31. A late change of plan.

With just under a month left until we had to be in our winter port at Castelnaudary, we were still bumbling along and enjoying socialising with our boating friends.

Just after moving ‘Whisper’ up to the quay at Villeneuve les Bezier, Sue and Allan turned up with a bag of beers and wine and we were soon enjoying aperos up on deck, joined shortly after by Stuart and Christine (‘Vagabond’)  A couple of impromptu boules games were enjoyed too on an ad hoc terrain…the towpath.

The bumper boats were still busy all along the canal, taking advantage of the continuing fine weather, but Autumn was definitely in the air at each end of the day.

On the night of 6th October a fierce thunderstorm struck and it was the first rain we had seen for a while.

Despite the inclement weather we decided to move on and cruised through Bezier to the flight of seven locks at Fonserannes. We didn’t expect to make the morning ascent and were surprised when the light went green.

Crossing the aqueduct at Beziers.

The two roof side panels off to make the bridges a little easier.

Fortunately, despite not really being ready to go up, we managed it without too much trouble, providing a spectacle for the various tourists who lined the sides of the locks.

The first lock, trying to remember how we did it before!

Not for the faint hearted and too deep for Nicci to remain on board. The lock keepers do not take the ropes.

After a short discussion at the top, we decided to carry on to the entrance to the Malpas Tunnel where we knew there was a suitable mooring.

As expected, Poilhes was full. Having removed two roof panels from the wheelhouse, we cleared the low bridge at Colombiers fairly easily and carried on to the Malpas Tunnel. Surprise surprise…the only spot had now been designated for passenger boats only. This was becoming annoying- mooring spots with bollards for long term moorers and passenger boats but very little else!

Malpas.

After ignoring the sign and mooring up, I walked up to the top of the tunnel and back through it, taking in the great view of the drained Montady lake.

Once a huge, marshy, midge ridden lake.

The Malpas Tunnel.

The weather forecast was poor, but fortune favours the brave and the next day we fully dismantled the wheelhouse for the first time in eight years. Those three roof sections don’t get any lighter!

All down, hoping it doesn’t rain.

The dark clouds threaten on a blustery day as we near Capestang.

Despite the thunderclouds rolling over our heads, the rain held off until we had made it under the low Roman bridge at Capestang. We moored a few hundred metres beyond it in another passenger boat mooring. Fortunately, being late in the season, we were able to stay there for a couple of days which enabled us to leap frog the cars with Sue and Allan.

With a few bystanders watching, we glide slowly through without resorting to the bowthruster.

Not even a touch !

We also met up with Pol and Neil(‘MicMac’) and Geoff (‘Mededinger’) in the port’s restaurant which was still open.

On 11th October, we headed off a few minutes after ‘Anjodi’ and were soon being tail-gated by impatient bumper boats. The canal is shallow in places and dredging is taking place. We have to stay in the middle as the edges are too shallow. The programme for removal of Plane trees is also in operation, as is the replanting with various species.

Anjodi ahead of us and the smoke from burning tree roots.

Dead trees being felled and the roots hauled out.

We cruised for over three hours, barely recognising the moorings at La Croisade and Argeliers where we had wild moored in the winter of 2011. As ‘Anjodi turned left into the Canal de Jonction, we followed and stopped at the top as the bumper boats sped off like a cork out of a bottle! This spot provided us with a pretty mooring for three nights and we enjoyed a tasty pizza at the small restaurant there.

Nice spot, fir trees not affected thankfully.

Facing the entrance to the Canal du la Robine, nice restaurant on the right.

Sue and Allan drove over and we took our car up to Homps so it would be there for the next stage of our trip. On the way back we detoured via the interesting hill town of Minerve and spent a couple of hours there enjoying a nice lunch.

Minerve.

A very nice Carcassone beer…

…and a very nice Minerve lunch in ‘The Chocolate Bar’.

Having decided to stay, we walked along to Le Someil where we met up with Johan (‘Rust Roust’) who we met in 2011.

Our decision to stay put turned out to be a good one, as the weather deteriorated further. On the Sunday we headed off once again for Homps. In increasingly windy conditions, we tried unsuccessfully to moor at Paraza, before finally stopping in a passenger boat mooring which doubles as a Halte de Plaisance at Roubia. How does that work?

That night there was a huge storm, it rained very hard and the wind increased. The next morning the sun eventually broke through and we carried on, but only made it to the lock at Argens.

Two months worth of rain had fallen in just a few hours and the river Aude was in flood alongside us. On the news, Peter had heard that just a bit further up in Trebes and Carcassone there had been a massive flash flood and up to thirteen people killed. The Aude had in fact risen by 6 to 8 metres. The fields to our left were inundated and after a short while water gushed over the lock and down the towpath. We estimated the canal level had risen by four feet and was now a torrent as the lock keeper stood looking helplessly on.

The fields alongside us as the River Aude bursts its banks beyond the treeline.

Nicci returns to the barge with wine and eggs from the lock keeper. We had figured we may be stuck a while.

Water bypassing the lock and we rise by about four feet.

The lock becomes a waterfall.

The surge of water joins the Aude via the lock garden.

We had been very lucky not to get caught up in the flood in Trebes. Sadly Geoff (‘Mededinger’) who had passed us a couple of days earlier was not so lucky and had a very narrow escape below the triple lock at Trebes. During the crisis, his barge was swept up onto the towpath and then back into the canal. Just a stern rope on a mooring pin held the stern on the left of the canal while Geoff held onto some branches on the opposite bank. He held it there in the pitch dark for an hour and a half while trees fell around him. Thankfully, he was rescued by a local man who bravely managed to get a bow line around a tree. The same man then rescued a family from a heavily listing hire boat and took them all home for the night.

At Argens, we were amazed that the water levels dropped in less than twelve hours and the nearby fields became visible once more. As the lock keeper surveyed the damage to his garden, garage and swimming pool we were pleased to find our car safe and sound at Homps after a kind VNF chap dropped us there in his van. Many roads had closed as the water flooded and low lying towns caught between the river and canal suffered badly.

Just 12 hours later the river is back behind the trees in the distance.

After speaking with Geoff on the phone the terrifying extent of the flash flooding became clearer. We visited him soon after and we were able to witness for ourselves the devastation to the canal and town of Trebes.

The locks at Trebes became a huge waterfall with Mededinger at the bottom.

Nine people died in the houses below here.

Mededinger which had been moored below the locks on the left, now with her stern stuck on top of a fallen tree.

‘Whisper’ had reached Ventenac en Minervois behind us. We both now needed to find a secure winter mooring, as we would not make it through to Castelnaudary due to the damage to the locks and breaches in the canal, one of which we had seen at Trebes about 70m from where ‘Mededinger’ ended up! Geoff had certainly had a lucky escape.

Just 70 metres down from the barge the river had also burst through into the canal, sending a huge torrent of water which overwhelmed all the locks and two other towns before reaching us at Argens.

We were able to take them back to Capestang to collect their car and visit Geoff again to see if we could help in any way.

We enjoyed a nice lunch in Homps after chatting to the Capitaine, Mauricette and explaining our predicament. We were promised a mooring subject to our being able to get there through two single and two double locks when that part of the canal reopened.

Meanwhile ‘Whisper’ found a spot back at Capestang and cruised back there for the winter.

With things settling down, we enjoyed an early end of season Sunday lunch with Sue, Allan, Pol and Neil at ‘Le chat qui peche’ restaurant in Argeliers.

On Monday 22nd October, we finally made it through to Homps after a couple of delays owing to recalcitrant lock gates.

Homps, us for the winter.

The Capitainerie, which also doubles as a wine store…perfect !

We enjoyed a night away in Collioure with Sue and Allan which sadly was cut short owing to the rainy and cold weather. However we did get to ride on the little train up into the vineyards and enjoyed a super lunch and evening meal in the pretty town, washed down with copious quantities of local wine.

Lunch overlooking the Med. at Collioure, not far from Spain.

Beautiful place, shame about the weather. It is nearly November though !

Looking back down after our bumpy tourist train ride.

 

Not quite the end to our ninth season’s cruising that we had intended. However, we were safe and ‘Aurigny’ undamaged.

 

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30. Comings and goings on the Midi.

