. On this canal the houses are built on 3 levels at the back, and two at the front – reflecting the fact that the canal is built up on a levée

Some are no longer occupied and left in varying degrees of decay and neglect.

This one has almost been captured by nature – it’s glazed entrance porch scarcely visible.

We had been told that the pont-levée (lift bridge) at Mussey would not be lifted between 11am and 2pm, so although only 6 kms away we set off at 8am in case there were problems at any of the 4 locks between us and the bridge.

And as luck would have it, we got stuck in the first lock!

Stewart tried to clear the masses of weeds that were stuck around the sensors on the lower lock gate; the lock was not filling with water and our best idea was that the system did not know that the lock gates had shut – but to no avail.

So Lesley’s ‘lock French’ to the rescue, phoning the éclusier’s office to explain where we were and what the problem was.

It worked, and we were soon free and on our way, enjoying an artistic array of canal weed as we left the lock.

The art of floating weeds
Mussey Pont-Levée

We reached Mussey pont-levée in time to get through and onward before lunch. And then two further lift bridges to arrive at Bar Le Duc.

We moored up on the quay alongside the camper van park – all very civilised. It was possible to see the old town in the distance on top of a hill so once rested from our cruising exertions we started walking towards it.

We went over the river Ornain, and began to go upwards – steps and roads – onto a rampart style walk with stunning views of the roofs of the newer, but still old, town below.

The ‘higher’ town, dating from medieval times hosts so many interesting buildings, so here are a few – the Chateau, now a museum, the church (where we had a private tour from an enthusiastic guide in his eighties, and pretending did to understand),and the c13 covered market, the clock tower.

My favourite weird story from Bar de Luc is about the wife of a Prince of Orange who, when he was killed in the siege of St Dizier asked for a sculpture to be made of what he would look like 3 years after he died (if dug up!)

Here is the strange (full size) result!

So weird to my mind.

We strolled and rolled back down the steep roads to the newer town below and found a pavement bar to revive us before and relaxation before returning to the barge for the remainder of the evening.

Next day was mainly a boat day – filling with water, cleaning winter green from window edges, and re-stocking with provisions.

Then we went out to walk round another part of town before beer and pizza.

This took us over the lovely Notre Dame bridge over the Ornaine river, with old houses flanking the banks.

Michaux, inventor of the bicycle

We discovered another of Bar de Luc’s famous son’s – Michaux – though I am sure he did not look like this!

We found a second bar with Stewart’s favourite game! And he came up against a mini pinball wizard; they enjoyed what was apparently a good pinball game.

The pizza itself was interesting on three levels/Police outside pizza place, and lovely old church. First, it was delicious, and cooked by a Tunisian, not an Italian. Second, whilst eating a table on the pavement we were suddenly disturbed by two police cars, sirens screeching, once of which drove onto the pavement. The police jumped out and arrested a young lad who looked quite innocent, but unsurprised.

And then there was this lovely old church – a complete mish-mash of styles.

Easterly leaving of Bar de Luc

We continued our journey on Friday, following a yacht at first, under a pont levée. We soon lost sight of them, being surprised by a big barge after an S bend under a bridge!

Bye bye Bar de Luc, as the bridge comes down

Later that day we had another lock that would not open – leading to an hour’s wait in a peaceful spot – then the same again 3 locks later!

On this one I had to scramble ashore from the bow into who knows what undergrowth, in order to reach the lock and use their phone.

It was too remote for us to have reception on the mobiles!

We were unable to tie up, even to a tree trunk, and with the engine off we drifted pleasantly and quietly from side to side.

But all good fun!

Once we were on our way again we passed by many moss laden lock doors, water lilies, and pieces of old lock keeper’s equipment, (I think these structures were to hold the long barge poles). Ah, this is the life!

Reached Tonville-en Barrois and found a delightful mooring just at the edge of the village, but out of sound of any road. Just birds, and later rain drops, to soothe us.

We took a walk round the village and were pleased to find a boulangeries for the morning, plus an amazing old fortified church, going back to the c12. And, more exciting for me, the first lavoir of the season.

The singing of the rain

Overnight it poured and poured with rain, hammering down on the roof of the boat – we love that sound – but it had consequences for the weediness of the canal next day, as you will see.

