Winding our way to our winter mooring

27 September – 10 October 2019

We were taking the long autumnal way round. We had left Kortrijk in late August and set off on a loop of northern Belgium and France, in order to arrive back where we started and tie up for the winter.

Now we were on the last lap, crossing borders, changing waterways, and soaking up the last of the sun, or getting soaked, depending on the weather.

If you are crossing into France between Veurne and Dunkirk you have to phone 2 days ahead and plan to meet a VNF person at the Ghyvelde bridge where your papers will be checked before the bridge is opened and you are allowed to pass into France. We had all this sorted and set off from our mooring in Veurne in plenty of time – until we wound round the first bend, saw another (low) bridge, and had to phone to ask for this to be lifted !too

waiting in Veurne for the Ieper bridgeto open

Unfortunately there was a problem with another bridge in the vicinity so we had to wait – just half an hour – for the lock-keeper-cum-bridge-lifter to appear. That put a little pressure on our run to the Belgian border, but all was fine.

The bridge, interestingly (to me) was not a lift bridge at all. It was a swing or turntable bridge, swinging round so that it was parallel to the canal, on the right on this photo.

Then we were out onto the Nieuwpoorte to Duinkerke Kanaal, the sun behind us in the East and the flat, almost coastal, farmlands of Belgium stretching out under grey skies on each side.

In some ways it was an unremarkable journey, so I took the opportunity to put my feet up and observe Stu at the helm.

Looking back at Veurne I saw some of the historic towers I had not managed to photograph while we were there (too much rain), and then looking forward to enjoy the final flat farmland as we edged towards France. 

crossing the border

There was no definitive border line on the canal, although the border town of Adinkerke was interesting – packed full of Tabacs, brazenly selling cigarettes at lower prices than neighbouring France! The closest to a border that we saw was a bridge that used both languages to explain its presence.

Before too long we were through the first, and then the second, French lift bridge – or pont levée as I should probably now write.

waiting at Dunkirk

We traveled on to Dunkirk (Duinkerke), arriving at a ‘red-light’ lock as we entered the city. There were not many clues as to whom we should notify of our arrival. I walked up to the lock; no éclusier; no notice with a phone number or VHF channel to use for communication.

The Stu noticed the new sensors just in front of Calliope! Moving forward we triggered the sensors, the doors opened and Calliope sailed in.

We tied up and looked for a way to operate the lock – no poles, levers, remote controls – but a faded sign said to press the black button?????
Stu climbed up the long ladder on the other side found a red and green button, pressed the green, the normal lock-operating colour in Framce, …… nothing.

Then suddenly I saw, on the other side of the lock, in an alcove, something dangling on the end of a chain! We moved Calliope over, grabbed the chain, and hey presto, there was a black button (or white to go to in the opposite direction back to Belgium).

the canal through Dunkirk 1

One press and we were on our way again, Captain Stu steering us through the outskirts of Dunkirk.

the canal through Dunkirk 2

Not far after the lock we took a 90 degree turn to the left onto the Canal de Bergues – an 8 kilometre connection between Dunkirk and the lovely fortified town of Bergues. Do go there if you get a chance! I will tempt you with the following photos!

Bergues has been fortified for centuries, with the famous Vauban applying complex finishing touches – zig zag ramparts, moats and islands. This map gives an idea of it all -red dot marks our mooring.

There was a choice of moorings; our preference was just before the canal turned in front of the old walls of Bergues – a tranquil slightly isolated spot, but within easy reach of the town.  Perfect.

We had two days and three nights here. The weather veered between gale force winds with lashing rain and bright September sunshine; fairly typical of northern Europe in autumn I think.

To encapsulate our time in Bergues, we were entertained by 94 geese …… or as they say in Nottingham – Ey up ducks

We walked the ramparts, in rain and in sun ……..

We walked the streets to better understand the layout ……

We went to the two old towers – one a steeple that used to be a guide to sailors when the coast was much closer to Bergues, and the other part of an old abbey built on a ‘green hill’ that was the founding of the town.

And we enjoyed all of it.  The autumn light and colours created such golden green views in every direction.

The maze of water channels, sluices, locks, water gates and moats could fill a blog of its own.

On  Monday it was time to go. Got up on time for a change and quickly walked into town to see the Monday market (still setting up) and buy some Bergues specialities – saucisse and fromage (very smelly, but thrice dipped in beer), plus other local delicacies from the boucherie/charcuterie I had visited before.

blue/green bridge on Canal de Bergues

We had arranged with Friday’s lock keeper to be at Jeu de Mail, the lock to leave Dunkirk (West) at 1030 and had a pleasant cruise up the Canal de Bergues in the sun. Then just as we reached Dunkirk the phone rang.

I struggled to fully understand what was being said – it seemed that the lock Jeu de Mail was closed for 3 weeks starting that morning; we couldn’t wait for it to reopen as we did not have time.

We were told that we could instead go out into the Post of Dunkirk where all the ferries and cargo ships are, join the Bassin Maritime, a wide channel just in from the coast, then go through the big Mardyck lock into the Mardyck Derivation. That would bring us back to where we wanted to be.

But we could not see how to get into the Port from where we were, so arranged to meet up with the eclusier. With the aid of several maps of Dunkirk port area she showed us the way. Off we went into the Gare d’Eau, a big basin that included a lock through to Darse 1 in the Port.

But the lock had 2 red lights, indicating it was broken. Who to call? The two phone numbers on the notice had no reply, so onto the harbour master VHF and try to explain in my French what was happening. It was no-deal. Bateaux de Plaisance could not go through the commercial Mardyck lock, even if they were 20m long!

Warning – work happening on the canal!

So what to do? We presumed we would have to retrace all our steps (if you can have steps on a boat), return to Veurne, to Nieuwpoort, to Brugges, to Gent, to Deinze and finally to Kortrijk. I was back on the phone to ask for them to open the two pont-levées on the route back to Veurne, leaving messages on two different numbers because no-one answered. All good fun!

Dunkirk

Just as we approached the first, automatic, lock eastwards my mobile rang. I could hardly believe that I was understanding correctly – in exceptional circumstances they were going to stop work at the Jeu de Mail lock, open it just for us, and then start work again! Another explanation might be that this was easier for them than driving all the way back to open the bridges but, hey, we’re in France – that’s how they are and we just love them for it.

And that is what happened. We turned into the Canal de Bourbourg and waited for two work boats to move over and let us through to the lock.

gloomy day in Jeu de Mail lock

We were the last boat to be allowed through the lock for three weeks! And then we were off again, and actually all of that excitement had only held us up for an hour.

Now we were on the big wide part of the Canal de Bourbourg, empty but for us.

After an hour or so we joined the Mardyck line for a couple of kilometres.

Then the canal de Bourbourg peels off and continues to the left, narrow and pretty, past a set of lucky live-aboards.

As we continued towards the town of Bourbourg, our target for the night’s mooring, the canal became a countryside waterway with swans and coots peacefully co-existing.

We came to Bourbourg écluse with the intention of going through and mooring up just off the main canal – but our phone fun continued with no-one answering the supposed correct numbers. I walked down past the two town lift bridges looking for alternative numbers; none to be found.

entrance hall to Bourbourg Mairie

I tried a canal side bar, who sent me to the Mairie, who helpfully gave me a number, that gave me another number, where I made contact with an éclusier who could not come for two days – or maybe tomorrow if I was lucky!  I was lucky, and we settled down for pleasant evening below the lock.

I was fascinated as I walked around Bourbourg to see two vending machines selling local produce, from local people’s gardens and chickens! So fascinated that I went back in the morning before we left and bought some of the eggs and tomatoes you can see here – what a brilliant idea!