Having made preparations for Karen’s arrival, we then had to solve the problem of finding a suitable mooring for when Peter went away a couple of days later. With this in mind I drove and he motorcycled to the pontoon at Bessan on the River Herault which we had earmarked as our first choice. A largish Belgian cruiser took up a fair bit of the pontoon. They informed us that the pontoon was only in place for the summer and was to be removed at the end of the week.

Onto choice two- which was a wild mooring on the section of the River Herault below Agde, where we had stayed several times in the past. Unfortunately the available space was now filled with long term moorers.

Our friends Sue and Allan were in the Allemande boatyard painting ‘Whisper’s’ hull, so we stopped by to see how they were getting on. We left the motorcycle near the round lock at Agde and then returned to Frontignan no closer to finding a mooring.

I headed off to meet Karen, who arrived at Montpellier Airport bang on time and despite my unexpected detour to the rental car park, I made it to the arrivals gate.

We enjoyed a good catch up on deck while drinking aperos, but it was too chilly to eat outside. Autumn had arrived.

The next morning, we set off for the Etang de Thau just after 9am. The wind was light and the sun shone. In just over two hours we were cruising into the Canal du Midi and rapidly lowering our aerials at the first low stone bridge.

Heading out onto the Etang.

The lighthouse at the entrance to the Canal du Midi.

As it was eight years ago, the canal is still lined with old derelict cruisers, many of them partly submerged. We had to avoid an abandoned half submerged catamaran on the bend before the first oval lock, but made it through ok.

Slow going up to the first lock, nearly lost the aerials at the first bridge !

We were soon approaching the round lock at Agde and were relieved to see the motor cycle where we had left it. Now we just had to find a mooring…

Vias was our destination, but alas much of the bank was filled with long term moorers. The only other space was taken by private boats. It was the same at Port Cassafieres.

Eventually, we found a spot at Portiragnes lock, where the friendly lock keeper agreed to let us stay for a few days. It proved to be a perfect spot after we had sorted the ropes and achieved full sun on our solar panels for much of the day.

Just below Portiragnes lock.

The following day proved rather awkward as we had to collect both the motorcycle from Agde and the car from Frontignan. There were no buses from Portiragnes so we all went by taxi to Agde and then Peter returned with the motor cycle to prepare for his trip the following day.

Meanwhile Karen and I walked to Agde station to catch a train to Frontignan. We had time before the train and enjoyed a stroll around the market and coffee before returning to the station. Alas, our train was delayed an hour! Undaunted, we walked back to the town centre and along the river, stopping for a beer on the way back to the station.

Just as we were about to board the train I had a ‘bad Eureka’ moment as I realised that I had forgotten to bring a car key! It would have been sensible to stay at Agde, contact Peter and wait for him to bring the key, but in the panic we headed off to Frontignan on the train with me frantically texting and phoning him as we went.

Peter in the meantime was still out riding, recce-ing possible moorings further west, but eventually I received his response – ‘Dipstick’ What a relief! He would bring us the car key in about half an hour. After a roadwork/route barre delayed trip Peter arrived and Karen I drove off to have a look at Sete.

Sete is always very busy with cars everywhere, but I knew there were great views to be had from the hilltop across the Etang de Thau. We drove to both Panoramic viewpoints (St Clair and Pierres Blanches) and had a tasty Salad Nicoise as a late lunch.

Looking over towards the start of the Etang.

Sete and the port.

Clearly over the guilt of forgetting the car keys !

Our rather frustrating day had turned out fine. We drove back to Agde along the sand spit which separates the sea from the lagoon and made a short detour to the pretty port of Marseillan, before returning to the barge.

Peter left at 9am the next day for his trip north and Karen and I had a lazy start. We drove back to the Etang de Thau and enjoyed a coffee in Bouzigues before exploring the town. Our next stop was Meze where we had a snack lunch on the beach before swimming in the rather murky waters. Finally we drove to Marseillan where a large beer on the quay and then a fine meal of tuna steak followed by fig pudding ended a fabulous day.

Darkness was falling quickly now and our new sat nav (James) took us to Portiragnes Plage. We eventually reached the barge at gone 10pm.

We spent the weekend enjoying the continued good weather at one of three Portiragnes beaches and visiting Villeneuve les Beziers by car and on foot for the inevitable large beer.

Lots of hire boats were still ploughing up and down the canal which doesn’t seem to have lost its popularity despite the removal of so many Plane trees. There are some stretches where the trees still grow, but these are rare. The VNF has replanted a variety of saplings along the banks but it will be many years before the canal regains its character.

Curious how some of the trees were unaffected.

Monday 1st October dawned sunny but with a chilly wind. A drive to the pleasant town of Pezenas was an ideal excursion. The town has lots of craft shops and workshops and thankfully some restaurants. I was treated to a tasty galette in the old town before we returned to Portiragnes.

Peter returned that evening having enjoyed an interesting few days riding with his old colleagues visiting the memorial/Martyred town of Orador sur Glane, a tank museum and the dock and submarine pens at Saint Nazaire.

Not wanting to overstay at the lock, we shuffled the motorcycle up to Villeneuve les Beziers the next morning, before dropping a bottle of wine to the lock keeper and heading off once more.

Despite being quite busy with hire boats, we were pleased to find space behind Bill and Jane (‘Arran’) who we met at the Dixmuide DBA Rally back in in 2014. We caught up over aperos that night and then said ‘au revoir’ the next day as they left for their winter mooring in Toulouse.

After a last stroll along the canal towards Bezier, I drove Karen to the station from where she took a train, a tram and a bus back to Montpellier airport. We had enjoyed a lovely week together.

No sooner had Karen left, than a freshly painted ‘Whisper’ turned up and was soon moored up on the opposite quay.

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29. Down to the Mediterranean with Paul and Jean.

Our two week stop at Aramon ended up costing us 260 Euros (!) but it had provided us with a fabulous, quiet river mooring and easy access to places of interest.

On our return from lunch in Uzes, we found that Mimi and Patrick (Eole) who we first met in 2010 and had crossed paths with once or twice since, were moored up behind us. We shared stories on deck in the evening and my spoken French got a good practice.

Paul and Jean arrived the next afternoon and were soon chilling out on deck. The swimming was great but sadly the fish weren’t biting, so the following morning the chaps drove to nearby Tarascon for some quality bait and new feeders.

We all met up in Aramon for lunch in the small restaurant that Peter and I had already visited the previous week. This was despite the ‘Formule’ lunch on that occasion being so garlicky that even my eyes were watering. This time we all had the Catalan Burger with frites which was delicious.

A brief visit from Sue and Allan (‘Whisper’) late afternoon was followed by more aperos onboard ‘Eole’, where Patrick proudly showed us his fine ‘air’ and ‘carnivorous plants. So much for a quiet day!

We couldn’t miss the Arles Saturday market and although it was not quite as good as we remembered, Jean bought a colourful bag and we both ‘splashed out’ on a 6 Euro dress as well as some fruit and veg. Peter and Paul found an Irish bar to relax in with Guinness, Confit Duck and Dauphinois Potatoes to enjoy – so everybody was happy.

A quick stroll through the market until Paul and I find something better to do !

Next stop was Van Gogh’s bridge and it was better signposted than eight years ago and still recognisable as the one in the painting, even though it has been moved a few meters to make way for a road bridge.

An iconic spot if you are an art lover.

We also decided to stop at Tarascon and visit the castle there and were delighted when the entry was free as part of a special tourist weekend in the area. It is an interesting place with ramparts that extend over the banks of the Rhone and excellent panoramic views. The interior is well preserved and on our visit had various ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’- certainly rather odd exhibits.

Beautiful castle.

Looking down at the Rhone.

The castle had been used as a prison on occasions and the carved ‘graffiti’ by the inmates was very interesting.

A decorated human skeleton exhibited ?

Seventeenth century graffiti, rather more pleasing to the eye than today’s!

Our final day at Aramon was useful for dropping a car to the Canal du Rhone a Sete, which we would cruise to the next day and doing the remaining washing. The chaps each lost a good fish- well at least the new bait and feeders were working- and we enjoyed a barbecue on deck as the sun set in splendid reds behind us.

After an early start, well 9am is early enough for me – we set off for the new mooring that Sue and Allan had told us about and moored up late afternoon. Strangely the 150m plus long mooring was ‘Plaisanciers’ at one end and ‘Commerciales’ at the other, but we were there alone.