I made a quick trip to the boulangerie before we left Tronville, with a plan for the day of 17 locks – but we fell at the first hurdle. The first lock was chock-a-block with weed, and once full the doors would not open to let us out.

Captain Stu had a go at clearing the sensors with a boathook to no avail, so on the phone to the VNF and then settle down to enjoy the enforced break, plus wash down the side of the barge following the previous days spattering from the guy cutting and strimming the grass next to our mooring.

That was lock 27. Subsequently we were held up at locks 20, 19 and 17 – in every case waiting outside the lock because the doors would not open and the ‘deux feus rouges’ appeared, meaning ‘en panne’ again.

At least we were not as unfortunate as this Norwegian yacht, which ran aground and was truly stuck for quite some time.

They did get free, and caught us up later.

We heard that another yacht had had its keel snapped off in the low water and had to be craned out of the canal – I hope that is not true.

We ate lunch on the go, enjoyed the sunshine and lockside flowers, and had a visiting dragonfly on the deck (sorry the desk is so dirty!)

At one of the ‘stop-locks’ I had time to study and photograph the system of pulley wheels that must have been used to haul barges under the bridges, while then patient horses walked round.

All of this had a good outcome – we stopped short of our planned mooring and found a countryside idyll at Naix-en Forges, with a grassy bankside and woods of birdsong above.  

Naix-aux-Forges also possesses quite an unusual lavoir, with steps down from a front doorway, arched windows, and an oval shape wash basin, still with fresh water running in, presumably from a stream.

And what is more, by then we appeared to have left behind the thick carpets of weed. Hooray!

All clear for tomorrow we hope.

Next morning before we left, and in the interests of my new resolve to lose weight (go, I forgot to tell you that didn’t I?) I then took a walk up to the road bridge and down the canal path to the next lock, while Stewart got under way and met me at the écluse.

We were now out in the weed-free glorious cow studded countryside, with blue skies, billowing clouds, and scarcely ever a boat to be seen.

We passed pastures full of flowers, little villages in the distance, and big hunting birds – mostly red kites, soaring above us.

The locks all worked perfectly, ready and open for us as we approached.

This was definitely one of the most enjoyable days on this canal – one of those days when you want to shout “this is why we did it!”

It is only with photos that I can do justice to the colours, the clarity of the water, the natural surroundings. Sorry not to wax more lyrical, but a picture paints a thousand words after all.

This day took us up to the top of the canal – next task the 5km tunnel to the other side. So we moored up just before Lock 1 at Demange-aux-Eaux, attached in a relatively precarious non-maritime way; each rope across the pontoon and round a signpost on the bank! But there were no bollards or cleats on the pontoon so little choice.

From the lock bridge at Demange

Luckily there is only a long distance view of this outrage.

We went for our customary walk around the village – a village with no shops, cafés, bars or restaurants. But they have a lovely bridge over the (much narrower than Bar De Luc) Ornaine river, and a church visible across the fields that has its entry over a tributary. Yes, that’s me posing on the church bridge.

Naix-aux Forges lavoir

As we crossed a smaller bridge we noticed what must have been in the past a lovely long, sunlit lavoir, and now seemingly used to store village bits and pieces. It was all locked up, netting across the washing area and the beautiful wood sides left to perish.

I managed a photo from yet another bridge. I can almost see and hear the chatter and splashing of the women as they washed their clothes; quite pleasant on a sunny summers day, but far from attractive to have that chore in the winter.

Maybe some day the villagers will decide it is a nice idea to restore it all.

I had a bit of ‘really-me’ time sitting on the pontoon, my feet in the water, and with a perfect mini world of nature below me. In the clear waters were tadpoles and little blue and yellow fish. Flying above were several types of dragonfly, bee and butterfly, darting from flower to flower, or water weed to water weed. All of course moving too fast for me, apart from these two feeble attempts, plus the dragonfly sex scene on our geraniums.

Stu and Boris swap canal and wine stories

That evening we made the enjoyable ‘mistake’ of inviting our neighbours, Boris and Marsha, across from their cruiser African Queen to swap notes on canals, locks and moorings.

They are lovely friendly people and we got to know them very well over some wine, breadsticks, and a remarkably good rum – from St Nicholas Abbey, Barbados.

With the knowledge of the tunnel in front of us, we called an end to the fun before it got too late – but definitely up for it next time!

Off to bed with a full moon shining – and is that Venus just to the right?

