Au revoir Piedaleau…..

Packing up the boat has really been a bit of a performance – to put it mildly! And we have spent time talking the new owners through all her little idiosyncrasies. Patrick & Arian haven’t owned a boat before so there was an awful lot to explain. They intend to live on board in Valenciennes and go cruising in due course. Both are undertaking their boat licences now.

It was quite tiring explaining everything in french! And since they are french they have to register the boat under the French scheme – its called francisation! We had to provide evidence that VAT had been paid and that she had passed various requirements. We had to de-register her from the British Small Ships Register. Then they had to register her as French. Easy? Not really! Particularly as Patrick came up against an example of French bureaucracy on Friday afternoon! The SSR register had her listed as a ‘barge’ – which, he was told, meant she was a commercial vessel and different rules applied! The guy we spoke to at SSR was extremely pleasant and very helpful. He wrote and sent us an official letter stating that Piedaleau was a ‘pleasure barge’ and had always been used as a pleasure boat. Patrick provided this to the French authority; the lady had subsequently found a separate document supporting this and so, as far as we know, all is now well.

We both feel sad to be selling Piedaleau but both agree that it really is time. I have had boats for the last 30 years and we have had some great adventures and met some wonderful people together over the last eight years on Piedaleau. We have an open invitation to visit them and we will return since they are storing a few things for us in the cellar at their bar!!! Gerard and Chantal on the boat next door had some of the furniture …. interesting getting a sofa through a boat window!!!!

The car, and roof box, were full to bursting when we finally set off on Monday 24th October. We dreaded being stopped by customs – thankfully that didn’t happen but the guy at passport control commented along the lines of ‘I think you could have got a bit more in your car!’

On our last evening on board there was a firework display to say goodbye to us – how kind! And as we approached the white cliffs of Dover on the ferry, a rainbow appeared – hopefully a good omen for our future adventures in the UK and further afield!

Bye bye Piedaleau!

Last stop Péronnes

After Mons we cruised back along the Canal du Centre in Belgium to Péronnes and our last stop on this trip. No sooner were we moored up than we hot-footed it along to the beer pub we found a few weeks ago and then into the restaurant for dinner. Excellent!

Monday morning was misty across the Grand Large lake but the sun, the wind surfers and the dingy sailors soon appeared!

We waited for friends to arrive by car from Valenciennes to join us on the final leg of this trip. We had sunshine, showers and everything in between! We pulled in for lunch at Mortagne before tackling the last 3 locks on the Escaut and arriving back in Valenciennes. The last 2 locks were quite difficult as we were behind a commercial tug which kept revving its engines to maintain its position. This, in turn, made it hard for us to hold our position – we were glad to have extra crew so that Adrian could stay at the helm and use our engine when necessary.

Both Patrick & Arian enjoyed taking a spell at the helm under Adrian’s guidance.

We turned into the Valescaut port entrance to find the water was running really fast, too fast to go right through to our mooring, so we stopped at the Ponton d’Acceuille – aka the poo pontoon! Once more an unintended 180 degree turn was executed but Sylvie (on her boat nearby) came to take a line and after a bit of heaving we got well tied up for the night!

And then we all went out to dinner! Patrick & Arian took us to a friend’s bistrot where we had a most enjoyable evening.

On Tuesday we therefore had to drive back to Péronnes to collect Patrick’s car and we decided to make the most of the jaunt and visit St Amand-les-Eaux, a pleasant small spa town with an interesting history and the restored tower of the Abbey de St Amand des Eaux which was built between 1626 & 1640. The excavated site shows the size of the original Abbey which was built in baroque style, surrounded by smaller turrets – the architecture being specific to this region of Flanders and northern France. An impressive sight, particularly on a sunny autumn day.

The next couple of days were taken up with sorting out the boat and starting to pack! Not an enjoyable pastime – how on earth did we manage to cram quite so much ‘stuff’ into our ‘little’ boat????

