Late start to 2019 – Sillery to Vitry

(Skipper’s note: Loose plans for this year had seen us heading further north towards the Lille/Cambrai area for next winter. However with two of the three canal choices we had to get up there currently closed half way through, we decided to go Route Four – and turn south – About Face . . . . )

So eventually – after moving house, a full service and eight new solid solar panels on the roof (well done Skips) we are off, heading south on the Canal L’Aisne à La Marne – and within 10 minutes and under grey skies we met our first lock – my first for 8 ½ months!  Luckily I remembered what to do, and had good French instructions to aid me..

We had half a plan to go all the way to to Condé-sur-Marne that day, but after two hours, 3 locks, and the threat of an ‘orage’ (thunderstorm) with 98kph winds we decided to moor up on an old industrial wharf in a basin at Sept-Saulx.

The wharf edge was decorated by poppies, my favourite flower, so we took this to be a good omen and tied up. Sitting back and planning next steps it occurred to us that we did not have canal guides for the two canals we were aiming for, and it is not easy to have post delivered along the canal ….. however a call to Damien, the Capitaine we got to know so well during our 5 week sojourn at Chalons-en-Champagne last year, and somewhere we would be passing in two days time, resulted in agreement for the new guides to be delivered there.

Skipper’s aside: I have, for as long as I am still a European, furled my Red Duster and raised a defaced European Union flag – nailing my colours to the mast as it were.

I find this photo of Lesley’s poppies doubly poignant, being a symbol of the utter futility of the millions of young European lives destroyed in the First World War by the machinations of a small number of power crazed autocrats determined to reorganise obsolete frontiers for their own benefit.

At the time of writing, my simple flag is a big plea to my countryfolk not to put those frontiers back in place.

Clouds gathering at Sept-Saulx

 We managed a walk round the village before holing up as dark clouds gathered and sure enough it did begin to rain – big fat drops that splattered the calm surface of the canal. Later thunder lightning and a strong wind joined in as forecast, although not anywhere near 98kph.

Panels still looking good though . . . .

Waiting for the Billy Tunnel green light

The next day it was still raining so we hung on until about 10am before setting off to Condé– a trip of  only 14.5 kms, but including a 2.3km tunnel and 8 locks. 

The Billy tunnel is described in the Du Breil canal guide as ‘attractive‘ – an odd word for a tunnel. But it is in a lovely area with a delightful mooring place to wait your turn, and runs in a good straight line so that you can see light at both ends of the tunnel all through your journey. We waited for a full sized commercial barge to emerge before it was our turn.

Captain Stu also noticed this time (it was Calliope’s 3rdvoyage through) that the commercial barge leaving was hugging the towpath side. On closer inspection in the half light, the wooden rail just above the water line that we previously thought was a crash barrier turns out to be a rubbing rail, and if you allow yourself to get ‘sucked’ onto it (Stu’s words) you slide through ‘like a rocket slid on rails (Stu’s words).

Truly marvelous’, Stu

We ate lunch during the wonderfully simple ‘chained’ set of 8 locks down, ie the next one prepared and opened for us as we approached.  And at 2.30 we arrived and moored up at Condé-sur-Marne; day 2 of our 2019 odyssey successfully completed.

Moored at Conde-sur-Marne with lock number 8 behind us

“So far so good,” says Captain Stu.

While the Captain became galley slave I took myself off to find what the maps called an aqueduct. And this is what I discovered – a c19 way to take water from the river below up into the hills. The tower is/was a pumping house. I later met a school teacher from the village who told me that the water is for the canal, nit for agriculture as I first thought.

I returned to the French equivalent of sausage and mash with onion gravy – mmmmm – and a quiet evening aboard reading more of my latest Ian Rankin.

The only disturbance was watching another storm moving in and waiting for the heavy rain and thunder. Still, there’s nothing finer than been tucked up in the wheelhouse in a good old proper storm is there?

Next morning was far better – grey skies, but no rain – so we slipped the ropes and set off back down the Canal Lateral de la Marne towards Chalons en Champagne, our home for 5 weeks last Autumn and where we planned to collect our maps.

We were accompanied along the way by a casual stow away with an orange head.