And so it was Mauvage tunnel day. I make it sound more frightening than it is of course. It’s just that I know Stewart doesn’t like the narrowness of the tunnels and the way they suck Calliope into the side.

Still we started off brightly, through lock 1, and heading for the left hand turn towards the tunnel. Seemed a shame to be going underground on such a beautiful June day, but only for an hour.

The arm up to the tunnel entrance passes the old ‘Towing Service’ building. Until quite recently all boats and barges were towed through the tunnel and some of the service boats were moored up outside.

Then into and out of the tunnel – all 4.785kms of it, well lit and with a path running alongside the water where our éclusier friend rode his bike to keep us company. It took almost an hour of Stewart’s undivided attention to make sure we kept a straight path, and we emerged into the sunshine undamaged and undaunted.

There are 12 locks down into the next town, Void-Vacun. That felt good after the 70 upward locks of the previous week! We took on the first 7 and then stopped for lunch, allowing nature girl a few more photos!

An hour later and we arrived in Void, to find all the official moorings full, the bridge about to be closed for work next day, and the shops closed – it is Monday in France after all!

But all worked out fine. We were permitted to moor up on an old industrial wharf where goods from huge silos (we are not sure what) were once moved by barge, and now by lorry. It was surprisingly peaceful, the occasional lorry on the weighbridge gone by 4pm, the gates locked, and the space left to us and dozens of house martins.

Evening view across to Void-Vacun

After a tranquil evening and night we were up in the morning to watch the VNF tug do its mighty work pushing an iron barge topped with a massive girder for the bridge repairs. We watched as we walked over the passerelle to the town for food shopping.

The town was far more interesting than we had expected, with another old covered market place, with 44 columns to reflect the Roman buildings of nearby Nasium. For some bizarre reason, 4 are rectangular and the best are circular, in no particular pattern that I could detect.

A small river runs through the back of the town, the river Vidus, right by the little Proxi supermarket. We also found a good boulangerie and a great boucherie, with typical slightly raucous butcher’s chat!

As we walked back to the boat we cut through under Les Halles, the old market place, and found ourselves on front of a mighty fortified gateway, through which are the church, the chateau …

… and a characterful, part fortified, pigeon house. So much more to Void than immediately catches the eye.

The old Void bridges and lavoir

And in case you thought I had forgotten the lavoirs, Void’s lavoir has now gone, but a photo including women doing their washing is next to the canal bridge where it used to stand.

And then I went for a walk round the back of town and found another lavoir, on a branch of the River Vidus, next to a pretty tumbling area of the river.

Back to Calliope for the evening and a quiet time on the back deck waiting for sundown – rather late at this time of year, with the summer solstice only 3 days away!

Tomorrow morning it will be good bye to Void, and good bye to the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, Oest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montech canal, willow

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

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

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

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

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

Montauban out to dinner

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

 

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

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

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

La plage du lac de Negret

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

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

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

Montauban port lizard

…. or lizard!

 

 

 

Montauban port jet wash

 

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

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

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

Lock onto TArn 2

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

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

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

Going into the lower lock

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

leaving TArn lock

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

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

Sapiac logs at mooring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

night heron

Black headed night heron

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauzerte restaurant

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Went through fruit farms…

… past straying cornflowers and sunflowers …

… saw a Lamborghini tractor …

Corbarieu bike ride

 

 

 

… and rushed back under an impending rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corbarieu fete 6

Stu getting a beer in before the next downpour

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

 

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

Corbarieu fete 4

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

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

 

 

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

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

sunflower

… our only sun being the sunflowers in the bow.

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

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

Montauban with Ron and PaulineIt was hot, so of course Ron and Pauline were thirsty. After a pleasant amble around the narrow shady streets at the heart of Montauban we settled down in the square for a pint – or should I say a 33cl? (Stu sat back just as I took the photo, hence only a glimpse of the Captain.)

Montech cana, leaving Montauban portNext day we were due to start our return journey to Moissac. It was a beautiful blue and green day, just right to travel slowly up to Month. Pauline and I were keen to have croissants for breakfast and dashed off to the local boulangerie, only to find it is closed on a Tuesday, and no other boulangerie close by. We settled for toast and cereal, a very British breakfast.

