19.The best laid plans … April/May 2017

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

Matariki dwarfed !

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

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

Stewart being slipped.

Awaiting our turn.

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

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

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

Pretty quick.

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

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

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

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

All done in two days.

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

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

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

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

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

Cracking lunch at The Confessional in Dinant.

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

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

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

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

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

Into France.

Ham Tunnel, a little snug!

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

Small locks again.

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

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

Fumay, 30 paces from a wine cave’

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

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

Plenty of these about.

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

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

View from the wheel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My view of the locks some 50 metres out.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out with the old…

…In with the new!

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

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

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

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

The whole coastline is riddled with tunnels and bunkers.

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

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

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

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

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

Golf on the beautiful island of Alderney.

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

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

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

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

Seeing the New Year in outside the Belfry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A walk and a beer in Vreeswijk.

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

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

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

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

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

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A sign along the way that made us chuckle!

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

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Clog suspended on a pole.

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

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

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Celebrating having fooled the adjudicators !

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

 

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Historic Port at Gouda.

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The main square.

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

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“50 euro’s ! You are avin a laugh.”

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

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

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

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Food, beer, Sinatra and drizzle!

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

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

The giraffes on the bow and stern are full size!

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

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Delft street art.

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View from the top.

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

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

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

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

 

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The Biesbosch.

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

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Hollandsdiep, very big and very busy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interesting mooring spot in the middle of a river.

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

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Tholen Historic Port.

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

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Leaving just before dawn to catch the tide.

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

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Huge and going pretty quick.

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

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

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Our route.

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

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

 

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16. North Holland (July/August 2016)

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

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

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Through the Amstelsluis towards the city centre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The River Zaan and more bridges.

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A lovely 20lb carp for Paul at Zaandam.

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

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The busy schedule continues at Wormerveer !

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

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

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

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

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

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More of a tourist spectacle nowadays.

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Still worth a visit.

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

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

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Well worth the cycle to Oude Niedorp…

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…As you can plainly see!

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

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

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A walking museum and quite a spectacle.

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The town and the market were buzzing with tourists.

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And then ‘rain stopped play’.

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

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

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

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The days before steel.

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And what if the dams fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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The people on the forward mast put it in perspective.

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

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Callantsoog beach, about level with Norwich.

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Luckily there is an oasis amongst the sands !

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 Very drying this salty breeze after a long cycle !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aperos in Wormerveer prior to Kate and Laura arriving.

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

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Family get together.

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

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Zans Schans.

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Girls will be girls!

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Yes…you could ski in those!

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

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Heading out into the IJmeer.

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Quite choppy and broadside on.

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First stop after The Ijmeer and time to chill.

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A lovely quiet mooring.

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

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Lovely sunset that evening.

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

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Spot the nervous passenger!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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15. Family celebrations in England and reunions in Amsterdam.

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

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The hard bit….

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…The easy bit!

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

 

90 years young!

Family reunited.

The ‘Tash’ doesn’t suit all of us!

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

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

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

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

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Approaching Maarssen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Available from any good Amsterdam florist!

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

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

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A much needed stress break!

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Ferry trip across to the Old shipyard.

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The very busy waterway behind Amsterdam Rail Station.

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

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

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A mere 35 years since we last met up!

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

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A lot of catching up to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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14. Vianen, Vreeswijk and Brexit.

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

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Made to measure?

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

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 Heusden, very pretty.

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

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Further into the port there are plenty more moorings available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Amigos !

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Aperos!

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

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13. Den Bosch…and things that go ‘BANG’ in the engine room.

After thanking the lock keeper for our extended stay at Weurt Lock, we reversed out of the mooring, turned around and headed south along the canal to the junction with the Maas. It was 9am and we had a long day ahead.

The Maas was also flowing fast, but did not look quite as angry as either the Rhine or the Waal and we whizzed along at about 14 kph.

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The Maas in flood.

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Our new Blue Board in action.

Mid afternoon, we turned off left onto the River Dieze which leads to s’Hertogenbosch known as Den Bosch for short. The first lock we came to was broken and in the process of being repaired with quite a few small boats queuing. There are long waiting pontoons and we were half hoping we could just stay there for the night, however the lock was repaired after about forty minutes and we went on through.