We were all ready for the éclusier to arrive before the stipulated 0900. He came at 0845 to get the lock ready – all by hand; a truly manual lock. I helped wind open one of the gates so that Calliope could glide in, and then one of the éclusier’s mates arrived and took over the winding duties.

After the lock there are two pont levées to be opened so we cruised slowly round the town, giving our new friend time to stop traffic and then open, hydraulically, each bridge.

One of the canal side building walls has been transformed into an open air art gallery, with ;paintings of famous Bourbourg people through the centuries. There is a sign there naming them all, but I regret I did not make a note.

Then we were off towards the end of Canal de Bourbourg where a double-doored lock would let us out onto the river Aa. The skies to port were on the heavy side and we hoped we would escape the storm.

By the time we reached the lock things were looking celestially better, or at least the sky was a lighter shade of grey, and the water a brighter shade of lime. I went to help the double winding required for a double door lock! Yes, it was another manual one. Stu meantime could gently spectate.

Then we were out on L’Aa – wide open spaces again! Cruising on L’Aa had been a long term ambition after we had driven over the Aa valley time and again on our trips from the UK to various points in France.

The day became bluer as we traveled South, meeting up twice more with the éclusier who opened two bridges for us at Saint Nicolas and Bistade (Hmm, sky still looks a bit grey in the Saint Nicolas photo!).

Then we were past the turn off for the Canal de Calais, and could see hills in the distance! After so many weeks in the joyous flat lands of Belgium and North France hills were quite a novelty!

Before long Calliope reached Watten and the Y-junction with Canal de la Haute Colme – part of the wide water highway linking the coast with Lille. The history of the rivers and canals in this region is complex, especially as all the Google searches I am doing come up in French – but it is interesting so worth looking up again when I am in the UK.

Suffice it to say that without turning to left or right you could find yourself on the Canal de la Haute Colme, L’Aa, Canal de Neufossé, or, further down, Canal d’Aire! They are all linked up to create a Grand Gabarit, or ‘big size’ canal, for the giant commercial barges.

Within another 3 kms we were looking out for the entrance to La Houlle – a short river that ends at Houlle itself, and a place to moor for the night away from the barge superhighway.

The next few kilometres were fascinating. After passing under the bridge onto the Houlle we went through a large basin, and then into a narrow winding river lined by highly individual cottages – those on the left linked to the road on the right by flat bottomed chain ferries – one per dwelling!

We arrived at the Houlle pontoon without any trouble, disturbing the resident ducks as we threw our ropes around the cleats. What a peaceful undisturbed place we had found! One lonely fisherman appeared for a while, and someone walked a dog past – otherwise we saw no-one.

We took a walk round the village – no photos of note, but there is a very old church and a good gin distillery, plus a bar and a restaurant. With rain very much in the air we cut our walk short, missing the chance to walk from Houlle to Moulle, where (as the Captain says) they probably play boulles!

Before long the rain was upon us, accompanied by this beautiful rainbow. That led into a perfect evening on the River Houlle. It is an interesting river, not just because of its short length, about 4km, but because of its origin in a series of artesian wells that also provide millions of gallons of water to the people of Dunkirk.

In the morning the weather was perfect. Stu took the barge another 100 yards upstream to a widening where all 65 foot of Calliope could turn with ease.

Then back down the Houlle in the October sunshine (yes, it is the 2nd of October already), passing by the interesting houses, the many fishing platforms, and the many many little channels going off at each side. It would be great to have a canoe here and go exploring!

After 40 glorious minutes we were back at the bridge out onto the Grand Gabarit and its attendant giant barges. At this stage the canal was once more named L’Aa, to my delight; out on the L’Aa again.

Saint Momelin

We had a 25 kms southbound journey to accomplish before our planned exit form the superhighway and onto the River Lys, including two locks. The canal seemed deserted as we passed Saint Momelin village and skirtede Saint-Omer. We had high hopes of going through the locks alone rather than with a big commercial barge.

Then, just as we approached the first lock, Flandres, I looked through the rear window (stern window?) and saw Dakota bearing down on us. She overtook us with ease, and just as well because we would much prefer her in the lock first; we followed her in.

It was not a particularly easy lock. It was almost a 4m rise – not too much – but without a series of bollards up the wall to secure to. There was one for each of us at deck level, and then as we rose it was necessary to climb on the roof and try to lassoo the bollard sitting back on the quay. I missed twice, but luckily was third time lucky, just in time. The Captain was expert with his first throw.

Then just 2 kilometres further was a mightier challenge – the 13m lock Les Fontinettes. After the earlier experience I radioed ahead and asked if they had ‘bollards flottant’ – and phew, they did, even if they were spaced rather a long way apart. This lock has a striking art deco bridge over it, but I was requested not to take photos in the lock, so I only have one of us leaving.

There were still 13 kms to go to reach La Lys; that is about an hour and a half in cruising language. We took it in turns to helm and to eat lunch. Knowing there is a lock at the start of La Lys I phoned ahead (no VHF channel for this one) and asked if we could go through Fort Gassion écluse.

Oh dear – we are such beginners in the art of autumnal cruising in northern France! There was no chance of gong through the lock today, but maybe tomorrow …. so we settled our minds on an evening in the little basin outside the lock, but at least off the superhighway.

We still had one more encounter with an industrial size barge however. As our turning came into view and the Captain prepared to turn across the other side of the canal a big fully laden gas tanker appeared steaming towards us! We slowed down and waited; nothing else for it apart from getting run down! And then turned into our haven for the night.

We were moored just across the big canal from Aire-sur-Lys (the river Lys straddles the big canal) and we could see one or two towers of the city in the distance.

We also needed milk and set off for a walk to the city for a look round and quick shop. The city is another of those full of little waterways. Apparently it was a centre for moving goods from water to land in days gone by. This led to some magnificent buildings, all symbols of power!

Back to Calliope and what looked a nice peaceful mooring for the evening.

Don’t be fooled! At the end of the channel behind Calliope is the big big canal Neufossé. When commercials go past a wash is sent up the channel – usually producing gentle waves. BUT when a big barge went past fast we could almost surf on the first surge that arrived, throwing our boat in the air, then hitting the lock gates in front of us, sending up spray, before bouncing back at us while at the same time further waves were still coming in! All chucked us about a bit!

The sky was reflected, gilt edged, in the water so wonderfully that I went for a walk downstream to get another view.

In the morning as we were entering the lock, another big barge went past the end of the river entrance, throwing the slow moving Calliope forward towards the far lock gates, then throwing us backwards again as the surge rebounded!
Very exciting, and safely managed by Captain Stu!

That lock behind us we travelled onwards along the Lys, through the countryside of Pas de Calais. It was an other of those bright sun days and we were steering directly into it, with dew glistening across the cabin roof.

Our journey, with our friendly female éclusier, took us thorough a pont levée and another lock.

The lock was in the middle of nowhere – such a peaceful place. It must have been wonderful; to live there when there was a lock keepers house to occupy.

I also noted some nice rusty old ironwork, linked to part of the water management system. I love this stuff!

By midday we had arrived at Saint-Venant, a place we have been to, and enjoyed, earlier this year. The mooring was empty, although the marina across the river seemed full of boats packed up ready for winter.

We had a plan for the evening – to visit again the Restaurant by the marina. So we had an old fogies date night, got dressed up a bit smarter than usual boating attire, and walked over. The food is good, casual, substantial and very tasty!

