06.00 taxi to Speke. Trouble with luggage due to the state of emergency at airports; Easyjet gave out one set of rules on the website, however Speke were not up-to-date. We knew we were slightly over the limit as we were carrying 4 very heavy fenders, but were told to pack hand luggage into hold bags so had to pay £50 excess; Communicated with Easyjet. Lost.
Long delay collecting luggage at Ch.de.G. I found a bus which would take us direct to Gare de l’Est @ 8 euros for 2. Train to Epernay takes 1.5 hours.
Lovely boat was fine, there had been lots of rain but no leaks.
Met Roger and Ruth on Romany a 60ft. wide English ‘narrow boat’, they from Bay of Islands, NZ who spend 2 months each year over here. They suggested Lucien de Waele in Oudenarde for overwintering.
Mike went to Carrefour, just back along canal, by bike to buy andouillettes.
Another person told us how nice Meaux was.
Moored next door Clifhanga from London, Lou and Terri who used to run a pub/restaurant in Wiltshire, he Polish and front of house and she the cook.
Tue 22 Warm/dullish
Late start. Did useful things, cleaning varnish off locks, hinges etc. Fitted spotlight.
Biked to Carrefour, forgot 1 euro for trolley so had to use a basket, bike a bit unbalanced with shopping so walked it back!
Mike took fenders to a carrosserie to pump them up, he had them strung around his bike and looked like a Breton onion man, just needed the beret.
Free visit to Castellane Champagne, interesting, may buy a Blanc de Blanc tomorrow. Remembered what we used to drink when I lived here – ratafia.
Terri and Lou for drinks after supper.
Wed 23 cloudy, dullish, rain at night
More refitting, stbd. windscreen wiper and fuelled 300 l in port tank for €360. Ouch. Fuel leak on generator. Prepared for and fitted bow fairleads.
Just in chaos when Jacki and David arrived for tea a day earlier than expected, this because Bamps has had a stroke and in hospital and of course they had to return. They only came out of their way as they had two more of our new fenders and the heavy iron pins for mooring. After leaving us they drove to Calais and back to Oxton that day and night, must have been exhausted.
Bought for Tom C a bottle of Commodore Champagne.
Drinks with Terri and Lou. He has a portable air pump – very useful for the remainder of our fenders.
Refuelled port tank, the tanker came down to the canal.
Thurs 24 Dullish, thunder later -rain
Shopping at Carrefour, goodbye to M et Mme Lucien Luca, the Capitain Halte Nautique d’Epernay, Quai L’isle Belon. A very pleasant stay in spite of the Paris/Strasbourg TGV and the lorries!
Quite windy and raining, lifejacket day in locks and full waterproofs. Locks automatic and v. narrow for us.
Couldn’t get the swing bridge to work at Bissoueil, had to tie to town railings to await the Eclusier, unfortunately we think we have bumped our propeller on something v.hard in the centre of the canal.
Using the new yellow line handling pole makes tying up v.easy.
Conde sur Marne for night, completely devoid of human life, most of the berths taken for permanent people – what happens in the height of the holiday season?
Village flower festival, every possible nook and cranny filled with baskets. Old church, nice market building, 2 chambre d'hotes, 1 champagne house, M.Potie, 1 Boulanger, 1 bar which we went into, obviously men only!!. Supper, early to bed.
Fri 25 Sun, warmish
Lots of locks on Canal Aisne de la Marne and Mont de Billy tunnel 2.5 kms, lit and dead straight, motorway over the top so not so quiet for restful and well earned lunch at the other end. Herons around again.
Lovely wide open vistas to vine covered hills, huge electricity pylons.
Low bridges! Why do the locks use different sides for the automatic machinery? Very glad we have so many new fenders, the locks are v. narrow and the stern gets pushed sideways just on entry.
16.15 Sillery where there is a pleasant harbour, showers, elect and water and reasonably quiet, this time plenty of people actually on their boats. Wiclo de Clerq, a Belgium barge, very well kept, green and red, their home with the dearest rough haired, up ears dog and a ginger cat.
Leak Port P bracket. Not good. 10.80€ per night incl showers
A Dutchman with very short shorts and a flat coat retriever.