On Thursday, for a little light relief, we were off to Bruges to visit Grainne and Andrew who are now moored in the Coupure for the winter. We made a short detour to drop in for coffee with Sally and Martin in Kortrijk en route – haven’t seen them for several years so it was lovely to catch up. The last time we saw them they told us how Martin had fallen in the river one winter evening and had been fished out by the pompiers & taken to hospital with hypothermia. Not a pleasant experience at all but he is fine now, thank goodness.

We thoroughly enjoyed our little sojourn in Bruges. Andrew had spent Thursday learning to make sausages with Terry on CarolAnn. Quite a process. Particularly, as since Brexit, you cannot import the skins for sausages from the UK – they have to order them from Holland! It was a fun evening.

Friday was a nice day and so Adrian and Andrew spent an ‘enjoyable’ couple of hours adapting and fitting their car roof box onto our car ready for the infamous final packing! Walking around Bruges is always a delight – always see some interesting architecture.

There is a beautiful ‘zen’ Church nearby which we hadn’t seen before.

And then there’s George and Margot – Grainne and Andrew’s dogs! George is soft as anything and Margot is a little minx! If she thinks he’s getting the attention she gets in front!

We all went to the beach at Blankenberg on Saturday afternoon. George was very excited as soon as he smelt the sea air – Margot had not been to the beach before but she soon got the idea and they ran and chased and played with each other. Lovely afternoon!

On Saturday Bruges was heaving! It was marathon time so the main square was crammed full of people and the runners ran right past the boats moored in the Coupure.

Our little sojourn in Bruges was soon over and we headed back to Valenciennes to complete the sale of Piedaleau and our packing!

Cheers Andrew and Grainne x


Our next stop, for 2 nights, was Mons. It isn’t easy mooring there with Piedaleau, as its always windy (it’s on a ‘grande large’ ie large lake). But after an unplanned 180* turn, and a little frank discussion, we managed to get tied up! We have been to Mons a couple of times before but never actually visited the city so we were determined to do so this time. We spent Saturday playing tourists which was lovely.

An exhibition of Jean Miro had just opened at the Beaux-Arts Musee – so in we went. Miro is a name I knew but had never seen many of his works before.

We then followed the walking tour around the old town and visited the Beffroi tower. Beautifully restored, lovely carillon bells and great views of the town and surrounding countryside.

After lunch in the square, in the sunshine, we went into the Church of Sainte Waudru. Some beautiful stained glass windows, some described as a rare example of Art Deco!

The procession of the Golden Coach is one of the most important & historical religious events of the country, dating back to the 14th century. On Trinity Sunday, the coach parade around the town the reliquary shrine containing relics of Sainte Waudru. At the Rampe St Waudru the crowd helps the horses pull the coach – people literally push the coach up the incline. There was a video showing the event so I tried to catch a photo for you as it looks rather crazy!

Whilst we were there someone was practising playing the organ – it was superb and really atmospheric – everyone stopped to listen.

After our ‘touristing’ we had a gauffre and then headed back for a quiet evening on the boat.

Next morning, after a misty start, the sun came out and we headed along the Canal du Centre for our final stop before Valenciennes.

Culinary delights of boating

Apart from the cruising, stopping in lovely places and meeting lots of new and ‘old’ friends along the way ………. there is the food! We both enjoy our food (!) and have found some super restaurants along the way.

Au Gré du vent at Seneffe has to be the highlight! A fairly small one star Michelin restaurant within 20 minute walk from the mooring. We discovered it a few years ago, when Adrian treated me for my birthday, and we finally managed to get a table on Thursday (6th Oct) evening. It was as delightful as we had remembered – excellent food, superb wines and really good staff. We each had the 5 course dinner with flight of wines.

All absolutely delicious – I had meat for the first time in I don’t know how long – and we returned to the boat very very happy!

The next day we continued our journey and had lunch (home made soup and bread) on our upper deck as we came down in the Strepy boatlift!

