Meandering back up the Somme – 1

After a most pleasant long stay in Abbeville we started our return up the Somme on Mon 2nd September with the intention of trying to stop in some of the places we spotted, but didn’t stop at, on the way down.

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So our first stop was at Pont Remy complete with ruined chateau as our backdrop. A little ‘project’ for someone perhaps …….. Nowt else to report on this little town so we continued next day to Picquigny – Adrian is cycling back to pick the car up each day so we are a bit limited re distances.

Weds 4th we were up and away around 9am, hoping to get back to Amiens and moor up for a few days and complete the touristic highlights which we missed first time around (see Amiens continued).

We met Sue & Alan on Suzanne – kiwis whom I had said hello to at Abbeville. Unfortunately they were moving on again so we still didn’t manage a drinkie-poo!

We also met Rob Curry on Camelot again & he helped Adrian with a couple of issues (navigation lights and bilge pump). We had dinner together as his wife Sue returned to the UK and he was waiting for a friend to arrive and help him get Camelot X to Calais for the winter. Apparently he knows Graine and Andy (Joni) well as he was the marina at Newark when they were there. Small world!

Our last day in Amiens was a bit of a disaster!

We found a leak!!!! – more to follow on this later……

And we took the car back to Wambrechies near Lille. We did this the other way round a few weeks ago and all went well with Flixbus. Not this time! I remembered the Flixbus taking about 3 hours last time but this time it was to take over 5 hours. We had to go into and out of Paris (CDG airport) with a 40 minute wait. The first Flixbus from Lille was very late and the second one was even later. While waiting at Lille I saw a guy jump into the luggage compartment of a bus going to London. His mates were not at all happy that I warned the driver of his presence!

The total return trip took about 11 hours – not such fun!

Mers-les-Bains

Bristling with pinnacles, balconies & bow windows, the sea front is imprinted with the charm of the Belle Epoque & Art Nouveau. The district is classed as a protected site.

In 1873, with the arrival of the railway, Mers-les-Bains was transformed into a seaside resort & was very highly prized by the Parisiens. These amazing villas were then built, giving expression to the explosion in decorative arts at the turn of the century.

More than 300 of them, including some of exceptional workmanship still exist today. It is the only group of ‘Belle Epoque’ buildings along the whole Picardy coast’.

 

The above text was copied from an information board on the promenade at Mers-les-Bains. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!

St Valery sur Somme

We decided to make Abbeville our base for a few days and not take the boat down the long straight canal section to St Valery. Adrian has been cycling back and forth to ‘frog’ the car along with us, so we have it to take excursions around and about.

We took a day trip to St Valery where we saw that the moorings this side of the lock were full and we would not have wanted to moor on the sea side, so good decision to stay at Abbeville.

Firstly we walked through the Rue des Moulins which was where the fishermen had their simple houses. Quaint and twisty but now very pretty with lots of flowers!

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Then we strolled along the river / sea front looking across the tidal mouth of the river & Baie de Somme towards Crotoy. This expanse of fluvial moorland is home to many migratory birds and to sheep which provide a local speciality.

The old medieval part of town sits above the coastline and is lovely. Narrow twisting roads and interesting houses and little squares. The gate which remains is dedicated to Jeanne d’Arc. Around the old rampart walls gardens were created – a medicinal herb garden and a small orchard / garden which was tended by patients from the hospital just outside – a very early form of occupational therapy?

 

After lunch at a local creperie we took a return trip on the little steam train to Crotoy. The smell of the steam took us both back to our childhood and reminded me of more recent trips with Lisa and Freddie (when he was little) on the Thomas the Tank steam train at Peterborough. Amazing how smells can take you back in time!

We’d learnt that not only does the Baie de Somme provide home to the sheep but also duck hunting! Hides are built into the side of water covered areas, decoys put in place to attract the ducks so that the hunters can do their worst! Not easy to get a good shot (no pun intended) of the hides from a cranky steam train third class carriage!

