An unexpected sojourn in Chalons-en-Champagne

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Later we were joined by Troubadour, another British owned barge, and in addition to having fun discussing our separate epic voyages, doubt was cast on our future plans! It was suggested that the canal to Sillery, our winter mooring, was closed. ‚ÄúNo‚ÄĚ, I assured them. ‚ÄúI have an email from the VNF saying it shuts next week‚ÄĚ, and showed them the email to prove it.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The next few days involved work on the boat. We had cycled out of town to a brico to buy ‘stuff’ that was needed – to replace a tap, to bleed radiators, to mask edges for painting, brushes for varnishing, I could go on but won‚Äôt.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A pigeon flew by obligingly at the right moment!

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Thank goodness the rain held off for that!

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Then there’s been swans …..

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Joan of Arc, as a peasant girl

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 H√©rault, and 5 on the Canal du Rh√īne¬†√† S√®te, which connects to the Mediterannean all over the place, so is sort of the sea. Also crossing the √Čtang 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 Villes√©quelande ….. 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 Рbut 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 Рwe 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!¬†√Čclusier’s lunch hour intervened, holding up six or seven boats at each lock – but the young¬†√©clusier 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 R√©pudre, 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¬†√©cluse 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 Р sounds simple enough Рa 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 Рworked 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 Рand 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 Рoh 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¬†√Čtang de Thau. Note I’m the helmsman across the¬†√Čtang, 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 Рfirst with oysters (a dry one), then with chèvre, goats cheese (a sweet one) and finally with chocolate ( a densely sweet and aged one Рsounds 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 Рonly 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

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

St Porquier lunch stop

St Porquier lunch stop

Then we found it – St Porquier picnic park! We gathered the goodies form the market and soon had a delicious meal. The sun was blazing down, making it quite hard to get a decent photo – just TOO bright.

Lock 2 Artel

Lock 22 Artel

Off once more after lunch we took the next 6 locks in our stride – all automatic, so the sequence of turn pole, enter lock, tie up, press button, descend, cast off and drive out became natural team work. Some locks, such as number 22, Artel, have nice features; in this case an ironwork bridge.

 

And then there we were moving towards the open blue of the aqueduct over the Tarn and the gateway to Moissac.

Pont Canal du Cacor at Moissac, over Tarn

Pont Canal du Cacor at Moissac, over Tarn

Hilary and I both had cameras ready for our slow majestic crossing . We had brilliant views in all directions – wonder what its like to cross in a rainstorm or blizzard!

25 Moisac Lock

Lock 25, Moissac 

 

So with the last few of our 16 locks that day we came down into Moissac.

 

Moored up in Moissac

Moored up in Moissac

Before long we were in our appointed mooring, guided in by Capitai Jim. We had the last slot on the right before the bridge – perfect.

As Stu will probably tell you there was a bit of an escapade between the last lock and the mooring, involving a large hotel barge, Rosa, heading towards us and wanting to turn right into the locks down onto the Tarn .. but all ended happily for both barges.

Tarn Pont Napoleon Moissac

Tarn Pont Napoleon Moissac

Before long Hilary and I disembarked for a walk, staring off by walking down to the Tarn – Moissac was on the Tarn long before it was on the canal de Garonne.

By now the blue skies were fading to grey, changing the light but not affecting the stunning views – the huge Pont Napoleon, the old mill, now a hotel, and the quay, where Rosa sat prettily.

There is also an old lock through which boats must pass if travelling downstream. I found this odd until I discovered that the rest of the river is a huge weir, currently under water due to the last of the Spring high waters.

Next Hilary and I explored the town – true to the tourist descriptions in every way – ancient and atmospheric. We agreed to explore the Abbey and cloisters the next day.

The evening ended with a celestial display as good as any I have seen in my rather long life. The red skies were less about a shepherd’s delight, and more about the thunderstorms to come.

And next day we went to the Abbey …….

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… and to the cloisters. This religious complex was started in the 8th century and mainly finished in the 11th.