Our culinary delights this return trip have included:

  • Impromptu curry with Amanda and Peter
  • Chips at Thieu to go with our dinner
  • Au Gre du Vent – 5 courses with wines!
  • Lunch on the Strepy boat lift
  • Lunch and gauffres in Mons
  • And beer and dinner in Peronnes again!

About turn!

Having been thwarted as regards completing the full length of the Sambre, we stayed an extra night in Hautmont and invited Amanda and Peter (Le Piglet) to join us for a drink on Saturday evening. It morphed into dinner and we thoroughly enjoyed quite a boozy evening together. Unfortunately they had contracted covid and both been pretty poorly so had had to remain in Hautmont for nearly a month. Luckily there was room for their boat to be stored for the winter as they were unable to return to their planned winter mooring and needed to recover before flying home to Australia. They had been off the booze but brought some super champagne to share. We had a lovely evening and Amanda said how much better she felt the next morning!

Peter Adrian and Amanda

Then on Sunday 2nd October we set off to retrace our steps and return to Valenciennes. It was the wettest day we’ve had – we both got thoroughly soaked – but we’d booked our ‘passage’ so had to go on back to Jeumont.

On Monday we went back into Thuin where we stayed 2 nights – mainly because the friterie isn’t open on Mondays and we ‘needed’ chips for dinner! It did give us the opportunity to walk up into the old town above the river where we discovered a most delightful area of terraced gardens on the sunny side of the hill – a real micro climate!

Back at the boat we met Keith & Keith on Nenuphar – the friends of Amanda and Peter who had had to take a huge detour to get back to Hautmont because of the lock closure further down the Sambre. Thanks to them we had avoided getting stuck. They had come through the St Quentin tunnel and not had a good experience at all. We have always maintained that that is not an tunnel we wanted to investigate! Boats are towed through the 5.5km tunnel by a tug ….. there may be a line of boats so if you’re on the end it can be problematic. Keith certainly seemed to have had a hard time and his newly painted hull got several scrapes. Others seem to manage fine but we’ve never wanted to try it!

Wednesday we were off again heading for a little pontoon at Marcienne near Charleroi, but a lock keeper warned us off this plan – said he would not stop there if he had a boat – and suggested we go onto a mooring above a lock further up at Vriesville. We decided to follow his advice even though we had moored at Marcienne previously without problem. And what a delightful mooring it was! We walked along the canal in late afternoon autumn sunshine, enjoying the changing colours, and then I slept really really well -which I certainly wouldn’t have done at Marcienne.

Canal du Centre to the Sambre

After ‘doing the Strepy’ we headed along the Canal du Centre to Seneffe – a little port where we have moored in previous years. Not much to do there – particularly as we had been unable to book dinner at one of our favourite restaurants – Au Gré du Vent. We did find, however, that Le Petit Baigneur provided a most acceptable alternative.

The weather is being extremely changeable – some lovely bright sunny days and some real wet ones. We decided to stay put if the weather was forecast to be really bad, and so we spent 2 days at both Thieu & Seneffe. Then it was onward towards Charleroi and then hang a right & down the Sambre, which was our plan. The Sambre is partly in Belgium and partly in France but the french side was only reopened in 2021 after many years closure. We wanted to go as far as we could – revisit some known places but also try waters anew.

Charleroi is close to Namur and was very industrial in its day ….. now mainly abandonned factories although some sites now seem to be being cleared. There is lots of graffiti / wall art which makes for an interesting passage.

Finally we were on The Sambre and back to much smaller locks with a lock keeper to boot! How we missed the infamous ‘eclusier’s walk!’ Our first stop was the little port of Landelies where we were just about able to get in. Not many boats are cruising now, most are already tucked up in their home ports ready for winter. But we got in and hooked up to electricity as it is getting quite cool at night. The little church in Landelies was pretty, but not much else to see.