Chateaux of the Somme

Along the length of the Somme we have seen some beautiful properties and quite a few chateaux. Some are well mentioned in our guide books, others not mentioned at all. On our way down the Somme we have visited 4 in differing states of repair. Most chateaux are privately owned and therefore photos of the interior are not allowed.

 

‘Folie de Buissy’ – 18th century chateau at Long

An immaculately restored chateau although all the furniture etc is ‘of the period’, not original, as it was all sold or removed during a 25 year period when it was abandoned and vandalised. During the war it was used by the Germans. Apparently the wooden panelling wasn’t defaced but they used one salon as their motor pool (because it was warmer) and it took a lot of careful work to remove the oil stains from the floor!

The last 2 owners have obviously spent a fortune on recreating the grandeur of the interior although much is ‘trompe l’oeil’ eg incredibly realistic marble effect painting. Each room is lined with wooden panelling with paintings above the doorways showing differing scenes. In the zodiac salon the original 12 paintings were apparently retrieved after having been sold to an american, boxed up and held up at the port for several years awaiting transportation. For once french bureaucracy had its uses!

Another stroke of luck saved the exquisite panels in one room – a local man had put some form of water-based wash over them to protect them. As they were about to be ‘redone’ one of the workmen remembered his grandfather talking about doing this and so they were restored simply by delicate washing work. It was obviously an extremely lavish chateau and the gold leaf detailing has been renewed throughout.

We were shown the ground floor, the upper floors are still used by the current owners as their country house!

The grounds are beautiful, immaculate, sweeping down to a lake and bordered by the canal which was adjusted to provide the owner of the chateau with a view of the passing boats.

 

Chateau de Bagatelle, Abbeville

We had a private viewing with, so we discovered, the current owner who lives there with his 2 dogs. It seems that this was his childhood home but it was sold at some point, and he bought it a year ago to bring it back into the family. He said he also lives in Paris but now mainly in the chateau because one of his dogs won’t eat if he’s not there!

The chateau was originally a single storey, 4 roomed country house for a local wealthy businessman. His trade was ‘draps’ (sheets) and the stone facades around the windows are ‘curtained’ to reflect the origin of his wealth. The extra 2 floors were added over the following 20 years or so and then the 2 side wings about a hundred years later.

Internally it is delightful – real faded grandeur – the wooden panels are original, cracked and in need of tlc but all the more endearing for that. As at Folie de Buissy there are paintings above the doors and on the ceilings and he explained the stories behind each. One ceiling was decorated with an eagle in recognition of a Baron de Kalb the french general who fought and died with the americans during the revolutionary war.

It is obviously his home. There are 2 salons – one for summer and one for winter, the latter he described as the ‘dogs’ salon’ –  where he plays with them on the floor each evening! Upstairs we saw the lady’s bedroom suite; it had been his mother’s and there were photos of his father and of him aged 7 with his 2 brothers on the dressing table.

The ‘parc’ (grounds) are extensive but far from manicured. He said they were previously kept pristine by the use of pesticides which he has stopped. So there are weeds and the paths are sprouting but it all adds to the general feel of the place. Many of the trees are very old – a chestnut tree over 200 years old – so are all protected and he has to get permission to cut or prune them.

An absolutely delightful visit!

 

Chateau-fort de Rambures

We took a day out from Abbeyville to visit Mers-les-Bains and stopped off at Chateau-fort de Rambures. Another delightful visit!

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Chateau Rambures was constructed in the middle ages in the style of a military fortress of the 15th century and was one of the first castles in Europe to be constructed almost exclusively in bricks. This fortified chateau was certainly built to repel all boarders! The walls are between 2.5m and 8m thick & were designed so that the stone canonballs would glance off the rounded walls. It was further protected by a moat and drawbridge.

The castle contains very interesting Picardy furniture from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. We were told that all chateaux were supposed to provide a designated room for when the king might drop by!  We were shown a room with furniture of the period just off the extensive cellars. When a previous owner was renovating the chateau she decided that this ‘spare’ room would be presented as the king’s room although he would never have stayed in it.

