Back in Valenciennes once more

After all the excitement of the channel crossing with Chris and Helen we returned to Piedaleau on Weds 15th June. We were both rather exhausted.

We now needed to get on with the painting we had in mind but the weather was not in our favour. No clear run of dry days forecast and then it turned hot hot hot! We saw 37* on our thermometer one day. So either too wet or too hot to paint! Its fussy stuff this boat paint as we found out back in 2015.

Pat (Coole Swan) contacted us and we arranged with Pascaline (Capitaine) that he could moor his boat here for a month while he returned home and his sister and brother in law stayed on board. This resulted in an extremely enjoyable weekend – eating out and sharing a glass or two – before Pat left.

Sunday was Father’s Day in Uk and la fête des pères in France. The three of us walked into town with the aim of having a coffee and we ended up having lunch. Adrian really enjoys Flammekueche (rather like a pizza but from Alsace) and when he saw a restaurant serving this culinary delight it was a done deal. Lisa had instructed me to look after Adrian on Fathers Day in the absence of any kids but Pat valiantly offered to be his stand in kid for lunch!

The forecast was more amenable so Tuesday was ‘fancy’ undercoat day for the rear deck. We had bought a 2 part undercoat from a boatyard in Ghent before lockdown. This requires careful measuring of the 2 components to ensure it does what it says on the tin. Two top coats on Weds – morning got rather hot and evening it rained a bit within a couple of hours of finishing. But we finally got the job done. Now we will wait a couple of days, to let it harden off, before going cruising. The Somme is calling again.

Calais

Chris and Helen had spent some time in Calais in 2019 due to Chris’s accident with his hand when trying to leave. He had a bit of an argument with one of those swinging buoys in the outer harbour and had to be taken off by the coastguard to go to hospital. They stayed about 6 weeks whilst he underwent treatment and then they waited for suitable weather into December. Sounds like he had amazing care and treatment throughout but not a pleasant interlude.

They had told us that they enjoyed Calais but we, like most people, had only ever driven in / out to the ferry terminal. What we saw in the couple of days we were there was really rather pleasant.

The mooring they found, thanks to another boater on the Somme, is very pleasant and within easy walking distance of the centre & Town Hall.

We saw the outer harbour in the sunshine on Tuesday with boats on the buoys, and the wall where we tied up in the distance.

But we had a couple of jobs to do with Chris and Helen before we left. Firstly Adrian found where they could buy a Free SIM card – amazing value you get around 200 GB for 20 euros a month. We went to a small shop hosting a Free SIM machine, bought said card and Adrian fitted everything up for them on board.

Secondly we needed to get through some form of passport control and customs check now we are no longer in the EU. Chris had hoisted a yellow flag before entering Calais which identifies vessels from foreign waters. Adrian had telephoned French border police beforehand and we were told to go to the Calais Marina and give them details of the boat & occupants. Since we weren’t in the marina itself we had to make sure that our mooring was clearly identified. They then email the police who decide whether or not they need to visit the boat. Within a couple of hours two policemen did indeed arrive. They checked & stamped our passports (a little bemused that we had just been in & out within days!) & asked about our visas. They decided there was no need to check anything on the boat so Chris was able to take down his yellow flag.

Bizarrely when we were at the marina office another yatch owner was registering and was amazed that we had come from Pin Mill – he explained that that is his winter mooring! He was leaving Calais having sailed around Brittany. Small world.

Town Hall and the Burgers of Calais

In 1885, Rodin was commissioned by the French city of Calais to create a sculpture that commemorated the heroism of Eustache de Saint-Pierre, a prominent citizen of Calais, during the dreadful Hundred Years’ War between England and France (begun in 1337).

President de Gaule married in Calais ……. preparations for the Tour de France

Some rather impressive wall art

We all went out for dinner together that evening and then on Thursday Adrian and I headed off to the train station to travel back to Valenciennes. A fairly easy change in Lille and we were back on board within a few hours. Nothing like as long or complicated as our trip to Pin Mill!

We both thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn with Chris and Helen on Vrouwe Olive. The Crossing was a real treat but definitely a one off! We won’t be taking Piedaleau across the channel.

Another item ticked off the old bucket list ……..

And a big thank you to Chris and Helen xxx

The Crossing

On Sunday, when the tide was right (around 11am) we left the mooring at Pin Mill for ‘sea trials’ i.e. to check that the new rudder (built and fitted by Chris) & everything else, was ship shape and in Bristol fashion. Didn’t need any nasty surprises in the channel. We motored up and down for a couple of hours and then ‘picked up a buoy’ in the river Orwell to await high tide so we could set off for Calais early in the morning.

