Thursday, 21 October 2021

Sedan (bat ducking)

Sunday sunset

Country borders can be deceptive.  We’ve been thinking we’re a good way away from Belgium as we know there are a further 100 kilometres to travel north on the Meuse before it reaches the border and then makes its way onwards to Maastricht and then through Holland to the North Sea.  Studying the map for likely places to drive to over the weekend we suddenly realised that we’re only 13 kilometres from the north-eastern border.  No wonder we’ve been seeing so many Belgian cars lately.  They’ve wrongly made us think that there’s lots of Belgians on holiday, but the majority are probably just going about their daily business here in Sedan.

Thursday morning was set aside for our weekly bridge lesson followed by an hour or so of play.  Later in the afternoon we moved from the pontoon mooring and moored up against a quay where we would be better placed to catch more of the sun.

Our new mooring in Sedan

After doing a few odd jobs on Friday morning we drove to Montmédy for a good look around the place.  Karen had never visited but I’d been a couple of times as I’d left the car there while we took the boat from Stenay to Sedan.  The only public transport between the two towns involved a bus from Stenay to Montmédy and then a train up to Sedan.  Timetabling made it impossible to do the bus and train journey in one day, so I split it into two by leaving the car at the changeover point.  That’s a long explanation for why Karen had never been but from what I’d seen it was definitely worth going back to.

We parked outside the mairie and devised a circular walk up the hill to the old town and back down around the other side.  After leaving the lower town we followed a cart track that zigzagged its way to the top and was still cobbled for most of the way.   

Montmédy has changed hands many times over the centuries and since the Gallo-Roman period it has belonged to Belgium, Luxembourg, Burgundy and Germany.  Immediately before it finally became part of France in the mid-1600s, it had been under Spanish rule.  Its strategic position on a hill in the Meuse valley meant it had to be fortified from its early years.  Most of the heavy fortifications seen today were built in the 1650s and are certainly amongst the most impressive we have visited.  There are two main walls completely encircling the town with a moat between.  Apparently, the moat was never watered but still formed an important line of defence.  

The never watered moat

The outer wall and the moat are open to the public and are free to walk around.  We went through a doorway in the main wall and, after climbing up an interior passage, came out into the town by the tourist office where we handed over €5 each so we could walk around the ramparts both on top and through passageways within.

Outer wall and moat from the ramparts
The outskirts of the lower town
Lower road entrance

There was an extensive area of passageways inside the inner fortifications, many of which can still be explored.  It was slightly unnerving as we had to share them with bats swooping over our heads in the often-confined space.  Even though we knew they wouldn't fly into us it was slightly disconcerting for a while.

Other than a guy who was leaving when we arrived, we had the place to ourselves and when we finished, we had a quick look around what was left of the town inside.  The only bar wasn’t open, so we made our way back down the other side of the hill, this time, following the road.

Upper road entrance

We felt quite tired by the time we’d finished but in a good way and it wasn’t long before we were back in Sedan and could relax on board for the evening.  We would thoroughly recommend a visit to Montmédy and its citadel if you’re ever in the area.

Much of Sunday was spent driving along the length of the next canal we will be cruising on, the canal des Ardennes, checking for mooring spots with good internet signal for the days Karen works and also to find where we could pick up water along the way.  It’s wasn’t as onerous as it sounds as the canal is short by French standards, only 88 kilometres long, and we’d already checked the first section we'd be joining when we leave the Meuse.  Not only that, but we were making a day of it with some sightseeing and lavoir hunting along the way. 

We’re finding lavoirs are few and far between in the Ardennes département, quite different to some we have been in this year.  For example, in Haute-Saône it was unusual to find a village without a lavoir and many villages had more than one.  Whereas in Ardennes we’ve been struggling to find any and those we have found have often been closed to the general public; however, one we found during the day was open.  Being built over a stream it was also still in water and had lush plant growth around it.  I'm including a picture of this lavoir as it was the first of over 200 lavoirs we have seen, with a brick lined basin.  The water was so clear that you could be mistaken for thinking there was none in the basin at all.

