“Je veux montant s’il vous plait”

Avignon to Lyon – 5 days ascending the Rhône

August 15th to 20th

 

Feeling confident about diminishing wind and current speeds, and not too much in the way of Meteo alarms we set off from Avignon. There is always a little bit of apprehension about the Rhône for us. There are not that many places to moor, the Mistral wind can appear from nowhere, and a couple of thunderstorms in the catchment area can suddenly change the flow against us. So we are always cautious.

A1A5F9D0-4714-4294-BE51-770943AAE974Just round the corner was our first lock of the trip – Avignon. As we approached each lock we made the obligatory VHF radio or phone call to say we were on our way and wanted to ‘ascend’ – “je veux montant s’il vous plait.”

We discovered just how much wind was still blowing when we exited the lock to a 60 degree windsock!

03720675-1B10-4A6D-8236-671D91A562C1But all was well and we made good time upstream, passing by the old tower opposite Roquemaure where we had moored two years ago on our way south.

Onwards and upwards, through the 8.6m Caderousse lock, a baby compared to what was ahead, although it has to be said that I look a bit worried! Actually I was just squinting into the selfie camera!

1EDF2738-8A84-403B-A3E0-69DE34E810F611kms on was our hoped for base for the night – the delightful Saint-Etienne-Des-Sorts, another of our downstream stop overs. Tension was reduced as we rounded the bend and saw that the pontoon was free!

Before long, not only were we moored up, but also our friend Rheinhard from Avignon who was single-handedly cruising upstream. He moored alongside, came to supper, and enjoyed the glow of the evening sun on the village and the cliff on rive gauche.

Next day, almost in tandem, we and Rheinhard set off for the massive Bollène lock – 22.5m – the big and beautiful one!

497FC330-3F22-4F5C-B5E4-97F06EB8078BThe scenery changed to a far more vertiginous look, and I added to my collection of ‘old towers and castles of the Rhône valley’.

We went up past Montelimar (of nougat fame) to look for a mooring for the night.  We decided to try the little marina at Cruas, having been told that they would accommodate a 20m barge if we asked nicely, which I did in my best French.

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It was a bit interesting to get in with a lively flow and breeze, but once in we were made very welcome and had a very safe and pleasant berth for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

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Next morning the wind had definitely dropped, as certified by the steam coming out of the local nuclear power station cooling towers confirming a Beaufort scale 0 !

 

 

 

 

 

015F593F-ABAC-4993-8035-5B444AF11F41We had the Logistic-Neuf lock just round the bend – a mere 11m, and which has suitably wine-stained coloured edges.

 

Then on up the river another 50+kms looking for somewhere for the night. We asked at Valence if they had room for us, but sadly no, so on to Tournon where we moored up on a nice new pontoon.

Tournon is an interesting little town; we managed a quick look round, a visit to the wine cave (€2.50 a litre for very nice rosé in an empty plastic water bottle), and a back street pizza (with a very nice jug of rosé).

 

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Moored at Ampuis

Next day, Saturday, was to be our last full day and night on the Rhône, and a full day it was of over 50kms and 2 locks that took us up past some beautiful scenery, vineyards and towns, ending up at Ampuis.

Ampuis was everything we had hoped for from a Rhône mooring – superb views, great swimming, blue skies. I was happy crew!

 

We were moored just below the lock at Tournons, and on quite a busy commercial route, as proven by the wonderful working peniches powerfully passing by (most of them unbothered by the implications of a Plymsoll line . . . ).

And as we enjoyed the Tournon rosé on the back deck the Captain was a contented man, watching the sun go down over a peaceful river – our last evening on Le Rhône.

We awoke to another glorious day, passing by the sparkling brown roof of the Ampuis chateau, and cruising on to the first lock of the day, and waiting for a giant, gigantic, commercial barge to emerge. (Two 80 metre gas barges pushed by a shove tug – you can just make it out to the left of our mast.) I love to see the waterways still in use for transport – so much cleaner and more efficient and smoother than road transport.

E66B45DC-13AE-4AFC-82AE-8FD54ECAADA5As we moved north towards Lyon I started what might be a new series – ‘views from the galley window’ – not sure if I will manage to keep it up!

Then at last we reached our final écluse of the Rhône – Pierre Bénite – on the outskirts of Lyon. Made it – in good time, and with new friends and new tales to tell.

 

So there we were in the port at Lyon (actually on the Saône not the Rhône) in amongst the bright lights, shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife! Whoa, this is different! We gave ourselves a day off for rest and recuperation, stocking up on vittles, a walk round town and a beer on the quay before we began to think about our next chapter: the river trip up the Saône.

 

 

 

Juillet sur le Midi and la mer

I planned not to do a blog for a while,  but the temptation to share some of the things we have seen and done proves too great.

To be precise, 25 days were spent on the Midi, 1 on the Hérault, and 5 on the Canal du Rhône à Sète, which connects to the Mediterannean all over the place, so is sort of the sea. Also crossing the Étang de Thau is definitely a sea crossing, even if only two hours!

We have moved on from  Castelnaudary, where I had rejoined Stewart after my week in the UK. The simple way to show it is with a copy of our calendar as I enter our mooring place for each night.

 

 

Although I realise you only see part of the longer named locations! Ah well, sorry. I’ll explain.

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We left Castelnaudary on 30 June and after a relatively calm descent through various locks and a very shady lunch time stop we came to St-Sernin where we stayed the night. Despite my desire to desist from taking photos, the light and the shapes drew me in, so here are a few.

 

 

 

 

 

We  travelled 5 kilometres and 5 locks next day in order to spend a night near Villepinte,

59EDBAB8-A565-49DE-B0E6-BC3CAC792AB1then on for a night at Villeséquelande ….. well it was supposed to be there, but when some (pleasant) local youths came to fish, drink, listen to music, and then collect wood for a bonfire we decided to just move a kilometre to a more peaceful night time mooring for old folk!

BBE0DBD3-2A9C-4BD9-B83C-4827D2789CEDnext morning, bright and sunny, we moved on to Carcassonne. The heavens smiled on us and a rare free mooring above the lock, long enough for a 20m barge, appeared to port.

64DA5402-F69F-42AE-8A80-322E134491BFWhat happened next is a minor happy blur of barbecued lamb, rosé, melon, salad and bonhomie. Somehow within minutes we had been invited aboard Escapade for lunch, taken food and drink contributions, helped in the kitchen, and sat around on the top deck making merry. Thank you David and Evelyn.

225DA1BE-81BF-4C7E-B153-668D75421CBEThat evening we still managed to get to the Irish Bar to watch England in the quarter finals of the World Cup v Columbia, and, even more unlikely,  managed to get going again next day – but only after Evelyn sold me her bike for a bargain price. More thanks due.

it was a week of lucky moorings. After leaving Carcassonne we initially made slow progress, queuing with other boats over the lunch hour for the double+single locks at Fresquel. The consequence of this was that we arrived at one of our favourite places, Villedubert lock, at a convenient time to stop.

5FB4D313-9A56-4624-B8AC-083EB62C3012The lock keeper said we could moor up below the lock, just beyond the waiting pontoon for boats going up. Ah, peace. Just so lovely all evening ……

5267163A-5485-45EF-939F-A95209A08E9E….. until first one holiday boat arrived to spend the night – then a hotel barge came in for the night – then a second holiday boat ……. and in the morning, before we had even had breakfast a further two  boats arrived to join the queue ‘going up’.