Keen to get moored up were relieved to find a space just before an impressive looking railway bridge at around 6pm.

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The very modern looking bridge named The Royal Welsh after the troops that liberated Den Bosch in WW2. The names of the soldiers killed  during the action are welded around the structure.

Den Bosch proved to be an interesting and pretty town and was in the throes of a 500 year anniversary of the life one of its sons… Jheronimus Bosch. Of course we were ignorant of this at the start of our stay, but did wonder at the rather Pythonesque sculptures dotted around the town when we cycled in to explore the next day.

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Wouldn’t have been my taste then…

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…or now!

Our arrival coincided with that of David and Evelyn (‘L’Escapade’) who were moored on the other side of the town at Lock 0. We spent a very pleasant day with them. Coffee, drinks (Peter and David,) an exhibition of Bosch’s work (Nicci and Evelyn,), a lovely lunch in a fish restaurant and then a visit to the one and only brewery which required several ‘tastings’.

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A fine lunch.

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A brewery tour by the son of the owner.

I enjoyed several walks and cycles around the town where the ‘Bosch celebrations’ continued apace, culminating in three rather odd processions of weirdly decorated rafts along the Deize on the final weekend. We also took one of the ‘underground’ boat trips available in the town which was very interesting and informative.

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The start of our subterranean boat trip.

The town was extended over the top of the canal system  rather than increase the size of the external fortifications.

After a week we were ready to move on and set off fairly early on Sunday 12th June. Peter had just started to turn the barge so that we could head back to the lock and onto the Maas when there was a loud “BANG!” from the engine room. After quickly putting the gear into neutral, he checked in the engine room and was horrified to discover that the gearbox was lying at a strange angle separated from the engine. He quickly turned the engine off and we floated slowly across the river towards the camp shedding on the opposite bank. Suitably fended, ‘Aurigny’ nudged into the bank and gently turned to face upstream again.

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First view of the damage.

With nothing on that side of the river to put a rope on we quickly launched our newly acquired canoe. Peter took one end of a 30 metre rope and paddled across towards our previous mooring and when he had run out of rope I added another 25 metres and tied it off on a front Bit (bollard). The ropes spanned the entire width of the river.

While Peter hauled the barge towards the bank I signalled to a couple of passing cruisers that they would have to wait as we had ‘a spot of bother!’

Within twenty minutes of the incident, we were back alongside the mooring just a few metres further up. Relief…tinged with worry about what had happened and how we were going to sort a repair.

All bar one of the bolts on the universal joint had sheared off. The gearbox had been wrenched off shattering the mounting plate and the drive plate within.

The gearbox had landed on the keel cooling pipes for the generator causing them to buckle and leak. After propping up the gearbox and fixing the leaks we decided to postpone any further work until the following morning.

Peter was then able to remove all the broken pieces and find out what parts we would need. At this point we weren’t sure if we would need to go into a shipyard or not.

On the bright side, at least it had happened there and not when on the fast flowing River Maas.

Peter phoned the insurance company assuming it was to be an expensive repair, they were quite helpful and we took photos of the damage.

The next day, while I took a train back to Nijmegen to collect the car; Peter tidied the engine room and carefully removed our jigsaw puzzle of broken bits. Amazingly he was able to source all the parts on the ASAP web site and for a small fee arranged delivery to the barge. In the hope that the shaft and propeller were undamaged he decided to attempt the repairs himself.

Fortuitously, our friends Carol and Jeremy (‘Anthonia’) had seen our plight on the ubiquitous Facebook and, coincidently were heading to Bruges by train to retrieve their car that day. Owing to problems in Rotterdam, their train was diverted through Den Bosch and they saw ‘Aurigny’ from the nearby railway bridge. A few text messages later and they agreed to stop by for supper en route back from Bruges.