Lavoir at Tourteron

The canal is very rural so the moorings were few and far between and without services but it does run through a couple of towns, Le Chesne and Rethel, both of which had working water points.  Internet signal was generally good though so Karen shouldn’t have any issues either.  Rethel had a train station linking Châlons-en-Champagne with Sedan, so we’ll probably dispense with the car pretty soon and leave it in Châlons until December.

Lots of room in Rethel with water points and a couple of small, abandoned cruisers

The slow cooker had been on all day so we had a lovely roast soon after we got back home to the boat.

Monday was mild and dry, so I spent the morning putting the final topcoat of blue on the rear deck areas.  In the afternoon I took Buddy to the local vets for his annual check-up.  Having worked out we were so close to Belgium earlier in the week I wasn’t surprised to find out the practice was run by a Belgian couple which also explained the two Belgian plated cars in the driveway.

I had an interesting phone conversation with a fellow British boater on Tuesday.  He and his wife had a Dutch barge and cruised in France for a few years then sold her and explored Europe in a camper.  They now have a narrowboat in the UK and are thinking about bringing her out to France.  As we are one of the few people with narrowboats over here, he’d made contact a while ago and we’ve been exchanging ideas ever since.

The main thrust of this particular conversation related to the impact on bringing UK boats into the EU post Brexit. VAT and import duty are payable when bringing a boat over but there is a temporary transition relief period whereby if it returns to non-EU waters within 18 months then the taxes aren't payable.  Also, it can be immediately brought back for another 18 months, VAT and duty free.  Transporting a narrowboat boat on a lorry back to the UK, even for 24 hours, and then back to France again would be ridiculously expensive.   Also, taking a narrowboat halfway across the Channel to reach non-EU waters and then returning to France or Belgium is rather risky.  This raised the question, is it worth coming over at all as they would only get 18 months’ cruising in at the most?

While giving the roof a good wash and scrub later on I got to thinking about the 18-month non-EU problem and the nearest non-EU countries.  I’ve known for a long time that it’s technically possible to sail a narrowboat over much of mainland Europe and even as far as the White Sea in the Arctic via Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Ukraine is one of the nearest non-UK countries and can be reached by travelling through northern Germany and then Poland and, after updating the boat log to show it’s entered non-EU waters, our friend could immediately turn around to re-enter the EU.  I know Serbia is on the cards for joining the EU, but it can be reached by heading through southern Germany and then Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia.  If Serbia joins the EU, then it would mean carrying on through Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania before reaching the non-EU state of Moldova.  Fascinating stuff but it would mean not a lot of time was spent in France which is the main country our friend wants to cruise in.

Since we've been moored on the quayside in Sedan we've noticed that the river level has been steadily dropping.  Each day it's become increasingly difficult to get on and off the boat so I moved the boat back to the pontoons during the afternoon.  As the pontoons rise and fall with the water levels we shouldn't be affected by any changes for the rest of our stay in Sedan.

Dark foreboding sky above our mooring in Sedan on Wednesday morning 
After the lovely sunny weather of recent days it was a shock to wake up to grey skies on Wednesday but at least it was still mild although the wind was beginning to get up and it rained for about three hours. 

During the morning I came up against yet another Brexit issue, this one one impacting us.  I'd received an email from the French tax service saying they would soon be making an annual credit to our account.  As in the UK, charitable donations attract the equivalent of gift aid.  In France, taxpayers are credited with 66% of that relief at the beginning of the tax year based on their tax return for the previous year (France operates on calendar years).  The email was a reminder to check if we plan to make any significant changes to these payments as they want to avoid crediting too much or not enough.  I know this doesn’t sound like an issue, and it was our choice to stay in France, but from the beginning of 2021 the relief can only be obtained for EU based charities.  So, I now need to go through the rigmarole of claiming relief in the UK and stopping it in France.

