|Mark and Marcus enjoying RICCALL hospitality|
|A short cycle ride took us to the amazing Tergnier Marshalling yards|
The weather was poor throughout Mary and Martin's stay with us, but we did a few hours’ cruising each day, with Martin ‘on the ropes’ thus giving Louise’s back a rest.
We had to choose a cruising plan which would allow Martin to return to pick up the car from wherever we ended up, so we spent a couple of nights on the St Quentin canal, moving gradually downstream and ending up in Compiègne from where it was possible to get back to their car. Then Alex thumbed a lift with them up to Seneffe to collect our own car as we’d need it for our return trip to England, partly for grandson Lucas' christening but also for doctor and dental visits for both of us. Phew!
|The likely trio setting off for Seneffe - and OUR car!|
Our car was then left in Compiègne until we had managed to get a mooring in Reims alongside an old commercial boat – with the essential electricity connection. Alex headed off to collect the car from Compiègne (3 trains), brought it back to Reims, we loaded up all the stuff we needed to take home, and set off for England.
While we were at home, Alex got stuck into house repair work as only he can and we also had a couple of away days – one to Walmer Castle and another to Sandwich and Richborough Roman fort – when I could drag him away! On the plus side we now have two fully functioning bathrooms.
So, after all that we got back to the boat and set off again from Reims, with a particular route in mind – the Canal de Marne au Rhin Ouest to Toul then the Meuse north back into Belgium.
A beautifully painted Venizel silo - someone had a good and artistic eye.
|The wedding cake-styled tower of Condé church|
RICCALL moored under the unusual facade of Chalons cathedral.
Having got well on the way, and suffering from the most horrendous heat – high 30s every day for weeks - we eventually found shade near Vitry where we stayed for 3 nights, draping our shade cloths round the boat during the middle of the day.
|RICCALL looking pretty terrible, but was a little cooler at night|
We then discovered that the canal we were heading for had been closed until the 20th of the month. We moored up in the really lovely little 'port' at Orconte with shade and electricity and stayed 10 days! This is very unlike us, but we decided that as the weather was perfect – not too hot, not windy, etc we would tackle a job that had needed doing for years. Unfortunately, it required Alex to remove all the paint from the third section of the roof of the saloon, right down to the steel, before sanding and then painting coats and coats of paint! (we had done the rest two years ago in dry dock). The job required a power tool and created the most horrendous noise and mess which we had to ensure didn't get into the canal – by use of protective sheets and regular hoovering etc. Louise's job was clearance of all the dust and dirt, along with the usual cups of tea, lunches, suppers etc.
|Alex hard at work - not a job for the faint-hearted|
|But the finished result is worth all that effort we think|
While in Orconte we did the usual investigation of the village, which still has a boulangerie, an altogether rare sight these days in French villages. The village church dates back to the 12th century and very sadly looks it – quite desaffecté as the French would say - but charming in its own way with medieval carvings above the door.
|Lovely village street in Orconte|
The village has several fully functioning farms, but otherwise has little of note, except many timbered buildings.
Two arrivals of note to the port were old acquaintances from Garonne and Toul days: first was Judy and Peter Vizzard latterly of ZEE OTTER, now on a cruiser, and Hans-Rudi and Matz of MIZAR, with whom we had evening drinks. Lovely to see them all again, even if briefly.
We had spotted a campervan parked up when we first arrived, which seemed to stay on and on for days – right out in the full blaze of the sun. It must have been truly impossible inside this little vintage van and as the days wore on, we became acquainted with Gérard (but not unfortunately with his wife who kept a very low profile). He had been born in the area and brought the van down from their home in Reims for several weeks so as to visit relatives in the area. He was a very informative chap and Alex in particular had many a conversation with him – both in perfect English! He gave us useful information regarding the Lac du Der – a man-made lake only 5kms from Orconte. In the event we waited for a cloudy and cooler day and set off only to find the distance was more like 8kms than 5!! However, once arrived, we cycled round some of the lake on the elevated levée on a purpose-built cycle and walking path. The lake is a man-made construction, mainly to provide a flood plain when required for the Marne but for the rest of the time it acts as a pleasure park for visitors with a cycle-able levée all round. There are swimming areas, children's paddling areas, canoes, paddle boards, yachts, with facilities for visitors – cafes, changing rooms etc etc.
