Bringing the good news from Kortrijk to Gent and Brugges

Kortrijk is a good place to take on new crew and entertain them.

We had son and grandson with us for a few days and managed to fit in swimming, paddle boarding, a summer night market, the Trench of Death and a football match at Lille!

And although Calliope never left the pontoon we did get the youngest one involved as a galley slave and doing bits around the boat like filling the water tank.

But then family time was over and we were ready to set off for the final journey of the summer, starting off downstream on the Leie towards Gent.

We – or should I say Captain Stu – reversed out of the port again, and into the main river between the ‘trainer’ graffiti bridge supports and the Beach Bar, closed at 9 on a Sunday morning.

Downstream we went towards the first lock, hailing them by phone as we approached. We were told we could use the lock with a commercial barge that was ready to go, and we soon saw her on the left bank above the lock. We moored up opposite waiting, and waiting and waiting, for her to enter the lock.

After a while it became apparent that she was not ready – she still had to load her car onto the back deck, fuss with various boxes and ropes, etc. So we enjoyed a pleasant half hour relaxation.

By the time we reached the second and last lock of the day the blue skies were disappearing and it was starting to rain.

The lock was rather impressive in its construction, especially as it was only a 2.6m drop!

We continued past the entrance to the canal up to Roeslare – not our direction this trip.

Then came to the right hand bend in the river that separated us from the canal for the commercials that continued on in a straight line.

There was a bird surprise for us as we turned the bend – a field mainly of geese but with a few storks as well.

We came up to Deinze lift bridge, calling ahead to ask for it to be opened for our tall craft. The skies were still grey, but clearing, as we squeezed through and towards a nice long pontoon with plenty of space.

We moored up towards the far end form the bridge – a lovely mooring. The skies continued to clear and before long we were in full warm sun.

After a bit of a rest we were off for a walk, first up the main street our side of the river, and then into a big park, De Brielmeersen. It has gardens, lakes, playgrounds, animal enclosures and more, and was suitably busy on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

We came back to Calliope as the sun began to descend, leaving us with a gentle evening aboard after the walk.

Next morning, Monday, seemed to be ‘back-to-school’ day and we found that we were moored across the road from a school. Youngsters arrived early in the sunshine to meet up and chat with friends they maybe hadn’t seen for a few weeks. The whole place was alive with happy chatter. And then, at lunchtime, many re-emerged to sit on the sunny pontoon and eat their lunch; a lovely sight.

The brightness of the day meant that we got better views of Deinze bridge and church – both within a couple of hundred yards, and in view of our mooring.

A day without cruising meant plenty of time for another walk, initially across the bridge and into the main part of town, and a second outing to the park once more. Then on Tuesday morning we were off downstream towards Gent, past Deinze mill and its various architectural styles.

After just 3 kilometres Calliope reached Astene old (unused) lock and lift bridge. We radioed ahead for a lift!

There were a number of interesting things we were to see along the Leie that day, starting at Astene watching the ‘bridge-keeper’ manually lower the barriers and raise the bridge, the old tug boat moored up the other side, and an old gold American sedan on the towpath.

The Leie is amazingly bendy along the grey stretch to Gent! The map does not bear full testament to some of the hairpin bends that the Captain had to manoeuvre round – quite a lot of ‘astern’, but no bow thrusters! Sorry the photos are so dark; it was a gloomy day.

It is also a stretch with plenty of monied properties – maybe the homes of the richer Ghent people? (Ghent ghentry?) There were wonderful old houses and thoroughly modern residences, side by side, many with robot lawn mowers humming up and down the acres of grass.

Eventually we made it to the crossing with the Ring Vaart (a wide commercial canal around Gent) and crossed it without seeing another ship. As we went back into the Leie we were into a boat haven with lots of boats of all types moored up, including a new Piper! Sadly, no-one aboard to say ‘ahoy’ to.

And then we were into Gent (local spelling of Ghent) proper and finding our mooring. We had booked ahead and been told we would be in Ketelvest, so preparing to turn to starboard off the Leie and under the bridge.

you can just see us in the distance!

But instead we saw Heinrich, the Capitaine, waving to us from the long long Lindenlei pontoon to come in there. He placed us at the very far end, 200 meteres plus from the road entrance to the port, and therefore conveniently quiet in terms of other boaters walking by.

Naturally we went for a stroll round Gent. Here are a few of the photos of the city.

There are so many many wonderful buildings in Gent, many with fabulous roof lines. If you have been there you will consider my photos rather paltry in terms of conveying this amazing place.

Maybe these are better.

