23. High summer with friends and family.

Mid July and with Stew and Marnix as close as they were likely to get to us on their trip south in ‘Carpe Diem’, we decided to drive over to Montargis to see them. The trusty Micra still sounded like a Formula 1 racing car, even if it didn’t drive like one as we whizzed along the country roads. We spent a pleasant couple of hours with them before returning to Vincelles to await the arrival of Paul and Jean the following day.

Catching up with good friends.

As we were still in good wine tasting country, we wasted no time in visiting a couple of caves. The first was in Irancy, courtesy of Thierry Richoux who had been recommended to us by Bill and Claudia (‘Amorak’). Irancy is known for its red wine and we enjoyed several glasses plus some rose in the quaint cave there. We enjoyed it so much that we left with a case of rose and one of red all of which were consumed fairly rapidly over the next week or so.

Lovely old town, wine everywhere !

The ‘spittoon’ didn’t get very wet.

Very fine wine.

On our return to the barge, we enjoyed a galette lunch and met up with Val and her friend. Val had been Peter’s partner in the DBA boules competition. That evening we all had a competitive boules session on the nearby terrain, which naturally Peter won, but I amazed myself by coming second.

As the temperatures stayed up in the thirties, we decided to leave the next morning for the very short cruise to Bailly. Vincelles had served us well in the ten days we had stayed there.

The mooring at Bailly was empty; in fact the waterways have been very quiet all season. After sorting out the cars we visited the Bailly Lapierre Caves and luxuriated in the cool provided by the constant 12C temperature. Peter and I had visited the caves in our first season (2010) and the tour was a bit shorter this time. However, the audio guide proved useful and our guide spoke reasonable English too. The caves were originally dug out to provide stone for many of the famous buildings in Paris such as Notre Dame Cathedral. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they were used for mushroom growing and in the 1970s finally put to use storing the newly produced Cremant. Around six million bottles are stored there today.

The cool of the cave and millions of bottles of Cremant. 

Our ‘degustation’ comprised a glass each of white and rose Cremant and we left with several bottles of Rose Brut which we all agreed we liked the best plus some free glasses.

Dining ‘al fresco’ had become the norm during the hot weather and unfortunately the fish weren’t biting despite Peter and Paul’s best efforts and bags of bait…or perhaps I was scaring them away when I cooled off in the river?

The sampling continues aboard in the shade.

Nicci scaring the fish away.

Our next stop was Auxerre where we found a spot not far from our rally mooring in June. Jennie and Alan (‘Jenal’) were back there and we also met a pleasant Kiwi couple Rosemary and John, sharing a barbecue together one balmy evening.

En route to Auxerre. Tight for width, Nicci guiding me so we don’t catch the ‘Zig Zag’ fenders in the lock gates.

Pretty tight for height too !

Having ‘done’ Auxerre we left after a couple of days, Paul crewing as I had awoken with an odd and unpleasant dizziness which lasted a couple of hours.

We made it to Gurgy where we hoped to leave ‘Aurigny’ while we returned to the UK to stay with Dad and collect the motor cycle from the repair shop (after its massive oil leak back in February en route to Dunkirk.) Fortuitously, Peter had a motorcycling job stewarding in the ‘Ride London’ cycling event which coincided with our visit.

Paul and Jean set off to Chablis for look around and another degustation and we played more boules on the local terrain during which I was unable to take a single game!

Hotly contested boules.

Mid flight.

Our return to England was trouble free although the Micra also now had a cracked windscreen and we had to keep the passenger window open most of the journey to let the fresh air in because of the broken exhaust.

Everything went to plan, although it was a far from relaxing visit. We had already decided that the Micra would make one final trip to France and along with the new music system, finally found some suitable garden furniture which just about fitted into the boot. The car’s reward was a new exhaust (at last) and a new windscreen.

Just back from the garden centre and Nicci is wondering just how all this, plus all the other stuff is going to get to France !

My ‘ride’ for the Ride London event with barely 200 miles on the clock. Our BMW in the background all fixed.

I’m offered the opportunity for a bit of motorcycling in the sky !

My friend Paul takes me over the Thames near Goring and Henley –  great fun.

Within a week we were back on board ‘Aurigny’ and had a couple of days to prepare for Kate’s visit.

Kate joined us in Gurgy and we drove back to Auxerre for some retail therapy and sight-seeing before driving to Chablis. We enjoyed exploring the town but were disappointed with our ‘degustation’, which held none of the charm of my recent experiences. Fortunately we had a bottle of Cremant chilling and were soon back on board enjoying it on deck.

Another tough day at the office.

Our next stop was Joigny where we moored on the town quay, our previous pretty mooring having already been snapped up. Kate and I walked up into the town in the afternoon sun. The next day we caught a train back to get the car from Gurgy and I was annoyed to discover that someone had tried to pull the driver’s wing mirror off the car. That was the first vandalism we have experienced since beginning our travels in 2010 but it was annoying none the less.

Joigny.

Having spotted a wild mooring at Cezy a few kilometres below Joigny, we cruised there after a leisurely start. It was a lovely quiet spot a short walk from the village. We launched the canoe and had a paddle up the weir stream.

Cezy, once a busy town judging by the buildings. Now very quiet with just one bar and a couple of restaurants.

A small quay, hard to spot from the main waterway.

We hadn’t stopped at Villeneuve sur Yonne on the way to the DBA Rally, and were keen to stop there on the way back. The length of the moorings however is deceptive as much of it is very shallow. Fortunately, Peter spotted a suitable section of quay near to the bridge and we moored there. Between heavy showers, Kate and I explored the town. Sadly our visit did not coincide with the Son et Lumiere on one of the the town gates and in fact the town was rather disappointing.

We headed to Sens the following day and managed to dodge the increasingly frequent rain showers. After enjoying one of our bottles of Champagne, Kate treated us to a lovely steak supper as it was her last night.

Lovely steak supper.

After a short walk to the station the next day, Kate was soon on her way to Paris and me back to Joigny to pick up the car.

We spent a few days in Sens awaiting the arrival of Linda and Mike and I took the opportunity to explore the town and environs. The ‘Jardin de l’Orangerie’ behind the cathedral was an unexpected gem and had an exhibition of close up photographs of tree bark from around the world. The exhibition was also in one of the local parks.

A twenty minute walk took me to the ‘Moulin a Tan’ Park which was free of charge and busy with families enjoying the sunshine. It had a tropical hot house, farm animals, a nature reserve complete with hides and lots of plants and trees. Local people had been encouraged to produce their own close-up photos of tree bark too, and these were displayed in the park.

We had met up with Mary (‘Aquarelle’) and her grandson Lucas, sharing locks on the way to Sens, and enjoyed their company while Peter taught Lucas the basics of fishing. However, the fish still weren’t playing.

Linda and Mike arrived by car bringing wine, cheese, bacon and English beer all of which were very welcome. Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated into a dull and rainy period which sadly had become part of the summer. We cruised in rain to Pont sur Yonne and then in better weather on to Montereau-fault-Yonne which is at the junction of the Yonne and Seine.

Linda and Mike join us for a few very pleasant days, despite the changeable weather.

As the weather continued to improved, it was time for them to leave us and continue the rest of their holiday in the Loire Valley.

Montereau is famous for a battle fought there by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812 and there are various points of interest in the town which we were able to explore.

 

Montereau –  Napoleon had a bit of a squabble here.

Our mooring below on the Yonne where it meets the Seine. Technically the Yonne is the larger river and it’s the Yonne that flows through Paris !

From this spot Napoleon fired a canon and proclaimed…

…that the bullet had not yet been cast that would kill him, or words to that effect !

The weather continued to improve and Karen had several days of sunshine after she joined us at Montereau. We enjoyed a visit to the Chateau de Fontainebleau a short drive away and then cruised back to St Mammes where we moored near the commercial barges on the corner at the junction with the River Loing.

Fontainebleau, here Napoleon said farewell to his troops after his defeat.

I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed by the chateau and the gardens but I guess the Revolution took its toll.

Alfred Sisley an English Impressionist artist lived nearby for twenty years and painted several pictures in the area. A walk around St Mammes took us to some of the sites he had painted.

We were joined on deck by some people who had borrowed a friend’s barge for six weeks to try out the boating life. Peter was able to give them some welcome advice.

The following day, Karen and I walked into Moret-sur-Loing about twenty minutes away. It is a quaint old town and evidently proud of the association with Alfred Sisley. We followed the walk which took us to places from where he had painted some of his pictures and we were able to compare his works with the views today.

After a baguette lunch on the banks of the Loing, we visited the tiny museum of the Sucre d’Orge (barley sugar) which is still manufactured to a nun’s secret labour intensive recipe.

Meanwhile, Peter had strolled along the river to check out potential moorings and had found a couple of suitable ones just outside the town. We moved to the lock mooring the next day and during the evening walked into town hoping to find a bar open, but Sunday is evidently a dry day in Moret.

With Karen heading home in a couple of days by train, we cruised in warm sun to Nemours which has a station, mooring in the weir stream on an old pontoon. Karen and I walked into the town which has some small canals and a castle by the river. Later we took the canoe for a paddle up the weir stream and then enjoyed a barbecue on deck listening to our new music system.

