Up the Jonction

 

I didn’t do my research properly for the blog going down to Port de la Nouvelle. I regret that I used the names Canal de la Robine and Embranchement de Nouvelle interchangeably and incorrectly!

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Calliope moored at Quai Victor Hugo, Narbonne

So let’s put that right. Narbonne is key. A mixture of Romans digging a channel to connect Narbonne to the sea, and a need for water from the Aude for Narbonne during the Middle Ages resulted in what became the canal de la Robine. A further 5 kms was required to link this, north of the Aude, to the Canal du Midi. When this was built it was named Canal de Jonction. The two together are known as the Nouvelle branch, or Embranchement de La Nouvelle.

When I returned from the Greek wedding Stewart and Calliope were still at Gua lock and mill, north of Narbonne, so we still had 8 kms of Canal de Robine before the Aude crossing and into Canal du Jonction.

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Stu preparing Calliope to leave Gua

We accomplished this easily in a short morning’s cruise, arriving in Sallèles-d’Aude in time for lunch.

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On the way we saw several Azure Winged Magpies -sensational, unexpected, thrilling! But no chance of a photo, so bird book must suffice.

 

 

 

The crossing of the Aude, past the weir, upstream, and a sharp right turn into the Canal de Jonction had the usual frisson and gentle tension of the unusual, with all going well. We are now truly ‘up the Junction’.

Then Gailhousty lock, with its dry dock to the side of the mostly unused lower lock, and it’s maddeningly scenic steps, plants, angles.

We moored up in Sallèles-d”Aude for a couple of days, allowing time for a restock at the 7 Écluses wine cave, rekindling of friendships on Papyrus and Escapade, and a bird watching walk back down to the river.

The lock at Sallèles is quite deep – deeper than it says in the navigation book – and deep enough to have, and need, poles down the side of the lock walls for batteliers to slide their ropes up and down.

Once more we did not manage to photograph anything exciting, but I will share with you my shadowy images of crested lark, swallow and nightingale!

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Captain Stu was able to take in the full extent of L’Aude weir from the firm footing of a salmon jump grid!

 

 

 

 

404EF502-52A0-4E11-9182-D088EA209EE0On the second evening it began to rain, and rain, and pour with rain. This did not dim the night-time lighting of our neighbours boat!

By next morning the skies had cleared and we steamed off for our final 4 kms of the Jonction. It is a very straight stretch, pleasant, and with 5 self-operated locks – all very similar except the last one, Cesse, which has there only operations bourne of its kind I have seen!

46D78F6B-D97E-47D1-9414-B0C247F52275Our final excitement was seeing a HUGE barge reversing through the little bridge we were aiming for, where Midi and Jonction meet. Luckily he was a skilful skipper with a boat load of school kids, and manoeuvred in to moor on the bank and let us past.

Then good-bye Jonction – we have reached the junction with the Midi, and a wide sweeping turn to starboard took us on our way.

Of course I should be ending this chapter now, with the end of the Jonction, but to finish the week off I will just let you know that we had a hectic half hour wiggling round two bends that included a narrow bridge, a narrow aqueduct, lots of moored boats, two big barges coming towards us, and two relatively idiotic holiday boats in front of us. Captain Calm negotiated all.

We moored up 3 kilometres further on, at La Somail, and settled down to finish our week in a delightful mooring just below the famous bridge.

The weather moved from sun to storm and back again over the next few hours, the bridge transformed against the skies.

Another wonderful week, and plenty more to come.

Canal de Robine – the start of the return

Saturday in Port-la Nouvelle was like Friday but better, and interesting!

 

CAAF7F8F-244C-4CBD-8A0D-63AC77E8147DWe even had steak haché and frites cooked for us by the crew!

Our mooring seemed to have gate-crashed a pompier (fire and rescue service) training weekend and we enjoyed watching about 25 young people climbing in and out of wet suits, running by and swimming in the canal, kilometres at a time, jumping off bridges etc.

What with that and food shopping we passed an entertaing morning, and after lunch, with the sun blazing in the blue sky, we went for a walk round town before heading for the beach.