Along the way I had the chance to point out some of the features of the canal. First, for some reason, although most of the lock walls are green/grey and covered in slime, one was clean red brickwork; not sure why. The photo on the left also shows the lower parts of one of the poles we used to rope the barge as we ascended the lock.

Montech canal, weed grabber and weedThe canal can we rather weedy, but the VNF ‘hommes et femmes’ do make an effort to clean it up. We passed the ‘weed grabber’ machine at the side of the canal, next to a big heap of dried out weed.

Montech canal near Lacourte St PierreA lovely lazy dog watched us as we went back past Lacourt-St-Pierre, our overnight stop on the way down. It was that kind of day – enjoy the sun, but do as little as possible when out in it. I am rather taken by the bamboo sun screen for the boat – mental note to get some.

The bridges over the canal mostly match, brick built, next to the locks, some decorated with greenery. There were two other very different styles of bridges – one that carried the A62 over us with lots of noise and fuss; the others obviously built later in the canal’s history, Stu guesses it is 1930’s re-inforced concrete.

The bridge at Lacourte St Pierre has slender metal uprights, balancing the heavy concrete arch, and also gave me a window to a flying purple heron – you’ll have to take my word for it!

 

Montech canal, leavingThree happy hot and happy hours after setting off the final bridge and end of the canal were in view, including one of the tall chimneys left for the old paper factory.

Montech canal, typical lock pontoonIt’s a short, gentle canal to cruise; one not to be missed, especially with the delights of Montauban and the Tarn at the end.

After another visit to Montech market and lunch moored up waiting for the éclusiers to return from their break we were off again towards Moissac with Ron and Pauline. Although strictly a Canal du Garonne voyage, I am including the rest of their cruise with us.

St Porquier Stu and PaulineWe went down the Montech flight, in really really hot sunshine! Then moored up at St Porquier where we put up the parasol and enjoyed the shade. Stu and Pauline got stuck into a word game, Ron read, and I, as usual, took photos!

Some youngsters were using St Porquier bridge as a diving (or should I say jumping?) platform. Oh so good to splash into the canal on that hot day.

The mooring is as we remembered it from last time when we just stopped for lunch; a good pontoon, little mini-park area, and not much shade until later in the day. Pauline and I just had to dip our toes in for a cool-down.

As it became cooler we went for a walk into the village – and to see if there was a chance of croissants the next morning. The village has some interesting buildings, plus the hoped for boulangerie.

near St PorquierAfter a croissants breakfast we were off on the final stretch into Montauban with Ron and Pauline, enjoying the sunflower vistas that opened before us.

Yes, the Montech Canal and Montauban is definitely a recommended trip!

 

 

Looking back – Canal de Garonne from West to East

Funny the things you see when you are heading on the opposite direction!

For example we found beetles amassing at Le-Mas-d’Agenais on the old walls of the village.

IMG_1262

 

And I found time to walk across Le-Mas-d’Agenais bridge in the day time and take a mid-Garonne selfie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bridge is a triumph of engineering from 1837, taking traffic across the canal and the Garonne on one majestic sweep.

EsperanceWe had passed and noticed the Esperance on our Westward voyage, but no graphic evidence survived, so I was pleased to get this photo on the way back.  So sad that a barge named Hope is now in this state – but I guess there is still hope that someone will revive her.

We didn’t moor at Villeton on the way through, but managed to secure a good partially shaded mooring against a high wall on the way back. The bridge is typical of the Canal de Garonne, stone built with a beautifully balanced arch.

Villeton reflected moon

 

 

 

That night the moon was elected as a pinprick of light in the darkened waters.

 

 

 

 

We decided that it was not too far to walk to Tonneins from Villeton and see the old Gauloise factory and the Garonne.  It was further that we thought on a busy road and on a hot day! We did make it but the museum was closed, along with almost all the cafés. We sat by the Garonne for a while, then found a café opposite the station for a coke. We chickened out of the walk back an ordered a taxi to take the weary old batteliers home!

Damazan evening on return tripNext stop Damazan – one of our favourites. This time Calliope took the shady mooring on the right bank and we looked out towards the bridge and our previous hotspot mooring on the left bank.

Damazan mooring going East

Hidden amongst the long grass and bushes were two concrete bollards, tough enough to hold the biggest of peniches.

We took a couple of walks to areas we had not covered before and discovered, surprisingly in rural France, a cricket club. We also found a lake for swimming and other water based activities.

