Calliope check – two winter trips to Kortrijk

The December Trip – shopping

During the 5 month winter season we made two trips out to check on Calliope – and to enjoy the city of Kortrijk too. The first trip was in December. We had thoughts of enjoying a Christmas Market and buying some unusual presents for all and sundry – that bit didn’t quite work out but we had an enjoyable few days just the same.

Leaving home on a winter’s morning, bound for Belgium

The ferry trip and road journey was uneventful and we arrived in Kortrijk with enough daylight to see that the pontoon and Calliope’s deck were nestling under a blanket of leaves; Autumn had visited during our absence! Sweeping to be done.

It was quite cold and wintery outside, but down below, the the stove going, a cup of tea and a hot water bottle I soon felt snug. I love being aboard in winter; she’s such a warm boat to live on.

Once I started clearing off the leaves it became apparent that quite a lot of dust and grit had arrived with the foliage – hmmmm, extra cleaning tools required! But there was an artistic element to the affair – the leaves had left stencilled imprints across the roof, some worthy of photography.

Looking better with barge and pontoon cleared of fallen leaves

Our few days in Kortrijk gave time to see the Christmas illuminations – very pretty, and here are just a few. The Broel Towers and the covered ice rink in the Grote Markt with its guardian reindeer were especially lovely.

Disappointingly the 2019 Christmas Market was a lot smaller than normal, and in a large marquee. However the atmosphere within the marquee was good, with gluwein abundantly available, and music, dancing, food and gifts happening too.

We had a chance to catch up with some boating friends up and down the pontoon, hearing about the weather we had missed and the weather still to come. It’s good to know that friends are keeping an eye on your boat while you are away.

The best three boat watchers for us are Martin and Sally on the permanent mooring behind us, and Peter whose barge is moored ’round the corner’ on the canal. Not every day was gloomy; I took a sunny opportunity to catch a photo of Martin and Sally’s boat just 50 yards away.

They invited us, and Peter, to lunch aboard one day – a wonderful lunch that started at 1pm and had us staggering home at 2100. We started our Christmas celebrations early!

And then it was time to set off home. We had a beautiful calm ferry crossing, with one great excitement when we spotted whales off the starboard bow! (No photo to prove it – sorry.)

Back in Gosport we were soon into full swing for Christmas decorations, card writing, present wrapping, and general family fun – no time at all to miss Calliope.

The February Trip – servicing

The main reason for the timing of this trip was to coincide with our good friends Ian and Nicky travelling north from their barge in Auxonne to spend a few days with us. It was so good to spend a few days with them, rather then the usual few hours.

And on top of that, Ian is a time served marine engineer, willing and more than able to help Stewart service the boat engine, advise on other maintenance issues, and problem solve a couple of niggly bits! [Ian has now set up a small business servicing and repairing boat engines in France and England – send me a message if you want his details – he is good!]

We left our winter ‘mooring’ in Gosport with the sun rising golden above Portsmouth. I must explain that our winter ‘mooring’ is tethered to the ground – a house – but at least it looks out over water!

Captain and crew (or Communications Officer as I am apparently to be known) arrived a couple of days ahead – long enough to warm up Calliope, get some provisions aboard, and become reacquainted with this lovely city.

Once Nicky and Ian arrived, with dogs Freddy and Milly, the fun could begin in earnest. Evening one was a short introduction to Kortrijk, it’s local beer (Omer) and our favourite bar by the station – followed by an enormous meal of ribs and frites!

A fair amount of Belgian beer had been sampled before we slightly staggered home.

Next day had to begin with work for the engineers. Luckily Nicky and I don’t fall into that category so we took the dogs for a walk along the river, and then headed into town for a look round – a good mix of history and food.

By late afternoon the mechanical stuff was done – engine oil changed, gear box oil changed, filters replaced, tensions checked, rudder stock greased, engine mountings tightened, and a needy home found for a spare nut found on the floor! At last the marine-engineer-in-chief was free to join in the Kortrijk walk-about.

The delights of Belgium – waffles, chocolate and beer!

