Monday, 15 September 2014

Canal de Nord and the River Somme

Sep 14

We joined the Canal de Nord at Pont l'Eveque - a definite change to northern architecture with lots of brick and stepped house gables.  The bassin had been emptied 'for fireworks' so the only mooring was very tightly squeezed  between two peniches on the mainline. A peniche anchor took off my stern jackstaff overnight so another repair job.

A charmed run as we didn't have to share or give way to any commercials travelling our way. No good moorings so after doing a longish tunnel we found a small rather bleak layby for the night, Between one bollard and large stakes we survived a windy night helped by very few commercials passing.

The next afternoon it was into the River Somme, a slightly different scale.

First Somme ecluse (only automated one)
The Somme is Somme Conseil General rather than VNF operated - much friendlier eclusiers overall and all the facilities are immaculate. After the first lift bridge (and having been given our guide book and map) we tucked in for the night at Frise. Massive wetlands all around (peat cuttings and we arrived atthe start of the hunting season   - most dawns sounded like a reprise of the Battle of the Somme - Kes was not amused.

An easy to spot eclusier
Through the lift bridge at Cappy where a Danish bargee got stroppy with La Capitaine because we weren't listening out on Ch 10 (nothing about that in the Somme reglements :) and into Froissy for a night (and a visit to the narrow gauge train museum) then into Corbie for a few days. Nice system at a lot of the moorings where  €2 provides 4+ hours electricity and water (cheap barging).

Not coypu - snorkellers at Corbie (takes all kinds)
At Glisy we moored on top of a wasps nest - but once we had moved 15m to the other end of the quai we coexisted in harmony. We slid through Amiens checking out the moorings for the return trip.

Amiens - should have turned right
Amiens ecluse - should have lowered the wheelhouse
Quite a lot of rain so the River was running quite fast, interesting on the tight bends as the boat wants to follow the current rather than the rudder. Picquigny was a nice stop with the remnants of a chateau (with church) we also visited some of the WW1 war graves (all these villages were on the Lof C so had hospitals, with the canal running barges of casualties).

Picquigny - chateau bits
Picquigny chateau church
Please can I come
End of 100 years War - Treaty de Picquigny 1475
It all got exciting in Long with a fast current, a tight bridge, a weir on one side and a boat in the middle of a short mooring on the other blocking the ecluse entrance - backed off into the undergrowth and managed to get a rope on a bollard with much cursing.

Angie liked Abbeville, After stocking up at the Intermarche, she risked a haircut with the last of her euros, while Peter jerricanned 200 litres of diesel onboard (going to need it coming back against the current). St Vulfans had a nice exterior but the rest was renovated on the cheap.

Then it was down the tidal Maritime canal to the coast at St Valery.  We slid under two of the four lift bridges but the eclusiers opened the others manually (we were expecting a sea shanty as they swung on the windlass but no luck).

Maritime Canal bridge
St Valery was quite like a Cornish port without the 'cove' and extreme commercialism. Useless knowledge - William the Conqueror embarked here for the Battle of Hastings.

St Valery port
More trains
A 'beach holiday' in the rain
Well silted up bay
The day we started on the return the sun came out.  We tried for some different moorings - especially as we were travelling at half speed against the current.  A narrowboat we met (Genie's Wish) was a bit worried it wouldn't make it with a small engine). A lot of water in the peat etangs.

Are you sure this is the right way?
Pont Remy was free electricity but not a lot else so a few days later we slotted into Samara - Angie visited the neolithic theme park and Peter did some varnishing and painting. Day 1 a couple of peniche working barges/tugs missed us by not a lot streaking downstream - one took a lot of the bank with him (so much for professional boatmen), Day 2 we were joined overnight by 10 boats from a Friends of the Somme rally, we all rafted up on two tiny pontoons (they gave us a Pennant for our troubles).

Samara craftsman
We stopped for the day in Amiens before moving on.  Mainly the cathedral and the ancien quartier (wall to wall restaurants).


Looks pagan to me
Long was much easier from the opposite direction and with the current slowing.