As we came into Chalons we were amazed to see a tall tall crane above the cathedral, with a group of people seemingly clinging on at the top! I watched with a certain degree of shock, wondering what they were doing – maybe protesting about something, as the French often do. And then I saw them begin to slide down one at a time! They look like flies in these photos, but zoom in!

It was only later when we had moored up that I discovered this was part of some elaborate preparations for a huge sound and light show occurring at the cathedral in two days time, sadly after we expected to have left Châlons.

The Furies festival, taking place in the park adjacent to the mooring

Ah well, Châlons still saw to it that we were entertained. We had managed to arrive one day onto the famous Furies festival. This is a 5 day free festival held mainly at outside venues around the city, with links (I think) to the Circus school here. It focuses on the bizarre and surreal, a mixture of street theatre, circus and music.

Stewart and I had an early evening wander round, and I found plenty to intrigue; their festival currency of ‘the furie’, the airstream crepe cafe, the music of Babil Sabir 2 (google them!), the strange play illustrating the aftermath of a car crash, and the very unusual tightrope strip and sex-act-on-the-wire show (luckily rather blurred on account of my shock)!

And you know you are in the Champagne region when only alcohol that the relaxed pop-up bar by the lake serves is 2 types of champagne, ratafia and rosé wine!

The plan was to carry on next day, with our new maps to guide us. However they were not delivered by 2pm, Captain’s cut-off time for slipping away on what turned out to be another wet and windy afternoon. Well at least we are near Stewart’s favourite boulangerie, so I got some of their quiche for a comforting supper.

And in the end we were waiting another two days for our new map books to arrive. In fact it was so windy most of those 48 hours that we were quite pleased to be tied up in such a nice town.

It also have me two more days of the Furies festival! Friday was fun with the crazy ‘A Good Place’ team, where their snaking waiting crowd was encouraged to join in dance routines and other entertainment; an incomprehensible (it was in French) promenade in the Jardin d’Anglaise with the two male performers running and shouting amongst the audience and round the park; and a bit of trapeze mastery when the wind died down.

Sally, Tin Tin, Morphios and Stu

Being in Châlons on Saturday also gave me the opportunity to go to the market and buy some delicious fruit, veg and bread. We took a stroll down to the River Marne in the afternoon and returned to find our lovely neighbours on Pavot suggesting champagne in the ‘Cosy Bar’ by the lake with their dogs. How could we possibly refuse?

The evening developed into a festival before I went into the centre of town to watch a great tightrope performer in the square, with a backdrop of some of Chalon’s beautiful old buildings.

Then a rapid march back to the Cathedral for one of the most dramatic and astonishing spectacles of my life. It began with an angel appearing on the roof of the Cathedral.

Then other angels appeared, in ones, twos and threes, seemingly from the night sky. As they ‘flew’ towards earth they began to scatter white feathers which gently drifted down on us mortals below.

The angels became ever more daring, and with ever more feathers

Until finally we were showered with feathers from every direction. The delight that swept the crowd was infectious and people behaved as if in a snowstorm, throwing feathers in the sir, dancing to the music, and laughing.

I am so glad that I didn’t miss this!

My boat is covered in feathers. Did I miss something?

Next day we were up on time and raring to go. There was a quick run to the boulangerie for fresh bread, and then we set off south down the Canal Lateral de La Marne watching Châlons fade away in the distance.

Before too long we were at the first lock, pleased to see the green and red lights that told us the lock was being made ready for us

And on we went down past the villages and silos, the winding holes for big barges to turn round, locks and countryside.

Occasionally we saw wildlife, usually herons. There are plenty of young herons trying out their fishing skills at this time of year.

He’ll not catch much sat on that bollard . . .

He’s not sitting. He’s standing! Look closer.

Our lunch time stop at La Chaussee sur Marne

We carried on until we reached Soulange, knowing it to be a peaceful rural mooring and just right following city dwelling in Châlons. I have to admit that we were a little disappointed when another small cruiser squeezed onto the jetty behind us – notwithstanding that it is important always to welcome and help others to moor – even if they are rather noisy.