Privately owned, the family now live in the large house beside the chateau, so that the chateau can be open to the public. The surrounding parc is beautiful with magnificent trees, a little chapel…

 

and a most amazing rose garden with over 500 varieties of roses! Beautiful to see and to smell!

 

Chateau feodal (feudal chateau)

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As we were driving back from Chateau de Bagatelle we spotted a sign for another chateau in the village of Eaucourt – so we did a U-turn and came upon the Chateau feodal, which is in the process of being excavated by the Jules Verne Dept of Archaelogy of Amiens university, prior to being reconstructed – the whole process is expected to take about 30 years.

We didn’t get a private guided tour this time but it is obviously attracting a great deal of interest – lots of people, families, throughout the site. In the nearby riverside bar – Peniche Jessy – we learnt that bus loads of schoolkids are brought here to see the excavations in progress.

 

So four very different chateaux and very different experiences for us.

Sauntering along the Somme 2

Before we left Amiens we took the Flixbus to Lille, then the bus to Wambrechies, to collect the car. Don’t like leaving it anywhere too long and it opens up our visiting range.

Onwards to Samara – a single boat mooring outside a park with an interesting archealogical ‘museum’. We spent a most enjoyable and informative hot afternoon in the park and ‘pavilion des expositions’.

By now the heat was rising and rising …… we decided to continue the 2 kms to reach Piciquigny. We weren’t particularly impressed with this little town and certainly not with the local, loudly voiciferous,  duck population. Never heard anything like it!

So onwards once again to Long and the rural mooring in a little side channel. Shallow & weedy but nice …….. except for the ducks again!

Long is a very pretty little village with a rather splendid chateau & gardens – the Folie de Buissy – which I have covered in next post – Chateaux of the Somme.

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We went for lunch & then went to the chateau – we had an hour before the next guided tour & so we walked around the gardens and greenhouse in the heat. The ‘guardian’ for the chateau prided herself on talking slowly and clearly so that everyone could understand her, and apart from the odd word I was able to do just that

We discovered that the locks here often have 2 chambers & because water levels are low the second chamber is being used. So its a 2 tier / double lock operation at each – one chamber has sloping sides with neither a floating pontoon or mooring bollards, so no mooring possible. Unfortunately for Piedaleau dancing around in a sloping sided basin as water comes in or out, is not a good option! The stern gets sucked into the sloping sides. So we put out a long line from the stern which Adrian could pull against and then use the bow thruster to maintain the position of the boat. Not the easiest manouever but we certainly didn’t want to scrape our newly, & very expensively, painted bottom. It was fun!

Onwards once again to Abbeville where we decided to stay for a few days and visit nearby places by car.

Abbeville is a nice town with plenty of shops nearby. The town was heavily bombed in 1940. The places highlighted to visit included:

Les sources bleues – literally a spring of blue waters which was an inspiration for the artist Alfred Manessier (1911-1993)

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

Virtually all the windows in this 15th century Gothic church were destroyed in 1940. It was gradually restored in the following years & state support was provided in the 1980-90s in order to create a unique series of stained glass windows made by artist & sculptor Alfred Manessier. These were to be his last masterpiece as he was tragically killed in a car accident soon after completing the last window.

The windows are stunning! Particularly when the sun is shining through them and throwing patches of coloured light across the pews and stone floor. We spoke to the guardian on duty and he was immensely informative and inspired by the windows. He told us that on the morning of the summer equinox at 8.30 the cross is beautifully reflected onto the floor – lasts just 4 minutes!

 

Saint Vulfran Collegiate Church:

Known as a flamboyant Gothic masterpiece the church has flying buttresses and pinnacles, stone filigree, rose window and large window openings. Again this church was severely damaged in 1940 and the windows destroyed in the ensuing fire. Some have been replaced with windows created by the American artist William Einstein at the end of the 1960s.

 

All in all a real feast of stained glass windows!

 

 

 

Sauntering along the Somme 1

Onwards on Monday 19th August from Corbie to Amiens…..

An absolutely lovely stretch of river – we saw several rural places where we would like to moor overnight when we come back this way!

