Thieu & the Ascenseurs

We left Mons, crossing the Grand Large, in amongst the dingy sailing races! Bit of a challenge working out when to go exactly so as not to interrupt this important event.

Onwards to Thieu, to moor for a couple of nights before tackling the Acenseur Funiculaire de Strépy-Thieu and arriving at our final port of call at Seneffe where we are to leave the boat whilst we return home for various reasons.

The mooring at Thieu – Yatch Club des Deux Ascenseurs (YCDA) is delightful and is managed by Jon, a good friend of Chris. You come through a lock off the main canal so there is no wash from the big boyos which hammer along the Canal du Centre. 3 small speed boats came through the lock with us – kids lying on the back of the boats without life jackets – one boat tied onto us, the other 2 just floated about whilst the 6m lock filled and we hung on for dear life so that 30 ton Piedaleau didn’t try to squash them! YCDA is at the end of the Canal Historique which has the 4 old ascenseurs, still operational, but the old canal past the Yatch Club is no longer in use – only for walkers, fishermen etc. Again lots of wildlife to see – including another Osprey! Jon confirmed there are a pair hereabouts and that he often sees aerial fights.

The Canal du Centre was built between 1882 and 1917 & was used to transport raw materials and goods to the North Sea, France and Germany. The original canal tackled the 223ft rise in the land with locks & 4 hydraulic boat lifts between Thieu and Houdeng-Goegnies. Boats – one going up, one going down – enter a pair of metal counterbalanced containers. As water is pumped one goes up and the other goes down. These lifts are still in operation for pleasure craft on the Canal Historique – we will come down that way in a few weeks.

 

After nearly  century a more efficient system was devised for a new cut of the canal to take boats of the modern era. The Strépy Ascenseur deals with the 73m rise with a single, huge lift. Built between 19982-2002 the Ascenseur Funiculaire de Strépy-Thieu is an amazing sight, dominating the surrounding countryside, canal & villages.

Two independent water filled basinettes raise and lower boats the full 73 metres. We walked over to have a look before taking Piedaleau to play on this towering edifice! It is amazing!!

And all under the control of one man pressing the buttons!

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So, Tuesday 10th July saw us up and ready to get going early. We struck quite lucky, arriving at the waiting area for the Ascenseur by 9.30am along with another 3 private boats. We had to wait for the lift to take one load up and then return with another before we were ready to enter the basin – took well over an hour! Then our little convoy of 4 pleasure boats went in …… the water in the basin gets equalised (so you have to watch your ropes) …. and then up, up, up and away!  Ascent takes about 15 minutes and is really smooth; you get some good views….. and it looks just as imposing from the other direction!

 

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Pommeroeul & Mons

Our little convoy with Chris (Laura Marie) continued from Peronnes to Pommeroeul. This is an interesting mooring, on a pier-like structure in front of the 15m deep lock at the head of the unused Pommeroeul-Condé canal. The lock is manned, 2 guys seem to be there all day although what they actually do all day is beyond me! We have heard a couple of differing views as to what has happened here.

A local cyclist told me that the canal was a joint Belgian-French venture. In 1974 the Belgian side – 15m deep lock, 5kms of canal, second 10m lock – was complete but the French never carried on the construction so the whole project was frozen. Another source told us that this was not a completely new canal, rather a joint reconstruction of an older canal that was bombed during the war and rendered unusable. New or reconstructed …….. whatever, what you see is a huge lock and 5kms of canal only used by cyclists, walkers, fishermen and jetskiers! The second lock is not manned but has obviously been vandalised over the years. The 3 of us cycled the length of the canal just because we could.

The mooring on the pier is lovely – really peaceful with lots of wildlife to hear and see – butterflies and bees on the wild flowers. There was an aerial fight between 2 gulls and a large bird of prey. We thought it was a buzzard but from Chris’ photo he identified it as an Osprey. Never knowingly seen one of them before!

Another Piper boat came in (so many in Belgium!), Archangel, so we had drinkies on Chris’ boat with Tony and Nicki. They are also coming to Bruges for the winter so it was good to meet them.

So we stayed 2 nights on this quiet, rural mooring, before waving bye bye to Chris and continuing along the Canal Nimy-Blaton-Peronnes to the Grand Large at Mons. What a difference – busy, noisy, unwelcoming!

Adrian had a longer and more difficult than expected cycle ride to go back for the car  – good he could have a drink with Chris before returning. Frog hopping the car along with us is,at least, keeping him active.