I took a walk over to the river Marne and along the bank for a while. There was a lovely view back to Soulange church through the undergrowth, and tranquil scenes of the river.

It seemed to be the first day of the dragonflies – they were everywhere, flitting about just out of range of my camera most of the time, but I did get a few ‘on film’.

Then back to our mooring to discover that old friends Matthew and Helen on a sister Piper barge Havelock had arrived – we shared a jetty with them at the T&K marina on the Thames when we were first in the water. A rare treat, although as Stewart was a bit under the weather it was just me who was able to enjoy their company.

Soulanges sunset

The day finished with one of the most beautiful canal sunsets I have seen, ah La Belle France.

Next day was destined to see us down to Vitry-en-Francois, and the end of our known waterways. We would be launching into a new canal by afternoon, so we enjoyed the last of the Canal lateral de la Marne.

I think that the most memorable ‘look back’ was to the quarry mooring where we stayed last year and our ropes were covered with blue butterflies.

Then at last, the junction at Vitry, and we turned left onto the Canal de La Marne au Rhin, and new vistas opened before us.

An unexpected sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne

So with spirits high and buoyancy in our step and our ship we turned starboard out of one canal, and then port into another – the Canal Lateral à la Marne. We were on schedule to reach our Winter mooring in Sillery six days later, including two, or even three, nights in Chalons-en-Champagne. Little did we know that this would stretch to at least thirty-two!

And, sadly, be my last bit of cruising for months and months. 😢

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In our innocent unknowing state we left Vitry-les-François behind and began to experience the new canal. We were back to grabbing and rotating poles suspended over the water to operate the locks – always good fun.

 

 

 

 

 

There was a completely different style of lock keepers house – regrettably still mainly abandoned.

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And long stretches of straight straight canal, unlike the twists and turns Entre Champagne et Bourgogne.

B9C1111A-AA26-4564-AA60-9EF3E453AED2We were wondering where to spend our first night when turning a bend (yes, there are a couple of bends linking the straight bits) we saw one of the most beautiful moorings ever. A long stone quay, flanked by the remains of industrial stone buildings, stood waiting for us.

G(nIt was surrounded by peace and tranquility, with lizards and butterflies the only other obvious inhabitants.

Calliope’s crew had a wonderful time exploring the stone walls, arches and crevices – without managing to uncover the original purpose of the quay, but probably it is linked to a nearby quarry and was used to load stone into barges for onward journeys.

Later we were joined by Troubadour, another British owned barge, and in addition to having fun discussing our separate epic voyages, doubt was cast on our future plans! It was suggested that the canal to Sillery, our winter mooring, was closed. “No”, I assured them. “I have an email from the VNF saying it shuts next week”, and showed them the email to prove it.

 

The sunnny evening gave glow to the stone, and next morning the sun shone down on us once more, casting shadows as we cast off, to move on to Chalons-en-Champagne.

9FC4AC3A-47B9-4A61-8DF9-86CED8E7845CThe cruise was uneventful; 7 locks and 29 Kms under blue skies, past sleepy villages, glimpses of La Marne, and a series of grain silos, indicating local agriculture.

9FBF7BB6-8833-4B29-AB01-6B4224468819Calliope arrived at Chalons to find plenty of mooring along the port quay, next to Bird Island and the Grand Jardin; a nice spot. We booked in for two, or maybe three, nights and I went to talk to the éclusier to make sure that my version of canal closures was correct ………. except it wasn’t!

The éclusier rang the VNF office and was told it had closed on 10th September. I rang my email contact at the VNF and was told it does not close until the 17th. Then I rang the agency doing the work. It’s closed. The water has been drained out. There is no way we can navigate until October 15th!!!

 

Hence our enforced sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne. Let’s make the best of it – not difficult here. We’ll start with a beer in the square, then a pizza – but not in this restaurant because it didn’t open!

Our time in Chalons was divided between working on the boat – painting, cleaning, varnishing, polishing – and enjoying the town.

The first weekend there was also the town’s Patrimonie weekend. This means that a vast array of activities and tours are laid on to give local people (and incomers like us) a better understanding of their history and culture.