It was rather pleasant sitting in the middle of the channel in Butterman’s Bay watching the world (and quite a few sailing boats) go by. The wind did seem to get up a bit and caused the buoy to knock on the hull quite loudly at times. But we had dinner and settled down for the night leaving the final decisions to Chris. It was his call ……..

And today’s New York Times Wordle was FLOAT!!!

Chris was keeping an eye on the forecast, particularly the wind, so it was not certain that we would, in fact, set off early in the morning as per his plan.

But at 5am Chris woke us all up, slipped us off the buoy and we were away. Down the Orwell past Felixstowe docks Margate and away!

It got chilly!

Somewhat chilly at that time of the morning, but the weather remained kind to us throughout the day. The boat was a little rocky at times depending on the wind direction but nothing to concern us. Helen was the ‘hostess with the mostest’ providing sustenance for us all throughout the trip – she even cooked some cup cakes (iced and decorated of course!) as we motored along! How did she manage that!

Cup cakes at sea

Both Adrian and I took a spell at the helm but I found it too difficult with the roll of the boat and trying to see where we were heading around the mast. Adrian did better. Helen took the helm frequently, particularly when Chris was plotting and checking our course.

We steered a course avoiding the infamous Goodwin Sands, which can cause big problems for th unwary, & we passed huge wind farms. We even picked up a couple of hitch hikers for a while ….

And then there was the crossing of the shipping channels as we approached France. Huge container ships and ferries in a virtually continuous line. They crack on at quite a speed ( 25 knots-ish to our 4 knots-ish) and they don’t take no prisoners. Small pleasure boats just have to keep out of their way! Chris, our excellent Captain and navigator, ensured we did just that. Adrian commented that it’s a bit like crossing a motorway on a bike with two flat tyres.

The approach to Calais seemed to take forever! But we eventually came into the harbour. We headed to pick up a buoy in the outer harbour to wait for the tide before heading through a couple of locks & onto the planned, free, mooring. The buoys were all full so we tied up to a wall reserved for fishing vessels. A port official soon came round to tell us we shouldn’t be there and should have waited outside the port for the tide. He said we could remain for the 1 hour 10 mins til the tide was right. We had dinner (already prepared by Helen) and waited for the tide.

Finally we were able to go through the locks in the dark and to tie up at the mooring at around midnight!

The crossing itself took about 15 hours and was around 60 miles as opposed to the Dover Calais route which is around 23 miles.

15 hours at sea
Our cross channel route

Excitement

As I mentioned towards the end of my last blog we have been planning an exciting trip for some time. This involved travelling back to UK by public transport, meeting up with Helen and Chris Hanley and then crossing the channel to Calais with them on their boat, Vrouwe Olive, when the weather was suitably favourable.

So we bought tickets for trains and the Flixbus and prepared to leave on Friday 6th June. We were ready …… all packed, sandwiches made and were about to leave to catch the train when I checked my emails – only to find that the Flixbus had been cancelled! We tried to find an alternative means of going that day without success. So having rung Chris & Helen we ‘stood down’ and had sandwiches for lunch and tea!! We later learnt that the cancellation was due to tube strikes in London.

We carried on doing some work on the boat for a few days altho the weather was pretty variable so we couldn’t do the painting …… but the upper deck table and chairs now look great!

Chris kept checking the weather forecasts and our trip was rescheduled for Friday 10th June. This time the trip went without a hitch…..

  • walk to la gare at Valenciennes(15 mins)
  • train from Valenciennes to Lille (40 mins)
  • walk round to Flixbus area to await bus
  • Flixus to Victria coach station – included getting off at Euro tunnel for french customs – all luggage checked and passports and then again at Uk side for passports to be checked again (about 6 hour trip)
  • no 11 bus from Victoria bus station to Liverpool St train station – used our OAPs bus passes for this leg! (45 mins but free)
  • train to Ipswich – involved a bit of sweet talking the conductor so that we could go on an earlier train than booked! (1.5 hrs)
  • picked up at Ipswich by Helen and taken to their mooring at Pin Mill (30 mins)
  • all in all about 12 hours so quite an adventure just in itself!
  • on Flixbus we chatted with a lady beside us who works as a tutor for young offenders at a prison near Milton Keynes. Fascinating but very tiring and stressful job. She had gone to stay with her sister in Brussels in order to have a tooth extracted – much quicker and cheaper for her than in UK!

Then we waited for the right weather window and for Chris to complete some jobs on his boat. He planned to cross the channel on Monday.

So we had Saturday free and Helen took us to visit Woodbridge which was very pleasant with harbour and shops.