The Cloisters are beautiful and so quiet – I suppose when masses of monks lived there it was not so quiet unless they had a vow of silence.

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One of the strangest things about the Abbey and associated buildings is that when the railway arrived in Moissac it was put smack bang through the middle of the area, splitting the Abbey from many of its original buildings!

Hilary and I returned to Calliope full of historical wonder, and just in time for lunch with her brother who had arrived to take her (and our stowaways) away.

Stu and I however stayed on in Moissac for a few days more – to see out the promised thunderstorms and rain.

The rain certainly arrived; we thought the thunderstorms were distant until smoke began to arise from a house  by the canal. It had been hit by lightning, and we watched as the poor owner watched her house go up in flames. The Pompiers are stationed within two minutes Рbut were that day away on a training session, along with their fire engine, so it took some time before water was sprayed onto the fire,

Stu and I took several walks around Moissac and I found a new architectural interest – doors! The old doors of Moissac are marvellous – so strong and making huge statements about the owners behind them.

I also found a new (to me) set of rings in the side of the canal. I have never seen hinged rings like this before; love them!

Moissac swing bridge

Moissac swing bridge

It began to feel like time to move on and in anticipation We took a look at the swing bridge – our way out of Moissac. Yes, that’s fine; ready to go.

Remainder of the Midi – L’Oestward to Toulouse

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We’re off! It’s been nice having a slow start to the season – we feel that the boat is prepared, the kitchen stocked, and the wine cellar full, but the crew are now restless and wanting to feel the movement of the boat beneath their feet.

We left Castelnaudary and immediately the views South across the plain to the distant hills was beautiful. The plane trees here are still standing, and presumably healthy, providing a traditional Midi atmosphere.

Before long we were at La Planque, our first lock, and waiting for a boat coming up; just as well! We had not realised that on this direction many of the locks are automatic Рat least they are automatic once the mariner triggers the mechanism!  A quick lesson for Lesley in button pressing and we were off Рme dropped off before the lock, a gentle sprint to the buttons, then a pleasant wait while the lock prepared itself and Calliope entered.

Midi, La Planque ecluse 22

Midi, La Planque ecluse 22

Stu remembered from last year the helmman’s tricks for a Midi lock, steering in with aplomb. ¬†We were soon tied up, more buttons pressed, and Calliope rose on the waters of the canal.

We counted up and realised that there were only another 4 locks ‘among’ until we reached the summit – including a double and a treble. The stepped locks were both ‘manned’, making things easier for us.

We moored up for lunch at a wild mooing before la Ségala, and realised we rather liked it; so we stayed the night.

There was entrainment from the pet goose of a local live aboard. He adopted us for a few hours, guarding the barge, following Stewart around, and treating his cooking as a spectator sport, watching attentively through the window.

Next morning, with Labastide-d’Anjou a ten minute cycle away, exercise and bread were provided in equal measure before we set off along the summit stretch, past le S√©gala port, bridge and … my first lavoir of 2017. ¬†Not a particularly interesting lavoir, but worth recording just the same.

The five and a half kilometre summit bief is a rural ideally, accompanied by the A61 motorway at almost very turn! ¬†One of the most interesting and attractive points is just before the Ocean ‘going down’ lock.

Here at the Narouze pass is the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The fascinating octagonal outline of the original reservoir to hold water for the canal is still clearly visible.

Midi Lock 17 Ocean, first one down

Midi Lock 17 Ocean, first one down

So our downward journey towards the great Atlantic ocean began. Hurrah, a full lock! The first one since the Rhone in August last year; no more rope-hoying for a while . . . . The so called Ocean lock was very pretty, and although automatic we happened to arrive at the same time as a VNF man and he happily took control.

Midi, by Port Lauragais

Midi, by Port Lauragais

We had decided to stop for lunch somewhere around¬†Port Lauragais so that we could take a look at the Midi museum there ….. which turned out to be closed until May! Nonetheless we had a pleasant meal seated at a picnic table under the trees between a lake and the canal. We walked all around the modern port and although we prefer wilder moorings we could see that the facilities were good.