We made a quick escape and still in travelling mode we went for another one night stand, this time at Marseillett. Lo and behold, the wooden pontoon mooring we had hoped for was free.

0FD75DAD-2D32-49D1-955F-2D890D361A00This mooring is next to a canal-side gite and it was not long until we had made friends with the English couple staying there.

BE3BE8B9-2C8B-48CA-B263-0D63B00E6B42Their recommendation for the local vignonier led firstly to us making a trip to buy a case of rosé, secondly to sharing some of said rosé with our new friends, and thirdly to them coming aboard for a cruise down the canal next morning!

B248EDCF-E610-4B70-9FE5-AB89639B2AC1So after another beautiful evening on the canal, we were off, with the addition of Arabella, Ian and Charley the dog for the first few kilometres.

I don’t know which god we had pleased but s/he was smiling on us again. We came round the final bend into La Redorte to see the end of the wooden quay free and waiting for us. DA393C45-C6C3-4FAA-BB6E-7D02706956B1This meant a happy two days, encompassing the France quarter-final in the bar and the England quarter-final on the boat, utilising a Heath Robinson-esque  assembly of wires, electronics and books to get sufficient reception for the best part of the match – we won!

Our social life continued to be busy with the arrival of Tesserae and an invitation to celebrate the victory with them. Thank you – lovely evening.

Carrying on downstream on 8th July we planned a stop in the countryside just below Ognon lock and ‘garden’, preferably in the shade because of the extreme heat (which continued for the rest of the month!).

 

 

We had something of a wait at both Ognon, and the previous lock, Homps, due to a large number of holiday ‘bumper boats’, many of whose helmsmen (and women) were very much learning the ropes! Éclusier’s lunch hour intervened, holding up six or seven boats at each lock – but the young éclusier at the double Ognon lock was keen to get down to ‘no waiting boats’ and had us passing one on its way up in between the two locks as we went down! Good man!

 

 

 

There is an artist based at the lock who has many of his vibrantly coloured sculptures watching from vantage points around the lock!  It makes for a slightly bizarre but interesting experience.

 

 

Our mooring was in the shade, and allowed me one of my canal-dips. I cannot resist when it is so hot!

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And afterwards a pre-dinner drink on the deck, watching the passing boats negotiate each other with varying degrees of chaos!

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Stewart meanwhile was irritated by flies; I discovered on the internet that various herbs keep them at bay, so a small defensive wall of basil and rosemary was built, and seemed to work!

 

Next days cruise included going round the hairpin bend of the Pont-canal de Répudre, one of Riquet’s earliest and bravest pieces of canal architecture.

(Check out Paul Riquet on the internet – astonishing engineering 150 years before Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born>)

 

 

On then to Le Somail – we like this little hamlet. This time the ‘fig tree’ mooring was taken, but we had been told we could just squeeze in beyond the hotel barge mooring – told by a boat that is a few foot shorter than Calliope.  We hung over into the ‘no parking zone by a metre and waited to see what happened.

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What happened was Algeria! Luckily the captain was gracious and said that a metre here or there was no problem. Phew!

 

 

We spent two nights at le Somail, both with startling colours in the sky and on the boat – I’d vowed to take on more photos here, but these colours just draw me in.

 

 

The following morning lit up another palette of colours, this time reflected n the water. After a quick photoshoot including a view of the ‘other side’ of the famous le Somail bridge, we left for a dalliance on Canal de Jonction for reasons that will become apparent. We turned off the Midi and went down through 5 locks to Salleles d’Aude, mooring up as before near ……… the Domaine de 7 écluse cave!

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Before long we had completed a re-stock of our favourite red and rosé wine boxes, plus a few bottles!

This photo is just part of the special purchase.

 

 

That evening was the hour of England’s finest football hour for many a year – reading the semi-final of the World Cup. We invited friends Carol and Martin to a quick early supper, then down to the bar to cheer our team on – sadly not to victory.

 

 

This was definitely only to be a one night side-stop so next morning Stewart, with great skill, turned the 20m that is Calliope around in the winding hole at Salleles. I was proud! Then back up the straight 3 kilometres and 5 locks that is the Canal de Jonction.

 

 

Just below the Midi, there was another shady mooring waiting for us for a night. (It doesn’t look so shady in the photo, but it shaded over beautifully.) A few natural moments here – a cicada, hardly visible on a tree trunk (one among many thousands that were ‘singing’); part of a fir cone; the fruit of an unknown tree; a sunset.

3591A8F8-B268-496F-BAF0-2B71A768CF94Moving on on Friday we re-joined the Midi, turning east this time.  Once more we sought a shady rural spot to hide from the blazing sun (temperatures in the mid to high thirties every day), but the hoped for spots were either taken, or not shady.  We ended up in full sun near Pont Malvies in amongst quite a row of live-aboards.

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There was quite a breeze, and with our various covers over windows and hatches we were fine. A walk in the cooler evening air resulted in watching the sunset through the reeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But next day, with even higher temperatures predicted, we decided to find a cooler spot. First we cycled to Capestang for stores –  sounds simple enough – a 12 minute ride according to Google maps. But we decided to go along the (extremely bendy) canal bank, rather than down the straight road! After an hour cycling, much in full sun and on hard baked bumpy tracks, we found Intermarché, but lacked the will of the energy to cycle back!

We bought Coke and sandwiches, found a shady spot, and took a rest. Then, fortified, we began the ride back, still on the canal bank because Stewart had a plan!  We had passed a super shady spot on our way and by cycling back to that point Stewart could leave me and the shopping while he went to fetch the boat!

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Great plan – worked a treat, especially for me with an hour to sit in the shade with my toes in the water!  And nice for Stu too, who found two Azure-winged  Magpie feathers on his ride.

 

 

 

 

And when he arrived back with Calliope and we had an afternoon, evening and 2 nights there. Our only disturbances were ‘bumper boats’ that chose not to slow down past moored boats and threatened to pull out mooring pins out.  However nothing amiss occurred.

 

 

 

Now came time to pass under Capestang bridge. For those who do not know, this is often referred to as the lowest bridge on Canal du Midi – it is true in part. It has particularly low shoulders, making the edges of wheelhouse roofs vulnerable.

 

 

Stewart was keen to know just how much space we had, so armed with tape measure and camera I attempted to take photos as we passed through! We had had ideas of mooring in Capestang, but no room at the port so we continued to second choice Poilhés – and I am glad we had that choice forced upon us!

 

 

What a lovely little village. It was a recommendation from our mates Carol and Martin, and justly so. I cannot describe the pure visual delights of the sun moving across the old stone walls.

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Poilhes mooring

 

 

We were joined by other friends for lunch at the slightly funky Les Plantanes for very delicious food on one day, and stayed on for another two nights just because we liked it – oh and to use up time before our booked mooring at Béziers; more of that to come.

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With two nights to fill before Béziers we aimed for Colombiers, going through the Malpas tunnel along the way.

We were hoping for a 20m space, but none appeared. As we were leaving the village past a row of long-term moorings a very helpful Frenchman appeared from his cruiser to let us know that there was a space we could use a little further along!

 

 

We found it, half hidden amongst the reeds, and a very fine space it was.

 

 

And so it was we spent two nights at Colombiers. This is yet another fascinating and scenic village, steeped in history.

