Onward and slightly upward – Canal de Garonne part one


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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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 …..


….. 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.


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.

They are proud of the little bits of heritage still standing, including the church, market hall and some old buildings. I also found three new window shutter ‘figurines’ to ad to my collection.

We took a couple of walks up the steep steep hill looking over Grisolles – quite an effort and quite a view, over the town to the plains and river Garonne beyond.

We went up the hill a third time in order to walk to the local vinyard – Chateau Bellevue de Fôret. The water was almost more welcome than the wine by the time we arrived! And we were pleased to discover that if we bought some wine they would delver it to the barge, so we could scamper back down hill unencumbered, ready to enjoy a glass of 100% negrette grape.


Calliope, in full view of the Salle de Fetes

On 30th April we noticed tables outside the Salles de Fêtes, and drinks being set upon them. Two people from the crowd round the table emerged closed the grass and stated talking to us.  After a good bit of Franglais we discovered that they were setting up for a dance in the hall that night and were invited as guests of honour. Apparently to is customary in their village, Canals, to hold a party the evening before the May 1st Public Holiday. They downed the Ricard and whiskey in their plastic tumblers, and left to continue preparations. Needless to say we did attend the dance, were made most welcome and danced to a great band of accordion, saxophone, trumpet and keyboards. My those French can waltz!


Our new friend Gilles then invited himself for an English breakfast the next morning, saying he would bring the wine – and he did! First time I have washed egg and bacon down with vin rouge.

(He wasn’t so sure of the HP sauce though . . . . )

Gilles said that we should visit his village, Canals, just two kilometres away. I was tempted by the promise of a lovely lavoir and cycled over a couple of days later. The lavoir, just below and next to the little church, was quite a treat for a lavoir lover.

Overall the village had character; it seemed an honest place, that had some splendour in the past.

The walks around Grisolles were dotted and coloured by masses of a yellow flower which I alternately took to be marigold or dandelion!  Whichever it was, it created huge puffball seed heads, just right for children to blow away.

IMG_0927.jpgDuring our stay at Grisolles we had a grand day out to Montauban, taking the train one grey morning from Grisolles station.

We liked Montauban. As the day progressed the weather improved, so some photos are celestially bluer than others.

We liked the Pont Vielle, with its views to the old city, and decorative lamp posts – see how the sky changed!

We liked the ruined old mill with its disused lock and overgrown surrounds.

I loved the weir across the Tarn from the mill – the longest weir I have ever seen!

And in the trees of the long thin island just below the Pont Vielle we spotted a young heron or stork – maybe one of the rarer species for which the isle is famous.



Stu and I both enjoyed the peacefulness atmosphere of the old convent cloisters, even though it is now part of the school of music. The young students seemed caught up in the atmosphere, talking quietly as they moved around the area.








The main square in the old city provided plenty of shade under red brick arches for welcome coffee and relaxing after all the walking.



Just one more task before we set off back to Gristles – a look at the lock down from the canal into the Tarn – a voyage that we plane to take some time soon.  Looks ok, although the Tarn is still closed to boating traffic at the moment, waiting for the Spring currents to abate.

IMG_4210So back to Grisolles – its feeling like home now! But on my return from the UK we will be on the move again, onwards and slightly upwards, in a north westward direction towards Moissac.

Midi Addendum

I’ll start with an apology. The Midi blog did not complete the Midi. So here is an addendum.


Toulouse mooring

After three days in Toulouse we were ready to cut loose, nice city though it is – see the brief Toulouse bloggette.

We made navigation plans, got the sextant ready, took readings from the stars, and slipped away downstream, to start a journey with more mini-adventures than planned!

The one and a half kilometres to the first lock, Bayard, was interesting, passing through areas of the city we had not walked. Stewart began to concentrate as the lock entrance loomed, beyond a narrow bridge. I was getting ready to disembark to press buttons – demanding work!

Toulouse, Midi 6m lock

We were both shaken therefore by a loud rattling noise on the wheelhouse roof and I quickly emerged to watch the remains of a pole suspended over the canal – the one we had to turn to operate the lock!