On this stretch of the Sambre the eclusiers work the locks, literally turn the handles which we don’t often see these days. They also call ahead to the next lock so that radios and telephones are not required. Very calming. And the autumen colours are developing along the canal sides.

In one lock the lifting road bridge was literally right behind us as we came up in the lock!

Our other stops on the Belgian Sambre were Thuin and Jeumont. Nothing much to report from either except that the frites at Thuin were delicious!

Then we were ready to start the french Sambre – waters new – and that’s where things became increasingly frustrating! Because it was after 15th sept we had to ‘book passage’ at least 48 hrs beforehand. And works were planned at a lock further down starting on Monday. It would be shut for 3 weeks so unless we got our skates on we wouldn’t be able to go past that lock. A nice ‘young man’ said they would accept our booking for the next day providing we went through that lock on the Saturday. We agreed and set off early next morning.

At the next lock an eclusier was waiting for us and explained the telecommand gadget and system for this section of the Sambre. Great we thought! We happily went through a couple of locks with our new gizmo and then stopped for lunch at the new Port de Plaisance at Hautmont.

That’s when things got even more complicated and frustrating. Firstly the fuel barge, where we were going to take on the extra diesel we needed to complete the full round trip, was out of action. Then Amanda and Peter (Le Piglet), told us that there were other problems on the flight of locks ahead. A friend of theirs had had to make a huge detour as a lock was out somewhere further down – Amanda couldn’t remember exactly where. It wasn’t shown on the VNF website. We therefore decided that enough was enough & that the gods were obviously trying to tell us something. We stopped for a couple of nights and are turning round to go back the way we came. Not quite the penultimate cruise we wanted but it is time to head for home!

Doing the Strepy!

Having done the historical / touristy description of the Strepy boat lift it was time for us to go up and over! We set off on a fine morning, once the tourist boat was out of our way, and approached the lift. Basically its like going into any lock – same process applies – radio ahead, await response and instructions and the green light before going in. Then moor up and enjoy the ride and the views!

Although the lift only takes about 8 minutes to go up it takes a little longer for the water to fully equalise before the gates can be opened at the other end and you can go out onto the higher level canal.

The final part of the whole engineering feat is the protection gate about a kilometer along the canal which is presumably not often closed off.

We enjoy waving at all and sundry, but particularly at kids, along the way.

Strepy-Thieu Funicular Boat Lift

The boat lift was designed during the Canal du Centre’s modernisation program in order to replace a system of two locks and four 16-metre (52 ft) lifts dating from 1888 to 1919. The canal itself began operations in 1879 and its locks and lifts were able to accommodate vessels of up to 300 tonnes. By the 1960s, this was no longer adequate for the new European standard of 1350 tonnes for bage traffic, and a replacement was sought.

Construction of the lift commenced in 1982 and was not completed until 2002 at an estimated cost of 160 million euros, but once operational, permitted river traffic of up to the new 1350-tonne standard to pass between the waterways of the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. Taking traffic from France, across Belgium to Germany. The lift increased river traffic from 256 kT in 2001 to 2,295 kT in 2006.

It really is HUGE when you get up close!

We played tourists & visited the exhibition on the 8th floor of the Strepy on Thursday afternoon – really good information and a short film. The 5th floor provides panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

The history of commercial boats included some great photos of yester-year. Boats were originally wooden but then replaced by steel which were much longer lasting. Originally boats were pulled by people (often the wives) using harnesses; then horses or mules & then engines. Transit times became appropriately faster as a result.

The Historique Canal du Centre, with its 4 smaller boat lifts, remains in use as a tourist attraction but for the use of pleasure craft only. These are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There seems to be quite a lot of weed in the Canal Historique this year so we decided not to go that way but to use the BIG-YUN, as Billy Connolly would say!

First of the historique boat lifts

Saturday had been wet off and on all day but Sunday promised to be fine so we set off – just in time to have to wait for a tourist boat to come up through the lock into Thieu. They seem to do a circular route – down the Strepy lift and up the Historique Canal lifts. So that wasted quite a bit of time! But we were soon approaching the edifice on the water!