We had a very pleasant and boozy evening together having also invited Robyn and Ron (‘Echo’) moored close by in for drinks. Carol and Jeremy stayed the night and before they left the next morning Jeremy was able to give Peter a second opinion about the forthcoming repair. He kindly offered to return once the parts had arrived and bring his chain hoist with him.

No sooner had they left than we heard from the delivery company that our parcel would arrive later that day! Sadly the van driver couldn’t find us and it was two days before we finally got hold of the parts.

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Old on the floor, new on the table and seat.

Peter texted Jeremy and within a couple of hours he and Carol were back on board and the repair was underway. Meanwhile, Carol and I walked into the town. Sadly the rain prevented us from going on one of the river trips but we enjoyed a couple of coffees and a wander around the Cathedral instead.

Three hours later the gearbox was replaced, even allowing for the two day delay, a five day turnaround was pretty amazing!

With the gearbox reattached and the insurance company promising to pay for the parts, we decided to stay another day and recce the next moorings by car. On the way to Meerkerk (Merwedkanaal) we stopped off in Heusden (Maas,) a pretty fortress town with two windmills at the port entrance.

As we strolled around a medieval market in the centre lots of people were dressed in costume and various old crafts were on show.

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 Back in time at Heusden.

Exactly a week to the day since our ‘accident’, we set off once again under the watchful eyes of Robyn and Ron who were still there. All was well and we headed back onto the River Maas for a long trip down to Arkel.

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12. ‘Operation Market Garden’ –Early June.

Not wanting to outstay our welcome on the commercial quay, we left Roermond the next morning and cruised through some pretty countryside where sheep and cows grazed along the banks of the Maas. There were several jachthavens along the way, but most were for smaller craft. The town quays were for daytime use only. Fortunately the DBA moorings guide came up trumps and after a longish day we turned off the main river into a commercial port. At the far end, past the silos and industrial quays was the jachthaven of Wanssum with an external wall just perfect for us. A bonus was the proximity of a Jumbo supermarket, adjacent to the port.

Despite a dull start, we cycled to the Second World War Museum in Overloon and were forced to don our ‘Howard and Hilda’ matching rain ponchos en route.

SAM_0653 SAM_0654En route we came across this memorial.

The promised 30 minute cycle (according to our waterways guide) seemed considerably longer in the wind and rain, but we made it eventually and spent an interesting couple of hours in the museum.

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Inside a huge display of military vehicles.

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A German tank which was disabled in the surrounding woods.

This is situated in an attractive park on the site of one of the fiercest tank battles of the war. 2400 men were killed during twenty days of fighting and more than 300 tanks were destroyed. Of particular interest was the huge display of military vehicles and weapons and the moving memorial area in which the names of the dead were recorded on the wall. After a disappointingly stodgy pannekoeken and a thirst quenching beer we headed to the nearby war cemetery to pay our respects before cycling back to Wanssum through a forest in dappled sunshine.

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Beer and something more like a pizza than a pancake!

With our stalwart Micra still in Maastricht over 90 km south, we craned the motorcycle off the barge and headed off. Fortunately, we remained dry and the car was still where we had left it a week before. To my relief we reached a petrol station before the car ran out of petrol and then had a fairly long drive ahead as we had decided to drop the car up towards Nijmegen.

After another 40km, we left the car by Weurt Lock and having spoken to the Lock Keeper, Peter was also able to secure us a mooring between the two adjacent locks for a few days. I donned my motorcycle gear once again and we rode back to the barge. It had been an unexpectedly tiring day and supported my belief that we should leave the car somewhere while cruising during the summer.

The next few days were to reverse that opinion.

Having craned the motorcycle back onboard the next morning, we set off on a longish cruise reaching Lock Weurt late afternoon. The mooring was on a pontoon with a lock each side. We were sheltered from the wind and not affected by too much wash in spite of the size of the commercial barges which passed us.

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Weurt Lock where we are dwarfed by the passing commercials.

We were well placed to explore the area of Operation Market Garden, being close to both Nijmegen and Arnhem. Our car would be very useful, particularly as Peter’s bashed toe was very painful to walk on. We had originally intended to cruise on both the Rivers Waal and Rhine to visit these areas, but the incessant rain in Northern Europe had caused the rivers to flow very fast. In France several of our barging friends were stuck on moorings that were flooded and we felt grateful that we were in a safe place.