My carbonnades flamandes and Stu’s braised jambon were SO good, and then I really pushed the boat out (ha ha) with a slice of french fried chocolate brioche topped with caramel sauce and cream! I could not resist licking every sugary drop from the plate!

looking for Lorenzo

We had been warned that Hurricane Lorenzo would be with us next day from mid morning, so we deployed our thick ropes, battened down everything on deck and planned a cosy day on board. But the day began azure skied!

There was still time for a walk first, over the river and along to the next village, Haverkerke, over a passerelle, and back along our bank.

In fact we discovered that we were moored by chance in a sheltered spot and despite seeing flags blowing horizontally across at the marina we remained fairly calm through the storm.

Then it was time to leave Saint-Venant and complete our voyage back to Kortrijk and the winter mooring. This meant being back onto same waterway as we enjoyed in August – the river Lys (France) / Leie (Belgium) so I will restrict myself to just a few words on the journey.

We went through the locks , at Saint-Venant, Merville and Bac Saint Maur amongst the start of the autumn colours.

We stopped for one night at Armentieres – an enjoyable mooring once again, this time with an October feel to the air.

Then on to where the Lys joins the Canal de Deule and becomes a monster canal once again. At the junction two spots of colour on a grey day – the bale packaging of a colourful farmer, and the giant ‘scooper’ used to move dredged up sludge from one barge to another – but not on a Sunday!

I nipped up to the office at écluse Comines in order to show our ship’s papers and get permission to enter Belgium once more. At the next lock, on the next day, we would move from Wallonia to Flandres and need to pay for our license to be on their waterways for the next 6 months.

Then a slow cruise into the Comines mooring just half a kilometre after the lock. It was still grey, but after lunch we went for a walk, arriving back before the heavens opened for the rest of the day – pouring rain, hail, thunder and lightning and a strong wind were our accompaniment for the last night out on our 2019 cruise!

But a rainbow cheered us up, plus a game of Scrabble that cheered up the Captain – he won! – Don’t start ……

And so finally we came back to Kortrijk. There were no dramas on the last day. We fitted snugly under the bridge into the port, and the entire pontoon was empty, waiting for us to choose our berth.

It was nice to tie up firmly on familiar territory, all prepared for the winter months ahead. In the few days before we left Calliope alone and drove back to the UK we fitted in a day trip to France to buy a new bottle of Butane (our gas connector is a standard French one).

On the same trip we visited the magnificent Villa Cavrois, near Lille. It is an Art Deco palace, built for a family at the start of the 1930s, with the architect given free rein to design house, garden, furniture, decor – the whole lot. And despite a chequered history, especially during WW2, it was able to be restored to its amazing former look.

one of the Broel towers, visible from the mooring

That’s it for 2019. A final evening walk around Kortrijk to admire the buildings, bridges, river, squares and people before on Thursday October 10th we set off for our land based home in the UK. See you in the spring …..

Moving on from Ypres to Veurne

23rd to 26th September 2019

This was the last few days in Belgium before we slipped out into France for a week – then to return to Belgium for the winter. But more of that later.

Calliope in Ypres port

Two days was not really long enough to do Ypres justice, but we had our winter mooring to get to. So we found ourselves leaving on a sunny Sunday morning – that was not to last!

Up the Ypres Ijzer canal we cruised, and through the first lock. The surface of the water was as iridescent green as before.

Just before the second lock we knew there was a pontoon; we stopped and moored up – our rural retreat for a night, totally quiet once the last of the few boats went through the lock.

We were lucky with this mooring. So many of the pontoons next to locks are for one hour waiting only, This one, and the one not far upstream, are 72 hour pontoons!

With the surface of the canal still so green I determined to find out what it was; it is known in Belgium as eendekroos, and in English it is simple duckweed. I was intrigued to know how it grew, seemingly without roots in the mud somewhere, so picked some out.

The internet tells me that duckweed is one of the smallest flowering plants in the world. The tiny plants consist of one to three leaves, with a single root-hair protruding from each frond. This hangs below the surface to obtain nutrients from the water rather than from soil. They multiply by flowering. Don’t let them take over your garden pond!

As the afternoon drew on the wind began to strengthen, blowing masses of autumnal leaves from the canal side trees – all of which floated above the duckweed, like leaves landing on a lawn.

An autumn carpet.

Before the evening was out a big rain storm hit us, lashing down on Calliope with us feeling snug and dry within. Next morning the boat was covered in leaves, twigs, water and dirt – a cleaning job for me!

On Monday morning we were up and away through the lock, then to the top of the canal where it joins the Ijzer river.

This time we turned left towards Fintele, finding another famous old Piper boat Para Handy right round the corner coming towards us.

Not much time for a chat beyond ‘Ahoy there Para Handy’ as they headed East for Diksmuide and Nieuwpoort and we headed West towards Fintele and Veurne.

It was not long before we reached Fintele.We had been told how nice it was, but were not prepared for such a lovely mooring, out amongst the polders.

This was another learning for us – ‘polders’. Wikipedia describes them as follows. ‘A polder is a low-lying tract of land that forms an artificial hydrological entity, enclosed by dikes or ditches’ – well and truly in the lowlands low, where the wind most certainly does blow blow blow!

Our first walk around the area uncovered a tiny village, more a hamlet, or a few houses, a bar and two restaurants. One of the restaurants is famous for eels and I was keen to try, but luckily for Stewart they were closed for their annual holiday! Shame…..

There used two be a temporary bridge across the Ijzer here, built each spring and dismantled each autumn, to get the cattle across onto the polders once they had drained of their winter floods. There is still a ‘mock-up’ to be seen, and plenty of bridges crossing the many ditches as well as the river.

That evening the combination of setting sun, storm clouds, and flat lands produced some amazing light across the polders – and then as the skies cleared there were new delights fore and aft, west and east.

One of the walks discovered a new donkey friend, although I suspect he was keener to make friends with the carrots that I didn’t have in my pocket! Doesn’t matter – I just want any donkey that I can have – which is zero at the moment.

Probably the jolliest and most unusual sight around Fintele is the knitted covers for anything that stands still long enough, including bicycle racks and wooden posts! Very alternative.

Calliope was joined by two other boats on the second night, one of which was to travel with us up through the lock and the bridges to Veurne. It was a wet windy day for travelling, so I put on my wet and windy travel clothes.

It is an unusual lock at Fintele – wide, with sloping sides and a pontoon to moor to on one side. As we shared with a Le (hire) Boat the lock keeper suggested that they enter the lock first and go to one side; we then enter and moor to the pontoon and they raft up to us – for the mighty journey of 60cm into the Lovaart.

The Lovaart is a small, narrow, peaceful canal named after the village of Lo through which it passes. It runs from Fintele to Veurne and is only 14kms long. Through most of its length to is pleasantly overgrown and I am sure that on a sunny day is is beautiful.

It manages to have 10 bridges along its short length, half of which require opening to allow boats through. The bridge at Kellensaarbrug is broken, and propped (safely) open. Of course we were following Le Boat, so the lock-keepers-cum-bridge-openers were keen for us to pass through together – and the heavier Calliope travels at a slower speed than the plastic Le Boat to avoid destroying the canal banks – but we all got there eventually.

The arrival in Veurne is interesting, requiring a 180 degree turn into the ‘non-lock’, once it is opened, in order to get to the port. But then we were there, nicely moored under the trees on a quiet bend. Our home for two days!

