Au revoir la Somme – rebonjour Valenciennes!

The weed in the last stretches of the Somme was horrendous! Thank goodness Piedaleau is keel cooled and doesn’t rely on water cooling and weed filters. Heard that some boaters are having to stop to clear their filters every hour or so. We saw one lady leaning over the back of her boat to free weed from the propeller as it was moving. Not my idea of fun! Adrian does a bit of a reverse thrust to clear the prop and it is amazing how we see our speed return to normal after having gradually slowed down!

The weed means, however, that we cannot use the bow thruster – it would get blocked – therefore we have to manoeuvre very slowly and carefully. This can be fun eg going in / out of locks or through lifting bridges where road users are waiting. Adrian’s getting good at ignoring any comments from others and just going carefully. We had a few comments from this family cycling group, grandpa was a little impatient – Adrian just replied that he didn’t want to hit the bridge and break it!

We were pleased to hear that the Somme river authority was starting work at Feuilléres on Monday morning although they could hamper our leaving. Apparently up here they only cut a swathe in the middle for a channel for the boats, but leave the sides alone. Hence the weed regenerates very quickly but it is too expensive to do more, such as we saw at Corbie. Seems a bit daft to us that the Somme, which is separate from the VNF (Voies Navigables de France) do not charge boats to use the waterway. Surely if they did they would have money to spend on this problem. It is what it is!

Anyway, we were up early on Monday ready for a 9am start – the éclusier arrived on time and came to speak to us but knew nothing of the weed cutting works and had to ring control to make sure we would be able to get past the machines. All went well, we came out of the last lock and the water was then virtually clear of the dreaded weed.

We turned onto the Canal du Nord to the first of 5 locks going up. Came behind a 38m commercial barge and another pleasure boat. This convoy went up the locks and then after about a half hour wait we went straight through the Ruyaulcourt tunnel. No worries! Elke on Aquamarin, the boat in front, did a little jig as they exited …. so I responded in kind. New best friends! We had also taken photos of each others’ boats and the tunnel so I can include pictures of Aquamarin & Piedaleau in the tunnel and emerging back into the sunshine. You can perhaps see why we did that jig!

A further 7 kms along the top bief and we moored at Grainecourt-lès-Havrincourt as we did on the way to the Somme. Aquamarin came in to moor behind us and so we shared a beer together. Elke & Uwe are also heading to Valenciennes for a few days in order to change ‘crew’ (Elke has to return home for work) so we decided to cruise together. Another cruiser, Water Weazel, came in to moor for the night and apparently they are also heading to Valenciennes – they leave their boat there for the winter – and so we became a convoy of three bateaux de plaisance heading for Valenciennes!

27kms; 6 locks, 2 bridges and the tunnel

Tuesday morning we all headed off together, now going down in the locks. These are all quite deep – around 6.5m – but don’t have rising bollards. We devised a nifty gadget called the ‘kling-on’. Basically I tied rope to the canal side hooks which Mary presented me with on Misty Morning quite a few years ago. They worked a treat making it much easier to move the attachment down or up as the locks empties or fills!

Adrian with the kling-on

At one lock we came in behind another pleasure boat – I took an instant dislike! Going off at a rate of knots, drinking, smoking, snogging ……. get a cabin I cried! Anyway we were stuck behind them for a few locks. At one point all the pleasure boats were waved ahead to overtake a slow moving commercial – not a frequent occurance for us. But then we all had to wait for the commercial to catch up and go into the next lock first.

We turned off the Canal du Nord and onto the Canal de la Sensée. We returned to the same mooring as we had used on our way down but the water level was too low for the other 2 boats. They went on a further 7kms and actually had a much easier place to moor. Must remember that mooring for future reference.

20 kms 7 locks

Then on Wednesday we set off for the last day’s cruising along the Sensée and then a few locks down the Escaut, to get back to Valenciennes. Lots of people, walking, running, cycling wave as we pass which is always fun. The best is waving at kids and getting them to wave back. Had great fun with this crocodile of littlies and their teachers!