We carried on, enjoying the drop and relative ease of descending locks, through to lock 43, Renneville. This time I remembered the camera and caught some shots of Calliope waiting, then entering the lock.

There was just space for us on the mooring below the lock so we tied up and began to enjoy another sunny afternoon and evening.

First I went for a walk up (and I do mean UP) to the village where I found a lovely church with a brick built wall bell tower. I have since found out that the brickwork is the vernacular style in this region – hence these three church photos – Renneville, Villefranche-de-Lauragais and Gardouch.

The first evening was so pleasant at Renneville that we stayed on for a second night. A quick cycle trip to Villefranche established a good set of boulangeries, restaurants and supermarkets so our immediate needs were well catered for.

IMG_3685 Along with the usual daily bread we also needed a suitable venue for a relaxed anniversary celebration. We walked into town on a lovely sunny Spring evening and found a PMU style bar and a Cambodian restaurant that suited us just fine.

Whilst in Villefranche we discovered a little more vernacular architectural ironmongery – little hinged metal figures ¬†designed to hold open window shutters. Looking at these in Villefranche, Gardouche, and later in Montgiscard I think there are two or three main characters – often with a male and a female figure on either side of a window. I’ve had a quick look on line but cannot find any information … anyone know?

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We managed to contact the port at Toulouse whilst at Renneville and had a change of plan after discovering that we could not be accommodated yet. So Stewart sent me ahead by bike to see what other moorings were in store for us.
Only 4km along the canal I found the delightful wharf at Gardouche. A quick phone call to Stu and he and Calliope meandered on downstream to rendezvous with me and the bike.

Stu and I had a blue sky 3 day weekend at Gardouche, with very few boats passing and only one mooring up one lunchtime for a couple of hours to allow a group of hungry Hungarians time for a pizza.

We used the opportunity for a bit more maintenance – Calliope feels like the Forth Bridge sometimes!

There was time to steam delicious local asparagus for one lunch, and make asparagus soup for another.

There was time to wander round the (small) village a few times, seeing the dominant hilltop church from many angles, and even visiting a jumble sale!

The mooring was most enjoyable, generally quiet, though the quay acted as a car park for the many people who understandable wanted to walk and cycle the canalside on such a sunny weekend. Sitting on the back deck with breakfast, ice cream, beer, or just surveying the start of our garden, was tranquil and warm.

Finally it was time to leave and to descend the Gardouche écluse. I went ahead to prepare it Рwell press a button that would automatically prepare it Рno physical exertion required!

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Negra ecluse

We continued on through the double écluse at Laval, managed by a happy young female éclusier, and on to Négra. We noticed that the drop here was 4m Рnot much compared to the Rhone, but more than we had experienced in most automatic locks.

Midi, Lock 11, Negra

Chapel at Lock 11, Negra

While the lock filled I took the opportunity to look around at the little chapel, stable block and other buildings – once all linked to a passenger boat staging post, but now mostly used by Locaboat boat hire company.

At the next manned (double) lock at Sanglier we learnt that several of what had been double locks have been changed to be just one deep lock, with the original second lock chamber remaining full at al times. They now act as kind of waiting rooms, or ante chambers to the lock when you are on your way down.

Our first experience of these deep single locks was only 1.5 kms away at Ayguesvives.¬†You can just see in the photo above left that there is an oval lock shaped ‘pond’ behind us. As Calliope floated down and the wall of the lock emerged we discovered bollards within the wall and poles to allow mooring lines to slide down with a boat – both probably remnants of past times and big commercial barges.¬†Captain’s note to self – must change the jumper next time the crew gets a camera out . . . .¬†

Of course locks are not the only features along the way. Bridges and aqueducts slide past, many absolutely beautiful.

By 1230, after three and a half hours of cruising and descending we arrived at our hoped for destination of Montgiscard – and yes, our luck was holding. The lovely high wall, only long enough for one big boat, was empty and we tethered Calliope to the shore before having lunch. Lovely mooring, complete with a free water fill-up and our own front steps.