We also walked up to the parks on the other side of the river – and yes, I do mean ‘up’ – we found a hill in Gent! We found lakes, band stands, frogs (can you spot the red frog?) and more.

The second day was design and modern art day. In the morning we spent quite some time in the lovely old house that holds the Design Museum – an eclectic mix of designer objects and special exhibitions.

Then in the afternoon we found the Scandinavian design shop Bolia. It is in an old church and has been fitted out in an indescribably simple, effective, atmospheric way. You must see for yourself if you like highly functional, minimal, beautiful residential interiors. This is just a screenshot of someone’s photo showing how the display dividers are suspended from the high beamed ceiling.

Stewart continued with the culture, walking up to the Modern Art gallery. He enjoyed the time there, although not hugely impressed – and did not take photos. I, meantime, looked up the best waffles in Gent on Google and within 10 minutes I was seated and waiting for my ‘Bridge Waffle’, the best on the menu. It was delicious, incorporating cream, banana, ice cream, chocolate and advocaat custard! Yum yum yum. When in Belgium …… forget the diet ……

Even our mooring provided interest. On our first evening a crazy bunch of paddle boarders meandered noisily along the river, including one board with a dog aboard

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It has to be said that a fair amount of time was spent in the water as well as on it!

We were then pleasantly invaded by 5 of the Dunkirk small ships for 2 nights. These are some of the actual boats that rescued thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in WW2. They still attend rallies and celebrations – this time guests of the Belgian authorities as part of the 80th anniversary of the end of the war.

Then we had the divers who never reached the water, one on a rooftop and one on a balcony.

And beautiful light in the mornings.

One silly thing, but amused my simple mind. On our last evening we went out with new friends Jim and Michael from the boat Burra Billa for a drink at a canal side bar – very pleasant if a little chilly. In amongst the pretzels placed on our table was this little biscuit with a cheerful Belgian face.

On the third morning we decided it was time to take Calliope on towards Brugges. The voyage began with a spin round to retrace our steps – or retrace our wake maybe. Captain Stu executed one of his great 11 point turns and we were away.

Before long we were back to the Ring Vaart – this time to join it heading north. We were lucky again, with no cross traffic, so turned starboard onto the big wide motorway of a canal and headed for Kanaal Gent-Oostende.

This Kanaal was a little plain to be honest – partly because it runs through a deep cut in the landscape, so mostly all you can see is the sloping sides, although occasional cows, goats and sheep grazed the slopes and gazed blank eyed at us as we passed.

Kanaal Gent to Oostende

Thus it was quite exciting when we had a bridge, a passing boat, and a house all in view at the same time!

Similarly a flock of geese almost blocking our passage was worth photographing, and a barge being filled, or emptied, of grain. (Emptied, the Captain says)

Keer Sluis (Guard lock) Beernem

We had thought to stay at the marina at Beernem until discovering it would be €30 for one night. So our next choice was above the guillotine shaped guard lock a few kilometres further on. We knew that people did moor up to the 3 huge old commercial barges that filled the 250m quay there, but on inspecting it we were not keen and continued on to Brugges.

Here at Brugges our customary luck returned and the free mooring at St-Katelijnepoorte was free. We tied up near the big swing bridge in a bit of a gale, but luckily before the rain that came down a couple of hours later.

Although a bit tired from our enforced longer than planned cruise, we thought we had better prove we had been in Brugges by taking a walk round town and a few photos. It was unsurprisingly full of tourists doing the same thing. We have been here before, so after an hour we headed home to cook up some cold weather comfort food – egg, chips and beans. Yum yum.

morning view from the barge

The morning was a lot lot lot brighter!

Almost as I awoke the swing bridge (turntable bridge in my book) swung, or turned, open for three leisure craft – 2 up and 1 down. It was an opportunity to take photos of the bridge in the sun so I jumped out of bed and got a couple for the blog.

The mooring also looked somewhat more pleasant in the sun, and in this ‘pleasant’ frame of mind I noticed the sign by the pontoon informing me that pleasure craft can wait here for just 24 hours. So we planned our get away to the other end of town – just 4 kilometres so less than an hour, we thought.

The Flemish for Bridge is Brug; it was a clue ……

Gent Poort bridge

From our mooring at St-Kattelijnpoort to Scheepdalebrug there are 4 windmills, an odd shaped lock, and 8 bridges – all of which were lift or swing. We were ready to go at 9.30, but when we asked for the bridge to be opened we were told to wait half an hour and follow a commercial barge through. No problem says we…..