Very smart Dutch boat whose owners sat and talked loudly until 00.30.
The good showers but why only one hook for towel and clothes. 2 € each.
V.good Boulanger, 11 bis rue de Tainsy, supermarket, PO, Tabac, 2 champagne houses.
Sat 26 Dull/cloudy, bright -Rain later -brightened up
10.45 left in rain. Dull countryside, industrial one side, flat and boring the other. Herons
Followed a Dutch boat through the locks, not too much of a squeeze when you think that large barges get in.
12.45 moored at Reims port, just by the motorway and a flyover, also dossers delight, but I can just see the Cathedral between flyovers.
Not really a port, more a collection of small pontoons set into the widened part of the river. Tide running wrong way and wind made it difficult to get in. Capitain not a seaman. 12 € one night.
Explored the Cathedral, an enormous amount of stone restoration work. Brilliant Marc Chagall windows and also a window dedicated to Mme Bridget Simon and her husband, very quiet and peaceful. We walked to the market which isn’t anymore, now derelict, so had to do food shopping in a Spar!!
Bought new doormat to replace one bought in Paris which must have blown away in Epernay.
Found the Passage Sepi where Charlene used to shop 42 years ago, also the wide promenading road and lots of cafes where Rob, Sal, Alexandra, Mike and I ate en route for barge holiday several years ago.
It would obviously have been lovely to have Jacki and David Willis with us, but in hindsight these were not the best days, boring countryside and rain!!
Sun 27 Dull, bit of rain, sun later
As we were moored opposite the Holiday Inn, we had internet coverage, thank goodness some of us can communicate with the outside world at last.
Slipped at 10.45, not sorry to leave, we didn’t enjoy Reims this time, we should have continued on to Courcy 12 kms further on – it looked v. pleasant. Not many wide landscapes as canal bordered by trees but wherever they were clear there was always a huge grain silo – what do our farmers do with their grain?
Got behind a v. slow barge which eventually was able to let us pass. Just waiting for another barge to come out of lock when we might have bumped our starboard prop. So many grain mills and stone crushing plants, steel fabricators etc, all looking quite seedy.
Moored for night tucked into the bank above lock 1 on Canal d’Ardennes close to Vieux Les Asfeld, a farming village with nice church, Mairie, chamber d' hote. Used our heavy duty pin for mooring, not a sound to be heard. Picked sloes for gin.
Mon 28 Rain, downpour all day till 15.00ish, some thunder
Left our very quiet mooring, unfortunately I had slept better with the traffic noise at Reims! Again the canal very overhung with trees so not much view, more huge grain silos or sugar beet factories. Lots of herons, ducks, moorhens.
We think there is not so much use of farm pesticides etc. to drain back into canal, more wildlife on canal now, definitely sparser on the Marne in the Champagne area.
Ran generator to provide power to clear screen.
Arrived at Rethel 13.00 ish, unfortunately the last bridge has taken off and permanently damaged our mast which was already lying flat. Sun eventually came in time for shopping. Rethel is the home of the boudin blanc, even books written about them.
Doing useful jobs and even some hoovering.
Rethel a good country town. Caught up with 3 Dutch barges we have met before. 2 nights for 11€.
Tue 29 Dull, rain later.
A useful works day. Wipers and horn set to work. Sewage pump leaked! I shopped, found a very smart butcher established in 1670’s but not expensive unlike the little charcuterie whose pate d’Ardennes was nearly twice as expensive. Good patisseries.
Thought for the day:
it is hardly surprising people shop at supermarkets, I realise the local small shops take it in turns to open/close during August but they still close 1 or 2 days a week and where do people buy their fruit and veg when there isn’t a market?
The big crane is rising up ready to lift the old railway bridge on Saturday. A very smart chef d’equipe in yellow jacket and big black Fedora.
All the towns and villages we pass through at this time have brilliant floral displays, some 5ft high, some just a single colour of petunia, all looking good in spite of the drought earlier in the year.
Wed 30 Mixed cloud, sun, no rain.
Emma rang, our texts to and fro have not been getting through though they appear sent.
The bridge lifting crane getting bigger ready for Saturday.
Countryside becoming more hilly, more cows and less corn. Attigny and Dives look good stops.