We went and looked at the basin part of the port as well. Ben, the harbourmaster who also looks after Nieuwpoort, had asked us to moor on the pontoon and we could see why – the basin was filling up with boats that were wintering there for the next few months. Autumn is drawing in! (and only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the autumn gales)

The weather continued to be grey and wet. Nonetheless we had a bit of a walk round the town during and inbetween the showers. Veurne is an interesting town with plenty of intriguing buildings, but due to the rain I failed to get any photos apart from one of the station – such a huge edifice for a small town that I just had to!

So that was our last two full days in Belgium for a week or so. We were to leave Veurne heading for the French border on Friday. Typically the day was bright and blue – at first!

Luckily we had learned that in order to pass into France on the Nieuwpoort – Diunkerken Kanaal we had to phone or radio ahead a day or two in advance. This had been done on Wednesday, with a little difficulty! (Two phone numbers didn’t work and the one provided by Dunkirk port had an answering machine waiting for my halting French – but it worked!).

We wanted to get away on time to meet our VNF friend at the French border at 11am. However the first hurdle in Veurne is a lift bridge 200 yards form our mooring, and on phoning to request an opening we discovered that we would have to wait half an hour on a nice waiting pontoon while another bridge was repaired!

Eventually we got away and I grabbed a long distance photo of some of the towers and steeples of Veurne that I had missed during our visit.

Already the weather was turning grey as we steamed westwards away from the still rising sun and through the polders and farmlands of northern Belgium.

After about 8 kilometres we came to a footbridge that more or less marks the border, and slipped into France with just enough time to reach our VNF rendezvous. The story continues …. A bientot…..(with a French hat on the ‘o’)

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

.

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.

Moving on to Kortrijk- along the Upper Scheldt and Kanaal Bossuit-Kortrijk

10 – 12 July 2019

I am going to try to bring brevity into this edition. It is after all only 3 days long.

At 7.40am we turned into the Upper Scheldt, known as the Haut Escaut at its other end in France. We had been surprised at 6.30am to find we were going down the two big Peronnes locks immediately, and therefore were turning into the river less than an hour later. (see previous blog post)

The advantage to this? It meant we would arrive at the Neptune Chandlery and gasoil barge before it opened at 8, and be first in queue.

We pulled in alongside, tied up and had a cup of tea while we waited, only to find we were waiting at the BIG commercial barge pump (red diesel) and had to pull along to the the little leisure boat pump (white diesel).

Not a problem. By 8.45 both tanks were filled, I had bought bread at the adjacent Aldi, and we had added the two volumes of the De Rouck waterways map from Reims to Rotterdam plus a mop to our gazoil bill.

Calliope headed down the river, and towards Tournai, passing fortifications with a historical tale to tell, families of mixed geese, and working barges.

Tournai has been a favourite place for people to moor, but this year the whole pontoon is undergoing restoration work.

What amazed me is how the ancient 13th century three arched bridge is still standing with so many huge boats passing through over the centuries. Apparently it was raised 2.4m in 1948 to allow the bigger barges, but now it may need to be widened for today’s even larger working traffic.

After Tournai the riverside was more rural – poplars, villages, wild birds and fields.

But still plenty of boats, commercial and pleasure, queuing for the low drop locks along the way, that seemed to be very slow in operation,

Maybe because of the work being done alongside them.

Leaving the waiting area below Bossuit lock

Finally we made it to the Bossuit lock, and the turning into the canal. A quick chat with the lock keeper ascertained that they would like us to wait an hour and go up through the lock with a commercial barge. Naturally we agreed and moored up to wait.

I took the opportunity to go to the lock office and buy our Flanders vignette. Whilst it is free to cruise in Wallonia, there is a charge in Flanders (€85 for 3 months or €135 for 15 months). The two lock keepers were very pleasant and helpful, and before I left they suggested that we should lock-up immediately as the commercial barge had been delayed – probably back at the locks we had eventually passed through that afternoon!

So up we went, 9.49m, using good floating bollards that had a sloping cone on top to help the rope slip down properly. Good idea.

The reach above the lock was wide, calm, tree and duck lined, and with a pontoon mooring just waiting for two weary travellers who had been up since 6!

Is it any wonder that we decided to stay there an extra day and rest?

Although the rest was a bit more tiring than expected. We were still on a mission to get fresh milk for Stewart and I found a small Intermarche supermarket about a half hour’s bike ride away, according to Google Maps.

We obviously do not cycle at Google Map speed; after an hours ride, albeit mainly through lanes and farmland, we arrived. And they did not have fresh milk! But they did have sandwiches and cold drinks, so after finding a seat along the road we had lunch with close up view of the N391.

We did get back eventually and after a snooze we settled down to a mesmeric mindlessness, watching first a little red survey boat chug slowly in and out of the lock. Then later watching two coots doing what coots do best – work hard at making a totally inappropriate nest, even though it is all drifting up and down the canal as the flow changed direction.

Next day Kortrijk! I was up and ready, for a change, mariner’s pigtail a-flap. We knew the route – two more biggish wide locks in the company of the Bossuit lock keepers, and then 3 shallow narrow locks with a bicycling lock keeper alongside.

We were soon up through the first lock – one of those where you shift your rope up onto higher bollards in the wall as the lock fills – then the second, and reached the narrowing of the canal an hour before our appointed meeting with the cycling lock keeper.

There was nowhere at all to moor by the lock so the Captain turned round and we tied up by a road about 200 yards back. This gave me two opportunities. One was to walk rapidly to and from a bakery for good fresh Belgian bread.

The other was to grab photos of some wonderful bird life – families of baby coots with their red and yellow crowns, young moorhen walking on lily pads, and, never quite in focus, a grebe that was albino white on one side – very strange.

45 minutes later we saw the lock doors ahead opening – manually. We hadn’t seen that for a while. And what a narrow lock entrance it seemed! We went from 12.5m wide to 5.15m, and Cap’n Stu steered us in perfectly, missing the coot family swimming lesson.

After the ‘massive’ drop of 1.8m we came out into what felt far more like a UK canal in days gone by, narrow, overgrown and beautiful. It was a similar scene beyond lock 10, and by then we were in the outskirts of Kortrijk, passing old warehouses and barges.

Out onto the River Leie

Then the final little lock, still with our cheerful talkative lock keeper and his bike, at Sluis 11, out onto the river Leie and a hairpin turn to port into the original river bend where we were to moor. The main river now bypasses this short stretch to accommodate the large modern working barges.

We carefully went under the 3m bridge, watching intently our new PV panels on the wheelhouse roof. Phew, they fit. And glided into a lovely pontoon mooring from where we could explore the old town and watch the birds on the water.

First evening out in the town provided moor good Belgium beer, and this time the frites and mayo Stewart had been hoping for.

We stayed in Kortrijk for about 4 weeks, so a separate chapter will describe this lovely place, and then back to cruising. So just a taste of our Kortrijk experience for now.

So I regret it wasn’t brief, but hope it’s been enjoyable.

A river and three canals in a week!

Well not exactly complete rivers or canals, but we did steam along 53 kms of the Base Sambre river, 20kms of the Canal Charleroi à Brussels, and 24 kms of the Canal de Centre and 40kms of the Canal Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes

And that included an unplanned en panne two night stop, but more of that later.


This was the week that we left Namur on July 3rd, and on July 10th turned onto the Haut Escuaut river. It seems like a rush but there was still plenty to enjoy, including giving Calliope a bit of a scrub down as went along.

We quickly discovered that we were into a new kind of canal, far more industrial than we had been used to on the Meuse.

We were mostly sharing locks with huge 80m+ barges, and the locks themselves were larger, with massive doors, sometimes running sideways on gantries. We often felt very small!

The frequent juxtaposition of ancient, in this case an abbey, and modern waterways transport kept me on my camera toes.