 

 

Chalons-en-Champagne is a major Centre for circus arts, and one of the more surreal performances was in the gardens about 200 yards from the boat! So plastic tumbler of rosé in hand we went to watch.

752CCE74-D729-440F-8153-02892ECC4B99The next day I was up and away by 8.30, heading for the massive Porte Saint-Croix, an Arc de Triomphe look-alike edifice that was open for breakfast on the roof!

 

I was there in time, climbed the wooden spiral staircase, and out into an azure morning sky. Black coffee, orange juice, and mini croissants etc held me together for looking down and out at the views across the city.

 

I could see so many steeples and spires, it was inspiring! (Sorry.)

 

Before I returned to boat duties I called in at the Saturday market – temptingly delicious as always. The grape harvest is definitely in, and the range of plums is wonderful. I resisted most things, but bought some pork pie with mushroom and crême fraiche under the top pastry, some good fresh fruit and veg, and baguette.

 

My journey through town took me along little back streets adjacent to the River Mau which appears and disappears along its route.

The next few days involved work on the boat. We had cycled out of town to a brico to buy ‘stuff’ that was needed – to replace a tap, to bleed radiators, to mask edges for painting, brushes for varnishing, I could go on but won’t.

 

So in amongst going into a town full of ancient buildings we (mainly Stewart) got to grips with maintenance, sometimes in a ‘one step forward, three steps back’ manner.

I made a quick dash to see the Préfecture, a lovely classically French building, and later dragged Stewart out to an art nouveau hotel where I knew tasty morsels were on offer – both part of Patrimonie. Far too many people crowded into the art nouveau, so we escaped to a local square for a beer.

 

Later that evening I was back in town for further surreality. I sat with others in rows of chairs in the middle of the road by Norte-Dame-en-Vaux for a carillion concert with a light show!

Next day was full of boat duties in the morning, then a final dip into Patrimonie with a strange ‘concert’ in medieval cellars. It turned out not to be our thing so we crept out and up, and instead visited the cloister museum. It’s a museum because it was allowed to crumble away and get covered by other buildings, but was discovered in the sixties. Everything that could be reassembled is in the museum, with a garden showing the original outline next door.

609FB697-7DE1-4614-90A5-8493D40274F5We also found time for a walk round the Grand Jardin, over the passerelle and back along the canal. Gave us a view of the starboard side of Calliope.

DB616C47-31D6-4546-BF58-D454BB3D1963The new week had us starting on painting – well preparing or painting initially. For me this meant clearing  and washing decks and roof, hunting out little rust spots for treatment, and eventually masking all round the deck ready for the master painter and his roller. Looks good now!

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Despite all the work we managed to fit in a gentle stroll most days, trying to explore different parts and arts of the city.  I took the skipper to see some of the Nau and the Mau – two small rivers that cross Châlons, mentioned earlier. At one point the angle of the light on the twin steeples of Notre=Dame-en Vaux made it worth an extra photo.

A pigeon flew by obligingly at the right moment!

 

 

The next day was just a great laundry day – sunny, warm and breezy. So I used the excellent marina facilities and soon had my washing drying all round the back deck.

D18BB952-5043-4BD5-9B2B-703809A1DB27We stayed on board carrying on more jobs inside and out, and as evening faded in we had a surprise visit from Damien, the Port Capitaine, with a bottle of champagne left over from lunch with his colleagues at their end of summer season pic-nic.  He poured us a glass each and continued to the other occupied boats in his port. What service!

(You can tell the Skip’s done this before with two flutes inclined at just the right angle to get most liquid and least bubbles…)

It’s worth mentioning here the other great things that Damien does to earn the port’s Blue Flag. There are the basics like a working pump out, to discourage boaters form discharging their waste tanks into the port waters; a book swap; very clean showers and laundry room; selling environmentally friendly cleaning products; an array of recycling bins and a composting box; collect from us batteries, old light bulbs, plastic caps etc, and even taking things we no longer need and finding new homes for them.

 

So another evening drew to a close. We had a final /visit from the swan family, who adopted a stray goose when it was a gosling and brought it up worthy their three cygnets. They are now inseparable!