Our few days on the mooring were extended to almost a week as we waited in vain for things to calm down. We used the time to visit the Liberation Museum and Canadian Military Cemetery at Groesbeck, the Bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem, The tower of St Eusebius’ Church in Arnhem, the Airborne Museum and Military Cemerery at Oosterbeeke. This was yet another sobering reminder of the sacrifices made by brave men in the Second World War.

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Inside the Liberation Museum Groesbeck.

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Inside the rebuilt tower of St Eusebius’ Church in Arnhem.

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The remains of the church after the battle.

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View of the rebuilt Arnhem Bridge from the now extended church tower.

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Captured Airbourne in Arnhem, such brave men.

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Nijmegen Bridge which remained in tact.

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Same spot now.

Initially, we were hoping to cruise to Arnhem and then north towards Friesland, and to this end we were eventually able to meet up with Iede, a Dutch barging friend we met last summer in Dinant. He works as a part time havenmeister in Arnhem. We finally met up and enjoyed a drink with him at Rose’s Cafe by the river. We had made this our ‘local’ during our sightseeing in Arnhem enjoying a couple of lunches there.

The Europe wide rain had led to high river levels, the closing of navigation in Paris and breaches in canals in Briare and Meilhan sur Garonne. From our lock mooring we had watched the digital air draft sign decrease from10.70 to 8.70.

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The signs indicating the bridge clearance height after the lock.

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Arnhem Bridge with the flood water nearly over the quay.

Both the Waal at Nijmegen and the Rhine at Arnhem looked very angry and unwelcoming.  We decided to change our cruising plans and head back down the Maas-Waal canal to the Maas and go west instead. We would stay in the south of the Netherlands and leave Friesland for next year.

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11. Early days in The Netherlands

We entered the Netherlands on 11th May in some confusion as the PC Navigo wanted to send us one way and the old trusty book map another. To make things even trickier, the lock we arrived at had no name or VHF number visible, as quite a lot of construction work was in progress. Fortunately, the light was green and as we entered the lock its identity appeared on the AIS. It was Lock Lanaye, deep but with sliding bollards.

Peter was keen to moor on an island in the middle of a lake just past the lock wall, but it was not apparent on the Navigo. Fortunately the trusty book map did have it marked and after doubling back (having missed the turning) we were soon moored up at the back of the small island.

Maastricht Island mooring.

Hidden wooden quay and a delightful place to stop for a couple of days.

With the pressing need to somehow activate our new Dutch Vectone Wifi, we unloaded our new canoe and paddled across the lake to the edge nearest to Maastricht. It looked about a 4 km walk to the town from there and I had bottled out of paddling all the way on the Maas because of the frequent large commercial barges whizzing past.

We aimed towards a small lake-side bar, thinking it a good place to leave the canoe. Peter, whose long sight is very good, suddenly said “Oh …I think it is a nudist area”…and so it was, so we gave the assembled company a cheery wave and headed around the bend to a small beach.

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Still recoiling from some scary sights around the corner we set off for the town!

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My ‘I’m thirsty’ look!

After a long hot walk into the centre of Maastricht, we were sent from pillar to post in search of a Vectone Internet Provider or top –up card. Having no internet onboard we needed some to access the new account. With our thirst increasing and our patience exhausted we found a pleasant bar with Wi-Fi near to the centre and enjoyed a couple of our favourite Bruges Zot beers. Still unable to access the help line, but with a newly purchased Vectone top up card, we headed back in the hot sun to our canoe.

We had left it safely padlocked to a small tree, and had to disturb an impromptu family barbecue on the beach when we went to retrieve it.

Just a paddle across the lake and we would be home.

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Heading back.

It certainly was an idyllic spot, tranquil and with lots of bird life…very ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

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This’ll do for our first Netherlands mooring.

Fortunately, being so close to the border with Belguim, our Belgian mobile number still worked, but Peter tried in vain the next day to contact Vectone and we were still without internet.

