We didn’t hang around on the River Sambre for long; stopping at Auvelais on the pontoon near Lidl for one night before heading through the joy that is Charleroi… At Marcinelle lock we were treated to gusts of smelly smoke from the adjacent metal works.
Sadly, the huge quantities of rubbish which we had noticed in the river on approaching Auvelais, continued for several kilometres beyond Charleroi (in fact it looked as if someone had tipped the entire contents of their garden shed into the river at one point.)
We stopped to watch the Grand Prix just beyond the first lock on the Brussels/Charleroi Canal and set off again as soon as it had finished.
A Dutch Cruiser was just about to exit the lock as we cast off and had soon overtaken us with a cheery wave. Hence our annoyance when on rounding the next bend in the canal we saw that the lock ahead had already closed! Peter immediately radioed our intent to the lock keeper and we were pleased to see the lights change to red/green. The lock gates opened and we cruised in.
Words were exchanged between the two skippers and I was up on the front deck to explain to the other crew that it was normally polite practice to wait if you knew another vessel was close behind you. Her response was – “Well it’s alright now isn’t it?”
Fortunately, the rest of our day went without incident and we moored overnight just past Seneffe in solitary splendour, at the junction with the Canal du Centre. Not the prettiest of moorings, but nice and quiet.
Next stop was the magnificent Strepy Lift, where we waited at the top for well over an hour in strong winds. When the light went green, we made our approach as the wind gusted all around. It was only then that I realised I had forgotten to adjust our ‘glissoir’ fenders and rushed around like a headless chicken while simultaneously attempting to fend various parts of the barge as we were blown around. Fortunately, although the air was rather blue on the barge, once we were in the ‘bassin’ things calmed down and we could enjoy our first descent.
Louise and Alex (Riccall) were waiting on the quay at Thieu and gave us a warm welcome and we enjoyed catching up on each other’s news over numerous bevvies and a slow-cooked Chilli Con Carne. Lynn and Stew (Matariki) meanwhile had decided to stop at the top of the Strepy lift overnight as the winds were still gusting.
The next morning, as ‘Riccall’ went up the Strepy Lift, ‘Matariki’ was preparing to come down and our socialising was soon resumed. Lynn and I set off with the sat nav, cycling to the nearby shops and Peter prepared Confit Duck and Yorkshire Pudding for our evening meal.
The next morning in fine weather, Lynn and I walked along most of the Old Canal du Centre which boasts five old lifts (now replaced by the 75m Strepy Lift). The chap at the Visitor’s Centre by Lift 3 explained that it was only possible to cruise to Lift 3 out of 5 and that permission was required from the adjacent office.
Mid afternoon, ‘Aurigny’ and ‘Matariki’ headed off together for the first time towards Mons Grand Large. By late afternoon we were safely moored up with a selection of DBA barges in the port – most of which we had never met previously.
That evening we all dined in the very noisy clubhouse and added to the cacophony as we all shouted in a futile attempt to be heard above the din.
No one seemed any the wiser than us as to what our function would be during the weekend’s festivities, but they were a jolly bunch and we all listened attentively to the official welcome despite not being able to hear a word.
We had been asked by the organiser to provide accommodation for paying guests, B&B style and both of our young ladies were very pleasant. I was also able to practise my French. Paying guests are something we had never had before and it is definitely a lucrative proposition if you are prepared for the inevitable disruption to normal life.
On Saturday, the evening’s show was unfortunately spoiled by the rain, but hundreds of stalwart souls braved the weather to watch the entertainment provided by three unusually decorated barges and the fireworks that followed.
Lynn and I did make it to the viewing area (a wet grassy bank) with our VIP tickets, but soon decided to return to ‘Aurigny’ with the crew from ‘Waylander’ and watch the proceedings in comparative comfort.
Lorna (‘Waterdog’) and Tilly popped over to see us on the morning of our short cruise to a change of moorings around the corner and it was good to catch up with her.
Lynn and I took the opportunity of using the free bus into Mons where we window shopped and she treated me to a lovely lunch. We walked back and caught sight of the amphibious craft as they headed to their display in the Grand Large.
On Sunday afternoon, as the Jet skis started whizzing around the Grand Large, ‘Aurigny’ and ‘Matariki headed off to the relative peace and calm of Pommeroeul where we stayed for just over a week. Lynn and Stew left mid week heading for Bruges.
While we were there, I painted some of the trim on the cabin roofs and touched up the scratches on the hull. We also drove to Decathlon at Valenciennes hoping to find a replacement pole for our new gazebo. Alas, during a particularly windy rain storm, one of the roof poles had ended up in the canal! They could order one for us but we didn’t relish another trip there and Janett our sat nav still refused to locate the nearer Decathlon at Mons.
A recce in the trusty Micra of the Blaton /Ath Canal was useful and we left the car near lock 8, walking back the relatively short distance to the barge in readiness for our departure the next day.