Late Summer in Belgium – part 2

The voyage to meet Mieke and Frans

Canal Bossuit-Kortrijk, L’Escaut and Canal de L’Espierres

5 – 14 August 2021

Sluis 11 Kortrijk-Bossuit Canal; our first of the season.

(Think I have included far too many photos! Apologies, but hope you enjoy them)

Here we go at last! After 9 months of Covid- delay in the UK, and then quarantine in Kortrijk when we returned to Calliope, the day finally dawned when we could go cruising again. When we planned and bought Calliope in 2014 our whole idea was to spend six summer months of each year travelling the inland waterways of Europe and seeing cities, villages and the countryside from canal and river perspectives. So after 5 years of all going to plan it was disappointing in 2020 to wait until mid June to get started, and even worse this year to wait until the start of August! All Covid rules driven of course, and we do realise that we are so much luckier than many, having the health of ourselves and our family intact and owning this beautiful craft to escape to.

This was our first ‘naughty talk’ (Nautic Talk) experience. During the winter we had followed the advice of Mieke and Frans, Belgian bargee friends, to buy these in order to communicate much more freely along the length of a 19.8m boat when coming in to moor in locks etc. We certainly could hear each other better, including every bit of heavy breathing and burp! Joking aside, they are very useful.

We came up 1, 2, 3 small locks at the start go the Bossuit-Kortrijk canal with the assistance of a friendly lock keeper who journeyed by car between the locks. The last lock came out upon a summer school of excited young canoeists, who dashed safely to one side as we emerged.

Nature was very evident as we moved along – water lilies, young water fowl and plenty of green.

Our friends from Happy Chance cycled speedily ahead and took a photo of us passing through. It is always a treat to get a photo that someone else has taken as it can show both Stewart and I aboard – he is the shadowy figure in the wheelhouse!

We also passed by ‘Miss X’, the boat belonging to a Belgian friend of ours. He has sent many hours converting her from a fuel barge into a boat to live and cruise on. He is doing a great job!

Soon we came to our first big lock of the season. We were still rising along the canal, so easy to attach to the floating bollards at the bottom of the lock and float to the top!

The next lock, Moen, was the start of our descent and before too long after that we were mooring up for the night at the end of the canal just before Bossuit, the final lock down to the river Boven-Schelt / Haut-Escaut (depending on whether you are on the Belgian or French side/end of the river!).

That evening there was more of the constant communication between ourselves and Mieke, working out where we would meet. They would be coming from the opposite direction on the Escaut, having come down the Dender river, but were currently waiting at Ladeuze for a change in the weather. It looked like we would have a few days to kill and could look for a diversion.

A glass of beer – Kreik in my case, always seems to help with map redoing and course plotting!

We had agreed with the Bossuit lock keepers that we would take the 0900 lock down. As I was slowly getting up and enjoying my cup of tea I felt the boat moving and on looking out the window I spied a very large working barge coming out of the lock. She had just come up from the river below.

The lock was now ready for us, but luckily the lock keeper was happy to wait until I had my breakfast before we slowly and calmly dropped down 9.5m.

The lock doors opened and we were out to meet the Haut-Escaut – we were turning to starboard into the French speaking Wallonian section! A change of language was required – the one we find much easier.

The river opened up ahead of us as we set off upstream towards the junction with the Canal de L’Espierres – a small and relatively unused canal that goes through to Lille, changing its name at the Franco/Belgique border to Canal Roubaix.

The morning’s blue skies were wonderful for our trip – but the sun doesn’t always shine and within half an hour we were peering our through a rainy windscreen.

I was looking at the Visuris live water traffic app so that we would know of there were any commercial barges in the vicinity, and (apparently) there were none. Then we went round a bend to find two in front of us – and I realised that Visuris covers Flanders whilst we were now in Wallonia!

As Stewart began to plot his course between them I realised that we were passing the tiny entrance to the canal we wanted!

Luckily there is a very wide junction to allow barges to turn into the canal at the right angle, and after an unplanned 360 degree turn we were heading towards the Canal de L’Espierres, which looked so narrow we were not sure we would fit!