Our day away from cyberland was lovely and while Peter busied himself on deck sorting out fenders and the dinghy, I put up the mozzie screens, read my book and knitted. In the afternoon we canoed around the island and into the lagoon in the middle where we saw several carp and various water fowl.

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Our lagoon, very ‘Swallows and Amazons’

We had an unexpectedly early start the next day when on rising to make the first cuppa of the day, Peter realised that we were listing to starboard. The water level had dropped about 8” overnight. Not wishing to go aground any more, we had cast off by 7.30, arriving in Maastricht at about 8.15.

Thinking that the mooring on the wall in the middle of the river was for cruisers only, we moored on a stone quay just upstream from the Shell bunker barge. Then we headed into the centre to use the McDonald’s Wi-Fi and check out the market, stopping at the chandlery in the bunker barge for a Dutch courtesy flag on the way back.

On our return, we were approached by a couple from a nearby Tjalk. They were very friendly and pointed out that our mooring was for professional boats only and that the wall in the middle of the river was fine for barges. They said we could moor alongside them if we couldn’t find a space.

Fortunately, there was plenty of room on the wall and we were soon settled, opposite the rather busy trip boat mooring.

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Great mooring and right in the centre of Maastricht.

With several Public Holidays coming up, we were glad to have found a free mooring in such a nice town and spent just over a week there in the end. Peter finally managed to sort out the internet and we enjoyed some pleasant evening walks. We were joined by our Dutch friends from the Tjalk one evening for drinks and it turned into a bit of a session. Nic, a very young 86 year old, used to be a pilot in the Dutch Air Force and had some good stories to tell.

Maastricht proved to be a lively, prosperous town, with a good shopping area, market and lots of old buildings. We discovered the ‘joy’ of shopping at ‘Jumbo’, one of the two main supermarket chains in the Netherlands. Groceries seemed to be cheaper although fuel much dearer.

I climbed the 200 steps up the red tower of  St John’s (apparently painted that colour to help strengthen the crumbly rendering underneath) and was rewarded with a fine view from the top. The interesting bookshop in a church was also worth a visit.

Best of all, our son Adam joined us for a week having secured a new job which would start in early June. Peter combined collecting our car from Sclayne in Belgium with meeting Adam in Liege.

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A high quay but a lovely free mooring right in the centre.

After a couple more days in Maastricht enjoying the sunny weather, we left via the Julianakanaal which took us through a mixture of industrialized and agricultural landscapes. We had three bags of rubbish with us that we had failed to dispose of the previous week, there being few if any suitable unlocked bins available to boat users. Disappointingly, the only two locks of the day did not provide bins either and we hoped this was not going to be a big problem in the Netherlands.

We reached Maasbracht early on Saturday afternoon. It is a big inland port with lots of commercial barges and a jachthaven for smaller boats only. The nearby Maasplanen (lakes left after extensive gravel extraction which are now used for water recreation) promised several free lakeside moorings though and of course we could always try out our anchors if need be.

As we headed into the Maasplanen, we found ourselves among a variety of water craft; cruisers, yachts, speedboats, dinghies, canoes and windsurfers. We hoped to find a mooring near the unusual town of Thorn. The nearest pontoon  was full of cruisers so were pleased when Adam spotted  another one on the other side of the lake. It was a metal pontoon about 75m long and not attached to the bank. There were a couple of boats already there, but plenty of room for us.

Once settled, Adam was keen to try out the canoe, so he and I went for a paddle while Peter set up the fishing rods. The weather was fine and the spot idyllic. By sunset, many of the yachts and cruisers at anchor had left and it was very peaceful.

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Intrepid explorers.

Sadly the weather took a turn for the worst and it stayed that way for the rest of Adam’s visit.

The following day we all went rather precariously in the canoe across to the pontoon which served the town of Thorn. The lake-side provided suitable rubbish bins, probably because it was a popular camping car area. A ten minute stroll took us to the quaint town centre where all the houses are painted white. Apparently it was founded as a home for noble ladies and is now a popular tourist destination with regular passenger boat trips from across the lakes. After a walk around, we settled in a bar while the rain fell and then returned to our isolated mooring getting quite wet in the process. The rain had made the mooring less ideal and we decided to head off the next day.