On Saturday we took ourselves into Mons for a little bit of ‘touristing’. The first thing we did was to find and buy a blue parking disk having received a parking fine in Tourai because we didn’t have one. The blue disk is different to the UK blue badge for disabled. There are places where you can park for free for a limited time providing you show, by means of the blue disk, when you arrived. So now we know and are suitably equipped.

The Grand Place in Mons has a rather magnificent Town Hall which was in marriage-conveyor-belt mode whilst we were having lunch in one of the restaurants. Children, some in wedding posh gear played in the fountains as everywhere. The highlight was the Belfry although it took us a little while to find the entrance. There is a large clock, carillon bells and panoramas. The tower has been renovated several times over the centuries and has had been important to the town for time telling, fire watching and alarm giving. It is now a UNES

 

We returned to the boat to watch Wimbledon on the TV – Raffy Nadal was in fine form – and the football – England beat Sweden to get through to the semi final!

Quite a few boats came into the marina and one with a kiwi flag caught my eye. ‘Beau Jolie’ . …… thought I recognised the name ….. checked me boat cards book …. and found that we had met Robert and Suzanne at dinner in Akaroa (NZ) at Sue and David’s back in 2016! Sent a quick email to them and we met for drinks at 6pm which turned into dinner because it was so good to meet them and their daughter, Rebecca, again. Excellent evening!

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Tournai & Peronnes

There is a one way system through Tournai to negotiate – not well marked, you suddenly see big red lights at the side of the canal & have to call into the control station to request passage through. There is a great deal of work being carried out throughout the city – restoration of the Cathedral, roadworks, new buildings and work to widen the canal.

Tournai has its origins dating back to AD 60. A roman city, it became the focus of early Christian activity. The Cathedrale Notre Dame provides evidence via the excavations exposing the many previous buildings on the site – including roman baths. There is an ornate marble rood screen and some beautiful stained glass windows. The treasury in the Cathedral is one of the most precious collections of Church treasures in Belgium. It includes the reliquary shrine of St Eleutherius and an episcopal gown from Thomas Becket – apparently, after his execution, relics were sent to many places in recognition of his martyrdom.

There are numerous museums in Tournai but we decided on just visiting the Musée des Beaux Arts. It is a rather fine building, having been designed by Victor Horta, a renowned Art Nouveau architect. There is a good collection of paintings and sculptures, including Watteau, Manet and Monet.

The town Grand Place is lined with restaurants and is a great place to sit, eat, drink and watch the kids running through the fountains!

 

So after a couple of nights in Tournai we headed to Peronnes with Chris (Laura Marie). The Yatch club is on the ‘Grand Large’ – a huge lake – and is probably the friendliest yatch club we have ever moored up in! Absolutely delightful people who all welcomed us and invited us to join their annual get together on Monday evening – bring a dish to share and something to drink and just join in! We were welcomed, hugged, introduced to one and all, plied with food and drink! Friends of Chris’, Lucas and Pascale, were also there so we had a very jolly time of it! And Belgium were playing Japan – we all had Belgium colour face paints applied – and there was great excitement when Belgium won.

We stayed and extra day after this in order to recuperate and Adrian and I went on quite a long bike ride around the lake and up the old canal.

Decided to pop up to the bar for an aperitif before dinner cos I’d seen these frozen cocktails (remember jubbly ices?) – unfortunately we got ‘involved once again and didn’t eat til 11pm!

Quick trip home

I took the Eurostar back home on 13th June in order to look after Lisa who had an operation on 15th. I was due to return a week later but had to remain a further week because her op was a little more complicated than anticipated. As always, if there is an easy option or a harder option Lisa chooses the latter! I returned on 26th. The trip on Eurostar was great but the railways in UK are in disarray as a result of the introduction of a new timetable. No one knows what trains are actually running, when, or even if, they will arrive and if they’ll ever get to their end destination! Chaos and many disgruntled passengers! What a difference to their Belgian equivalent – which we have found to be on time, comfortable and cheap! After 9am we can go anywhere in Belgium for 6.40 euros – cos we are old!

Anyway I had left Adrian with a ‘to do list’ so I knew he wouldn’t get bored even though I was delayed. In fact he had friends to play with – Chris (Laura Marie) came to join him with Sally and Martin (Pavot). Not met them before but all seem to get on extremely well and several entertaining evenings ensued! Chris and Adrian got ‘involved’ with some Belgian football supporters when World Cup matches were on – were even awarded complimentary Belgium t-shirts. After my return the England v Belgium match was on and that got very rowdy in the bar – good natured rowdiness, with a full rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ after we lost to Belgium.