The chaps picked up our car and having wended their way back to the barge by a circuitous route (owing to the watery nature of the area) we set off for Aigues Mortes. Another pretty town we had visited before.

Very pretty walled town with its many pedestrian walkways.

Remarkably well preserved. (think I got these descriptions in the right order!!)

The next day, Paul decided to take his car ahead and recce the moorings. During the first couple of hours, the scenery was a bit ‘samey’ with a lot of hedging and canal-side construction work in evidence. After we caught up with Paul at Palavas-les-Flots, we found ourselves in more open countryside – the Camargue – with flocks of flamingoes just visible in the distance on the various lakes that the canal passes through.

One of our favourite mooring spots was ahead- Villeneuve-les-Maguelone. It had been a welcome stop during our first year when Kate and the family had joined us, the children and their aunty desperate for some beach time. The footbridge was the same, driven by an outboard motor to open when a boat sounded its horn.

Villeneuve-les-Maguelone.

Moorings were plentiful, if slightly sloping (requiring tyres to be dropped) and once Paul had joined us with the vittels, Peter cooked Moules a la Creme which we enjoyed on deck. The idyllic sunset was just as we had remembered it.

The next day I headed off on my bicycle to the beach while the chaps picked up our car. Sadly, the little white train which serves the beach during the summer had finished for the season. I enjoyed four swims and a sunbathe, but was rather surprised on looking up from my book to see a naked man strutting his stuff a few metres in front of me…and this a beach which expected ‘correct dress!’

He wandered up and down peering along the shore searching for …who knows what…and then wandered towards Palaves-les-Flots where hopefully he had some clothes…

Just before Peter joined me a woman walked past with three dogs and a goat…!

Beach time.

Warm enough even for me !

Meanwhile Paul and Jean had driven to Sete to see the views from the top of the town, which is well worth it if you have transport. We enjoyed another barbecue and lovely sunset that evening.

The next morning we drove to Palavas-les-Flots and just caught the tail end of the market where Jean bought a sun hat. The chaps then resumed their boules competition in the nearby boulodrome while Jean and I headed to the beach. With the wind picking up – something we have noticed a lot in the south- we left the beach and found a bar that sold lovely white wine. The chaps joined us for a beer or two and then we returned to the barge before the bridge closed to foot passengers at 7pm.

Jean protecting her wine after Paul and I had a taste !

The next morning Paul drove ahead to Frontignan and we set off on the barge. We passed our old neighbours Chris and Bob on ‘Sassi’, but only managed a quick chat ‘en passant’.

At Frontignan, we moored on the left and then passed under the lift bridge at 4pm into the port. This is now managed by the Bridge master, who quickly turned up once it was back down to ask us how long we were staying. Three nights is now the maximum and mooring is free. Water (100L) and electrics (ours lasted >three days) is a 2 euro jeton each, payable by card at a machine on the quay – how sensible.

First in line as the bridge lifts.

The splendid weather was holding and we really felt ‘en vacances’. While the chaps picked up our car from Villeneuve-les-Maguelone, Jean and I walked into town and had a coffee in the square.

As it was their last day, we drove to Meze on the Etang de Thau and were treated to a fabulous fishy meal at the side of the port. Everywhere was busy with Sunday lunchers.

Lovely lunch at Meze.

The beach beckoned, so Jean and I drove to one of the Frontignan Plages while the chaps played more boules. That evening, despite the night drawing in, we sat on deck until gone 10.30pm in warm temperatures. It was probably our last really summery evening.

They left mid morning and I spent a few hours getting ready for Karen’s arrival the following day. A late trip to the beach was lovely for a swim but rather too breezy for a sun bathe. We now had to find somewhere suitable to moor while Peter went away on a motorcycling trip for a few days later in the week.

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28. Ramblings on the Rhone.

Our stay in Lyon was brief, just a couple of days. Once we found the part of the mooring which was sill free, we settled in to our shady spot. Well it was shady in the morning, but the afternoon sunshine was a bit too hot.

Nice spot.

I walked along the Saone to the Confluence with the Rhone; past the unusual arty buildings and newish port which is adjacent to a retail development and only really caters for cruisers. The Rhone side is rather tatty and under developed and the dual carriageway a nightmare if you are on foot, but work is in progress and it can only get better.

Looking back towards Lyon, Rhone on the right.

Looking downstream.

We had not moored in Lyon before, although we had visited friends by motor cycle and I‘d popped in by bus from a mooring further north in 2012. The mooring was okay, but busy with cyclists, pedestrians and the odd ‘clochard’. Peter padlocked us to the bank but we had no problems while we were there.

On Monday 13th August, we decided to explore the old town on the right bank. A short walk to the funicular and ride uphill to the Basilica of Notre Dame was rather easier than climbing the steps as I had previously. We had just taken photos of the view overlooking the city, when I spotted and ex work colleague from my old school – Notre Dame, Cobham – how appropriate. Michael and his wife Jill were at the end of a walking holiday. Small world…

The basilica.

Massive structure.

Fancy meeting you here !

Great views over the Saone and the Rhone.

The Basilica and crypt are well worth a look and the view over the city is lovely. We walked down through some gardens and across the Saone into Bellecoeur Square before heading back to the barge. That evening we strolled along to the port and had a burger from Macdonalds – we know how to live…

The following morning we slipped across to the water point by the VNF offices and filled up. As we were leaving, a commercial barge passed and we tried to keep him in our sights as he was going our way and we knew the first Rhone lock wasn’t far. We shared the lock with him and were soon in the long cut below. Our aim was to reach Vienne which we did by midday having left Lyon at 8.30am.

Our trip was recorded on Peter’s new toy- a Go Pro camera and he put together a speeded up video later that day. We moored on two ‘dolphins’ above the pedestrian bridge on the right bank and stayed six days. Although there were no electrics, our solar panels were doing their job in the sunshine.

Our Vienne mooring.

We had stopped in Vienne on our way north in 2012 and liked the town. It has a lot of Roman sights to visit and lies nestled between the hills and river on the left bank.

The town and river seemed much quieter than before and our mooring had its own gate and pontoon which gave us some privacy.

While I re-familiarised myself with St Colombe (the small town on the right bank,) Peter was happily catching a brace of barbell and one of catfish.

Gave a nice tug on the line.

The next day I walked across the river to take a train back to Villefranche for the car. Vienne was very quiet and there was hardly anyone about. At the station the trains were disrupted and my one wasn’t running. A friendly local explained that it was a Jour Ferie (feast day), so I decided to wait until the following day.

We both took the train to Villefranche-sur-Saone the next morning and once again had a longish walk from the station back to the car at Jassans Riottier. We stopped off in Trevoux and enjoyed a sandwich on the terrace overlooking the river. Well we may as well make use of having a car with us to see some sights. That evening we had a great meal at the nearby Bistro in St Colombes, a short walk from the barge.

Very nice meal.

After an overdue shopping expedition to nearby Leclerc the next day, we took another stroll across the bridge to Vienne and went into the Roman Amphitheatre, which had been closed on our previous visit as it was being prepared for the Vienne Jazz Festival. The Roman sights are all close by and worth a look and the ‘grand pression’ in a bar by the cathedral went down well

Realising I’d nicked the bigger beer!

Normal sevice resumed !!

Saturday is market day in Vienne and after buying lots of reasonably priced fruit, we walked to the Gallo-Roman museum at St-Romain-en-Gal which was a five minute walk from the barge. The museum was very interesting and well presented as was the archaeological site outside. We spent several hours there and it was well worth the 6 Euro entry price.

Excellent reproduction based on the remains of a vessel found nearby.

Roman street complete with drainage.

As Vienne was, our mooring spot left of the bridge.

Our stay in Vienne had been fun, but it was time to move on once more.

We left on Monday 20th August before 9am and cruised for five hours to Andancette where we had stopped before on our way south. The pontoon was adequate, the town still very quiet and the road bridge across to Andance as pedestrian unfriendly as before. I decided to walk up to the three crosses on the opposite bank as I had done in 2010. This time I wore walking boots and made sure I didn’t miss the poorly signed route up.

The Three Crosses and ‘Aurigny’ moored below.

The view was as fabulous as I remembered and the old girl as fit as ever ; ) I even went a bit higher before returning to the barge.