Of course as you get nearer it starts to look wider and as the Captain expertly steered is through, despite the cross wind trying to take Calliope off course, we saw that we had at least 1ft to spare each side!

Then we were through and the canal opened up a little wider as it bent away to the left. It was green and calm; here is where we could enjoy whiling away a few days until Mieke and Frans were moving towards us.

Soon we met our team of éclusiers for the L’Espierres part of the journey. They met us by the first lock and explained they would be with us through the next 3 lift bridges and another two locks.

The first lock was a delight, and a reminder of all the locks on small canals we have travelled. Then after the first lift bridge we saw a quiet mooring with a good pontoon so asked if we could stay there overnight. It was agreed they would join us again next  morning.

So moored up at Sainte-Leger we settled down for a quiet afternoon and night. The only excitement came from my walk the other side of the canal where I discovered a wonderful little dairy farm shop and returned with a bag of goodies! Oh and the arrival of another boat on the pontoon, owned by a very pleasant French couple who shared the journey with us next day.

Next morning dawned bright and sunny; just right for some toast with butter form the dairy farm, and the cows who made it seen in the distance.

Our team returned and the two boats set off. All seemed very tranquil until the second lock of the day at Leers-Nord, where three small boats came down, we went up, and then found our hoped for pontoon for the next few days was full.

Luckily we could see that there was also mooring against the steel shuttering along the bank, with good metal Ts to tie up to. But wanting to turn round we first made a short excursion into France to the nearest winding hole. 

Then back to Leers-Nord and tied up to the yellow Ts. And there we were right next to another Piper boat, ArchAngel, belonging to people we met briefly last year; lovely to see them again! We were invited on board that evening for a drink or two, and plenty of good conversation.

We all know each other far better now! And Stewart has met a new Belgian beer – a strong blond!

Apparently it means slob!

Back home for supper, followed by a glass of wine.

Sometimes the contrast between the outward natural calm of the waterway and inward mild chaos of our lives is almost captivating.

The weather was being very variable, from downpours and thunder to bright breezy sunshine. Seizing my chance I set off in the latter for an evening walk along the bank, briefly saying goodbye to Wallonia, then turning back as the skies darkened again!

Next day was a day at Leers Nord. There was a bread run to the local Del Haize supermarket, clearly set up for its role on the French border to see tobacco at a cheaper price than the shops over the border – the other side of the street!

And there was more maintenance and cleaning of Calliope in between the thunderstorms – she is starting to look quite spruce now. My cleaning efforts were observed by some very sad fishermen on the opposite bank! Eventually they did pass the time of day with something like a smile.

Each day I take at least a short promenade along the canal, mostly for exercise but also to discover flowers, insects (the non-biting varieties), birds and occasional animals. I have been amazed by burdock – presumably of the dandelion and burdock variety, which I have never knowingly seen growing before. I also love the wooden steps put against the bank to help her climb to of they fall in – only at the French end!

Then there are the incursions of the natural world into the wheel house – normally winged, and sometimes just the feathers picked up along the way.

And each evening, weather permitting, we sit on the aft deck, wondering at how lucky we are to lead this life.

Day 3 was a Sunday. Stu and I went to Del Haize again, for a bigger stock up this time. I turned a bit later to buy a few pants to replace the weeds in our two plant troughs. I was too late for geraniums this year and have made do with these.

Fingers crossed they will develop and become a bit more of a floral display!

In the early evening we went with our ArchAngel neighbours to the local bar, conveniently placed along side the lock only 150 yards away. Stewart was introduced to two new Belgian beers, each with its own special glass, while I had my usual Kriek. Only another 2990 of the current 3000+ Belgian beers to track down and try!

Then back to supper and another beautiful evening on the back deck, facing the setting sun and the new set of wondrous reflections in the water and across the stern.

We decided to stay one more day, mainly to make it easier for us to fill up with water when ArchAngel left the pontoon the following day. In fact Tony from ArchAngel appeared with a long hose at Calliope’s bow, offering this to Stewart so that we could fill up where we were! An ideal solution, but by then we were content to stay the fourth night at Leers Nord. This would fit well with what was now an arrangement to meet Mieke and Frans at Antoing in a few days time.