6F2F9C97-DC4B-4A96-A71E-9A8994B7D198Friday was a left bank, bonkers conkers and soup day. It was a bit colder ands greyer so what better than a nice bowl of home made soup for lunch – especially when blended to a creamy consistency. It helps not to turn the base of the blender the wrong way so that the soup pours out the bottom. It also helps not to have the blender spray the soup across the wall and curtains. Finally it helps not to drop the curtain in the canal when you are hanging it out to dry.  Sadly, this is all true ….

 

The bonkers conkers began Friday in earnest. and continued madly dropping until Sunday – more and more and more! We are moored under long rows of horse chestnuts and they fall on our steel roof with wonderful clunks, sometimes bouncing off into the water. They are a noisy but decorative distraction!

 

After lunch we went for our rive gauche (left bank) walk, crossing the canal, the Marne and the railway line to get there.

 

Quite unexpectedly we came across St Pudentienne, a church part deco and part something else (I think the word you’re looking for is the afore mentioned Bonkers) – strikingly different, and a delight.

 

On our way back we walked up into the town centre, looking for somewhere to eat out that night. The sun caught the gold and blue atop the town hall, below which a production team was in full swing preparing for a concert that night – a band called Natchez ….. (Yes, that’s the Captain peering into a shop window on the left).

We eventually went out for a Chinese meal – a bit odd to do in France, but we decided that the French restaurants were best visited at lunch time, both for the prices and to give more time to digest the good rich food before going to bed!

 

Saturday was an exciting one for me. Châlons-en-Champagne had laid on lots of free fun that was right up my street (less so for Stewart). The day time had a succession of world percussion events held at different locations back on the left bank. And the evening had a ‘colour run’ followed by a big outdoor concert.

 

Out came the bike and I cycled over the canal, the Marne and the railway line, and on to find the first venue and a Brazilian street drumming band. I honestly had tears of pure joy listening and moving to them; just loved it! Then onto to venue two and three to hear two different types of African drumming, one with great dancing, and the other with some fabulous singing. I had three hours of mesmerising musical entertainment.

Then the evening; well suffice it to say that I was not one of the official 2000 people registered to run 5 kms through the parks and streets, past Calliope, going through mad colour spraying stations, and accompanied by music at various stages. But I did manage to join in ……

 

Thank goodness the rain held off for that!

7E1B7550-D980-4F41-9594-D240EF351CD1Sunday was a different story, with storm force winds, pouring rain, and a temperature drop that had us lighting the stove. But then it is autumn, and it is northern France, pretty much – and still three weeks until the canal re-opens.

So most of the rest of this chapter is an outlook to and insight of Châlons-en-Champagne, in no particular order.

 

We had plenty of time to wander the streets, taking in the architecture from medieval to gothic. Almost every turn of a corner brings something interesting into view – a gateway, a roofline, a statue or a church.

 

Some are big, grand, and somehow survived the revolution. Others are small, functional, part of the real life of the Chalonnaise.

 

We walked down to La Marne, by now quite a big river and a long way from her source up near Langres where we were a few weeks ago.

 

The autumn colours glowed in the sunshine, and the earlier sunsets went from pink to yellow to purple as we watched.

 

There have been so many glorious days enjoying the sun on the back deck in comfortable warmth, rather than hiding from the blazing high temperatures of summer in the South.

 

Then there’s been swans …..

 

….. there’s been meals out – that good Chinese supper, an interesting French lunch in an old Parfumerie …….

 

…… there are local characters including many a fisherman (they are almost all men), and students affirm the crisis school practising tightrope between there trees (Châlons is a major cents for circus skills) …..

 

…… and the ever changing light on the structures of the Jards. (Jard is local colloquial for public garden or panted promenade, so almost the same as jardin, but not quite).

 

There was yet another event in the Grand Jard – an afternoon for crazy skate-boarders, cyclists, scooterists and skaters, with a DJ sending out good music, burger van, and a nice big air bag to catch the more acrobatic. We spent a while spectating, with quite a lot of amazement!

C5512502-D5D7-4682-99B3-17973C457524The Grand Jard includes a chalk board where you can add your bucket list wishes – ‘Avant de mourn je veux ….’ I love some of the wishes – fromage (cheese), miel (honey) and cheval (horse) – whether to eat or ride is not clear!