 

 

There were insects and flowers to enjoy too – apparently the largest wasp in France, but not dangerous to humans. Certainly we escaped unharmed..

 

 

Then finally the short stretch into Béziers, along the narrowed canal, then down the 9 écluses de Fonserannes and into the port.

(Our resident raconteur makes light of the Bezier locks; it’s a spurs earning achievement – especially going up ’em!)

 

We had booked for two nights, but stayed for three, fitting in a good look round the old city, the servicing of our central heating boiler (ironic in such heat), and a new bottle of gas thanks to new friends George and Pam on the boat next door who had a car.

FB1FFA6F-5919-48B7-9BC7-9B59D43B71CBThey also saved me a cycle ride to the Brico for necessary timber to mend the parasol – I was all ready to go when George found a suitable piece of wood down below.

 

 

We took walks along the river Orb in evening and morning light …

502C01A6-EA90-469E-80F6-082DF6EB5DAB… and a lively evening drinking and talking with George and Pam, plus Lee and Kristie from the cruiser next door.

 

 

There were colours and shadows drawing the eye and the camera all around the port. Maybe it was the time of the year, but the sun light was painting such beautiful pictures everywhere I looked!

After three good days in Béziers it was time to move along the canal, stopping first at the next village, Villeneuve-les-Béziers, meeting up again with good friends Martin and Carol; Martin had somehow managed to keep us a mooring place on the quay in the shade! Marvellous man.

We only stopped for the one night – have I mentioned our batteries yet? A series of misadventures, including two winters where, for different reasons, we lost shore power and drained the batteries, has resulted in us suddenly losing voltage on our domestic battery bank – fridge (with cold beer in it), freezer, air con, water pumps, lights …. computer recharge! So we had to urgently get new batteries. A series of enquiries anded up with us ordering them to arrive in Frontignan and we were now heading that way.

 

 

Our journey took us to Vias for one night, where a 5 minute cycle ride brings you to the Med and a nice evening swim!

 

 

Then an early, short, journey along to Agde round lock, where we spent two hours queuing, going through, and leaving. This round lock has three entrances, and once we were in with three other boats, the lock emptied enough to open the gates to the lower Hérault connection in order for three small boats to join us, then filled up again so that we could all go off East.  We were largest, so first in and last out, allowing Stewart to manoeuvre us 180 degrees to moor and then 180 degrees to leave! Takes a while!

F527B52D-4EE3-47A3-A205-83E81053349FWe were soon away from the other boats, turning up the beautiful Hérault.

There was an idea to moor at the pontoon at Bessan, but it was ‘taken’ by three boats we know from the Canal de Garonne. Not to worry – there are plenty of trees to moor under and tie up to, and we found our spot.

621EFBC2-84EB-4FE2-8F60-FCD8061E9830A dinghy of two friends turned up from Bessan inviting us to join them for supper, but we absolutely could not get ashore, even trying the ladder into the water, which was far far to deep!

 

 

We had a relaxed evening, in our different ways. I swam in the cool extremely clear water – some of the softest I have ever found. Stu found that crosswords (not sure if he was completing them or creating them) and red wine was just as soothing.

 

I think this is where we picked up a mysterious friend, initially thought to be a grasshopper, but that idea discarded as he (or she) did not have the right back legs, or wings. Various species were suggested by friends on Facebook, the closest, in looks, being a weta from New Zealand!

 

 

 

Then the mission to Frontignan continued, out of the river, and along the final stretch of the Midi and –

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– across the Étang de Thau. Note I’m the helmsman across the Étang, which is a little more like open sea and totally loved by me. (Dancing a hornpipe on the inside!) (Doing a crossword by t’other)

We arrived in Frontignan on Friday, were blessed  by just a perfect mooring place including electricity, and settled in. Amongst the angst of getting batteries ordered and delivered (can’t be done until Monday) we enjoyed the town, as we had done before.

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Frontignan is the Muscat capital of the world, so after a Muscat in the square we went for a pizza, where we had a free Muscat! Next morning dawned with blue skies, sun and reflections.

 

 

It was market day, and not only that, I noticed that there was the annual Muscat festival taking place within the market!  We headed off there for fresh stores and Muscat tasting. I bought a tasting session to combine Muscat and food – first with oysters (a dry one), then with chèvre, goats cheese (a sweet one) and finally with chocolate ( a densely sweet and aged one – sounds like me, ha ha).  It was a very good experience, one to be repeated.

 

The old town is a maze of the narrowest streets ever, with interesting views round each twist.

 

 

Sunday morning we went for a walk around the old salt pans before it got too hot. The flooded pans are full of flamingos, waders, gulls and various fish.

Then, on Sunday evening, a treat. I lived in a fishing village in Malta as a child. Every year the statue would be taken from the church and paraded along the quay, then a fiesta would ensue. This was a smaller version of the same idea. The Frontignan church has as its saint St Paul, who, traditional has it, was shipwrecked in Malta. So one way and another I felt an affinity, even though not religious.

 

The little wooden statue of St Paul was taken from the church in the morning in a little boat full of gladioli. This boat was taken by boat to the sea, and he spent the day at the seaside, bringing blessings to the fishermen who still work the area, plus all us other mariners. In the evening he returned and was met by a small band of musicians, some traditional dancers, and a crowd of people.

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St Paul arrives back at the church

We paraded Paul through the narrow streets and back to his church, where after a short service and some traditional singing – we all drank Muscat out of plastic cups! And we ate little ‘barque’ (boat) shaped biscuits.

8EFFD647-C1ED-4BFD-AE15-67D24A80551DNext day, our three allowed days n Frontignan being up, we came out of town a couple of kilometres and moored up opposite old fisherman’s cottages (now mostly holiday homes), to await battery arrival.

969C7144-70BE-4EB5-8EEA-ECFF6CEF0F9ELooked like we might be here awhile, so we got the bikes out and started to explore. We went to the Brico, (bought a tough sack trolley for moving batteries) the Intermarché, and, more interestingly, to Sète. It was a bit of an inferno adventure. It was very hot, Stewart ad a puncture on the way; I set off into town with his front wheel, got a new inner tube fitted, and set off back – only to miss him, cycle far further than necessary in midday sun, while he was half carrying a unicycle bicycle and getting just as hot and bothered!

Once we met up, all was well. We had lunch in the town hall square, where a fabulous tenor popped out of a bar to sing Opera (capital O) to us all. Then a walk round town and a visit to the gallery of Contemporary Art before a slow cycle back.

A swim in the salty water of the canal (which also has the small tides of the Med to take us up and down) helped cool me down and the final day of July was spent happily on the back deck waiting for our cabin to cool down from its 32 degrees.

Every finger crossed that our batteries arrive soon and we can switch the air con on from time to time!è

 

September 2017

I’m trying something new – basically a diary – but I can’t find a template that I like, so each day I will add a new day above the previous ones and publish every day. Let’s see if it works!

or, if you know of a good diary template that I can share, please tell me.

I’m not sure if you are told of updates so you might only hear of day one!

I lost everything I’d done in the past 10 days so decided to give up the full version for this year! I’ll just put up the photos with a few captions to keep them company.

And to keep it speedy I have shrunk the photos more than usual. Do tell me if they are now blurry and not worth looking at!

Byeeeeee

We ended the season by mooring up in our winter berth at Castelnaudary, in weather that ended up being far from wintery!

Tuesday 26th – our last day of the sailing season, spent in Castelnaudary

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A lovely morning, especially welcome after the storms of yesterday.

