Back on the Midi with Stu

8th – 14th June 2018





Last episode I left us at Le Somail, with the huge ancient bookshop, brebis (sheep milk) ice cream, and mooring under the fig trees, shady enough to eat outside on the warm summer days.




We also ate at one of the local restaurants – great pizza, mine with duck and foie gras!




The skies, especially at sunset, just encouraged amateur photography!

On our last evening I cycled down to St-Marcel-sue-Aude where they were due to burn Joan of Arc – if I read the leaflet right. Unfortunately I was there a day early and all the merriment, food, music and burning was to be 24 hours later – so I cycled back.




Could it get any better than La Somail? Let’s go see – actually we had to go see, because we are on our way to Carcassonne to meet grand daughter and friend from the airport on 17 June – so onwards and westwards we go.

37F54BDF-0F5D-4185-9EA2-1B72BDF0F281Day one’s mini voyage was the 6kms to Ventenac-en-Minervois where we found the same mooring below the bridge that we enjoyed two years ago.



After an hour repotting herbs that had been refusing to grow happily …..







… we went for a stroll round the village, ending in the excellent wine cave on the quay, filled in the afternoon. A game of Scrabble (I nearly won) provided the evening’s mental challenge, and so to bed.

69EAB045-FE7C-4850-B4BE-2DBD2E1E0092Day two was to have been 24 kms to Homps, but after 10kms and one lock (rather cosily shared with a ‘bumper boat’ and a yacht, we found an empty stretch of moorings below the castle at Argens-Minervois.

We stopped for lunch, stopped for an explore, stopped for supper, and then stopped overnight!




The village has many ancient aspects, a few of which are shown here, regrettably not on the best day for photographic light. We now know, for next time, there is an epicèrie, several bars and restaurants, some wine caves, and a short walk to a bridge over the river Aude.



There’s also a fine example of a well-cum-pump, probably used to bring water up for cattle to drink.

7CBB8073-83D6-41C1-986B-F9BC52C3E887I maybe should have mentioned the hairpin canal bend going over the Répudre aqueduct – a lovely line of stone wall, always difficult to catch right on film!


Moored up in Homps

Onto Monday – a wet day, made wetter by the number of locks to negotiate. We still made it to Homps, and our previous mooring, by lunchtime, and it was not long after this that the sun came out.


Homps blue passerelle – as Calliope left next day

We took a walk over the blue passerelle, up the track to the lake, where I inspected the ‘beach’ that could provide a swimming place for visiting grand daughters.


Here comes Safran

Not long after we came back a bike skidded to a halt next to Calliope, and we at last met in person Andy and Jayne of Safran, another Piper boat. Seeing a mooring just ahead of us he ‘veloed’ back to his boat and gracefully progressed into port. We were able to enjoy a few glasses of wine with them later.



Next day we were off again, running ahead of the rain to reach La Redorte without getting wet! It was a great day for barging.





Just outside the village is the lovely Argentdouble aqueduct; I got a slightly better photos this tie as the skies had cleared.


Calliope meets Tesserae at La Redorte

It was to be another Piper meeting day, this time with David and Louisa on Tesserae, who kindly moved up to make space for us. The two barges rested stern to stern for two nights, whilst those on board made better introductions over wine, then a meal at the quay side restaurant. (I do like he go-faster stripe along the rubbing strake; might have to get the masking tape out this coming back-end.) 



My evening walk at La Redorte resulted in a couple of unusual images ….

B0684E90-C413-4FFE-A03C-E1CC7CFCC3D1Then moving on again, slowly towards Carcassonne.  It was definitely slower than planned! The three double and one triple locks all had queues, and we had to share locks on almost every occasion – this proving easier sometimes than on others! (Indeed …..)



At the first lock, Puichéric, we waited for a hotel barge to go up and two boats to come down – a beautiful place to wait, with the village church in the distance.



We ended up sharing the lock with a couple of holiday boats – nice friendly people, doing their best to manoeuvre round us with bow thrusters, stern thrusters and, worst of all, boat hook thrusters!

D0CC8599-A7A3-47BE-B214-A3DBD750B89ELater, at St Martin écluse a long queue began to develop, right on lunch time when the locks close for an hour. If you’re not in a rush, and you already have food aboard, its a pleasant place to eat and wait.

3F3639C6-B5E0-4CF4-BEF0-046AE492E0EDBy the time we came through the last, triple, lock we had had enough boating for one day, so we were extremely pleased to find a rural mooring, spotted a few weeks ago, empty and just waiting for us.



After supper I took a walk ……

34042A3C-D6EB-4291-BB6D-4AC6E92BB534… and the Captain had a quiet time with his little black book.

A lovely sky, light until nearly 10pm, finished the day, and another week.





Semaine Trois

Will we, won’t we, windy, windy, windy.

Deciding when to leave Marseillette is a wind blown decision – waiting for the gusts and gales to diminish so that our progress on down the canal is more enjoyable.

D530CC5C-C44D-4EFB-8B96-0C3F16F84C36Eventually on Friday, mid morning, the leaves are rustling less and the Red Ensign drops below 90 degrees, so we cast off, although I still needed to travel with plaits so that I could see the way ahead!

We have half an eye on what other boaters are on the move in the hope of having locks to ourselves – not because we are greedy – just makes it easier and quicker. So having glided into the first lock and hearing the gates close behind us we are a little surprised when  they reopen – and another boat appears around the bend to join us.

It turned out to be a group of 6 Australians on holiday – lovely people and good at handling their boat, so all proceeded pleasantly through the next few locks, in company with them.

27480E49-2AF5-45CE-8F78-584A60466D47But we did meet less able boaters, including coming upon a luckless family with papa aboard, mama and children in the bank, and the boat across the canal! All was sorted eventually.