An afternoon wander round the town, another perched on a hilltop, displayed another great brick church in a rural community and some ancient narrow streets. We found Joan of Arc hiding amongst some trees, a long way from home.

Also, much to my delight, the town lavoir still exists – right next to our mooring.¬†I think I have worked out my love of these structures; I think they speak of ‘community’, a place where the women of towns and villages met, talked, worked, and supported one another too I am sure.

Montgiscard lock pump

Montgiscard lock pump

I suspect they also met around the pump, although that is located at the lock maybe it was more for the thirsty men, horses and dogs from the working barges.

Montgiscard lock

Montgiscard lock

We stayed just one night, being booked on at Toulouse the next day. Montgiscard¬†√©cluse is one of the double-cum-single locks, now a single drop of almost 5m. Stewart fancied a go at setting the fill-up in motion for a change.¬†Hard work all this button pushing; thank goodness I’ve¬†got good crew . . . .

It took a while for such a deep lock to fill; a treat if you like moving water. I love it! I never tire of watching locks fill and empty – the eddies, foam, spurts and ripples.

This was our first real slog of 2017 – and still only 20 kms and 3 locks! Nothing compared to last year. We set off at 9am confident of reaching Toulouse in time for lunch. Little did we know.

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Pont de Donneville

We passed under the striking brick bridges of Donneville and Deyme, commissioned by Riquet when the canal was first started in 1667, and of brick due to the lack of stone quarries in the Toulouse area. These bridges were restored in 1821 after having been blown up a few years before to protect retreating troops at the Battle for Toulouse.

Unfortunately one of them seems to be under attack again!  But birds are making homes amongst the holes in the brickwork.

IMG_3774We were passed by very few boats, but often surprised by the lack of care other boaters had for the banks for the canal, causing quite a wake. We were proud of the smooth waters astern.

What caused us a little hassle¬†and quite a delay was finding the next two locks both ‘en panne’, or broken. The VNF are great at coming to mend them, but one does have to wait for them to come.

However, on the plus side, we had picked up three lovely Americans, on a long distance walk, and offered them a chance to experience a bit of barging. So we had longer to chat to them.

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At last we were coming through the suburbs of Toulouse, past fascinating old barges now used as houseboats. We also had the new experience of an aqueduct over a busy road – usually they are over rivers and streams.

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At last the port of Saint Saveur came into view, and our hammerhead position was clear. We tied up without too much fuss, and relaxed for a while.

Toulouse mooring

Yes, seems like an ok mooring – lets change the two nights to three if they will have us!

To round off rather a grey day Рthe first clouds we have seen for ages, we took a short walk round our immediate part of Toulouse, including the Grand Rond garden. Rain began to fall, so back to the boat for a cold beer, bit of supper and a planning session for our explorations tomorrow.

Between the sky and the sea – the Canal de Rhone a Sete + Etang de Thau

 

 

Calliope joined the canal from le Petit Rhone at St-Gilles lock – a lock already mentioned in the last chapter, with the minuscule drop of 15cms –¬† with ropes fore and aft and lifejackets as required . . . .¬†

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Now we were truly away from the delights of rivers and back on a canal, albeit quite a wide one.

On the stretch we were cruising the PK (Kilometre Points) have been replaced by PR – Rhone Points. I’m not sure why, but they still measure kilometres and were useful markers of our progress.

 

 

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We quickly discovered that we were out on the Camargue – a beautiful wild area that we had visited before by car and on foot, but the boat trip was another experience.

The wide flat panoramic views were to both sides of the canal, broken by a few carefully planted trees, and a scattering of nature’s bushes, reeds, grasses and other Mediterranean plants. You are not encouraged to stop through the Camargue, any moorings being for much smaller boats than us or full of liveaboards – so I did not get any plant or insect close ups!

camargue_sluices

Sluice points along the canal indicated a water management system to keep enough water in the canal for boats, and point the étangs and marshes for the wildlife.