 

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Castelnaudary port looking shiny in the sun;

lovely weather for the final work on the boat, cleaning fridge, winterising the engine etc.

 

Then out to lunch (and what a lunch!) at the home of our friends Chris and Ursula – plus of course their three wonderful pigs and the giant dog Cartouch.

The grounds of their farmhouse were glowing in the autumn light, where the log pile caught my eye.

 

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Back to the boat via our favourite wine cave where we bought more than we should have done, but will enjoy the purchases for months to come!

 

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Stu was drummed into service to plait the poor excuse for a pigtail that I have taken three years to grow!  It has to come off!

IMG_6945Back on board we packed the cases, packed the bags, packed the car. Then time for a last relaxing drink of the season on the back deck.

Bye bye followers. See you next year.

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Monday 25th Le Ségala to Castelnaudary

Final day’s cruising for this summer. Plenty of locks, singles, a double and a treble.

The last lock of the day, the month and the year was Le Planque and an opportunity for a few photos.

It was an autumnal lock.

Calliope waited patiently while a barge came up and two other boats went down. Then came smoothly in.

IMG_2070Soon after we arrived in Castelnaudary, along with a thunderstorm and downpour.

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Sunday 24th

IMG_6955Woke to a gentle dawn. Brisk walk into Gardouch to buy early bread before we set off.

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The morning sun caught the quayside houses as we left.

 

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Le Segala

Four hour cruise from Gardouch to Le Segala, followed by lunch and more work on the boat.

Nice mooring near the bridge and lavoir, except when other boats went past too fast and threatened our mooring stakes!

including me getting tied up in grey paint and sticky masking tape. Not a pretty sight!

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Saturday 23rd

A day at Gardouch working on the boat

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I did the grey water tank, amongst other things.

 

 

IMG_6951There was an invasion of mini beasts (green shield bugs, or stink bugs) in the evening.

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Friday 22nd 

A race to Gardouch, arriving just as Chris and Ursula arrived to go out for lunch with us.

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Nice meal at this place.

 

 

 

 

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After our restaurant lunch out with Chris and Urs – coffee and chocolate course on board


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Not much else to report – a good lunch, a pleasant afternoon and evening, and bed!

 

 

 

Thursday 21st – Négra and Montesquieu de Lauragais

Wednesday 20th – Toulouse to Montgisgard

Leaving Toulouse ……

Eclectic mix of boats on the way out of Toulouse

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Port Sud

Midi bridges, often on the skew

Midi locks – oval and sometimes fierce

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Helped through the last lock, a double, before we hit the strikebound ones and ground to a halt.

Arriving at Montgiscard

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Moored at the Montgiscard quay

Shadows!

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Monday 18th and Tuesday 19th – Gristles to Toulouse

The transfer from Canal de Garonne to Canal du Midi

Set off in plenty of time and in plenty of rain! Had a wait at the first lock, next to a lovely old mill.

Quite a few locks to negotiate, including l”Hers, near Castelnau d’Estrédefonds, where there is a double dog leg to get in and out of the lock, then a point de canal over the river.

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Stu;s design solution

 

 

Stu had by now designed a way to press the operating button from the bottom of the lock.

 

 

 

Got to the last lock on the Canal de Garonne and soon passed through the bridge that marks the end, before through the bridge that marks the start of the Canal du Midi!

Three quite spunky locks to negotiate as the start to Canal du Midi – here’s the one by Toulouse station.

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The weather was improving casting a nice light over the canal.

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Finally we arrived at the port and Stu put his feet up and slippers on.

 

 

 

Next morning the sun was shining.

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Moored up in Port Saint Saveur

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Route through Toulouse looking for Stewart’s best tarte (quiche) in the world

Lovely by day and by night

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Sunday 17th – St Porquier to Grisolles

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Woke up to a chilly day – first three layer day of autumn.

Went up the ~Montech flight of 5 locks, alongside the now defunct ‘water slide’ that used to transport large boats up and down in a basin of water, moved by two engines, one each side.

IMG_6423Stopped in Montech for lunch – a butcher’s rotisserie chicken stuffed with olives and garlic – and the bird’s heart, gizzard and liver! Yum Yum.

Made it to Grisolles, worth Stewart having to climb out of the bottom of the locks to press the operating button, until he came up with an ingenious design solution.

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Our garden for one night at Grisolles

Saturday 16th – Moissac to St Porquier

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Good morning Moissac

Our last Moissac morning and it is the Fetons de Chasselas – the festival of the Chasselas grape.

Time to go. Goodbye Moissac – as the clouds begin to gather.

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Waiting in a lock that was not working – more clouds arrive

 

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Arrived at St Porquier on the rain. Stu was a hero helping a stricken vessel moor up!

 

But sunshine arrived too, with wonderful rainbows to complete our day.

 

 

 

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Calliope under a rainbow at St Porquier

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Wednesday 13th, Thursday 14th and Friday 15th – Moissac

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Shopping in the rain, preparing for Phil and Geraldine to come

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Leaf and weed swirls as we left Tarn mooring, Moissac

A trip up the Tarn with Phil and Geraldine

Good lunch at Set Liverade

The trip back down stream

Tuesday 12th

A pleasant, non-exciting day, with a fun evening. I plastered up Calliope in the morning, marking with blue masking tape the little scratches and marks that Stu would paint over. Then up to town, this time fir slightly more than our daily bread as I needed a birth congrats card. Always fun buying cards in a foreign language! Does it really say what I think it sa?


We began the ‘evening early, at four thirty, going aboard Daisy to try out gin, and have a look round their lovely boat. Stu’s worried face is more about whether I can do a selfie with the camera than concern about afternoon gin drinking, I think.


There was a good variety to try. And a Happy Hour later Nicky and I set off to meet five other WOBs for some early evenig wine sampling in the Café de Paris.

A good time seemed to be had by all!

On the way back lengthening shadows gave Nicky and I sylph like figures. Actually mine is more triangular! Blame it on the dress.

Stu was patiently waiting with supper ready. Our after supper entertainment was one episode of The News Quiz and one episode of West Wing, accompanied by a fantastic sunset.


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Monday 11th

IMG_6313a relatively quiet day today. very windy in the afternoon when we went for a walk along the canal to the viaduct.

we walked back along the river side under the plane trees, with leaves blowing everywhere. Stu found a hedgehog at the side if the road, maybe looking for a hibernation hideyhole.

lovely social evening with Ian and Nicky from Daisy, reminiscing about Gosport!

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Sunday 10th

IMG_6282Lazy slow start to the day, with my last pêche de vignes for an outdoor breakfast.

off to the market together to buy a few things, but cannot resist taking photos of the Autumn produce. The famed Chasselas grapes are now in season; next weekend is the Chasselas Festival.

stopped at the boulangèrie for bread – always so temped to buy gateaux, quiches, pastries, and just more, different bread.

wondered why there were guys putting out tables and chairs 20′ from our barge, and a band sound checking . Soon found out. The local Rugby club were having a 7 hour ‘Journée Bodega’ on the prom next to us, so we were serenaded all day.

IMG_6308Some of the children for the party spilled over onto the quay as a fishing party.

having been so useless with a bad back for several days I decided it was high time I did something useful. I asked Stewart to remove all the sink and basin traps so that I could do a deep cleaning job on the pipes. Very satisfying.