CF3BDA95-69CE-4719-879B-9F6BAFDA8513We reached the inevitable 12 o’clock-lunch-lock-down at l’Aiguille and enjoyed a blue-sky break before continuing on towards La Redorte – long stretches where ‘the plane trees were gone but the roots linger on.,

0B03D5CB-98E7-4C7B-B4A8-51182D923909Our luck was in – the best mooring in town, for us, was empty and we were soon tied up ready to enjoy a sunny sheltered few days.


La Redorte is a nicer village than expected – lots of narrow curvy streets up a hill, a chateau, a church, a good boulanegrie and boucherie ……..

F0CB672F-EBCC-49C1-9E3A-E26501A0858B… and a bar on the quay!


We stayed 3 night at La Redorte, allowing me time for an early sun photo once the weather improved.

Eventually we set out for the wonderfully named Homps, which I now know was a major trade crossroads for tin and wine, dating back to Roman times, and also having a strong connection in the 12th century to the Knight Templars (later of Malta).


Our route took us past the stunning stonework of the Argentdouble épanchoir, where water can overflow from the canal into the river below when necessary. Then we went over the Argentdouble aqueduct, before passing a buoyancy defying concrete boat. (The Captain has explained the physics of it – so I kind of understand!)


Judicious messaging ahead to friends on ‘Tell Us Tomorrow’ let us know that there was a mooring on the quay in Homps if we were quick! We settled in gently, put the washing out to dry in the continuing wind and went for a walk round the village.


Given my love of Malta I very much enjoyed the centuries long links that Homps has to the island. the Knights Templar’s 12th century stronghold has all but disappeared now, but a few craggy remains are resplendent with the Knights Cross, which it seems to me has transmogrified into the Cathar’s cross.


We were spooked, then amused, by crackly broken music emerging from the village loudspeaker system. This turned out to be the prelude to something more sombre and serious – the village’s commemoration of VE Day – Victory in Europe Day, when La France, so long an occupied nation, was at last freed.

Quite a few villagers turned out to march along the quay behind flag-bearing veterans, then to the church to give thanks.




That evening we went out for a beer with ‘Tell Us Tomorrow’. This slid imperceptibly (almost) into a decision to dine together at the restaurant no more than 10 yards from Calliope. Delightful, ending up with more wine and a chocolate course on board! Chin chin!


The next day was still windy – really windy* – but we cracked on down towards our planned destination of Narbonne. The Ognon trio is interesting – a double lock into a right hand bend over an aqueduct and immediately through and under a very narrow ‘écluse de garde’ – or means of closing off the canal in times of flood or emergency. *40/50 mph they reckoned on t’web, and they weren’t exaggerating . . . 

E05A88C8-3F8D-4864-8623-3AF58B90432EWe waited for the lock in the company of a journeying snail, reminding us that some creatures travel even slower than us, every day.  Hmm, lunch for some over here . . 

B01309A4-D48F-4986-8280-53181AF1A654Rounding a more comfortable bend we saw a wild mooring that seemed just accessible – Bassanel.  Good – time for lunch.


Captain and crew decided that a walk ashore was required and we set off up through woods (nice flowers) and down again, back to a tightrope walk entry to the barge!




After a quiet night in the wilds we awoke to a seemingly calmer brighter day. A patch of poppies on the other bank suggested that all was good in the natural world and a sure sign that we should journey on.





With the sun before us and the rocky hill of yesterday’s walk behind us we felt on top of a blowy world.


We found ourselves accompanied by creatures once more at the next lock, herded through the double by an enthusiastic collie who was bent on ensuring we could not dodge to either side and get away!  He saw us off downstream very efficiently.


On past Argens-Minervois with its chateau on a hill, Roubia, and then a pit stop at Paraza for bread before going towards Ventenac.

A0E7D3C2-E322-4C83-866B-AB32C6071AC2The lock at Argens is the last one for over 58kms. Just as well because our kindness in allowing two holiday boats to go down in the lock before us led to over an hour waiting. The éclusier hoped to fill the ascending lock with three boats, but one that she had spotted distant over the plain failed to materialise. In reality we are so lucky to be retired, with all the time in the world to enjoy where we are while we are there; holidaymakers are always in such a rush . . . .  


Just past Paraza is the first ‘pong-canal’ built in France in 1676. It was built by the famous creator of the Canal du Midi, Paul Riquet, who stayed at the chateau on Paraza during the construction.  Its hard to get a good photo as you go over it on a hairpin bend.

Finally, 17 kms on, we got to La Somail hoping for a mooring. Our hopes were dashed as the entire port and quay were jam packed with boats and we realised it was lunch time on a sunny French public holiday. On we went.


I had decided not to take many photos that day, but this section of our trip includes a real mix of ancient bridges, so they had to be snapped up – sorry!

So at about 1.30pm, after a long day for us of four and a half hours travelling (old retirees that we are), we arrived at Port la Robine where the canal to Narbonne leads off from the Canal du Midi.

6ADD5EFB-59A0-4596-809B-223FDC0D60DAAnd we were so lucky – the little mooring area before the first lock was full, so we tied up in the wide mouth of the junction and found ourselves in the perfect spot – for the next  fifteen and a half hours.


We had our own little patch of flowers and a bar across the bridge – a heavenly sunny evening.




Fifteen and a half hours later, at 4am, the tranquility was broken as the factory across the canal started up its machinery after the holiday!  But a rude awakening led to a lovely morning view from the wheelhouse.


We climbed the bridge to look at our voyage for the day, down the Canal de Robine towards Narbonne – another week was about to begin.