We moved on after a couple of days and were pleased to find a mooring at Tournon. The port was undergoing refurbishment and after mooring on the new sturdy pontoon, Peter chatted to the chap who ran a small trip boat. He said we would be fine there for a couple of days but that there were no electrics or water. No matter… we had been unable to stop there previously and it is unlikely we will be permitted to stop there in the future so we ‘seized the day’.

Several other barges and boats joined us in the port with no problems.

On our way north in 2012 we had stopped briefly on the opposite bank at Tain l’Hermitage hoping to buy some wine. As we were mooring up, Adam had phoned us with the excellent news that he had achieved a First Class Honours degree in Computing and Maths. This time, we had just settled down to enjoy a cold beer when we discovered that he and his friends Danny and Ollie had reached the finishing line on the Mongol Rally. Quite an achievement in our little Micra car that had already done us excellent service during our barging travels. It had ‘done’ its 100, 000 miles while rallying and 10,000 miles on the rally itself. Cause for celebration.

Tournon is a nice riverside town with lots of bars and restaurants. The Cotes du Rhone vineyards and caves abound.

We took the train back to Vienne the next morning and returned to Tournon via the ticket office of the ‘Train des Ardeche’ which is a steam train that goes up into the hills. Our train left at 3.15 so we returned to the barge for lunch before driving back up to the station. It was a very pleasant excursion, not least because the temperature was cooler uphill.

Our ride.

Lovely scenic route alongside a river.

Not wishing to outstay our welcome we left the next day heading for Le Pouzin (another quay we had used in 2012.) En route, we saw a huge fire raging ahead of us near Valence. Apparently a tyre factory had caught fire and black smoke billowed into the sky. The fire fighting was not helped by the fairly strong wind.

Our destination was taken by a hotel barge and on inspection later we discovered that it was now only available for ‘Authorised Passenger Boats’. Having told Sue and Allan (‘Whisper’) about the ‘great quay’ at pk 133, we looked for an alternative and found one a kilometre further downstream. They joined us there from Valence later the next day, rafting alongside.

We left together on Sunday 26th August, cruising towards the old town of Viviers. ‘Whisper’ secured a mooring in the port there, but we knew that ‘Aurigny’ was too big.  Fortunately, a couple of km downstream there were two dolphins 5m from the bank which were vacant and suitable.

Whisper.

Sharing a huge Rhone lock.

A very windy day.

Perfect for these guys though.

After mooring up to a ripple of applause from some picnickers, I paddled to the bank in the canoe and walked back to the town. It was rather further than I had thought, so I headed back having missed Sue and Allan who had gone exploring. However, our mooring was very pretty and quiet.

Good solid mooring but no shore access.

With Adam and Felicity arriving in a few days time, we set off the next morning for a long 8+ hour cruise to Avignon. The mighty Bollene Lock is always an experience and despite a couple of delays at locks, we had moored up in our pre-booked spot at Avignon by 4.15pm.  As on our previous visit in 2010, we decided to pay for a week, which works out cheaper than the daily rate, although still not that cheap at 180 Euro.

Bollene, 23mtrs. deep.

Our next day was a long one, as we returned to Tournon for the car. In fact Tournon station is now closed so we used the one at Tain l’Hermitage where we had left the car a few days before. On the way back we took the scenic route and stopped off in Montelimar so I could buy some of the famous Nougat. Next stop was Viviers, where we had a welcome beer before I left Peter and walked up into the old town. As we were driving away, we saw Sue and Allan in their car. They had just returned from shopping and so while the chaps resumed their boules competition, Sue and I relaxed onboard ‘Whisper’.

With over sixty kilometres to drive back to Avignon in the rush hour, we said ‘Au Revoir’ and headed off. The petrol tank was on ‘empty’ as we reached the outskirts of Avignon where there were several closures due to the laying of a new tramway. Having circumnavigated the town walls, we took a wrong turn which took us through a gate and into the town centre. While it is pleasant to walk around the narrow streets, driving is not to be recommended, as one way streets totally confuse the sat nav. Even our new one – ‘James’ struggled to help us find a way out. I was mightily relieved to finally reach the mooring, although naturally Peter said there was still plenty in the tank!

That evening Peter caught a barbell and then a massive catfish which took over an hour to land and then had to be lifted back into the river using towels.

Into something big.

About an hour and twenty minutes later this 122lb catfish !

The next day after a shopping and fuel expedition, I bought a combined ticket for the Pope’s Palace and Pont de St Benezet, neither of which I had visited last time. My over sixties concessionary ticket made it very good value at 11,50 Euro.

In the Palace they provide a bespoke Ipad which as well as explaining things allows you to see the various halls as they might have been back in the day. This did bring the place to life and showed how well those Popes looked after themselves.

The Pont’s audio guide was also very good and the video showing the virtual reconstruction of the famous Pont d’Avignon was very good. I resisted the temptation to dance…

The next day, I enjoyed an early morning walk up the ramparts and into the town before it became too hot and practically had the place to myself. With Adam and Felicity arriving the following evening, much of the rest of the day was spent preparing for their visit.

With their arrival at 9pm the following evening, we decided to drive to Marseilles airport via the pretty hillside town of Gordes, a very picturesque spot with lovely panoramic views all around. With more time to kill we had a meal in Berres and were just a few minutes from the airport when Adam texted to say they were outside waiting.

The very pretty hilltop town of Gordes.

Looking back from the town.

The chateau.

Sadly the drive back on the motorway was delayed owing to heavy traffic and as we approached Avignon the annual summer firework display was just reaching its climax. As it was on the river banks the road to our mooring in the port was temporarily closed and after dropping us at a nearby gate, Peter had to brave the roads within the ramparts once again before the road was finally opened.

We enjoyed just under a week together and were treated to a tasty ‘Petit Dejeuner’ in the centre the next morning. Adam and Felicity explored the town, the ‘Pont’ and the opposite bank on foot and by bicycle despite the strengthening wind. We drove across the river to check out the mooring at Aramon and then back to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon to visit the fort. The view across to Avignon is very pretty and a cold beer in the old town centre went down well before returning to the barge.

A climb to get the view…

…followed by breakfast in town.

Looking back from the castle at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.

Our week in Avignon being up, we set off in beautiful sunshine for Aramon the next morning. It was only 14km away, so it didn’t take long.  The river is very wide here and deep enough near the pontoon to enjoy swimming and somersaulting. With temperatures in the 30s it was a good way to cool down.

Heading off to Aramon.

Our canoe also got some use, although swimming off it proved a bit tricky.

A slightly flooded canoe after a swim!

Swimming from the barge a little less precarious…

…or maybe not !

Perfecting the ‘bomb’

Having retrieved the car from Avignon, we were able to drive to Arles on their final day and enjoy a drink near the Roman Amphitheatre. All too soon it was time for them to leave and catch the train back to Marseilles Airport, leaving us with happy memories of their stay.

Farewell at Arles.

As we were in no hurry to continue our journey south, we booked in for a week and took the opportunity to kayak one afternoon on the River Gardon, which took us underneath the stunning Roman Pont du Gard.

Cracking day for a paddle.

And a swim.

2000 years old…The Aqueduct !

The river is teeming with big barbel, trout and carp.

Charlie and Liz came for lunch one day and we met them in Uzes the next, soaking up the very French atmosphere at the market in the Place des Herbes as we dined.

Coffee.

Then a lovely lunch in Uzes with Charles and Liz.

With Jean and Paul visiting a few days later, we decided to grasp the nettle and pay for another week at the very pleasant Aramon Halte Fluviale, before finally leaving the Rhone.

Superb moorings and old town at Aramon.

 

 

 

 

 

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27. The Saone to The Rhone via UK and Salzburg!

Amazingly our plans worked out like clockwork and we spent just under a week on the quay in the pleasant town of Tournus. With free water and electrics it has always been a great place to stop and its charming, rather tatty old world charm also appeals.

Tournus, lovely spot.

Two days before our ferry to England for a family get together, we cruised north to the small port in a disused lock at Gigny, having reserved a spot there. Sadly the very popular restaurant was fully booked but we enjoyed a cold beer on the terrace.

Inside the old lock.

Enjoying a cold beer.

With the car packed, we set off the next morning and drove to Cambrai where we caught up with Carol and John on ‘Plover’. They were our neighbours over the winter in 2013 and now have a permanent mooring there. We enjoyed a tasty meal in a local restaurant and spent the night in La Chope Hotel near the port. It is always nice to catch up with old friends.