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we had a pleasant, unexpected, visit from Anne on Rodi and enjoyed a cup of tea and energetic chat together.

evening approached, and it was my first no alcohol day – must lose some weight!

IMG_6301to keep me occupied we played Scrabble – Stewart’s victory this time, despite me picking up the ‘Q’ with a blank (all the ‘U’s were used) and making ‘Quaver’ on a Treble word, using the V that Stu had recently placed! Hmmm, should have won!

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Saturday 9th

Woke to a much better back, and much worse weather!

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It was a chance to try and get to know Instagram – but definitely need lessons from grandchildren!.

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Once it cleared up a bit Stu and I strode out (I did my best striding as my back was quite a lot better) to the Casino – for shopping, not gambling. I’d kind of given up trying to find Châtaigne or Picon, so I was stopped in my tracks wen I came face to face with both, at eye height, when I wasn’t even looking. Trophies were bought and taken home.

Something to add to my beer and something to add tho my wine – I’m no purist!

 

 

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It began to pour down again when we were about three minutes form the boat. Luckily we had closed all hatches before we left – except the hatch that is also our cabin window.

Soggy bed clothes.

Towards the end of the afternoon we had another break in the clouds and set off for Monsieur Delmas, who makes chåtaigne and other delectable liqueurs etc, including violet, pêche, noir, truffle, mure and many more.

On the way we stumbled upon a lively wedding at the Abbey, complete with an orange theme, Harley Davbidsons blaring out music for the bride to arrive, and an authentic 1930s Citrôen Traction.

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Monsieur Delmas lives up a pretty, winding lane leading up and out at the top of the town. Very pleasant man, and a very pleasant aperitif, that he the;ls me is good with foi gras! 

As we got close to the quay on the Tarn we met up with Michael and Tali (short for Talisker) on their daily constitutional promenade to the Moulin de Moissac. We decided to join them for a beer on the terrace.

An excellent conversation ensued, covering boating, dogs, Yorkshire, restaurants, dogs again, fish and chips and some parts of how yo put the world to rights.

The wind began to strengthen, the parasols were wound down, and it was time to retreat to the boat …..

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…. where we watched an ever changing sky ….

 

 

 

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… and I sampled Ms Delmas’s châtaigne.  Mmmmm, delightful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday 8th

Looked at the calendar and realised that in 3 weeks we will be back in UK – not sure if I am happy or sad, but certainly look forward to seeing family and friends.

back still playing up so more Deep Heat, and lying around with hot water bottles, plus some walking to loosen it up.

Moissac, favourite boucherie and boulangerie

first walking to get bread and paté for lunch – luckily the best boucherie and boulangerie in town are next to each there and the first shops, apart from a pharmacy, that you reach from the port.

Stu cycled off to the brico for stuff because he is starting to get the boat ready for winter, rubbing down and touching up ……

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my efforts were on the laundry side.

I don’t think we will need a sun cover over the dog box any more this year so it can return to it’s winter job as sofa-bed cover.

 

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at 5.50 I set off slowly to meet two WOBs (Women on Barges) at the Sunbeam bar, not named after ‘le soleil’, but after the Sunbeam Tiger ‘crashed’ through the wall.

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Lawrence, Anne and I enjoyed a couple of drinks and a good conversation, with the 80/20 rule – 80% Englas and 20% in French!

 

IMG_1854Then on the dot of 1900 I collected my pre-ordered pizzas and delivered supper to Stu on board. Gentle evening – more West Wing!

 

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Thursday 7th

Damn. Not as much better as planned, although I am fairly sure it is easing.  Nice slow start with tea in bed again and a hot water bottle to the lower back!

To be honest there is so little to report apart from it always being lovely to be on the Tarn at Moissac. I sort of walked, rather crablike, to the boucherie and got some bacon and boudin noir to go with the eggs and potato gallettes tonight.

That was sufficiently exhausting for me to retire to bed with the radio for a couple of pleasant hours before a late lunch.

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The afternoon’s activity was a walk to the local wine ‘cave’ where I had hoped to find crème de chatâigne – Moissac having one of the few producers of this in the country. But he had sold out so I compensated myself with a bottle of Îsle de Quercy and drank a grande verse aver glace while I cooked a traditional English breakfast for our supper.

 

 

 

 

 “”” | “”” | “”” | “””| “”” |””” | “”” | “”” | “””

Wednesday 6th

Not adding much today because annoyingly I ‘put-my-back-out’ this morning – only slightly, but enough to wear me down a bit

IMG_1828Up to a nice morning, tea in bed, breakfast, and realised we had left our super tasty tomatoes out all night, but luckily no-one had taken them.

IMG_6667By 9.30 off to Moissac we go, saying good bye to Valence d’Alene. 5 locks and 3 hours later we are moored up in the port for lunch, and a wait to drop down the locks into the Tarn when the lock keepers come back at 2pm. 

IMG_6668Soon moored up on the quay, and saw Kathryn’s ‘scary’ nun walk by smiling and swimming her rosary beads. She seems very happy and pleasant to me.

Then whilst Stewart enjoyed the river air and sunshine, I went for a good flat lie down with a hot water bottle.

Later, thinking I was somewhat improved, I offered to walk to the Boucherie for some supper. I made slow progress there, and slower back – giving me the excise to stop at the Sunbeam bar for a restorative beer. One phone call later and Stu joined me.

Back on Calliope he cooked us a delicious supper of moussaka, oven sautéed potatoes, and giant tomato salad. Following this we sat on the back deck in the evening sun until a gleaming full moon appeared behind the trees.

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I’m going to be better tomorrow!

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Tuesday 5th

woke up really late – don’t know why.. Stewart had been up well over an hour and was waiting for me to go to the market. We like Valence market, spread around the two market places and nearby streets.

you can but anything from naughty knickers to saucepans, courgettes to mattresses, beer to prunes, cake to paella.

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I was pleased with some good local specialities, in season; giant tasty salad tomatoes, fresh prunes, squishy and delicious, and pêches des vignes, a red fleshed peach.

 

IMG_6260just caught the cornières round the old market place at the right sun-lit time.

spent the afternoon rather lazily while Stewart walked to and from a now non-existent brico where he had hoped to buy stuff to treat rust spots.

 

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Monday 4th

Lots of rain last night, washing Calliope down. Set off around 9.45 heading for Valence d’Agen. I didn’t offer to do any driving practise today as several bridges were narrow and on bends. Reckon that’s lesson 22 and I’m on lesson 3!

Arrived in Valence to find one neat space on the pontoon just right for us. Hooray. Moored up and went in search of good bread and a quiche. Found both – chèvre et épinards quiche. Totally delicious.

IMG_6261Realised over lunch that things were noisier than usual in Valence, and worked out that we were mid event change overs. On the bank opposite they were taking down the stage and seating from earlier concerts whilst ne trucks arrived for Friday’s fairground.

IMG_6262On our side of the bank the next event was piling up and parking, because they couldn’t get in the other side! So the makings of a funfair, outdoor cinema, and cabaret concert began to line up their caravans.

IMG_6226Went for a walk round town, something we have done many times before, but always missed the ancient pigeonerie. This time we found it.

This one is a bit different because it is not walled in at the bottom in any fashion – not sure if the dove droppings fell to earth, with danger of falling on the farmer’s head, or were trapped above.

 

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Nearby are some of the many lovely trumpet shaped flowers – my photos never do them justice.