Coupure Harbour

…..except it was such a slow journey, waiting behind Ave Maria at each bridge for traffic to be stopped and the bridge to be raised or turned, depending on its mechanism. We gently passed the entrance to Coupure port, a favourite with many boaters.

Actually it was all very interesting and the slow pace meant that photos were easier to take.

We went through a double bridge at Kruis Poort, separated by a hundred yards and lifting on different sides of the canal.

And then past the four historic windmills, all placed alongside the canal.

The lock was interesting too.

We squeezed through the entrance after the commercial barge which took all of the port side of the lock, leaving us the semicircular right hand side – no problem for those time served on the Canal du Midi.

The lock went down very gently, Ave Maria went out, and Stewart was then able to manoeuvre Calliope into a position where she could exit the lock. I have to say that it took a lot more bow thruster than our normal navigation!

Ave Maria enters the lock for the commercial port

Soon after that Ave Maria turned off to go into the port, and we continued to the fascinating canti-lever modern bridge at Scheepdalbrug.

Eventually that opened for us and we drew in to the pontoon that was waiting for us, three and a half hours after casting off for our one hour journey!

So the lesson is, make sure you allow lots of time to go round Brugge in your boat. It is an interesting journey with plenty to see, but can take a while!

Having moored up, lunched and rested a bit we entered the city from the opposite direction and enjoyed more of the old Flemish architecture, but it was once more very busy with tourists (who can blame them for coming?) so retraced our steps, stopping at a Carrefour to replenish vittles and enjoyed another evening on our very own bit of canal on Calliope.

The weather moved between black clouds and pure sunlight, sometimes allowing a mix of the two.

And we sat cosily in the wheelhouse, watching the rain move in and move away, before an early night. Bye bye Brugges – we are off tomorrow.

Looking back – Canal de Garonne from West to East

Funny the things you see when you are heading on the opposite direction!

For example we found beetles amassing at Le-Mas-d’Agenais on the old walls of the village.

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And I found time to walk across Le-Mas-d’Agenais bridge in the day time and take a mid-Garonne selfie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bridge is a triumph of engineering from 1837, taking traffic across the canal and the Garonne on one majestic sweep.

EsperanceWe had passed and noticed the Esperance on our Westward voyage, but no graphic evidence survived, so I was pleased to get this photo on the way back.  So sad that a barge named Hope is now in this state – but I guess there is still hope that someone will revive her.

We didn’t moor at Villeton on the way through, but managed to secure a good partially shaded mooring against a high wall on the way back. The bridge is typical of the Canal de Garonne, stone built with a beautifully balanced arch.

Villeton reflected moon

 

 

 

That night the moon was elected as a pinprick of light in the darkened waters.

 

 

 

 

We decided that it was not too far to walk to Tonneins from Villeton and see the old Gauloise factory and the Garonne.  It was further that we thought on a busy road and on a hot day! We did make it but the museum was closed, along with almost all the cafés. We sat by the Garonne for a while, then found a café opposite the station for a coke. We chickened out of the walk back an ordered a taxi to take the weary old batteliers home!

Damazan evening on return tripNext stop Damazan – one of our favourites. This time Calliope took the shady mooring on the right bank and we looked out towards the bridge and our previous hotspot mooring on the left bank.

Damazan mooring going East

Hidden amongst the long grass and bushes were two concrete bollards, tough enough to hold the biggest of peniches.

We took a couple of walks to areas we had not covered before and discovered, surprisingly in rural France, a cricket club. We also found a lake for swimming and other water based activities.

The map at the port mentioned an old dovecote and two lavoirs; I had not managed to locate these previously but now had time to find everything.

Damazan public loosJust near the dovecote was another ‘antiquity’ – the old public conveniences! I am pleased to report that they are no longer in official use.

Damazan fontaine des anglais

Damazan Fontaine des Anglaises

Moving on ….. we discovered that Damazan has two lavoirs, both missed on our first run west. The oldest is next to the Fontaines des Anglaise – seemingly a brick and stone built edifice to help villagers collect water from a natural spring. It was built by les Anglaises, way back in about 1368 during the Hundred Years War; a peaceful cool and shady spot on a hot day.

Just down stream of this is a lavoir and a huge stone trough where livestock were taken to drink and be bathed.

These beautiful watering holes were considered picturesque in Victorian times and led to a few photos being taken with the locals. Picturesque is mixed with truth here, as you realise the tough time women of all ages had getting the washing done.

Damazan lavoir l'EscoubetThe second lavoir, named L’Escourbet, is out of town on the other side, much more recent, and far less attractive, but I include it here as part of my lavoir report.