We did walk along the river, stare at some of the beautiful old buildings, read some of the history, and listen to the carillon on the Groot Markt. But the weather was miserable, so after some shopping to buy chocolates for the family (funny how much tasting one has to do) we retired to a waffle shop with the unlikely name of Lord Nelson!

As always I went OTT with my waffle, this time covered in really good fresh fruit, with a side of advocaat custard to pour on top – het was lekker! (Ah, my Dutch lessons are paying off at last).

Back to Calliope and the Captain, who had remained on board. It was time for a glass of wine while we waited to eat the massive and delicious lasagne that Nicky had brought with her.

Milly was official observer.

Sunday, another grey day, allowed time for a couple of niggles to be problem solved – a radiator not keen on heating up, and a light that had stopped coming on (no, not needing a new lamp!) Super hero Ian sorted both of these while Nicky and I walked the dogs and bought bread and sausages before a giant English/Belgian fry up brunch. Mmmmm!

More walking was required to make room for the planned evening meal – pizza at our favourite Kortrijk pizzeria. Thanks Nicky for the photo.

Next day our guests were due to leave. But it was Monday, market day, so we walked round all the stalls before they left. I bought new white asparagus for a risotto later, and further chocolate purchases were made too. Then it was time to wave them all good-bye.

The weather had not being very kind over these few days, but soon after Ian and Nicky departed the sun came out and blue skies prevailed. Looking up and down the river Leie form the boat all was calm and beautiful, for a while.

And then hail blasted down, making a right racket on the roof and turning the pontoon slippery with ice. Winter still had a grip on Kortrijk, but all was to carry on warm and welcoming below.

The Bossuit-Kortijk kanaal, where Peter keeps his barge

That afternoon Sally, Martin and Peter, three friends from other barges, came round for a catch-up-chat and cup of tea, which became a glass of wine, and slid imperceptibly into more wine, asparagus and parmesan risotto, and the remains of tiramisu and rijstaart from the days before; more good times with friends.

Stu and I were left with one last day to tidy up and pack up before we were making the return journey to the UK. The servicing of the engine had identified a few things we needed to buy – anti freeze, some spare fuses, filler – so we walked a couple of kilometres to Plan-It, a DIY store. The walk back was less fun. Why didn’t I realise how much a 5L container of anti freeze would weigh?

But it gave us an excuse to stop along the way for lunch in our second favourite fritteur, by the station. And this was the first of four days of fish and chips for me!

Back aboard we settled down to enjoy our last evening and night on Calliope for a few weeks. In the morning we packed the car and by 9.30 we were on the road to Dunkirk and our ferry.

The ferry was a bit late, but once aboard we grabbed our favourite seat in the restaurant and I soon had my second plate of fish and chips before me – actually the best fish and batter off the four days.

Exploring the ship I discovered that one area had recently been refurbished and now housed a pizza and pasta café. Of course it was too late for our meal for this trip, but definitely one to try out in future.

The other discovery was a secret corner to sit in, with big comfy chairs, and a round window through which to view the channel.

So here to finish this min-trip are a series of ‘through the round window’ images.

And now we are back home, waiting and planning for a few weeks before the 2020 voyage towards The Netherlands begins, with a ‘bottom-blacking’ experience booked into a boatyard near Gent beforehand. This will be a whole new country experience for us – new lock and bridge systems, mooring rules, and finding our way around shops, bars and restaurants. Bring it on!

Juillet sur le Midi and la mer

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

This photo is just part of the special purchase.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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Poilhes mooring

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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St Paul arrives back at the church

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Our grande finale on Canal de Garonne

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

Agen viaduct fireman

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

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

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

Agen, leaving, end of flight

Looking back at Agen from the last of the lock chain

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

Leaving Agen flight

Under bridge; turn to starboard!

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

Serignac mooring

The popular Serignac mooring

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

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

Serignac close mooring

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

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

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

Serignac party

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

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

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

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

Buzet, Passing lock down to Baize

The lock leading down to la Baize at Buzet

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

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

Lock 39 Baize

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Damazan frog

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

Mas-d'Agen mooring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunset over la Garonne

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

Leaving Le Mas-d'Agenais

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

 

 

 

 

dragonfly on geranium

dragonfly on geranium

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

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

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

Meilhan-sur-Garonne  coming into

coming into Meilhan-sur-Garonne

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

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

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

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

Stu walked up ……

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecluse 50 cafe

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

Heron near lock 50

Heron near lock 50

…. and a brave young heron near another.