 

 

IMG_6228sat by the fountain and mother/child sculpture, outside the church, for a while before returning to our noisy berth. Ordered on-line various ships maintenance products and ‘cannot do without’ UK foodstuffs that brother Phil can bring next week.

sat down again, this time in shade of sun on back deck, writing this and watching fishermen fish.

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and then, great excitement, recognised that we were in for a bit of a spectacular sunset, so leaving Stewart aboard with a glass of wine ….

 

…. I scampered ashore, scrambled to a vantage point, and took these towards the West and the Golfech nuclear power station.

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also this towards the church.

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before the moon came up and provided the final photo shot of the day.

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Sunday 3rd

Downloaded the WordPress app to my iPad ‘to make things easier’ but so far cannot see all the formatting options that I need, like text colour!

 

 

First day for months I’ve needed a jumper for the morning boulangerie run. And when I got there they were shut for annual holiday! Maybe make a warm potato salad for lunch. Or wraps. We’ve got some on board.

 

Used some of the time pottering along the canal to put a duvet back on the bed, and the warm mattress protector. Feel like a squirrel getting ready for winter, lining my nest. Lucky I like nuts. Along the way I spied some rogue runaway pampas grass -not for the first time.

 

Through three locks before sighting a delightfully empty mooring at lac bleu de Borgon. Tied up, wraps for lunch, then off to the lake with the camera. I love the lake. A comp,eye sense of tranquility descends on me as I wander along the shore, absorbing the flora and fauna. (Through my eyes, not my mouth!)

IMG_6165After lunch I was off with the camera, and also my mum’s old guide whistle in case I was accosted again by a slightly amorous French an who I met here last time!

 

 

 

42828864_unknown-1previously dragonflies were everywhere. This time it’s butterflies. There’s 3 little ones in this photo.

 

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one big one in this photo!

 

 

 

 

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here are two who got away, blue and orange.

 

 

 

 

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and here’s a reddish orangey one that stayed put.

 

 

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little bees crawled in and out of the yellow flowers.

 

 

 

overall, just bountiful butterflies.

later we walked into Golfech, a village dominated by a nuclear power station, but that has resulted in money being spent in the community, with new pavements, lights, and a very modern Mairie. Many of the old buildings have also been restored.

as we walked back along the canal I took a photo from a bridge, looking back at a small ‘point canal’, or aqueduct, over the river Barguelonne. I didn’t notice it until I looked at the photo, but the narrowing for the point Canal very much reminds me of an hour glass figure!

the evening was calm and quiet, watching the sun go down.

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Saturday 2nd

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woke up to sound of pouring rain, completely NOT on the weather forecast that says 0% chance of precipitation! But by the time I git out of bed the clouds had passed and a glorious day seemed in store.

talking of stores, Stu and I cycled over to Agen’s retail park. We bought me a super comfy memory foam saddle, and a sweet little basket to go on the back of his bike. Then off to Geant Casino for food staples and goodies. Came back loaded, and in full sun.

we spent the afternoon restfully …… zzzzzzzz ….. then I became energised by the idea of photographing the mini red-spectrumed flower  meadow by the boat.

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quite pleased with these close-ups, including the 2 butterflies.

 

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rather disturbed in an upset sort of way by a lonely duck patrolling the opposite bank quacking loudly as if in search of a lost love.

finished the day with a delicious salmon parmentiere and fresh green beans, then an episode of West Wing. We are still on series 2, but catching up.

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Friday 1st

IMG_6530Serignac-sur-Garonne and the day began like this. Beautiful early autumn day. Not going to be too hot thank goodness, especially for the Agen flight of locks which we’ll reach at midday.

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quick walk up to the village fir the last time to pay for water and buy bread and late for lunch, plus three gourmet treats for me!

i ate the first on the way back for breakfast – a flat crispy/squidgy chocolate and almond thing.

left Serignac at about 10, with a slightly sad ‘au revoir’ to one of our favourite moorings.

moved along a beautiful section of the Canal du Garonne seeing numerous kingfishers, always too swift, too sudden, too distant to be photographed.

42827616_Unknowngot through the tricky Agen flight without any traumas, thanks to skilful captain.

 

 

up to Agen, crossing the Garonne on the aqueduct. As we left the Agen basin I looked back and understood why friends had mentioned the attractiveness of the hill and houses on l’Hermitage side. I’d always been too busy looking along the bank fir moorings before!

stopped for lunch, including gourmet treat two, prawn and mandarin salad, on the outskirts before moving on to Boé for the afternoon and night.

IMG_6535A major triumph – Stu and I completed the final level of Wordspark, with two hints to spare! That deserved a drink or two, and a square of dark chocolate with hazelnuts, third gourmet treat of the day.

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Our grande finale on Canal de Garonne

Text in italics is from Captain Stu – I take no responsibility!

Agen viaduct fireman

After a great weekend in Agen we left on a grey day, heading for the viaduct. At the bridge we saw two spots of red – one each side. On the right was the expected red lock light; on the left was the red of a fire engine, and on closer inspection two fireman in the canal with diving equipment!

Agen viaduct 2A quick interrogation using my simple French ascertained that we could proceed, it was a training exercise , and they had not lost a body in the water. Phew! So over the point-canal sur Garonne. I note with interest that the front garden is starting to take hold . . . 

As we passed over the aqueduct we could look back at Agen and down on the river; shame it was rather a grey day.

Agen, leaving, end of flight

Looking back at Agen from the last of the lock chain

There is a pleasing chain of four locks downwards after the pont-canal (to give it its official name), with wide basins between each pair of locks, surrounded by green.

Leaving Agen flight

Under bridge; turn to starboard!

Coming out of the last lock, and under a stone bridge, the Captain was prepared for the sudden sharp right-angle right-handed turn into quite a narrow densely wooded area of canal; pretty, full of birds – and not great if you need to pass anyone! Luckily we didn’t.

Serignac mooring

The popular Serignac mooring

We arrived at Serignac to find it full of boats as long as ours, a surprise! There was one space – but was it long enough? The four captains of the four boats already moored appeared and started pacing the length. They decided it was long enough and, in a mixture of Dutch and English, began waving us in, taking ropes, pulling and pushing – but like Cinderella’s glass slipper on an ugly sister’s foot, Calliope was not going to fit. Twenty paces of short legs does not twenty metres make . . . 

Then, as is the way with batteliers, one Captain suddenly realised that his boat was 2m smaller than ours and would fit in the space, leaving us his mooring at the end of the row. His generosity led to our safe mooring – and a thank you beer next day. A friend for life; Capitain Boogie, merci.

Serignac close mooring

And then …… one more barge arrived! Our English friends on Jazz were also hoping to moor at Serignac, and were willing to squeeze into a space behind us against the bank – some close parking was required! (and accomplished with finesse).

Serignac is a tiny place – and full of character! It is a Bastide village, or fortified town. There are quite a few along the canal and across the south of France, built in the Middle Ages. Many are linked to the Hundred Years’ War, and have been alternately in French and English hands.

Serignac morningMorning dawned bright and quiet with such a mirrored surface on the canal that even the fisherman’s rod is reflected – look carefully. The silos may not be so beautiful, but their simple shapes act as a foil to nature, in my opinion.

Serignac party

There was much to thank our Dutch friends for after their help in mooring, plus it is fun to occasionally socialise with other captains and crew. So we set to in building relationships with our EU friends, Dutch and English. Much jollity and entente cordiale ensued.