In the afternoon we walked around Pin Mill. It really is a one off – lots of houseboats in various states of repair – but a real community feel to it. It is a tidal along here so you may go to bed with Vrouwe Olive sitting on the mud and wake to feel her floating. Along the shore there is a real boat’s graveyard!

And, of course , there is an excellent Adnam’s pub on the shoreline serving excellent fish and chips. Dinner sorted.

Back in Valenciennes or ‘starting as we mean to go on’

Having finally got our VISAs we headed off really early (5am) on Wed 1st June to catch the ferry at Dover. We had heard of problems at airports and ports because of staff shortages since Covid. There was not much of a queue when we got to Dover so we were, in fact, rather early. At french passport control we had to explain what our 6 month tourist visas were! But we got through even though the car bonnet wouldn’t open for security check and the back of our car was full full full (it always is somehow). Still we were put on the earlier Irish ferry and we didn’t even end up in Dublin!

We usually use the tunnel which takes 35 mins but had decided, for reasons of economy, to use the ferry (1.5 hrs). This obviously confused the sat nav.

Our car crossing the channel

But the crossing was delightful. Beautiful weather and a very calm sea. I prefer going by ferry, having our little picnic on board and taking a turn around the deck. Making it part of the adventure and not purely getting there.

So we arrived in Valenciennes earlier than expected and emptied the car – wondering yet again quite why / how we had brought so much stuff! Apart from being filthy Piedaleau was absolutely fine.

As we were setting up to fill the tank with water a lady came along the pontoon and stopped to talk to us. We soon realised we had met each other briefly on the Somme in 2019! Sue and Allan are from New Zealand so they haven’t been on board Suzette since then. She promptly invited us to their boat for ‘bubbles’ a little later. Mike and June, also from New Zealand on Contessa, also joined the get together! We had also met them on the Somme.

Bubbles on Suzette with June, Mike, Sue and Allan

It was just great to meet up with them all and to start as we mean to go on.

They were heading off in a ‘mini kiwi convoy’next morning so we waved them all a fond farewell.

Thursday & Friday were spent organising the boat & deploying the power washer for hours. Sure takes a while to get rid of 8 months worth of grime. We were also booking tickets for early next week (hopefully more about this exciting trip in next blog).

Saturday saw us working away but then we were invited along the pontoon for a BBQ chez Benoit. It was an interesting evening with 2 seasoned boaters (Benoit & Roberto) who are residents here – both living in what can only be described as basic boats. We were right back into french, complete with leg pulling, english and mysogenistic tongue in cheek jibes. Tried very hard to give as good as we got.

Lightning flashes started …. and thunder rumbled …. so we returned to the boat before the deluge came. The boat is well and truly washed now.

Got it!

Finally on 27th May we received our passports back complete with 6 month visas so we are off to the boat lickety spit!

But first I very much wanted to visit Doddington Hall (only 15mins from us) to see the iris display. I love iris, particularly since seeing the iris gardens at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo back in the 1980s. So this visit was a must!

Doddington Hall is an Elizabethan manor house with Flemish tapestries and walled gardens. The Hall provides a unique insight into 400 years of unbroken family ownership. We love to visit the hall, gardens and the excellent farm shop. We even went there to a wine tasing last week with Lisa and Alex! I very much look forward to seeing the Christmas decorations …….

The range of iris is just lovely – lots of different colours and varieties. In fact they are specialist growers of British tall Bearded Irises.

Enough chat …. here are some pictures…..

So my next post will be from Valenciennes when we are back on board Piedaleau at last!

Manchester

Those of you who know me well know that it is as much about the journey as the destination. Therefore a necessary trip to Manchester, which I have never knowingly visited before, led to a 2 night stay and a drive through the Peak district to get there. Always enjoy a scenic route rather than motorways if not in a hurry.

We had to stay overnight before our appointment at TLS as our appt was at 9.30am and it’s about a 3 hour drive from home. We broke the drive up with a couple of interesting stops.

Firstly we stopped at Bolsover Castle near Chesterfield. ‘Perched on a ridge above a vale, Bolsover Castle is an extraordinary aristocratic retreat, containing exceptional wall-paintings and interiors’. Founded in 11th century it was seized by the Crown in 1155 but was neglected from mid 14th century. The ruins provided the setting for the Little Castle, begun in 1612. The Terrace and Riding House Ranges were then added making Bolsover a place for aristocratic entertainment. King Charles 1 & Queen Henrietta Maria visited in 1634 when lavish entertainments were provided for them. The decline started in the 1680s and was hastened when the Bolsover Colliery was opened in 1889 causing mining subsidence. After WW2 it was given to the ministry of Works to stabilize the fabric and it passed to English Heritage in 1984.