Tied up for night at Neuville Day in the middle of the 17 flight of locks, we might have gone on further if locks 21/22 hadn’t stopped on us, we had had to wait for Eclusier to come on his little moped to free the gates. Dutch friends also, VD22 and TSII (Bill) but aren’t v. chatty. Restaurant/bb/traiteur Au Sans Souci right by canal, looks v. sympathetic and we will eat there tonight.
Our yellow mooring pole is very essential as neither of us can reach the bollards. We are a pretty slick team now.
No communication signal at all in this village. No 1 set batteries dying.
Thought for the day: Egg boxes, a reduction in the cost of eggs if you take your own egg box and pick them off the trays even in Carrefour, even their own boxes only have a loose printed label, easy to remove for reuse. Take note British supermarkets. A charge for carrier bags is pretty universal.
Au Sans Souci was a disappointment, if the patron had kept to good plain regional cooking all would be well but he had heard of balsamic vinegar to put with everything and over decorated plates with huge slices of melon, not a lot of finesse here. We enjoyed the experience and had remembered to take our torch – a very good thing as it was a dark walk alongside the canal bank.
Thurs 31 Dry, bright
Overslept and had to follow the 2 Dutch boats. 19 locks in 4 km!
Such a pity that so many old lock cottages are empty, they are very attractive “L” shaped buildings, stone quoins, slate roofs and those which are inhabited have brilliant gardens.
Stopped at v. small halte nautique at Le Chesne, an attractive large village. The two Dutch boats plus the v. smart one, they definitely look down their noses at us smoking gypsies!!
Ate the famous boudin blanc from M.Demoizet from Rethel, probably not the most tasty of sausage but good to know from where they originate.
Wonderful starry skies as no light pollution. Pair of kingfishers.
Fri 1st September Lovely sun
Left Le Chesne 11.00 having done useful works. Adjusted stbd idling speed. Stopped for lunch just after Lock 2 Cassine, v. pretty rural countryside, five goats to keep the grass down, more bright chestnut coloured cows and villages looking more affluent. My theory is that villages within commuting distance to large towns suffer from the young going to work there but where the villages are more remote the communities stay together.
Another tunnel but only short.
A huge war memorial up on the hill.
16.50 left the Canal des Ardennes for the Meuse and had to hurry to Sedan before the locks closed at 18.00, just made it with a minute to spare, lucky as there was certainly nowhere else to tie up.
Halte Nautique beside a campsite and large park. 6 very plush Dutch boats and their owners having a communal supper with very bad music; they didn’t think much of scruffy us especially the smoke from our engines!
Sat 2 Cloudy/warm
Not very good showers but never mind. 11.70€ per night.
The smart Dutch already up polishing their boats – they all look incredibly suburban and not at all boaty – no Rhoscolyn types here. (Rhoscolyn- wonderful village in Anglesey where we have been holidaying for 60 years- See www.rhoscolyncottage.co.uk) Spent morning exploring Sedan, market v. good. Eventually found our way up to the Castle, which is the largest in Europe, no signs for pedestrians so took the long vehicle route, signage generally very poor as even the entrance was not clear. This is where Napoleon was defeated and the start of the First Republic (I think)
This is a very pleasant and stylish town, good houses.
Afternoon spent doing useful works again.
The mackerel we bought in the market not up to scratch.
Sun 3 Dull, rain, clear then more rain later.
Nearest Boulanger 10 mins walk away.
Lovely to be on a wide river again, locks a little wider and at Charleville Meziere VERY deep. Stopped there for lunch and met pleasant Belgium family with two small children on their way to Toulouse.
Great meanders between wooded hills, old WWII pill boxes.
Lock 43 at Montcy had flood markings up to 2m above lock wall.
Stopped around 16.30 at Chateau Regnault, 4 other boats already here so had to tie up alongside another snooty Dutch couple. Very strange bars here, obviously not for outsiders.
Mon 4 Sunny, warm, cloudy
The butcher told me this is the home of the enormous (15cm minimum) hexagonal nut maker, the factory starts at 06.00 with very loud banging.
Snooty Dutch went off early so now we are against the quay. Friendly Belgium couple arrive.