SArignacAs so often happens, sundown is a time when ordinary things take on a new shape, beauty and character. At Serignac it was the seats, boulders and waste-bins on the opposite shore that caught my eye.

After a couple of days we set off from Serignac – the first time with our front window down so early in the day and for cruising. Yum yum, South of France! We headed West once more, with the early sun silvering our wake behind us.

A couple of beetles thought that they would join us on our journey – am I alone on finding them endlessly fascinating?

Buzet, Passing lock down to Baize

The lock leading down to la Baize at Buzet

Calliope had a relatively short day ahead, passing by the rather hectic port of Buzet-sur-Baize – are all those boats waiting to go down on the river? – and on to another Bastide, Damazan.

Just before Buzet the canal crosses la Baize on another of the beautiful little aqueducts we have been passing over on our journey.

Lock 39 Baize

 

Most of the locks along the canal are automatic so we see few of the absolutely necessary VNF staff, but now and then one appears. At écluse 39, Baize, we found a guy opening, or maybe closing, a sluice to help manage the water levels through the canal.

Alongside another bridge for another mooring in the sun; let’s put up the awning; I cooled the scalding hot metal decks with buckets of water before relaxing.

Damazan 38 degreesWe walked up to the village, and I mean UP, up those steps in the photo and some more.

It was a really warm day, as evidenced by the Pharmacist’s sign.

Like Serignac, Damazan is small, but with plenty of beauty remaining from its medieval past. The shady bar in the central square was an excellent place to start cooling down ….

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… then back to the boat to tip cold water on my head to complete the cool down!

 

 

 

 

 

Damazan frog

 

 

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the water either.

 

 

 

 

Danazan mooringWe left our lovely mooring below Damazan after only one night because we sought some shade after a high of 38 degrees the day before, but recommend it as a place to go, with its set of small shops and restaurant, friendly people, and massive history.

Mas-d'Agen mooring

Le Mas-d’Agenais had received good reports from other boaters, and we half expected it to be full,  but the little port only had one other boat, belonging to German friends of ours.  They helped us moor up (still in the sun!) at yet another well kept, floral lined quay.

Lesley-the-lavoir-lover was pleased to find two lavoirs at Le Mas-d’Agenais. The older one is a beautiful old timbered building half way down the hill from the town. The other, newer, one was in the bank-side garden to our mooring.

IMG_4393.jpgThe canal runs next to la Garonne here and a beautiful bridge crosses them both. Walking half way across gives tremendous views up and down the river – a wide and mighty sight.
Mas-d'Agenais 'beach'It was a hot day; we walked down to the river and found a little ‘beach’ used by locals when the current is not too strong, but I was warned against more that a paddle on that particular day. So cool tootsies only.

We went up the very definite hill into the village where, like so many of the villages in this area, there are magical old buildings and an usual church. Firstly it has a stubby tower, following the collapse of the steeple, and secondly it has a genuine Rembrandt hanging inside – the crucifixion with Rembrandt using a self portrait of his own face for Christ’s agony. Apparently the last of a set of seven, the first six of which are in Munich.

Mas-d'Agenais by gateWe had hoped for a beer in shade of the market place, but despite the bar being open and customers in the square there was no-one serving. After ten minutes of waiting we decided that there was cold beer on the barge and retreated back down the hill, through the old gateway, remarking on the HUGE axe leaning up against the wall outside!

Yes, we were moored in the sun again, but we put up the parasol, opened the beer, and stayed because it was both quiet, and quite pretty, with beds of lavender and contented insects all around – including (we’ve been told the Humming Bird moth above) 

We had a lazy second day at Le-Mas-d’Agenais, apart from a walk up hill to the shops, and a good washing of Calliope’s roof. In the evening we walked back up the hill for a beer, meal and free concert, but the bar/restaurant was closed again!

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A gentle stroll back down a different road resulted in us finding the pizza cabin by the lock, and enjoying one of the best pizzas we have ever had! Don’t be fooled by the café style exterior – the pizzas are superb.

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Sunset over la Garonne

The end to a perfect day was a stroll half way across the bridge to watch the sun go down through the clouds.

Leaving Le Mas-d'Agenais

So next morning we bade Le-Mas-d’Agenais ‘au revoir’. We sailed under the grand bridge I stood on the night before  leaving the port behind us.

 

 

 

 

dragonfly on geranium

dragonfly on geranium

We had a couple of ideas for the night’s mooring, but nothing definite, so enjoyed the wander through the French countryside, past potential port and wild moorings, looking for our spot. We were joined along the way by a dragonfly seeking a rest amongst the geraniums.

The area around écluse 45 l’Avance was interesting, firstly with a widening of the canal just after another little pont-de-canal (this time over the Riv. l’Avance), and then, within the lock, the first wrought iron ladder I have ever seen.

Meilhan approachWe continued to look for a suitable mooring and eventually found ourselves approaching Meilhan-sur-Garonne – another town perched on a hill that towered above us.

Meilhan-sur-Garonne  coming into

coming into Meilhan-sur-Garonne

Captain Stu noticed some green buoys in the water and a sign to steer to starboard of them, so obeyed the instructions.

We later discovered that a huge boulder had recently tumbles down the hill into the canal, making it non-navigable on one side. Although the boulder has subsequently been removed there still fears of further landslip and one side of the canal, plus the road alongside, remains officially ‘barrée’.

IMG_4575At the little port we saw just the pontoon length to suit Calliope, bow to bow with a beautiful 1903 tjalk. We moored up, checked with Captitain Mike that we were ok, and settled in for the rest of the day.

(For the observant amongst my readers, this photo was taken a few days later when we were moored bow to stern!)

Stu walked up ……

.

…. yes, UP, 119 steps and added slopes …..

to the town for a look round and to buy bread whilst crew caught up on sleep.

He discovered fantastic views from a terrace at the top, over the canal and la Garonne together.

Later another walk for the two of us disclosed a picturesque town, full of hosiery (I meant history! Glorious typo) linked to the 100 Years War with England – and it seems the locals hadn’t forgotten. There had been a huge castle, now disappeared.

Of course the petrol pumps are somewhat more recent, but are old enough to have been selling litres of petrol for prices in francs.

We made good friends of several other British couple who live on boats and in houses nearby, enjoyong good company, wine and beer with them under the plane trees.

I returned to the terrace, all 119 steps, both in the evening and on a misty morning of see how the view changed. The little lights in the centre of the night-time photo are at the port far below where Calliope waited.

Next day we took the final step of our cruise to the end of Canal de Garonne. we passed by clumps of arum lilies growing wild on the banks – startlingly white amongst all the green.

We passed some different canalised activities, from ‘market garden’ style agriculture to gravel pits.

Later we discovered that a lot of the fields were growing tobacco; the local town of Tonneins is called ‘the capital of the Gauloise’. Stewart had been fascinated by the tall wooden barns we were passing; we are fairly sure that they are the old barns for drying and storing tobacco leaves. Confirmed by the DBA Forum the following day.

We passed more examples of the differing canal styles, with the PK (kilometre) marker here being of stone and the lock overflow emerging under the front of the lock in a continuous torrent.

Ecluse 50 cafe

We passed a funky little café next to one écluse …..

Heron near lock 50

Heron near lock 50

…. and a brave young heron near another.

The paucity of water birds down here has been very noticeable. We are surprised when we see a moorhen family or a swan, or even a pair of ducks, as there are so few on the canal. Probably all been eaten . . . . 