It sounds strange having this credit in place until you realise that charitable donations are treated like childcare costs in France.  Up to 50% relief can be obtained for childcare costs so getting a credit for the following year’s payments upfront must be a boon to many young families.   

Oh, and in case you were wondering why we’ve spent nearly two weeks in Sedan, then all will be revealed in the next update.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Sedan (five years old)

First thing on Saturday I caught the train down to Montmédy to pick up the car.  I mentioned the other day that I always get nervous when fetching the car in case something has happened to it, which I know is daft but it’s the way I am.  With most rural routes having only one bus or train a day in each direction I worry about how I would get back to the boat if the car had been towed away.   

Looking down on our mooring on the way to Sedan station

This time, after carefully checking parking restrictions, I’d left it in the large square in Montmédy overlooked ny the mairie.  My worry while on the train was that I’d misread signs for which day was market day and that I’d arrive and find the car surrounded by stalls.  Needless to say, my fears were groundless and it was really good to visit the place in brilliant sunshine having been there in the pouring rain the previous week.

When I returned, our plan had been to follow one of the Sedan town trails but neither of us were particularly enamoured with the content of the leaflets we'd picked up from the tourist office the previous day.  That, coupled with a couple of disappointing trails recently, made us decide to do our own thing so headed along one of the waterfronts to find the château, the fort at the top of the hill overlooking the town.  

The Meuse splits into three as it runs through town and with a long lock cut too you are never far from water in the lower part which, like many waterway towns, has an area called Petite Venise or Little Venice. 

One of the non-navigable branches of the Meuse at Petite Venise

As we made our way along the river we noticed an abandoned pontoon.  This was the third we’d seen since being on the river Meuse and suspect they were victims of the summer floods this year and haven’t yet been rescued.

A sorry looking pontoon

Leaving the river and heading towards the hill we went through a square where the hôtel de ville stood.  By being relatively small, it went against the town hall norm of being disproportionally large for the population.

Town hall on the right

The fort was really quite amazing, and the fortified walls were among the highest we’ve seen.  It was one of those places where it wasn’t possible to get a picture that reflected the size, so I’ve cheated and included one from the town’s website:

Unfortunately, the public weren’t allowed to walk along the ramparts though I suspect parts are open if a guide was hired.   Our one and only picture is from one of the courtyards inside and shows the gate we’d come through.

As far as fortified towns go, Sedan was very disappointing because the tall trees and buildings meant it was very rare to find a spot where the château could be seen from the town below. 

When we got back down we didn’t do much more sightseeing and as there were so many squares, we couldn’t resist going to a bar for the rest of the afternoon to sample some ales from the Ardennes.

It was hardly sunup on Sunday when we noticed people out on the riverbank setting up gazebos and a RIB going down the river installing marker buoys.  They were getting ready for a day of canoe and kayak racing and not just the local club as we saw teams from places farther afield such as Mulhouse and Strasbourg.  The mist had only just cleared from the river by the time the first youngsters' race started at 10am.  

A bit fresh first thing for getting wet

We watched the racing for a while and, as we had the car, we went out to explore mooring places on the canal des Ardennes which we will be travelling on soon.  First stop was a place called Pont-à-Bar which is at the start of the canal where it leaves the Meuse.  There was a small hire boat basin and the moorings around there had to be paid for.  There was also a long line of overwintering boats a bit further away with a converted commercial at the end.  A guy was on deck playing with a child and he explained that even those moorings belonged to the boatyard.  He pointed out a short section where overnight mooring on the bollards was free but it was taken up by a commercial that had stopped for the weekend.

By the lock leading off the river were some interesting uses of aiguilles, or wooden needle dam needles arranged as easels holding boards with waterway photographs.

The racing on the river was still going on when we got back but had clearly progressed through the age groups as seniors were now competing in different events.

Monday was put aside for painting and turned out to be just the right temperature for working outside.  Vans continued to come and go all day at the campervan park next to the quay where we were moored.  The majority were Germans with Belgians, Dutch and French making up the rest in equal numbers.  Many of the campers came down for a chat when they arrived or before they left.