We spotted our first purple heron (which isn’t spotted) (or purple), and plenty of cattle egrets, usually with some of the famous wild white Camargue horses.

camargue__egret

 

TheseI hadn’t realised, but the lesser egrets (see photo) that we have in the UK have bright luminous green feet, just visible on the stone in my rather blurry ‘please-slow-down’ photo.

Actually we were going slowly already as the speed limit in this canal is only 8kph, dropping to 4kph at crucial places.

Needing bread for lunch we looked for a mooring at Gallician; the only free space was reserved for a hotel barge, but with no hotel barge in sight along the kilometres of straight canal in either direction we decided to take a risk and tie up. I walked briskly into a small town that was preparing itself for the bull running festival at the weekend, managed to buy bread, and a delicious leek quiche and some local wine (that has to be drunk ‘immediately’ apparently), and walked briskly back.

I found Stewart waiting to go, having been harangued by the local Capitaine, worried that a hotel barge was imminent. We got underway immediately and indeed met said hotel barge about 15 minutes later heading our way.

aigue_mort_junction_We cruised through mile after mile of blue sky, blue water, and occasional flocks of birds and herds of horses. At the second Aigues-Mortes* junction the canal widened; as we approached we thought it was covered in white foam, but as we got closer we realised it was a huge flock of gulls who took off in relays around our bow. * Great name for a holiday destination, translates as Sickly-Death.

les_portes_du_vidourle_The Next landmark was les Portes du Vidourie – two massive gates that are lowered when the intersecting Vidourie river is in flood – another part of the intricate water system to manage the natural state of the Camargue.

cabanes_des_pecheursFishermen (and they do all seem to be men) still live on narrow strips of land and put out their nets each day Рsometimes across the canal! Here at Cabanes du Roc is one of their settlements. I am pleased to say that I can play the theme from Deliverance, but do not currently own a banjo . . . 

entry_to_etang_de_mauguio

The canal passes between nine differently named √Čtangs between Aigues-Mortes and S√®te. Each is a huge salt water lake, at sea level, and only separated from the Mediterranean by narrow strips of land. They have inlet/outlet channels here and there – above is one for¬†√Čtang de Mauguio.

_la_grande_motte_1980s_architecture__Quite a surprise on the skyline is la Grande-Motte, a ‘leaser’ town created in the 1980’s, with architecture to prove the point.

We began to see flamingoes, appearing and disappearing between the scrubby bushes which, with us moving as well, made it nigh on impossible to get a photo – but here are a couple.

le_lez_river_southwardsWe continued past Carnon, with its crossing of our larger canal and a small canal that goes inland to a marina and seaboard to a small port.

Further along was another crossing, this time with the river Lez. Smaller boats can go under the bridge and continue down to Palavas-les-Flots marina /port and the sea; Calliope knows her limitations.

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We moored up on the canal just after les Quatre Canaux crossing for the night with pleasant sea breezes to cool us a little before bed.

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Next morning another blue sky and blue waters. We moved on westwards between étangs.

between_etang_de_l_arnel_and_etang_de_prevost

It is very much a fishing area; fisherman whizz by in small boats to tend their nets; fishermen on bridges and at the canal edge; evidence of their nets in the étangs, and old, possible still used, pontoons.

etang_de_l_arnel_1

We had the beautiful¬†√Čtang de l’Arnel on our right, its waters mixing with those of the canal through all the breaks in the barrier. We felt suspended in the blue, between sky and sea.

The map showed an interesting area to our left – a flat island with a cathedral marked on it. Maguelone was founded here in Roman times, but the 5th century cathedral is all that now remains. The current town, now named Villeneuve-les-Maguelone, is several kilometres inland, whether to escape the marauding arabs of the 7th century, or the invading sea, I do not know.

There is a footbridge over the canal to allow tourists to visit the island, cathedral and beach. Opening the bridge to allow the passage of boats involves tooting ones horn and waiting for a man in an orange T-shirt. He opens this hinged, floating bridge by means of motorised propulsion on a centre section. I have never seen anything like it! But it works well.

