Monday 1st May was spent in Chauny as due to the bank holiday, it was impossible to travel because the locks were closed. The weather wasn’t brilliant, a bit overcast and drizzly, so we used to the day for a bit of a relax, a few jobs, and took full advantage of the wifi to catch up with emails etc. Also, did a bit of planning for the next few days. As well as the French canal guides we are using, we have some downloaded guides from Eurocanals and we have been really helped by a superb blog written by someone who did the same trip a few years ago. A quick re-read of some of the blog entries revealed very similar experiences to our own.
http://cruisingtips.net/blog/ is the link. We were put onto it by Cy’s dad, who happened to meet the couple, Rick and Mary, at Burnham-on-Sea marina before they crossed the channel in 2011.
After this hard day of exertion, we were raring to go on Tuesday morning……
We left the Halte Nautique at Chauny, waved off by Jacqueline and Michel, whose barge we had been tied to. Jacqueline was lovely, and made a point of showing us on the map, a place we could tie up which was really close to a supermarket with a petrol station. This was a great help, as we would never have known otherwise, and carrying 40 litres of fuel in jerry cans, even with a trolley, can be a challenge over a great distance.
Not long after leaving Chauny, we turned onto the Canal de l’Oise et l’Aisne. This was quieter, and in sections, a bit overgrown.
We spotted a small swimming mammal which we are choosing to believe was a young otter and definitely not a big rat!
There were quite a few locks, so progress is a bit on the slow side. At around 17:30, we tied up at a Halte Nautique at Pargny-Filain. This was just a pontoon, but had water and electric included in the 7 euro fee. Once settled we discovered the electricity points were all taken and the tap didnt work, so not the best 7 euros we’ve ever spent! It was however, another peaceful place to spend the night. Our lock total for the day was 9, which puts the trip total at 57 (only another 200 or so to go..).
Our destination for the next day (Wednesday 3rd May) was Berry-au-Bac, which is described as a barging town with lots of barges all permanently moored and a cafe at the side of the canal for boat skippers and crew. This sounded like quite an interesting place, as well as being a convenient stopping place anyway. We were a bit apprehensive about the availability of spaces for small boats though. We left our mooring early (for us), and headed towards the approaching tunnel (Souterrain de Braye). This is one way and regulated by traffic lights, so it is possible to have to wait for a while. As we approached, the light was staying firmly red, so we just starting getting mooring lines ready and it went green. It is quite a short tunnel, so didn’t take long to get through. This was the first day of proper rain since we had left Wales and so we had to improvise a bit to keep the windscreen clear of too much water.
The day’s travel was along pleasant, quiet stretches of canal and involved going over a couple of aquaducts which was fun.
We approached Berry-au-Bac during the early afternoon, and tied up on the section suggested as suitable for small craft. We were the only boat there, so tied at the end to allow room for any commercial barges wanting to stop. We eagerly set off on foot to see all the barges moored just beyond the lock. To our profound disappointment, the barging community seems to have entirely gone. We were expecting to see 30 or 40 boats all tied side by side, in reality there was one. The cafe seems to have long gone aswell. We were both quite saddened by this and wandered dejectedly into the town instead. The town was very small, there is a boulangerie and a tabac, and, completely unexpectedly, a huge Emmaus community. For anyone not familiar with Emmaus, it is worth checking out. It’s a brilliant organisation which has a lot of communities across the UK and transforms peoples lives. This group was selling furniture from several barns and had the most fantastic array of unique pieces and all sorts of bric-a-brac at ultra reasonable prices.
My favourite was the futuristic 1960’s(ish) dresser complete with built in temperature gauge and barometer. We both agreed that Doris doesnt really have the space for such impulse buys, which also ruled out one of the 80 euro pianos.
We returned to Doris for our usual evening of dinner, wine and a bit of a think about the next day. A quick look at the waterways map of France, showed we are making pretty good progress.
The following morning, I headed off to the boulangerie for a baguette and a couple of pain au chocolat, while Cy did the engine checks. We headed off just after 9, straight into a series of locks. These were the first we encountered with a grabby tube thing hanging over the canal which you have to catch and twist to operate the lock.
During the early afternoon, we passed a huge industrial port, Port Colbert, with a large number of barges being loaded up from warehouses built next to and over the canal.
We would be heading through Reims today, which I was quite keen to visit, however, I had read that the moorings were close to a busy road. As we went by, we could see that it was a hugely busy area, and didn’t look like a particularly nice place to spend the night. Plan B was to head for Sillery, a few km further south. The three locks in Reims were all filthy, with loads of unpleasant urban debris. They were also quite high and difficult to catch the bollards with the ropes. In the last of the chain of three, Pat picked up a huge plastic bag around her propellor which meant we were unable to use her anymore. We were pleased that there was only one lock left to do for the day. Unfortunately, when we got there, I didnt quite twist the tube enough, so Cy had to turn Doris round and head back again. All this against the background of his anxiety about the engines. Still we got through, and tied up at the Halte Nautique at Sillery. This is a lovely little spot, with a few pontoons, water. electricity, good showers and wifi, for 8 euros per night.
It was a mild and sunny evening so we headed off for a wander. The military cemetary was quite something to see and the rows of headstones lit by the evening sun, kept us both quiet in contemplation for a few minutes. Nearly 12000 French soldiers are buried there, the vast majority killed in the Great War, but also a handful from WW2. The area we are in formed part of the Western Front and we have seen several references to commemorations in the area.