Overall it was a good lazy day. In the afternoon we thought we had time between showers for a walk along the canal into France, over the first bridge, and back into Belgium and Leers Nord on the other aside of the canal. But as can be seen, we got caught in a short downpour and sheltered under the trees. Nothing like good summer rain to freshen everything up.

Next morning we were joined by Kati – a local lady who Stewart had met the day before and invited to join us for the cruise to Tournai. She has cycled and walked the canal and river paths in the area all her life, but never travelled them on the water. The same friendly group of éclusiers joined us for the set of locks and bridges Calliope must pass, each a new experience for Kati who loved it all.

After an hour or so we reached the junction with the Escaut, and the opening up of our horizons.

Almost immediately Kati understood thew difference in traffic on the narrow rural canals, compared to the big rivers!

The river in this area is a real mix of rural scenes and industry.

The industry itself is another mix, from derelict to ultra modern, providing some interesting shapes, shadows and outlines.

By now Kati and I decided that it was a good time to open the bottle of Clairette de Die that she had brought, and enjoy an aperitif with our mini cruise.

The poor Captain could not join in!

Before long we were entering Tournai under the ancient watergate bridge which is currently undergoing massive modernisation to allow for the passage of the biggest commercial barges. Of course it is sad to see the dismantling of the 13th century Bridge of Holes (photo from our voyage two years ago), but also good to see that the rivers and canals of Belgium have a thriving barge transport system.

The artists impression of the final ‘new’ old bridge is not so bad so maybe it will be OK when finished – and if you, like me, thought the artist had made a mistake with the rounded towers, take another look. The towers are rounded as you approach Tournai, and flat within!

So this CAD drawing shows the bridge as approached from Bossuit direction.

We came on through the city, under the newest bridge – a slim attractive modern structure, looking for, and finding, the ‘port’, tying up just before Strelitzia appeared round the bend. Already Mother Duck had brought her brood to look for bread!

We were pleased to find plenty of space in the new port and it was simple to be safely moored. Calliope is at the far end, looking quite small despite her 20m! At the moment it is free to stay here in Tournai. There is electricity supplied through very modern low bornes with QR codes on top to access a supply, but our PV panels were keeping the batteries topped up sufficiently.

The new wall built to protect the port works very well so very little wash from the big barges.

After a pleasant sandwich lunch on board, and more Clairette to drink, we ventured ashore for a walk round this intriguing, historic city. Having Kati with us meant we got a non-selfie of the two of us together.

Hooray!

I have only included a few photos of the cathedral and the Grand Place, but there are so many old buildings in side roads and down allies that Tournai deserves much more than an overnight stop. However we were on a mission to meet up with these very good Belgian boating friends the next day, so one afternoon and evening was all we had there.

After a quick shopping trip to buy sunflowers for Mieke and contributions to a planned barbecue that evening we were off, out of port Tournai and saying goodbye to the coot couple living just across from us.

There only 6 kilometres to cover from Tournai to Antoing and it was less than an hour before we turned to port to find a mooring place immediately behind Dreamer, Frans and Mieke’s barge. And in the background, the fairytale Rapunzel style castle of the Prince des Lignes.

What a moment! Back together after 10 months of Covid separation!

Mieke and Me!

Then followed four days and nights of eating together, drinking together, walking together and talking together, captured by this gallery of fun.

All of this includes Google or course, their lovely 20 year old dog who comes everywhere in her own carriage!

We tried several times to visit with the Prince (ha ha!) but had to make do with our wanderings around the perimeter. Actually there are open days, and there was one the day we were leaving, but it was already fully booked so we did not stay on for the extra day.

The Captain and I also took ourselves for a stroll `around the small Antoing park – joyfully mostly in the shade on what turned out to be a hot day!

It is worth mentioning that the mooring here is surprisingly pleasant – and we were almost at the edge of the little basin. We had views out across the Escaut – almost always something going on.

Thus it was finally time to part company again. Mieke picked a wonderful wild flower bouquet to brighten our way ahead. They were on their way to meet up with family, not seen for many Covid-separation months, and we were off to do a loop into France – the next chapter!!!