5F1D6E51-6355-4919-BDE7-A34D7CB37AB6The Med felt cold, but we persevered and conditioned ourselves enough for a mini-dip. Somehow feeling cold on the outside demanded feeling cold on the inside, so we repaired to an ice cream parlour, where the cream comes from cows on a farm at the foot of the Pyrenees. A framboise sorbet v vanilla ice cream war began.

E8FFB5EC-2F65-4962-A1D6-EDF020CD935BBack on board Stu and I sat back to watch the gathering clouds while our supper was cooked, expecting a downpour, but none came. All credit to Keeva for the photo.

Sunday morning was another opportunity for Captain and First Mate to view more of Port-la-Nouvelle and it’s étangs from the various bridge vantage points.

Another  sunny beach afternoon was planned but a trio of French strikes, starting with air-traffic control, conspired against us. On the way to the beach Keeva received a text to say their flight home on Tuesday was cancelled and another flight  must be booked. Thence began a frustrating couple of hours for the wee bairn trying to get through to Ryanair. Eventually a flight could be booked for Wednesday – but the rail strike of that day meant that they could not get to the airport! So Monday was booked, the very next day, cutting the holiday short. 😢

So let’s make the final day as French as poss, starting with a breakfast trip to the boulangerie.

042A5C0A-5E1A-40BC-88FA-4214B3296C90Next a walk to ‘la gare’ and a trip to Carcassonne via Narbonne.

9F59B936-99BB-4A59-81F4-C4FF6F9EB1FFI managed to organise a two hour gap at Carcassonne- long enough for a good ‘menu du jour’ lunch in the square before waving them off on the airport shuttle bus.

That left Stu and I to make the trip back up the Robine alone. We made way next morning, passing first into the fishing port in order to turn round, and then back into the canal.

We did not get far. After a kilometre, just as we reached the first lock and Stu was moving into the bank to put me ashore, the VNF van with a frantic lock keeper rushed up. With much waving of arms, shouting of “non, fermé, graves” we picked up that the lock was shut for a grave reason. We provided sellotape for his hand written sign to be affixed to the lock operations box, and settled down to an enforced 24 hour stop at Isle St Lucie, along with its ravenous mosquitoes!

Now those of you who can count will know that we have only met a duo of French strikes so far, and later that day the meaning of ‘graves’, or as it turned out, ‘gréves’, became apparent. It means strike – a lock keepers strike!

 

 

But it gave Stu and I the opportunity for a good long walk out amongst the old salt pans to the ruined buildings (one an old gun emplacement) where the étang meets the Med. And another paddling opportunity for me!

 

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Ready and waiting for Isle St Lucie lock to open

A night behind nets kept us safe from bites and at 9am next morning we were ready for Philipe, our new friend the éclusier, to arrive and switch on the lock mechanism. For a while it seemed that the fates were against us, when the lock filling stopped part way through – but a few hefty well placed jumps on the lock gates got things in motion.

The cruise up was as beautiful as the cruise down. There can be few stretches of canal as stunning as this on a blue sky day.

We were in a bit of a rush to get to Narbonne by midday, where we had set up a lunch date with friends. We kind of made it, to the outskirts, by midday, but it was closer to 1230 by the time we found Stu’s chosen mooring by the theatre. Our friends were undeterred, and a really good lunch ensued at the old mill restaurant by the Gua écluse. This was followed by Calliope coffee time.

After one night tied up outside the theatre, Captain’s expected mooring of choice for a few days, he decided it was a bit more lively than required so we drew in our lines, moved through the centre of a busy market-day Narbonne, up the bright flowery lock, under some interesting bridges, and around to moor above Gua.

IMG_7901.jpgAh, peace and relative tranquility!

 

Next day was Friday – 5 weeks of the season beneath our life-belts already! Also the day I fell ill for a few days, then flew to Greece for a week to go to a wedding’ leaving Captain Stu crewless for 7 days …….. blog to continue on my (healthy) return.

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Canal de la Robine – to the end!

aka Embranchment de la Nouvelle

May 11 – 18 2018

A week of city-scape, landscape, sea scape and port, as we moved the 35 kilometres from the junction with the Midi, through Sallèles-d’Aude and Narbonne, to Port de la Nouvelle, picking up two visitors and lots of mosquito bites along the way.

Looking back, it had been very very windy for over two weeks – force 7 to 8 most days. The locals say they’ve never known anything like it. Exhilarating, but not much fun for persuading large barges into small oval locks, although with super Stu at the helm all has been accomplished without mishap.