Long Chateau - lovely gardens
A few nice chateau en route

Angie fancies
Angie expects
A night at Cappy then to Feuillieres after the last lift bridge which ended our Somme excursion (a nice trip recommended to all). A bit thin on plaisanciers and social life though.

Then it was back on the Canal de Nord - still being lucky with the ecluses with no hold ups. We had five ecluses - then the Ruyualcourt tunnel 5 km with a passing spot in the middle where three commercials passed us without slowing - rumour has it La Capitaine shut her eyes!

Needing a beer break we stopped for our last night on the Canal de Nord in a layby at Hermies.

Hermies Canal de Nord
Then the 'final' push off towards Douai on the Grand Gabarit - Wednesday and every commercial in Northern France suddenly appeared, luckily mostly going south. All the moorings were peniche haltes which Angie didn't fancy, but running out of options we ended up on a concrete wall tied to a dolphin and rocked to sleep by the wash of passing commercials.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Meuse, Ardennes and Aisne-Oise

Aug 14

We left Toul on a grey showery day and that has persisted for weeks.  On the Meuse we were covering old ground, albeit four cruising seasons ago and in the opposite direction so it seemed a bit different.

Lots of weed in the canalised Meuse so had to clean the filters a lot and, hard to believe, some of the pounds had low water levels. We got held up at an ecluse near a cement works so Kotare had a new colour scheme - grey! The Meuse width was all over the place though not much current (we were going downstream)

Meuse narrow
Meuse wide
We were struggling with moorings, all those Dutch and German boaters, but managed to sneak in on the last one on the wall at Verdun.  It was the WW1 100th anniversary but not a lot of noticeable commemoration.

Verdun entrance (from south)
Lot of misty mornings but we pressed on, Consenvoye had a 'one off' sloping sided ecluse and a good bar.

Dun sur Meuse was a nice little town, unfortunately the church was at the top of a steep hill so Peter suffered again. A huge church for a tiny fortified village almost impossible to get a good photo not helped by the rain.

Dun sur Meuse

That's Kotare on the right :}
Another green bank mooring at Alma near the barrage - an obvious surplus of red paint but one of the best maintained barrages we have seen.

Alma barrage

Our last effort on the Meuse before turning off was to tie up on a very dodgy 8m pontoon in shallows near a Sedan Intermarche - managed to get a new gas bottle (as well as food) ready for the darkest Ardenne.  The last ecluse and the *** eclusier shut the gates and opened the paddles before Peter could get the 2nd rope on (and untie the first).   Our 2nd best rope shortened by another metre or so!!

A dog's life
Our first attempt at a mooring on the Ardenne at Pont a Bar was foiled by a sloping sided quai and not much water so off to the St Aignan complex (two ecluses and a tunnel) for the night where we tied up in the reeds near a a tatty English tjalk being helmed by two sisters and three whippets.

St Aignan
Then to the top of the Canal des Ardennes at Le Chesne, a sleepy town but we managed some shopping and we will remember it for the yowling cats which kept us awake. Next day it was showery but we pushed on down the main Ardenne lock flight - we managed the first 19 locks in 3 hours which was good, but they were chained and it was 'downhill'.

Next stop the Grand Union
The next day we finished off the Ardenne and on to the Canal Lateral de Aisne - at the Vouziers junction we were back in 'commercial' territory but only the odd one at this stage.

Vouziers junction
Into Rethel after a couple of very nice green bank stops. Rethel was 95% destroyed in WW1 and then it was bombed out again in WW2 - the only residual features that survived were the church tower and entrance.


Then we took the Canal de Oise-Aisne, cutting north west towards the Canal de Nord. Commercials in front of us on day one and also coming the other way ( 4 or 5) on day two, very overgrown so we ended up in the bushes occasionally, making room for them. In the Braye tunnel we found we had caught up with a commercial  so ended up choked on diesel fumes and deafened by the engine noise echoing in the confined space. Tomorrow on to the Canal de Nord and the traffic will at a guess get worse.

Braye southern entrance
Braye northern entrance (plus fumes)

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

the Luxembourg loop

Jul 14

It was hard work dragging Angie away from the Port bar at Sarreguemines given cold Bitburger Pils was €1.50 a bottle! A nice port.