This meant we only had a short drive the next morning to Calais and we were soon enjoying lunch with Louise and Alex in their lovely ever changing home in Hawkinge, Kent.

With our immediate family spread far and wide, it was great to be able to get together in Shepperton once again. Laura had flown over from New Zealand for her three week action-packed birthday treat and Adam was able to spare time from his preparations for the Mongol Rally, starting just a few days later.

Together again.

Precious times when you’re a world apart.

As most of the barging Mum’s would agree, it is the absence of family and friends that can place a shadow over one’s enjoyment of this experience and times such as these are very special.

After a busy few days moving furniture between Shepperton and Winchester, enjoying a lovely Chinese meal out ‘en famille’ and meeting Adam’s girlfriend Felicity, Peter returned to France on the motorbike and was joined by his brother Paul.

A really nice Chinese meal out together.

A chance to meet Felicity the following evening and enjoy some British beer before I head back on the motorbike.

The chaps then moved the barge back to Tournus, fished, drank lots of good wine, played boules and chilled…or at least tried to in the heat wave which seemed to be Europe wide. As Paul left, a friend Peter arrived to carry on the socialising and Sue and Allan finally caught up on ‘Whisperer’…more aperos! Peter, Paul and Alan played boules most days under the shade of some trees nearby and everyone kept up the fluid levels with plenty of cold beers.

Back in Tournus, Paul and I enjoy some fishing, boules and fine wine.

The aftermath of aperos !

Meanwhile, Laura and I were busy seeing friends, catching up on appointments and fitting the metaphorical ‘quart into a pint pot’. Dad was delighted to see his granddaughter again when we visited him in Devon and was looking fit and well in his lovely nursing home.

The culmination of Laura’s visit was a trip to Salzburg with my sister Kate and her daughter Megan. As children of the sixties Kate and I had grown up with the Sound of Music and had promised that we would visit Salzburg on a ‘significant birthday’.  In fact all of us had significant birthdays…60, 55, 30 and 20. So 2018 seemed as good a time as any.

A great all girl trip to Salzburg.

We had a brilliant time and laughed and sang our way around most of the sights over two days. What Mozart (who was born there) thinks of it all we will never know, but I like to think he has a smile on his face, even though his birth place is now a Spa supermarket!

Visiting some of the famous venues from ‘The Sound Of Music’

All too soon our three weeks was over and it was time to say “So long, farewell…” which is never easy. Andrew, Kate and I finished clearing Dad’s house which had been my home on and off for 58 years and we all headed off on our separate ways.

I was pleased to be able to break up my long drive to Tournus with a stopover on ‘Riccall’ with Louise and Alex who are great company and arrived hot and tired in a steamy Tournus the following afternoon.

Having moored there for about three weeks, we stayed a few more days to enable us to sort out and stow all the gear that I had brought over in the car.

We cruised to Macon and spent a few days there hoping that the heat wave would break. It didn’t. Temperatures of 38c are not fun and even though I was swimming several times each day and right across the Saone one evening, the river itself was too warm to be refreshing.

No one had any energy, but with impending cabin fever, I gamely set out one morning to visit Cluny. It is an interesting town which was well known in the Middle Ages for its huge monastery which dominated Europe as a kind of monastic capital.

Cluny.

While I was away, Peter set about fitting our new automatic satellite dish to the back deck; so no more me pointing to 28 degrees east of south or that temperamental screeching satellite finder. Yippeeeee!

Fits nicely on the back deck, no more fiddling about for a signal.

Press the button and it is all tuned in…lovely.

We had also intended climbing the rock at Solutre with Sue and Allan, but having driven there from Macon one day we all agreed it was just too hot.

Our final days on the River Saone did see the weather break as last. We stopped at Belleville for the first time (the pontoon having been full previously). As we moored up I managed to drop a fender overboard. In fact our fenders had taken a bit of a bashing at Macon where boy racers zoom up and down in speed boats and on jet skis chasing the swans, producing a huge wash. These people ruin the peaceful rivers often deliberately straying out of their allotted areas. One rope had broken twice and our fender was returned to us by a chap on a cruiser …twice.

Such a shame that a selfish few spoil the peace for everyone.

This time I collected it in the canoe, and had to do the same again at Jassans Riottier, when a new rope slid out of a fender as we moored up. This time however Peter suggested I wait until we had enjoyed a nice lunch in the adjacent restaurant before paddling across the river to retrieve it.

We stayed on the pontoon there for the weekend with free electrics, as nobody came to collect the fees. A walk across the river to Villefranche sur Saone station and a twenty minute train journey took us back to a very rainy Macon where we had left the car.

Next stop was an idyllic looking pontoon between St Germain de Mont d’Or and Neuville sur Saone. Shady and quiet…until we realised that we were in the middle of a speedboat area! So we left there on Sunday 12th August and cruised into Lyon to a reasonable quay mooring at PK 2.5 opposite the VNF office. It was fine for a couple of days and just a few kilometres from the confluence with the mighty Rhone.

Our mooring in Lyon.

Nice at night too.

View from above, the Rhone and the Saone join just a short distance downstream to the right.

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26. Last days on the Canal Lateral a la Loire, a few days on the Canal de Roanne a Digoin and the Canal du Centre.

The Canal Lateral a la Loire continued to delight, with its pretty scenery and interesting towns. We stopped at Gannay sur Loire for a couple of days which is famed for its Sully Tree- according to our old waterways guide.  The tree was planted in 1597 by Sully the Finance Minister of Henri IV and marks the boundary between the Burgundy, Bourbon and Nivernais regions. The tree is now immortalised in a concrete base which is rather a shame. We enjoyed a filling ‘Formule’ lunch in the nearby restaurant and couldn’t eat anything else that day.

Not a lot left of the famous tree.

Our next stop was the port at Beaulon, where we stayed over two weeks. Popular with camping cars and boats alike it was a great spot for us to get down to some serious barge painting. We managed to do the stern cabin roof despite the awkwardness of having to remove and stack the solar panels first and as with the front deck decided to use non slip paint. The solar panel brackets had to be removed too and then replaced accurately before the panels themselves could be screwed down.

Third coat, trouble is the hatch looks scruffy now !

….ah well.

Fortunately, in the waiting time between coats, we were able to enjoy a couple of trips into the pretty fortress spa town of Bourbon Lancy (in search of Sikoflix initially) and lunch in a lovely old creperie in Beaulon.

We also did a recce by car of Dompierre sur Besbre which is off the main canal, but decided it wasn’t worth cruising there as the port is a bit dingy and then onto Diou which was much nicer.

Friends Carol and Jeremy (‘Anthonia’) stopped by on their way south by car for a night and it was lovely to catch up with them again. Fortunately the new problem with our hot water tank was fairly easy to manage until such time as Peter could take a good look at it and diagnose the problem.

After several ‘trouble free loo’ years, our guest cabin loo failed to flush and on closer inspection the problem was a wet wipe (alas one I think I dropped in while cleaning) plus a build up of lime scale in the macerator. As Carol and Jeremy headed south, I watched the Royal Wedding and we planned to leave on Monday 21st May.

We had tried to do the minimum of noisy preparation while at Beaulon, not wishing to spoil the calm, but on the Monday morning several nearby camping cars left and we decided to stay a bit longer and tackle our largest deck- the grass one. We rolled up the ‘lawn’ stacking it on the newly painted front deck. The garage floor paint had done a good job over the past eight years and needed redoing. As with all decorating jobs the preparation is important and for us it involved washing, scraping off rust, vacuuming, two coats of the rust proofing ‘Owatrol’ (which need a 24 hour drying period) and then two coats of paint. With the vagaries of the weather this seemed to take forever especially as it was our third deck.

Third coat again…one more to go.

We had in fact been fairly fortunate weather wise, but just as Peter finished putting on the first coat of Owatrol, the skies darkened and the heavens opened. Sue and Alan had just moored up on ‘Whisperer’. With windows open, hatches removed for sanding and varnishing and Peter off in the car helping Alan collect his car, I ran around the barge like a headless chicken trying to keep the deluge out while the air turned a dark shade of blue around me. An hour later after several drinks on board ‘Whisperer’ I had calmed down sufficiently to accept the soaking bedroom carpet underneath the hatch on our return … amazingly the Owatrol coat had survived the three hour rain storm!