|Just about to cycle the causeway|
On the way we had dropped in to a little village museum in, wait for it – Sainte-Marie-du-Lac-Nuisement at Gerard's suggestion. He told us to go through the museum shop and outside on a wooden table there would be vegetables and tomatoes from the museum gardens for 'sale'. There were indeed, and we chose tomatoes and some grubby little carrots – paying for them by donation. The tomatoes we had for lunch with our Chaource cheese and baguette and they were the BEST tomatoes we had ever eaten, and the carrots, though misshapen, delicious with supper.
As we got back into Orconte we realised that the village brocante (junk shop) would be open and to our amazement found a sewing box which Louise had been looking for for ages on Amazon and Ebay, and a 'brass' mirror. Sold to the lady!
Gérard also suggested, when we said we were getting short of eggs and potatoes, that there was a lady in a house locally who had both and would no doubt sell us some. We found her eventually and made the purchase. A very judicious use of our stocks, particularly of fresh vegetables, meant that we were doing OK but you can't really substitute either eggs or potatoes and they came in very handy. A long stay in one place does put pressure on the food stocks, and as it was 14 kms in either direction to the nearest shop we had decided that was a ride too far and we would just have to make do.
Eventually we decided it was time to see if any of the canals we would need had reopened or not! If not, a different route north would be required, almost certainly a lot longer, and very likely through Paris (again) or Reims (again). Still, it all makes for an interesting life.
So it's been a funny summer so far, with hardly ANY pleasure boats around at all. We've heard that the VNF has changed its licensing policy and removed the 3 month license which has caused many of the Dutch boaters to stay away. While this is good from the availability-of-moorings point of view, it doesn't bode well for the canals for the rest of us, as it would be quite possible for the waterways' authority to decide that many of the so-called 'pleasure' canals are just not worth the bother and expense and close them altogether.
Add to that the fears and worries over Brexit, and we just don't know how the future is going to look. I can't imagine we boaters will be shown the door though. Some solution will be found I daresay, so that we can continue boating, even if on a reduced network. Belgium and Holland are totally committed to canal and river transport so we can always go and stay north, but France is so lovely, and definitely our favourite destination.
So, thwarted by the only information we had been able to get from lock-keepers (one in particular) who told us a particular tunnel was open when it had been closed for weeks (we later found out) – we decided to try our chance onto the Canal de Marne au Rhin Ouest from Vitry to Toul. This was supposed to have re-opened by this time and had begun to look promising, as the lock keeper at Vitry said it was open. But when, on the first day, when we stopped for lunch we were approached by the VNF who told us we could only go as far as Ligny-en-Barrois - 60 kms and 46 locks - but no further. This made for a difficult decision as we had heard the canal is lovely and rural and it would have been a nice trip, but several factors made for the opposite decision. One was the sheer distance involved; and secondly, our good friends on ANTHONIA, Carol and Jeremy are in the area and we'd have liked to meet up with them.
|Bignicourt Chateau . . .|
|. . . and its barns|
So, as I type this, we have spent the night at Bignicourt just 15kms into the canal (wonderful chateau and desperately sad first world war history – TOTAL destruction of the village) have turned tail and are on our way back down the Canal de Marne au Rhin Ouest heading for Vitry, Chalons, Reims and ultimately Belgium.
|And they said the canal was short of water!!|
After weeks of scorchingly hot weather, temperatures have now cooled down to a more moderate 26C by day and 17C by night – still hot, but supportable, but as yet NO RAIN! We gather this has been much the same in England though maybe by the time you read this things will have changed.
It just needs the appointment of a 'drought minister' and that should be that, the heavens will open!!