‘Des Res’ with a mooring behind.

We would have liked to have spent longer in Nemours, but the moorings with electrics near the lock were all taken up with long-term stayers or boats for sale and a brand new pontoon near the castle was for hotel barges only. So the day after Karen had left we headed off once more.

As luck would have it, the quay at Souppes-sur-Loing had plenty of space and at 42 euro for a week’s mooring with electrics and water was perfect. Peter had planned to take a motorcycle trip with friends in Belgium and I would be home alone for a couple of days.

The only fly in the ointment was our crane which decided to break down as we started lifting the motorcycle off, spewing hydraulic fluid everywhere. Fortunately we were still able to use it and Peter took me back to Montereau to get the car on his way to Belgium.

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22. A welcome month of R’n R.

In our search for rest and shade after a busy week, we didn’t have to travel far. A pontoon at Champs-sur-Yonne a few kilometres upstream was just the job. However, it also proved popular with the local youths who descended on us in the afternoon – it being a Wednesday. They were ok, just a bit noisy and when they finally departed, left a big pile of rubbish.

Nice quiet spot.

We stayed one more day and made use of the jetons for electricity and water that we had bought while shopping in the small town. In slightly cooler temperatures, we paddled our canoe up the weir stream where Peter was pleased to see lots of barbel.  With the sun out once again and temperatures rising, the youths returned mid afternoon and so we decided to leave.

Teeming with barbel.

Next stop was Bailly, adjacent to the wine caves we had visited seven years before during our first month’s cruising. Once again we were surprised at how empty the river and canal were. I walked along to the chapel which housed a small exhibition by local Irancy artist Georges Hosotte. I also walked up the Col de Cremant which afforded great views across the vineyards as the sun set.

Soon to be Cremant in the caves below.

Nicci’s view of the sunset…

…and mine over a fishing rod!

After a couple of days we moved along to Cravant, another mooring we had previously used. A walk into the town revealed a couple of wash houses (Lavoirs) previously unseen and the site of a big battle in the fifteenth century.

Tricky little mooring on a 10ft concrete jetty.

Still in good working order…The Lavoir !

At this point we hadn’t any plans to ‘do’ the Canal du Nivernais again, but with plenty of time on our hands, moved on to the grandly named Mailly-la-Ville, stopping at the cafe in Dames Ecluse for lunch, having arrived there at just the right time to leave Aurigny moored in the lock.

Perfect timing, we and the lock keepers go to lunch !

The old lock house, now a cafe/restaurant. 

The weather finally broke and we had several days of heavy rain which oddly enough came as something of a relief. We spent several days at Mailly and were joined by keen fisherman Ritchie who we had met during the winter months at Bruges where he did some work on ‘Matariki’. Sadly even Ritchie was unable to catch anything from our front deck despite several hours up there with Peter.

Once the rain stopped, I walked around the uninspiring ‘Vide Grenier’ on Bastille Day in the ‘town’ more of a village really – which has just the minimum of shops. I walked along the canal to Mailly-le-Chateau with its small chapel to St Nicholas and pretty river section (Yonne). A climb uphill to the ‘Haut Ville’ and chateau gave more views spoiled only by the lack of sunshine and the weirdest War Memorial I have ever seen.

Maybe they had a ‘manneken pis’ statue they didn’t know what to do with ?

As the weather cleared I cycled to the Saussois Rocks and third time lucky, (having missed the tiny signpost) made it up to the top of the rocks with splendid views over the Canal du Nivernais.

With Madame from an adjacent house asking how long we were staying, and hinting that the pontoons were not really for barges, lovely though ours was. We decided to leave after visiting the Grottes d’Arcy sur Cure.

These prehistoric caves predate even those at Lascaux, but sadly during the 1970s an entrepreneur wishing to use the copious quantities bat guano had the caves pressure washed with chemicals. The workers wondered at the red dye that appeared in the water and fortunately the washing was stopped. However it had destroyed the majority of the cave paintings within.

The caves were very cool (12C) and our guide very informative. There were lots of cavey things to see like stalactites and stalagmites as well as the few remaining cave paintings. Afterwards, back in the heat of the day we strolled along the River Cure and explored some of the caves on the surfaces which were evidently still producing objects of interest as an archaeological dig was in progress.

In need of refreshment and cash, Janet the sat nav informed us that the nearest ATM was in Vermenton and so we drove there. We had cycled there from Cravant seven years before and decided to visit the same bar. We were joined by an amiable character- ‘Irish Tom’ who was celebrating his birthday. Several beers later we decided it was prudent to leave as we had to drive back this time.

Having enjoyed dipping a metaphorical toe back in the ‘Nivernais’, we turned the barge around and headed north. Annoyingly we had to wait over forty minutes at Sery Lock as no lock keeper was in sight and none of our available telephone numbers worked. In true ‘bus’ fashion eventually three VNF vans arrived with five lock keepers who were all ‘desole’. One of them said that they didn’t know we had left the mooring because we hadn’t told the lock keeper…in the lock going the other way! However the hire boat coming towards us in the lock had already been through one lock- so they must have known it was underway.

‘Desole’

A longish and very hot cruise took us to Vincelles where we managed to slot onto the end of the quay thanks to Paul and Deborah on ‘Peary’ moving back to make room. After I’d had a refreshing swim in the river we were invited to join them for a barbecue. Amazingly, Paul’s sister and brother-in-law (who live in Suffolk) know Peter’s brother Paul and nephew Richard – small world!

The quay at Vincelles looked rather the worse for wear since we had stopped there before, but at least the adjacent crepe/galette cafe was open and we were able to pay for electricity and water when we needed it…which we did for the TV… Wimbledon was on and with the exhausting heat we didn’t feel like doing too much else.

We enjoyed some time with Bill and Claudia (‘Amorak’) who had also been at the DBA Rally and made good use of the adjacent creperie. Inevitably, I had several walks into the surrounding countryside and also cycled back to Mailly to get the car. We used this to drive over to Montargis to see Stew and Marnix on board ‘Carpe Diem’ before they cruised too far away on their trip to Spain.

Cheers!

Our R’n R was over and we now looked forward to a month or so of entertaining as we slowly cruised north on the River Yonne.

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21. Jollies on the Yonne (May June 2107).

The Seine proved to be a busy waterway, with lots of large commercial barges and pushers ploughing up and down.

We left Ablon Lock around 9am for the cruise to Melun where we hoped to find space, there being several boats and barges heading south to the DBA rally in Auxerre. Fortunately there was room for us and we met up with ‘Esme’, ‘Passe Lagom’ and ‘Jenal’ again, enjoying the first of several convivial barbecues there.

Melun is a pretty town with good shops and I enjoyed a walk and coffee with Diana (‘Esme’).

After just two days we headed off once more and came across several slope sided locks on the River Yonne. Those with a pontoon at the back (as you go upstream) are easier, as once secured you simply float up with the pontoon as the lock fills. However, those without pontoons require a rope to be taken from mid-ships to a bollard to the rear of the lock which assists the helmsman in positioning in the middle of the lock as you go up. Apparently the design makes for a stronger lock structure.

Not the best system.

Hovering in the middle is even more tricky when going up.

Our pledge not to have long days this season went out the window as we cruised for eleven hours in increasingly wet weather to a pontoon at Pont sur Yonne. The space was tight, but a pleasant Australian couple moved back slightly to let us in which was a great relief.

The old pont.

We stayed several days in this little town and I enjoyed wandering around the market and a couple of walks. We met Mary and David who were trying out the boating life on their new ex-hire boat ‘Escapade’. Peter and David found ‘boules mates’ in each other and enjoyed playing on the adjacent terrain for hours on end.

Our next stop was Sens where once again we joined fellow bargees heading to the Rally. We stayed several days on the quay and moved twice as barges headed off. Eventually we were close enough to take advantage of the free water and electrics there.

Sens Cathedral.

We enjoyed more socialising and barbecuing plus a lovely meal out as the guests of Jenny and Alan (‘Jenal’) in a restaurant by the Cathedral in the town square.

I also took advantage of having to pass through Paris to collect the car from La Ferte sous Jouarre, by spending the day in Paris. Always a treat; I walked along the Seine from the Gare de Bercy and enjoyed a light lunch in a restaurant on the Left Bank in sight of Notre Dame Cathedral, next a walk inside the Cathedral which my Mum loved, so I lit a candle in her memory and finally, a wander through the flower market to the Gare de l’Est.  My 80km drive back to Sens was the only low point in the heat of the late afternoon.

Paris.

Within minutes of my return we were enjoying aperos on deck with Sharon and Stan (‘Encore’). The splendid summer ‘Sound and Light show’ started that evening so I went with them to see it leaving Peter fishing onboard.

Sens all lit up.

Sens mooring.

The next day, as space became available, ‘Riccall’ and ‘Anthonia’ arrived after hot-footing it through northern France and we enjoyed another evening barbecue catching up on news. The weather had settled into a fine spell which would last until the end of the month.  ‘Esme’ completed the reunion of ‘Bruges Bargees’ the next day as we enjoyed a warm evening on ‘Anthonia’s’ deck.