The approach to Amiens is particularly interesting as you pass a series of little gates and bridges on either side of the river which lead to a wetland area formed by a network of channels and lakes. It is called les Hortillonages and the islands formed over the years due to the extraction of peat are owned both privately & by market gardeners.

We arrived in Amiens and were able to moor behind Contessa right in the middle of this delightful town! We were invited for drinks with them. Mandy and Bill were at the other mooring (just above the lock) with Aileen and Graham (another NZ couple) and so the drinks group expanded from 4 to 8! Kiwis all except us! We then all went out to dinner in one of the riverside restaurants in the old St Leu district – just along from our mooring. Adrian and Mandy really enjoyed their moules a la creme and even ‘drank’ the last of the liquid.

 

We had visited the cathedral in the afternoon …….

 

and returned at 10pm for the son et lumiere show – no story related at this one but the light effects were super! How they manage to project the range of colours with such precision is amazing. Apparently this is how the cathedral would have been decorated originally.

 

Tuesday saw Contessa leave and Mandy & Bill pull up behind us. Adrian was trying to fix a couple of things on the boat – most notably checking the oil leak from the gearbox and re-attaching the rudder indicator lever – Bill was soooo helpful!

We were so pleased with the outcome of both issues that we opened a bottle of Champers and joined forces for an excellent meal together on Piedaleau! I provided the curry & Mandy whipped up a plum crumble with ice cream and custard!

I mentioned les Hortillonages earlier and we decided to go and investigate further. There are little ‘barques’ that take tourists around this wetland but the queue was so long we decided to walk around on our own. Really quite a bizarrely beautiful wetscape. The sun helped and we could only imagine what it must have been like for the peat cutters, in the winter, hundreds of years ago. Peat cutting was obviously a major industry throughout the Somme valley as there are marais (wetlands) all the way along the river valley. Driving the boat from the top means that we can see over the banks and often get view of extensive lily filled lakes. It is obviously an area where people spend time in the summer – huge variety of mobile homes, chalets and shacks along the way. Many fishermen, as you can imagine, often hiding in the undergrowth as we come around the twists and turns of the canal!

 

Into the valley of the Somme

We joined the Canal du Nord at Arleux, overnighted at Marquion, until we turned off onto the Somme. 45 kms, 12 locks and the Ruyaulcourt tunnel. I had not been looking forward to the Canal du Nord, expecting it to be very large and commercially busy. It was fine. and neither of us were looking forward to the 4.4kms tunnel after our experience in the Pouilly tunnel on the Burgundy canal.  This one even has a passing place in the middle & we were warned to watch for the lights and to ensure we were well tied up if we had to wait for a boat to pass us. In the event it was fine. We followed a commercial all the way through, didn’t have to wait in the middle. Only took about 45 mins and no bashing about ……… as compared to the 2 hours and lots of bashes in the Pouilly tunnel 4 years ago.

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We moored for the night just before our last lock on the Canal du Nord ready to join the Somme in the morning. We had intended to go to Peronne for a few days first but the marina had no room for us so straight to the Somme it had to be.

The engine hours turned 1000 as we came out of the tunnel so we had a beer to celebrate that evening!

What a change of pace and environment! The locks on the Canal du Nord were large (can take double length barges ie 100m), automatic, 6 to 8 metres deep with widely spaced bollards. The locks on the Somme are for freycinet barges so only about 40 m long. The first only had about a 1m drop. And you have to call ahead as the locks are all worked by an eclusier.  We had been told how friendly the eclusiers are …….. but we got Mr Grumpy!

We turned into the Somme on 15th August – just a few months later than intended!

The Somme is not part of the VNF (Voies Navigables de France) network but is run by the Agence Fluviale et Maritime with the central control based in Amiens. There seems to be a lot of work going on to protect the banks. Like going back in time travelling along with an eclusier – so much more personal.