We got back to Valenciennes by mid afternoon and shared a beer with Elke and Uwe again.

35 kms 3 locks

On thursday we had shopping to do and so they joined us on a trip to Auchun – a huge supermarket a few kms away. We only just managed to get the 4 of us and all our shopping in the car for the drive back! We were then invited to their boat for apéritifs – turned into another of those ‘apéro dînatoire’! Great fun but I was a little challenged next morning!

We spent all day on Friday giving the boat a thorough cleaning both inside and out!

Unfortunately Elke left on Saturday and Mikhail joined Uwe for the next stage of his voyage home to Herne in Germany. They seem to have had to make quite few changes to their route because various canals have been closed for various reasons. Uwe still hs quite a way to go! We had dinner together at a Greek restaurant in town on Sunday evening and waved them a fond farewell on Monday morning!

I thought I would give you some statistics of this month’s trip to the Somme:

In total we did 70 engine hours; 304 kms; went up or down 68 locks / lifting bridges and through the tunnel twice!

On the Somme – 140 kms (70kms each way) and 32 locks

It took 3 quite long days each way to / from the Somme. We were on the Somme for 26 slow days – quite different cruising!

So we are now about to return home for August but will be back at the beginning of Sept for another couple of months -got to make the most of that infamous visa!

À bientôt

Froissey & Feuillères

On Saturday morning we headed a short distance to Froissey where we have stayed before but we hadn’t managed to time it right for either Le P’tit Train or the café selling crèpes. We did this time!

The train ride was quite fun – furthest away from the boat I’m been in a month – if a little bit rattly and rolly. It took us up into the countryside, now all industrial type farming with huge fields. Much of the wheat had already been harvested but some of the vegetable crops were wilting because of the weather. Huge watering machines were in operation.

The train museum had some interesting exhibits and information. Armies on both sides constructed railways to transport troops, weapons and ammunition to the front.

After our exhilarating train ride we repaired to the little café for crèpes with ice cream and local cider. Delicious.

On Sunday at 8.20am Adrian discovered he could use the Somme app to book ecluses. He booked for 9am – so we had to jump to it and we were off by 8.30am heading for our final stop on the Somme at Feuillères and Sunday lunch at the Restaurant du Port. Adrian’s starter was a bit daunting, even for him. Not much more to say on that except that it was delicious and resulted in a long siesta afterwards!

Chipilly

On Thursday (21st July) morning Adrian led a bike party ie Rachel and Kay, up to Glisy to go to the supermarket. As soon as he was back we hightailed it away. We were heading for Sailly Laurette because we’d spotted a nice mooring there complete with bar / restaurant. Didn’t quite work out as intended.

The eclusier at Sailly écluse asked a group of people fishing on the mooring to move. They suggested we go futher along but the eclusier explained that mooring pontoons are for boats. Anyway we moored up, the fishing group stayed put. We went for a drink at the bar – no longer did food and we didn’t like the beer much. One of the fishing group said they’d thought they might borrow the boat. So we untied and set off again. A couple of kms further upstream is the village of Chipilly – another nice mooring we had noted. We came in very very slowly and carefully because of the weed along both sides of the channel. There was a fisherman there who promptly said he would move since boats had priority on moorings. What a difference.

We moored up and went to suss out the bar. The beer was extremely good – Belgian beers on draught – and everyone was friendly and welcoming. One beer became two and so we stayed a couple of nights at Chipilly! We had some tidying up to do along the side of the boat beside the pontoon and this mooring was ideal for that. Full access to the side.

Geese seem to be a feature of the river along here. A group of 6 are continually patrolling the bank. They hissed a bit at us but they certainly didn’t like the 3 month old kitten who tried to eat some of ‘their’ bread. One of the residents has a ‘pet’ goose. Apparently he rescued her after she was atacked by swans last year. They think she’s a she and have named her Sidolène (Sid for short according to Adrian). She follows the bloke when he drives away, trotting after his car, responds to their call, goes into their house and sleeps under their car.