The exterior was most impressive with stunning views of the castle grounds and the landscape beyond from the walk around the walls. Internally the restoration works are excellent and we found a most knowledgeable volunteer to talk to us about the history of the Castle. In the King’s bedchamber (only used for the one royal visit!) there are 2 anterooms – one showing that hedonism will lead to hell – and the other showing celestrial ‘fun’, with Jesus in the centre dancing! So it begs the question ‘does it matter if you go to heaven or hell’ because you will have a good time in the hereafter either way.

So we really enjoyed Bolsover Castle and our walk around the walls.

Then onto Bakewell – famous for Bakewell tart and, apparently, Bakewell pudding. We found the recommended tea rooms which bake said delicacies to the original recipes and ordered a pudding to share. Delicious!

We spent a quiet evening in our somewhat basic Ibis hotel room rechecking our forms (had to have individual dosiers) ready for the morning excitement!

It took a while but we were finished after about 2 hours and headed for the Lowry Centre.

The Lowry Galleries and exhibition were superb. Really enjoyed seeing the extensive range of art produced by L S Lowry.

Laurence Stephen Lowry ( LAO-ree; 1 November 1887 – 23 February 1976) was an English artist. His drawings and paintings mainly depict Pendlebury, Lancashire, where he lived and worked for more than 40 years, Salford and its vicinity.

Lowry is famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of North West England in the mid-20th century. He developed a distinctive style of painting and is best known for his urban landscapes peopled with human figures, often referred to as “matchstick men”. He painted mysterious unpopulated landscapes, brooding portraits and the unpublished “marionette” works, which were only found after his death.

His use of stylised figures, which cast no shadows, and lack of weather effects in many of his landscapes led critics to label him a naïve “Sunday painter”. (extracts from the Tate London)

We also crossed the bridge over the now defunct Manchester ship canal. Strange to see this huge waterway which was built when Manchester was a major port, only being used by a few kayaks, paddleboarders and open water swimmers. We made a short visit to the Imperial War Museum North. Horrific to note the similarities between the Hitler regime and Putin and Russia now. Frightening.

In the evening we had a super meal at the Pier Eight restaurant before going to see ‘Paul Merton and Chums Impro’ at the theatre. A most enjoyable end to our day. Always good to have a belly laugh or two after a hard day at the visa centre!

Returning home, via the scenic Peak District again, we stopped in the picturesque (but very busy) market town of Castleton and visited Peveril Castle. It is a spectacularly sited castle, started around 1066, high on a ridge above the town. The sheer drops all around would have provided excellent defence from attack. there are breathtaking views over the Peak District’s hills and valleys.

We wandered around the town, had lunch at a local hostelry and headed for home to await the outcome of our visa application.

Fingers crossed my next blog will be from France … and very soon!

Jumping through the hoops…..

I decided to update my blog, and your good selves about the progress of our plans for this year. This is my first post this year but I hope it is the first of many!

We have been fighting our way through the hoops involved in obtaining a 6 month french visa before we return to Piedaleau. We decided ages ago that we would need / want more than the 90 days allowed following the ‘dogs breakfast’ that was Brexit.

It ain’t easy and has caused much cussing and fretting and much hunting of pieces of paper in the Fennell / Risdon household! Anyone who hasn’t tried this process would hardly believe it! French bureaucracy at its best!

Step 1 – complete the French Gouvernement on line registration form & receive reg number ensuring you are applying / eligible to apply for the right visa.

Step 2 – complete the TLS (company used to collate visa applications for various governments) on line application form which requires the reg number from the above in order to register with TLS.

Step 3 – collate all the details required for your application – must be arranged in a certain order but this isn’t immediately clear. We had decided to get new photos done beforehand to ensure we met the french stipulations (different to British passport requirements) – just as well we did as we were asked when our photos had been taken – ‘last week’ we were able to reply! (I had ones from my passport but that was 6 years ago & would have had to redo photos there).

Step 4 – book an appt at one of the TLS sites (Edinburgh, London or Manchester). Your registration only relates to one site – no overview of appts across the sites – so if you want to change venue you have to cancel original TLS registration & start again to register at the preferred site so that you can look to see if you can do any better than with first!!!!

Any further changing of appts is dicey! – you might lose the one you already have ….. and the screen showing available appts is not easy to read!

Step 5 – after several weeks wait, attend interview with all the docs in the correct order plus anything else you have been emailed about at the last minute. And undergo the biometric tests there too.