It was forecast to rain after lunch on Tuesday, so I played safe and gave painting a miss.  As it turned out it was a lovely sunny afternoon so I could have got on with it after all.  For our midday walk we went further down the Meuse through a place called Floing which I didn’t find easy to pronounce correctly.  Many French places have ‘gn’ in the middle rather than the more common English ‘ng’ and I have only just mastered the French pronunciation of ‘gn’ so coming across an ‘ng’ caught me unawares.

In the middle of Floing we came across a memorial to 38 French resistance fighters from Sedan who were tortured and killed just a fortnight before the town was liberated in WWII.  They had been lured to three separate fake resistance meetings or maquis and ten of them died in a cave behind the memorial.

La grotte du Gaulier

A little further along stood a memorial to the 1870 war.  It was carved from stone in the form of the trunk from an oak tree coming back to life.  It also has a woman using a sledgehammer trying to break a cannon.  An unknown number of soldiers who died in Sedan are buried at the site.

Le chêne brisé (broken oak)

Later in the afternoon there was a knocking on the boat, and I went out to chat to a Frenchman from one of the campervans.  It turned out that he and his wife had seen us last year on the Somme and he remembered our boat.  They have a boat themselves, a converted commercial moored permanently on the river Somme.  We remembered seeing it as we dropped out of the first lock on the river from the canal du Nord.  He said they saw us when we were moored at St-Valery where the river Somme enters the sea.  This guy also met friends of ours, Alistair and Sabine, near Strasbourg a short while ago.  They too have a narrowboat and he wondered if there was some sort of club we all belong to as he’s interested in buying one too.

On Wednesday it was five years ago to the day that we moved from the old Chalkhill Blue to the current one.  Back then we hadn’t even decided to definitely move to France although we were in the early stages of planning.  As we’d been living on the previous boat permanently for two years, we needed a few days to effect the move.

The old and the new

Our old boat was a 70-footer so 13 feet longer than the new one, which meant we had to be quite ruthless in deciding what we could and couldn’t keep during the move.  As we had the two boats moored together for a week, we were fortunate and could take our time completing the move.  

Buddy had lived on the boat since we’d got him from the RSPCA as a very young dog.  He found the move a bit traumatic as he would spend as much time as possible sitting on the back deck of the old one almost willing us to move back again.

Since being on Chalkhill Blue 2 the engine has run for 3,178 hours and seen us cover 3,441 miles through 2,248 locks of which 2,265 miles and 1,183 locks have ben in France.

We’re still deciding when to move on from Sedan but will probably stay a while longer and maybe have some trips out in the car to visit places further afield.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Sedan (needle puzzle continues)

Porte de Bourgogne, Mouzon

Having been at Stenay for five nights we left on Wednesday morning hoping to reach Mouzon before the forecast afternoon rain arrived.  We weren’t in luck as the rain started soon after we left and it was on with all the wet weather gear, Buddy included.

Wet for nearly all of Wednesday’s cruise

We lit the stove while we were on the move as there was no way our gear was going to dry out overnight without any heat.  We tend to burn logs over here and only put coal on when the overnight temperatures drop, and we want to keep the stove in.  It’s really difficult getting hold of coal in France as everyone seems to burn wood still, so if we need any, we have to bring it over from the UK.  As it’s turned out we’ve hardly used any coal over the last two winters so we still have a bag and a half left from when we first came over.

Still raining as we left the third and final lock of the day

We pulled in for the night at the port in Mouzon and left exploring until the good weather returns on Thursday.  The port was on winter hours so was closed but the capitaine does a daily round in the evening to collect the fees from boats and camper vans.  We paid our €12 plus tourist tax so will make sure we’re topped up with water before leaving on Thursday.

