As the weather remained unsettled we cruised on. The trickier, narrow locks were just waiting to catch on our fenders as we passed through. After more than seven years on the European waterways I was beginning to doubt my abilities on the front deck, especially when one of said fenders got caught and then bounced up nearly bashing me on the head.
The scenery on the other hand was stunning and we found two pretty moorings at Variscourt and Courcy before catching up with ‘Passe Lagom’ and ‘Jenal’ at Conde sur Marne in the middle of May. Engine problems on the former had resulted in a week’s delay for Torild and Nils as they waited for an engineer to sort out the problem.
It was great to have some company at last as we had been several weeks on our own by then. A couple of convivial and balmy evenings sitting outside were a taste of the summer to come.
On 17th May, we all left Conde and headed onto the River Marne. Our last visit had been four years ago and on that occasion the river was in flood after considerable rainfall. It would be very different this time.
In 2013 we had waited several days on the canal at Mareuil sur Ay as the River Marne continued to rise. This time we went straight onto the river and stopped on the pontoon at Cumieres. Unfortunately the electrics and water were off so we only stayed a couple of days, but this allowed Peter to get the car from Rethel and leave it at Epernay Station.
Having hitherto activated locks using a pole hanging over the canal, at Cumieres Lock we were treated to a new hi-tech ‘telecommande’ which works automatically as you approach the lock welcoming you in. You press the green button which opens the lock. Once inside the blue lock-side pole needs lifting as previously to empty or fill the lock. On the next reach we encountered three sloped sided locks with a useful pontoon to tie up to which rises/drops with the water level.
A strong design but limits the amount of boats in one lock.
We intended stopping at Dormans, but the pontoon was full, so we carried on to a rather tatty, but functional pontoon at Jaulgonne. After a stroll into the town for some shopping and to see if we could get the electrics turned on (Marie shu- so no) we were just settling back on board when a sporty looking couple passed by and asked if we wanted to buy some Champagne at 10 euro a bottle? So back we went into town and followed them to their house where we bought five bottles. Of course it could have been fizzy water as the bottles had no labels, but they were genuine and very tasty.
With a fine spell of settled weather beginning, we cruised on the following day to Chateau-Thierry stopping upstream of the port on a stone quay. There was just enough depth for us and it was much quieter.
We enjoyed three days at Chateau-Thierry and after I had collected the car from Epernay and done a long overdue shop at its large Carrefour, we had the means of exploring the World War 1 battleground at Belleau Wood.
The Aisne-Marne War Memorial and Cemetery lie between the village of Belleau and the wood of the same name. The beautiful Memorial Chapel contains a wall of the missing with the names of the 1,060 American soldiers who fought there and whose bodies were never found. The chapel stands at the foot of the wooded hill (Belleau) in magnificently maintained gardens in which 2,289 white marble headstones are laid out following the curve of the hill where the battle took place in 1918.
Immaculate polished marble headstones.
View from the chapel steps.
We drove to the centre of Belleau Wood where several captured German guns stand in a clearing around a statue – ‘Marine Memorial in Belleau Wood’. The Marine Corps was formed in 1775 and lost more men on 6th June 1918 than in all of its previous history.
Returning to the village of Belleau we visited the small museum there. The town was very badly damaged during the battle. Afterwards we found the nearby German Cemetery. In stark contrast to the American headstones, these are in dark stone with a black cross or other religious symbol. From the rear of the cemetery you are able to see the American Memorial Chapel just a few hundred metres away.
The old chateau in the village of Belleau.
Less well kept and within sight of the American cemetery.
We left Chateau-Thierry around 10.15 on 23rd May and had a long but steady cruise to La Ferte sous Jouarre. We had yet to do any of the promised painting of the topsides and hoped to rectify this there. Four years ago we had stayed there about a month for one reason or other and knew it was a good mooring.
Rivers are always much quicker than canals, especially if there aren’t too many locks and we were soon moored up on the secluded pontoon behind the island. The town is of medium size and the rail connection enabled me to return to Chateau-Thierry to collect our trusty Micra and enjoy a scenic drive back to the barge.
During World War 1 the River Marne was a strategic feature and there is a Memorial there to the 3,888 missing British soldiers who lost their lives in the 1914 Battles of Mons, le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. Near the bridge are two memorial pylons (one on each bank) which mark the position of the Pontoon Bridge built (by the 4th Division Engineers) whilst under fire from the Germans who held the high ground on the northern bank across the river during the First Battle of the Marne.
Where the pontoon bridge crossed.
As it was after the initial battle.
Sadly, that evening came the devastating news from England about the terrorist bombing in Manchester where a concert attended by mainly young people was targeted by ISIS. Another ignorant jihadist who had benefited from all that our democratic country has to offer and yet found it within himself to create hell for so many innocent people. Madness!
We spent just under a week at La Ferte sous Jouarre and finally did a bit of painting. We prepped and painted the three wheelhouse panels during some pretty hot weather and although a final rub down and second coat are required, at last we have made a start…
Hot work and not ideal conditions for painting.
We were joined on the pontoon for one day by ‘Passe Lagom’ and ‘Jenal’ who were cruising together and spent another convivial evening on Jenal’s back deck enjoying the balmy evening…and no mozzies!
Passe Lagom heads off.
Monday 29th May and a 7.30am start for us in the hope of cruising for part of the day in relative cool. The river was very empty and we saw only the occasional commercial barge or hotel boat as we cruised to Meaux. This time we moored just after the lock at Meaux and were off early the following day to reach Vaires sur Marne by early afternoon. Another previously used mooring, but on this occasion complete with an irritated fisherman who couldn’t understand that we really did have the right to moor there and -yes- he could actually move a few metres along the bank and still manage to fish!
Nicci ‘mowing’ the lawn !
Keeping out of the way of a very laden commercial.
We left Vaires sur Marne the next morning and had an unusually slow cruise, mainly waiting in narrow canalised stretches or at locks for heavily laden commercial barges. Finally, we reached the huge Chinese Restaurant at the confluence of the Rivers Marne and Seine not far from the centre of Paris and we turned south. We would eventually stop for the night just below Ablon lock.