The following day Alan drove us all over to a canal-side restaurant in Cercy La Tour. We had cruised through there and stopped not far away in our first month nine years ago. We enjoyed a tasty pizza lunch in the sunshine.

Our deck having survived the thunderstorm, we set off after ‘Whisperer’ the next morning. We said we would meet up again several weeks later in Tournus.

We passed through more pretty countryside and short wisteria-festooned aqueducts on our way to Diou, but the strangest sight of all was a garden with weird objects and decorated trees, a big black dog and a chap wearing white women’s tights and a sweatshirt. Needles to say the tights left nothing to the imagination!

No picture…too nauseating !!

Our three day stop at Diou enabled us to finish the ‘grass’ deck. We had at least made a good effort on the top sides so far this year.

Carol and Jeremy joined us the next day on their way north. By then we had moved up to Pierrefitte and we enjoyed another evening together. They headed back to ‘Anthonia’ in Auxerre the next morning.

Our next stop was the new quay at Molinet which is close to the junction with the Canal de Roanne a Digoin – the ‘Canal Tranquille’. We did another recce by car of the first part of that canal and then drove into Digoin which is quite pretty near the canal, but rather disappointing otherwise.

‘Aurigny’ had cruised to Roanne in her previous life and we hoped to return there for a week or so and then return north with friends Jacqui and Paul who were arriving soon.

We set off and turned onto the Canal de Roanne a Digoin, the canal is definitely ‘tranquille’ and very rural. The tow path is often rough or nonexistent and the canal itself rather shallow in places. Our first mooring spot at Pont de la Croix Rouge required us to put tyres out to rest on as it was so shallow. We shared the mooring with ‘Blue Gum’ and invited Sally and Charles on board for what turned into yet another extended aperos session.

After a slow, dredging cruise to Chambilly, we stopped for the night and then turned around the next day to return north. It really was rather shallow.  We spent another night on tyres at our previous mooring and had a fabulous meal in Chassenard at ‘La Table de Jeanne’ before moving up to a free mooring in Digoin on the right after the aqueduct and just before the port.

Pont de la Croix Rouge, returning north.

Just about to enjoy a delightful lunch at ‘La Table de Jeanne’ 

The puddings !! …ok, deserts.

We stayed at Digoin for several days during which I visited the interesting ‘Observaloire’ and we chilled out.  A drive to the well appointed Paray le Monial enabled us to finalise our meeting point for Jacqui and Paul on Sunday 10th June.

Paray le Monial is a destination for pilgrims and as such is very well kept and also very quiet. The Basilique du Sacre Coeur dominates the skyline and is beautifully illuminated at night. There are several places of interest for pilgrims and while we were there huge marquees were being erected for a forthcoming religious event. We were amazed at how quiet the town was during two evening walks at the weekend.

Paray le Monial, The fire brigade washing the barge.

Free of charge, good service.

Our friends arrived after a longish drive from Le Havre. Among the many lovely things they brought with them was a huge box of Yorkshire tea… as we were down to our last few ounces of emergency loose tea it was gratefully received and we could ditch the recently purchased French English Breakfast Tea that tasted and looked like mud.

A river runs through the town which is very quiet and ‘Godly’ !

The weather remained unsettled and rather cloudy, but was generally ok. With another car available for shuffling, I was let off car collecting duty a couple of times having done a fair bit in the past month or so.

Being on a new canal with guests is always fun as it is new to all of us and we never know where we will be able to moor. However with our ancient waterways guide and DBA mooring guide, we have always found somewhere.

Genelard was a pleasant port on the line of demarcation between Unoccupied and Vichy France during WW2. Jacqui and I spent two absorbing hours in the exhibition at the library.

Genelard. the bridge was the demarcation line.

Good friends, good weather…good Evens !

At Montceau-les-Mines, we moored by a busy road as the new port was still being finished. Jacqui and Paul cycled back to get their car while Peter cooked his tasty Seafood Risotto and we all enjoyed watching a Dave Gilmour and Billy Joel DVD.

The next morning we had to phone for the three bridges to be opened in the town centre and once through the town had a longish day and several locks. We were approaching the top of the canal and eventually stopped at Montchanin next to a VNF centre. Paul and I cycled back to get the cars while Jacqui went for a run.

Heading through the town.

Just love holding up the traffic !

Paul & Jacqui.

The ‘summit’ lock, all downhill from here!

Going downhill is always challenging as Peter loses sight of the lock about 50m out and relies on my perceived distances. This coupled with an unhelpful wind made things very tricky and we had seven to do in a chain as we headed towards St Julien-sur-Dheune. There was room for us at one end of the oddly shaped port with hotel barge ‘Finesse’ at the other end.

Pleasant scenery, tight locks.

St Julien-sur-Dheune with the auberge on the left.

That evening we were treated to a lovely meal at the canal-side auberge, a super way to end a great week with friends.

We stayed on the quiet pleasant mooring a couple more days as we realised we were reaching the end of the Canal du Centre and needed to find a suitable spot to leave the barge during our return to England early in July. I enjoyed a 45 minute guided tour of the Villa Perrusson one afternoon. Only the gardens were open, but the tour gave a good idea of the background and history of the local Ceramics industry.

 Villa Perrusson.

After a chain of seven more locks we stopped on a stone quay for one night, but it was noisy with traffic so we moved onto Santenay which is a winegrowing town full of caves. The weather had finally settled down and we were greeted by blue skies most mornings. The mooring was free but had no electrics; however the sun did its work with the solar panels.

Nothing here but lovely views…

…Not such a lovely view !

Ahh, that’s better. In the town centre.

Still a little too hot for my liking !

We spent three days at Santenay during which time I cycled through the vineyards, explored the town and collected the car. In glorious sunshine we drove to Tournus, La Truchere, Chagny and Fragnes to recce possible moorings for our forthcoming trip and narrowed down the possibilities. Chagny was just 5km away but the gusty conditions made the short trip quite challenging. We stopped there for one night.  Then we had a longish trip down to Fragnes, a charming port with 300m of moorings and a very pleasant Capitaine – Celine. We stayed there a couple of nights enjoying a meal in the restaurant. It soon became clear that we had run out of options of leaving ‘Aurigny’ on the Canal du Centre.

En route to Fragnes.

A friendly lock assistant.

Our reserved mooring at fragnes.

A second drive to Tournus and La Truchere on the River Seille, plus a detour via the old disused Gigny lock on the Saone gave us our solution. We would cruise down to Tournus and spend a week or so there and then move back up to the Halte Nautique at Gigny…

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25. Endings and beginnings.

Our winter would be very different this year.

We spent about a week in Briare, preparing ‘Aurigny’ for winter and packing for both summer and winter weather. In the New Year we would make our long awaited trip to see Laura in New Zealand.

We liked the Commercial Port very much and would be happy to return there one day in the future. The area has many fine walks along the various canals and River Loire. While we were there, Louise and Alex (Riccall) joined us for a couple of days on their way south and we enjoyed catching up on news.

Briare, our winter mooring.

This would be our trusty Micra’s final return trip to England, as we were stopping ‘en route’ in Bruges to pick up Lynn and Stew’s (Matariki) Suzuki Grand Vitara which they had kindly given us when they returned to New Zealand. It was great to catch up with the Bruges ‘bargees’ that evening and kind of Diana and Chris (Esme) to put us up for the night.

Back in England, Peter stayed just long enough to get the ‘new’ car ‘MOT’d before returning to Briare. Adam joined him for a few days and helped get the motor cycle off the barge and onto a new trailer Peter had bought- not easy without a fully functioning crane! Meanwhile I spent the time in England catching up with friends and family as usual and singing with the Treble Clef Choir.

New car with trailer ready for the trip back to the UK.

We spent Christmas on Alderney and were pleased that Adam could join us there for a few days, enjoying a superb Christmas day dinner with Paul and Jean. This is another lovely place to visit where we have family and friends and of course where the name ‘Aurigny’ stems from.

January and February were spent in New Zealand – an amazing experience. It was lovely to spend time with Laura and Dan and we visited many parts of that wonderful country.

The ‘Long Village’ of the European Canal System stretches across the world and we were lucky to spend time with four couples we have met during our barging travels. Lynn and Stew (formerly Matariki), Lynn and Keith (Paprika), Lorna and Aidy (formerly Ariana) and Rosemary and John (Petronella). We also popped over to Brisbane to meet up with our old friend Dave Hambly and his new family who live ‘off grid’ three hours from that city. Thanks again to all these kind friends who were so hospitable to us.