Our first night out of Namur found us at Auvelais – a little town with enough of an edge to make it interesting. Of course Stu and I went for a walk round, and it was quickly apparent that a festival of some kind, including live music, would be taking place that weekend.

There was a second, road, bridge into the village that made it clear that quite rightly the UK was still a welcome part off the EU.

We also saw a somewhat strange statue; we had seen a similar one in Namur, including two large snails as well as the little man. I have Googled this and have not come up with much.

It’s labelled Jean le Porion.

Our actual mooring was in a short indent in the canalised – just big enough for us, another, old, beautiful barge and two cruisers; all friendly, but no time to make real friends.It was a mooring of two halves – the water was mostly peaceful and quiet; the trains running over the adjacent metal railway bridge were clattering and noisy.

Next morning we were the first ones away, with a lock waiting for us just round the corner and wanting to avoid joining a queue to get through. It was our anniversary that day, so we look forward to finding a nice peaceful mooring to gently celebrate.

The journey was along the Sambre until we reached Charleroi where we turned à droite to join the Charleroi-Brussels canal. Moving through Charleroi was a sad shock to the system. It has had a huge steelworks history, pretty much now all gone. It has been replaced by a scrap metal industry with barges moving different size pieces off metal up and down the river, gradually diminishing in size from whole cars to glittering fragments.

That evening turned out to be above Viesville lock, initially very peaceful, but later with giant barges gradually piling in around us. We raised our glasses to 32 years together, watching the boats, full of scrap metal, float by.

As we went to bed a HUGE barge came in to almost touch our bow; ten minutes later another came in at our stern, in a space that should not have been big enough, but, phew, it was!

Friday was to be and exciting day, our first ever in a boat lift, and this one is the second highest on the world! We cruised towards the boat lift on a perfect day – perfect for holidaying youngsters to be to learning to sail, canoe and wind surf.

As we approached they were gathered to one side of the canal by clucking smiley ‘mother hen’ tutors, and in some cases we seemed to leave young wind surfers scattered in our wake.

Just after this we turned onto canal 2 – the Canal de Centre. The waterway opened out wide and clear as we joined the new part of this canal, towards the boat lift. The old historic, narrower, branch of the canal is still open, where the descent of 240ft is actioned by 4 separate beautiful old boat lifts.

The original canal dates back to 1879; its locks and lifts were able to accommodate vessels of up to 300 tonnes. By the 1960s the European standard for barge traffic was 1350 tonnes, so a replacement was needed.

The new gate, or ‘porte’ leading to the boat lift

Not only was the new boat lift required, but also the width and the depth of the canal leading to it had to be increased plus a huge ‘gate’ to close of the water in case of damage to the boat lift structures. It has all worked, with river traffic going up from 256 kT in 2001 to 2,295 kT by 2006!

The 4 older lifts on the original canal became bypassed by the new canal and are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list, because of their architectural and historical value. They are well worth seeing and next time we will travel via the ‘historic canal’.

This is a not-very-good photo of the most downstream of the 4 old lifts, still in use.

As we excitedly approached the boat lift it became apparent that it was not working, with red lights everywhere. There were 2 commercial barges waiting and a small German yacht, so we moored up behind them and had lunch.

arriving at the top of Strepy-Thieu boat lift

Then we suddenly realised that only one side of the pair of lifts was out of operation. The lift on the side where we were waiting had been descending and coming back up while we ate lunch, and was now here to collect the first of two waiting commercial barges. I made a quick radio call to the lift operators and discovered there was room for us and the yacht to fit in as well.

Down we went – what an expereience, what engineering! Look it up – the L’Ascenseur Funiculaire de Strepy-Thieu.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usUwiL2NJiQ

leaving the boat lift

It was less of a good experience when we came out of the lift at the bottom. The Morse control (throttle and direction) became stuck in forward; the German yacht was dithering in front of us, and all Captain Stu could do was switch the engine off completely and glide, with no propulsion or steering, into the quay between the two lifts.

With a bit of adept rope throwing we managed to moor up. And there we were, stranded, broken down. A boat lift operator came to find out why we had moored in this inconvenient place, and on understanding the problem he became very helpful.

We were advised to raise a red distress flag – not the sort of thing we have on board, but a folded round red ensign worked on the mast, and my red dressing gown was ok at the stern!

After Stewart had done several checks, and I had made a few phone calls and requests to other Piper owners for advice, we realised that it was most likely the gear cable that had snapped of jammed. Of course it was a Friday afternoon. If anything goes wrong for us it is always a Friday afternoon, and you cannot get help until Monday.

Never mind; we reached a fabulous lady boat yard owner who said the would come on Monday with her mechanic and the correct Vetus cable; all would be well. In the meantime we could enjoy a weekend beneath the boas lift, once we had discovered how we could get out to buy food, and more importantly get back in. (We had moored within the fenced and locked compound of the boat lift where only those authorised could get in).

We got that sorted and my first walk discovered a friendly little supermarket in Thieu on one side of the canal.

The next day, Saturday, we walked to Strépy on the other side of the canal – and discovered that it was the weekend of the local fête, all along the side of the historic canal.  You want waffles?  You want frites? You want good Belgian beer, or kebabs, or dried sausages, or pastries?  It was all here, plus music, entertainment, and jolly people

That day we simply looked all round, bought lunch to much along the canal, and walked back to our stranded barge.

Next day we had a plan, starting with a visit to the Ascenseur visitor centre, which was just as interesting as you can imagine. Well worth the time and money, unless you don’t have a head for heights – the visitor centre is a long way up!

One of the boat lift machine rooms, seen from visitor centre

Then a walk back into Strèpy for the continuation of the fun.

It was even busier than the day before and after a good look round we found a quietest place with a seat, by a music stage and bought beer.

I was on a mission to try all the cherry flavoured Belgian beers I could find – not in one day!

We came happily back to Calliope, past one of the old lock houses on the historic canal.

Its a lovely walk, whether along the canal or though the outskirts of the village.

It was easy to find or way back – the boat lift towers over everything in there area. We snuck into the compound by moving Heras fencing, as instructed by the helpful boat lift operator. Without her help we would have had to be back by 1730 when they all go home on a Sunday.

And then it was Monday – boat repair day! We were so pleased to see Majorie and Julian, and even more pleased when it was evident that we had a snapped cable and that Julian could fix it for us. In no time at all, what we had waited for for two and half days was done, and we were able to sail away once more.

More work with scrap metal

Our last section of the Canal de Centre was industrial again. Two green grabbers having fun picking up and throwing graspfuls of old cars, bikes, and unrecognisable metallic mess – it looked like someone’s birthday Red Letter Day experience!

We discovered yet another way to open and close huge lock doors – this time by having them disappear underwater, only to reappear once the boats are in the lock. The photo doesn’t capture the majesty of the movement! (though it does show where a boat had tried to leave before he got the green light indicating the door was fully down and took out a section of the top railing; oops)

Then on to the end of the canal at Mons, where a huge basin includes a yacht club where we moored. There was a very strong wind blowing, luckily onto the low quay where we tied up. It was a pleasant place to stay the night, listening to waved slapping onto the side of the boat, reminiscent of our winter in Portsmouth Harbour.

We did do a bit of a walk in towards Mons town centre, mainly looking for a supermarket, but regret we did not get to the interesting parts – leave that for another day.

Mons is the point where Canal de Centre ends and Canal Nimy-Blatant-Peronnes begins, therefore on the Tuesday morning we were on the last of the 4 waterways in this chapter.

It was a day of bridges against the sky – one delightful outline after another. Here are a few to sample.

