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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Champagne country – La Marne

 

4 days mid-May 2016

 

The T junction at Condé-sur-Marbe looked tempting both ways – so we turned right for a couple of days, then came back and went down the left arm.

Turning right had Calliope faced towards Epernay – but we did not get that far.

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We were on the Canal lateral de la Marne, and wended our way, next to the river, through calm countryside and vineyards.

 

 

 

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The swing bridge at Bisseuil

 

 

After just two locks and a ‘pont-mobile’ we came upon Mareuil-sur-Ay, a village steeped in champagne history, boasting 14 champagne houses, and a small port.

 

 

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the port at Mareuil-sur-Ay

Although pretty and pleasant, Calliope was too big for the port, but we had spied a new tranquil mooring just outside the village on the way and promptly accomplished a U-ey.

Fantastic – absolutely right for us. We could walk to the village for bread and La Poste, then retire to our own isolation.

The mooring was also just right for us to give the boat a clean and for me to sit on the grass and ‘prick out’ the herb and tomato seedlings – so housework and gardening done we relaxed.

The evening brought a set of swirling black clouds, followed by rain and thunder. In one whirlwind blow almost all the blossom of the chestnut tree opposite descended into the river and drifted into pink patterns on the water.

As darkness fell we enjoyed a nightscene of the village and a statue on the hill opposite.  At last we find something beneficial to come from a Straight and Narrow. 

Next day was fine again. We walked up the hill to get close to the statue and the vines, and a hillside view of the village.

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We had the added benefit of a marvelous view back down to Calliope at her mooring, and a close up of a linnet.

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You have to be at least as old as us to understand the link with ‘we’re in the boat with our ‘ome packed in it’, but in all those years this is the first linnet I’ve ever actually seen . . . .

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And we checked on the progress of the next vintage champagne …

 

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American geese

Our other ‘bird-find’ at Mareuil were two American geese – goodness knows why!

After two nights at Mareuil the barge turned round to head up for Chalons-en-Champagne, stopping at Conde for lunch. We had an interesting journey; on arrivale at the Tours-sur-Marne lock, ready to turn the hanging pole and open the lock gates, there was no pole. We kept looking and wondering if there was another device to operate the lock, but eventually moored up and phoned the VNF in my broken French. “je suis á l’écluse Tours-sir-Marne et il n’y a pas un pole pour tourner.”

I was not believed, and told the to turn the ‘peche’. (a peach?) “Non Monsieuer. Le pôle a disparu!” After repeating this several times he agreed to dispatch an éclusier, who soon turned up and agreed that the pole/peach was missing and set about operating the lock for us.

That was not our only difficult lock of the day. The locks from Condé to Chalons nearly all had a strong jet of water swooshing out just below the lock, pushing Calliope sideways. Of course our man at the wheel took account of this as much as he could, but at Juvigny, with the water pushing the boat into lock wall – a zigzag fender rope was broken with a good loud twang! Your Honours I do maintain that it was the merest of kisses and the line was indeed a little frayed already . . . . .

We arrived at Chalons-en-Champagne to find plenty of space for a nice mooring, above the lock by the Grand and Petit Jard parks, and beneath the towering cathedral. These are very pleasing spaces, and include plenty of waterfowl – more coots for me!

We quickly decided to spend two nights there. The town is full of ancient timbered buildings, and intersected by two tributaries of La Marne, Le Mau and Le Nau.

Our boating neighbours were an interesting group of people. One, an ex-diver, managed to lose his bow thruster and then his propeller mid-channel. Mark, who we had met at Sillery, tells us he is a millionaire farmer, and had on board with him his friend from East Anglia, Steve, who is an ex Baptist missionary, wants to be a writer, and shares our love of birds.

And then we were joined by Robin, who, in trying to moor, drove his big barge Magansar2 bow first into the quay three times (proper T-bones) whilst trying to get a rope ashore with inexperienced crew. All were very friendly, accommodating, humourous and helpful to each another nonetheless.

So after just two days in a lovely place and with good company we set sail again, towards the end of La Marne. But one more night still to spend on this canal.

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Moored up at Soulanges

 

Up stream we went, stopping for the night at a 10/10 mooring for us -Soulanges. Initially all alone, later we were joined by a commercial barge that moored up behind us for night.

 

 

 

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mini garden

 

I found time to do a little gardening – get those herb and tomato seedlings sorted out!

 

 

 

It is a pretty mooring and although the village is small it had an interesting walk up the hill between a series of crosses to a statue.

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Soulanges vista

 

 

Looking down we could spot Calliope peacefully resting.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bridge over La Marne, Soulanges

Alongside the canal La Marne flowed on. We crossed over the bridge to take a look at the river. The nearby car park was almost empty; just a few fishermen and one camper van – (skillfully hidden behind Lesley by the photographer) occupied (as we later discovered) by a Belgian story teller and his wife. After enjoying a glass of wine with them we all settled down to a calm night.

 

 

Next morning the sun still shone and we were off to where we would join the Canal Entre Champagne et Borgogne at Vitry-Le-Francois – the next chapter!

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!