We returned to the Northern Hemisphere in early March and went straight to Devon to see my dad who had been taken very ill after Christmas. After spending two months in hospitals in Surrey, he was well enough to move to a care home near to my sister Kate, just as we were coming back.

Peter then returned post haste to Briare, having never left ‘Aurigny’ for so long before. I followed a couple of weeks later.  We had about a week for me to get my head back in the barging groove before we set off. Meeting up with friends at the port reminded me of what a great way of life this is.

The Pont-Canal de Briare had undergone painting and repair over the winter, but was open again on 1st April. We set of around midday on 3rd and cruised the short distance to Beaulieu where we had stopped last autumn. Other familiar stops included Lere and Menetreol-sous-Sancerre. The Loire a Velo cycle route was useful for picking up the car and the bicycle fitted in the back more easily than it had in the Micra.

We had decided to crack on with the painting of the barge’s top-sides, having failed to do much last year. Before that however, Peter had the unenviable task of cleaning and rust-proofing a very cramped part of the engine room which hitherto had always been full of water from the propeller shaft. Not an easy job when you are 6’3’’.

At Menetreol sous Sancerre, we met Aileen and Mike on their narrow boat ‘Quaintrelle’ as they returned loaded down with wine from a nearby cave. We spent a couple of convivial evenings with them in the nearby ‘Le Florin’ bar and were joined there by Sue and Alan who had caught us up on ‘Whisperer’.

Before we went our separate ways, Sue, Alan and I visited the cave recommended by Aileen and Mike and returned with several cases of delicious local wine. An extended aperos session followed onboard ‘Aurigny’ that evening. We were definitely back in the barging ‘groove’…

Our next stop was another old haunt at La Chapelle Montlinard with its free electrics and water. We set to and cleaned the wheelhouse roof (started last spring) and the front deck/coach roof and crane. Peter finally gave the wheelhouse its long awaited second coat and by the time we left almost a week later, the coach roof just needed a final coat.

Paul joined us there and Jane and Guy (Hibou) also stopped for a night. The weather was unseasonably warm and we enjoyed a couple of barbecues. The chaps resumed their boules competition and I had a couple of lovely walks among the fields of rapeseed.

‘Hibou’ left and their place was taken by ‘Jenal’ who were coming north from Roanne to a shipyard on the Seine. On 20th April, Jenny and Alan joined us for a splendid lunch in La Charite sur Loire to celebrate Peter’s 60th birthday. The bridge repairs we had seen there in October were just about finished, but several roads were still being resurfaced and I drove in circles following the diversion signs while trying to find a supermarket.

Birthday lunch.

As ‘Jenal’ left to go north, we headed south and joined ‘Hibou’ at Cours-les-Barres. I was kindly invited for aperos with Jane and Guy while the chaps drove back to the very nice boules terrain at nearby Beffes. Apparently the excellent sports facilities in Beffes were paid for by the Nuclear Power Station at Belleville as part of its contribution to the region.

Our next stop was the long quay before the Pont-Canal at Le Guetin. This is an older aqueduct than the one at Briare by about fifty years. Peter put the final coat of non-slip deck paint onto the coach roof and he and Paul made some rubber supports for the dinghy and canoe out of an old zigzag glissoir (fender).

Front deck painted and new supports for the dinghy.

Meanwhile I did two pleasant walks to Le Bec de l’Allier- the junction of the Rivers Loire and Allier.

A short drive to Apremont-sur-Allier, a ‘Beau village de France’, made a pleasant outing and a galette at the strangely named ‘Carpe Frite’ went down well with a local beer one lunchtime.

Apremont-sur-Allier.

Lunch spot.

With our dinghy and canoe supports stuck in place we could remove both boats from the grass deck and put our deck chairs out.

After the spell of very hot weather, the change was rather a shock. We moored for the weekend at Fleury-sur-Loire and happily paid the 9 euros a night for water and electrics.

The washing machine had started leaking and the drum half filling randomly when it was switched off, so the lounge was now the repository for the contents of the airing cupboard. Fortunately we cured the problem with the aid of some lime-scale remover down the inlet hose and found and repaired another leak caused by a loose fitting in the airing cupboard.

We were fast approaching familiar territory at Decize. In her past life as ‘Captain’s Lady’, ‘Aurigny’ had spent over a year in the port at St Leger des Vignes, at the start of the Canal du Nivernais. In fact she was there when we first saw her in 2009 and we spent our first winter there. This time we were approaching from the Canal Lateral a la Loire.

We drove over to see if our old neighbours Maureen and Ron were on ‘Dimmis’, but sadly they weren’t, so returned to Fleury and hunkered down to watch the Grand Prix just as the rain came down.

At this point Peter told me there was a barge asking for help via The Barge Association (DBA) online forum – ‘Maria Helena’ was stuck on a quay on the River Loire between the two canals at Decize. She had a broken engine. Understandably, her owners who were back in the UK dealing with another crisis were desperate to get her to safety and effect repairs. The Loire has a tendency to flood quite dramatically at short notice. We drove down again to see her and decide whether we would be able to assist.  On Monday, after cruising most of the day, we stopped on the Canal Lateral above the port of Decize. We walked down to the Loire and found another quay on the same stretch of river, which although flowing quite fast, looked okay. Back onboard, we headed though the two automated locks onto the Loire and moored up with ‘Maria Helena’ in sight just a quarter of a mile downstream.

Moored up on the Loire awaiting the owners of ‘Maria Helena’

Despite my worry about the potential dangers of being on the Loire, the mooring was lovely and we stayed a couple of days. This enabled Peter and Paul to hatch a rescue plan and ‘Maria Helena’s’ owners Ian and Pauline to fly back out.

Peter loves rivers and was delighted to catch a huge carp on the first evening. The following day was May Day and all the locks were shut.

 

Not bad for the first fish of 2018.

 Ian and Pauline arrived early evening the next day and joined us for a barbecue. We reconvened at 8am and drove to the first lock for a briefing. Paul and Pauline were to remain bank side to take ropes and manoeuvre ‘Maria Helena’ into the lock. Three and a half hours later, with ‘Maria Helena’ safely moored in the port, ‘Aurigny’ returned to the canal, Peter reversing into a space made for us by ‘Hibou’ who had caught us up again. An impromptu aperos evening ensued, with Jane and Guy and also John from a narrow barge moored with us. Then Ian and Pauline arrived on their tandem, bringing wine, champagne and a jigsaw puzzle as a thank you gift. All’s well that ends well and we were pleased to have been able to help.

‘Maria Helena’ awaiting a tow.

Rafted up we set off upstream to the lock.

At the lock and out of the main stream we separate and hand over to Paul and Pauline. I would have preferred to raft on the starboard side but the strong current made it difficult for a changeover.

 

We trip the lock activation and with a pull and a push in she goes.

On the other side we raft up again and manoeuvre her onto the pontoon.

Once again we had enjoyed an interesting first month’s cruising. Jane and Guy left for the Canal du Nivernais and Paul drove back to Cherbourg for his flight to Alderney. Peter and I sourced some French Marigolds in the nearby Bricomarche and practically denuded the shelves in two visits. 100 new flowers for our ten new tubs kept me busy for an hour or two. Just the rest of the topsides left to paint now, so as not to let the side down…

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24. Autumn meanderings.

With almost two months left before we could enter our winter mooring at Briare, we decided to cruise slowly south on waterways hitherto unexplored by us, although ‘Aurigny’ had been there in her past life as ‘Captain’s Lady’.

With Peter heading off to Belgium on a motorcycle trip with friends in a few days, we needed to find somewhere suitable to moor for a week. 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.

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 complete the task and Peter took me back to Montereau to pick up the car on his way to Belgium.

After a few of days home alone, Peter returned after an enjoyable trip and we faced the task of getting the motor cycle back onto the barge.

The hydraulic pump was kaput, but the lifting arm still worked and Peter was able to turn the cog manually and slowly but surely the arm swung the motorcycle onto the deck.

We cruised to Montargis which we had visited by car a few weeks before. The town is quite pretty, but we felt the title ‘Venice of the Gatinais’ was somewhat pretentious. Our mooring in the Commercial port was quickly reduced to one night when we discovered it would cost 42,40 euro for two.

