I have been boating in Europe since 2009 when I shipped Misty Morning to France.
Time & life move on! Adrian, my new partner, & I bought Piedaleau in 2015 to continue and expand our European boating adventures.
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…….
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.
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…..
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 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!
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!
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!
On Friday 8th July we left Lamotte Brebière to travel a whole 9kms and 1 lock to get to Amiens. We really are pushing ourselves this year – but we are enjoying the relaxed pace, enjoying the views and ‘smelling the coffee’.
The downstream approach to Amiens is delightful. The river is twisty and you pass through an unusual stretch lined with gates and little bridges behind which is a huge wetland area called Les Hortillonages. This photo from the map book shows just how extensive the area is and how it is criss crossed by little channels. (See following post for more on Les Hortillonages.)
The plots are both privately owned but also by market gardeners. Makes for an interesting approach to Amiens, the capital of the Picadie region.
We arrived at the Port d’Amont to find just enough space for us on the end of the pontoon and space along the wall for Vrouwe Olive. Angie and Dave (Solstice), whom we had all spoken to a couple of times as they passed us, were already here and came to help with our lines. We tied up and then waited for Chris and Helen to arrive. They had to make a very slow and careful 180* turn in order to approach the wall behind the Picardie – passenger boat which goes out several times a day. The crew were a little wary of this boat coming in but the Captain walked away unperturbed when he saw Chris’s handling skills.
The mooring is lovely – very central – lots of restaurants, bars and the old town all within easy reach. Much noisier than our last mooring but it is town noise not diggers. Town moorings come with the possibility of problems ie noise late into the night, people / yobs thinking it fun to untie boats etc. We had just such a problem in the early hours of Sunday morning. A group of youths making lots of noise along the pontoon. I was woken up by this and saw 2 guys sitting eating near our boat and then heard another jump down onto the pontoon and walk to the back of our boat. He was trying to untie a rope (would have taken him ages cos we were very well secured) – I rapped on the window and they all ran off. Could hear them on the bridge in front of us ……. and then the cheeky little scrote came all the way back to pick up his take away which he’d left on our cabin roof!!! I took a photo of him which he wasn’t impressed about. We saw a gendarme during the day and got the impression that basically they ain’t bothered. At the weekend these things can happen.
Saturday morning saw us up and at the market. We just love a good french market and this produce one is superb. We didn’t even think about how much we might have spent in the end – all delicious!
Saturday evening was my turn to cook so we invited Angie and Dave to join us and I made the most of the produce purchased – the red fruit salad (rasps, blackcurrants and baby red gooseberries) with farm fresh cream were particularly lovely!
Sunday evening Angie and Dave returned the compliment by inviting us all for ‘apéros’. They asked to use our top deck for this as here is little shade at their end of the pontoon. So another lovely evening with many tales from the boating fraternity.Excellent evening and lovely to meet new, & similarly minded, friends. Angie also writes a blog so we will be following each other!
Lamotte Brebière is a halte nautique which we had spotted in 2019 but hadn’t been able to stop at because it was full at the time. I had noted that there’s a restaurant in the lock keeper’s cottage which is open some days for lunch. It was obviously doing a roaring trade that day. This year the eclusier told me that it had shut down during Covid but it was hoped new people would take it on and a musical opening was to be planned but he couldn’t say when.
10kms and 2 locks. Another lovely stretch which is obviously more river rather than canal and so quite twisty in places. Have to watch the bends particularly where trees obscure your view. We noted that there was much less of the invasive weed in the river sections – usual weed and water lillies instead.
At Lamotte-Brebière there are moorings on both sides of the canal but only one side has water and electricity. There are 4 short pontoons one of which was occupied by a German boat and family. Both men came to help us tie up. And the 2 eclusiers had come down to meet us to make sure we were stopping and to lend a hand. Piedaleau doesn’t like short pontoons much – tries to pivot around them! But how many people does it take to moor one boat! All done in the best possible taste!
We did get moored up safely in the end and settled down to a very peaceful evening, watching some tennis on Adrian’s pad & looking at the view with a light supper and a bottle of wine.
The German boat left early next morning and we decided that Vrouwe Olive would fit very nicely spanning the 2 short pontoons behind us – providing no other boats arrived before them, of course.
Adrian and I went for a long walk in the morning. Along the canal through Blangy-Tronville and the affluent looking village of Glisy, through the marais de Tronville and back to the canal. A lovely walk which took us past the Chateau de Tronville and La Ferme de Tronville – not marked in our book but both were stunning.
We returned to the boat and awaited Chris and Helen’s arrival. They had problems getting through to the Amiens Control and then got forgotten at the second lock. More phone calls for Adrian! They arrived around 3pm and were safely moored up just before a couple of French boats came up through the lock to moor here! Phew! They rafted the 2 boats up against the remaining pontoon partly obscuring the entrance to the lock. They were very keen to know when we would be leaving! As it turned out they left just before we did on Friday. We were heading for Amiens and the hortillonages (local produce) market on Saturday morning.
