……. and the Keystone Cops!
Monday 17th Sept we left Marcienne au Pont by 9.30am because the local gardener was about to pressure the pontoon beside us…….. We had a little convoy – Piedaleau, Auroa (Nils) and a Swedish yatch! Worked well with the 3 big locks we had to negotiate. Nils and the Swedes took the quickest route via the Thieu-Strepy Ascenseur but we had already decided to take the Canal Historique with its 4 old ascenceurs on our return trip to Thieu. The Thieu-Strepy lift is clearly visible from the old canal!
We had quite a laugh! There were 3 teams of 2 guys to work the 4 ascenseurs & various lifting & turning bridges. There was much kicking of equipment, lifting & dropping of gates, and shouting between the guys. Not exactly good communication between the teams – we were left waiting for a turning bridge to be opened – one team said they had misplaced the key, another said we had to wait whilst they prepared the ascenseurs for us! And then one guy wanted us to hurry up because he wanted to finish his shift……. And we had a satisfaction survey to complete at the end! How do you rate the Keystone Cops????
The stretch of the Canal du Centre called ‘Historique’ was the original canal which tackled the 68m (223 ft) rise in the land with locks and 4 hydraulic boat lifts between Thieu and Houdeng-Goegnies. The few kms past Thieu, where the locks were, is now closed so the we just had the ascenseurs and the bridges to negotiate.
The lifts each have a pair of counterbalanced containers. The water in the container is equalised and then more pumped in to bring boats up / down. We were asked to moor well forward to avoid Adrian having an early shower from the cascade behind!
Each ascenseur has a machinery room housed in rather grand red brick buildings.
The canal was twinned with the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1988. This stretch of canal and the lifts are now a UNESCO site and are only used for pleasure boats between April and October. One guy told us that they get around 300 boats a year – and thanked us profusely for using it!
Near the top of the canal (just after Ascenseur 1 coming down) there is a place called the Cantina des Italiens. It is a small complex of barrack-type huts built after the Second World War by the steel industry to accommodate Italian workers brought over to work in the factories. A deal was done between the Belgian and Italian governments, exchanging coal for ‘man hours’ / workers. Thousands of young men came to the region to work in the mines and the steel industry and many were housed here. 32 rooms each housing 8 single men with a refrectory and shop. For the time the conditions were not too bad – fares paid, jobs for a year & accommodation. The Marcinelle mining disaster, 8th September 1956, where 270 miners died, brought this immigration of workers to an end. The site went into disrepair but was restored in 1984 and is now well known locally as an Italian restaurant. It has recently changed hands and has rather mixed Trip Advisor reviews but we decided to see for ourselves.
Wednesday evening we went for dinner with Nils (Auroa). It really was an ‘interesting’ experience. Unusual place, nice terrace surrounded by the barrack like buildings from yesteryear, young waiters with little finesse or customer care! The food was actually rather good in a basic Italian way. I won’t go into details but, suffice to say, Adrian and I felt it would not warrant a return visit next year.
Sunset at Thieu