On our return to Homps from Toulouse Airport, we had bought a new starter battery, as a timely check had flagged up the fact that our old one was well past its best. We also popped into the boatyard at Ramonville for a recce.
We left Homps on April 2nd and cruised the short distance to La Redorte, where we stayed two days. Whilst there we drove back to Homps and enjoyed lunch and a catch up with Sue and Allan (‘Whisper’) in ‘La Poulpe’ Restaurant in Homps which serves excellent food.
The port at La Redorte was very quiet and had also been awash with floodwater back in October, so the electrics where we were moored were not working. Thankfully our solar panels were, as was our generator.
Several Midi locks are doubles or triples and they kept us on our toes during the next month. Most of the lock keepers were happy to open the sluices ‘doucement’, making such a difference negotiating these oval locks.
Our next stop was in Marseillette on the now redundant water pontoon. The town boasts one grocery shop, one bar and quite a few ex-pats; some of whom we joined in the bar on the second evening when there was a band playing. An enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Five days into our season we reached the now infamous triple lock below Trebes, where Geoff had such a dreadful experience on ‘Medendinger’ back in October during the flash floods. The town is now almost back to normal, with a new town quay and car park near the River Aude. Moorings are once again available between the top of the lock and the town, although mooring on the town quay itself is not possible owing to the lack of rings or posts. We think that the restaurant owners have had something to do with that as they want an unimpeded view of the canal from their ‘terraces’ at meal times.
The approach to Trebes lock with its huge breach has also been repaired and when we passed through the pont canal beyond the town it was still undergoing repairs.
The repaired section below Trebes triple lock.
Geoff had now moved up to a mooring near Le Boat. We enjoyed a lovely meal in a restaurant on the quay and an evening in ‘the Celt’, an Irish Bar in Carcassonne, with him before we left.
Above the locks, the town quay and Geoff’s barge.
Our cruise to Carcassonne was quiet, with very little canal traffic. The damage caused by the flash floods on the way into the town was very evident. All credit to the VNF which ensured that the Canal du Midi was open for the start of the 2019 season. Many areas of the canal bank, already weakened by the removal of diseased trees, have had to be rebuilt.
Huge sections of the canal have had to be repaired between Carcassonne and Trebes.
We moored a few hundred metres before the port in a dubiously signed ‘No Mooring’ area, staying for two nights with no problems and drove up to the old Medieval Cite on our last evening wandering around the beautifully illuminated town virtually on our own.
Best time, lovely and quiet.
Our car’s brakes required attention so we drove to a ‘Roady’ just out of town and after an hour or so’s ‘diagnostic’, agreed to part with 270 euro once they had ordered the pads and new discs.
With the car almost sorted we left the following day having removed just the wheelhouse side roof panels once again. On previous occasions we had dropped the whole wheelhouse for some of the low bridges, but hoped our new method would suffice. A crowd of onlookers watched as we glided through Pont Marengo with just 2” clearance and were soon leaving Carcassonne.
The weather had been quite unsettled since leaving Homps and we were pleased to be able to stop above the double lock at Lalande for a couple of days as the temperature dropped and the rain fell.
On Friday 12th April, with a gusty wind blowing, we headed off once more to Villesqueland and moored in a pretty spot overnight. The town is small and boasts the second ‘Sully Tree’ in France. The signage for the shop is confusing although we are assured it does exist…
The ‘Sully’ tree. A very quiet little town.
We had hoped to stop at Bram for a couple of days as we were still awaiting confirmation of the repair to the car’s brakes and Bram has a railway station. The old ‘Nicholls’ boat hire base has been replaced by ‘Locaboat’, whose boats do actually look ok. Unfortunately for us though, they took up all the available mooring spots. Fortunately we were able to moor above Bram lock for several days while we awaited the call from Roady.
Above Bram Lock, a much nicer setting.
A rather uninspiring 2km walk into the town in which most of the shops were shut, did provide a welcome drink in a bar and the location of the station, plus the unusual ‘bastide’ layout. Sadly, the canal-side restaurant was still shut for the winter. Thank goodness for M&S chunky chicken in white wine sauce!
After collecting the car as planned, we were able to drive up to Castelnaudary for a recce and lovely Cassoulet lunch on the quay. Just as we had completed a huge grocery shop at the Geant Casino, we received a phone call from Roady and booked the car in for repair the next morning.
Once that was done, we returned to Bram and in fine Spring weather headed off once more.
We enjoyed a perfect afternoon’s cruising and eventually stopped just above the triple lock at Viviers. This area is notorious for strong Tramontane winds and a check of the weather forecast warned us that the next week or so would be very windy.
With that in mind we set off at 9am the following day for the final leg into Castelnaudary. Just a double and quadruple lock to go…at the latter we could see the top lock gate was shut, but the rest were open. The light was green so we entered, watched from on high by the lock keeper in his tower. Once we were ready, he opened the sluices of the top gate and within seconds a waterfall was cascading towards us. This was repeated as we slowly made our way up to the top.
Approaching the lock, unusual to see all the gates open bar the top one.
Inside the first of the locks and the top sluices open…
…Creating a rather spectacular waterfall.
There the canal opens out into a pretty ‘bassin’. With two possible choices of a free mooring, we opted for the one immediately on the left before the Le Boat base. A good choice with plenty of sun on the solar panels and some protection from the fierce wind that whipped across the lake for much of the following week.
Above the locks and a good place to stay for a few days till the winds subside.
Our stay straddled the Easter weekend and we enjoyed a very sociable time, starting when Sue and Allan drove over for lunch in the town. The following day at 6pm the Cave on the Quay opened and we had the opportunity to meet up with several of the people who had wintered in the port as well as trying some local wine.