Penultimate cruise on Piedaleau

Before completing the sale we wanted to take Piedaleau for our final cruise. We decided to head for the Sambre and get as far as we could / want to go in the time we have. We set off on Weds 23rd Sept along the Escaut, turned onto the Canal du Centre (Belgium) and stopped at Peronnes for the night. We were last there about 5 years ago and it has changed a lot!

Smart new visitors’ mooring jetty and lots of development in what had been disused boat workshops. Quite an entertainment area now with go carting, children’s play area and new bars and restaurants. It was a lovely afternoon so we went for a walk and then stopped at a bar for a beer – what a beer menu!!!

We spent ages trying to make our choices —— needless to say the one Adrian chose was ‘fini’ so he reverted to Paix Dieu, his old favourite.

A little more walking and we repaired to the restaurant in the old boat warehouse. A most interesting development – they have tried to incorporate photgraphs & artefacts found in the building.

I particularly liked the boat engine air filters which had been upcycled for lighting! And the food was pretty good too!

I awoke to a misty morning over the grand large at Peronnes……

But the mist soon lifted and the sailing school got into action before we left.

We headed off along the Canal du Centre aiming to stop at Pommeroeul – an area in front of unused canal which we have enjoyed before. Not any longer! Big works are in progress around the area, so stopping there was not an option for a peaceful night. We went onto Mons and thought we would stay a couple of nights – never really explored Mons. Unfortunately a speedboat extravaganza was scheduled for the weekend and so we set off early on Friday morning behind a french peniche, getting used to some deep locks and industrial areas again.

We got to Thieu and decided to go up into the Port de Plaisance since rain was forecast for Saturday and we would need electricity for more than a one night stay.

We took advantage of the weather on Friday afternoon to revisit the Strepy-Thieu boat lift as tourists. It really is an amazing feat of engineering which you can see from miles around!

View from our back windows

End of an era…..

Many will be aware that we have been planning to sell Piedaleau this year. It is indeed happening! We have french buyers, contract has been agreed and toasted at their bar. So this will be the end of an era for me / us ……

I have been a boat owner since the early 1990s when I met and then married Tom. Since bringing Misty Morning to France in 2009, I have spent a good part of each year on afloat in Europe. During Covid lock down Adrian and I watched quite a few TV programmes about parts of the Uk and realised that we would very much like to visit more there.

So we have decided to sell Piedaleau and buy a motorhome – so that we can tour UK and Europe whilst we are still fit and able to embrace a new challenge. We have lots of baoty type friends who have offered to provide us with a boating fix as and wen we need! How lucky is that!

We have, therefore, been packing up Piedaleau – amazing what you can accumulate in a fairly constrained living machine! Luckily for us (perhaps not quite so for Chris and Helen) Vrouwe Olive is providing transport to the UK for quite a lot of our ‘stuff’! So when we leave towards the end of October we hope to fill the car up one last time and head home to start hunting for our new toy!

On our first trip with stuff to Vrouwe Olive two policemen got out of their car and came to see what was going on! Must have looked a little dodgy – forming a chain to load all sorts of ‘stuff’ into Vrouwe Olive’s hold! I was on the roadside so it was moi who was asked for the boat papers. I quickly explained that it wasn’t my boat – it was Chris’s – he obligingly popped his head up out of the hold to say bonjour! One copper then said, with a very straight face, that he was only joking! I kind of flicked my hand towards his shoulder saying he’d had me worried there for a bit in a similar jovial vein ……. ‘you weren’t going to hit a policeman were you?’ Ooooops!!

Turned out that they were just interested in finding out about the boat and Chris offered for them to look inside. I ended up showing them around, discussing the boat at length, while the others finished loading our goods and chattels and came to find out what on earth I was up to with these two nice young policemen!