The map at the port mentioned an old dovecote and two lavoirs; I had not managed to locate these previously but now had time to find everything.

Damazan public loosJust near the dovecote was another ‘antiquity’ – the old public conveniences! I am pleased to report that they are no longer in official use.

Damazan fontaine des anglais

Damazan Fontaine des Anglaises

Moving on ….. we discovered that Damazan has two lavoirs, both missed on our first run west. The oldest is next to the Fontaines des Anglaise – seemingly a brick and stone built edifice to help villagers collect water from a natural spring. It was built by les Anglaises, way back in about 1368 during the Hundred Years War; a peaceful cool and shady spot on a hot day.

Just down stream of this is a lavoir and a huge stone trough where livestock were taken to drink and be bathed.

These beautiful watering holes were considered picturesque in Victorian times and led to a few photos being taken with the locals. Picturesque is mixed with truth here, as you realise the tough time women of all ages had getting the washing done.

Damazan lavoir l'EscoubetThe second lavoir, named L’Escourbet, is out of town on the other side, much more recent, and far less attractive, but I include it here as part of my lavoir report.

You may be gathering that I rather like Damazan. It is one of my favourite villages along the canal. So many lovely buildings to capture on film ( I mean digitally!) The Café des Promenades is at one end of the big ‘place’ where people gather and boule is played.

The war memorial is one of the most poignant I have evener seen and bought tears to my eyes – so many young women will have taken flowers in memory of brothers, boyfriends, sons, husbands lost on the war and this somehow captures the mood.

SerignacNext stop Serignac – another favourite. It was a hot couple of days so we made the most of everything that could contribute to shade!

 

The Bastide is very small, so no new photos of the village, but we happened upon a free concert in the village square, with the bar set up across the church doorway and all ages coming together as a community.

Regretfully I only took my phone to the concert and it was not up to taking decent photos in the dark, but I hope they give a sense of the atmosphere.

After a couple of days we continued retracing our wake into Agen and moored up in exactly the same place as when heading West a few weeks before. The weather was so much better on this trip that I took photos again when crossing the Tarn viaduct.

Agen cool sprayThe two days included essentials such as sorting out a SIM, looking at bikes, and going to the market. It was still hot and we were glad of the innovative cool mist blowers attached to some lampposts.

But we also had some fun – a most enjoyable evening out with a couple of beers in the centre, followed by a good Corsican meal in one of the many narrow streets.

 

 

 

And in a moment of madness on a very hot (30 degrees plus) day walked up the steepest hill I have ever encountered to l’Ermitage. The views across the city and far beyond made it all worth while, even though we could not get to the old houses carved out of the cliffs. (You can just see these in the white cliffs to the right of the church in the first photo.)

Near Boe lavoirAfter a couple of nights our journey East continued. Stewart started to notice small utilitarian concrete structures at the side of the canal and suggested that they were lavoirs. Initially I dismissed his idea, but then on looking closer I saw that there were ‘soap dishes’ built into them and that they were indeed relatively modern urban lavoirs – this one near Boé

Time to carry on towards Moissac where we were due to meet daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in a few days time.  We had ideas of mooring up at le lac bleu near Golfech, but were so hungry and ready for lunch that we stopped at a wild mooring 2 kms beforehand …… and decided to stay. We had stopped there before, just outside Lamagestere; this time I added wild swimming to our enjoyment of the place.

In the morning I noticed a visitor camouflaged amongst the rosemary plant – a huge grasshopper!  Then later I was ready with the camera as one of many herons took off from the bank.

We had walked up to le lac bleu the afternoon before, and loved it! I saw more dragonfly varieties than ever before, a mix of water birds, fishes around my feet as I called them in the water, peace and tranquility! So on our way to Moissac I was treated to an hour’s mooring at le lac bleu with a camera.

IMG_4750

Think you might get bored of dragonflies at this point ……..

And in addition to dragonflies there were lizards, birds, fish, flowers … my nature heaven!

Moissac bridgeBut on to Moissac and preparations for family arriving – very exciting as we had been longing to see them. The beautiful bridge over the Tarn came into view and we knew we were nearly there.

Moissac lock bridgeWe moored up next to all the locks, those up to the canal and aqueduct, and those down to Le Tarn. We looked forward to darkness and coolness falling at the end of the day, as temperatures were still up in the thirties, sometimes 38.