The cruising plan was to get most of the way along our 40kms of this canal, and finish it next day – and that is sort of what we did. We reached our plotted mooring at Weirs at about lunch time and, leaving the Captain to sort out our ropes (see above!) and in quite hot sun I marched the kilometre or two towards the village. I luckily found a Spar with ready made sandwiches after 20 minutes. That was lunch sorted!

Later that afternoon I took a walk over the bridge to a distillery marked on the map. It was a small family run business making liqueurs from fruit and spirits, including an excellent pear brandy! The entrance to the ‘maison’ was through a gate on wheels that must have stood there since the start of the company.

So there we were, heading towards evening, a dot below the bridge, and talking to our Swedish yachting neighbours. They had heard that there was a 6 hour queue to go down the next lock, and this was corroborated by friends who went by and sent back a message.

After 7pm, when the locks closed, the Swede decided to get down to the lock ready for the morning to be, he hoped, first in queue. Soon after one then another huge commercial barge went by, then another.

By 9pm my Captain had decided that we too should get down there too and be near the front of the next day’s queue, so, with dusk closing in around us, and with or navigation lights aglow, we steamed the 4kms to Pommereuil lock.

Would we find anywhere too moor or not – that was one questions, closely followed by what wold we do if there was no space? As we approached through the gloom it looked as if we had finally lucked out. We could see through our binoculars about 6 large 80m barges – three old them rafters up against each other due to lack of mooring space.

We knew there was also a small quay for leisure boats and hopes we could fit next to the Swedish yacht, but there was a second boat there. Then, as we closed in on the lock, a space opened up between barges 4 and 5! In almost darkness we tied up to a strange high quay, moving fenders into unusual places to protect us overnight. And so to bed, expecting a lie in and a long wait to lock down next day.

between the two Péronne locks

But the next day began somewhat differently. The skipper got up at 5.45 to monitor progress. Two more 80m commercials had arrived and were floating about midstream as the first in the queue opposite us had fired up his engines, slipped his ropes and started edging towards the gate. Interestingly though, there was also movement on the two smaller boats and when Stewart radioed the lock to tentatively ask if there might be room for the third little boat he was told ‘Ouis si vous est rapide!’

Well rapide we were, and being woken by our engines starting and a loud ‘Ey up we’re off’ I threw some clothes on and climbed up the the wheelhouse to find the skipper in his slippers squeezing us into the tightest of spaces beside the stern of the giant peniche.

leaving Péronne 1 at 6.13am

We came out of Péronnes lock 1 (12.5m) and across the pond towards Péronnes 2 (5.6m) as dawn began to clear the sky.

Not many up apart from the birds! This meeting between a heron and a cormorant looked conversational.

turning into the Haute Escaut river

And once through them both it was hard a’starboard onto the Haute Escaute river where a new adventure begins, and all still before 7am!

The river Meuse – La France a Belgique

Initially it didn’t seem so different, the change from the Canal de La Meuse to the actual river, probably because a lot of the canal section is actually on the river itself.

However as we progressed the geography changed hugely and spectacularly, as you will see.

We left Stenay after my early morning mammoth cycle ride up hill (again) to an Intermarché for a few essential supplies, including batteries for the bathroom scales s that I could find out of my diet and exercise efforts were making any difference at all. It was so nice to cycle before the heat rose – we were still in the middle of a major heatwave.

As we passed down the river we saw plenty of cows (and bulls) taking the sen foible choice, keeping cool in the river.

The day’s trip wound smoothly through meadows, past distant hills, and punctuated by stops at the locks. The high temperatures (34-36C) led to more than just cattle cooling off on the water!

By the time we reached our semi-wild mooring at Pont Maugis I too was ready for a dip. But first we moored up to two far apart bollards, half hidden in the grass and put up the parasol.

I left Captain Stu to have his siesta while I wandered off to have a swim. Should be easy enough when you are travelling on a river! But in fact I struggled to find a place where I could enter, and more importantly exit, the water. Eventually I found nice smooth stones down to the water’s edge next to the overflow from above the lock – mmmmm – cold clear bubbling water.

Later, after supper, I was off for a camera walk to see what I could make of the reflections and the sunset. The light was amazing, and everything so still.

In the morning we were off to Lumes. We had hoped for an early starter at least a 9am get away when the lock opened. But we were faced with a red light and had to wait until a lock keeper came at about 9.20, first to bring a boat up, before we could lock down.

We stopped along the way for a little shopping (beer running low with all this hot weather). We knew there was a pontoon by a supermarket, but when we got there we found that it was at a very strange angle, due to the low water in the river.

And soon after that we saw some goats on the bank – not a usual sight along the Marne.

We found the excellent Lumes pontoon without any problem, immediately recognising the one other boat moored up at the other end, but before reacquainting ourselves with our Piper friends it was time to get over the sweltering heat with another swim in the marvellous Meuse.

The next cool down was cold beer – Cherry beer for me once the froth died down! It was a new one from Borgogne; highly recommended to those who like fruit flavoured beer.

The evening continued by taking advantage of the unexpected and delightful meeting with Vicky and Guy on Manuka; a great catch up on French barging experiences over the past three years.

The DBA guide had an entry telling us to expect lots of kingfishers; sadly we did not see any, and in fact this year has been particularly devoid of them, but at twilight we did get a roosting stork just across the river.

Even after the beer, rosé wine and jollity I still managed a quick walk round Lumes before nightfall – a small village, but evidently one with some history.

It was just a one night stop, setting off towards Chateau-Regnaut next day. The style of lock houses changed again, and we really began to notice the drop in water level in the river. At the lock on the photo above the ladder steps that should reach down under the water to help people get out, now end above the water level. Hope I don’t fall in!

We came down through the deeper locks of Charleville, but saw almost nothing of the town because the main loop of the river through the city has been cut off by a new shortcut.

We started to see ever more spectacular views laid out before us from the top of each lock, and a wonderful stick dinosaur skeleton at the entrance to a lock cut!

We were lucky again with a nice pontoon mooring at Chateau-Regnaut, with a neighbourly noisy frog in the evening , and inquisitive greedy geese in the morning.

It was still very hot – so much so that it was affecting the geraniums, which usually thrive in a Mediterranean style climate, so much soaking required. Suits me – anything that gets me into or almost into the water.

We went for our customary walk around village as usual, calling in at the Capitainerie on the other side of the river next to the camper van park. She had helpfully lent us the correct connector to the water supply when she came for the tarif. As we crossed back over the bridge our shadows were starkly delineated by the high bright sun.

There was a fair amount of crashing and banging early next morning, from the opposite bank. I had read that the region was famous for its metal work; I should have recognised the logo symbol on the factory wall!

The village obviously celebrated its metal-ness with this fabulous 9 foot high horse.

As we left Chateau-Regnaut we were starting to see the Belgian influence in the gable ends of houses, and also rather liked the very art deco municipal baths

A bit further along the river bank I saw some intriguing parts of the river’s history. Above are photos of a lovely old lock wall, made of individual stones. We also passed a fascinating, complicated, still in use, sluice mechanism; it was being used as we went by.

Then there was my greatest excitement – a pile of needles for an aiguille (or needle) weir. These weirs have always appeared to me, but have largely disappeared and are replaced with modern technology weirs.

They comprise of a complete wall of wooden needles, with walkway behind, and were operated by a man (think it was always a man) walking along and adding or removing needles to control the flow of water – a very dangerous job in some weathers.

There’s link below to a 9 minute explanation (in French) of how they are built.