We’ve seen and wondered about these little houses along the bank sides. This couple explained to us that they had bought their tract of land on which they placed a caravan and then extended it and tarted it up. Others rent from the local mairie. Not quite sure how that works exactly, but there are some real shanty type dwellings along here. Presumably they are not allowed to build permanent structures for all year round living or in case of floods. Apparently there are no services – no water or electricity. They buy water in tanks from the mairie, go to the campsite for showers and this couple had installed solar panels. Others we saw obviously had not, so presumably have no electricity.

Anyway this particular old couple (who turned out to be younger than us) were exremely pleased and proud of their second home. They stay here all summer until it gets too cold then they return to their house and madam’s weekly karaoke.

The little village turned out to be very interesting. Virtually all french villages have a memorial to those who lost their lives in the two world wars. It was at Chipilly that the allies, notably the London Division, liberated the village from German occupation. There are two memorials opposite each other – one to the local french and one to the British. This is a lovely sculture of a British soldier comforting his dying horse. It was erected in honour of the 58th British Division, the London Division. The scultor was Henri-Désiré Gauquie & is one of many memorials to horses following WW1. Both memorials are equally well kept.

We then walked up to the communal cemetry where there are perhaps a hundredCommonwealth war graves along an outer wall. In fact there are some french soldiers buried with them.

All very moving and it just shows how this area still remembers and respects the allies who fought for them.

Changing the subject …… there are two french words that I find particularly beautiful – libelulle and nénuphar. Libelulle means dragonfly, which we have seen everywhere along the Somme. There seems to be no differentiation between dragon flies and damsel flies – all are called libelulles. Nénuphar means water lilly, which we have also seen in places notably away from the nasty weed. There were several huge swathes on the lake behind the houses at Chipilly. You don’t often see both white and pink beside each other but we did here. And so I walked across the grass to get photos and promptly got stung on me little toe! The things I do for my blog and all you folks!

Hot hot and hotter yet

We arrived at Lamotte Brebière by mid afternoon on Sunday 17th July after a long hot day’s cruise – even if it was only 24kms and 3 locks! Unfortunately 2 large British boats had beaten us to it and were ensconced on the little pontoons with access to the free water and electric. There was a small, unoccupied boat on the canoe pontoon on that side too. No one seemed to know when they would return. ‘Dam and blast’ we cried! Technically there was no space for us at all but the eclusiers suggested we moor on the other side, just in front of the lock, and even helped us in. Couple of cans of beer in thanks!

So this is where we have waited out the heatwave. We have made full use of the biminis, the shading sheets, the internal blinds and heat reflective window covers to keep the boat as cool as possible. May look a little odd to passers-by but it sure helps. Washing dries real quick too!

This is obviously a very popular area for locals. Lots of walkers, cyclists and picnic-ers, especially at the weekend. Interesting for us sitting in the shade of the trees. Most say ‘bonjour’ as they pass by, or ‘bon appetit’ if we happen to be having dinner on deck. And many stop for a chat – often very interested in where we’re from, what we’re doing and where we’re going. One young couple even asked to sign up to this blog – bienvenu Paul!

Most people are very good at putting their rubbish in the bins provided. The lock keepers empty them regularly. I was horrified to see one large family using the historic stone horse troughs as BBQ pits. I suppose it could have been preferrable to risking a fire in dry grass …….

So here we sat in the shade or having breakfast under the trees beside the river whilst waiting for the heatwave to pass us by……

I have even found a little spot where I can dip me feet in the water – delightful! Shame the old lock keeper’s house is not open for ice creams!!!

On Monday 18th July the temperature reached 41 degrees. Crazy! And there is little respite at night especially as we cannot use a fan,since we are not connected to electricity. I sleep with a wet towel on my tummy! What a vision of loveliness I hear you say!

But then ….. I saw a cyclist taking a swim ……. he showed where and how to get in the water and even helped haul me out! So I swam a couple of times with this guy on Monday, he returned on Tuesday and so we swam again! Caused a little amusement to the English boaters but I enjoyed it.