Very soon saw a kingfisher and then a woodpecker. The lockside was covered with a pretty wildflowers – Common Toadflax – and it is peaceful and not at all industrial. What a contrast to the Grand Cabarit waterway we have been on for sometime. The water is pretty weedy but one day in we are feeling so much more relaxed.

We cruised through the countryside, joined by a Dutch boat, to Cappy for the night. Bit tight getting into the only possible space but we managed. There was a vide grenier going on in the village but it really was not up to normal standards! Even I didn’t find anything.

 

The boat in front of us, Contessa,  sported a NZ flag so we invited them on board for an aperitif and promptly discussed all the different people we both knew from NZ and from St Jean de Losne. Really is a small world!

Onwards to Corbie the next day where we were to stop for 2 days but it became 3 when the weather turned to heavy rain overnight.

First night we moored beside the campsite but Adrian got fed up of being talked at very fast and very loud by a lady from the site. She was trying to be ‘helpful’ but after she knocked on the window as we were having breakfast, we decided to move down near the lock. Contessa was there and Camelot (brits Rob and Sue) and found we had more boaty friends in common with them! Small small world!

We had tried unsuccessfully to hit the tourist spots in Corbie. We were given a walking tour map at the Office de Tourism but everywhere was either closed or fully booked. We returned to the boat and decided to get a taxi to go and visit the Franco-Australian war memorial at and the John Monash WW1 museum at Villers-Bretonneux. Rob & Sue joined us.

An excellent museum dedicated to the participation of the Australian Imperial Forces during WW1 – sign shows that these lads were fighting over 14000m from home. Commemorates the decisive battle July 1918 when Australian troops, led by General Monash, finally managed to break through the enemy lines. He orchestrated aircraft, infantry, artillery and tanks to a very precise and detailed plan to surprise and defeat the Germans.

The museum features personal stories (related by actors), contemporary footage interwoven with modern visual representations of the battles. The main film was very realistic with the sounds & sights of battle.

 

 

Weekend in Wambrechies

We had arranged to meet up with Sue and Tony Crang from NZ, on Waimanu in Wambrechies. Last year we spent a week on a hire boat on the river Shannon in Ireland together. So it was great to be able to meet up in France again. As soon as we had unpacked and parked the car we went over to say hello – drinks on board followed by dinner in the bar / restaurant beside their boat! Lovely welcome return!

Saturday was, predictably, tidying and shopping day but we joined them for dinner on board that night. Since they were moored in front of the bar we met the ‘Wambrechies’ crowd too – most notably Brigitte, Natalie & Jean-Michel. Being kiwis dinner included a BBQ and they had various requests from people having a drink outside. Later there was live music in the bar and so Tony and I were able to join in the dancing with them all! Great fun!

On Sunday we were able to take Tony and Sue to visit my 2 favourite places in the area – Villa Cavrois (art deco chateau) and La Piscine (museum and art gallery in former art deco swimming pool). I’ve covered these places previously so just a couple of photos to remind me / you!

 

 

We had to be back in Wambrechies for aperitifs with a Australian couple, Bob & Karyl, whom Tony and Sue had already met. They have been on board for 5 years and have sailed it all the way from Adelaide! Can’t remember where they are aiming for …….. their stories were many …….

We left Tony and Sue with them and joined the Wambrechies crowd in the bar. What a hoot! I have trouble keeping up with the banter in french – Adrian doesn’t, and has to explain some of the jokes for me. Definitely lose soimething when it has to be dissected!

For example …… ‘Maggie’s dress’ ……. well that’s what it sounded like to my English ear …….. actually ‘ma guise dresse’ …….. which sounds the same but means ……my penis (slang) stands up! You can imagine the hilarity when I questioned what was wrong with Maggie’s dress! Definitely loses something in the translation.

I think our table was the loudest! A young motor biker kept looking and smiling at out antics. And Alain, the Capitaine & ‘animator’ of the port, made sure that the Mayor said hello to the visiting Anglais when he came out of the bar!