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

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

Dovecote near lock 49

Dovecote near lock 49

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

Fontet, past, weed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castets-en-Dorthe eclusiers house 52/53

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

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

Castets flood scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castets mooring

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

Castets storm sunset

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

Castets turning to leave

Castets – Stu turning to go East

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

Castets, entering lock

Goodbye Castets; Calliope enters the lock heading East

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

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

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

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

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

Heading l’Oeust from Moissac to Agen – Canal de Garonne part 3

swing bridge Moissac

Swing bridge opens for us to leave  Moissac

Leaving Moissac, and the operator of the swing bridge spies us out of her little green window, sopping the traffic for Calliope to glide through.

next_to_the_tarn

First three kilometres alongside le Tarn, then a huge widening of the river waters as le Tarn joins la Garonne.

The Garonne continues next to the canal for another five kilometres, always just in sight through the trees, and less than 50 yards away.

Ecluse 27 Petit Bezy

Ecluse 27 Petit Bezy

There are not many locks along this stretch,  but this one at Petit Bézy must have been important at some time join the past. as evidenced by the much larger lock keeper’s house.

Good to see that someone is loving in this one – so many are abandoned and boarded up.

And while I am talking lock language, I noticed on this gentle journey that the locks on this canal have been extended at some point in time – you can see where the old gates used to be and the change in construction materials beyond to the ‘new’ gatess.

ecluse_pomevic

Abandoned little Pommevic lock keepers house

We had half a plan to moor up at Pommevic, having heard that it was a delightful rural mooring.

S and L cruisingFrom the little Pommevic lock onwards we had our eyes trained forward. We were therefore initially disappointed to see the small pontoon already taken by another boat, and on room for us. However a different, and in many ways better, mooring was in store four kilometres further on at Valence-d’Agen.

valence_arrival

Looking across to the port at Valence-d’Agen

At first we thought there was not space for us here either, but after passing three beautiful barges on the left bank pontoon and quay we found there was room for us on the grass bank beyond.

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Valence-D’aged first mooring

Two helpful bargees emerged from the other boats to help with ropes and we were soon secure.

For us Valence-d’Agen was a great town to visit. For a start it has three lavoirs for lavoir loving Lesley! These were built sequentially as the town officials gradually cleared swampy land around the town and looked for healthier, cleaner lavoir sites.

(Sorry, I have to include a few details from the lavoirs, including me enjoying being there!)

Then it has two market places, both with character, and plenty of interesting streets in-between. There are enough shops, bars and restaurants to more than satisfy our simple tastes so we stayed for four sunny warm days.

The church is visible from may directions, including from our mooring, and has a great modern twist outside the back door – not sure if it is the Madonna and Child…..

Parallel to the Canal de Garonne from PK74 up to and past Valence is a second canal – Canal de la centrale nucléaire. This takes waters from la Garonne to the nuclear power station, and re-enters le Garonne further downstream. I walked back to the old bridge to try to photograph bot canals together, but not possible from my vantage point.

valence_aground

Our mooring experience was mixed – finding ourselves aground after night one (the water level dropped about a foot, possibly with farmers irrigating crops), then afloat again after some judicial re-tethering by Stu.

After the second night one of the other barges moved on and we took a backward step – of about 30 yards – to moor up in their place on a wooden jetty with our own little wooden steps. Progress has been wonderfully slow and relaxed this year, though today was the first time we actually went backwards. . . . .  

A relaxed Captain makes for contented crew; we have our own ways of relaxing, some of which coincide!

We were not the only ones to enjoy the sun either – lots of dog walking going on, and one dog in particular whose love of life and water had us smiling for ages.

Before we left we were able to see the market places in action with a very good large market, full of local produce, wine, kitchenware, beds, tablecloths …..