A very pleasant few days.

We left early the next day and had a pleasant scenic cruise to Joigny where we moored before the town on the right, near the grounds of a hotel. A short walk into town late afternoon and a tasty seafood risotto washed down with a bottle of our recently acquired Champagne rounded off a perfect day.

Lovely spot just before Joigny.

With Auxerre in our sights, we cruised to Gurgy through more scenic countryside. The little port had certainly changed since our previous visit seven years ago. We didn’t recognise it as we approached, as there is now a new pontoon with electrics and water. Fortunately a cruiser moved up a little and once again we were able to squeeze in amongst several DBA barges.

‘Escapade’ arrived having managed to repair their hydraulics and get a slot at the Rally and we had a ‘pick ‘n mix’ meal together.

Gurgy, thirty paces from a wine tasting !

Our arrival at the Rally site was timed well and we expected to stop in Auxerre for just one night. A couple of locks prior we heard that we could proceed to our allotted space that day, as we would now be moored on the outside of ‘Elyssium’ our draught being 1.20m and the recent dry spell having reduced the water level. Result!

So by late afternoon on 14th June we had moored up at the 25th Anniversary DBA Rally in Auxerre.

The next morning we were joined by Pat and Alan Wershat who we had previously met on the Canal Laterale a la Garonne at the start of our second season. They are still very much enjoying touring in a camper van in their seventies and nineties respectively!

Our socialising continued at an aperos session on ‘Libellule’ and communal barbecue in the park where we were joined by Pat and Alan once again. The jollities went on well into the night.

Not a bad spot for the DBA rally.

The first of the official DBA activities was a visit to the Auxerrois and Chablis vineyards the next morning. In St Bris-le-Vineux we enjoyed a tour of the caves and wine tasting at Domain Bersan (now in its 21st generation) plus a guided tour of the church. This was followed by an excellent buffet lunch and copious quantities of local wine courtesy of the Maire of the town. The rest of the day was spent socialising with other rally goers as the temperature soared.

The ‘Chablis Grande Cru’ vines.

A very informative and pleasant tasting.

The second activity was a guided tour of the historical areas of Auxerre which is an interesting and attractive town. This was followed by the first rounds of the boules competition with eighty competitors playing in pairs, which took over much of the available path in the adjacent park and provided an unusual spectacle for the locals.

Auxerre.

That evening we were all invited to the VIP salon in the local Football Stade Abbe-Deschamps for a champagne and canapes reception, team photo and tasty celebratory dinner. Short speeches by the Maire and founder members of the Amis des Canal du Nivernais made us very welcome.

Lovely meal at the football stadium.

Once again socialising went on late into the night on the good ship ‘Elyssium’

With temperatures in the mid to high 30’s, it was refreshing to get out onto the river at midday on Sunday (as the locks closed for lunch) for the canoeing/rowing race.

And they’re off.

A worthy second place.

Various craft entered including our Canadian canoe, a kayak, a skiff and several dinghies.  I persuaded John Best (one of the organisers) to join me in ours and we were pleased to come second after Jeremy (‘Anthonia’) who beat us by about half a length. It was much further than I had expected too, so a good work out for one and all!

Lenny in his skiff naturally left us all standing…or rather floating…but he had good naturedly decided not to enter the race.

Jeremy, the exhausted winner. Lenny in the skiff who finished way ahead excluded himself on the grounds of superior equipment !

That afternoon the boules competition continued under blue skies in baking heat and the final took place at the barbecue over the river in the Port de Plaisance Aquarelle. Peter and Val emerged as victors after a very close final match against Pol and Colin. They won a bottle of Cremant de Bourgogne and chocolate boules trophy each and I also won a bottle of Cremant. All in all it had been a successful weekend for team ‘Aurigny’.

Hot competition !

Style !

The finalists.

Consumable prizes !

An impromptu karaoke session on Aurigny’s front deck put paid to our planned quiet evening, and was enjoyed by those taking part…

Morning after !

As the DBA festivities drew to a close it was great to have met up with old friends and to have made many new ones too.

As several barges left to continue their travels, we stayed two more days enjoying the company and trying to stay cool. This I managed by playing on the water in our canoe and trying out Diane’s (‘Elyssium’) paddle board and swimming in the river.

Cooling off.

Everyone agreed that it had been an excellent DBA Rally and we have the Bests and Sopers to thank for organising the whole thing.

All we needed now was a week or so to recover.

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20. Towards Paris. May 2017

As the weather remained unsettled we cruised on. The trickier, narrow locks were just waiting to catch on our fenders as we passed through. After more than seven years on the European waterways I was beginning to doubt my abilities on the front deck, especially when one of said fenders got caught and then bounced up nearly bashing me on the head.

The scenery on the other hand was stunning and we found two pretty moorings at Variscourt and Courcy before catching up with ‘Passe Lagom’ and ‘Jenal’ at Conde sur Marne in the middle of May. Engine problems on the former had resulted in a week’s delay for Torild and Nils as they waited for an engineer to sort out the problem.

It was great to have some company at last as we had been several weeks on our own by then. A couple of convivial and balmy evenings sitting outside were a taste of the summer to come.

On 17th May, we all left Conde and headed onto the River Marne. Our last visit had been four years ago and on that occasion the river was in flood after considerable rainfall. It would be very different this time.

In 2013 we had waited several days on the canal at Mareuil sur Ay as the River Marne continued to rise. This time we went straight onto the river and stopped on the pontoon at Cumieres. Unfortunately the electrics and water were off so we only stayed a couple of days, but this allowed Peter to get the car from Rethel and leave it at Epernay Station.

Cumieres.

Having hitherto activated locks using a pole hanging over the canal, at Cumieres Lock we were treated to a new hi-tech ‘telecommande’ which works automatically as you approach the lock welcoming you in. You press the green button which opens the lock. Once inside the blue lock-side pole needs lifting as previously to empty or fill the lock. On the next reach we encountered three sloped sided locks with a useful pontoon to tie up to which rises/drops with the water level.

Useful device.

A strong design but limits the amount of boats in one lock.

We intended stopping at Dormans, but the pontoon was full, so we carried on to a rather tatty, but functional pontoon at Jaulgonne. After a stroll into the town for some shopping and to see if we could get the electrics turned on (Marie shu- so no) we were just settling back on board when a sporty looking couple passed by and asked if we wanted to buy some Champagne at 10 euro a bottle? So back we went into town and followed them to their house where we bought five bottles. Of course it could have been fizzy water as the bottles had no labels, but they were genuine and very tasty.

With a fine spell of settled weather beginning, we cruised on the following day to Chateau-Thierry stopping upstream of the port on a stone quay. There was just enough depth for us and it was much quieter.

We enjoyed three days at Chateau-Thierry and after I had collected the car from Epernay and done a long overdue shop at its large Carrefour, we had the means of exploring the World War 1 battleground at Belleau Wood.

The Aisne-Marne War Memorial and Cemetery lie between the village of Belleau and the wood of the same name. The beautiful Memorial Chapel contains a wall of the missing with the names of the 1,060 American soldiers who fought there and whose bodies were never found. The chapel stands at the foot of the wooded hill (Belleau) in magnificently maintained gardens in which 2,289 white marble headstones are laid out following the curve of the hill where the battle took place in 1918.

Beautifully maintained.

Immaculate polished marble headstones.

View from the chapel steps.

Inside.

We drove to the centre of Belleau Wood where several captured German guns stand in a clearing around a statue – ‘Marine Memorial in Belleau Wood’. The Marine Corps was formed in 1775 and lost more men on 6th June 1918 than in all of its previous history.

Ouch!

Marine Memorial.

Returning to the village of Belleau we visited the small museum there. The town was very badly damaged during the battle. Afterwards we found the nearby German Cemetery. In stark contrast to the American headstones, these are in dark stone with a black cross or other religious symbol.  From the rear of the cemetery you are able to see the American Memorial Chapel just a few hundred metres away.

The old chateau in the village of Belleau.

Less well kept and within sight of the American cemetery.

We left Chateau-Thierry around 10.15 on 23rd May and had a long but steady cruise to La Ferte sous Jouarre. We had yet to do any of the promised painting of the topsides and hoped to rectify this there. Four years ago we had stayed there about a month for one reason or other and knew it was a good mooring.

Rivers are always much quicker than canals, especially if there aren’t too many locks and we were soon moored up on the secluded pontoon behind the island. The town is of medium size and the rail connection enabled me to return to Chateau-Thierry to collect our trusty Micra and enjoy a scenic drive back to the barge.

During World War 1 the River Marne was a strategic feature and there is a Memorial there to the 3,888 missing British soldiers who lost their lives in the 1914 Battles of Mons, le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. Near the bridge are two memorial pylons (one on each bank) which mark the position of the Pontoon Bridge built (by the 4th Division Engineers) whilst under fire from the Germans who held the high ground on the northern bank across the river during the First Battle of the Marne.

Where the pontoon bridge crossed.

As it was after the initial battle.