On Wednesday we cruised nine miles down three locks and crossed the border from the Meuse to Ardennes département

We popped into the tourist office first thing and picked up a self-guided tour of Mouzon.  Karen, as usual, led the tour and was immediately stumped because although items on the map were numbered, there was no legend explaining what they were.  We decided to press on anyway and soon found that a board was placed at each site with the relevant number on it as well as a QR code which explained in some detail what we were looking at. The background of each board was a picture of the site from around the 1900s with a current photograph in one corner for comparison purposes.  This approach meant I didn’t have to worry about doing a similar thing by searching for old pictures on the web.

This example shows the port in the early 1900s complete with a bateau lavoir.  If you look closely, women can be seen doing their laundry inside the boat:

By coincidence we’re moored in the same place as the bateau lavoir:

We were really taken with the town and thought it really pretty.  Sandstone was the main building material and with its soft hues we were reminded of Cotswold towns and villages. 

Once again it was a heavily fortified town and much of the ramparts could be walked on.  Sadly, only one gate remains, the Porte de Bourgogne shown at the top of the page.

We had a good view over town standing at the top of the gate

A large abbey dominated the centre of town:

The mairie with its air raid siren tower

It was a market day which was held in a square behind the abbey.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t realised the market was on, so when we arrived most of the stalls had packed up and gone:

Several of the sites were of narrow streets where a lot was made of the fact that many of the houses dated from the mid-1600s.  As these were narrow streets without cars there wasn’t a lot of difference between the then and now pictures.

When we got back to the boat we filled up with water and set off for Sedan.   We re-joined the river after dropping down the lock at Mouzon.  It was great to be cruising back in warm sunshine after getting drenched by the rain of the previous day. When we left the river to join the next lock cut, we saw some piles of wooden needle dam needles alongside the weir and eagle-eyed Karen spotted they had different coloured tops.  A friend of ours had told us that each needle dam used needles that were painted the same colour so if any were lost and washed away, they could be returned to the right place.  The piles we saw today might refute that, so more investigation is required into why the tops were painted in different colours.

Two of the needle/aiguille piles

We never made it as far as Sedan as we moored up for lunch in the second lock cut at a place called Remilly-Allicourt and ended up staying there for the rest of the day.  We moored using pins as we had no worries about large boats pulling them out when they passed as we knew there were no other boats on the move.  It was a perfect spot for Buddy as he could be off his lead – he was settled down on the bank before we’d even started getting the pins in.

We could just make out tracks along the top of the bank where intrepid fishermen drive their cars, so we made sure our pins were well out of their way and drew attention to them using plastic bags.

Plastic bags not so obvious but at least they were off the track

Walking further up the canal during the afternoon we were pleased to see so many butterflies still on the wing.  Lately, we’ve been particularly noticing that there are far more peacock butterflies around than usual at this time of year.  We’re used to seeing many red admirals in the autumn especially on ivy flowers and rotting windfalls but never this number of peacocks.

Sunset at Remilly-Allicourt on Thursday

On Thursday we cruised five miles down one lock.

Lauren and Polly were off to Yorkshire for the weekend for their first trip to see my dad since covid impacted visits to care homes.  Polly and Lochlann drove up from Reading and Lauren, Lewis and Ellis drove up from South Wales and, as you can see, Ellis is really into diggers at the moment.

Ellis on his way to see his great grandad for the first time in his life

On Friday morning Karen and Buddy went for a run on the cycle path running alongside the river towards Sedan and I set off on the boat. 

On the way to Sedan

I picked them up at a handy pontoon after I’d been through the one and only lock of the day and we continued on our way.  It wasn’t long before we were keeping a look for the port in the middle of Sedan which we found was a series of finger pontoons that were far too short for our boat.  Fortunately, the pontoons were parallel to the bank so we could fit in at the end.

Moored in Sedan

There was also a short section of quayside where two cruisers were moored.  We found out later that they were out for a weekend from a marina not too far from here.  They were very interested in our solar panel arrangement as they wanted to install some over the winter.  In exchange for letting them take plenty of pictures they explained that the water and electricity borne where they were moored was faulty and once the payment has been made for a day’s hook up you can stay connected for as long as you like.  We suspected they often came to Sedan for the weekend because of the broken borne.  They suggested we take their places when they left so we could take advantage too. 

