Saturday, 31 August 2019

Reims (a sea of vines?)

Walking through the ‘sea’
The only way to escape our Wednesday night mooring at the northern portal of the tunnel at Billy-le-Grand was by boat as there was no pedestrian access to the bank.  We didn’t really fancy staying there with nowhere to go on Thursday so set off for Sept-Saulx which was only three kilometres away and had some moorings. You may remember me explaining recently that we have got into the habit of moving one day and staying put the next, well since then we have moved every day!

We arrived at the suggested moorings, but they were fenced off with works going on, so we carried on.  As we weren’t due to get full sun until later in the afternoon, we decided that we may as well cruise to Sillery, a place just outside Reims but still in the country.

We had three locks to drop down and it seemed that we had to wait at each lock for a boat coming up as well as passing a few boats on the intervening pounds.  It certainly is a busy canal; we hadn’t seen this many boats since being on the Seine.

The port at Sillery was full but we found a commercial mooring that would be in the shade later in the day.  After lunch we went for an eight-mile walk taking in the lighthouse in the vineyards at Verzenay.  On the way up the hill we could see a windmill at the top that we found out later is now owned by Mumm Champagne.  It was also used as a lookout post in both wars.

The moulin à vent above Verzenay
Before we reached the first vineyards and were still on the flatlands of the valley, we could see more preparations for the upcoming influx of grape pickers.   We passed a couple of meadows that had been mown short with portable toilets sited in the corners.  These fields will be used as campsites for the pickers.

The main object of our walk had been to see the lighthouse (la phare) which, like the windmill, is also on the hills above Verzenay.  It was built in 1909 as a marketing campaign for Joseph Goulet champagne.  At night, the light shone across the 'sea' of vineyards below.  During its life it was also used as a dance hall, another wartime lookout post and now it's a museum.

We forgot to take a picture of the lighthouse so this is the best we have!
There was also a road up to the lighthouse and many people were there when we arrived, looking around the museum, buying souvenirs and champagne in the shop and, of course, enjoying some champagne tasting.  There was a sign saying that dogs weren’t allowed so I went in first.  The lady at the till asked where we had come from and when I told her we had walked up she said Buddy could come in so we could all go up the tower together.

As expected, there was a spiral staircase and we were reminded of our friend Les who has only this year overcome his phobia of spiral staircases. Strangely Buddy has always been happy with them, so we were soon at the top.  It was completely enclosed by glass so was absolutely stifling in the heat which meant we couldn’t stay there too long.  Needless to say, the views must be magnificent on a completely clear day.

Looking north with Reims in the distance
Looking the other way towards Châlon-en-Champagne
On our way back down, we got chatting about the canal we are currently on and, although we are glad we are experiencing it, we have both found that it is quite different to other French canals we have travelled.  It feels very functional, is not particularly pretty and the mooring spots tend to be where commercials take on grain from large silos.  As I said earlier, there is a port just down from our current mooring and we believe there are moorings in Reims but that's about it for pleasure craft.  The trouble is you cannot just pitch up anywhere and bang pins in as the wake from the commercials would soon drag them out.

Towards the bottom of the hill we came across a tractor driver who was having a little difficulty.  He was cutting back the vine leaves and at the end of a row he had to turn his tractor in the track in order to start another row.  This particular track was really uneven and rutted and we thought he was going to topple over during his manoeuvring.

Here he is lifting up the cutter gear as he nearly caught his neighbour’s vines
He got himself sorted in the end
Looking at the lines of vines he had trimmed and the ones he hadn’t we had to admit that we couldn’t really tell the difference.

Reading this blog entry back, there seem to be vines in every picture today so just to balance things out here is our mooring in the shade at Sillery...

Moored at Sillery on Thursday evening
...and the war graves just down from the mooring where over 11,000 French soldiers from WWI are buried.

On Thursday we cruised 12 kilometres down three locks.

Friday saw us moving for the sixth day in succession as we left Sillery and headed for Reims.  I have always found the French pronunciation of Reims odd as they say ‘Rance’.

Having said we didn’t find this canal particularly pretty or inspiring we changed our minds on the trip to Reims.  Although there were still many silos alongside the canal, the scenery began to be really attractive, especially the avenues leading into the city.

Some of the silos
We could tell we were hitting a city as, by lunchtime, the towpath was getting busy with runners who we assumed were office staff on their lunch breaks.  Karen, who went for her run first thing, couldn’t understand how they manage to run in these temperatures.  Mind you, I can’t believe how people run at all 😉

The outskirts of Reims
Coming into Reims centre
We moored up on some handy bollards before the port at Reims and after lunch went for a walk around the city centre.

Moored at Reims on Friday evening
The port had a mixture of cruisers and converted commercial boats now used by permanent liveaboards.  There was also a section of finger pontoons but they were far too short for us to use safely.  Finger pontoons are those that are placed perpendicularly to the bank and consequently more 'paying' boats can be packed in. 

One end of the port
Our walk took us through the better end of town and there were some rather individual and ornate styles of housing along the terraces where we walked.

This house caught our eyes
We were aiming for the tourist office to find if they had any walking trails we could follow.  We were in luck and picked up a couple of leaflets but decided to leave the sightseeing until Saturday.  As you can see, dogs were welcome in the tourist office.

The cathedral was next to the tourist office
Our mooring was in the shade from the trees on the opposite bank by five o’clock, so we were able to spend a pleasant late afternoon and evening on the boat watching the countless runners, promenaders and rowers.  If the forecast is to be believed we are losing the 30+ degree temperatures after the weekend and it’s dropping down by ten degrees which will be a welcome relief.  It'll be much better for Lauren who visits us next weekend and is now four months pregnant.

 On Friday we travelled ten kilometres down four locks.

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