We decided we would leave on Friday (29th) in convoy with Chris. Sally and Martin staying an extra few days in order to be somewhere acceptable for their dogs in the heat. It is extremely hot – same while I was at home too – and it certainly is here – thermometer reading 38*C outside and 32*C inside just now – its 6.30 pm.

Anyway, leaving involved turning the boats around, as we didn’t want to brave the weed to go right along the Roubaix Canal to Lille. Sounds easy but not when the canal is not wide enough for any of the boats to turn 180* and the turning space is in the french part of the canal. We had to go through the Belgian lock (operated by the Belgian eclusier) and then rendezvous with the  French eclusier to go through the lifting bridge – up to the turning point, turn around taking care not to use thrusters or to get snarled up with the weed – then come back to the lifting bridge and then back through the lock, with 3 boats in the convoy. The turning was fun rather like a slow motion dance on the grass, the weed was that thick. Martin managed to snag a large branch in his prop which caused him to stop at one point. He went in the drink to untangle it after he limped back to his mooring.

Anyway we all managed the turn around, had celebratory champers, BBQ and England lost to Belgium! But we were up and ready to head to Tournai on Friday. All rather sad to leave this lovely comfortable mooring. Most enjoyable 3 weeks!

An easy enough cruise back down the Espierres Canal, out through the narrow entrance,  to join the Escaut and head towards Tournai.

Canal de l’Espierre

Friday 8th June – Cor blimey to the sublime once more…..

Our little convoy of 2 turned off l’Escaut for the Canal de l’Espierre, which joins the Escaut in Belgium to the Deule in France. This little canal was only reopened in 2011 and the management is shared between Belgium, Canal de l’Espierre, and France where it becomes the Roubaix Canal. About 40 kms in total I has 15 locks and 10 lifting bridges.

We had been warned that the entrance is very narrow and difficult to see and it certainly was – with overhanging vegetation to obscure the entrance and catch unwary boaters. We got through slowly and were met at the first lock by a really pleasant lock keeper, Alain, who took us up through 2 locks (separately) and 3 lifting bridges to a little place called Leers Nord. The canal is small and none too deep in places so it’s important to stay in the middle. Complete contrast to l’Escaut we had just left! No commercial barges or commercial wharfs, just countryside, geese, horses, deer and goats to pass by.

At Leers Nord he arranged for us to moor before the lock and David just the other side – each on nice pontoons with water and electricity – all free! And we were right beside the pedaloes!!!

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Unfortunately the restaurant beside the lock was full that night so we popped into the village and found fabulous butcher’s, greengrocer’s and baker’s. We had a simple but delicious BBQ on Piedaleau.

We had seen Shensi (Andy and Nicki ) moored beside the entrance to this canal awaiting the reopening of the lock on l’Escaut on Tuesday, so we rang them to see if they wanted to come up to join us. They had been under the impression that Shensi wouldn’t get up the canal but since Carmen had done so, they joined us next day! So we had quite a little gathering again! Dinner on Carmen on Sunday (David cooking and Andy entertaining us with various funny stories) followed by another BBQ on Piedaleau on Monday. So, all in all, another very social little sojourn!

The canal is not wide at all so boats have to go up to a turning area a couple of kilometers into the french section which the lock keepers liaise together to arrange. All very friendly & low key.

On Tuesday Shensi headed back down to be ready to rejoin the big guys on l’Escaut and get on with their trip to Namur. David’s first crew arrived – Steph, Rowena & Guy. And I was preparing to take the Eurostar home from Lille to look after Lisa whilst she has an op on Friday. We had a delicious dinner on board Carmen and waved them off on Wednesday morning.

So that just leaves Adrian here in glorious isolation to work through his ‘to do’ list.

Interesting to comment on the sounds at our recent moorings – at Deinze it was the carillon bells from the church – at Kortrijk it was the bumping and bashing of the boats against the pontoon as the wash hit us – at Leers Nord it is the croaking of the frogs and the squeaking of the family of coots beside us – oh and now the workmen at the pub doing all sorts of stuff so still no option of eating there!

Kortrijk – Courtrai in French

 

It was hard to leave Dienze after having such a good time there,

Andy and Nicki  (Shensi) had already left……

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and it being Thrsday so we were missing a really good market there. But needs must, so onwards we went…..