Made sure I kept my mouth shut!

On Tuesday a french couple stopped to talk with us as they and friends are on boats a bit further up river. They were checking out the situation at Lamotte as they also want water and electricity. Turns out they recognised Piedaleau from Valenciennes where they used to moor. They know Benoit and Roberto and called Phillippe, the previous capitaine, so we could all say hello. We had a cold beer together and an enjoyable half hour. Small world.

In the meantime we were plotting how we could move over to the other side on Weds when 2 boats planned to leave. Both ourselves and Andy and Kay on Hilde wanted to move over for water etc. Andy has had a accident on his bike and needs to rest up before continuing to cruise. We have also heard that an English boater has had a major health emergency and so 2 barges are waiting in Corbie whilst she is in hospital. Things happen.

The young couple returned to the small boat and were not very pleasant when Adrian enquired as to when they might be moving on. Hmmmm

During the evening the wind got up and then it rained …. at last ……so refreshing.

Weds 20th July

A day of highs and a low…….

Lisa and Alex have got engaged! So happy for them ….. lovely news!

Once Vagabond left we moved over and the lady in the small boat made some very sarcastic remark along the lines of ‘so now you’ll have your free water’! Hmmm again.

An eclusier then came along to find out how long boats had been here and when they were moving on. Technically you can stay 72 hours on a mooring but in practice it is not policed. But people have obviously needed more access to services because of the heat and it is not fair to hog or block access for others. Mooring is free but the bornes providing water and electricity usually charge 2 euros for 4 hours. We came with a little stack of 2 euro coins. But many bornes aren’t working this year, don’t take any money & therefore water and electricity are free.

The lady in the small boat went ballistic at both the eclusier (student working for the summer) and at us. Basically saying we wanted the free services and would not go where we had to pay 2 euros! Said ‘you british should take your boats and go home’! How nice. I have met some stand-offish boaters but I have never been shouted at like this before. Anyway they moved across and then left a little later. No love lost there.

In the meantime, along came the french couple we met the day before – Dominic and Rachel on Amiral with their friends Daniel and Jannick on Adonis. We helped them moor up, Hilde came across and we all helped them so that Andy didn’t strain his sore ribs. By the end of the day there were another 2 boats here as well – one rafted up to Hilde for the night since the locks were now closed. The young eclusier came to check on us all again to make sure all were now happy. Rachel told me that they had asked the eclusiers to check things out for them.

Dom and Daniel invited us to have apéro with them later. I suggested 6pm but they prefer later so we compromised at 6.30pm. Daniel suggested an ‘apéro dînatoire’ – a ‘grazing apéro’ – ie everyone brings some drinks & lots of tasty bits and pieces to ‘graze’ & share. Thus making it apértif & dinner all in one. Kay and Andy joined us. Just as I had announced Lisa and Alex’s engagement and Adrian had broken out the Crémant, so it started to rain. We pulled back under the trees and carried on until nearly 10pm. Lots of laughter, shared stories and information sharing, mainly in french, but with some translation for Kay and Andy and Rachel practising her english.

Congratulation Lisa and Alex

We had a fascinating conversation about mussels. Depending on where you moor, boats can be affected by mussels attaching to the hull underwater. When your boat is taken out for cleaning the hull it can take quite a while to remove these little blighters – and they stink once out of the water. Dom said they had removed literally kilos of them. Boats go much faster afterwards!

But we had never heard of the award of ‘Grand Maitre des Moules’ that he was given in recognition of his efforts. He was so proud of his cerificate, crown, necklace and moules stick.

Dom said he’d found the blog, enjoyed the photos but couldn’t read the text….

Alors – à Dom, Rachel, Daniel et Jannick – bienvenu à Lamotte Brebière et à le Piedaleau.blog. Merci d’un réunion très sympa, un apéro-dînatoire super, comme Daniel m’a appris. Félicitations Grand Maitre des Moules.