Moissac boulangerie trip

Next day we drove to Toulouse airport; daughter, son-in-law and grand daughter arrived, in the blistering heat!  Almost as soon as they arrived I set off to the boulangerie with the young one; we went for bread, she came skipping back with ‘cake-in-a-box’!

 

Sun hat off, sunglasses discarded, but appropriately plastered up with Factor 50!

 

 

 

The following morning, whilst still cool and allowing parents a lie in, Grandad and Granny set off across the lock bridge to a little playpark in the shade by the Tarn.

Later we had a Moissac exploration, including the market and the Abbey, with coffee and ice cream in the square and a little picnic in the Abbot’s garden – desperately seeking shade!

We had a cruise plan in place for the holidaymakers which was to set off towards Montech on Monday. But before we could depart we needed to take on board the folding bike that Stewart had ordered online. This arrived at the Capitainerie at about 1130! So after a swift early lunch we were off to enjoy the fresh air and views from yet another viaduct over le Tarn, and the moisture in the air as we went up the chain of locks outside Moissac.

IMG_7238We found a shady mooring half under a bridge near St Porquier for a siesta and a place to dangle our toes in the water – mmmmmmmm! An overnight stop seemed a good idea!

Knowing that Montech market was next day we made sure we arrived in there in time for a quick shop and lunch, prior to floating onto waters new ….

IMG_4783… l’Embranchement de Montech …. the short canal from Montech to Montauban.

That will be the next chapter!

Heading l’Oeust from Moissac to Agen – Canal de Garonne part 3

swing bridge Moissac

Swing bridge opens for us to leave  Moissac

Leaving Moissac, and the operator of the swing bridge spies us out of her little green window, sopping the traffic for Calliope to glide through.

next_to_the_tarn

First three kilometres alongside le Tarn, then a huge widening of the river waters as le Tarn joins la Garonne.

The Garonne continues next to the canal for another five kilometres, always just in sight through the trees, and less than 50 yards away.

Ecluse 27 Petit Bezy

Ecluse 27 Petit Bezy

There are not many locks along this stretch,  but this one at Petit Bézy must have been important at some time join the past. as evidenced by the much larger lock keeper’s house.

Good to see that someone is loving in this one – so many are abandoned and boarded up.

And while I am talking lock language, I noticed on this gentle journey that the locks on this canal have been extended at some point in time – you can see where the old gates used to be and the change in construction materials beyond to the ‘new’ gatess.

ecluse_pomevic

Abandoned little Pommevic lock keepers house

We had half a plan to moor up at Pommevic, having heard that it was a delightful rural mooring.

S and L cruisingFrom the little Pommevic lock onwards we had our eyes trained forward. We were therefore initially disappointed to see the small pontoon already taken by another boat, and on room for us. However a different, and in many ways better, mooring was in store four kilometres further on at Valence-d’Agen.

valence_arrival

Looking across to the port at Valence-d’Agen

At first we thought there was not space for us here either, but after passing three beautiful barges on the left bank pontoon and quay we found there was room for us on the grass bank beyond.

valence_first_mooring_2

Valence-D’aged first mooring

Two helpful bargees emerged from the other boats to help with ropes and we were soon secure.

For us Valence-d’Agen was a great town to visit. For a start it has three lavoirs for lavoir loving Lesley! These were built sequentially as the town officials gradually cleared swampy land around the town and looked for healthier, cleaner lavoir sites.

(Sorry, I have to include a few details from the lavoirs, including me enjoying being there!)

Then it has two market places, both with character, and plenty of interesting streets in-between. There are enough shops, bars and restaurants to more than satisfy our simple tastes so we stayed for four sunny warm days.

The church is visible from may directions, including from our mooring, and has a great modern twist outside the back door – not sure if it is the Madonna and Child…..

Parallel to the Canal de Garonne from PK74 up to and past Valence is a second canal – Canal de la centrale nucléaire. This takes waters from la Garonne to the nuclear power station, and re-enters le Garonne further downstream. I walked back to the old bridge to try to photograph bot canals together, but not possible from my vantage point.

valence_aground

Our mooring experience was mixed – finding ourselves aground after night one (the water level dropped about a foot, possibly with farmers irrigating crops), then afloat again after some judicial re-tethering by Stu.