Heading up the river Leie it was like a commercial big guys traffic jam!

We just had 2 big locks to go through – first one went fine – we were rafted up against a commercial so that everyone could get in – 4 commercials, Piedaleau and Carmen! At the following lock we were going in with only 3 commercials and all seemed fine –  the wall hooks were a bit of a pain to rope up to but all seemed OK, we managed. We came out and pootled off expecting Carmen to follow on behind us. But after a while, when we still couldn’t see him and it looked like he was still in the lock (AIS computer system) but we couldn’t raise him on the radio, we got a bit worried ……. we turned around and headed back to the lock. He was moored just outside the lock.

It seems a length of heavy rope had been left dangling from one of those pesky wall hooks. David had seen it on entering the lock but did not realise, until he came to leave, that it had been sucked in around his prop! It was holding the boat so that he couldn’t leave the lock! Memories of Misty morning and rope trapped in lock gates comes to mind!

Anyway he managed to limp out eventually and had tied up and just outside the lock and had gone into the drink to free it from his prop! So as we came in behind him, it was to see David smiling broadly, in his underwear, complete with snorkelling mask, standing on the steps at the rear of his boat, waving said large lump of rope and ordering photographs be taken! David has been told off by more than just us about going into the drink without anyone else around. Enough said.

We then came into Kortrijk and moored up together near the hotel boat. There is an inlet and moorings are at either end. What it means is that as the huge commercials power up or down the main river, wash is sent along the inlet from both ends – got pretty rocky at times! Apparently the commercials can move all night long …… we were certainly woken up at 5am the next morning. We spent 2 nights in Kortrijk – loved the town but didn’t enjoy the boats being tossed around.

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Adrian and I did some touristing on Thursday – Beginjhof, Cathedral with the Dukes Chapel, 1302 museum.

Cathedral and Counts Chapel:

 

Museum Kortrijk 1302:

The battle of the Golden Spurs was fought near Kortijk and this airy museum expalins the battle and why it is an important Flemish landmark. It highlights the beginnings of the Flemish nationalism and the antipathy towards the french.

 

Begijnhof St Elizabeth:

A superbly renovated and maintained begijnhof with good audioguide and ‘experience’ centre. The leaflet starts with Jan van Ruusbroec’s expression: ‘Holy glorious women’. And goes on ‘Beguines were strong women. Democratically organised. Independent of the Church and the State. For centuries they represented a city within a city.’ The last Beguine, Marcella Pattyn, here died in 2013 ending the 800 year long tradition.

 

That evening we all ate in one of Adrian’s TripAdvisor little finds – ‘Y-Not’, a small Thai restaurant just along from our mooring. The waiter was a bit of an acquired taste, rather in your face, but the food was delicious and fresh! Most enjoyable.

 

 

Kanaal Bossuit – cor blimey to the sublime and then back to the cor blimey!

On Friday we came out of our mooring in the side channel in Kortrijk carefully, to rejoin the river Leie and then turned into the Bossuit Kannal. The first 3 locks were like being back in France! 38m long, not very wide and manually operated by 2 lockies, of whom even spoke French! They had to lock us through separately but they seemed quite happy to do so.

Apparently this section of the canal is protected so that it cannot be widened and upgraded as it is after these locks. Then we were back to the huge locks and commercial traffic.

We went right the way along to where the Bossuit joins the Haut-Escaut, stopping for the night in front of the Bossuit lock and behind Chris on Laura Marie! A pleasant mooring particularly as here were no commercials coming in either direction. We had a peaceful evening with dinner for all – David, Chris and us – on board Piedaleau. David had been talking to the lock keeper to arrange timings for the next day and he brought his German Shepherd dogs to visit! Apparently one has been the Belgium champion 2 years running and both were the offspring of the world champion. The guy himself was a complete dog freak! He kept referring to his wife as his ‘woman’ and, when I queried this, said in Belgium referring to a ‘wife’ is like calling her a slut! Don’t know how true this is but he then referred to her as his ‘lady’.

Next morning we were up early and off at 9am. Sure enough he same lock keeper was there and he regaled us with stories of accidents in this 9.5m deep lock. Not nice.

A short stretch of the Haut Escaut and the Herrines lock where we had to produce documents to obtain our obligatory, but free, licence for the Wallonie region of Belgium. This is the magic bit of paper that the lock keeper refused to give me when we came in last August! Not surprising really as it took forever for the guy to complete  the registration process.

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