We kept being amazed by the wondrous scenery. Round every bend, and from the top of each lock, we were stunned into silence by yet another vista of blues and greens, with occasional villages and spires.

At Dames des Meuses lock there is an old pont-levée, seemingly always open, pushing its rusty metalwork into the sky, and just nicely setting off the Captains’s neat rope work.

And we glided out of that lock into more scenery to gawp at, including a lovely topiary effect on the top of the hill.

Later that morning we arrived in Revin, passing the tunnel on our right that we would go through the next day (see boat just coming out of the tunnel channel) and wondering if we would find a place to moor the other side of the bridge.

Our hot spirits raised as we saw a long empty stretch of quay! (Yes, the heatwave was still on). Not long before I had found a boulangerie with a ham baguette for Stewart’s lunch and some delicious ‘pain complet’ for me to have with hummus and salad.

Revin is a very well run port. It is totally enclosed, with code numbers for the gates, a pleasant garden, tables and chairs in the shade, and the usual showers etc. It was €14 a night for our 20m boat, worth every penny.

Once fed, watered and rested we went shopping. That’s met a usual past time for us but Stu needed some cool short sleeved shirts and there was a clothing superstore within a 5 minute walk.

We also managed a good food shop, stocking up so that we could aim for rural moorings over the next few days.

Work done we decided that our walking tour of the old town, the other side of the river, should include a beer and a pizza. Both were easy to find, and worth the walk.

Back on board, with the sun going down and night drawing in, Stewart spotted a young cormorant that had flown up onto a high branch instead of going back to nest with its mother. It was there for ages – and not there in the morning, so we presume all was well in the end.

There was a shiny metallic smooth sheen to the water in the morning; a lovely backdrop to breakfast, before another boulangerie trip, which this time included some galettes de Revin, to be enjoyed next time we have visitors.

Off we set for our trip through the tunnel , which began by Calliope needing to make a 180 degree turn into the tunnel channel. Always fun being cross ways to the stream, wondering if anything will come speeding round a bend into you. But all was well and we were back onto the river with its mountain high tree covered banks, blue sky, and more hot hot sun.

We hadn’t encountered a broken lock for some time, so it was a bit of a surprise. Stewart managed to out me ashore to walk up and phone for assistance (no mobile reception out where we were), at which point I discovered a cross and overheated German man, whose boat was stuck at the bottom of the lock; he had been waiting for an hour for service, (‘shitting in the shade’ as he told me!)

The wait was not so bad for me with shade, several ripe cherry trees, and an old sluice to keep me amused. In fact the VNF man arrived within ten minutes and we were soon on our way again.

We arrived in Heybes, thinking we would stop there just for lunch, but we settled into the mooring, realised it was still hot and we were tired, and decided to stay the night.

Heybes and surrounding area is famous for its slate mines, so it was not surprising to see some wonderful slate roofs, this one being the town hall.

What a history this village has. Heybes is another of these villages totally destroyed in WW1. across a period of just 3 days in August 1914 the village was bombed and burnt to the ground with 600 houses destroyed and 61 civilians killed. I am pleased to say that it is now rebuilt and thriving.

Prior to the war the village had 8 lavoirs. Once there was a new water supply it was thought that only one was needed, and this was rebuilt into the slope up to a higher row of houses. The image on the left is as it is now; the one on the right is from the past, with lavoir half way down the hill in the same position.

The walk round this village was disturbed by a loud revving of motor bike engines. Closer inspection revealed a biker’s wedding at the church, with all their friends outside revving their bikes. The bride and groom sped away helmet-less on a Harley, she in high heels.

Still on our mission to reach Lille we again only stayed the one night. As we began the next day’s journey I spotted a fishing party camped out in a picturesque curve of the river – a heavenly spot.

We were now heading for the Ham tunnel, a 500m tunnel that saves a 8km loop in the river.

The entrance to the cut leading to the tunnel had an other old pont levée, left continuously in a part open position, maybe signifying the height of the tunnel to come!

Here we are going into the tunnel entrance. It has an interesting ‘ceiling’ roughly hewn out of the solid rock and unlined most of the way through, among for rather uneven heights along the way.

Coming out of the tunnel is quite an experience as you go straight into a lock, and look out over a wide valley, with a different landscape.

That was our last lock down into the town of Givet with its towers and its citadel up on the hill – but more spectacular citadels are to come.

We moored on the quay opposite the main marina, which only has space for smaller boats, but we had our very own ladder to climb off and on and were quite happy there.

As evening drew on we watched storm clouds gather – and indeed rain did, at last, fall that night, thank goodness! The heatwave was ending.

Next day saw another change. Suddenly we were amongst the big boys! Just down from Givet is the écluse named les 4 Chiminées. This has been brought up to European standards, so the large commercial barges can now come to the port there, loading, unloading, and feeding the swans!

From now on we would be sharing the water and locks with these sturdy guys.

And a third big change was the change of country. Our last lock in France and into Belgium we go! Wallonia to be precise.

Lots of things seemed different – the width and length of the locks, the shape and size of the lock gates, the sudden surprise when a huge quiet barge creeps up behind to share the lock with you.

Commercials have the right of way, and this definitely slowed our progress on this stretch. We waited 40 minutes at the forest lock, another 30 at the next, both for barges to come up, and for barges to join us to go down.

All good testing experiences. (ok that’s not a sentence because it hasn’t got a verb, but it works for me.)

I have mentioned the landscape becoming more cliff like, and so much so that it attracts lots of climbers. These are the Rochers de Freyr, south of Dinant. There is a climber in the top left photo, so small she was like a spider on a wall.

It turned out to be a long long day, mainly due to waiting at locks, so we were pleased to arrive at Dinant. We used advice from another bargee about where to moor and were pleased we had used his choice. We had the best views across the river to the Dinant citadel and church, away from the bustle of quayside bars and restaurants. And – after looking at an increasingly faded French courtesy flag for 3 or 4 years – we have a new shiny Belgian one.

I think we all know that the Belgians are famous for their beer, so no surprise that we found this shop, but did not dare go inside! It turns out that Dinant is the famed home of one of the most widespread Belgian beers – Leffe – which was brewed at the Abbey on the outskirts of the town. I dont know what the monks would think of the modern brews like Rituel (subtle flavours of fruit and bitter spices) or Radieuse (delicate hints of citrus and coriander seeds), but I plan to try them.

Stewart began the tasting experience with a Leffe blond outside the restaurant where we had our dinner. I had a Picon beer, more common in the north where it they also serve Picon wine.

And for me the first dinner in Belgium had to be moules, this time with garlic and cream. Mmmmm. Tasty.

But Dinant is famous for something else too – something I had no idea about beforehand.

The saxophone.

There were saxophones everywhere – madly coloured ones that somehow represented all different countries round the world, silhouettes attached to lamp posts, a huge glass one in front of the town hall, and one in the arms of Adolph Sax’s statue next to where he was born.

The moules gave me such energy that I washed down one side of the boat with these amazing views to keep me company as evening wore on.

We set off early (for us) with our first Belgian baguette, in the hope of avoiding too many commercials – we love them really and think it is great that so much is transported on the water, but …… it can seriously delay our journey.

As we left we saw the Leffe abbey, in the distance, so not a good photo.

The shapes of the roofs became more and more ‘Belgian’ – of course. There were some lovely designs, and only a very few shown here. I do love the bell shapes either side of the house in the bottom photo.

Although the scenery had changed to a degree we still saw some high tree clad hills, often with a row of houses clinging near the top. They must have fabulous views down over the river valley.