I phoned the lock keeper after lunch the next day and we set off passing through the two town locks and relinquishing our zapper at Marolles Lock. We were now on the Canal de Briare, just a couple of day’s cruisng from Briare itself.

 Winding our way through the town centre.

Two deep locks raise us quickly. 

10km and a couple of locks later, we stopped in sunshine on a wild mooring just beyond a lock. An hour later, the lock keeper politely asked if we minded moving to a picnic mooring before the next lock as a hotel barge needed the length at our mooring. So off we set…and as we tried to moor at the new spot the hotel barge passed us giving thanks. It soon became clear that depth was the problem, not length and the new spot was no good for us either!

Our short day had turned into a considerably longer one as we now had to go up a chain of four locks before we could stop. Fortunately there were suitable bollards a few hundred metres beyond the last lock and the elderly chap in the nearby farm helped us to moor up and then presented us with home grown tomatoes, parsley and spring onions. How kind.

Along the way we see several places where the canal has been improved and old lock staircases bypassed. 

Our next stop was the town of Montbouy where the mooring was free and electrics and water were 2,50 euro for 4hours. We stayed the weekend and enjoyed several walks including one to a nearby Roman Amphitheatre.

Pleasant spot for the weekend.

Amphitheatre.

On Monday morning we followed hotel barge ‘Meanderer’ to Rogny-les-Sept Ecluses and were soon followed by Tjalk ‘Sojourn’. After walking up to admire the Sept Ecluses of the old canal, we joined Pam, Rob and their guests on ‘Sojourn’ for aperos.

The old staircase at Rogny-les-Sept Ecluses.

The town has limited shopping facilities and we weren’t sure how long to stay there, but the cost of the moorings (22 euro) helped make our minds up and we headed off after ‘Sojourn’ the next morning.

Setting off the following day, the old and the new.

The Canal de Braire is very pretty and the lock keepers friendly and helpful. There are several sections where the original locks have been replaced by newer ‘Freycinet’ ones (as at Rogny) and the old workings can still be seen.

With six uphill locks followed by six downhill ones to negotiate in increasingly strong winds, we were pleased to finally reach Ouzouer-sur-Trezee and stop.

An 8km walk to Briare plus a longish wait for one of the few trains to Montargis and then Souppes-sur-Loing filled the following day for me. We needed the car and we needed vittels.  I took the opportunity to wander around Briare and look at the commercial port where ‘Aurigny’ would spend the winter.

After a couple of days we cruised on through Briare and crossed the pont-canal (aqueduct) stopping beyond at a small quay in the wild.

Approaching the narrow entrance of the Aqueduct.

The impressive River Loire is never far away from the Canal Laterale a la Loire which we now found ourselves on. The pont-canal at Briare was built in the nineteenth century to facilitate the crossing of the Loire by barges.

Not much wiggle room !

Below us the wild River Loire.

With plenty of time on our hands, we visited the old lock of Mantelot near Chatillon-sur-Loire which is on the south side of the river and from where barges used to cross to the Combles lock to the north. While we were there an old Loire barge was passing through.

The bridge and lock leading onto The loire.

Not often used but we were lucky to see one of the old boats.

And out into the fast flowing shallow river.

Not a place for vessels such as ours.

For the next few weeks we cruised short distances, stopping at Beaulieu (where Paul joined us,) Belleville-sur-Loire, Lere, Menetreol-sous- Sancerre and La Chapelle Montlinard. All these moorings provided free electrics and water and boulangeries.

The view from the tower at Sancerre to the Loire below.

 

199 steps below, the lovely town of Sancerre.

We could now leapfrog with the cars and Paul would drive ahead to check out available moorings. As usual, he brought some fine weather with him and we took advantage of this to visit some interesting places. An afternoon at the impressive Guedelon where they are building a Chateau Fort using only tools, materials and methods which were available in the Middle Ages and a trip into Sancerre which is up on a hill. There we enjoyed a light lunch washed down with a bottle of Sancerre wine before driving back to Lere through the vineyards.

Guedelon, fascinating place.

Still under construction using traditional skills.

No shortcuts allowed, an impressive project.

Sadly the fish still proved to be elusive in the canal, but the boules got plenty of use on whatever suitable terrain the chaps could find. We also collected lots of walnuts, there being trees all along the canal.

One of several long bridges over the Loire.

The nearby town, Nicci waiting for us to stop looking at fish !

Inside the church the stained glass reflecting on the old stone floor.

Our only problem occurred at Menetreol-sous-Sancerre late one Sunday afternoon when the impatient skipper of hotel barge ‘Deborah’ locked horns with Peter over the space at the mooring. If they expect the right amount of space they should make sure the bollards are put out correctly before they arrive!!

A disused grain silo means we can avoid the slope sided quay.

And later on, aperos with Jenal.

Paul left us from La Chapelle Montlinard and later that day, ‘Jenal’ arrived and we were able to catch up with Jennie and Alan’s adventures. Rather like us they were cruising past their winter port before turning around and heading back for the winter.

After just under a week we moved on once more, but only as far as the smart quay at Beffes. I enjoyed several walks, a couple with Kevin and Herbie (‘Avallon’) who joined us there. We visited the local lime kilns which are among several along this stretch of the canal. The quarry is now filled with water and used for scuba diving.

Beffes.

The bottom of one of the lime kilns.

Back in the day.

Now one of the foremost diver training locations in France.

Beffes was a far south as we cruised this season and we turned around after a few days and headed north once more, intending to stop at some different spots when possible.

We stopped at Herry and were soon joined by ‘Jenal’ who had turned around at Sancerre. The following day we all drove to nearby Pouilly-sur-Loire and after exploring the town enjoyed lunch in the one and only open restaurant.

Nice Boulangerie.

Cute ‘flour pots’ with a little mouse !

Pouilly in Pouilly…rude not to !

In the afternoon we visited the Tour de Pouilly-Fume in the Tourist Office and learned all about the production of the local wine – Pouilly-sur-Loire and Pouilly-Fume. Four different ‘degustations’ went down very well.

Well laid out displays in the tourist office tasting.

After a final ‘au revoir’ to ‘Jenal’, we moved back up to Menetreol-sous-Sancerre, having attempted unsuccessfully to stop at a couple of wild moorings en route. The hotel barge warning cones were out and we made sure we were outside the marked area.

The ‘Loire a Velo’ cycling route runs the entire length of the River Loire, so we took the opportunity to cycle back together to Herry to collect the trusty Micra. The weather was fine and we were enjoying something of an ‘Indian Summer’.

The cycle route.

Kilometre markers set into the tarmac.

Very pretty.

A light lunch at Herry before driving back.

We also followed the town walk route in Menetreol which took us up to the old viaduct and had a drive up the hill to Sancerre for another look-see.

Sancerre in the distance, walking over the old viaduct.

A beer in the town square to cool us down.

Off back down the hill.

‘Deborah’ arrived once more and even though we were not in ‘her zone’, we were asked to move along a bit! I told the young crewman that we were not in the marked area and not moving anywhere so they picked on a French cruiser instead…which was in the ‘zone’. As ‘Deborah’ left the next day, asipods firing, we heard a ‘bang’ which I thought was our gang plank and attached bikes moving. Alas no- as we were to discover a couple of days later.

Jane, Guy and Lulu joined us on ‘Hibou’ and we enjoyed a couple of boozy aperos evenings together…it really is a long village.

We decided to move on after six days and as we cast off Peter said those awful words – “We have no steering”. Fortunately, we were able to return our mooring in reverse gear, using ropes (me) and with Jane and Guy fending off. The welding holding the bracket which supports the chain and steering ram had broken; probably not helped by our two encounters with ‘Deborah’s asipods! That was the loud ‘bang’ we had heard as she left.

 

Peter spent several very hot and cramped hours over the next two days affecting a repair. Drilling and bolting the offending bracket in unseasonably warm temperatures in the stern compartment/locker.

Our last week’s cruising was far more relaxing on the whole; with stops adjacent to the Hotel Buisson above Bannay lock (where we had a nice lunch but had to move off early evening when the water level dropped and we went aground,) at Lere ( where Hibou caught up with us again) and finally at Beaulieu.

On a rather dreary Sunday at the end of October we moored up for the last time this season in the Commercial Port in Briare.

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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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