|Châlons lock - our last before reconfinement|
We set off as soon as we felt safe enough to travel on Thursday morning; we didn’t want to risk a commercial not seeing us even with navigation lights on. It was dry and mild so good cruising weather even if we didn’t see much sun.
A VNF van appeared at the first lock and an éclusier came over to talk with us as VNF wanted to be sure that we knew about the reconfinement and that we wouldn’t be allowed to cruise. He also needed to check where we were heading and that we could get there in time. After ascending the lock, Karen and Buddy walked alongside on the towpath for a while.
It was a sad feeling knowing that this was probably our last cruise of 2020 but at least we knew we were going to reach a place of safety and not be stuck somewhere without easy access to food and water. The sun was rising as we went under the A26, or the Autoroute des Anglais as the 222-mile-long motorway from Calais to Troyes is known. A bit ironic this year as there will have been far fewer Brits using it than usual.
|Autoroute des Anglais|
Karen and Buddy got back on for the final stretch into Châlons which, if an office block hadn’t been built in front of the cathedral, would’ve afforded one of the better views coming into a town from a boat in France. The last straight into town, coming from the north, is about three kilometres long and the cathedral sits dead centre in front of the boat, Well, the office block sits dead centre with the spires and top of the roof of the cathedral poking over the top.
|Buddy watching probably our last cruise of 2020|
The lock in Châlons also acts as a control centre for issues on the local waterways. Consequently, it is permanently manned (or womanned as it was today) and details are taken of each boat, its recent journey and where it is going. The port we were heading for was on an old stretch of the river just to the left after going through the lock. We could see that the port was full and that the only spare space was the one we’d reserved right on the end overlooking the Grand Jard. This was the spot we occupied during confinement and had wonderful views across the park. During those months the park had been closed and we were able to see the wildlife taking over; this time, the parks are still open so it may be a little different.
Guy & Ardon on Vindi, Bill & Jane on Lazybones and Paul & Sue on Flubs had been moored up for winter for a good few weeks now and looked very settled. There were also two motor yachts with French couples on board but otherwise all the other boats were empty and locked away for winter and who knows how long that will last or when any of us will be able to cruise again.
As soon as Buddy saw Lazybones and Flubs, he was beside himself with joy as he knew he would start getting treats again. He was a bit perturbed to find that Puddleduck with Nikki & Gorete (and Bailey) weren’t moored next to us though. They are safely moored in Bruges for the winter and we hope to be able to see them on a return trip from the UK.
|Buddy was straight back to his favourite spot on the pontoon|
The reconfinement is very similar to last time other than the parks being open still but it’s not clear yet how long that will last. We now have new forms to complete for any travel away from the home which, in our case, can only be for food shopping or exercise. Once again, exercise is limited to one hour a day and within a one-kilometre radius.
The immediate impact on us is that we have had to postpone going down to Barcelona to see Cat and also the stopover we were having with Mike & Aileen in Lot-et-Garonne on our way down. Being a different time of the year will also have an impact. We were lucky in the spring as we were able to sit out on the pontoon with the girls most afternoons sharing stories and bottles of rosé. It became quite a habit as we did boat and life chores during the mornings and relaxed in the afternoons and evenings and we also made a pact that rosé isn’t really alcoholic.
As travel was being banned from Friday, in the evening I caught a train to Épernay to fetch the car. The train was packed with lots of people and their suitcases, but I was able to find somewhere on my own to keep a safe distance and it was only a 15-minute journey anyway. Since then we’ve read about the record traffic jams in Paris and other cities like Lyon as people were escaping to their second homes or to relatives living in the country. This was made worse by many other city dwellers returning after their annual two-week October holidays, hence my packed train which was bound for Paris.
Bernard and his wife had looked after our car and were glad we had made it back in time. They were sorry we hadn’t managed to get to them on the boat this time but there’s always next year.
|The car’s daily view of the pretentious tower of the Castellane champagne house|
Karen had gone food shopping while I fetched the car and, although there weren’t many people in the supermarket, she was amazed at the queues outside all the hairdressers in town. People were getting their final cuts before the salons all closed down on Friday.
On Thursday we covered eight miles up two locks bringing our total French cruising since the end of the first confinement to 838 miles through 257 locks and five tunnels.
|France 2020 – starting and ending in Châlons-en-Champagne (the yellow star)|
When we awoke on Friday we were reminded how fortunate we are to have such a pleasant mooring; we love our views across to the park. The sights and sounds will be different no doubt as we head into winter compared to our sojourn here earlier in the year.
|Our pre-sunrise view from the side hatch on Friday morning|
As Friday was our first day under the new regime the first thing we did was to check the new rules. We have to complete an attestation each time we go outside whether to go to the supermarket or to have our once-a-day one hour walk with Buddy. I prefer to complete an online version on my phone while Karen prefers a printed form. We have printed some forms out with Karen’s details on, so she just needs to tick the reason for travel and then add a date and time stamp before she goes out.
Back in springtime when Karen’s back was still playing up, we weren’t walking so fast and therefore couldn’t do our favourite circular walk within the allowed hour. This walk followed the River Marne upstream, crossed a field to the canal latéral à la Marne which we then followed back to the port. We were pleased today that now Karen’s back has returned to normal we were able to complete it in just under an hour so it can become part of the daily ritual even though it breaks the one kilometre radius rule.
We noticed that the dozen or so people we passed on our walk were all wearing masks even though we were out in the countryside. Previously we hardly ever saw walkers wearing masks and mask wearers were generally only seen outside when in town centres. Whatever your views are on the wearing of masks I imagine it would feel most uncomfortable or impolite choosing not to wear one when out walking now.
With 23 hours a day on the boat it seems to be the ideal time to be getting on with those jobs that always get put off. Of course, it’s much easier to create job lists that to actually work through them so most of the morning was spent doing that. A replacement PCB that I’d ordered for the washing machine had arrived in the port so I spent some time replacing the old one. Sadly, it was to no avail so we will have to take the machine back with us to the UK and get it fixed under its guarantee which is only valid there.
While I was doing some outside jobs I could hear a lot of banging going on inside the boat. When I came inside I found the reason for the noise, Karen had started opening the walnuts that have been through the drying process over the last few weeks.