As planned, the first order of business was a jaunt to Damazan market. Although fairly small there was a good fruit and veg stall for some fresh provisions. A quick stop by the local boulangerie and we headed back to Doris to enjoy breakfast before setting off on foot to find the swimming lake. There had been prolonged thunderstorms in the night and although the rain had ceased by the morning, the skies were still overcast and the ground sodden with mud. Despite this, the swim was lovely and the water temperature perfect.
We walked back by a slightly different route and found the Fontaine aux Anglais, a former wash house deriving its name from a time when the town was under English domination.
After all these exertions, lunch seemed in order so we weren’t under way until just before 1 o’clock by which time it had gone from overcast and cool to bright sunshine and boiling hot. After a while we reached the mooring place of La Falotte. This is a beautifully maintained garden area with mooring stakes provided as part of a small privately-owned Mineralogy museum.
It looked lovely so we decided to stop for a while and check out the museum which was just about to re-open after lunch.
The museum turned out to be a gem (excuse the pun!). It is owned by an older couple and is housed in a small wooden building adjacent to their home. There were no other visitors and the proprietor explained in a mixture of broken English and French that all the samples had been collected by themselves over the years. The collection was significant and our host was able to explain the different mineral types in a way that was clear and informative for non-geologists – I wondered if he had a teaching or university background. He was a delightful gentleman and it was lovely spending a little while in his company.
Returning to Doris after our visit we were treated to the sight of a red squirrel scampering up a tree although I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo. The mooring was so tranquil that we contemplated an overnight stay but the lack of shade and the heat showing no sign of abating persuaded us to move on. We had also read that the water level in this particular pound can be subject to rapid changes due to the operation of the locks (although why this stretch should be especially affected I have no idea) and we didn’t fancy getting stuck if the bottom got too close to the top. In the end, we stopped at a decent little port not far beyond the next lock in the village of Villeton. Once again, it was a free mooring but you could pay for water and electricity if required. There was some dappled shade underneath trees and picnic tables adjacent to the moorings.
It was too hot initially to do much of anything but we did have a little explore later of the immediate area. It didn’t take long as there wasn’t a lot to see except for some interesting old farm machinery as part of a peasant museum. After our stroll we settled on deck to savour the evening.
There was no need to hurry in the morning as we were only planning a short day so we pottered about for a while, enjoying the relative cool of the morning, and once again set out after lunch. Our intended stopping place was le Mas-d’Agenais which was less than 10 km and one lock away. The lock took a little longer than anticipated as it jammed. I called the VNF who usually arrive on site pretty quickly but after 40 mins there was no sign of anyone so Cy climbed off the top of the boat and used the intercom to call again. It was about another 20 minutes before our rescuer arrived by which time there were boats waiting in both directions. After being released from our concrete prison, it was another hour or so before reaching the mooring quay at le Mas-d’Agenais. The quay is about 75m long and apart from a small abandoned sailing boat, no-one else was there initially. This gave me the chance to practise throwing a loop over a bollard. We are both adept at throwing a length of rope held in both hands to effectively catch or lasso a bollard, but throwing a single line with a loop knotted in the end is a whole new level. One which we consistently fail to reach.
The town itself is another one which was built within defensive walls on a hill. We had a good old meander round checking out views of the bridge over the river, the market square, various buildings and a big axe.
Surely no town is complete without a big axe.
In the morning, Cy went off alone to the boulangerie while I did some laundry. The captain is generally reluctant to leave his vessel so a bit of cajoling was required for this particular errand but breakfast was procured and enjoyed before heading back to town for a larger provisioning run. We also wanted to visit the church as it had been closed the previous evening and houses a Rembrandt painting depicting the crucifiction. Unfortunately the very famous painting had been moved to Bordeaux Cathedral due to security and climate issues, which we took to mean damp problems. According to the information displayed, the church are hoping to have these things resolved in due course and get their painting back.
We left le Mas-d’Agenais at around midday and headed off past the nearby boat hire centre and into the lock. We had met one of the team that work for Le Boat a few days previous when he was sent to do some ad-hoc repairs on a couple of their fleet. He recognised us and Doris and came over to the lock for a chat. He advised us to keep an eye out for mudslides along the next section due to the excessive rain and that the canal had even flooded its banks in one or two places – the first time ever.
After an hour or so, we spotted a nice little lunchtime mooring with some shaded picnic tables and enjoyed a leisurely stop.
We then continued on towards Meilhan-sur-Garonne and spotted the mudslides shortly before the town, half of the canal was buoyed off to stop boats going aground where the mud had all dumped in.