Bye bye Antoing

Late summer in Belgium part 1

July 28 to August 5th 2021

If you have been following the Calliope blog you will know that we were stuck in the UK well past our normal April return to the boat, and when the usual cruising season begins. At first we more concerned about the Brexit effect than anything Covid related, wondering how we could spend 6 months in Belgium and/or the Netherlands when neither country was offering a visa other than the 90 day Schengen one.

In the end it became immaterial because the spread of Covid-19 in the UK and in the EU meant that borders kept closing, requirements for tests and quarantine both sides of the channel kept changing, and overall we took several months to find a gap in the pandemic that fitted with other (UK) demands on our time.

So it was not until July 28th that we excitedly set forth for Dover and the ferry to Calais. The journey there was most remarkable for its speed and ease – it seems that many potential holiday makers were still being prudent and taking ‘stay-cations’ in 2021.

Our double vaccination certificates, passports and ferry ticket got us past all the possible hold ups at the Port of Dover. We didn’t even have to empty the car and prove we had no meat or dairy products with us. Good law abiding us; we had only brought what was permitted food wise, plus a few spare parts for the boat and a new toaster.

Coming into Calais

The crossing was in a force 5 to 6 south westerly and could have been a little rough, but the ferry ploughed through it nobly and quickly. It was sufficiently smooth to enjoy the complementary meal that DFDS were giving to the few non-freight passengers. And we were reminded of one of the benefits of Brexit (of which we are not great fans overall) – duty free shop! We were so amazed at the prices that we bought Kraken rum, Zubrowka vodka, gin and Bacardi, plus some wine. That should keep me going until Christmas – unless we have visitors aboard, which would be very nice.

The run from Calais to Kortrijk was also uneventful, apart from the joy of coming back into Kortrijk, recognising familiar places, and before too long looking down at our boat from the footbridge over the river.

Hooray! Back where we belong!!!!

Now we just have to find pleasant ways to get through the 10 days of quarantine and the two necessary PCR Covid tests before we are free to cruise on our merry way.

(I didn’t mean that ➡️ kind of ‘merry’! That was just evening one relaxation)

One of the main tasks is to give Calliope a good clean – just outside because inside was as sweet smelling, clean and dry as when we left her the previous October. But the outside was somewhat grubby after an autumn/winter/spring of leaves, blossom, dust and birds. And the geraniums and herbs left on board in the lee of the wheelhouse had definitely succumbed to the weeds!

Plenty to do!!

And so quarantine begins with the chimney skyline opposite, down to Broel towers -a view that I have come to love.

Day 2 – walk two miles to get tested and take opportunity to ‘escape’ quarantine a bit longer by having a baguette by the river on the way back both tested negative – phew! Later there was food shopping to do (yes, it is allowed). This meant passing the bridge at the end of the port that we must revers under soon, and the first lock of the Kortrijk-Bossuit canal that we will go through soon.

The Captain turned shipwright, plumber and electrician later, fixing a new sensor to the freshwater tank (so that the guage reads correctly to show how much we have left) and replacing the electrical connector that was broken during the fallen tree episode last winter.

Despite having bought enough food earlier to make several meals, we collapsed into our first ever experience of Deliveroo, ordering pizza and salad from our favourite Pizza Cotti restaurant in Kortrijk, and being slightly amazed when it actually turned up – albeit on the bank opposite!

Luckily there is a footbridge within 25m, in the centre of which I met the delivery man with arms outstretched, at a quarantine distance!

Day 3 – the start of the clean up, with the aim of getting rid of all the main dirt and then we can do a second ‘shiny’ clean later. Made a good start – just look at the difference, mainly from the Captain taking mop and bucket to the cabin roof and deck.

I made a start on the canvas wheelhouse roof and dog box covers, and cleaned up the PV panels for maximum electricity generation – when the sun shines!

There are various things apart from cleaning Calliope to keep us amused. One of the most endearing is watching the various birds and their antics. We feed them occasionally so they come looking for food every day – not the grebes of course. We don’t have any fish for them!

The rain came to wash off more of the dust and dirt as I had hoped, and left us with an evening of gleaming roofs on the Broel towers and St Michael’s church towers in the background.