Sadly, that evening came the devastating news from England about the terrorist bombing in Manchester where a concert attended by mainly young people was targeted by ISIS. Another ignorant jihadist who had benefited from all that our democratic country has to offer and yet found it within himself to create hell for so many innocent people. Madness!

We spent just under a week at La Ferte sous Jouarre and finally did a bit of painting. We prepped and painted the three wheelhouse panels during some pretty hot weather and although a final rub down and second coat are required, at last we have made a start…

Hot work and not ideal conditions for painting.

We were joined on the pontoon for one day by ‘Passe Lagom’ and ‘Jenal’ who were cruising together and spent another convivial evening on Jenal’s back deck enjoying the balmy evening…and no mozzies!

Passe Lagom heads off.

Monday 29th May and a 7.30am start for us in the hope of cruising for part of the day in relative cool. The river was very empty and we saw only the occasional commercial barge or hotel boat as we cruised to Meaux. This time we moored just after the lock at Meaux and were off early the following day to reach Vaires sur Marne by early afternoon. Another previously used mooring, but on this occasion complete with an irritated fisherman who couldn’t understand that we really did have the right to moor there and -yes- he could actually move a few metres along the bank and still manage to fish!

Nicci ‘mowing’ the lawn !

Keeping out of the way of a very laden commercial.

We left Vaires sur Marne the next morning and had an unusually slow cruise, mainly waiting in narrow canalised stretches or at locks for heavily laden commercial barges. Finally, we reached the huge Chinese Restaurant at the confluence of the Rivers Marne and Seine not far from the centre of Paris and we turned south. We would eventually stop for the night just below Ablon lock.

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19.The best laid plans … April/May 2017

After our somewhat dodgy start to the cruising season, we had no further problems and soon caught up with Stew and Paul on ‘Matariki’. An overnight stop at the popular Schipdonk lock was followed by a pleasant and interesting cruise to the Carron Shipyard at Zelzate, as we passed some huge barges and ships. ‘Nautilus’ and ‘Ariana’ were on the slipway with several other barges and we moored on the waiting quay for our turn. This was a somewhat ‘moveable feast’ as the amount of time required for a barge to be out of the water rather depends on what they find once she is.

Matariki dwarfed !

So our waiting began, during which time Paul and I visited the interesting Canadian and Polish War museum at Eeeklo which Peter and Stew recommended having visited it over the winter. It was created by the son of a French Resistance Fighter M. Landshoot who on his deathbed told his son about his exploits in WW2, having never mentioned them before. He asked him to create the museum as memorial and thank you to the Canadian and Polish soldiers who had liberated the town.

‘Matariki’ went out after about three days and unfortunately required some over plating to the hull. It looked like we would have to forget the dry docking for the time being as Adam and Amy were visiting a couple of weeks later and time was short.  In addition, we had been told that we might not get onto the trolley on the slip way as we draw 1.20m.

Stewart being slipped.

Awaiting our turn.

Fortuitously, Louise and Alex -‘Riccall’ had been out at de Shroef Shipyard just over the border in the Netherlands and were able to give us the address of the yard as they cruised by on the way back. We were soon driving there in Paul’s car and fortunately there was a window of opportunity if we could get there within the next hour or so.

So we drove back to Zelzate and immediately set off for the hour’s cruise north. No sooner had we arrived than we were slipped sideways up to the top with the only delay being while the skipper of the very close adjacent barge moved his rudder. Within minutes the hull was being pressure washed.

Going up, with a little nudge in the right direction.

Pretty quick.

At 11am the following day the painting began and we took the opportunity to drive back to Bruges to collect the Micra and hopefully get the exhaust repaired. We couldn’t. However, on our return to the barge we were delighted to see that the whole job was finished. It just goes to show what the professionals can achieve with the right tools.

The commercial had to turn his rudders for us to fit.

We sat high and dry over the weekend and enjoyed watching the various ships that passed by on the Terneuzen Canal. Peter cleaned and painted the anchors. On the Monday morning after Paul had left, we were slipped back in and made our way around to the back water where we had moored after crossing to Terneuzen in September and went to pay our bill. This took rather longer than expected as our internet bank decided to play up, but it gave me the chance to try out our new deck wash that Peter had recently installed.

Happy to see the primer we applied five years ago still there after the jet wash.

All done in two days.

We stopped off at Zelzate overnight and enjoyed a final evening with Stew and then had a busy four days cruising to Namur.  We covered approximately 180 km – stopping at Oudenaarde, Antoing, Thieu and just above Auvelais lock en route.

Another chance to enjoy the Strepy Lift, 75 metres straight up.

Adam and Amy arrived Easter weekend and we enjoyed catching up. We all went for a tasty Croque Monsieur in the nearby bar and had a lucrative visit to the adjacent Casino (where Adam and Amy won 170 euros).

We stopped overnight at Houx and Adam and Amy walked up the hillside to the fort of Poilevache and then repeated the walk with me the following day, hoping to get into the fort and admire the views of the River Meuse from on high. Sadly it was shut.

Our next stop was another favourite haunt of ours – Dinant. Still undergoing massive alterations to the quayside which began a year or so ago. Visits to the ‘Marvellous caves’, the Citadelle and the Maison de Leffe and a fabulous lunch at the ‘Confessional;’ rounded off a lovely week together. Adam took me to the Casino in the hope that I too might have beginner’s luck. Unfortunately not, as my 16 euro winnings were soon lost, all bar one cent which I chose not to cash in…

Cracking lunch at The Confessional in Dinant.

Adam and Amy left and Peter took the train back to Oudenaarde to collect the car while I visited the laundrette and tidied up.

We stayed in Dinant a couple more days and Peter cobbled together a repair to the car’s exhaust by tying it up with some chain. At least it shouldn’t fall off, but still sounds like a racing car!

Our plan was to head up to Waulsort and spend a couple of weeks cleaning and painting the top sides of the barge. With this in mind, we headed off through the beautiful scenery along the Meuse. The port seemed unusually quiet with just a couple of boats moored there and the Capitaine was pressure washing the empty pontoon. We moored up and I went for a walk up into the hills. On my return, I spoke to the Capitaine and told him our intentions. He looked rather sheepish and said we had better check out the new prices first.

To our astonishment they had almost doubled, so we cast off, gave him a cheery wave and carried on upstream to the border at Heer Agimont. A considerably longer day than we had anticipated. Once again we would have to rethink our plans.

On 27th April, we went through our first French lock in four years. This was followed by our first tunnel (Ham) in as many years which didn’t disappoint as we nearly lost a glissoir that caught on the rail. Lighting and some side of tunnel maintenance would be appreciated.

Into France.

Ham Tunnel, a little snug!

After four years of (for me) relatively easy cruising, I had to get up to speed again in the somewhat narrow locks and tunnels we would now encounter.

Small locks again.

Our somewhat hasty departure from Belgium created another problem in that we had not expected to have to find a new WIFI provider for several weeks. Our Belgian Viking mobile just about worked as we were so close to the border, but as we ventured further into fairly rural areas, it was no use.

We stopped on the quay at Fumay in solitary splendour and bought some 10 Litre cubies of wine in the cave there on the recommendation of friends Torild and Nils – ‘Passe Lagom’. Fumay lies in an ox bow in the river, and having walked into the town the next morning we crossed the ox bow and walked back around the edge incurring the wrath of a male goose whose mate was on her nest. Had I but known I could have walked straight to the nearby station and returned earlier to collect the car. So I retraced my steps across the oxbow following the sat nav directions to the station, only to discover that the next train to Givet would be in three hours! So back to the barge I went and made a third attempt later. My car shuffling had begun in earnest as I tried to familiarise myself with the vagaries and sporadic timings of the rural French transport system. My return also involved a good walk from Givet Station in the rain and running the gauntlet of another pair of nesting geese plus a pair of nesting swans on the towpath.

Fumay, 30 paces from a wine cave’

Peter meanwhile had sorted a month’s Orange WIFI which relies on hotspots across the country.

We left Fumay and thought that perhaps our change of plan back at Waulsort might have been for the best given the unsettled weather we were getting. A delay at Ulf Lock required us to moor on a spit of land just before it, where we encountered a third nesting pair of angry geese. Fortunately, we were soon on our way again having phoned the lock keeper.

Plenty of these about.

Our next stop was at Montherme over the holiday weekend at the beginning of May. We splashed out on a mooring with electrics and water which enabled me to catch up on the washing. A beer festival was soon in full swing with musicians and singers providing the entertainment. We were joined there by Jill and Graham Budd – ‘Francoise’ who we had passed en route the previous day. I enjoyed two walks up the hills on the opposite bank; the first to La Roche a Sept Heures which afforded a splendid view of Montherme’s ox bow and the surrounding countryside and the second with Jill and friend Kevin, plus two of their dogs. As we trudged up the hill towards Longe Roche, we were almost stampeded by a herd of runners wielding walking poles as they hurtled past us. More fine views and a welcome large beer at the bar near the top, before returning to the moorings and sharing a meal together.

Jill snatched a picture as we passed on our way to Montherme before we’d met!

