Friday, 30 September 2016

The Canal des Ardennes: La Cassine to Berry-au-Bac via Le Chesne, Attigny and Rethel.

Sunday 3 July to Thursday 7 July

90 kilometres, 42 locks

Summer is with us at last!

Leg #1: La Cassine to Le Chesne – 11.5km, 2 locks. Another beautiful day and the short cruise to Le Chesne was a doddle.

Tree killing mistletoe.


If you look carefully (or click to get a larger image) you will see the grey heron flying ahead of us.

The electricity/water point on one side of the canal was not working so when Oso appeared later they moored up opposite us. A brocant (street market) was in full swing and Neville managed to buy a second hand bike for the princely sum of €15!

Later, we were joined by the spud pole boat which moored, without lines, in the only space available at the services-side wall where one can tie up (albeit to a railing) – if someone needing the facilities had arrived later the confrontation could have been interesting especially as there was a mooring wall (but with no bollards or railing) just 80 meters behind us.

Elle on right, Oso left front, 'spudpole' left back.

Leg #2: Le Chesny to Attigny – 16.5kms, 28 locks (of which 27 are in a 10km staircase). We set off in time to catch the lock opening time of 09h00 followed by Oso and ‘spudpole’ which made short shrift of overtaking Oso in true Dutch fashion. After a zillion phone calls we managed to get the lock working and spent the next 5 hours in the company of ‘spudpole’ who offered nary a greeting and who slowed our progress as the skippers partner was more interested in taking pictures and walking between the locks than helping out with lines. We were most relieved to find a spot at Attigny and an hour later were joined by Oso who took the last gap available. A pleasant free mooring with electricity and water. A long day!

A lock in front of a lock.

More locks

Lovely clear water.

 Leg #3: Attigny to Rethel – 18.7kms, 4 locks. After the previous days efforts this was a really relaxing day in gorgeous weather and we were lucky to arrive just after another boat had left leaving us nearly in a prime spot near the ablution block and with an electricity and water point a couple of meters away.

The only downside was that we were also opposite a picnic table which was a magnet for youngsters but on the whole they were not too rowdy and left the place spotless – try and get a mooring on the town side of the ablution block as they are quieter. And the ablution block is not the best; clean toilet sans seat, cruddy shower and urinal into which I didn’t dare venture.

We stayed two nights in Rethel and it is a smallish but lovely town: Beautiful Mairie with a divine chacuterie opposite the back entrance, boulangeries, restaurants, a lovely church (closed unfortunately as it has an unusual double nave), a big, tree filled park  and a big Intermarche on the south side of the river (opposite side to the town). 

The main road into town.

The Mairie

Entrance to Saint-Nicolas church.

The park.

As an aside, the Fluviacarte says Rethel is the home of ”Boudin Blanc pudding” so, although the name ‘boudin blanc’ was ringing a vague bell in my head, I asked Lynn to try and get a pudding for our dessert that evening when she was buying bread at the boulangerie. Apparently the whole shop hushed to Lynn’s question and, while being explained to that the shop selling boudin blanc was not open that day, they continued to stare at Madame. For those who do not know, Boudin Blanc is a veal sausage and something definitely not sold in a bakery. And then I remembered that I had enjoyed one on a roll in Peruwelz last year….oops!

The charcuterie - boudin blanc 'pudding' in front of the lady.

Leg #4: Rethel to Berry-au-Bac – 42.6kms, 8 locks. Another beautiful, hot day taking us past pretty lockkeepers houses,

wheat filled fields,

very little commercial traffic (although peniche Rallye gave us quite a start as it appeared around a corner)

and finally, to a long grassy wall just before Ecluse #3 at Berry-au-Bac where we saw one of our neighbours from Rethel moored – and where we promptly got stuck in the mud three meters from the shore. With muddy water kicking up in all directions we managed to wiggle free and passed through the lock where there is a lovely ‘waiting’ mooring on which the lockkeeper gave us permission to overnight. 

 The town of Berry-au-Bac is a nonentity with a single main road, a good (apparently) restaurant (Restaurant de la Mairie) and a fascinating brocantiere (if there is such a word) hidden off the main road. It seemed to be a community of second hand goods collectors who had their small goods laid out on twenty or more trestle tables with antique furniture in a big shed. Fascinating!

Restaurant de la Mairie

And so ended the Canal de Ardennes

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Charleville-Meziers to La Cassine: Goodbye Meuse, Hello Canal des Ardennes.

Saturday 2 July 2016.