More flamingos drifted in and out of view and I focused and refocused in attempts to get just one decent photo, but sadly not.

Next on the starboard bow was √Čtang des Moures, opening out into √Čtang de Vic¬† – another smooth expanse of shimmering blue water, sparsely spotted with the white dots of gulls and only broken by an old fishing pontoon or set of nets.

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Etang de Vic

frontignan__beforeThere are a number of commercial quays along the canal, but apart from hotel barges we had not see anything of the commercial aspect to the canal – perhaps because it was August, the customary holiday month in France. Then, just outside Frontignan, we met a fully loaded coal barge heading east. Good to see the canal still working as intended.

We noted two bridges in the centre of Frontignan. The first, from our direction, is a high, very busy, rail bridge. The second is a low road bridge Рtoo low for all but the smallest of craft to go under. Twice a day the bridge is raised Рjust long enough for all boats waiting to go through; no longer.

We moored up to wait for 4pm, and then having walked to look ¬†at the full moorings the other side we decided to stay put. At 4pm chaos descended as about 15 boats tried to come upstream at the same time as about 8 boats tried to go down. Wonderful to watch, including one boat who arrived to late. The red light was on; the bridge was descending. Reminded me off the line from Oranges and Lemons – “Chip chop, chip chop, the last man’s head”. Luckily the boat stopped, moored up and waited until 8.30 next morning, and kept its head.

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Twilight at first mooring, above lift bridge

Our first night at Frontignan was not exactly beautiful or peaceful, being on the industrial side of the bridge and very close to the rail bridge, but never mind. The photo, taken at dusk, includes one of the two boats used at the Frontignans’ ‘joutes’ We were not here to see one, so a photo from the web is shown here to explain…….¬†It happens right by our mooring; we would have got wet!

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Frontignan Joute

Next morning, under anther blue sky, we made ready for our advance under the 8.30am bridge opening. Naughty upstream boats started to stream through first, but began to move aside as the mighty Calliope set forth.

Fortunately there was a good size mooring available for us within an hour and by 10am we were secure, and off to the view the town and the amazing Thursday market.

We made some purchases, including lunch for each of us from the paella stall, but not paella.

frontignan_stu_s_lunchFor Stu it was a warm salad of potato, chorizo, mushrooms, red peppers and a tasty dressing.

For me – well it was my turn for cephalopod, but not pie. I had cephalopod pockets, or encornet farcis to be precise. Not sure what I had eaten I looked up a recipe. It includes cutting the head and tentacles off a squid, turning the body inside out and back again, and stuffing it with chopped tentacles, fins, rice, shallots, peas and saffron. frontignan_encornetThat’s ok then. Good Med food.¬†Ugh –¬†really really is as bad as it looks ¬†. . .¬†

We had a wander round the town in the cool of the evening, with the inevitable stop at a bar under a plane tree.

The old town is a real maze of narrow streets running almost in concentric circles. The church was built into the original ramparts of the town.

The area is famous for wine, especially Muscat, so there are a number of wine caves and old wine warehouses too. Overall a town with real character.

On our last day there we walked the two and a half kilometres down to ‘la plage’; we set off to catch the bus, but the timetable had changed the day before and we missed it! So a super warm hour later we stepped onto the sand and while Stewart made himself comfortable on some rocks in the breeze I did the inevitable and went for a swim in the azure Med – mmmmmmm.

frontignan_port__This was followed by a shady drink at the marina, before we did manage to catch the bus back. After a six minute journey we were back in town, ready for supper in the square, all extremely pleasant and with that pervasive sense of southern France.

After three nights in Frontignan it was time to carry on towards our final waterway this year, the Canal du Midi. To reach it we must cross the¬†√Čtang de Thau, which is like being at sea, but with a thin isthmus separating you from the Mediterranean proper.

thau_1We had a final half hour of cruising down the canal de Rhone¬†√† S√®te to bring us to the brink of¬†√Čtang de Thau near S√®te. Then, with wind speeds thoroughly checked to ensure safe passage we set out for the 14KM crossing.