View from the wheel.

View from the top at Montherme – Aurigny and Francoise moored left of the bridge.

Selfie from the top of Montherme…I was busy resting my eyes aboard !

We were interested to see the work being done to each of the barrages at the weirs we passed on the Meuse. It seems that they are being raised and strengthened at considerable cost. Interesting too was the sight of eight recently recovered cars on the approach to Lumes where we spent two days.

We counted eight cars having been dragged from the river bed. They are either terrible drivers around here or there had been a spate of stolen ones dumped.

Our trip back to Fumay for the car ended up as a bus ride to Charleville-Meziers (courtesy of the French Railway) followed by a train ride. We stopped in a overcast Charleville-Meziers on the way back, to visit the famed central square and should have stocked up with groceries and cash.

During the next week we left the River Meuse and turned right onto the scenic if somewhat remote Canal des Ardennes, stopping at Pont a Bar, La Cassine, Le Chesne, Neuville-Day, Attigny and Rethel. These relatively short legs enabled me to use my relatively short legs to either walk or cycle back for the car. However I was unable to find any supermarket larger than a Carrefour Contact to do a big grocery shop and ATMs were nonexistent. Finally in Attigny there was a bank with an ATM (open mornings only…afternoons by appointment!) and we were able to supplement our dwindling shrapnel with some bank notes.

My view of the locks some 50 metres out.

The locks may be tight but the scenery makes up for it.

We reached the relatively large town of Rethel famed for its Boudin Blanc -unappetising looking white sausage and for the fact that there is apparently no bus service other than for school children. On a walk into town I found a tabac which supplied ‘Free’ WIFI sim cards and we eventually managed to register. We were back online.

I had a pleasant 17km cycle back to get the car which we then left at Rethel Station before heading on our way again in the afternoon, something we rarely do. We cruised in sunshine to the unexpectedly busy mooring at Asfeld and the next morning, after one more lock we left the Canal des Ardennes.

 

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18. Our second winter in Bruges (Oct 2016- April 2017)

Our trouble free entry reversing into Flandria Jachthaven had been in daylight, but the same could not be said for Lynn and Stew on ‘Matariki’.

Sadly they were moved on from Moerbrugge after only a couple of hours, when a commercial skipper complained about their presence to the police.  They didn’t even get the chance to top up with water and ended up reversing into their spot alongside us in the dark! Stew had certainly raised the bar!

Lynn and I continued walking regularly in preparation for our adventure on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella later in October. As well as the usual barges we were pleased to welcome ‘Pilgrim’, ‘Joli Roger’ and ‘Laura Marie’to Flandria.

Peter returned to England with a car full of rubbish for the tip and was able to see Laura off on her adventure in New Zealand. She fell in love with the place during her world travels and is hoping to make the move permanent, exciting times.

Meanwhile, Lynn and I caught our flight to Bilbao and enjoyed a fantastic couple of weeks walking. We started in Pamplona and finished at Castro Jerez from where we caught a bus back to Burgos and then another to Bilbao. During our trip we walked through the Rioja wine region and added several glasses of that lovely wine to our ‘dos gros ceveza’ post walk refreshment.

We completed 277km in thirteen days and both returned to Bruges several pounds lighter…at least for a few days.

While we were away, Peter had returned from England with all the materials necessary for the construction of our new seating area in the wheelhouse and he had virtually completed it with just the finishing touches remaining.

Out with the old…

…In with the new!

Inevitably, Lynn and I returned with the ‘Spanish Lurgy’ which we probably caught on the aeroplane home.

Paul arrived from Alderney a couple of days later bringing wine and food from France and was able to help finish off the woodwork in the wheelhouse.

While he was with us we drove to the Atlantikwall Museum near Oostende. This was interesting especially as we are very familiar with similar fortifications on Alderney. The only thing that spoiled the experience was the rather poor taste art exhibition which was combined with the displays from WW2. This took the form of various wigs which were placed on the heads of the mannequins of the German soldiers in the bunkers. Most peculiar and a bit creepy.

Not a big fan of  this kind of ‘art’ but the museum is well worth a visit.

The whole coastline is riddled with tunnels and bunkers.

Despite contracting the ‘Lurgy’, Peter, Paul and Stew headed off to Waterloo to see the various exhibitions and sights of that famous battle, including some of the places missed on the last visit. The headquarters of Wellington and Napoleon and a full tour of Hougoumont farm.

Once Paul left, I began painting the interior of the wheelhouse ready for Peter to renovate and varnish the dashboard when I returned to England for my annual sojourn in November.

I enjoyed my usual round of visiting friends and singing with my choir and also fitted in a short visit to Alderney where I stayed with Peter’s mum Terry.

I even managed a return trip to Bruges by coach and was able to see the lighting up of the barges in Coupure and enjoy the festive lights in the city centre.

Peter headed over to England to MOT the motor cycle and then visited Terry in Alderney where he was joined by Adam.

Golf on the beautiful island of Alderney.

We returned in convoy through the Chunnel and arrived just in time to get ready for Christmas when Adam joined us for a few days. Meanwhile Laura had settled well into life in New Zealand, enjoying a summer Christmas there and we broke all the usual Christmas food traditions this time, agreeing that a change would be good this year.

Adam and I enjoyed a walk into the centre of town on Christmas Eve to see the lights and were amazed at how quiet it was. Of course, on the continent Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, but it gave us a memorable experience.

We walked in again on Christmas Day where the centre was buzzing, which it did for the remainder of the Yuletide festivities. Some of us donned uncomfortable ice skates once again and strutted our stuff on the ice rink in the Markt.

On New Year’s Eve we joined several friends aboard ‘Esme’ for a party with Diana and Chris and then just before midnight, Peter and I walked into the Markt to see the New Year in.

Seeing the New Year in outside the Belfry.

January was fairly cold and miserable but Lynn and I managed to get out walking when possible and I was able to make some cushion covers for the new wheelhouse seating using three soft blankets donated by Terry. Adam and Peter had bought me a sewing machine for Christmas and it was good to put it to use.

Lynn and I visited the Historium, Groeningemuseum and Arentshuis as well as trying new bars and cafes on our walks. Time was moving on and she and Stew had accelerated their plans to sell ‘Matariki’ and return to New Zealand.

I returned to England unexpectedly in February when Dad had a nasty fall and was taken to St George’s Hospital, Tooting. I ended up staying a month and only returned to Bruges once several care measures were in place to help him.

Unfortunately our BMW motorcycle was broken when Peter returned to England to join us and a stone pierced the oil filter causing oil to spew out damaging the engine. So February was not a good month and had cost us dear.

All too soon, Lynn’s twenty eight large boxes were being collected for shipment to New Zealand and before we knew it Lynn was leaving too. It was the middle of March and with the weather improving, the port came to life with people preparing their boats and barges for the coming season.

‘Aurigny’ and ‘Matariki’ were being readied for their visit to Carron Shipyard in Ghent at the beginning of April and none of the bargees was enjoying clearing the decks of catkins and sticky buds which fell heavily from the nearby trees.

Our planned departure was delayed by a day so we enjoyed several farewell soirees with our friends in the port and were even able to sit out on deck as the sun set one fine evening.

On April 1st – a day we had traditionally avoided departing on for reasons of superstition, ‘Matariki’ cast off and we followed. Alas, the steering felt rather light so we tied up alongside ‘Riccall’, while Peter and Alex searched for the problem. Fortunately it was nothing drastic, simply air in the hydraulic steering mechanism, which was soon rectified.

Just a small glitch in what we are sure will be another fantastic year cruising on our beautiful barge ‘Aurigny’.

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17. Final weeks in the Netherlands (Late August/September)

After weeks of unsettled weather it had finally calmed down and the temperatures soared to the mid 30’s.

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A walk and a beer in Vreeswijk.

We left Vreeswijk after once again reversing out of the port and headed to nearby Nieuwegein where we were pleased to find space on the quay by the shopping centre. This enabled us to re-vittel the barge at the nearby ‘Jumbo’ supermarket and also use the trolley to bring our purchases back to the barge.

Laura compiled a great video which covers the trip through Amsterdam to the beginning of the HollandschIJssel. Click on the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=039Kyf1MdY4

The HollandschIJssel is a pretty, fairly narrow river with some attractive towns on its banks. The distances travelled each day were short enough for me to be able to return to collect the car every few days on foot, by bike or by bus.

We stopped at Montfoort for two nights and Laura and I spent an afternoon at the local Lido where it was great to cool down in the pool.

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A sign along the way that made us chuckle!

Our next stop was Oudewater, famed for its rope making and witches. In fact they even have a museum of witchcraft! Another pretty town and the one and only occasion when we paid for passage through a bridge by placing the 2 euro fee in a clog suspended on a pole!

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Clog suspended on a pole.

Then onto Haastricht for one night before finally reaching a free 3 day mooring near Gouda, where the river was wide enough and empty enough to run our genie and top up the batteries which had dropped to 50% charge, the lowest to date.

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Outside the Witches Museum and weigh in. (they used to weigh women to see if they were light enough to fly on a broomstick!)