And as the weeks wore on we ensured we had seen the more cultural aspects of the city too – the Museum of Beaux Arts, the inside of the Cathedral and Notre-Dame-en Vaux, and a walking tour of the architectural wonders (Gates not the city – or where they used to be, houses of all ages, bridges over the many canals, rivers and tributaries of the Marne, statues etc).

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Joan of Arc, as a peasant girl

This includes my favourite statue of Joan of Arc ever – and we have seen quite a few on our journey – still as a young peasant girl, rather than as leader of a revolution.

 

 

We cycled south to Domaine de Coolus, a wooded nature park, which took us along next to La Marne and gave wonderful views of the weir and the old, now closed, municipal swimming area, with diving boards into the river.

 

 

The evenings gradually drew in, the leaves and conkers fell, and the time spent on the back deck decreased. But there were still some lovely early evenings there. My favourite Autumn drink made an appearance – white Aligote wine with a touch of Chataigne, chestnut liqueur.

2818C5B3-3598-41D5-8623-E9C10FDA32BEOut for an evening stroll on October 1st I discovered that Calliope was the only remaining boat on the port with people aboard – everything else, the hotel boats, other barges and cruisers, had either left or been ‘winterised’.

 

With only a couple of days before I was leaving Stewart alone to await the canal opening we went for a proper French lunch – a three course menu for €17 which for me included delicious herring and potato salad, a wonderful tripe dish (!!!!) with some of the best frites I have ever had, and a tangy fromage blanc. Stewart’s meal was also excellent, his steak haché arriving unexpectedly topped by two eggs!

My last full day arrived wet and windy, requiring a good sweep and mop of the decks to clear leaves, twigs, conkers and dust!

After lunch the weather changed – “Here comes the Sun doo be doo be” – (for those of a certain age) so we went for my final walk round. I didn’t take many photos, just of things I had not seen before, plus Stu and I in front of the one city gate still standing.

5A75CB0A-BC09-4237-82C5-3F2880EB86C4I’m not very good at good-byes, so started with my garden – at least the floral part of it. The herbal part is up on the foredeck.

So that’s it from Calliope crew for 2018, but the Captain is on board for another two weeks and will, hopefully, continue the tale………

………………

……. So – it’s gone very quiet on board all of a sudden I’ve noticed, but we have a plan. There is still have another week to sit out in Chalons until the canal to Reims re-opens – though as you may have noticed from the above, this is not much of a hardship. 

At that point my old schoolmate Billy will arrive who, after a further couple of days R&R in Chalons to help him get over TGV-lag will help crew us through the last couple of days to our winter mooring at Sillery.

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The autumn winds are definitely blowing the new season in, though the nights are still balmy enough for Billy to check his racing results on the back deck . . . . 

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And then – right – we’re off! First day is planned as a very leisurely 8k and three (descending) locks to a quiet stop-over in the small town of Condé, which boasts a church, a boulangerie and three champagne houses. 

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The journey was sedate – and slowed down even more with a 3 hour delay in a wonky lock with an absent lockie – but we made landfall late afternoon at an empty quay. New crew did well and got the hang of the ropes quickly, despite being more of an obstruction to look round than I’ve been used to …..

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(Sorry Bill)  So – the last day’s cruise of the season starts bright and early and we’re off up the Canal Aisne a la Marne with eight 3m locks ascending to the wonderfully apposite tunnel of Billy-Le-Grand followed by three more descending to this year’s home port. There was however a bit of an Ooops ….

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Having negotiated all locks with aplomb up until the last before the summit, the boat in that lock rose way above the bollard on the quay and somehow Billy got hung-up while going up – which is quite an accomplishment.

(To be fair, the skipper also snagged a zig-zag on the very next lock gate and lost a lanyard, though I don’t seem to have any photos of that.)

So, during the year Lesley and myself would always acknowledge the ‘Last Lock of the Day’. It’s down to me and Bill this year to salute the ‘Last Lock of the Season’.

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And so here we are, the winter mooring at Sillery. Another wonderful 6 months, and another winter to work out next seasons adventure. I still would love to go to Berlin . . . . 