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Never mind the weather!

In deteriorating weather, we cruised towards Roermond and stopped on a wall outside a Jachthaven near the non functional ferry. No facilities but a 12,50 euro charge for the night. While Adam and I braved the elements and cycled into the town for groceries, beer, wine and cash, Peter decided to transfer some concrete blocks in order to ‘trim’ the barge which had been listing to port. Unfortunately, he dropped one on his foot causing his big toe to bleed, bruise and perhaps even break. This was to cause him some discomfort over the coming weeks.

Despite the sad lack of fish in the river, Peter and Adam enjoyed resuming their chess and draughts competition and started a computer golf one as well. In fact they were enjoying themselves so much one night that they saw the sun rise at about 5am having duly anaesthetised Peter’s pain with copious quantities of alcohol.

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Hic!

Needless to say our departure the following day was somewhat delayed, but as we were only going down to Roermond it didn’t matter. We nosed into the industrial port (where they are building a new Maashaven for cruisers,) turned around and perched ourselves at the end. A commercial barge was also keen to share the quay, and said we would be fine there for a night or two.

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Within sight of Roermond lock, a cheeky little mooring.

Roermond is another pleasant town with lots of shops and a few interesting historical buildings, including a belfry with characters that move around as the carillon chimes. The next day after a bagel and coffee brunch in town, we said goodbye to Adam at the station.

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‘My Boy’

I filled the gap left by his departure by heading to the nearby retail outlet and McDonalds to use the free Wi-Fi. Peter meanwhile, enjoyed watching the enormous pusher barges coming and going in the port. We were beginning to get to grips with cruising in a new country and looked forward to the coming weeks.

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10. Tournai to Liege Mid April- Early May.

En route from Tournai to Pommeroeul (having first checked for river traffic on the AIS) we were able to top up with water in the first lock – Peronnes 2. Although we have a huge capacity for storing water, we always top up when we can especially if it is free.

After a pleasant cruise we moored up in solitary splendour in the increasingly windy Pommeroeul basin by mid afternoon. We spent almost a week there, during which time we enjoyed several walks, cycled back to Peruwelz to collect the car and on Peter’s birthday were joined by Lynn and Stew (‘Matariki’) in a small restaurant near the port for a fine celebration lunch. We had hoped to dine in the excellent restaurant at the port, but on arrival found it was closed that day. Peter also brewed some beer and I potted on more of my marigold seedlings which unfortunately suffered for it in the persistently cold wind.

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Lynn colour coordinated for our lunch.

Whilst at Pommeroeul we learned of the passing of two fine men who had both lost their fight with cancer; my sister-in-law Kathryn’s brother Martin and our friend Chris Walker.

Peter had worked with Chris prior to his retirement and subsequent move to Alderney over twenty years ago. We had spent many pleasant times together while holidaying there with our children over the years. We were pleased that we had been able to spend time with Chris just recently at the SEG reunion in Bruges, which he attended with his wife Jan.

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A lovely man and good friend.

Victoria Wood also lost her fight with cancer that week and we were once again reminded of the importance of making the most of each and every day.

After leaving Pommeroeul, we headed to the small quay at Thieu which we have used several times previously. Spring was on its way but the keen wind was ever present. We had decided that this would be a sensible spot to leave me and ‘Aurigny’ while Peter went over to Guernsey for Chris’s funeral.

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Thieu, within sight of the impressive Strepy lift again.

After craning the motorcycle off, we headed back to Perwuelz the next day to enjoy a plate of Flemish Stew denied to us on Peter’s birthday. Then we headed to Pommeroeul to collect the car.

The following day we had a rather chilly cycle ride along the entire length of the old canal. Most of the old lifts are now redundant, but it is still possible to go a short distance by barge where there are a couple of quiet moorings available.

While Peter headed back to England and over to Guernsey, I was home alone and was delighted when Lorna (Waterdog) was able to come over for a couple of days from Erquelinnes – several days away by barge but less than an hour by car.