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Celebrating having fooled the adjudicators !

On Laura’s final day, we drove into Gouda and had a walk around before finding a restaurant in the Markt for lunch. We had enjoyed a fabulous couple of weeks together, but it was time for her to leave and all too soon we were saying ‘au revoir’ at Schiphol Airport. In just over a month Laura would be travelling to New Zealand to follow her own dream.

 

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Historic Port at Gouda.

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The main square.

We decided to remain in Gouda for a few more days as my friend Karen would soon be joining us. Carol and Jeremy (Anthonia) arrived in the ‘Historic Port’ and we spent a pleasant evening with them celebrating Jeremy’s birthday in the centre of the town. The next day was the final cheese market of the season, so we arranged to meet them again and watched the rather unusual trading spectacle which is finished off with a strange handshaking ritual. We concluded the morning with several beers in a local bar followed by a light lunch on board Anthonia.

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“50 euro’s ! You are avin a laugh.”

Karen arrived bang on time and we enjoyed catching up over a couple of beers in the centre before returning to the barge. The next morning, Peter liaised with the lock keeper to let us into the very short lock, rather than wait for the tide to equalise the water either side of it. It was a bit of a squeeze and the front lock gates just grazed our anchors as they opened, but we were soon through. Apparently not all of the lock keepers are willing to give it a go, so we were fortunate.

We moored a short distance beyond on the town quay and plugged into the electrics. Karen and I set off to explore some more and visited the cheese museum which was quite interesting.

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That evening we all took the ferry over to the ‘Culifeest’ – a food festival on the opposite bank. We had to prepay for food and drink on a bespoke credit card, which was annoying as we didn’t know how much we would spend. However we had a tasty barbecue selection and couple of beers and enjoyed the Frank Sinatra Set, despite the drizzle, which arrived that evening to dampen all outside entertainment.

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Food, beer, Sinatra and drizzle!

The next day we set off for Dordrecht and had a pleasant cruise to the free mooring at Riedijkshaven. The only slightly tricky part was avoiding the ferries that whizzed in and out of the adjacent quay.

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Out on the main river we pass this huge replica Ark. (click on ‘Ark’ for details)

The giraffes on the bow and stern are full size!

Karen and I set off to explore the town with its numerous harbours and streets, while Peter enjoyed a well deserved rest on board. After another day sightseeing locally, Karen and I took a train to the pretty town of Delft.

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Delft street art.

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View from the top.

We had coffee in the main square, wandered the streets, lunched in another shady square, climbed the Church tower, enjoyed an ice cream and then visited the excellent Vermeer Centre.  So two artistic visits for me this year and I just might be getting into some art now…

Karen’s departure from Gouda fitted in with me collecting the car, so we headed back by train together and said our farewells after a light lunch.

Peter and I enjoyed a tasty steak meal at the recommended Villa Augusta which grows its own fruit and vegetables. The hotel and restaurant are in an old water works and pump station near the river.

We set off the next day and had to wait over half an hour for the gate to be opened as no one seemed to know where we were despite several radio calls. We hoped to find a suitable mooring in the Brebanche Biesbosch. The scenery was pretty and our only delay was at Ottersluis Lock which was being repaired. In fact it would have been a nice place to stop.

 

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The Biesbosch.

Parts of the Biesbosch were shallow and moorings nonexistent. We could have anchored, but were actually out onto the Hollandsdiep quicker than anticipated. This is the widest stretch of water we have been on to date and was very busy with huge commercial barges ploughing along in both directions.

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Hollandsdiep, very big and very busy.

We were keen to top up with diesel for our planned sea crossing to Terneuzen, and with that in mind pulled into the pretty town of Willemstad having read somewhere that mooring was free if you were buying fuel. It wasn’t as we found to our cost the next morning after fuelling up. Over 32 euros for one night! Had we but known it we would have taken on fuel the night before and tried our luck at the mooring by Volkerak Lock which was where we headed to next.

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Our mooring at Willemstad with the busy Hollandsdiep in the background.

A couple of days chilling there and then a short cruise to the River Dintel where we moored at Stampersgat on an old commercial quay for several days during a late summer heat wave, moving onto the town quay when a space became available.

From there we cycled into Oudenbosch which is famed for its replica of the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We left the bikes, caught a train from there to Dordrecht to collect the car then picked up the bikes and headed back to the barge. We then used the car to explore Steenburgen where Guy Gibson of Dam Busters fame and his navigator James Warwick were shot down by friendly fire in 1944.

Two roads are named after them and they are buried in the town’s cemetery.

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With temperatures into the 30s the river became a magnet for youngsters and we marvelled at the apparent lack of concern for the very real danger of children and young people swimming in quite busy rivers.

We drove to Tholen to recce the moorings and then left the car at Bergen Op Zoom before catching a bus back to the barge. We would collect the car when we were nearer to Bruges.

It was time to head back out onto the Hollandsdiep and into the Benedensas where we moored on a detached 10 metre mooring in the middle of the river for a couple of days. Once again our canoe came in useful as we paddled to nearby De Haan for a coffee and apple cake one afternoon.

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Interesting mooring spot in the middle of a river.

With a mooring booked in Tholen we set off once again out onto the main channel. On arrival, we plugged in to get full use of the electrics and topped our water up to the brim.

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Tholen Historic Port.

At 7am the next day we reversed out of our mooring and left the port as dawn broke. We had a long day ahead of us and hoped the wind would be light.

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Leaving just before dawn to catch the tide.

We encountered few vessels until we left the canal through the tidal lock, but then we were out with the big girls on the main sea approach to Antwerp. The wash/bow wave from these vessels was immense. The wave from the first ship that passed us at speed took about 5 minutes to reach us and sent me scurrying below to remove pictures from the walls and any other vulnerable objects.

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Huge and going pretty quick.

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The picture doesn’t do it justice, but enough to lift our bow clean out of the water.

Peter soon realised that the best way to cope with such turbulence was to head at right angles across the waves which reduced the impact, although judging the speed of some of the approaching ships seemed virtually impossible even though we tried to stay at the edge of the shipping lane.
With relief, we reached the lock at Terneuzen and after a longish wait, were back in the relative calm of the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal.

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Our route.

The remainder of our trip back to Bruges took us through familiar territory. A night at Schipdonk lock (and an evening cycle to Eeklo to recce the moorings there) followed by several days at Moerbrugge/ Oostkamp where we were joined by Jo and Tim (Maria) and then Carol and Jeremy (Anthonia).

Finally, we cruised into a fairly empty Flandria Jachthaven at the end of September, which gradually filled up with old and new friends over the coming days. We had enjoyed another interesting and pleasurable year on board our lovely barge ‘Aurigny’ and eagerly anticipated another fantastic winter in the beautiful city of Bruges.

 

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16. North Holland (July/August 2016)

After eventually negotiating our way onto the River Amstel, having been told to inch up to a couple of bridges to see if we could get underneath them by a bridge watcher who commented “this is Amsterdam…we can’t just keep opening bridges you know”; we enjoyed our cruise through the city. In fact, by contrast the rest of the bridges opened as if by magic on our approach.

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Cleared the first one by a few inches, the rest had to be raised.

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Through the Amstelsluis towards the city centre.

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The first of many but worth it for an interesting passage through Amsterdam.

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Not a straight route through, plenty to keep me occupied.

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Eventually we make it through to the Maritime Museum near the railway station.

Out past the Maritime Museum and onto the busy River IJ before turning right onto the River Zaan and overnight stops at Zaandam and Wormerveer. With Paul on board we were able to recce ahead for suitable mooring places and chose Woudehaven as our next stop.

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Out onto the River Ij. A large and very busy waterway.

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A chance to give the engine a bit of a blast.

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The River Zaan and more bridges.

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A lovely 20lb carp for Paul at Zaandam.

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Passing Zans Schans with it’s pretty houses and windmills. Set up as a living Museum.

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The busy schedule continues at Wormerveer !

It looked very empty and peaceful when we left a car there, but a spell of hot weather soon brought people out on the water and we were pleased to get a good spot on a pontoon for a couple of days at the weekend. With no access to the bank, we used our canoe once again and even gave the dinghy a whirl in the adjacent Alkmaardemeer.

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Woudehaven. A popular spot with its huge lake in the background.

Our next stop was on a free three day mooring by a windmill at St Pancras. Paul left us from there and I walked into Alkmaar, which was rather further than I’d anticipated. While there I hopped on a boat trip which went around the canals and under some very low bridges.

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St. Pancras. No shortage of sunsets when the country is so flat.

With Jo and Tim (‘Maria of Zaandam’) not far away, we all cycled in to Alkmaar and met at the weekly Cheese Market, enjoying a few hours and several beers together.

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More of a tourist spectacle nowadays.

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Still worth a visit.

Having overstayed at St Pancras, we decided to head further north and after an unexpected delay when our alternator belt broke, we made it to a quay in Winkel. The free 3 day pontoon spaces were full of small boats, however the quay suited us better.

We stayed a week in Winkel while the weather refused to settle into anything like summer. During this time I painted the small corridor between the galley and utility room when the weather was bad. In finer weather we cycled to find the interesting Irish Cottage Pub in Oude Niedorp.