Then with knees knocking we set off for the German border on the Canal de la Sarre. We had already had an officious German boater (10m tupperware) carefully pace out the boat length and tell us loudly we would need a special Fahrerschein and that was still in France! At the border/first Schluese they waved us though onto the River Saar and wished us a Happy Holiday - must have been our new German flag.

Onwards through Saarbrucken which was full of  large daytripper boats and we felt relatively safe after that. The first 30km was mostly Saarstahl both sides and our first overnight was at the World Heritage site at Volklingen  (aka rusty old steel works).  The town was more Turkish than German but Peter got some brotchen at last!

Cheaper than pulling them down - call it Heritage
Turn right to Luxembourg - easy nav
We were back into big commercial locks and our first actual experience of a (water saving) divided lock though we had seen them before we had never used one.

A lot of the locks had one massive swinging gate rather than the usual double or guillotine type.

We stopped at Merzig so Angie could stock up on her favourite German foods at a supermarket - Angie was enjoying eveyrone speaking German (though that was true of Alsace as well). We then went on and overnighted on a nice commercial stop at Schemlingen. It was a popular female bike route so Peter spent a few hours watching girls legs with a beer to cool him off. We were now well into the German forests - very attractive.

Chapel for the River boatmen
Enjoyed slowing down the Dutch
The Rhine traffic must have been slow as we had a Rhine holiday boat come past - must have been full of steelwork enthusiasts as it was never seen again.

The first vineyards at Saarlouis - nice little German 'wine town'.


At the end of the Saar we stopped at a small pontoon to let Kes visit some trees and were nearly put ashore by a commercial - must get heavier ropes! Then at the Saar/Moselle junction trying to turn we met another one - do we go left or right?

Need to get a bigger camera
We were now pushing against the current which slowed us a bit - easy to forget that the Moselle is nearly as big as the Rhone.

River Moselle
Very hygenic - must be the German side
We pressed on with Germany to port and Luxembourg to starboard - the first try at a mooring we got pushed off by a big trip boat but second attempt we got in at Wormeldange (on the Luxembourg side but the bar we found was very Germanic - though they let Kes in). We pulled into Schwebensange to fuel up at Luxembourg prices (€1.17 litre) but a Brit boat took the last mooring before we finished.  Feeling hard done by we pushed on - Schwengen on the border was day tripper only (typical EU) so it was back into France - fairly knackered we ended up tied fairly precariously on a piling commercial wall at Malling. Peter and Kes have not had to do the ladder trick for a while.

Kes is going on a diet (as well)
After that we needed a break so stopped in the centre of Thionville for two nights - a good pontoon and we were joined by the usual boater riff raff.

Thionville sunrise
I had a propeller last time I looked
Then Metz - the Marina was mostly small stuff and fairly full so they pushed us onto the one 'town mooring' by the Moyen bridge (a few mins from the town centre).

Metz Cathedral
Mooring - end of the line
Temple de Neuf (Protestant)
A white water competition was under way adjacent to the mooring - we admired it from a distance.

Then we went on to Pont a Mousson - first we tried the marina but didn't fancy that so went onto a quiet canal cut reserved for commercials - lovely spot with a large park on one side. The town must have been wealthy as it had a large Abbey and a very large triangular town square with arcaded shops. We were joined by a commercial overnight but no fuss.

Pont a Mousson Abbey
Parish church with tourist
Off to the Nancy turn off and moored at Pompey - a new mooring we have bypassed usually - normal mod cons in the town and the local model boat club turned up with their expensive remote control boats.  Then into Villey St Etienne, a tiny inlet and small pontoon with a buoyed entrance, before back into Toul and completion of the loop' rafted up to 'Nautilus'. Angie was struggling with reverse as the morse control cable had a .kink. in it - then the cooling impeller on the generator failed - another day in the life of a happy bargee.

My walk is overdue you idle lot!
After 5 years we need a new set of ropes, but hopefully that can wait till a trip to Antwerp this Winter. Lorraine Marine (Toul) replaced the morse cable and we are all set now to head north on the Meuse.