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Sweet flowing L’Aisne and Canal on to La Marne

Fifteen days in early May, 2016

The first 6 days

New waterway; new system. Onto the L’Aisne, a river, not a canal and given our first zapper, so alertly looking out for the sign to tell us to press ‘amont’ –

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zapper sign (un)helpfully facing the river

 

 

 

and after a bit we realised that the signs, instead of facing us as we came along the river, were 90 degrees wrong, and facing the river itself! One or two zaps were a bit late.

 

 

 

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Levers on L’Aisne

 

 

We soon got the hang of pressing the zapper, watching for a green light, and once in the lock, pushing up the blue pole to get things going!

 

 

 

 

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Vic-sur-Aisne silos

 

Our mooring target was Vic-sur-Aisne – though we were not so sure as we first approached and saw huge silos with grain being loaded into a big barge.

 

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Loading grain

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Looking across to the morning at Vic-sur-Aisne

 

How wrong we were – just a few yards further, and …. almost heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

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Our serene company for the evening

 

 

We found we were the only boat on a lovely quiet mooring, just past the silos, and extremely pleasant – our only company two courting swans.

 

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Everything done including the washing

 

A walk round the village followed by a Happy Hour aboard created the perfect evening in the sun. Cheers y’all.

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Morning, Vic-sur-Aisne

And when morning broke, it was still, and still perfect, or even more so.

Before leaving there was time for a look at the work going on to (sadly) remove one of the last ‘needle weirs’ on L’Aisne.

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Linnet at lunch time

 

We had a great sunny days cruising, including a lunch stop that brought us our first linnet to tick off in the I-Spy book.

 

 

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Calliope at Soissons, looking over to Faubourg St-Waast

 

 

 

 

We came into Soissons to find plenty of space on the town quay ….

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Pont des Anglaise, Soisson

 

…. just in front of the new Pont des Anglaise …….. so named because the English built a bridge across the river just after the war – and this one has just replaced it.

 

 

 

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Soissons cathedral and (non-food) market

We visited the market which occupied a characterful market hall plus a huge space in front of the green tiled cathedral, and found a food bounty awaiting us – so many traditional charcuteries, forgeries, boulangeries, and of course dew fresh fruit and veg.

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Market fare!

Two night in Soissons gave us the opportunity to have a good look round this historical town with its ruined abbey and voluptuously vaulted Chapter House – plus the Captain could buy some ‘stuff’ from a Brocante to mend a fender.

 

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Soissons goldfinch

 

Our walk round Soissons also provided another for the I-spy bird book – a gold finch popping in and out of a hole in a tree near the abbey.  (More goldfinches appear later in our journey)

 

We had Reims in our sights by now, and all that promised champagne! This was planned as a two day trip, staying just outside Reims in a country mooring at Courcy before tackling the city. Luckily we had a plan B.

 

The next nine days

Joining the Canal de L’Aisne a la Marne

So we left Soissons on a super sunny day and delighted in the smooth calm countryside along the River Aisne.

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Goodbye Soissons

By later afternoon we were looking to moor up, and chose a quiet mooring near Cys-la-Commune – very rural – and between two villages.

A walk from one village to the next have us a perfect view of Calliope surfing a field of rape, and the discovery of a pleasing old church.

During a wonderful peaceful evening watching the sun disappear at the end of the lock pound, I was captivated and mystified by a bird call – black bird like, but a very distinctive different song. I downloaded ‘Warblr’ recorded the sound, but we were too rural for me to get an answer – so forever a mystery warbler. (I think we have since found out it was a frog . . . . .)

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Lunchtime relaxation at Maizy

Next day, knowing we were nowhere near a boulangerie, we studied the map and thought there would be bread, and indeed cake, at Maizy. What a lovely place to moor – the canal widened out with a wall for mooring and village road that led down to the river, with a cheerful bar close at hand. Not for us the midday beer, but the locals directed us to the boulangerie and a baguette was secured for lunch.

The L’Aisne is a beautiful river to wind through. Working the locks was a joy.