We reached Meilhan late afternoon – the mooring quay itself was pretty full and there was a kayaking club using the extra pontoon space so we found a spot along the bank instead and used our mooring stakes. It was fairly shallow and uneven at the edge but we seemed to get in OK. It was early evening by the time we had finished getting everything sorted so we opted to settle down and head up to the town in the morning.
Once again the night brought thunderstorms and heavy rain, despite this when we woke in the morning the canal water levels had dropped off considerably. We had never experienced this before, so can only assume it must have been due to a faulty lock somewhere. This was quite worrying as we were already moored in shallow water – as a result it seemed prudent to skip the exploration of the town and try to get going straight away if possible in case the level continued to drop. Thankfully, there was still (just) enough depth for us to get off.
It was now less than 20 km to Castets-en-Dorthe and the end of the canal. We had advised the port captain that we would arrive on Monday 11th which was the following day so we decided to stop at a place called Fontet for a night which was about halfway. The port at Fontet is in an old quarry so involves turning off the canal and into a basin, different to all the others which had been halts along the canal itself. We were there and tied to the reception pontoon shortly after 10 am. It was a relatively large place with several dozen boats looking like they were permanently based here. Being a Sunday, the office was closed and was something about the place that I wasn’t too keen on – this was entirely subjective, there was nothing wrong with it at all, I just didn’t fancy staying, so we didn’t. It was after 11 by the time we had faffed around and decided what we were doing but still plenty of time to get to Castets. We stopped for lunch close to the village of Puybarban. The banks here had some steel shuttering lining them so were good for mooring against. It was intended to be a lunch stop but in the end we couldn’t be bothered to move and so the brief lunch stop turned into an overnight mooring. It was a nice little quiet spot in attractive countryside although unfortunately the village no longer had any shops. There was a very nice looking cafe at the next lock which we walked up to, but it was closed.
There were more thunderstorms in the night, adding to our concerns regarding the imminent journey on the river, in fact we were not even certain it would be open to navigation due to the amount of recent rain. The morning was dryer though and I started the day with a short run. We arrived into Castets-en-Dorthe at around 12:30 and were shown where to tie up and asked to call into the office later after lunch. The place we had been allocated was great, most of the moorings were stern-to along the quay which ran for several hundred metres along the bank but we were up at the livelier end of things, close to the office and a restaurant which was humming with activity.
We knew that the lock from the canal down onto the river only operated at certain times based on the high tide and by prior arrangement only so we were keen to get these details sorted when we reported into the Capitainerie later. What we hadn’t anticipated was the large wine festival and Tall Ships Regatta in Bordeaux, so there were no moorings available there until after the following weekend. What this meant was that in effect, we were stuck. The distances involved and the tidal nature of the river meant an overnight stop in the vicinity of Bordeaux was necessary – the next good harbour, Pauillac was too far to reach in a single day. On a more positive note, the spares we had ordered to be delivered there had arrived and were waiting for us.
So, a week in Castets-en-Dorthe it turned out to be. It is not a big place and we thought we’d struggle to fill the time but actually it went by quite quickly (I wont detail every day as it would be a tad tedious).
There was a small convenience store in Castets but a larger Carrefour a couple of miles away. I topped up on provisions during the course of the week which involved multiple trips over several days and there is always plenty of maintenance, housekeeping and planning to do. Every day one or both of us went to look at the river – it had been thumping down due to all the rain and we liked to convince ourselves that it was becoming a bit tamer as the week went on.
There was still plenty of rain, but in shorter showers rather than prolonged downpours that we had been seeing.
On Thursday, Michael and Mary-Jane arrived as well so we had a fantastic evening with lots of wine and a take away pizza to compare experiences of the canal and generally catch up. They were around for three nights so were able to hang out for a bit longer before saying our final, final goodbyes on Sunday when they left to return along the length of the Canal de Garonne, Midi and up the Rhone hoping to get to Holland for some repairs over the winter.
After a few ignored emails and failed online booking forms to the Bordeaux port authority, I eventually phoned them and managed to arrange a space on one of the river pontoons for the night of Monday 18th and with the lock opening arranged we were all set, along with a convoy of about 6 boats that were also waiting to head out on to the river and towards the Atlantic Ocean. After a week in Castets, we were ready to move on but also sad to say goodbye – the port had been a particularly friendly and welcoming place under the supervision of the wonderful port captain, Bruno. One of the absolute highlights was the morning bread delivery – if you order from him in the afternoon, he delivers to your boat in the morning.
However, the Atlantic beckoned…