In some ways we were sad to leave, but we knew further treats were in store so we headed on WNW with another half plan. This time we were aiming for another peaceful stopping place by le lac bleu.

golfech_church

We passed by Golfech, a little village now dominated by the cooling towers of the nuclear power station.

golfech_bridgeIt was at Golfech that I finally got to grips with the PK markers on this canal – they are displayed on bridges to the third decimal place – how’s that for French accuracy? Not the only thing to be displayed as you can see.

And each kilometres is marked by a metal plate on the ground, not easily seen by passing barges!

At le lac bleu again we were thwarted by another barge, but who can blame other bateliers from choosing the same good spots?

Then we had a serendipitous moment – at first frighteningly bad. We were viewing a potential, but seemingly unsuitable, grass bank mooring opposite a winding hole when the engine began to screech. Stu and I looked at each other in surprise and he quickly switched to neutral which stopped the noise. As soon as he tried to engage the gear, forward or astern, the screeching returned.

Magistere mooring 2He decided to edge into the bank spot that we could stop and investigate, requiring an interesting leap ashore with two ropes, a hammer and a spike between the teeth for me – well, sort of! Anyway, once moored up we investigated the weed hatch, which is where I come into my own.

Weed!I LOVE clearing weed hatches! And there was quite a lot of weed. Stu tried the engine again – all was quiet so we relaxed into having lunch, then relaxed into liking the mooring, and then stopped three nights!

We walked into the local village, Lamagestère, to find we had a small supermarket, boulangerie, station, and a lovely waterfront with la Garonne flowing steadily by (with the nuclear power station calling towers in the background).

It’s a bit of a trek along the canal bank from the bridge to the barge – only 150 yards, but a relatively unused pathway.

Lamagistere mooring 2

The Google maps aerial view gives the mooring its context within the landscape – consider the blue dot to be Calliope!

claremont_soubiran_2Another afternoon we walked in the other direction, north to a hilltop village we could see a couple of kilometres away – Claremont-Soubiran. It was quite a climb on a hot day, but an amazing view for the top.

claremont_soubiranAlong a plateau from the village stretches an Italianate looking green, part of the estate around the chateau being to Les Deux Soeurs, who have a vineyard making luxury wines. Unfortunately it was closed for tasting and buying when we got to the top!

Just a few of the creatures we saw along the way. No, we can’t smuggle the donkey onto the boat . . . . 

It was SO hot for the first couple of days at Lemagistère that we had to take defensive action!

Lamagistere rain

Our stay was partly marked by the unworldly piping song of an unknown bird, which we now believe to be a golden oriole.

But our last day at there was marked by unrelenting pouring rain; a day for reading and catching up with the blog!

 

 

Lamagistere last morning

Next morning the sun shone again, through a watery blue sky ….

Stu and weed

… and Stewart was able to clear the weed that had build up around the boat before we set off. (Yes, it’s blurry, but it is an action shot after all).

We were off on a 14 kilometre stint, with only two locks, to take us to the outskirts of Agen; a gentle day.

Le Garonne wove close and away again as we travelled, at times so close that only the  railway line separated us.

Lock restaurantAt écluse 33, St-Christophe, at Mouynes the ex-lockkeeper’s house was large enough to be converted into a restaurant, probably due to the importance of keeping the river and canal part just along here.

Kingfisher

Yes, a kingfisher

Just after Lock 33 we got all excited to see a kingfisher, the first for some weeks. My attempts at photographing kingfishers are many and pathetic; I promise this is a live kingfisher in that tree!
Boé chateau

As we rounded the curve to Boé –  we passed by the chateau, cleverly hidden from the canal by mature trees.

Initially we were not sure about mooring here; as mentioned on the DBA site the little port has been fitted out with pontoons for small boats, plus the stretch beyond the port was occupied by one (soon to be two) hotel barges.

 

 

Boé mooring

Boé mooring

However we moored up above the port between two strategically placed thorny bushes – just the right length for us.

Boé storm cloudsThe weather was still trying to make its mind up as we went for a walk to explore the area – mainly a little dormitory town with a big out of town commercial centre. We were doing fine, missing most of the rain, although we did resort to a bus shelter for a few minutes.

We took the opportunity to reconnoitre ahead and see what moorings were to be had in Agen. The bus trip was simple and cheap – about 20 minutes for 1.20€ each way.

