Red sky at night ……it sure was! and it certainly was a lovely day on Sunday 26th June when we set off just before 8.30 am to head towards the Somme.
To ensure a safe and event free departure Pascaline (the capitaine of the port) had requested the VNF ‘turn the water off’! By stopping the flow to the weir, which is at the end of the port, the water stills and so makes manoeuvering much easier & safer. We had also spoken to both our neighbours and Peter and Barbara (Siyabonga) were up and ready to fend us off if necessary. It wasn’t necessary as Adrian completed a faultless exit. They sent us on our way with very nice bottle of Shengan wine. Thanks for that!
The first part of the trip was on new waters for us. We headed up the Escaut and were at our first lock by 9.00 am. After 3 locks – with extremely polite eclusiers – we turned right onto the Canal de la Sensée and went to the other end to moor for the night before joining the Canal du Nord on Monday.
The Canal de la Sensée, linking the Scarpe to the Escaut, was first put into use in 1820. 25km long it originally had 3 locks but in 1968 it was widened and deepened to accommodate european gauge barges and today it is part of the heavy gauge waterway linking Dunkerque to the Escaut. There are no locks now and we hardly saw another boat.
We moored at a ‘halte nautique’ by the Marais de Brunémont. There were fishermen there but no bollards to moor to. There were some ladders on the bank which others had obviously used to moor to and were showing signs of misuse. Expecting heavy passing trafic, particularly early in the morning, we made sure we were well secured both forward and aft and in the middle to boot. We hardly felt any movement of the boat at all by the few commercials which passed by.
We went for quite a long walk around the marais (swamps) & lakes beside the canal. The marais were formed as a result of peat extraction since the 12th century. The discovery of coal brought this practice to a close but it left a maze of ponds and wetlands full of a rich variety of flora and fauna. This is certainly so around Brunémont – a huge expanse of waterlillies at one place.
The whole area seems to be covered in rather shanty type holiday homes! Its busy. People everywhere enjoying the sunshine – walking, fishing, playing with the kids. All good apart from the bar we came across belting out terrible karaoke. Needless to say we didn’t stop for a beer or a sing song!
Monday 27th June
I was woken by a commercial passing by at 6am. Hardly disturbed the boat and didn’t disturb Adrian at all!
We set off at about 9.30am and, after a couple of kms, we turned onto the Canal du Nord. We had 7 locks of 6m deep to go up to get to the top pound. Luckily we were on our own in the locks as there were not very well positioned bollards for us. The locks are set up for the commercials (50m+). At one point we were approaching a lock when a ‘push-me-pull-you’ (ie double length) commercial set off crossing ahead of us. We were going slowly, getting ready to line up for the lock, so we had to slow even more to get through his wash. We were then lining up for the lock again when the lock keeper came over the radio saying ‘Piedaleau GO GO GO!’ How rude!!!
We reached the top pound and moored for the night beside a disused silo at Graincourt-lès-Havrincourt. We tied up well expecting lots of commercial traffic going to and from the lock in front of us. This time we were not disappointed! Some came really close to us as they lined up approaching / waiting for the lock to open and wished us ‘bon appetit’ as we ate our dinner in glorious sunshine on the top deck.
We walked around the fields, watched the windmills and the farmer watering his fields by pump from the canal. Red sky at night again.