 

So we began with a strenuous voyage (ha ha) of 3 kilometres, filling and emptying the 5 locks as we went, all under blue skies.

C19DA1F7-E7C9-4C8F-8E04-38986D32F736We moored up under palm trees in Sallèles-d’Aude with the front wheelhouse window down, and feeling all set for summer!

From 1730 onwards we noticed something strange going on in the building next to our mooring. Cars drew up, people walked up, disappeared into the basement …… and reappeared with strange plastic containers full of red liquid – even children and dogs!


Aah, good, we have unknowingly moored next to a wine cave! We are now the proud owners of a rosé and a rouge BIB (bag in box) – 5L for €10 and tastes very good, plus my latest aperitif – Andréa”

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We awoke in Sallèles-d’Aude on Saturday May 12th – ME Awareness Day and all of the Millions Missing events around the world. Our daughter Hollie is one of the millions missing due to ME, so we played our small part by placing shoes with a message outside our boat for the day.

 

There was time to take a few photos of the interesting passerelle (footbridge) and the local muscovy ducks, and to visit our neighbours who are bravely doing up a huge old barge, with no previous experience of boats, carpentry or engineering!

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We went to sleep with rain clouds collecting  until we had an absolute downpour overnight.

 

Next day dawned a bit better and  we set off for a more exciting trip than anticipated. After the heavy rain (7” collected in our bucket!) we set off into the lock at the bottom of the port with our friends Ian and Jill  who had arrived on their boat Jazz the previous afternoon, and descended over 4m.

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The gates opened, out went Ian and Gill – and as we set off to to follow the huge gates started to close on us. Hard astern saved us from getting severely pincered, and several blasts on hooter eventually raised the red faced éclusier who re-opened the gates for us.

Then in the beautiful Gailhousty lock, with its cleverly designed dry dock, Stewart’s rope got caught on the bollard; eventually he had to undo it aboard and throw it up onto the side, where, luckily, another boater waiting to come up noticed and threw it back on board.

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After Gailhousty you are out on l’Aude river, with this fun little crossing to do.

 

 

1000E1F3-CE01-4CA1-A19E-BB5AD8E6610EAfter joining the swollen rushing Aude for a few hundred yards we followed Jazz towards the calm safety of the canal on the other side we were somewhat distressed to see the huge canal flood doors closed against us!

29800E00-C4D3-4054-9624-8830B7BCC7E7Another éclusier asleep on the job suddenly jumped into action as we bore down (in full reverse) on Ian performing heroic acts of helmsmanship to maintain his position as the gates slowly opened.

Such excitement almost made us stop outside of Narbonne for a beak, but after lunch at Gua, on the outskirts of the city, we felt emboldened and carried on through the lower and lower bridges to the centre.

Merchants Bridge, the last one after the Narbonne lock, is certainly one of the lowest Calliope has encountered, ‘mais pas de promblème’! I’m getting the hang of this language at last.

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Narbonne mooring

We found a pleasant mooring just behind Jazz and settled down for a few days.

Next day we collected the hire car and then collected Keeva and Will from Carcassonne airport. Out to an interesting pizza place for supper!

Next day we four had fun on a gale force day in Narbonne. It is an interesting, and in parts lovely, city – the indoor market, right on the canal side, has far too many delicious and tempting food stuffs.

623BD138-EBFC-45D3-9092-CE3DCBAD397AAnd by night, time to learn some new card games, this one’s polite name being ‘Poo Face”

On Wednesday we left Narbonne in better weather than we found it and took the barge 8 kms down to Mandirac lock – an out on the middle of nowhere kind of mooring – great contrast to Narbonne.

The young ones and I went for an exploratory walk, hoping to find our first étang, but it had been drained for agriculture! However we did find the last surviving barque de patron which is being done up near Mandirac.

Talking of old boats, right next to us was Pytheas – Greek geographer and explorer, no more …..

Thursday, and moving on southwards again. The accoutrements of summer surround me at last as the wind drops; early sun on the water, holiday makers on the fore deck, herb garden, geraniums and a parasol waiting to go up!

