The morning of the 9th dawned fair and I headed off to the boulangerie for the usual. As I returned, I noticed a barge just going into one of the two locks that the mooring quay was between. As I looked further up, there was another barge aswell. Looks like I had missed rush hour – Cy managed to capture a great little video of the two vessels passing next to us. This was despite our guidebook saying that there is barely any commercial traffic on this part of the canal. We had our breakfast, faffed about a bit and eventually got going. I did a bit of laundry in our ‘Wonderwash’ machine.
The availability of laundry facilities is a bit sparse, so any sunny day is a good reason to get a few bits done. The rough plan for the day was to get to a recommended tie up spot at Revigny-sur-Ornain. The distance wasn’t huge, but there were a few locks to get through, 12 actually, and we encountered some sort of issue with four of them. The first was one with an automatic sensor that failed to sense, the VNF man in a van arrived by magic to sort that one.
The next was a bit confusing. The door was open, but there were no lights on, indicating it was out of service. A bit of a squint revealed that the VNF were already on site, so we hung around grinning and waving and were eventually let in. It appeared to be a problem with the hydraulic door mechanism.
We were now back to using a telecommander. First use was fine, but on the second occasion, the signal failed to register. Most of the locks have an intercom system attached to the Eclusiers hut. This is great if you happen to be inside, but a bit more tricky if you have been unable to make it that far. The banks here did not lend themselves to tying up, being reedy and sloping. Our eventual solution was for Cy to gently nose the bow of the boat as close to the bank as he dare, while I hung off ready to make a leap for it. The result was some sort of cross between Kate Winslet in Titanic and Spiderman as I landed spread-eagled onto the bank. A bit of a shout and wave into the intercom and hey presto, in we went. It was, however, clearly a problem with the telecommander itself, as the same thing happened when we reached the next lock. This time, we realised that the phone number we needed was on the back of said telecommander, which made life a little easier.
I cannot praise the VNF enough, it seems that not a day has gone past recently without needing to contact them in some way. As long as you have the right number for the local hub, all you have to do is call and say which lock you are at. They always arrive on site within 15-20 minutes and we feel very well looked after indeed. Often, you see the vans drive past or they happen to be waiting at a lock just to keep an eye on you. Managing virtually the entire network of France’s inland waterways and looking after both commercial and leisure traffic can be no easy matter.
Despite the delays, we arrived at Revigny and were tied up by 2pm. The mooring spot was pleasant, but quite a walk from town and we were low on groceries so off to Lidl I trudged. I was pleasantly surprised by the town itself and after grocery shopping was complete, managed to lure Cy out to a local bar a beer. The bartender had the most magnificently curly moustache I have seen for a while. Afterwards, we headed back to Doris for dinner and to enjoy the evening sunshine.
The next day (10th) was also lovely. Our destination was the larger town of Bar-le-Duc. The journey was a similar one to the previous day. Not a great distance, but plenty of locks to keep us busy. We didn’t have to contact the VNF once, although we were watched quite closely! There were a couple of bridges that needed lifting for us.
The scenery was particularly lovely today.
We arrived at Bar-le-Duc in the early afternoon, had lunch and went for a wander.
It is a delightful town, with the older building of the upper town being well worth the walk up.
The little mooring area has services – electricity, water and a toilet block. The facilities are shared with a campervan halt, which seems like an eminently sensible idea. We had a quick chat with a gentleman who was Finnish, although lives in Spain and his daughter has just completed a similar trip to ours in her sailing boat. Small world! There was no office as such, but at around 7pm, whilst we were enjoying a glass of wine in the sun, a lady came to collect our mooring fee. This was the princely sum of 1 euro and 50 cents.
We left Bar le Duc at 9am the following morning. To leave town, there were a couple of lifting bridges and it was quite satisfying to see the morning traffic come to a halt for us! Progress started well, with only one phone call to the VNF required.
However, things got more difficult as the day progressed. This was entirely due to the vast amounts of weed in some of the pounds. You could see it growing like an underwater forest. Between tangling round the props and blocking the cooling water intake, it was a constant battle.
We were quite relieved to finally reach Ligny-en-Barrois at around 3pm. There was rather a nice harbour there. We were the only boat, although another did arrive later. There were water taps, although the tap fittings had been removed. Nothing a pair of pliers couldn’t deal with. There was also a toilet block and a sign with the tariff displayed. No one appeared, so we settled in just as the rain started. A bit later, I had a quick look in town. There was a petrol station very close which was handy, and I located the boulangerie for the morning. There was also a tourist information office, so I popped in to enquire about the port. Happily, we were just a few days before it opened for the season, so saved ourselves the mooring fee.
Friday 12th was another warm morning. We managed an 8am departure as we knew there were a lot of locks, so the potential for delays increases. There were still some pounds with a lot of the dreaded weed to contend with, but less than the day before. A couple of calls to the VNF were required but as usual, we were well looked after.
We arrived at Demange-aux-Eaux mid afternoon and tied to the recommended mooring place, a rickety pontoon with not even a cleat to attach a line to (a bit of improvisation required). From here, it was just one more lock, then another large tunnel. According to our guidebook, this is another chain tug, with passages only permitted at certain times. We were hoping to get through for the morning passage. I went off to speak to the VNF agent at Demange about this so we were ready for the next day, as tow ropes would need to be prepared. He looked a bit astonished, as it transpired that the chain tug stopped years ago! The tunnel is nearly 5km long and we would drive through under our own power. I was told we would be accompanied, but was a bit unsure as to how this would happen. I was assured that the lock would be opened for us at 9am and we could head straight through. Once this was sorted, I left Cy with his engines, and walked into the village. I got the distinct impression that the zombie apocalypse had beaten me to it. It was virtually deserted, and apart from the imposing church, very little happening. Not even a boulangerie.
A quiet evening (with the exception of the church bells) ensued, and we headed off to bed ready for the next day’s adventures.