Step 6 – await the outcome after the whole lot has been transferred to French consulate. Takes 10 – 15 working days ‘on average’ we were told. Oh! and,of course, your passport has been sent with all the docs so you can’t go anywhere until you have result and your passport has been returned to you (by courier, at an extra cost).

We went to Manchester – we were going to go to London and stay with my sister but no appts were available for about 6 weeks ahead by which time Frankie and Greg were away in Aus! But you only find that out after doing all the registration and form filling malarky ie at the end of the online process. We managed to get one about 10 days earlier by going to Manchester, after much faffing about to change venue registration.

TLS do provide a tel number to call for help – our experience was not good – first time we rang the person was impossible to undertsand; second time we were told that they could only give us / read the info available on the website! Email enquiries (eg how can I cancel reg at London to change to manchester) take several days to reply. So basically not helpful……

We arrived at the appointed hour in Manchester and it took over 2 hours to complete the process. Friends waited over 2.5 hours to even start their interview in London!

Oh and they charge quite a lot for this whole rigmarole! Around £300 for the pair of us.

All in all not good for the blood pressure!

Now we wait some more…… and begin to pull everything together we need to take with us so that as soon as we get the OK (fingers crossed) we will be off!

2020 & 2021 …… what a couple of years!

In each of 2020 and 2021 we have only been able to spend about 6 weeks on board Piedaleau. Therefore we have been away for 10 months each year. Much much longer than we have been used to since buying Piedaleau 6 years ago. Some years we have been on board almost 6 months of the year.

We both have severe withdrawal symptoms! So our cruise in the sunshine up the Scheldt this year was particularly lovely.

We are lucky, however, to have been able to go for some time both years – many of our friends from Autralia and New Zealand haven’t been to their boats for 2 full years now. How hard is that?

We have been busy through the lockdowns, however, as we have moved house and we got married, ‘at last’, in September!

We now live in Lincoln, close to Lisa and Freddie and are settling in well. It’s a year since we moved here. Although we weren’t able to get out and about much for the first 6 months it enabled us to concentrate on getting ourselves organised in our new residence! Just as we had got nearly everything organised we had the kitchen / dining room revamped. Lots of repacking, mess and camping upstairs! But we are really pleased with the result. Opening up the kitchen / dining room has given us a lovely entertaining area. The whole of the ground floor is now ‘done’; the upstairs is staying as it is. Our next project will be the garden. I’m just starting to get quotes.

We are keeping well & have both had our vaccinations and boosters. But we also had Covid in July. Lisa caught it at school and it spread through us all following my family birthday dinner in July. Out of 10 of us (not all at dinner) only Freddie and Frankie, my sister, did not come down with it. Double vaxed Adrian caught it from Lisa and then passed it on to double vaxed me! He likes to share! Neither of us were badly affected. Lisa was the worst of us all as she had only had one jab at that time. She had a couple of trips to hospital for check ups. Everyone is well now and have had 2 jabs and a booster.

Through the summer things were opening up throughout the Uk, but this has now halted due to the Omicron variant which is causing mayhem. Another lock down is probably on the cards in the New Year.

It is really nice to be geographically close to Lisa and Freddie so that we can see each other easily, go for walks, help each other out etc. We are on the north west side of Lincoln, overlooking West Common. It is only about 25 min walk into the centre of town with lots of pubs, cinemas and restaurants etc. We have sampled a few ….. but have many more yet to try.

Our other main place of interest, at present, is a David Lloyd fitness centre. There is a lovely pool there – an essential requirement for me when we were looking at houses here – a huge gym and lots of classes to join, particularly aqua fit and pilates. We also walk a lot since we can get into town in half an hour. So we are focussing on our fitness & on cooking in our swanky new kitchen.

As I write this last blog for 2021, Christmas is upon us. We attended a beautiful carol concert at Lincoln Cathedral the other evening. Probably our last social outing for while. We’ll keep well away from crowds for the foreseeable future.

So I’ll finish my Piedaleau blogs for this year by sending you all our very best wishes for Christmas and a healthy 2022. Jenny & Adrian x

Lincoln Cathedral at night

PS At night we can see the illuminated Cathedral on the hill in the distance from our front door.

Piedaleau in action….

Just thought I’d include a few photos of Piedaleau ‘in action’ which I managed to take on the Bossuit canal in September. Don’t often have the opportunity to photograph her in motion – I’m usually in charge of the ropes – so whilst we had very competent crew on board I jumped off at the pontoon and enjoyed watching the action as Piedaleau set off, turned and then came into the lock. Adrian was happy to hand over the helm to Chris!