Day 4 – we needed for milk and bread and it was Sunday. The only local supermarket open on a Sunday is the Carrefour across the main river so we set off for essential supplies.

Here we are mid stream.

The rest of the day we spent dodging rain showers, cleaning windows, adding a neat white stripe along the hull, playing patience and learning Dutch.

Always plenty to do!

Overnight there was more rain; always a comforting soothing sound to be tucked warm and dry up on your Piper with the rain drumming on the cabin roof! But we did want to do more outside work on the boat next day so …..

…. Day 5 – pleased to see this through the kitchen hatch when I got up in the morning!

The boat cleaning and maintenance continued . It’s surprising all the nooks and crannies that collect dirt, sycamore seeds, algae and spider webs during the winter. And the movement of the boat always takes its toll on the paintwork. Luckily we gave everything a good clean before we left last October so inside and out it is all manageable. And keeps us occupied during quarantine!

Day 6 – we had been warned that we would need to move Calliope before 0830 so that we were not splattered when the pontoon was jet washed.

I was still in bed drinking tea when I heard the early rising Captain out starting to untie ropes, so I thought I’d better get up, dressed. and on duty on deck.

I was just in time! You can see in the photo the difference between the new section of pontoon, and the section waiting to be cleaned up.

Then onto a wonderful moment – casting off and feeling Calliope move beneath us again!

Here we go – all of 300 yards astern down the Leie! We were aiming for the mooring belonging to Pavot and our friends Martin and Sally – they were away cruising in France. And it wasn’t long before we were tied up there.

We have temporarily borrowed Pavot’s mooring before – it’s nice to be among the trees.

And we get a different view from this mooring – we can see the big Commercial barges go past the end of this arm of the Leie, and prepare for the bow wave to move down the channel towards us.

One sees many aspects of nature from the barge – all of it interesting even if commonplace.

This, I think, a Speckled Wood butterfly that came to visit on the wheelhouse.

The bow waves cause wonderful distortions of the reflections in the water – a mixture of Dali and Monet!!

We could se the pressure washing procedure taking place back where we had been moored, and by mid afternoon all was clean and clear for us to return – our second cruise of the day!!

And still officially in quarantine!

That was enough excitement for one day, apart from the phone calls from Brussels Covid quarantine checkers to ensure we were on track for our second PCR test the next day – after which, I was told, my case would be closed!

But still plenty of time to continue with the maintenance tasks, and removing some more spiders.

Day 7 – a day of hope! We went and collected the car to drive to the Laboratory for our second test, and were met again by friendly staff who helped us with form filling and soon had us back out in the fresh air. We used the car to collect a few things from the Brico (DIY store) and a stock up on food and wine before back to the boat for lunch and to await our results.

It isn’t long after that another Piper boat chugged into view and to moor behind us. We had been expecting Happy Chance and although we had not met her crew before we were delighted too say hello and arrange for a meeting over beer that evening.

The plan was to go to our favourite bar in the park (as long as our negative results came through) but just as we were about to set forth the rain came down so we all settled down on Calliope instead.

After some beer, wine and nibbles we all knew each other quite well! But Stu and I had planned supper out so it was time for a temporary parting of the ways.

We set off to one of our favourite Kortrijk casual dining experiences – Pitta Pyramid – Egyptian food from a lovely friendly little restaurant where the owner always amazes us by remembering us! We definitely filled ourselves up here and waddled back to the boat. Our last night in town for a while passed very pleasantly.

Day 8 – We had initially hoped to leaver Kortrijk on the 10am lock up from the river Leie into the Bossuit – Kortrijk canal. But it was already booked, so we slipped down to the 2pm lock. This meant we had a few extra hours before we left.

Kortrijk has a summer of art installations across the city and we managed to see a few as we sped round the centre (on foot) buying a new Ships Log, beer replacements, and looking for a new chopping board (failed on that last one!). Then time for a coffee with new friends on Happy Chance before lunch and …. we are off!!!!

First lock of the 2021 voyage – Sluis 11 Bossuit – Kortrijk canal. Photo credit to Happy Chance crew.