up the Canal de L’Aisne a la Marne then onto & up the Canal des Ardennes
We managed to find the huge Leclerc supermarket on the outskirts of Rheims, following another boater’s directions, by mooring up beside a disused silo and walking through the undergrowth, under a motorway and across a bit of a field. Only took about 10 mins but we were able to really restock using our trusty trollies – both Uncle Henry & Aunt Maud!
We then carried along to Berry au Bac for the night. By now the temperature during the day was becoming unbearably hot and I needed to sit in the shade for some time to recover!
Near us a couple of boats were moored (Eugenie & Inevitable (the gap in the name on the stern had me confused ‘Inevi table’)) whom we had met fleetingly in Port aux Cerises. Carole and David (Inevitable) will also be in Bruges this winter so we had a bit of a chat and told them how to find that supermarket on their way into Rheims!
Next morning we turned right at the junction to join the Canal des Ardennes. Always interesting to see how the scenery changes as we cruise along the canals. Gone are the vineyards we saw all around Rheims; the canal sides are now much more wooded and then it becomes open farmland with crops such as potatoes, maize, wheat and barley as far as the eye can see.
We stopped at a little place called Asfeld where we saw a little boat called Fred!!!
I stopped here several years ago with Tall Paul which I remembered once I saw the church. A totally brick built baroque construction that seems out of keeping with the size of the village but all the more interesting for that. It is described as a marvel of sacred architecture and was built in 1680.
The owners of Fred, a local elderly couple with very strong country accents, came down to check their boat and got talking to us. They told us about a local fuel supplier with a depot right beside the canal – even went off to get the tel number for us. So next morning after several phone calls Adrian managed to book for us to go there on Thursday to take on 1000 litres of diesel.
The first lock was out of action so we had a bit of a wait and met up with Kiwi Rose, (Max is the kiwi and Lucy is the ‘english rose’) a boat we had seen in Rheims but had never actually gone over to say hello. Our ‘meeter & greeter’ (as Adrian calls me) being rather out of action. So we teamed up and headed for Rethel, another stop I made a few years ago.
It was 21st June – the first day of summer – so a music festival was happening that evening throughout the town. As Adrian and I walked around in search of cold drinks and ice cream we literally saw 2 guys closing off the main street by dropping barriers in front of moving cars! Some were far from happy. We went back up later to see how things developed but were not very impressed with the musical delights on offer. Nadine and I had really enjoyed this event in Besancon several years ago and Adrian and I had enjoyed the event in Montceau les Mines previously.
It was so damned hot that I even resorted to Lucy’s (she’s an ITU nurse) suggestion of sleeping naked with a wet tea towel on me! A new use for me mum’s French revolution bi-centenary tea towel…
Onwards next morning to our rendezvous with Dony’s tanker! Max and Lucy decided to take advantage of this event and avoid lugging jerry cans about or paying silly prices where you can find fuel on the canal side. We moored up at a disused silo and the tanker came beside us – nice couple of guys who took great care not to spill any fuel on the boats. Nicer & more careful than the guy we had 2 years ago in Migennes, the last time we fuelled up. We reckon we have used approx 1500 litres in 2 years.
Onwards in tandem with Kiwi Rose to Attigny for the night where we had to shoe horn ourselves between several other boats, along with ‘helpful comments’ from a Dutch guy already ensconced! A shady mooring, thank goodness and we were invited for a pre dinner drinkie poo, which, as often happens, turned into several drinks and no dinner! But really good to get to know Max and Lucy. And by locking through together we are being good garcons & filles as this heatwave means the water levels are not looking so healthy and the VNF is asking boats to link up so as to conserve water where possible.
Friday morning we were off early (but not as early as the other boats) to head up the lock staircase. There are 27 locks in 10 kms – most around 3 metres deep – and we are going up so not always easy to see the bollards or attach ropes to them. I remembered stopping part way up with Adrian and Liam 4 years ago (guy on ‘Jongleur’ juggled) and so that’s what we did – both boats moored up and a BBQ was planned so that we would eat properly this time!
As I was sitting up on deck in the afternoon, writing me blog, a barge came through, the name of which I recognised – Hoop Doet Leven – flying the US flag. Harvey Schultz wrote the book ‘On a Barge in France’ which we really enjoyed a couple of years ago. Went and said hello and hope we might keep in touch.
A pretty rural mooring complete with a family of fisher-persons – father, mother and 2 sons (collected and brought down to join mum & dad after school!) They were there all afternoon and well into the evening – mum did a good impression of a statue! After they went off home we had the place to ourselves. A fabulous evening – gorgeous, peaceful, rural setting, tasty food, lots of wine! And some new kiwi buddies! And a wonderful dawn chorus to wake us, perhaps a tad early, in the morning.
Onwards next day, up the rest of that 27 lock staircase. We did 19 locks, about 7kms in 4 hours. We were extremely fortunate as, having survived extreme temperatures for over a week (our thermometer in the boat has recorded 40* + outside and mid 30*s inside) the weather cooled a little so that when we were going up that staircase we were not fried. Certainly made it easier to be able to cruise without the canopy up saves us having to keep a close eye on bridges to ensure we can get under safely, and keep dropping and raising the blessed thing. We got it down to a fine art although it was a close run thing a couple of times! Many canopies have been decapitated by unsuspecting boaters….
So we stopped in Chesne for the night and pooled resources for dinner again. Dinner had to be worked around the Americas Cup races – USA versus NZ – unfortunately we couldn’t watch it properly but Adrian became an honorary kiwi for the night & joined Max following it on his pad and listening to commentary on Lucy’s phone. In fact this scenario happened for 3 nights on the trot until NZ won on Monday by which time we were in Charleville Mezières with some very happy guys!
Easier cruising on Sunday – 4 locks (going down now), 1 short tunnel and 25 kms – took 4.5hrs to get to Pont a Bar.
The Canal des Ardennes certainly is rural and very very pretty.