We had a lovely time together despite the windy, wet weather and enjoyed a couple of nice walks with Tilly (between showers) and plenty of wine and chat. The barge felt very empty again once Lorna had left and I was pleased when Peter made it back safely after four days away.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, enabling Peter to wash the motorcycle and crane it back onboard while some kind of music event set up on the quay in front of us. Meanwhile, I drove the car to Seneffe Port and cycled back – rather further than I had thought as the towpath was not as straight forward as expected. Fortunately I had the sat nav with me, but when you are cycling it is tricky to use.

Back in Thieu on the quay, the music (I use the term loosely -loud bass was all we could hear) was annoying, so we cast off and headed to the relative peace at the base of the Strepy Lift. Here we could get a good signal for the TV and watch the Grand Prix undisturbed and then hopefully take an early ‘lift’ the next day- one of several public holidays in May.

We were up in the spectacular lift just after 10am, sharing it this time with a large commercial barge and then enjoyed a pleasant cruise to the lock at Marchiennes au Pont. I walked to the station hoping to find a train back to Seneffe, but was out of luck, so we craned the motorcycle off the barge and collected the car dropping it further along our intended route at Sclayne.

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Our fourth time…

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…Never fails to impress.

We had used the quay there before and it was about 15km east of Namur near Andennes.  After a couple of wrong turns (one of which took us bizarrely past two windows with women sitting in them on the main road) we found the quay, left the car and headed back to the barge. The hassle of the day did make me wonder if having a car with us was really worth all the trouble.

The spell of warm weather continued the next morning as we took advantage of the lock and cruised on through the marvellously awful Charleroi with its quays full of recycling and toweringly ominous metal structures. We hardly had to wait for the locks and were moored up on the pontoon near Lidl at Auvelais by mid afternoon.

We visited the unusual French cemetery I had found with Jean on our last visit. It is set on a hill and has a Breton Lighthouse at the gate, reflecting the homeland of many of the dead. In the dappled sunlight it all looked very peaceful.

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Standing watch over a peaceful and rather unusual cemetery.

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Beautiful hilltop overlooking Auvelais.

We were definitely back into cruising mode and still enjoying the ‘free’ electricity provided by our solar panels. The sun was lovely but the breeze rather cool.

Our cruise to Namur was uneventful and once again we were able to top up with water at a lock, albeit for just a few minutes. We moored up in our usual spot below the Pont de Jambes by mid afternoon and I set off up to the Citadel. On all our visits over the past three years renovation has been ongoing  and it was nice to be able to walk in areas hitherto unexplored. Lynn had told me of a pretty garden at the top next to the former Chateau (now a hotel) so I strolled in to have a look. It was certainly impressive, but sadly for me the wrong time of year as few plants were in flower. I returned to ‘Aurigny’ via a fairly steep wooded path similar to the one in Dinant.

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The lower Sambre on way to Namur.

The next morning we decided to visit ‘de Schtouff’  by the bridge for a Croque Monsieur. The whole road was closed to traffic and filled with a huge market. It was Ascension Thursday – another public holiday in Belgium. Alas the bar was only serving drinks, but after quenching our disappointment …and thirst with a welcome beer, we ate a burger from the butcher’s stall and bought two more planters for my marigolds. We would just have to stay another day.

After one more relaxing day during which we enjoyed a ‘half and half’ – One portion of Croque Monsieur and one of Spag Bol and several walks, we headed off to Sclayne.

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Still the tastiest croque we’ve ever found.

We had a short cruise with our only delay being at the Grand Malade Lock which is huge and takes ages to fill and empty.

A mini heat wave had arrived and after a couple of days we moved on to Huy, stopping outside the first port (Statte) on the free wall while we wandered into the town. Unfortunately, the interesting looking cable car across the river and up to the fort was closed and in the unexpected heat neither of us fancied the walk up, so we made do with a beer under an umbrella in the centre or town.

We would soon be in new territory as we cruised through Liege to a long quay near Herstal Bridge. Next stop …the Netherlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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