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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