You may be gathering that I rather like Damazan. It is one of my favourite villages along the canal. So many lovely buildings to capture on film ( I mean digitally!) The Café des Promenades is at one end of the big ‘place’ where people gather and boule is played.

The war memorial is one of the most poignant I have evener seen and bought tears to my eyes – so many young women will have taken flowers in memory of brothers, boyfriends, sons, husbands lost on the war and this somehow captures the mood.

SerignacNext stop Serignac – another favourite. It was a hot couple of days so we made the most of everything that could contribute to shade!

 

The Bastide is very small, so no new photos of the village, but we happened upon a free concert in the village square, with the bar set up across the church doorway and all ages coming together as a community.

Regretfully I only took my phone to the concert and it was not up to taking decent photos in the dark, but I hope they give a sense of the atmosphere.

After a couple of days we continued retracing our wake into Agen and moored up in exactly the same place as when heading West a few weeks before. The weather was so much better on this trip that I took photos again when crossing the Tarn viaduct.

Agen cool sprayThe two days included essentials such as sorting out a SIM, looking at bikes, and going to the market. It was still hot and we were glad of the innovative cool mist blowers attached to some lampposts.

But we also had some fun – a most enjoyable evening out with a couple of beers in the centre, followed by a good Corsican meal in one of the many narrow streets.

 

 

 

And in a moment of madness on a very hot (30 degrees plus) day walked up the steepest hill I have ever encountered to l’Ermitage. The views across the city and far beyond made it all worth while, even though we could not get to the old houses carved out of the cliffs. (You can just see these in the white cliffs to the right of the church in the first photo.)

Near Boe lavoirAfter a couple of nights our journey East continued. Stewart started to notice small utilitarian concrete structures at the side of the canal and suggested that they were lavoirs. Initially I dismissed his idea, but then on looking closer I saw that there were ‘soap dishes’ built into them and that they were indeed relatively modern urban lavoirs – this one near Boé

Time to carry on towards Moissac where we were due to meet daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in a few days time.  We had ideas of mooring up at le lac bleu near Golfech, but were so hungry and ready for lunch that we stopped at a wild mooring 2 kms beforehand …… and decided to stay. We had stopped there before, just outside Lamagestere; this time I added wild swimming to our enjoyment of the place.

In the morning I noticed a visitor camouflaged amongst the rosemary plant – a huge grasshopper!  Then later I was ready with the camera as one of many herons took off from the bank.

We had walked up to le lac bleu the afternoon before, and loved it! I saw more dragonfly varieties than ever before, a mix of water birds, fishes around my feet as I called them in the water, peace and tranquility! So on our way to Moissac I was treated to an hour’s mooring at le lac bleu with a camera.

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Think you might get bored of dragonflies at this point ……..

And in addition to dragonflies there were lizards, birds, fish, flowers … my nature heaven!

Moissac bridgeBut on to Moissac and preparations for family arriving – very exciting as we had been longing to see them. The beautiful bridge over the Tarn came into view and we knew we were nearly there.

Moissac lock bridgeWe moored up next to all the locks, those up to the canal and aqueduct, and those down to Le Tarn. We looked forward to darkness and coolness falling at the end of the day, as temperatures were still up in the thirties, sometimes 38.

Moissac boulangerie trip

Next day we drove to Toulouse airport; daughter, son-in-law and grand daughter arrived, in the blistering heat!  Almost as soon as they arrived I set off to the boulangerie with the young one; we went for bread, she came skipping back with ‘cake-in-a-box’!

 

Sun hat off, sunglasses discarded, but appropriately plastered up with Factor 50!

 

 

 

The following morning, whilst still cool and allowing parents a lie in, Grandad and Granny set off across the lock bridge to a little playpark in the shade by the Tarn.

Later we had a Moissac exploration, including the market and the Abbey, with coffee and ice cream in the square and a little picnic in the Abbot’s garden – desperately seeking shade!

We had a cruise plan in place for the holidaymakers which was to set off towards Montech on Monday. But before we could depart we needed to take on board the folding bike that Stewart had ordered online. This arrived at the Capitainerie at about 1130! So after a swift early lunch we were off to enjoy the fresh air and views from yet another viaduct over le Tarn, and the moisture in the air as we went up the chain of locks outside Moissac.

IMG_7238We found a shady mooring half under a bridge near St Porquier for a siesta and a place to dangle our toes in the water – mmmmmmmm! An overnight stop seemed a good idea!

Knowing that Montech market was next day we made sure we arrived in there in time for a quick shop and lunch, prior to floating onto waters new ….

IMG_4783… l’Embranchement de Montech …. the short canal from Montech to Montauban.

That will be the next chapter!