The buildings of Agen are full of historic interest. I only show a few as an example, but the narrow curved streets are ancient and deserve exploration.

We treated ourselves to lunch out in one of the restaurants under the colonnades – a marvellous meal that advertised itself as local produce, prepared from A to Z on the premises, without freezers or microwaves. The menu du jour allowed us two starters each as well as a main and a dessert – and to my amusement coffee was served with a prune. Of course; Agen is the prune capital of the world.

Agen music 2By chance Agen was hosting a weekend of music, the Folies Vocales, with seven stages set up through the city and other events inside. We both like music, but with Stu wanting to get back to the boat I stayed on to enjoy some jazz and some blues – at one point the band left the stage and played amongst the audience.

Agen mooring 1Back to Boé for our second night there, and to prepare for the next day’s move into Agen. Our voyage was to be a short one – just up to Agen basin where we hoped to find the same nice spaces we had spotted the day before; luckily we did.
Once moored up we went to do a spot of shopping in the market (great little indoor and outdoor markets).

Agen passerele over railwayTo reach the city centre we crossed the canal and also the mass of railway lines at Agen station, using a 1930’s footbridge which forbids the ‘circulation’ of bikes and motorbikes. The lovely sign is definitely showing its 80 year old age.

Agen prune stallAt the market I discovered that there is such a person as a Prunelier, who specialises in all things prune.

 

Then after lunch, back to the music festival. There were all sorts of music, including some lovely chorale music in a little c13 church.

Agen music beer 2And we enjoyed an early beer or two sitting back stage of Texas Martha and her excellent band, watching the Argenaise of all ages dancing, strolling, drinking and chatting in the sun.

Agen contemplating storm clouds

We like Agen and stayed one more day, walking round the city’s avenues and alleys. Back on the barge for the evening a threatened thunderstorm arrived, with spectacular lightning across the darkening sky. Captain Stu pondered the retreating storm, and reckoned we could process next day.

So, for now, au revoir Agen, until we meet again.

Agen mooring

Agen mooring

Stowaways – Canal de Garonne part 2

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

pk_40.5

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

pk__40.5_wid_flower_bouquet

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

pk_40.5_evening

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

Lock 10 Lavache

Steps at Lock 10 Lavache

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

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

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

Leaving lock 10 Lavache

Leaving lock 10 Lavache

montech_flowers

A true flower bed, Montech

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

Montech looking at Montauban arm and Blue Gum

Blue Gum emerging from the Montauban arm

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

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

Leaving Montech

Leaving Montech

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

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

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

Near St Porquier

Near St Porquier

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

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

St Porquier lunch stop

St Porquier lunch stop

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

Lock 2 Artel

Lock 22 Artel

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

 

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

Pont Canal du Cacor at Moissac, over Tarn

Pont Canal du Cacor at Moissac, over Tarn

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

25 Moisac Lock

Lock 25, Moissac 

 

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

 

Moored up in Moissac

Moored up in Moissac

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

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

Tarn Pont Napoleon Moissac

Tarn Pont Napoleon Moissac

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

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

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

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

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

And next day we went to the Abbey …….

moissac_cloister_5

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

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

moissac_railway

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moissac swing bridge

Moissac swing bridge

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

Onward and slightly upward – Canal de Garonne part one

mouth_of_garonne_canal

We entered the Canal de Garonne on a fine April afternoon, having expected to spend the night in the Port d’Embourchure at Toulouse because of a canal closure. However jst as we were picking our spot for the night our friendly eclusier Henri appeared and waved to let us know that the canal had re-opened; hooray!

start_of_canal_garonne

footbridge_to_stadium

We went through the brick bridge separating the port basin from the canal and were off on a long straight stretch. This included going past the football stadium, where a swing bridge is brought into operation on match days facilitate fans crossing to the game; no match today though.

start_of_canal

The sport that was in full swing was rowing, seemingly for a group of youngsters who had never rowed before. Their antics retying to set their boats in the right direction and not be under our prow!

lalande_lockWe reached the first écluse, Lalande,  and moved through without mishap. These locks are brick lined – different to the stone lining we usually see. They also have an overspill taken just above the lock, round into it’s own stream, sometimes trough a mill, and back into he canal below the lock; more of this later.

lacoutensort_lockAhead of us at the second lock, Lacourtensort, we could see a min-queue of two boats waiting to go down. Stu slowed our speed and we almost drifted along towards the ‘pole-that-we must-not touch-until-those-boats-have set-the-lock-in-motion.’ It seemed to take ages, and when they did finally move ahead into the lock the first seemed to get stuck in the entrance. We watched what we could see through the binoculars, and finally they were in and going down. I turned the lock pole correctly and we moved forward.

