4 Winter trips to Calliope’s hivernage

This is not really much of a boater’s blog!  I ended up with a break of almost 8 months non-cruising, so this episode is a quick reflection of how that time has been filled, including 4 trips to Calliope and some other boating references – plus the family. Skip over those latter bits if they are of no interest, which I guess they won’t be to most of my readers.


I have also completed this rather quickly, just to get it out there and begin the proper cruising blog for 2019, so apologies for typos, repeated photos, and all other mess-ups.

Coming into Dover after the December visit

Having said au revoir to Calliope and left her for the winter we decided to make two speedy visits during November and December. The first was to collect the wheelhouse roof cover and bring it home for repair and cleaning. Then a second visit was required to affix the said cover back atop the wheelhouse.

E23B51BD-5446-4157-A7D2-0F6C02DF664BBefore we went there was plenty to do at home sorting out the garden which took on an autumnal misty feel and deer pranced through every morning looking for fallen apples, tasty shoots, and anything else that I don’t want them to eat.


(yes, there is a deer in this photo)


There were also plenty of grand children duties, especially across half term.  Its good when the second youngest can read to the youngest! and when the youngest still thinks that a trip to a garden centre is fun.



We got to the end of October and discovered Halloween was upon us, so dressed to kill.

Caused quite a stir at the neighbourhood party!









Then at last we were off eastwards through the Hampshire countryside towards Kent and the ferry port.



The trip across was calm and grey, leaving behind blue skies and white cliffs ………








…… finally to arrive at Calais.




The road trip down to Silvery (just south of Reims) only took about three hours, not bad considering we hit the Reims ring road at rush hour. Being November it was dark by then, so looking for the requisite ‘à droites’ and ‘à gauches’ was not easy, but finally there we were aboard again, warming up the boat as quickly as possible and toasting our return in true French style.

58DCEF7F-18ED-4A3B-AF4F-4A53E404A70DNext day dawned bright and Stewart set to work removing PV panels prior to the canvas being taken off next day. He had plenty more maintenance to do so I had a go at removing the accumulated leaves, cleaning some windows, shopping for food and some other good first mate chores.

Over the two days I was also able to take a series of photos in the Silvery WW1 cemetery.

It was a very moving time to be there – 8 November 2018, just 3 days before the centenary of the end of the war. In the cemetery were soldiers who had does just a few days before the ceasefire – they nearly made it. And rows of christian and muslim soldiers lying side by side, just as they had  fought side by side a hundred years before.


With the canvas off the wheelhouse roof (it was coming home for some TLC) it was time to put the tarpaulin on to keep things watertight in our absence.  Not a pretty job, but it worked, and stayed on through the following weeks of wind and rain.

So for us, time to head home.


We awoke to a golden winter dawn, beautiful to behold. And as we packed up to go the wintery light became even more lovely across the water of Sillery marina.


4FD2D088-362B-4155-A994-DD3347C0C5D0Our drive back to the ferry was uneventful, and in such good time that we diverted off the motorway through a couple of villages to find a good local French bar/restaurant with a menu de jour.  

Our diversion took us through an unexpected arch – luckily with no oncoming traffic.


And so ended he first hivernage trip, but we were to return again before Christmas to fit the repaired canvas wheelhouse roof ……


But while we were home we packed in lots of family activity.





Celebrating eldest grand daughter’s 20th  birthday ….






… having fun with youngest grand daughter whenever possible …..

48503760_Unknown…. watching grandsons play football …

… seasonal cooking including mixing the Christmas pudding and using up our apples in roasted garlic and apple chutney …..

….. getting our photos taken, so that friend David could practise his new art ….

… and discovering totally unabashed deer and fabulous fungi in the garden.


We swept up lots and lots and lots of leaves, piling them behind Stewart’s lovely whirly-bird wheel sculpture.

Then the unexpected kicked in! We suddenly decided to buy a new house, which has the necessary consequence of putting the current one on the market!  Plenty of cleaning, tidying, maintenance etc, and it all paid off. We had a buyer and really did have to sort out down-sizing.

And we still needed to go back to Sillery with the new wheelhouse cover, and complete Calliope maintenance. It was a quick 3 day trip in December.

IMG_4423Mission was accomplished and we saw more beautiful wintry dawns ….

