Amiens 1

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!

Angie Dave Chris Helen & Adrian

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

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.

Usual weed

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.

Corbie

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…….

Beer and chips!

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.

Slow news weekend……

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.

Onto the Somme

The first lock (Sormont) on the Somme is listed as automatic in the guide books, triggered by a beam 300m before the lock. Not so anymore it would seem. So we tied up, called the tel number on the lock and awaited the eclusier. He arrived quickly and was most pleasant and helpful. He also went ahead of us to open the lifting bridge at Feuillères where we were stopping for the night.

We had a little walk around the village. No shops at all but we discovered a campsite with a bar – beer and ice cream de rigeur – where we could order baguettes & croissants for the morning. And the well recommended Restaurant du Port where we booked a table for lunch the next day.

Both these items were of great importance. Chris and Helen on Vrouwe Olive, have been speeding along (up to 50kms in a day!) to catch up / meet up with us on the Somme. We did the channel crossing with them a few weeks ago so they have come a goodly distance. Very soon after leaving Calais they were delayed by a lifting bridge which didn’t respond to requests to be opened! Adrian made a few tel calls on their behalf and eventually someone came but it held them up for 2 days! But they then reached the Canal du Nord in record time. Tuesday morning saw them set off at about 9.30 with only 2 locks and a few kilometers to go. But they got well and truly held up by commercials at these locks. Took them about 3 hours!

We had their baguette & croissants awaiting their arrival – Helen is a real sucker for a fresh french baguette.

And lunch was booked for 1pm and the ecluses are shut between 12.30 & 1.30pm! Luckily, as I was attaching our Somme pennant flag, I saw a car with 3 eclusiers going past …… a little chatting up and laying it on a bit thick and they agreed to head back to the lock to wait for Vrouwe Olive. (The young eclusier in the back of the car held out his crossed fingers as the other discussed the issue!) They got there at 12.32pm, were let through, and arrived at Feuillères at 1.05pm. Quick turn around and we went into lunch!

Great little restaurant! Very full – a cycling group and a group of eclusiers. Three course tasty lunch for 16.50 euros each! A wonderful way to get back together.

They were moored above the lifting bridge with noise from the TGV trains hurtling along behind. We were moored the other side of the bridge with the accompaniment of frogs. A whole army (another collective noun) of frogs! Having just watched something of Paul McCartney’s appearance at Glastonbury I was reminded of The Frog Chorus – We All Stand Together.

We actually stayed another 2 days at Feuillères because on Thursday lots of rain was predicted and we all decided we didn’t fancy getting wet. Fair weather boaters maybe but we are no longer in any sort of hurry.

We walked up to the campsite each day to order our bread and croissants. Unfortunately we were not allowed to use the campsite’s swimming pool. That request met a definite ‘non’ from Madam! We bought vegetables, freshly pulled from the ground, & homemade jams at the house next door. Breakfast on the top deck – coffee with fresh croissant & local rhubarb jam – what’s not to love?

We now have a mini convoy & on Friday 1st July we set off to Froissy. 12 kms, a couple of lifting bridges, a couple of locks and an enforced stop for lunch. A real change of pace. We had to go through the locks separately so we had two eclusiers allocated. Service or what? It seems they do not have a lot of boat traffic at present. A lovely cruise through the countryside. We are taking it in turns to cook for each other – so tonight Adrian and I ate at the ‘Resto Vrouwe Olive’ – delicious and not far to head home.

Early this morning , when I got up to make the tea, I saw that we had the makings of a misty morning as the mist was rising from the canal…….

Misty morning at Froissy

Nature Watch

The Canal de la Somme has beautifully clear water and lots of wildlife – birds, insects, dragon flies, damsel flies and frogs! All signs of a heathy waterway.

However, it is extremely weedy. Very thick weed causing a dense carpet on the surface in places.

It is much worse this year than when we were here 3 years ago. We are having to take great care to follow the channel, cut by previous boats, through the weed & not to use our bow thruster. At some mooring places it is impossible to moor because the weed is so thick you cannot get through. Boats are advised to use reverse to clear propellers & boats with water cooling engines have to take extra care to clear filters.

Apparently throughout April they were cutting the weed and plan to do so again from July 11th. It grows that fast.

The Somme leaflet describes it being impacted by ‘D’espèces Exotiques Envahissanes – Myriophylle Hétérophylle’. It is so dense that it could adversely impact fishing, water sports, navigation and the biodiversity of the waterway. Every year a scheme of cutting and removal is undertaken. 2019 = 360,000 eus.

One of the eclusiers told me that they didn’t really know where it had come from but that it is thought to be an aquarium plant. People emptying aquaria into the water system may have inadvertently caused the problem. And it really is a problem.

Ruyaulcourt Tunnel (4.354m)

From Graincourt to the tunnel we cruised in glorious isolation & in glorious sunshine! You would never think you were on such a major water motorway! Really lovely with rolling countryside and ripening crops (wheat, barley) all around. Lots of birdsong. We saw grebes, herons, gulps (collective noun) of cormorants and mummy ducks with tiny tiny ducklings. Delightful.

