With just a couple of weeks left before my return to England, we explored our new ‘home’ and walked around the nearby Lac de Jouarres, a picturesque man-made lake near Homps.
Homps itself is a pretty little village, with several restaurants and bars, most of which close during the winter months.
Our new winter mooring at Homps.
When we had booked the place at the port, we were told of the imminent ‘chomage’ or draining of the port to facilitate canal repairs. Fortunately, Peter devised a system whereby the barge would (hopefully) move up and down as the water drained and then refilled, without him having to be present. We set this up the day before I left and the very next day, the port was drained. Fortunately, Peter’s plans worked, which meant he wouldn’t have to be there when the canal refilled.
Having dug around with the barge pole to get an idea of depth and levels on the canal bottom I came up with this arrangement for the draining.
Holding us out from the sloping canal sides ready for the drop in level.
With Nicci on her way back to England, down went ‘Aurigny’ and settled perfectly. All set up and ready for the refilling in late December.
My Dad became very poorly and so I changed my tickets and returned a week earlier than planned, driving up to Chartres where I spent the night in a former hostel for pilgrims, now a simple hotel, next to the Cathedral.
At Dieppe, I waited several hours for my ferry and explored the town. Poignant memorials to the soldiers killed in the Dieppe raid of 1942, were reminders of the relatively recent losses of the Second World War.
Back in England I was able to spend time with Dad in Devon and then oversee the various long overdue improvements to our flat in Winchester. Most weekends I drove back to Surrey and spent time with friends there, joining the Treble Clef Choir as usual for Monday’s Christmas Concert rehearsals.
It was good to see several of the latest films and Karen treated me to a day in London and theatre visit to ‘Motown The Musical’ for my 60th birthday. I also saw Bill Bailey’s ‘Larks in Transit’ which was very good.
Peter meanwhile was still in Homps, but took the opportunity to join some ex-colleagues on a memorial trip to Bordeaux, the scene of the famous ‘Cockleshell Heroes Raid’ in WW2. He then motorcycled to Caen and caught the overnight ferry to Portsmouth- a better route than my earlier one had been.
I was privileged to be able to combine my trip back to England on the bike with joining some of my old colleagues in Bordeaux. They were driving members of the SBS and Royal Marines on the annual commemoration of Operation Frankton.
Starting at the port in Bordeaux where the ships were mined, with all the pomp and ceremony befitting the remembrance of such a courageous raid.
Over the course of the weekend we travelled in two buses to the various important sites along the River Garonne and estuary.
Near to this site two of the captured Marines were executed on the orders of Hitler.
There are many memorials en route and their bravery is remembered each year on the anniversary of the raid.
The chap in the beret is the younger brother of Bill Sparks, one of only two who survived the raid. The others either perished in the sea behind or were murdered by the Nazis.
We spent Christmas in Alderney, where once again, Jean and Paul entertained us royally. We were delighted that Adam could be with us for the celebrations and also that Pidge (aka Felicity) joined us for a few days afterwards. The weather was generally fine and we were able to get out for walks and several rounds of golf.
With various flat improvements ‘in the pipeline’ Peter and I decided to crack on and redecorate the kitchen. The flat which we had barely lived in since buying it, was starting to feel like home. Wickes delivered the new shower room (planned back in November) replacing our dated eighties champagne coloured bathroom. We bought a new TV and ordered a new sofa and armchair. Unfortunately, owing to a delay in delivery, the latter only arrived the day before we left to return to France.
Shower room ready for assembly.
Road testing the new sofa !
I took another trip down to see Dad in Devon, where once again the staff at the nursing home were providing him with excellent care.
Peter and I returned to France on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen with a full car load and the motor cycle on the trailer. After an early start and long drive we arrived back at the barge in Homps that evening.
‘Aurigny’ was fine, although one of the restraining poles had been broken when a large barge had sped through the port causing havoc a few weeks before.
The next few days were spent unloading the car, tidying up and organising a boatyard near Toulouse for May when we intend painting the top sides. We also booked an apartment in Ax-les-Thermes, in the Pyrenees, having promised ourselves a ski trip this year.
We were very lucky with the snow conditions and weather while we were there and enjoyed six days skiing. On our final evening, muscle sore and weary, I relaxed for two hours in Les Bains du Couloubret in the town. A great way to end a skiing holiday.
Sadly, my dear Dad passed away peacefully one evening while listening to a CD of his choir. We flew back from Toulouse for his funeral in Devon and spent time with our family.
Despite missing us immensely when we began our barging adventure, Dad had always supported our decision to follow our dream. He spent three memorable and enjoyable holidays with us on the barge, accompanied by either Laura or Adam and I was able to stay with him during November and December each winter.
We returned to Homps and had just a couple of days to prepare for our departure.
Season 10 beckons.