Pleasant village on both sides of the river, very tall narrow houses.
I actually got the washing dry on the same day.
Varnishing and tidying boxes.
School even the little first years go off on the bus, come back at lunch time and then back to school for the afternoon till 16.00.
Delicious roast veal from the butcher.
Tues 5 Mist, cleared mid am
Left, but something stuck in stbd prop so came back in, however, whatever it was cleared on its own.
The scenery is glorious, wide meanders, forested hills, Les Dames de Meuse and Malgre Tout. At one point some strange hilltop trees looked just like battlements, but could have been fire breaks. Villages look prosperous, the houses are of very individual design! Most are very neat with tidy, some real hovels with jungly gardens.
Masses of stone and then slate quarries, enormous slabs of slate for steps. More pill boxes.
We missed our mooring at Revin, don’t know how. However stopped at Fumay at 14.00, a great find and my favourite place, the large village on one bank only, the other bank forested. Very good quay opposite a wine merchants. Good Capitainerie with new washing machines and showers. Huge Mairie with new very modern landscaping around it. Some shops closed down, we think the Mayor is making a big effort to attract new business. 8.55€ per night.
We really felt part of the village here.
Two or three pleasant looking gites.**
The smarty pants Dutch couple on Mariba are here.
Jean Marie and Marie Paule, the Belgium couple we met in Chateau Regnault came for a drink or two; he used to work for Siemens on laser printers, she is a ceramicist and doesn’t speak much English.
Our French is improving to the extent that we can carry on a good conversation for several hours!
Wed 6 Mist, then hot sun and no clouds
Market day, lots of slippers and nightdresses. Good veg and at last peaches which taste of the sun.
For some reason my back was really bad again (I think I carried too much too long around Sedan castle) so had to use the Nurofen heat pad.
Managed to get all the washing including bed linen washed and dry – no more smelly people on board this boat. Rot to both wheelhouse doors- fixed 2005!
Interestingly a mobile sewing machine servicing van set up in market square, obviously enough people sew around here.
A kiosk near the river opens up in early evening to sell what seems to be cut price food and alcohol for the poor!
** Gites de France, 26 Quai des Carmelites,a little cottage fronting the river and 3 or 4 more in village.
Thurs 7 Mist which didn’t clear till 17.00
Slipped at 10.15, dull and a bit cold. Stbd gear box still making a strange noise on low power. More revs is the answer.
Beautiful forested hills on either side of river.
Stopped at Vireux Wallerand another good mooring and Capitainerie but not part of the village as in Fumay. Steelworks across the river.
Put the anchor and chain on shore for washing and calibrating, the windlass worked perfectly.
Architecture becoming less French, more Belgium and don’t let anyone kid you that there are no obese people in France – Birkenhead/Portsmouth eat your hearts out!
Huge 17thC house and grounds just beyond our mooring, a bit seedy now but what style.
Fri 8 Cloudy, sun later, hot out of wind
Slipped at 09.05 and the butcher not open.
Quite windy which makes entering locks tricky. Now they are large enough for huge barges.
The landscape is more industrial, large limestone outcrops, old slate quarries, barges either emptying coal or filling with gravel. Lots of holiday chalets and campsites – not far from Brussels so presume for weekenders. Now in Belgium and have changed our courtesy flag for the first time.
Passed by Givet and Dinant, as although they are written up well in guide book, they didn’t appeal to us, long haul goods train line on opposite bank, also saw Mariba there!
Riviere, pleasant with the most impressive houses, a mix of Surrey home counties and Scottish baronial, all very individual. Not sure where we moored.
The Belgians have built new eclusier offices and upgraded the locks but river signage not good, a bit too vague for comfort, we now have white square boards as “No entry” signs over bridge arches.
Jean Marie and Marie Paule also moored here, but didn’t have drink with them.
Sat 9 Clear and sunny, chilly first thing, hot later
Slipped 09.30. Scenery still lovely but more houses alongside river. The most extraordinary variation in architectural styles, mostly well cared for.
Had to drop anchor mid river whilst a rather small water ski competition took place; couldn’t believe how easy, also washed chain with water from fresh water pump whilst bringing chain on board again.
