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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