After the second night one of the other barges moved on and we took a backward step – of about 30 yards – to moor up in their place on a wooden jetty with our own little wooden steps. Progress has been wonderfully slow and relaxed this year, though today was the first time we actually went backwards. . . . .  

A relaxed Captain makes for contented crew; we have our own ways of relaxing, some of which coincide!

We were not the only ones to enjoy the sun either – lots of dog walking going on, and one dog in particular whose love of life and water had us smiling for ages.

Before we left we were able to see the market places in action with a very good large market, full of local produce, wine, kitchenware, beds, tablecloths …..

In some ways we were sad to leave, but we knew further treats were in store so we headed on WNW with another half plan. This time we were aiming for another peaceful stopping place by le lac bleu.

golfech_church

We passed by Golfech, a little village now dominated by the cooling towers of the nuclear power station.

golfech_bridgeIt was at Golfech that I finally got to grips with the PK markers on this canal – they are displayed on bridges to the third decimal place – how’s that for French accuracy? Not the only thing to be displayed as you can see.

And each kilometres is marked by a metal plate on the ground, not easily seen by passing barges!

At le lac bleu again we were thwarted by another barge, but who can blame other bateliers from choosing the same good spots?

Then we had a serendipitous moment – at first frighteningly bad. We were viewing a potential, but seemingly unsuitable, grass bank mooring opposite a winding hole when the engine began to screech. Stu and I looked at each other in surprise and he quickly switched to neutral which stopped the noise. As soon as he tried to engage the gear, forward or astern, the screeching returned.

Magistere mooring 2He decided to edge into the bank spot that we could stop and investigate, requiring an interesting leap ashore with two ropes, a hammer and a spike between the teeth for me – well, sort of! Anyway, once moored up we investigated the weed hatch, which is where I come into my own.

Weed!I LOVE clearing weed hatches! And there was quite a lot of weed. Stu tried the engine again – all was quiet so we relaxed into having lunch, then relaxed into liking the mooring, and then stopped three nights!

We walked into the local village, Lamagestère, to find we had a small supermarket, boulangerie, station, and a lovely waterfront with la Garonne flowing steadily by (with the nuclear power station calling towers in the background).

It’s a bit of a trek along the canal bank from the bridge to the barge – only 150 yards, but a relatively unused pathway.

Lamagistere mooring 2

The Google maps aerial view gives the mooring its context within the landscape – consider the blue dot to be Calliope!

claremont_soubiran_2Another afternoon we walked in the other direction, north to a hilltop village we could see a couple of kilometres away – Claremont-Soubiran. It was quite a climb on a hot day, but an amazing view for the top.

claremont_soubiranAlong a plateau from the village stretches an Italianate looking green, part of the estate around the chateau being to Les Deux Soeurs, who have a vineyard making luxury wines. Unfortunately it was closed for tasting and buying when we got to the top!

Just a few of the creatures we saw along the way. No, we can’t smuggle the donkey onto the boat . . . . 

It was SO hot for the first couple of days at Lemagistère that we had to take defensive action!

Lamagistere rain

Our stay was partly marked by the unworldly piping song of an unknown bird, which we now believe to be a golden oriole.

But our last day at there was marked by unrelenting pouring rain; a day for reading and catching up with the blog!

 

 

Lamagistere last morning

Next morning the sun shone again, through a watery blue sky ….

Stu and weed

… and Stewart was able to clear the weed that had build up around the boat before we set off. (Yes, it’s blurry, but it is an action shot after all).

We were off on a 14 kilometre stint, with only two locks, to take us to the outskirts of Agen; a gentle day.

Le Garonne wove close and away again as we travelled, at times so close that only the  railway line separated us.

Lock restaurantAt écluse 33, St-Christophe, at Mouynes the ex-lockkeeper’s house was large enough to be converted into a restaurant, probably due to the importance of keeping the river and canal part just along here.

Kingfisher

Yes, a kingfisher

Just after Lock 33 we got all excited to see a kingfisher, the first for some weeks. My attempts at photographing kingfishers are many and pathetic; I promise this is a live kingfisher in that tree!
Boé chateau

As we rounded the curve to Boé –  we passed by the chateau, cleverly hidden from the canal by mature trees.

Initially we were not sure about mooring here; as mentioned on the DBA site the little port has been fitted out with pontoons for small boats, plus the stretch beyond the port was occupied by one (soon to be two) hotel barges.