A bientôt, j’espère X

About turn……

We had decided we needed to turn around and start heading back to base after Picquigny. Chris and Helen were continuing down towards Abbeville so we had to say goodbye after a most enjoyable time together. So with Chris holding a stern rope we executed a 180 degree turn & started back the way we had come.

We would have liked to stopover at Samara where there is a lovely mooring and an interesting area to visit. We visited the Samara Park in 2019 where there is a museum and replica buildings from times gone by.

As we came through Amiens we saw the 4 boats were still there but little else on the pontoon. Again we did not want to stop in town – our aim was to return to Lamotte Brebière, to stay somewhere peaceful through the predicted heatwave.

An interesting sight that I don’t think I have mentioned before is a disused factory complete with workers houses along the banks of the canal. It was a French – Scottish textile factory but has long since ceased production. Just a little strange to see what look like rows of miners’ terraced houses right beside the canal. Must have been a large employer in its day. The rows of houses are still there, many still occupied, in various states of repair.

We also passed the occasional des-res property along the way…….

Picquigny

As soon as we were moored up we remembered something very special about Picquigny – the ducks! They really have to be some of the noisiest ducks ever! A real raucous quacking party of ducks.

Thursday 13th is the beginning of the Bastille day celebrations – fireworks! Now I love a good firework display but we were both rather tired. I went to bed and then got up to see fireworks – twice! We really had quite an amazing view from our upper deck.

We decided a small celebration was required on the 14th. A bottle of Moet et Chandon, which Chris and Helen had brought along to toast the arrival of Vrouwe Olive in Calais but we were all too exhausted to appreciate. So we toasted, my birthday, Bastille Day and Chris and Helen’s wedding anniversary. And jolly nice it was too!

There is an impressive ruined castle in Picquigny which we saw from the outside in 2019. So when we discovered there was to be a ‘Visite nocturne aux flambeaux’ (evening torch lit tour) there on Friday evening we booked tickets. What a disappointment. There was one guy leading the tour and basically he talked so fast, without drawing breath, so that it was difficult to understand him and impossible to try and translate for Helen & Chris. We exited after about an hour but the castle is impressive & the sunset was lovely.

The other thing we learned that Picquigny is famous for is the signing of a treaty to end the 100 years war in 1475. Edward IV of England and Louis XI of France apparently signed the treaty at arms length through a barrier in the centre of a bridge over the Somme.

Leaving Amiens

We decided we would leave Amiens on Weds 13th after a very pleasant 5 day stay. So when a group of boats arrived the day before and the potoon was full we offered for one to ‘raft up’ beside us. This was fine except that there were 4 boats travelling together and all were backwards and forwards to each others’ boats. OK fair enough! BUT when the man walked around our boat at about 4.30am I was not amused! Seems he was taking the dog for a pee! Their mates then came visiting before 8am. I asked if it had been him at 4.30am – ‘no it was 5am!!! and I was quiet’ – even his wife said he is rather flat footed! Not amused!

So we set off to go to Picquigny – 15kms and 3 locks.

The second lock at Montières was interesting. For a start it was after 11am, boiling hot and there was no waiting pontoon. We had to wait over an hour just hanging onto a couple of saplings on the bank. This lock is very slow to fill and a narrow boat had entered and then had to reverse out because of the low bridge.

Let me explain. There are locks – large ones, small ones, deep ones, shallow ones – and then there are double locks – and even triple locks some places. We have encountered double locks on the canal du Nivernais and they are just what they say on the tin. One lock chamber leading straight into the next lock chamber so that you cover the full depth in two manouevers. On the river Yonne there are locks with sloping sides, most of which have floating pontoons to which you tie up and then these take you up or down without a problem. A few have no platform and boats have to ‘hover’ in the centre away from the sloping sides. Not so easy for some.

Most of the locks on the Canal du Somme are straightforward single chamber locks. Drive in, tie up, go up or down, untie and then drive out again. Easy. At some point the canal was deepened to accommodate commercial traffic and double locks were introduced. These double locks have two chambers but one has sloping sides with nothing to tie up to. Some, like Montières, only have one set of gates so basically its one big lock but half has sloping sides and boats have to be in the straight sided chamber. This is what caused the problem and why the boat had to reverse out before the lock keeper could operate the lock. Meanwhile we fried! a couple of photos might help…..