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Lovely mooring at Berry au Bac

Having motored on to Berry au Bac we easily found a place to stop, mooring below lock. Again we were the only boat there and our only company, apart from a couple of gentle pecheurs, were nightingales, day and night, plus water rats, herons and other wild fowl; a good rest before the long haul to Reims!

The haul to Reims is actually only a day, through the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne, but in that day Calliope and crew had 9 deep locks like waterfalls to ascend.

These were operated by a new (to us) system; a pole hanging above the canal to be turned as we cruised underneath – and another pole to push up once safely inside the lock chamber. Quite a laugh grabbing that pole. Luckily the Captain is good at steering, except when side currents catch Calliope broadside. I learned a lesson at the first pole. Don’t let go after you’ve turned it! It will swing madly pendulum style across the boat, hitting anything, including the wheelhouse glass, as it goes. Luckily no damage, and from then on I walked the pole down the boat.

It was made even more interesting for us because the bollards were spaced for barges twice our size! Anyway, all was fine, if slightly demanding.

By the time we reached Courcy, the last lock before our stop over, we were looking forward to completing the day’s journey – but oh no! The lock was apparently closed for restoration! We quickly moored up to the lock approach and began to think through our options – when a most welcome ‘monsieur’ appeared above us, and with a few words, and lots of gesticulations made it clear that we could rise up to a new level! He and his working companion operated it all by hand for us. Fantastic. Merci messieurs.

And then … the expected mooring was not where we expected and the map had shown – the big ‘bay’ on the left bank that was to be our place of rest was shallow and full of fishermen (the bank was full of fisherman, not the actual bay).

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Looking up the canal in Reims towards our mooring in the distance

So two tired people had to carry on to Reims, past long commercial wharfs, the small marina and, finally and thankfully, onto the free mooring right by the lock – and a main road! But look at the photo – it looks more like the Med! The canal is an unreal blue – must be full of copper sulphate! (Our mooring is just round the corner after the bridge you can see in the distance . . . . )

Never mind. We know how to relax, so boat safe and sound we walked into town and found first a bar, and then a restaurant under the trees of the main square..

We stayed two nights in Reims and managed to see some of this beautiful city, including the Cathedral, the park, the football stadium and many of the fascinating houses.

It was also our first (but not last) meeting with Beryl and Ray on Vrouwe Catherina, plus briefly Mark on Ariana.

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Progress so far

So our journey was progressing – we had travelled a fair way on the map.

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Near Sillery

We left the city environment of Reims for the more rural atmosphere of Sillery; just a 4 lock trip.

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Sillery Marina

The small marina there looked full , but Capt. Stu sneaked into a space on the wall. We soon met up with Beryl Ray and Mark again. Plus made new friends of John and Martha. This led to two guitars and some singing voices appearing over some wine!

 

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French war graves, Sillery

We walked round the village and found a good boulangerie, – an essential! Lesley also walked over to petit Sillery and round to the …… military cemetery.

 

 

 

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Astern out of Sillery

 

After two nights it was time to move on southwards, starting with a difficult astern manouevre to extricate Calliope from her resting place – all done with an audience, and with aplomb by Stu!

 

 

It was 11 locks down to the end of the canal at Conde sur Marne, at the T junction with La Marne. There was also the ‘attractive’ tunnel Billy to enjoy, so described by Du Breille. Its not a long tunnel, but navigation and steaming lights needed just the same.

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Waiting our turn for Billy Tunnel

 

 

 

This, as with most tunnels, is a one way system and we had time for lunch in the sun at a pleasant mooring just outside the tunnel awaiting our turn.

 

 

 

 

 

Conde-sur Marne was a sweet place to stop over, in the best sense of the word. We only stayed one night, opposite the old hydro power station, but this was time enough for a couple of walks round the village.

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We sought out (recommended to us) Mme Potié’s champagne house with the inevitable tastings and purchases! We bought some Ratafia – a champagne based aperitif. Mmmmm.

 

 

 

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Billy loco at Conde sur Marne lock

 

We also grabbed a photo of the little engine that used to pull barges through the Billy tunnel at the time of radical industrial revolution.

 

 

 

Next morning was said goodbye to the canal De L’Aisne à La Marne, because we were onto La Marne!