Stu put the brakes on and persuaded Calliope to go astern enough for me to catch and twist the pole. Phew.



Then onwards, under a bridge, past some moored boats, and into the lock.

Bayard is right next to the train station, and is deep for the Midi – 6.2m – so we attracted quite a lot of attention. Our roping skills were in order and we began the descent.


The gates opened onto a narrow concrete pergola which must look beautiful when the wisteria is out.

Carrying on smoothly into a wriggly bit we rounded a bend to see a large passenger barge, Baladine, bearing down on us. Bags of room, no problems.


Two locks to go – Minimes and Bearnais. All prepared to twist a pole I was surprised to see the next lock gates open as we approached over an aquaduct / spillway. That’s when we met Henri, a VNF man (with a grey beard, slicked back hair and Wendy band) who was to be our saviour several times that day. Roping once more was as planned and the lock sprang into action – automatically.

minimes 2_lockHenri had a message for us. I listened carefully. It was obviously important. Eventually, with my hesitant questions, I understood that we could not go much further. The police had closed the canal after the next lock for the day and were searching for a body! OK. We will stop after the next lock for the night.


The gates had closed behind us but then …. nothing!

‘Boardez-vous’ said Henri, or the proper French equivalent. Apparently I was caught on camera from the operations office downstream and they would not let the water out of the lock until I was on the barge; another new lesson.


One last lock on the Midi and a beautiful stretch along to the end.


It was by then getting close to lunch time and as we emerged under the final bridge of the Midi we found ourselves in a huge basin – Port de L’Embourche – with plenty of mooring for lunch and possibly overnight.

port_de_l_embouchureThe Port is fascinating, with a lovely curved brick section that includes the bridges into Canal de Brienne (connection to River Garonne), Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne reading right to left in the photo above –  and these days totally surrounded by motorways, slip roads and dual carriageways. Not good.


We picked our spot, tied up and enjoyed a meal in the sunshine. Stu suggested I cycle ahead and look for other moorings before the closure – somewhere out of the city for the night. He went for a quiet siesta and I was about to go when the second hooter of the day sounded nearby.

Whoops – we were on the mooring of the Toulouse canal-sweeping bateau and he wanted to stop for his lunch too. The siesta was cut short and a cycle ride abandoned as we cast off to begin a slow turn round in the basin and find an alternative mooring…….

At the same time Henri appeared, at the mouth of the Canal de Garonne, and with much waving and shouting let us know that the canal was now open – we could proceed! Hooray; back to plan A. Off onto the next canal, and next blog chapter. Hooray indeed.

mouth_of_garonneStu aimed through the ‘bouche’ of the Canal de Garonne, and it was truly goodbye to the Midi and on with our journey, and eventful day. Yet to come, and in the next blog, were two ‘en panne’ (not working) locks and more visits from Henri!

Too little Toulouse

Three days and nights in Toulouse only allowed us to touch the surface of this interesting city. We fitted in some of the sights, some of the gardens, some of the culture, and lots of wandering through narrow streets with fascinating architecture. The weather and light was not kind to the photographer most of the time; here is a small sample of what we saw.

I love the huge old gates and doors hinting at the faded opulence within, courtyards, stairs and shutters.

Pont Neuf is wonderful, though cold and windy whenever we went across! I particularly enjoy the little cameo pictures through the holes in the pillars.

At one end of the Pont Neuf, at St Cyprien, is a water tower. It’s brick built architecture was beautiful, and housed a photographic exhibition.

Les Abbatoirs art gallery had some of the whackiest modern art I have seen – Heath-Robinsonesque in part. In fact it was Daniel Spoerri, Niki de Sainte Valle, Yves Klein and others. Great stuff!

A nearby park provided suitable grazing for a cow and the siting of a ‘Fabulous Creatures’ carousel and a couple of large modern sculptures for Stu to ponder over.

Toulouse black madonna

Toulouse black madonna

With all the stunning churches in the city it is odd that I did not get any photos of the outsides. But I did take one of the famous Black Madonna in the Eglise de la Daurade down near the river.

And yes, we enjoyed the bar life too.

Too little Toulouse, but we will be back.