IMG_4422and we saw Sillery at its most festive.

Then it was headlong towards Christmas, including delightful times with youngest grand daughter with fish and chips on Southsea sea front.


Christmas Day was a big family event – our last at Bishopswood with comfortable space for all 12; good fun all round.

New Year’s Eve is another chance to celebrate with family – grand daughter No. 3’s birthday – then back home to see the new year in before we set to in earnest with the house move.

January and February were a haze of giving, eBaying, Freecycling, auctioning and charity donating all the many things that would not fit into our new home. It was a mixture of reminiscing, delight and some sadness. No photos fit for this!


But one beautiful occurrence on January 21st was the appearance of a ruby moon – so amazing that my camera did a double take!

On March 5th we moved out of our lovely rambling wooden bungalow and its huge field of a garden. We said goodbye to the robin, the greenhouse, the many many trees, and had one last bonfire

We were then expecting to be homeless for a couple of weeks. In amongst a short holiday and visiting family we were able once more to make the trip to Sillery and start the de-winterising of Calliope.  We had a lovely few misty morning spring days on board, clearing to blue skies, and we were longing to be off cruising, but still had the house move to complete.

IMG_4887So back to England, and with a push and a shove we managed to fit ourselves and our belongings into The Mixing House – a home looking out onto a creek off Portsmouth Harbour.  We just love to see water – canals, rivers, sea, lakes.

Our new house has both a historical and maritime heritage.  It is built within the blast walls of the old Shell Filling Houses where the shells for the navy’s were filled with explosive and run along rails to be loaded onto the ships.

And the creek (or Forton Lake as it is properly known) has the remains of many old hulks and other marine artefacts, just marvellous to explore for any boat lover.

Our view includes Portsmouth’s spinnaker tower and the new super carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth II, when she is in harbour.

We had a fabulous 5 weeks settling in, providing Stewart with plenty more opportunities to use his practical skills; no photos of this shy retiring working man.

IMG_1898During all this time we needed another canal fix so went up to the Grand Union Canal to visit family living aboard a narrow boat – so lovely!

There was also the exciting event at Wembley to watch my football team, Pompey, win the Checkatrade Cup on penalties.  I know, it’s not that fantsactic an achievement but when you support Pompey you take every trophy that you can.

05f4b04f-3294-4798-9100-30c864c7f47bEaster was fun with all the family coming to squeeze into the new abode – yes they do fit!

Then back to Sillery once more, via another night at Folkestone. We have come to rather love that town.

When we arrived in Sillery the weather was not promising and I had to dig out the wet weather baguette bag for the boulangerie run, but by tea time I was sitting in sunshine.

48504800_UnknownWe found we had a new neighbour, Jacana, a lovely old Tjalk, but no crew aboard.

 – this time to bring and fit our new PV solar panels, and for Stewart to become an engineer. He completed a full service on the barge – gold star.

IMG_2374Between us we also got some painting done – I am only let loose on the wooden struts to support the PV panels, but managed to do this without getting wood stain where it shouldn’t be.

We managed to fit in a bit of a canal walk and had a day out driving through the champagne vineyards, and also buying champagne, Ratafia and beer to take home after our 9 day stay.

I also got into photographic mode about Sillery bridges – scroll on down if this is several bridges too far!

48505088_UnknownAnd, as always, we met lovely new people on other boats – then say good-bye as they cruise away.

IMG_2173My particular joy on this trip was managing to bring back the geraniums that were on Calliope last year, wintered in our greenhouse (see photo somewhere above), then sat outside the new house until we loaded them into the car and reinstated them aboard.

IMG_2541One last trip to England before cruising begins, with three aims in mind; first to celebrate son’s 50th birthday (he has some interesting obsessions!), second to see youngest grand daughter over half term, and third to oversee the final bits of snagging on the new house.  The first two were easily and enjoyably accomplished. The third – well that is an ongoing, different, story.

IMG_5161So on June 2nd we finally finally left the UK for Sillery, leaving our lone poppy behind.

Stewart finished fixing the new solar panels and they work!

Let cruising begin!








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.




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





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.




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.



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


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 . . . .



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



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.


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.





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.


Soulanges vista



Looking down we could spot Calliope peacefully resting.







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!