35 kilometres, 8 locks, 1 tunnel, 8 hours including delays.

And so we head up the Meuse in sparkling weather

and as we turn into the Canal des Ardennes near Pont-a-Bar the lock lights are on red with two boats stuck inside. We found a (very shallow) mooring a couple of meters from the lock and tied up and waited. It wasn’t long before a VNF van arrived and in no time at all everything was working again.

A planned refuelling stop at the not-very-attractive Port de Plaisance at Pont a Bar was extended as we had arrived at 12h30 and all and sundry were enjoying lunch – so we did too!

Eventually, 350 litres richer and €451 poorer we were on our way again with gathering clouds ahead. By the time we reached the Saint Aignan tunnel the rain had passed and the sun was out again and we cruised blissfully down the canal which was showing signs of some serious flood-related damage repairs.

The lovely, small, ‘wild’ mooring, sponsored by the village of La Cassine, was full and so, with the bow nosing the side and the stern a meter away and firmly embedded in mud, we were ‘ambushed’ by Zimbabweans Craig and Les Hunt who assisted with our mooring up – many bottles of wine later we bid them adieu… The next morning Craig dropped off a bottle of bubbles to say Thank You and they set off to Charleville-Meziers on their aptly named vessel Zimbo-T. A pleasure meeting you guys!

(Note: On leaving La Cassine there was a newish Dutch cruiser stationery about two meters from the bank where they had spent the night. The Zimbo’s thought that they were stuck but on passing them we saw that they were equipped with spud poles which accounted for the lack of mooring lines – the first time we had seen them in action on a Dutch cruiser. For the uninitiated, a spud pole is a metal pole which can be lowered into to mud beneath the boat to secure it in place.).

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Revin to Charleville-Mézières

Wednesday 29 June 2016

40.2 kilometres, 7 locks, 7 hours 50 minutes (including delays).

True to plan we set off at 08h30 with the first ‘automatic’ lock just ahead of us – automated it might be but it still is only switched on at 09h00 so we sat and waited for 20 minutes until the lights came on. The Australians who had been moored but one behind us at Revin arrived at just before 09h00 on their lovely three year old Linssen Genevieve and we locked through the next two locks together.

At the Deville lock we noticed a small yacht, seemingly stuck, with its occupants waving for assistance. Trevor suggested that they would help the yacht as they had an extra pair of hands on board and that we should carry on through the lock, which we did but we waited after exiting until the ‘rescue’ had been completed. Apparently the Danish couple had been waiting for the lock to open and had done a ‘loop’ to avoid the cross-current and had hit a mud bank, sticking fast. They looked quite precarious heeling over with the rushing weir not a hundred meters away.


Rescue about accomplished

We stayed one lock apart from Genevieve all the way to Charleville-Mézières – much quicker for both of us.

Port de Plaisance Montherme

Trevor and Jenny (both retired medical doctors [they retire them young in Oz!]) invited us aboard for drinks that evening where we shared much hilarity with them and Jenny’s brother Marshall and his wife Den. And the Danish yachties Per and Anna arrived and were very pleased to relieve us of copies of the ‘rescue’ photographs. Sadly, Genevieve left early the next morning so we could not continue the party on Elle.

A lovely day, lovely waterway and lovely people!

We stayed in C-M for three nights and after Genevieve had departed who should arrive to take their place in the mooring behind us but our ‘stalker’ Oso so for the next two evenings we shared cocktail hours with Neville and Aynsley, alternating between Elle and Oso.

Charleville-Meziers is an interesting town: Originally two communities, they were merged into one in 1966 with Meziers currently appearing to be the poorer sister. On the Charleville side there is an imposing Place Ducale, broad shopping streets, many restaurants 
Place Ducale

Charles I Gonzague (1580-1637), Duke of Nevers and of Rethel, founder of Charleville.

and the famous puppetry museum.

Meziers has a beautiful Mairie, a sparse battlement, an imposing church and not much else.

Meziers Marie

The Port de Plaisance is big and modern but some dodo decided that a pedestrian bridge with an airdraft of 3.2m should be built over the entrance to the marina with the result that only a handful of boats were moored there and the quay outside the marina was packed.

Despite the one kilometer walk into the main square, Charleville-Meziers is a city well worth visiting.

Note: Neville and Aynsley from Oso later told us that they had left their two folding bikes overnight chained to a pole next to the boat - the next morning they were gone. Not the first incidence of its kind apparently and another reason to lock bikes on board and as far from reach as possible, overnight.