Etang de Thau, Sete

Etang de Thau, Sete

We could see Sète across the water on our port side as Stu aimed out between two very widely spaced yellow marker poles, and on towards the red and green marked channel.

The Captain investigated the charts and seeing that we could take a short cut across the étang without running aground or filing any fishing nets or oyster beds he set course towards the far end.

It was a beautiful day; sunny and with enough breeze to keep us cool and send up a few splashes over the deck. ¬†We did feel as if we were back at sea!¬†Well, maybe a little bit of a sea that’s 20 feet deep in the middle . . . .

thau_nets_2The oyster beds are marked with rows and rows of poles over to the North of the lake near Mèze, Bouzigues and Marseilles. We looked at them from a good distance, their neat regular shapes standing out and upright from the blue waters.

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We made good progress , leaving Sète way behind as a small mound on the horizon.

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After an hour across the étang we could pick out the red topped light house marking the entrance to the Canal de Midi; other half hour took us there and we were off the inland sea, and back onto another new inland waterway Рthe last one this year . . . . 

Two Rivers Cruise – La Saone et Le Rhone

From Chalon-sur-Saone, through Lyon, to Saint-Gilles

Thursday 18 August 2016

IMG_1728Leaving Fragnes (we like Fragnes) after a full moon night and just after breakfast we had a final short trip on Canal du Centre from countryside towards La S√Ęone.

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First we had to pass the the industrial end of Chalon-sur- S√Ęone, with the usual warehouses, old quays and occasional beautiful rusting barge before reaching the tall, narrow 10.76m ‘bis’ lock to drop us down to river level.

The mighty lock 34 of Canal du Centre – ‘bis’ – ready to lower us to S√Ęone level.

And it started to rain! Ah well ‚Äď boating is a water sport I guess.

We joined the big wide S√Ęone uneventfully and started chugging downstream at a good pace, enjoying the grey-hued view of Chalon from the water.

The statue is important to me, and all those who wield a camera. It is of the unlikely named Nicéphore Niépce, born in Chalon in 1765 and widely credited as the inventor of photography.

tournus__afterThe countryside below Chalon is rather flat ‚Äď less interesting than some, but the wide, open, view and the wildlife made it very enjoyable on a day when clouds lifted and the sun came through..

From the tall and narrow to the wide and shallow ‚Äď we went through our one S√Ęone lock of the day ‚Äď all alone in a huge space! Life jackets on! It‚Äôs the rules!

Chalon, after, Ormes lock

Chalon, after, Ormes lock

And look who we saw the other side of the lock!  Our friends on Lapin Vert, the theatre barge, last seen on Canal de Bourgogne weeks ago.

Not far on from the lock we came to Tournus and moored up at the quay ‚Äď what a pretty place, full of history!

I loved some of the balconies, and all the flowers!  It is a must for another visit, to explore the abbey sector and the many little narrow streets.

We saw all weather from sun, clouds, pouring rain, mist and back to sun again by 11am the next day, when we were finally able to move on down the river.

Friday

The Captain feels he is relaxing into river ways quite quickly. Huge hotel barges ply up and down but there is plenty of¬†space for us all on La tranquil S√Ęone. Cattle and horses graze; towns and villages look down at the water.

maconWe cruised a massive 57 Kms on Friday, past the graceful riverside house of Macon and ending up moored near Belleville. Macon, which looks a pleasant city. It’s a shame to miss such an important wine growing region, but if we are to meet our mates Chris and Tasmin in 3 days time we need to keep going.

Below Macon we began to see a new set of watersports make use of the river – water skiing, power boats, jet skis and ribs were more prevalent than skiffs and kayaks!

It is so much quicker with about one lock a day, and at a steady 12 Kms an hour with the current. Friday’s lock was called Drac√© – as wide and empty as Ormes the day before, out in the country, with the hill town of Mogneneins in the distance. In contrast the abandonded old lock of Thoissey, just after¬†Drac√©, seemed gentle and contained.