So Monday morning we said goodbye to Tony, Sue and Wambrechies & headed for Don where we knew we could moor peacefully that night. Needless to say another boat arrived – eMCee – Maggie and Colin from Brisbane in Australia. He is originally from UK and she from Poland. So our quiet night in turned into a bit of a session on Piedaleau. Maggie works half the year as a private Neuro Psychologist so she was fascinated to hear about the study Adrian is involved in and the memory tests he was given.

Tuesday we headed off quite early, cruising for about 8 hours to get down to Marquion, just outside the lock, and a very quiet, early night!

 

 

 

A month at home

I usually enjoy being at home for a month in the summer but can’t say its a great place to be at present.

It was super to see all the kids, spend time with Freddie, visit friends etc. I had a lovely birthday meal with Stuart and Adrian. We fitted a lot in & enjoyed being with our friends and family.

Adrian and I spent a couple of days in London courtesy of a longitudinal health and social study that Adrian has been involved in since birth. He has been monitored and assessed for different things every few years. Memory was the focus this year. Which, as many of you will know, is not Adrian’s forte. Various tests were administered and I was asked details of a couple of recent events that we were involved in together. Bit of a test for my memory too! He was then asked about these to see how well he remembered them or at least how closely our memories of them coincided. A week later, when we were back on the boat & cruising along, the researcher rang him and asked him questions related to items in the various tests. Not easy & just a little bizarre!

We decided to make the most of our stay in London – met my sister and brother in law for dinner, went to see the Dolly Parton musical  ‘9 to 5’ and I went with Frankie to see the Dior exhibition at the V & A. Stunning, no other word for it – just stunning!

 

And to top it all off Lisa, Alex and their 4 kids (Amy 15, Ella 13, Freddie 12, & Adam 10) came to stay Weds night & left very early Thurs morning en route to their week’s holiday in Spain. Great fun but a lot of washing to do on Thurs before returning to the boat on Friday. We left at 1pm and arrived at Wambrechies around 7.30pm – ready to party!

Heading for home

We finally escaped from Zelzate and the boatyard on 3rd July – much poorer but much relieved to have got through it all. We altered our plans again. Decided to return home for our ‘summer break’ early and so headed back to Wambrechies where we had booked to leave the boat. This also put us on a quite tight timescale as we could use one of the remaining tunnel crossings for this year (we buy a set of 10 per year & providing we use 6 or more we are winners!). Last date we could travel on this was 8th July so we planned to arrive in Wambrechies by the Saturday, pack up and return home on Monday 8th.

We tarried an extra day or so in Deinze – Keith kindly helped us transfer our car from Zelzate to Wanbrechies – and aimed to set off early on the Saturday. Being somewhat paranoid about all things engine, Adrian tried to sort some things and was checking under the gearbox when a hose on top of the transmission arm sprung a leak (actually he sat on it trying to reach under the gearbox). 3 hours later, the salon full of ‘blue’ air he had managed to apply a rather special bandaid to seal the leak and off we set, heading for Menen that night.

Two hours later we reached the first lock to discover the gates were under repair & so it was shut until the next morning. Nowhere close by for us to moor as lots of commercials were lining up ready for the morning. We had to go back about half an hour and managed to moor ‘illegally’ on a passenger boat pontoon. Didn’t look as if it was expected anytime soon, & we tried to ring to get permission to moor there…… no reply so we stayed!

Next morning, Sunday, we headed up to the lock about 10am expecting quite a long wait but we were called in with another pleasure boat behind a HUGE commercial, so we were off again….. We hoped we could get all the way to Wambrechies – except the locks shut earlier on a Sunday so we didn’t quite manage it! Moored in front of the last lock and were ready for the off early Monday. But by 8am it didn’t look as if the lock was open – so I radioed the geezer to ask when it would open and was told he’d open the gates NOW. Never seen Adrian get up, dressed and at the wheel so quickly!

We arrived in Wanbrechies by 9am and enjoyed coffee and croissants before packing everything up, loading the car and heading for home. Left at 2pm & home around 9pm having stopped for dinner because of traffic problems.

So our best laid plans nearly came a cropper once again ……..

Never a dull moment as they say in the trade!