We took another walk on Thursday around Lamotte Brebière and discovered the old railway station and, beside the lock, the last remaining water trough for the horses that used to pull the barges in times gone by. All very tranquil.
Everyone was listening to, and discussing, the latest news from UK and Boris Johnson’s resignation as leader of the Conservative party and what would happen now re the Prime Ministerial role. The French couple in front of uswere interested to learn more and to find out our views of the situation. They were similarly unhappy with Macron. And indeed the German boaters had also expressed their disappointment with their government. Seems like we’re all in the same unhappy political boat.
By Sunday evening we had to move on. Jobs done, including some cobweb clearing by Helen, & both needing to fill up with water & get some shopping. So we (ie Adrian, as the designated telephoner) rang the central control at Amiens and requested to go through the lock at 9.30am. He was told that travaux (works) were starting in the Corbie pound to pull out the weed by digger and that mooring was restricted.
The eclusiers arrived at 9am and we were off again – 16kms and 2 locks this time. At the second lock we experienced our first traffic jam! Had to wait for a boat coming upstream! Shock horror! We really have seen very little other ‘traffic’ this year.
The countryside was lovely and we saw cows and a donkey in the fields beside the canal. A kingfisher streaked ahead of us.
The weed varied. In some stretches we saw what we would call the usual weed with water lillies in evidence. In others it was the thick invasive stuff and no sign of water lillies etc.
As we approached Corbie we could see the huge digger working away; scooping up vegetation and mud from the bottom of the canal and loading it onto barges to be taken to be emptied into containers and be taken away for disposal. We had to wait to be called past by the workmen. Bit scary going past the digger which hardly seemed to stop! Our preferred mooring by the campsite was off limits so we had to moor beside the factory in front of the lock. Its a grain silo / factory and so very busy and noisy now that the harvest is in. Between that and the diggers working away from 7am until about 8pm it was not a peaceful place to be. A real contrast to the weekend.
Helen and I had decided it would be nice to have lunch in town. So we all high tailed it up to the square. But it was Monday and very little was open. We found a bar which didn’t do any food but was happy for us to get a take away from the turkish sandwich place around the corner. The guy even brought it to us at the bar! Not exactly a wholesome lunch but very welcome nonetheless…….
We shopped, filled up with water, plugged into electricity and did some washing. On the Somme there are few places which charge for mooring – Cappy is one (1euro per metre) so we didn’t stay there! In designated halte nautiques there are bornes where you can access both water and electricity. Cost is 2 euros for 4 hours! This was the first time we had ‘plugged in’ so we both made the most of our 2 euros.
We had a light supper on Vrouwe Olive, watched some more tennis and went to bed. The lorries and diggers started again at 7am.
Adrian and I decided we would leave Corbie on Tuesday. Helen and Chris were staying so that Chris could get a haircut – under duress! So we did some extra shopping, had lunch together in the Caroline Restaurant beside the lock and then we set off on our ownio. The lady in the boulangerie asked if we had tried the local sweet delicacy – we had just had a little laugh together about that very item lined up on display. She explained it was a kind of apple and almond paste pastry. Never got the name of it but have our own name for it! We bought a couple for supper later.
Friday 1st July – pinch punch, first of the month – it was time to move on. We went onto to Méricourt. A massive 6kms and 1 lock!
We had each stopped here in 2019 and remembered it as a quiet, rural spot. There is only one small pontoon so we rafted up and settled down for a peaceful weekend.
The area is designated a nature reserve and there are variously sized lakes which fishermen can book to use. A real fisherman’s delight. Lots were busy fishing and picnicking and generally enjoying the weather and the area. The only noisy group were the youths who came to jump into the canal by the lock and into the lock and even from the bridge at the end of the lock. I always fear that there will be a nasty accident for someone’s child. I saw enough in my time as an OT. Thank goodness there were no accidents &, to give them their due, they left no rubbish lying about afterwards.
At night it is really quiet and very dark. As there is no light pollution you can really see the stars.
We have decided to alternate the cooking so that we each cook for all one night and go to the ‘resto’ next door the next. The views from ‘Chez Piedaleau’ were just lovely! We had a couple of uninvited guests after dinner. Two ‘conjoined’ butterflies. Google informed us that they were bonking! and could stay like this for anything up to 12 hours! Fascinating but they didn’t stay that long.
Lots of birdsong but we still cannot identify who’s who. My RSPB book of birds with its infamous CD is no help. The 100 ish bird song recordings play without any explanation of which bird or even which number so that you can link it to the paper list provided. As Mary and I have remarked many times you can’t tell your number 37 from your number 63. No help.
We walked around the nature reserve. I had an early morning walk through the fields where I saw a fox jogging along the hedgerow and listened to the bees buzzing in the poppies beside the ripening wheat.
We each managed to do a couple of little jobs on our boats. Chris and Helen watched the Grandprix, we watched the tennis.
A real slow news and very relaxing weekend at Méricourt.