Fontet portWe passed the port at Fontet, set in an old gravel pit I think; obviously a popular spot and seemed to be in a lovely setting.

Dovecote near lock 49

Dovecote near lock 49

We passed, and admired, many dovecotes of all shapes and sizes for which the area is famous.

Fontet, past, weed

The stretch from Fontet to the Castets-en-Dorthe was remarkable for the amount of weed growing in the canal – everything was so green, it was hard to tell what was the reflection of a tree and what was weed.

Birds walked across the dense surface quite comfortably, but my photos were too blurred to show you. In the photo the tree line top is reflected on the left and the darker underside of the trees in the middle; the more in-focus foliage to the right of that all the way to the bank is under-water weed, running the whole length and width of the basin.

Castets approacingThe final bief up to the lock into Castets-en-Dorthe is lined with a boats of all shapes, sizes and colours, giving plenty to see as we cruised towards our final écluse of the day.

And what an écluse! We have been lulled into expecting locks of 1-2m depth. This one is over 3m, and whilst much shallower than ones we encountered on the Rhone and other canals, it felt interestingly deep.

We had booked a mooring at the port of Castets; my understanding of the phone call in French was that the Capitaine would not be there, but we could choose between the mooring on the bank and the mooring on the plastic ….. so not absolutely sure what we were looking for!

The very first mooring was on the bank and was free and was long enough for Calliope, but was it the waiting pontoon for the lock???? Luckily a young man appeared on the next barge up and understood enough of my française to reassure us that we could moor there, and even came to catch our ropes. Merci.

The sky was particularly grey as I executed a masterful express walk up to the little town for bread … and back, empty handed. Everything was shut. However we made a good lunch with provisions that were aboard.

Then, despite the rain, we went for an exploratory walk. To be fair, we did not cruise right to the end of the canal – we walked the last half kilometre to where the canal de Garonne entered the river Garonne. The bridge over the river is known as the Gustav Eiffel bridge, so we presume he designed and/or built it.

Castets-en-Dorthe eclusiers house 52/53

Castets-en-Dorthe eclusiers house – locks 52/53

Next to the écluse into the river is an unusual lock house. It has stairs leading round the sides from a higher level and into the second floor, so that the occupants could get in when the Garonne was in flood.

Castets flood scale

Bear in mind that the river was a good 3m below the road, and add on the depth up to the second floor, and you can see that the river can flood mightily! In fact a gauge on the front of the house marked the height of various floods back through two centuries. Absolutely humbling.

Castets debris collecting boatWorking away on the river below us was a small boat collecting debris, from whole tree trunks to small boughs and dead animals, keeping the river clear. It seemed to be a nice gentle job, but I guess it has its moments.

The town is another of those perched on a cliff, way above the possible flooding and soldiers. The Chateau de Hamel takes pride of place overlooking the river.

We climbed the road past the chateau into town and out onto the public terrace. Both of us stood in awe of the view, despite the dull weather. (Think there must have been a break in the clouds for the photo of me!)

Castets wallWe descended the steep road from the town, looking back up at the old defences.

Castets mooringsAs we returned along the canal bank to our barge – last in the row – I took a photo along the port and its many ‘live-aboard’ and all year mooring boats; another fascinating collection. Calliope is the little blurred shape at the far end of the row.

Castets mooring

For our one night at Castets Stu settled on the back deck in slightly better weather for an evening beer, whilst I messed about with photos!

Castets storm sunset

The rain came and went and came again, resulting in beautiful skies as the sun went down, but alas no rainbows.

Castets turning to leave

Castets – Stu turning to go East

Finally, next morning, we did something we have not done for a long long time – a U turn, or in fact something of a 33 point turn. Stu put me ashore to catch ropes in the 3m lock, leaving him to navigate both the turn and the pole to operate the lock. He managed both superbly. Well, you know, OK, no problem.

Castets, entering lock

Goodbye Castets; Calliope enters the lock heading East

Calliope moved majestically into the lock, ready for our return trip.

Farewell the westward end of Canal de Garonne; we have enjoyed the trip.

And now, for the first time in two years, we are retracing our steps and half know what to expect around the next bend. There will be a comfort in that, an easiness that we haven’t felt since the Thames and I’m looking forward now to a slow, comfortable summer on one of the most beautiful canals I’ve seen.

Next year will see us re-embracing adventure back up The Rhone and into Belgium, Holland and Germany, but for now excuse me while I retire to the back deck . . . .  

Oh, and here’s another Biblical Thunderstorm . . . . 

Stowaways – Canal de Garonne part 2

When I got back to Grisolles from my weekend in the UK I was in the company of our friend Hilary – first guest of 2017.  What I had not realised is that there were two additional ‘passengers’, who emerged to take the sun on day two! They were welcome to join us on the two day cruise to Moissac.

pk_40.5

Hilary and I arrived at lunchtime, and almost as soon as we stepped aboard Captain Stu cast off and we were off down stream. This was a gentle day; just 12 kilometres and no locks, arriving at our wild mooring (PK 40.5) within a couple of hours and moored up ready to enjoy the sunshine.

pk__40.5_wid_flower_bouquet

Hilary went for an exploration walk while I slept to recover from spending the previous night on a bench at Gatwick airport (another story altogether); she returned with a wild flower bouquet – beautiful.

pk_40.5_evening

The sun began to set on our quiet, tranquil mooring. We love these out of the way places, close to nature.

Lock 10 Lavache

Steps at Lock 10 Lavache

The next morning the sky was as blue as before and the sniper was keen to make headway before it got too hot, or indeed thundery.

After a swift breakfast we ‘de-staked’ and set off the few hundred yards to our first lock, Lavache

As we left the lock, under the typical Canal de Garonne brickwork bridge, the waterway opened up before us.

Leaving lock 10 Lavache

Leaving lock 10 Lavache

montech_flowers

A true flower bed, Montech

Before long we arrived at Montech where we stopped for bread, and discovered it was market day. Hooray. Hilary and I used our 30 minutes shore leave to stock up with strawberries, asparagus, salad, avocados ….. and got back just in time to see another boat go by to enter the Montech flight of locks.

Montech looking at Montauban arm and Blue Gum

Blue Gum emerging from the Montauban arm

The Captain was a bit glum (no comment), anticipating a wait of up to two hours as we were nearing éclusier déjeuner, but we were in luck and first one, then two, and finally three éclusiers appeared to take us, and the boat in front, through the flight of four locks.

As we awaited our turn I looked towards the entrance to the Montauban arm of the canal – and there was a Piper sister ship, Bluegum, with Sally as figurehead.

Leaving Montech

Leaving Montech

Our turn came for the flight. As we left Month we passed a small basin next to a huge chimney – remnants of the massive paper factory that was an important part of the local economy for well over 100 years.

And then we were off – with an impressive flypast of black kites. I counted 10 of them in the sky far above us at one point.

It is an extremely pleasant descent on a sunny day, with a path of blue sky leading down between shady trees. Most of the lock houses were empty – a sign of the times. It was interesting to see the different size houses according to the size and placing of the lock in the flight – here’s one of the smallest.

Near St Porquier

Near St Porquier

We were getting hungry now, as well, presumably, as the éclusiers. We were on the watch out for somewhere to stop for lunch.

There’s always something unusual to look at along the way – this time a disused barge disguised as a bankside garden.