Then to the tunnel. We hardly had to wait before the green light came on letting us enter. The lady on the radio rattled something off to us (we think) but was very difficult to understand and did not repeat when I asked her. We thought she was advising us to wait in the lay by half way through the tunnel for a commercial coming in the opposite direction. It turned out she was telling us a commercial would be waiting in the lay-by for us to pass.

As we approached the lay-by we slowed down as we could see a red light. Need green light to proceed along tunnel. But this turned out to be the commercial’s port side navigation light. The hull was huge & all black which didn’t help. However, we realised what was nearly our mistake, picked up speed again and continued past. Just shows how confusing lights can be & how easily mistakes can happen.

Not sure exactly how long it took us to get through the tunnel – around 40 minutes – but we were very glad to reach the end and to emerge into the sunshine once more.

15 kms and 5 locks (6.5m deep each) down the other side brought us to the junction of the Somme.

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Leaving Valenciennes

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.

Back in Valenciennes once more

After all the excitement of the channel crossing with Chris and Helen we returned to Piedaleau on Weds 15th June. We were both rather exhausted.

We now needed to get on with the painting we had in mind but the weather was not in our favour. No clear run of dry days forecast and then it turned hot hot hot! We saw 37* on our thermometer one day. So either too wet or too hot to paint! Its fussy stuff this boat paint as we found out back in 2015.

Pat (Coole Swan) contacted us and we arranged with Pascaline (Capitaine) that he could moor his boat here for a month while he returned home and his sister and brother in law stayed on board. This resulted in an extremely enjoyable weekend – eating out and sharing a glass or two – before Pat left.

Sunday was Father’s Day in Uk and la fête des pères in France. The three of us walked into town with the aim of having a coffee and we ended up having lunch. Adrian really enjoys Flammekueche (rather like a pizza but from Alsace) and when he saw a restaurant serving this culinary delight it was a done deal. Lisa had instructed me to look after Adrian on Fathers Day in the absence of any kids but Pat valiantly offered to be his stand in kid for lunch!

The forecast was more amenable so Tuesday was ‘fancy’ undercoat day for the rear deck. We had bought a 2 part undercoat from a boatyard in Ghent before lockdown. This requires careful measuring of the 2 components to ensure it does what it says on the tin. Two top coats on Weds – morning got rather hot and evening it rained a bit within a couple of hours of finishing. But we finally got the job done. Now we will wait a couple of days, to let it harden off, before going cruising. The Somme is calling again.

Calais

Chris and Helen had spent some time in Calais in 2019 due to Chris’s accident with his hand when trying to leave. He had a bit of an argument with one of those swinging buoys in the outer harbour and had to be taken off by the coastguard to go to hospital. They stayed about 6 weeks whilst he underwent treatment and then they waited for suitable weather into December. Sounds like he had amazing care and treatment throughout but not a pleasant interlude.

They had told us that they enjoyed Calais but we, like most people, had only ever driven in / out to the ferry terminal. What we saw in the couple of days we were there was really rather pleasant.

The mooring they found, thanks to another boater on the Somme, is very pleasant and within easy walking distance of the centre & Town Hall.

We saw the outer harbour in the sunshine on Tuesday with boats on the buoys, and the wall where we tied up in the distance.

But we had a couple of jobs to do with Chris and Helen before we left. Firstly Adrian found where they could buy a Free SIM card – amazing value you get around 200 GB for 20 euros a month. We went to a small shop hosting a Free SIM machine, bought said card and Adrian fitted everything up for them on board.

Secondly we needed to get through some form of passport control and customs check now we are no longer in the EU. Chris had hoisted a yellow flag before entering Calais which identifies vessels from foreign waters. Adrian had telephoned French border police beforehand and we were told to go to the Calais Marina and give them details of the boat & occupants. Since we weren’t in the marina itself we had to make sure that our mooring was clearly identified. They then email the police who decide whether or not they need to visit the boat. Within a couple of hours two policemen did indeed arrive. They checked & stamped our passports (a little bemused that we had just been in & out within days!) & asked about our visas. They decided there was no need to check anything on the boat so Chris was able to take down his yellow flag.

Bizarrely when we were at the marina office another yatch owner was registering and was amazed that we had come from Pin Mill – he explained that that is his winter mooring! He was leaving Calais having sailed around Brittany. Small world.

Town Hall and the Burgers of Calais

In 1885, Rodin was commissioned by the French city of Calais to create a sculpture that commemorated the heroism of Eustache de Saint-Pierre, a prominent citizen of Calais, during the dreadful Hundred Years’ War between England and France (begun in 1337).

President de Gaule married in Calais ……. preparations for the Tour de France

Some rather impressive wall art

We all went out for dinner together that evening and then on Thursday Adrian and I headed off to the train station to travel back to Valenciennes. A fairly easy change in Lille and we were back on board within a few hours. Nothing like as long or complicated as our trip to Pin Mill!

We both thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn with Chris and Helen on Vrouwe Olive. The Crossing was a real treat but definitely a one off! We won’t be taking Piedaleau across the channel.

Another item ticked off the old bucket list ……..

And a big thank you to Chris and Helen xxx