12.30 Namur, moorings bow on to quay with the dreaded small, low pontoons, not at all good for us, but for once we got the fenders in the right place!! Good showers with 4 hooks. 35 € for the night. Shopped. Varnished, put up mast again.
Late evening went to find a bar. Over the bridge and down stream around edge of Citadel, this looks fantastic illuminated at night together with the bridge; we eventually found a whole old town tucked away behind and below the citadel.
Belgians are very keen motor bikers.
Sun 10 Sun and clear sky, chilly at first
Brocante market on Quay above us at 08.00, lots of very cold looking people expecting to do business – Mike might have bought an ashtray!
We do feel quite intimidated by the very smart new Dutch boats, they are so quiet and no smoking engines, they definitely think we are gypsies. Next door to us is an English couple also working on their boat – an English disease perhaps.
At the first lock Jean Paul (he lives at Spy, west of Namur) caught up with us on his motorbike to give us a photocopied Navicarte to Holland, so kind. We eventually got to his funny little Yacht Club Livois in an old lock cut which means a stern board on leaving between moored boats which we managed!
Marie Paule Henken who designed the badge, logo etc. for the yacht club is a ceramicist and made the tiles for the Club’s mural.
We were accompanied by two very fast barges for several km., lots of power boats and water skiers, a terrific wash just like being at sea.
Arrived at Huy -again into an old narrow lock cut between other boats, a railway line and main road on one side, nuclear power station and another main road on the other side – what more does one need! Met Sue (divorcee) in narrow boat astern of us, another strange permanent canal resident.
8.00€ for the night.
Thought for the day:
Generally very disappointed at the standard of fruit on offer apart from the markets; what do they do to bananas? we haven’t bought any and where are the delicious sweet grapes, most on offer are thick skinned with big pips? I had to buy kiwi fruits from NZ.
The Belgians have permanently installed metal fold out ones from the river wall, as opposed to the rather wobbly wooden ones the French have, I expect because of the bigger tidal range and also the stone walls to the river sides.
Mon 11 Brilliant sun
Slipped 09.35. First lock OK, at the 2nd the gate had stuck, so a wait of an hour whilst a crane and then a diver cleared the blockage. One and only bargee was cross with us as we didn’t move along the waiting mooring wall quickly enough, but if he had used proper seamanlike procedures and given two blasts to turn to port, we would have known what his intentions were! We heard only one barge use his horn.
There are pumping stations all along the river in various architectural styles. A great amount of wash where the river runs between very high walls.
Arrive Liege 13.00 alongside in another old lock cut. Good Capitainerie with a restaurant above with very good views of river; a barge passes about every 5 mins. day and night, locks work 24/7 for them but not us.
Moored alongside us is the tiny boat with 90 hp outboard belonging to a gross German and his tiny skinny wife, the boat is always weighed down on his side, it is a wonder it doesn’t sink as not much freeboard.
Explored the city and had a huge ice cream, a speciality!! Bought in supper, a huge pork shank, delicious. At last proper good quality fruit shops.
The smartest women we have seen on whole trip, and very tall.
Tue 12 Brilliant sun Very hot
A long walk to find a Boulangerie.
Quick tidy before Jean Camille Kech and boat repairer arrive to discuss the repair of the probable bent propeller and shaft. J>C. is a friend of a Masonic friend of a navy friend, sent to look for a boat repairer – a delightful large, bearded, man ex university history lecturer and latterly educational adviser to the Belgium Government and much travelled in UK.
We decided to have lunch out for a change but instead of finding a typical Liegoise restaurant, we ended up in a very nice Italian La Main a la Pate, rue St. Paul. I had delicious rabbit/rosemary stew and a nougatine ice cream, Mike had veal and shared my pudding.
Went to Office de Tourisme at station for train times to Brussels, a long walk back when I misread the map, but did find a much closer Boulangerie.
Wed 13 Hot though some clouds in the distance later.
Varnished, cleaned interior roof lining in saloon. Shopped, the Boucherie does a good line in his own chocolate mousse and although the area is quite down at heel the meat is beautifully presented.
Mike biked to the station to pick up our tickets, free from Liege/Brussels, the TGV is coming soon when the new “Norman Foster” type designed station is complete.