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Well worth the cycle to Oude Niedorp…

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…As you can plainly see!

Louise (‘Riccall’) had told us about the weekly market and dressing up parade by townsfolk in Schagen so we caught a bus over there and arrived in time to see the spectacle. Unfortunately, rain stopped the post parade show, but that may have been a blessing in disguise as it was composed of young children singing and dancing… so we sheltered in a bar enjoying coffee and apple cake as the MC eventually gave up and took cover.

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Many of the locals go to a lot of trouble to parade themselves in authentic dress.

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A walking museum and quite a spectacle.

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The town and the market were buzzing with tourists.

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And then ‘rain stopped play’.

A train to collect the car from Heerhugoward and then a meal at the Irish Cottage Pub ended a lovely day.

I took advantage of the car to drive over to the Zuiderzee Museum at Enkhuizen. There I enjoyed a ferry trip to both the Indoor and Outdoor Museums which told of the storms and floods of 1916 which prompted the eventual construction of the Afsluidijk and creation of the Ijsselmeer.

The outdoor museum boasts 130 buildings many of which were dismantled from their original villages and rebuilt at the museum. Numerous craftsmen were demonstrating their work. Part of the indoor museum was devoted to wonderful old wooden boats.

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The days before steel.

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And what if the dams fail?

Having decided to continue north we had a short trip to a detached 3 day mooring just north of Kolhorn which we shared with a Dutch cruiser. Unfortunately, although it remained dry, the wind increased considerably and further travel would have been difficult. Even the fish weren’t playing. So on the third evening at around 8.30pm, Peter said “Do you fancy a cruise?”…and off we went to the surprise of our Dutch neighbours.

Alas, our romantic evening cruise ground to a halt a few kilometres further on when we came to a closed lift bridge and had to cobble together a mooring for the night on its widely spaced dolphins.

Jo and Tim had reached Pishoek the previous week and had turned south again at Den Helder but we still hadn’t decided on our final direction after the Amstelmeer. Initially we went through a lock onto the canal which led to Middenmeer, but after a couple of kilometres it was getting quite shallow and narrow. Fortunately, we decided to turn around in a wide part and were soon heading back up into the lock where the lock keeper didn’t seem that surprised to see us!!

The wind was bracing as we crossed Amstelmeer and onto the Balgzandkanaal.                 Then we headed south on the Noordhollandsch  Kanaal having decided to miss out on the delights of Den Helder. We eventually stopped on a 3 day mooring at t’Zand

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A huge 4 master motors past us at t’Zand.

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The people on the forward mast put it in perspective.

We spent five days there during which we had a bracing cycle to the coast at Callantsoog and I eventually managed to retrieve the car from Winkel. This took two attempts as the first one was rained off and the second involved cycling to Schagen where I left the bike, a bus ride to Winkel to get the car and a return via Schagen to collect the bike. This once again made me wonder at the point of having the car with us in the summer.

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Callantsoog beach, about level with Norwich.

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Luckily there is an oasis amongst the sands !

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 Very drying this salty breeze after a long cycle !

The countryside is mainly agricultural and there are a few windmills and lots of wind turbines to break up the monotony of the flat landscape.

With our daughter Laura and my sister Kate arriving mid August, we proceeded south through Alkmaar and back to Woudehaven where Jo and Tim were moored and we enjoyed their company and topped up our water supply.

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Jo and Tim stop by in Woudhaven to check we are off to the local bar!

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An unfortunate side effect of too much crop feeding is this annual bloom of algae.

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Jo and Tim head off back to Wormerveer ahead of us. 

Our next stop was Wormerveer, from where I headed north to collect the car and where the girls joined us after spending a night in Amsterdam.

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Aperos in Wormerveer prior to Kate and Laura arriving.

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Laura sporting her Gryffindor scarf knitted as a surprise for her by Nicci.

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Family get together.

Jo joined us for a girls outing to nearby Zans Schans where we explored the interesting living museum including its original Albert Heijn Grocers and various windmills. I bought some mill ground mustard as a ‘Peter permitted’ souvenir.

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Zans Schans.

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Girls will be girls!

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Yes…you could ski in those!

Our family had brought fine weather with them and we enjoyed a long but sunny cruise the next day down the Zaan and onto the Noordzeekanaal past Amsterdam to the busy Oranjesluizen. Then out onto the IJmeer where a strong broadside wind made for a bumpy ride until we reached the relative calm of Muiden and the River Vecht. This was buzzing with all sorts of vessels, but the Tjalks near the lock were particularly attractive and the friendly lock keeper ensured we passed through easily. A long and fairly empty detached 3 day pontoon was a welcome sight late afternoon and we enjoyed a barbecue on deck.

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Heading out into the IJmeer.

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Quite choppy and broadside on.

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First stop after The Ijmeer and time to chill.

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A lovely quiet mooring.

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Laura, happy to be spending time with Mum and Dad before her big adventure starts in New Zealand. https://flipflopsandflightsocks.com/

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Lovely sunset that evening.

Just a small trip through Weesp the next day took us to another detached 3 day pontoon where we dropped the canoe into the river and Laura, Kate and I paddled somewhat precariously across to the bank and walked back into the town. It was a charming town with lots of independent shops as well as a well disguised Albert Heijn where we were able to buy some groceries.

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Spot the nervous passenger!

After a walk back and second precarious paddle to the barge, we relaxed for the rest of the day and enjoyed watching the British Women’s Hockey Team win Gold in the Olympic Games.

The Vecht is a pretty river and reminded us of the Upper Thames in places. Our next overnight stop was in Maarssen where we moored on the opposite bank hoping for a free mooring this time. Alas no.

The weather had been fantastic for several days but it chose to rain hard on Sunday 21st August as we left the River Vecht and headed out onto the Amsterdam Rijnkanaal. We were hoping to moor on the Merwedkanaal near Nieuwegein, but the lock keeper warned us that a Dragon Boat Regatta was taking place beyond the lock and the mooring spaces limited. So we phoned Dick the Haven Master at Vreeswijk where we had moored in early July and were relieved there was space. So we headed into the port and were soon moored up and topping up our batteries. Kate would leave us the next day and she and I caught a bus into Utrecht for a look around before she headed to Schiphol airport and I to Wormerveer to pick up the car.

That evening Laura, Peter and I enjoyed a walk followed by a Chinese meal in the old port.

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A walk and a beer in the lovely town of Vreeswijk.

The next day we would cruise to the Hollandsche Ijssel. Laura made a video with her new camera starting back when we were on the Zaan which she edited and added music to.

… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=039Kyf1MdY4&feature=youtu.be …clever clogs!

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15. Family celebrations in England and reunions in Amsterdam.

We were away for less than a week, but fitted in a lot, managing to slot various appointments between the celebrations for Dad’s 90th Birthday; a meal out with the family, Top Golf and a fabulous garden party organised by our daughter Laura.

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The hard bit….

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…The easy bit!

Dad had a wonderful time and was surprised when several members of the family turned up unexpectedly.

 

90 years young!

Family reunited.

The ‘Tash’ doesn’t suit all of us!

The celebrations were rounded off with a lovely family Sunday lunch together and Andy Murray winning the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon for the second time.

Unusually for us, we chose to return on a late afternoon ferry which enabled us to visit Tesco for some ‘re-vittelling’ during the morning. We arrived back in Vreeswijk at 10.30pm on Monday 11th July.

After a day’s rest, we set off at 10am and headed out onto the Amsterdam- Rijnkanaal. A couple of hours later we turned sharp right under a bridge and onto the pretty River Vecht.

We stopped in Maarssen, a pleasant town with a good range of shops and were disappointed  when someone came around that evening to collect a mooring fee of 20,60 euro. We knew to expect mooring charges in the Netherlands bearing in mind there is no annual licence fee, but it still puts us off staying for longer periods. We can’t help but think it’s a little too steep bearing in mind we shop and visit the bars and restaurants.

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Approaching Maarssen.

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A pretty river, much like the Upper Thames – apart from the windmills of course.

We would have liked to have stayed on the Vecht, but had arranged a couple of reunions in Amsterdam with different friends. A recce by car from Vreeswijk a few weeks before had given us a couple of mooring possibilities and we knew we needed to get close to the city.

We left the Vecht at Nightevecht turning right and back onto the busy Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal. A short distance north and then a sharp left onto the River Gasp. This route used to be popular before the construction of the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal as with the Vecht it was the only route joining the city to the River Rhine.

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The Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal can be more like the sea with all the huge commercial barges and pushers going along at speed.

Luck was with us as we secured a mooring on the quay in Diemen (a suburb of Amsterdam). It was on the No.9 tram route into the centre and would suit us very well for a few days.

The next day we cycled into the city centre which, to quote Peter, was ”totally bonkers”. It certainly was challenging, with so many cyclists, pedestrians, trams, cars and scooters to negotiate. The ever present smell of ‘Weed’ did nothing to enhance the experience for him!

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Available from any good Amsterdam florist!

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Only a little bit ‘bonkers’ – a nice wooden bicycle.