Now it was our turn and as we entered there was our friend Henri, yellow control box round his waist. Yes, the lock was out-of-order, but his magic yellow box could see us through. Merci Henri. We bid him au revoir and à bientôt as we steamed on downstream.

fenouillet_lockThere was no waiting at the next écluse; pole turned, lock filled, gates opened, we went in, tied up, button pressed and the gates closed …. almost! We stood in the sun awaiting the descent, but nothing. Just an attractive old lock house and an old Citroen Dianne bleu.

fenouillet_lock_1

After a while Stewart noticed that the top gate was not quite shut. He tried to close it; no luck. So he pressed the ‘please come and help us’ button; no reply. He tried again, I tried, and I tried again; no-one answered. Hmmm.

It’s very nice in this lock. We wouldn’t have minded staying there for the night. But we thought we had better keep trying. I phoned a number written in biro on the control panel; no answer, but in broken French I left a message. Then, the third time lucky approach – I looked up the number of the canal office in Toulouse and phoned that; success.

[While we waited for the éclusier cavalry to arrive I thought I would get a record of the Canal de Garonne locks – here it is – water taken off above the lock into a pond, then reinjected below the lock. Also the way to tie up is different – poles fore and aft down which the rope can slide.]

We had so much success with our various phone calls that two éclusiers turned up – Henri and his colleague. A bit of gate opening and closing and the system had re-booted.

As we were leaving I asked if there was anywhere to moor nearby. My French must be improving because he understood the question and I understood the answer – under the second bridge along was a nice quiet mooring.

Although sounding strange, we though we would give it a try. It was strangely lovely – an almost unused bridge at Fenouillet with grassy banks and pleasant walks.

fenouillet_church

I went for a short walk around the village and its surrounding lakes, got lost, and returned an hour and a half later! The village is a bit of a dormitory for Toulouse, but pleasant nonetheless, with a good group of small shops and a pretty church.

The sun was sinking as I returned, the water calm and reflective.

We considered staying a second night, but with storms forecast for Sunday and a public holiday with closed locks Monday we decided to crack on downstream the next morning. We planned an 18km journey with 6 locks to Grisolles.

lespinasse_lock_4

This was a pleasant and uneventful journey through countryside and rural economy, alongside the railway track.

The first lock, Lespinasse, was a gentle 2.58m deep. As we left I caught a photo of the water coming back into the canal, typical as explained above of the Canal de Garonne.

There was an interesting stretch near Castelnau-d’Estrétefonds, firstly taking the canal over the river Hers on an aqueduct …..

castelnau_lock

….. then into a widening of the canal to allow barges to swing round into the lock entrance, which was at an angle to the aqueduct.

After a few hundred yards there was a second lock, taking Calliope down to continue in a straight line North West.

lunch_on_move

I was getting hungry by then so made a lunch out of bits and pieces we had on board and sat on the back deck in the sun. Sometimes barging is like a luxury cruise!

emballens_lockOne more lock before we would reach Grisolles, Emballens. We had to wait for a boat coming up so tied our 20m barge against a 4m pontoon and I held her in check until we could proceed.

[Gosh, that’s two photos of me in a row, even if one of them is only my knees.]

Our luck was holding as we arrived at Grisolles – the mooring below the bridge that we had hoped for was empty. We tied up, and stayed more than a week, moored just in front of the Salle de Fêtes, or village hall!  This was in part to allow me to go back to UK for the weekend and a most important football match – yes, Pompey are League Two Champions, against all the odds!.

In amongst the days that we were there we took a few walks around Grisolles and the surrounding area. It is a small, straightforward and very friendly town.