7285BF56-18D8-4BA3-92EC-A294AC4E1435As the land strip for the canal narrows between Étang de l’Ayrolles and Étang de Bages the trip takes on a surreal feel, moving on water between waters.

Beng a Nature Girl I’d been looking forward to Isle St Lucie – a small island nature reserve surrounded by the canal and a big étang or lagoon. One of its ‘attractions’ is being left entirely natural – including the marauding mosquitos, and although we were warned about them and had sprayed ourselves to excess, we turned out to be easy prey.  Keeva managed 52 bites, Will about 24 and another few dozen between Stu and I!!

This did not deter us from a flamingo hunt on the isle, including going where no man should!  Strange but true, the only flamingoes we found were white!

That evening, and next morning, various of our party walked the mile across the étang dykes to reach the sea, with many stunning shapes and colours along the way.

Next morning was just so beautiful I almost forgave the mosquitoes!

C06DE8E4-6D8F-4776-BBFF-17EF63884026We had just 3 kilometres and one lock to our final destination, so that won’t take long will it? Into the lock, start our descent of 0.8m. Hardly a troublesome distance, until the lock mechanism jams in some way and we are stuck!  A phone call to the éclusiers soon has us fixed and on our way ……

1175C167-EBE5-4AB6-ACA0-7C8B67861810….. down a rather reedy stretch!

 

2589EDFE-F1CE-47AF-A2C4-CC3EE9742FE9Nonetheless we cruised gently on to Port-la-Nouvelle, trying out a couple of moorings (one had us aground) before settling just before the bridge at the end of the canal.

It may not be the most scenic of our moorings, but is generally quiet (especially at the weekend), very handy to the town and beach, and we quite like it!

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It also has better reception for video phone calls home than when we are out in the wilds of nature!

 

More about Port-la-Nouvelle next week, including combatting the mosquitoes!

 

Semaine Trois

Will we, won’t we, windy, windy, windy.

Deciding when to leave Marseillette is a wind blown decision – waiting for the gusts and gales to diminish so that our progress on down the canal is more enjoyable.

D530CC5C-C44D-4EFB-8B96-0C3F16F84C36Eventually on Friday, mid morning, the leaves are rustling less and the Red Ensign drops below 90 degrees, so we cast off, although I still needed to travel with plaits so that I could see the way ahead!

We have half an eye on what other boaters are on the move in the hope of having locks to ourselves – not because we are greedy – just makes it easier and quicker. So having glided into the first lock and hearing the gates close behind us we are a little surprised when  they reopen – and another boat appears around the bend to join us.

It turned out to be a group of 6 Australians on holiday – lovely people and good at handling their boat, so all proceeded pleasantly through the next few locks, in company with them.

27480E49-2AF5-45CE-8F78-584A60466D47But we did meet less able boaters, including coming upon a luckless family with papa aboard, mama and children in the bank, and the boat across the canal! All was sorted eventually.

CF3BDA95-69CE-4719-879B-9F6BAFDA8513We reached the inevitable 12 o’clock-lunch-lock-down at l’Aiguille and enjoyed a blue-sky break before continuing on towards La Redorte – long stretches where ‘the plane trees were gone but the roots linger on.,

0B03D5CB-98E7-4C7B-B4A8-51182D923909Our luck was in – the best mooring in town, for us, was empty and we were soon tied up ready to enjoy a sunny sheltered few days.

 

La Redorte is a nicer village than expected – lots of narrow curvy streets up a hill, a chateau, a church, a good boulanegrie and boucherie ……..

F0CB672F-EBCC-49C1-9E3A-E26501A0858B… and a bar on the quay!

 

We stayed 3 night at La Redorte, allowing me time for an early sun photo once the weather improved.

Eventually we set out for the wonderfully named Homps, which I now know was a major trade crossroads for tin and wine, dating back to Roman times, and also having a strong connection in the 12th century to the Knight Templars (later of Malta).

 

Our route took us past the stunning stonework of the Argentdouble épanchoir, where water can overflow from the canal into the river below when necessary. Then we went over the Argentdouble aqueduct, before passing a buoyancy defying concrete boat. (The Captain has explained the physics of it – so I kind of understand!)

 

Judicious messaging ahead to friends on ‘Tell Us Tomorrow’ let us know that there was a mooring on the quay in Homps if we were quick! We settled in gently, put the washing out to dry in the continuing wind and went for a walk round the village.