It was not to far to cruise the final part of our La Meuse journey. Arriving in Namur, we chose to go round the corner into the start of the Basse Sambre river where a) it seemed quieter, b) no fee to pay, and c) away from the big commercial barges, or so we thought!

Within minutes we discovered out was not as quiet as we thought! Barge after barge, laden and empty, growled past, but not upsetting in any way. Didn’t even upset my mug of tea.

In habitual form we went off to take a look at the city, and sample more Belgian beer in a different shady square – this time an Houppo beer for Stu – and for me a Pineau de Charente; very nice.

We were moored beneath the Citadel – an amazing piece of architectural fortification and history. The signs around the citadel approach told me that the original citadel dates to Roman times. It achieved its present extent in the 17th century. under Dutch control. Eventually it became part of a new ring of forts around Namur to prevent the city from being attacked with artillery.

My evening walk was a march up to the top of the hill and a march down again, swapping photos with Stewart who was on the boat down below. One or other of us is in each of these photos (mostly me, sorry)

The view from the top out across the city roofs is panoramic and worth the climb. I would spend longer there next time, and go in the day time when the locked up bits are open!

So ends our Meuse meander, although to be fair, turning the corner onto the Sambre meant that we had already left the Meuse; maybe I should not have included these final photos. Well Namur is on the Meuse; it was just us who were now on the Sambre, which is the next, shorter, chapter.

Heading north up La Meuse part 1

The waterways comprising La Meuse include the river itself, the Canal de la Meuse, called, prior to 2003, the Canal de l’Est Northern branch. At the same time the southern branch was renamed the Canal des Vosges. Together they formed a 245 mile long canal within the Franco Prussian border.

This part, Part 1, is about our travels on the Canal de la Meuse – the northern branch.

June 19 – June 26 2019

Leaving Void-Vacun under storm skies

It was time to change canals – always interesting to find out what the new waterway will be like.

Propping up the bridge

We left Void, still on the Canal de La Marne au Rhin, first thing, passing under the bridge that was closed the day before, and which clearly still has more work to be done.

After a sort stretch we found ourselves on a short aqueduct over a river (was it La Meuse) before needing to take a share left hand turn onto our new canal. I rather liked the geometric Art Deco style of the aqueduct railings.

And immediately our first lock was upon us, opened by our nice new yellow zapper. We could see close by a huge cement factory that appeared to utilise stone and/or chalk from close by quarries.

When we got to the second lock we were right alongside the said cement factory, listening to the grinding of its huge evolving tubes. Everything, and I mean everything, was covered by varying depths of fine white powder. The whole factory was white, almost ghostly.

Our zapper quickly had the lock doors open, we were in, tied up, and Calliope decended to the bottom …. but the down stream lock doors remained closed.

Luckily I was above the lock, waiting to walk the kilometre to the next one, so could easily go to the ‘Aide’ button and call for help. But poor Stu was down in the depths, and then it began to rain! No matter – within a few minutes the VNF Service van arrived and we were on our way – all the way to lock 3 where the upstream lock doors didn’t open.

Once more I was above the lock, having walked from the previous one, and on the intercom again for Service!

All of these halts gave me a chance to take a look at the lock door make-up on this canal – and we were back to the metal doors that I had not see for some time; great big plates of metal, riveted together.

We did far better from then on, and at lock 4 we enjoyed the shapes and arches of the three bridges after the lock. (Touch to port skipper….)

We arrived at Eaville where we wanted to stop, and after a French family kindly moved their cruiser back a couple of bollards we were able to tie up for lunch and for the night – just before the next lock.

Those morning storm clouds continued to gather and soon after lunch the first of several thunderstorms passed across and we were pleased we’d elected to stay put.

Eaville church

We found time during one of the drier moments to walk the kilometre up to the village of Eaville, looking for fresh milk (no luck). We did find quite a grand church for such a small place, with a bike on display in front, (see bottom left) to promote the fact that the Tour de France would be passing through the village soon.

Next day we set off as soon as the locks opened, but not as early as the three boats already waiting below the lock to ascend once we were out of the way. Where had they come from??

We were moving along between pastures and villages in a distinctly river fashion, rather than canal …

…. and indeed the Meuse river joined and left us as she meandered slowly down hill. The junctions were all different – and as the weather kept changing the light in the photos is all different too.

Stopped off in Commercy long enough to do a quick shop in Aldi, which is right by the quay (no fresh milk there either), and then I walked up into town to look for madeleines as this is the town where they were invented. But would you believe it, unless I wanted to buy a kilo of them I couldn’t have any – except fancy gift wrapped ones!

One woman lavoir – I can’t help but wonder who it was for.

Then on we went downstream, passing at one lock the smallest lavoir I have seen so far – a one person lavoir!

The river/canal had some interesting quirks, like this railway bridge on an S bend, which as you come downstream you can hardly see! It is overhung with foliage, and the railings to the walkway through bear testimony to the number of boats that have bumped along the side on their way through.

I enjoy seeing the differences between canals in all kinds of ways. On this canal the lock houses are more cottage like, but still have an extra floor at the back on the slope down from the canal. They have the name of the lock engraved in stone above the door, a nice touch in this area of quarries.

We do get animal moments along the way! This little collection includes a young fox being seen off by a pair of magpies (the fox seems slightly bemused); a nesting grebe guarding an entrance to La Meuse river; and some inquisitive young cattle that I encountered on a rural bike ride to a supermarket!

Back to the journey! We were heading for St Mihiel, and hopefully a mooring in the town – but that was not to be. At least I caught sight of the local lavoir, unusual with its two slender central columns supporting the roof.

Just beyond St Mihiel we saw a possible mooring, at the edge of a rather run down looking campsite. It looked a bit shallow and the bollards were set back from the edge, so we came in slowly and all was doing well until I dropped a fender in the water, and got stranded on the land, and lost my rope all while the current was gently easing the boat back out into the river. Oops. Second time round was thankfully accomplished with more dignity.

The manager was out playing table tennis 50 yards from the quay, so I asked him if it was ok to moor. “bien sûr” was the reply.

Settling down with a cup of tea we noticed wed were directly opposite a peaceful WW1 cemetery, the white crosses and Islam markers shining against the grass. So many of these in the area – such a waste of young lives.

Before the afternoon was over I jumped on the bike and cycled off to the Intermarché while the skipper did manly things down in the engine room – a 9 minutes cycle ride from the boat according to Google Maps. After 25 minutes, much uphill, and getting lost twice I found it and hooray, they had fresh milk! It was on the way back down tracked between fields that I found the aforementioned cattle.

Next day, and the next lock, held a surprise – we had forgotten that the zapper was to be redundant for a while and we were back to manual lock keeping.

This has disadvantages – progress is slower – and advantages – we get to step off and do some turning of handles to open and close the lock gates.

The scenery along the Meuse is superb, pastoral, open and wide, often with a church spire or two to break up the horizon. There will be more examples to follow!

And we saw strange things like a tractor being ‘storked’ and an old tree that from a distance looked like an olive tree – perhaps someone will put me right as I don’t expect an olive tree in the middle of of a field of cows in north east France.

Lunch time was spent at Ambly-sure-Meuse, a grassy mooring at the edge of a small village recreation ground. Despite its small size Ambly does have a boulangerie so déjeuner requirements were met.

We hadn’t seen a boat since we left St Mihiel, but suddenly after lunch we passed quite a few, all in pairs – maybe on their way to find Noah’s ark (rather a tenuous connection). Many were cruisers, many looking similar and many from Holland, so we began to wonder if they were hire boats. But also a pleasant surprise – another Piper Boat, Tadham Castle.