After a welcome beer in a bar in an old lock house, we cycled to Central Station and caught a free ferry across to the old shipyard area, which is apparently undergoing something of a transformation…it still has a long way to go and is more akin to a New Age commune!

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A much needed stress break!

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Ferry trip across to the Old shipyard.

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The very busy waterway behind Amsterdam Rail Station.

After a circuitous cycle ride back we chilled out for the rest of the afternoon. The next day would be busy as we hoped to meet up with Jerry, an old friend of Peter’s from his early days as a PC in Willesden Green.

In the morning we caught a couple of trams into the centre and met Jerry at his hotel. He is now a senior pilot and trainer with Singapore Airlines and had a couple of day’s stopover in Amsterdam.

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A mere 35 years since we last met up!

After coffee and drinks we headed back to the barge for a spot of lunch and much reminiscing. It had been 35 years since they had last met.

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A lot of catching up to do.

Early evening we ‘trammed’ back into the bustling centre and had some great ribs in an ‘eat as much as you want bar/cafe’. More drinks in another bar and before we knew it midnight had come and gone and the trams had stopped running.

Sadly we had no fairy godmother to get us home, just a sketchy map and a vague awareness that a night bus went our way and of course it was dark. But first we had to find the bus route…not easy with a 6’3’’ inebriated husband who had been drinking for over 12 hours and thought he knew the way.

The only taxi we came across wanted 50 euros for the trip, which I actually considered paying as it seemed we were completely lost. However, somehow we managed to get back to Diemen, hailing a night bus in between stops which dropped us a short walk from the barge. Our return trip had taken just 2 hours!

With one reunion successfully completed, Paul (Peter’s brother) arrived by car from Cherbourg. We were then able to pop back to Vreeswijk to collect our car. Louise and Alex were still there and invited us to lunch before they set off to Friesland.

As usual, Paul brought some fine weather with him and our gazebo had its first outing of the summer. I spent a day in Amsterdam, accidentally stumbling into the red light district and making good use of my tram day pass to explore the rest of the city. I returned mid afternoon though as it was so hot.

We all headed back into the centre in the evening to meet up with Arthur, Peter and Bob who were on a motorcycling tour of the Somme and Operation Market Garden area. We had a lovely evening together and this time I made sure we left in time to catch the relevant trams back to the barge!

Our reunions over, we shuffled the cars and left Diemen on 20th July heading north.

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14. Vianen, Vreeswijk and Brexit.

As we approached Engelen Lock (which would lead us back onto the Maas) we saw it was shut. Fortunately, we were just too early and at 10am the lights came on and after a few minutes a huge barge filled with containers came out. Passage through the lock took a while as we waited for countless small cruisers who had timed their arrival perfectly.

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Made to measure?

We were soon heading downstream along the River Maas past Heusden, with its two windmills guarding the entrance to the harbour. A right turn into the Heusden Kanaal and then a left turn onto the Andelse Maas took us upstream to Woudrichem which boasts a Historic Ship Harbour. Had we ventured in we would have found a suitable mooring for the night. However, we carried on and turned left onto the fast flowing, uninviting River Waal. Fortunately, we were soon able to leave its choppy waters as we turned right through Gorinchem and into the calm of a lock.

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 Heusden, very pretty.

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Woudrichem, with the fast flowing Waal in the background. We missed the chance of the mooring on the right and continued to Gorinchem.

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Further into the port there are plenty more moorings available.

After about an hour, we came across a new pontoon and were told by a nearby fisherman that although it was mainly private, we could moor at the lower end. So we reversed 70 m and moored up, had a couple of drinks and our supper. Unfortunately, the mooring was not a free one, and a chap arrived to demand the 24 euro fee. With no water, electrics or even rubbish bins, we thought that was a bit steep and left. A kilometre further on there was a long grassy bank with no rings or bollards, but plenty of space, so we put mooring spikes in and hoped they would hold us. Fortunately, river traffic had stopped for the day and it was a Sunday which tends to be quiet.

We were almost in Arkel where we had left the car and hoped that we would soon be on smaller pretty canals that some of our friends were enjoying.

The next morning, the passage of two commercial barges put our mooring spikes under considerable strain, so we decided to head off again in the hope that the moorings we had seen at Meerkerk would be free. Sadly, the rainy weather had discouraged many boaters from travelling and there was no space, so we carried on and eventually stopped on a 2 day mooring beyond the lock at Vianen where the canal joins the River Lek.

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Vianen, a nice comfortable mooring with the River Lek behind.

Vianen is a small, pleasant town with good shops. We stayed there a couple of days and used the time to catch up with emails using the free wifi in the local baker’s cafe and tourist office and to return to Arkel to collect the car. On the way back we drove a circuitous route to Woudrichem where we explored the Historic Harbour and were surprised by the size and availability moorings there. The town is used for the filming of the Dutch version of ‘Doc Martin’, which explained the cameras we had seen in the street.

Our ongoing internet problems were irritating, especially when we discovered that we would have to wait nine days to reactivate it. So it was good to be able to access free wifi in the town.

On Wednesday 22nd June, we reversed out of the mooring and turned around ready to head across the River Lek and up the short Lekkanaal to the large Prinses Beatrixsluis. We hoped to find a water point beyond the lock.

Having checked the AIS as we left, we expected to get out and across in a lull between barges. Nothing was close so off we went. As we approached the junction with the river, we slowed down as a large commercial barge was now steaming along from our right. In addition, a smaller barge was coming from our right and turning into the entrance we were in and hoping to pass on the wrong side (with no use of his Blue board, but much honking of his horn).

Peter managed to manoeuvre us out of his way while simultaneously stopping us from heading out onto the Lek as yet another big gas barge was approaching from our left.

In the space of a few minutes, the river had become like Piccadilly Circus. Finally we were able to move out and make our way to the lock.

To our surprise, we were hailed from the opposite bank by Carol and Jeremy (‘Anthonia’) who had enjoyed a coffee while watching the comings and goings on the river. In fact Carol had commented that perhaps they might see us… and suddenly there we were.

Through the lock and onto a nearby commercial mooring where alas there was no water.

After a rest and cuppa, we headed off on our bikes to search for ‘Anthonia’. A long cycle ensued and although we couldn’t find our friends, we did end up in Utrecht. We had last been there on our search for a suitable barge several years ago and despite the huge number of eateries available are ashamed to admit that we opted for a McDonalds. Hungry after our cycle, we found the centre and had another one…for old time’s sake.

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Utrecht, very busy with tourists in the old centre of town.

We cycled back to the barge and had an early night with a welcome thunderstorm after the mugginess of the day.

Having heard from Jeremy, we cycled off once more to join he and Carol for coffee. They were moored in nearby Vreeswijk, a Historic Harbour just a short cycle away that we had somehow missed the previous day.

It proved to be a fortuitous meeting, as they had managed to secure a mooring for us for our forthcoming trip back to the UK. We would be heading there for my Dad’s 90th birthday celebrations and had been looking for a suitable spot to leave ‘Aurigny’.

After a quick cycle around the pretty port and recce of other potential moorings, we returned to the barge and set off. The canal joined the Amsterdam-Rhijnkanaal from where we turned sharp left onto the Merwedkanaal. One lock and a lift bridge later and we were mooring up on a 3 day mooring adjacent to a bar we had visited during our cycle the previous day.

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In contrast to Utrecht, the quiet historic town and port of Vreeswijk.

The weather was still unsettled (sadly a feature of this summer) but we busied ourselves collecting the car from Vianen (a short 1 euro ferry ride away) and spending time with Carol and Jeremy.

While we were there the Referendum on whether the UK should stay or leave the EU took place. We were shocked by the result and wondered how it would affect people on boats and barges in Europe. It had an immediate and detrimental effect on the exchange rate too.

We moved the barge through the next bridge and onto a pontoon for a couple of days and as it was raining I did some decorating inside. The promised Historic Festival in Vianen that we ventured across to was rather disappointing, but you don’t know until you try and to be fair we did arrive there in a slack period as the costumed participants rested in their ‘historic tents’. Another pleasant evening on board ‘Anthonia’ followed by an alcohol fuelled cycle back to ‘Aurigny’ in the dark.

With just over a week to go before our return to England, we gave up on the idea of exploring the River Ijssel because of the poor weather. We phoned Dick the capitaine at Vreeswwijk and were soon cruising into the port where we moored in front of ‘Anthonia’.

The ensuing week was filled with decorating, catching up with the washing, emptying and defrosting the freezer and preparing for our departure. While British Politics seemed to go into meltdown, the English Football team were knocked out of the World Cup by of all countries tiny Iceland, while tiny Wales managed to reach the semi finals having beaten Belgium!

We visited the small museum in the port, enjoyed a Pizza meal with Carol and Jeremy and were soon joined by Louise and Alex on ‘Riccall’, quite a Flandria reunion.

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Three Amigos !

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Aperos!

After some convivial evenings together, ‘Anthonia’ headed north and then early on 5th July Louise and Alex squashed into the Micra and we dropped them to Bruges to pick up their car. We then headed off to Dunkirk and England.

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