 

Given my love of Malta I very much enjoyed the centuries long links that Homps has to the island. the Knights Templar’s 12th century stronghold has all but disappeared now, but a few craggy remains are resplendent with the Knights Cross, which it seems to me has transmogrified into the Cathar’s cross.

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We were spooked, then amused, by crackly broken music emerging from the village loudspeaker system. This turned out to be the prelude to something more sombre and serious – the village’s commemoration of VE Day – Victory in Europe Day, when La France, so long an occupied nation, was at last freed.

Quite a few villagers turned out to march along the quay behind flag-bearing veterans, then to the church to give thanks.

 

 

 

That evening we went out for a beer with ‘Tell Us Tomorrow’. This slid imperceptibly (almost) into a decision to dine together at the restaurant no more than 10 yards from Calliope. Delightful, ending up with more wine and a chocolate course on board! Chin chin!

 

The next day was still windy – really windy* – but we cracked on down towards our planned destination of Narbonne. The Ognon trio is interesting – a double lock into a right hand bend over an aqueduct and immediately through and under a very narrow ‘écluse de garde’ – or means of closing off the canal in times of flood or emergency. *40/50 mph they reckoned on t’web, and they weren’t exaggerating . . . 

E05A88C8-3F8D-4864-8623-3AF58B90432EWe waited for the lock in the company of a journeying snail, reminding us that some creatures travel even slower than us, every day.  Hmm, lunch for some over here . . 

B01309A4-D48F-4986-8280-53181AF1A654Rounding a more comfortable bend we saw a wild mooring that seemed just accessible – Bassanel.  Good – time for lunch.

 

Captain and crew decided that a walk ashore was required and we set off up through woods (nice flowers) and down again, back to a tightrope walk entry to the barge!

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After a quiet night in the wilds we awoke to a seemingly calmer brighter day. A patch of poppies on the other bank suggested that all was good in the natural world and a sure sign that we should journey on.

 

 

 

 

With the sun before us and the rocky hill of yesterday’s walk behind us we felt on top of a blowy world.

 

We found ourselves accompanied by creatures once more at the next lock, herded through the double by an enthusiastic collie who was bent on ensuring we could not dodge to either side and get away!  He saw us off downstream very efficiently.

 

On past Argens-Minervois with its chateau on a hill, Roubia, and then a pit stop at Paraza for bread before going towards Ventenac.

A0E7D3C2-E322-4C83-866B-AB32C6071AC2The lock at Argens is the last one for over 58kms. Just as well because our kindness in allowing two holiday boats to go down in the lock before us led to over an hour waiting. The éclusier hoped to fill the ascending lock with three boats, but one that she had spotted distant over the plain failed to materialise. In reality we are so lucky to be retired, with all the time in the world to enjoy where we are while we are there; holidaymakers are always in such a rush . . . .  

 

Just past Paraza is the first ‘pong-canal’ built in France in 1676. It was built by the famous creator of the Canal du Midi, Paul Riquet, who stayed at the chateau on Paraza during the construction.  Its hard to get a good photo as you go over it on a hairpin bend.

Finally, 17 kms on, we got to La Somail hoping for a mooring. Our hopes were dashed as the entire port and quay were jam packed with boats and we realised it was lunch time on a sunny French public holiday. On we went.

 

I had decided not to take many photos that day, but this section of our trip includes a real mix of ancient bridges, so they had to be snapped up – sorry!

So at about 1.30pm, after a long day for us of four and a half hours travelling (old retirees that we are), we arrived at Port la Robine where the canal to Narbonne leads off from the Canal du Midi.

6ADD5EFB-59A0-4596-809B-223FDC0D60DAAnd we were so lucky – the little mooring area before the first lock was full, so we tied up in the wide mouth of the junction and found ourselves in the perfect spot – for the next  fifteen and a half hours.

 

We had our own little patch of flowers and a bar across the bridge – a heavenly sunny evening.

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Fifteen and a half hours later, at 4am, the tranquility was broken as the factory across the canal started up its machinery after the holiday!  But a rude awakening led to a lovely morning view from the wheelhouse.

 

We climbed the bridge to look at our voyage for the day, down the Canal de Robine towards Narbonne – another week was about to begin.

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