On Saturday 20th April it was Peter’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than eating fish and chips washed down with a local ‘Artisan’ beer, once again in the Cave on the Quay.
Deborah and Paul (‘Peary’) and Eveline and David (L’Escapade’) were en route and joined us for a lovely extended lunch on Easter Sunday.
The next day we strolled into the weekly market and returned to the barge having bought a basil plant, three T shirts and six dining room chairs! I had misread the sign and thought they were a real bargain at 100 euro! Fortunately, we realised our mistake and then genuinely said that the actual reduced price of 770 euro was too much. Having thought he had made a sale, the chap persevered dropping the price to 600 euro. Still too much…
…so he sidled up to Peter and wrote 450 euro on his pad. Now who does he think holds the purse strings I ask you? Plus the fact that I have been moaning about our huge old dining chairs for ages.
To top it off, he delivered them for free and also took away the old horrors.
I have to admit they are a lot better.
That afternoon as the wind dropped and the sun came out, I walked to the pretty windmill at the other side of the town, which looks out across the plains towards the Black Mountains.
The following morning I drove the car to Ocean Lock and walked to Avignonet-Lauragais station to get the train back to the barge.
In the evening we enjoyed a lovely meal on board L’Escapade with Eveline and David.
The calm conditions continued the next day and as we set off across the ‘bassin’ into the port there was scarcely a ripple on the surface. We had already removed the two wheelhouse roof side panels in readiness for the low bridge at La Planque lock and made it through with just 2” to spare.
This was also to be our first automated lock of the year which requires me to get off the barge and open the gates by pressing a button leaving Peter to steer in alone. After sorting the ropes I then close the gates, operate the lock by pressing another button and climb down the ladder to the barge.
After a variety of locks, some manned, we finally reached our destination – the quiet Ocean Lock which sits at the top of the Canal du Midi. Behind us downhill to the Mediterranean and ahead downhill to the Atlantic. Our mooring was captured in my favourite photo of ‘Aurigny’ taken in May 2011, but sadly the light and an overhead branch made a repeat impossible.
The summit of the canal, all downhill from here to the Atlantic.
We had time for a short rest before heading back to Castelnaudary in the car for supper on board ‘Peary’.
As is often the case when barging, we make the most of company when it is there and easily pick up where we left off with the friends we make on the way. ‘L’Escapade and ‘Peary’ are wintering in Amsterdam this winter, so they have a long cruise ahead. Several of our new friends in port were already heading west and we would meet up with them again,
With plenty of time before we needed to be in the boatyard at Ramonville, we stayed another night at Ocean Lock and walked up to the Obelisk erected by the descendants of Paul Pierre Riquet who part funded and masterminded the construction of the canal in the seventeenth century. This area is the Narouze, where the waters meet and has some interesting features.
A grand obelisk.
After a long journey from the feeder lake the waters enter the Midi just a short distance from our mooring at Ocean Lock.
After lunch, we drove about 30km to the dam and feeder reservoir at La Ferreoul. The lake is quite big and there is a large garden and museum at one end. A huge waterspout and smaller waterfall in the gardens were unexpected and the museum was quite interesting, particularly the videos.
The large dam creating the reservoir that keeps the Canal du Midi operating.
Water from the lake comes out via three outlets and through landscaped gardens before joining up and heading down to the Midi arriving about 9 hours later.
Stepping stones over one of the outlets with the second, a waterspout behind powered just by the pressure from the reservoir.
All three combine and head off towards The Midi.
On the way back we got caught in a severe hail storm which lasted for several minutes and several kilometres.
We had enjoyed our stay at Ocean Lock, but felt it was time to move on, so we set off the next day – downhill locks for the foreseeable future.
The single locks were still automated and much gentler on emptying than filling, but Peter loses sight of the gates completely about 50m out and with me off the barge has to nose his way in gently.
A video from my Facebook showing the procedure going down in the locks and along The Midi. (speeded up to make Nicci look busy!!)
We made it to Renneville Lock and moored up behind ‘HeliOx’ joining Robyn and Martin on board for aperos that evening. After collecting the car from Ocean Lock we drove to Gardouch for fuel and vittels and enjoyed more aperos onboard ‘Aurigny’ the following evening.
With the Grand Prix on the next day we stayed at Renneville which gave me time to move the car further up. HeliOx headed off to their next mooring at Montgiscard.
We followed on the next day and only met one cruising boat on the way. The canal had been unexpectedly quiet so far this year.
The countryside is still pretty, but we are never far away from the noisy A61.
We arrived at Montgiscard late afternoon and the moored on the waiting pontoon above the lock behind ‘HeliOx’. ‘Gladys’ was on the other side where we have moored previously. A walk uphill to the town centre provided me with exercise but no bread as the boulangerie was closed. A pretty town with lots of coloured shutters on the houses and a church with a Toulouse bell tower.
With the May Day ‘jour ferie’ fast approaching, we decided to stay and enjoyed a barbecue on board ‘HeliOx’ with several couples including Nigel and Trish (‘Syrius’) who had turned up.
With the locks closed on May Day we took the chance to fill up with water by going alongside ‘Gladys’. ‘HeliOx’ followed suit. You never turn down the chance to get free water.
While Peter worked in the engine room, I emptied the shed of all the paint and tools we would need over the coming weeks and laid them out on the bed in the front cabin.
A short cruise to Castanet Lock, stopping for a fine lunch at Vic Lock, took us within 5km of the boatyard. I collected the car and later we dropped it up to the boatyard and walked back along the towpath to the barge.
Just a short cruise the next morning to the boatyard where we found our mooring- perched on the curved welcome quay at the entrance. Not perfect, but it will have to do.
All set for three weeks of scraping and painting, such fun!