Going up stream – entering sloping sided chamber to reach straight sided chmber.

Leaving the double lock – just see the very low bridge spanning the second lock chamber

And of course there is one double lock on the Somme that is operated as two locks – one with sloping sides, nowhere to tie up and, in our view is a nightmare!

We reached Picquigny in late afternoon and both managed to squeeze onto the end of the bank.

Amiens – Les Hortillonages

Amiens is an ancient city – Ceasar came here in 54 BC to plan the invasion of Britain!

The economic development of Amiens came from woad, ‘blue of Amiens’, which was grown on land to the east of Amiens. Mills were established to grind the woad and small industries developed along the river banks. The resulting prosperity of the town and its bourseoisie led to the building of the cathedral in the 13th century.

Hortillonages = marshes…….. Hortillons = market gardeners who work on the marshes. The name goes back to the latin meaning ‘small garden’.

Hortillonages is a development of man made swamps from 12th century to grow food to feed the growing population. What had been arable land became marshes as water levels of the Somme rose. Ditches cut to drain the land were deepened as water levels increased and this meant that the ‘rieux’ (small channels) became navigable. The land between the rieux were known as ‘areas’. Instead of cultivating crops on dry land and transporting their goods by mule the town centre was accessible by water. The riverside market became the most important one in Amiens and was at its peak in the Belle Epoque (end 19th early 20th century).

The hortillonages belonged to the Church until nationalisation by the Revolution in 1790 and then were sold to farmers.

Nowadays, market gardeners still operate but rather outside this area which has become more a leisure area with private owners. Most of the holiday homes have no services eg electricity or water and are only accessible by ‘barque à cornets’. These are specialised boats with ‘horns’ or raised bow and stern to facilitate loading and navigation in narrow twisting waterways.

The Hortillonages now cover 6kms by 0.5kms. The whole area is fiercely protected and owners are required to maintain their land and the banks around it. A local Association has been established which successfully fought off plans for a motorway and ensures that the banks are maintained where owners cannot or do not do so. Income from the tourist barques helps to finance this work.

It is a nature reserve, accessible to all. In 2019 we walked around but this year we managed to book onto one of the guided electric barques. It was delightful floating through the rieux and seeing the variety of properties and gardens. There is, of course, competition for the best kept garden but also really wild areas. A delightful trip-ette!

Amiens – Cathédrale Notre-Dame

The cathedral at Amiens is stunning. Right in the centre of the old town town it towers above everything. It is the biggest and most beautiful of the french cathedrals.

I included quite a lot in my blog about it in 2019 so I’ll just add a couple of photos here.

The evening son et lumières throughout the summer is lovely.

The most interesting part is at the end when the cathedral is lit to show how it would have been originally – the scultured freizes would have been cloured and not just stonework as we see them today. How they mange to produce & project such an intricate pastiche is beyong me!

Amiens 2

We like Amiens. It is a very attractive, but not too large, city.

Along from the moorings, below the Cathedrale, is the St Leu quarter – a pedestrianised area with low houses, flower lined canals with waterside cafés, bars, restaurants and quaint shops.

There are some lovely buildings throughout Amiens – some of which get a mention in the guides – some of which do not.

One beautiful Art Nouveau building I spotted back in 2019 is in fact a posh café. We stopped for tea and cake after visiting the Musée de Picardie.

The Musée de Picardie is interesting but what I really loved was the building itself.

My favourite painting!

Tuesday was my birthday so Adrian took me to a restaurant which turned out to be ‘interesting’. The food was fine but I’ve never had white wine and coffee at very similar temperatures before! When I said the coffee wasn’t hot the waiter huffed & puffed – ‘le vin n’est pas frais et maintenant le café n’est pas chaud’! (the wine’s not cold and now the coffee’s not hot). Caused us a giggle at least!

Macarons for birthday cake!