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

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

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

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

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

Not the best system.

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

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

The old pont.

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

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

Sens Cathedral.

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

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

Paris.

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

Sens all lit up.

Sens mooring.

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

A very pleasant few days.

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

Lovely spot just before Joigny.

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

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

Gurgy, thirty paces from a wine tasting !

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

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

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

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

Not a bad spot for the DBA rally.

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

The ‘Chablis Grande Cru’ vines.

A very informative and pleasant tasting.

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

Auxerre.

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

Lovely meal at the football stadium.

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

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

And they’re off.

A worthy second place.

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

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

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

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

Hot competition !

Style !

The finalists.

Consumable prizes !

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

Morning after !

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

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

Cooling off.

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

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

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20. Towards Paris. May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Cumieres.

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

Useful device.

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

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

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

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

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

Beautifully maintained.

Immaculate polished marble headstones.

View from the chapel steps.

Inside.

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

Ouch!

Marine Memorial.

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

The old chateau in the village of Belleau.

Less well kept and within sight of the American cemetery.

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

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

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

Where the pontoon bridge crossed.

As it was after the initial battle.

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

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

Hot work and not ideal conditions for painting.

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

Passe Lagom heads off.

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

Nicci ‘mowing’ the lawn !

Keeping out of the way of a very laden commercial.

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

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19.The best laid plans … April/May 2017

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

Matariki dwarfed !

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

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

Stewart being slipped.

Awaiting our turn.

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

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

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

Pretty quick.

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

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

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

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

All done in two days.

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

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

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

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

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

Cracking lunch at The Confessional in Dinant.

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

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

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

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

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

Into France.

Ham Tunnel, a little snug!

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

Small locks again.

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

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

Fumay, 30 paces from a wine cave’

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

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

Plenty of these about.

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

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

View from the wheel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My view of the locks some 50 metres out.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out with the old…

…In with the new!

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

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

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

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

The whole coastline is riddled with tunnels and bunkers.

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

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

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

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

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

Golf on the beautiful island of Alderney.

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

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

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

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

Seeing the New Year in outside the Belfry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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