Colours- the latest big expensive Dutch yachts are cream with black ropes and fenders, touches of black here and there. Also some very smart more traditional designs, usually blue hulls and cream topsides. The Dutch couple without a bicycle pump on Gracious have left, we eventually became quite friendly with them.
Thought for the day:
Dogs since leaving home in July, I haven’t seen a single person using a pooper scooper and there are plenty of dogs. Alright, Mike has seen one!
Thurs 14 Hot and misty, v. humid later
Cleaned the windows – more housework here than at home. More varnishing. Shopped, found another Glacier and a delicious “tart” shop.
Jean Camille and wife Josette, came for a quick visit to arrange for us to join them for Sunday’s festivities.
More Dutch boats in but not chatty, they never seem to get off their boats, or go to a bar, or shop. I suppose travelling the Meuse often is like the M6 to us.
Started cleaning up the chrome light fittings - look good.
Thought for the day:
cleaning, I now know why people who live in small houses do so much housework – it’s “small house syndrome”, in a larger house you don’t notice the dirt and boats equal small houses.
Fri 15 Hot/sunny
Laundrette, shopping, varnishing, ironing! A good pottering day, all other boats left early for Maastricht but others arriving all the time too.
Mike biked to boatyard at Herstal on outskirts of Liege, rather like Bootle. Booked hotel for Monday night.
On the other side of the river are large Turkish and Greek populations, hope they get along better here than in Cyprus.
Capitainerie had a 12.00 reception to celebrate end of the season but put out the crisps at 10.00, a bit early I would have thought.
Thought for the day:
Washing machines, why are even new machines programmed to take 2 hours but still don’t wash clean.
Nice drink in town later. We have gone off our bar/restaurant as they didn’t serve us quickly enough!!
Sat 16 Very hot and sunny
A good working day, too tired and hot to go out.
Have discovered why the Dutch have such big and expensive boats – by law they can’t own a 2nd home in Holland, so money goes into boats, though many do travel to other countries to purchase 2nd homes.
Sun 17 Dull and cooler
Up bright and early to catch a shower as Capitainerie only open for 1 hour in morning.
Off to meet Jean Camille and Josette at Courts of Justice for procession, presentation of colours, speeches, choir etc. all in aid of Fetes de Wallonie, 2.5 days of festivities.
Alongside the river is a massive market extending for nearly 2 km, food, veg, clothes (more nightdresses) flowers, plants, puppies, poultry, other pets etc.
We watched the Kechs marching to a brass band (not quite Royal Marines), listened to the choir, then speeches, presentations etc. Afterwards a lovely lunch at Maison du Peket, 4 rue de l’Epee, 04.250.67.83. I am glad I only had two courses as they serve enormous portions of huge meat balls in a sweet sauce – a regional speciality.
In the evening we went back to “Proms in the Park” type concert with opera orchestra and choir, good fun but couldn’t find JC and wife. Later fireworks from a river bridge.
We had fireworks for Bastille Day in Deauville at start of travels and now in Liege towards the end of stage 1.
Mon 18 Rain Cleared later
Final pack, took luggage to Hotel Cygne Argent, then took boat down river to boatyard to await lift out. 53.00€ for the 8 days.
Everything stowed and clean. A very choppy mooring on main river. We must remember to make her “sea ready” for the rough water expected on the Rhine.
Lift out a bit scary, crushed one of the external exhaust ducts but not too serious.
Quite late by the time we had a lift back to hotel with Reginald.
We have become quite fond of Liege, a thriving, vibrant city.
Hotel clean and comfortable. Supper at Rive Gauche, more huge meat balls.
Tue 19 Fine. Rain in Brussels
A bath – what luxury. Breakfast in café on rue Guillomines, v. nice and much cheaper than hotel. Train to Brussels Midi, lunch at La Table du Midi, quick and good.
The Eurostar left luggage uses a bar code to open lockers, v. efficient, 3.10 euros per medium locker.
Eurostar to Waterloo, then Euston/Liverpool/home.
Canals, rivers and locks travelled so far. Kilometers 1375
Lateral a la Marne 4
Aisne a la Marne 24
Lateral a l’Aisne 2