Our plan is to stay at Sedan for a week or two so we may well want water before we go.  In that case we would take on water when we leave but we wouldn’t be taking advantage as we’d only want to do it once.  After tying up we did the usual thing when hitting a town, find the tourist office to pick up self-guided tour leaflets.  Apart from seeing the end of what’s purportedly the largest castle in Europe (many others claim this title too so I’ve no idea if it’s true), we didn’t do any sightseeing.

As well as visiting the tourist office we wanted to find good places where we could leave the car once I pick it up.  We also went to the station to check the train times back to Montmédy and there were none on a Friday but there was one at 9.30 on Saturday morning so it’ll be an early start for me to fetch the car.

As is usually the case at ports the facilities are shared with camper vans and the site was still busy even approaching the middle of October.  The camper van area overlooked playing fields across an area that probably floods regularly in the winter. 

Main road into town raised above the flood plain

At least picking the car up early means we'll have plenty of time for sightseeing over the weekend.

On Friday we cruised four miles down one lock.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Stenay (the triple tour town)

Home for the last five nights 

It felt quite chilly on Friday morning, so the heating went on for an hour when we got up bringing it home to us that it may not be long before we start using the stove.  We left Vilosnes-Haraumont at nine to get to the first lock by ten where we would meet our éclusier of the last couple of days. 

Friday morning on the Meuse

It was a real 'birdy' morning with kingfishers keeping just in front of us by leaving their perches every time we caught up with them.  16 cormorants were roosting in a dead tree and all but one flew off as we passed.  We kept seeing them flying around over the fields and wondered if the one left behind was going to count them in when they returned.  We often see herons standing in fields as if they are fishing in the wrong place but on this particular morning there were far more than usual and sharing their fields with great white egrets doing the same thing.

Our guy had the lock ready for us when we arrived and he only had to see us through one more and then we'd be back to automatic ones which will be the case for the rest of this canal and also the rest of year’s travelling.  We stopped for lunch at Dun-sur-Meuse and as we turned off the river into the lock cut we exchanged pleasantries with a very happy fisherman.  While I moored up Karen walked back up the lock cut as she’d spotted a couple of walnut trees near the fisherman, but she wasn’t that pleased with her haul as she only found a handful. 

Dun-sur-Meuse for lunch 

Karen went off for a run while Buddy and I had a look around Dun-sur-Meuse.  Other than many references to WWI and wartime pictures around the town the only building that seemed of any interest was on a hill overlooking the place. 

The hill above Dun-sur-Meuse

On my way back to the boat I walked past the lock cottage and a guy came out to talk, I soon realised it was the friendly fisherman.  He said he’d seen my wife looking for les noixs (walnuts are just plain nuts in French) and offered to give me some of his.  He was sorry he hadn’t found many that morning and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I knew Karen would be pleased anyway so I went back to the boat clutching my small bag of nuts.

When she came back from her run, we went back to the lock cottage so she could thank the chap, and we also bought some eggs from him.  When we set off again, he was waiting for us at the lockside and wouldn’t stop waving.

Happy fisher-, nut-, egg-man

Karen had struck lucky last year when harvesting walnuts after a windy night near Reims, but she was a bit put out that a French guy was also bagging up plenty too.  She felt awful afterwards for feeling like that because when the chap said goodbye to her, he gave her the large bag he’d been collecting.  Maybe Frenchmen giving Karen nuts is going to be a regular thing each Autumn.

After leaving the lock and re-joining the river we passed the town moorings which were empty other than a couple of campervans taking advantage of the water and electricity bornes.

Dun-sur-Meuse moorings

Downstream from Dun-sur-Meuse we passed the remains of two bridges.  We know the French blew up bridges on the Meuse to try to stop the German advance in WWI, but we couldn’t find out if the bridges we saw were such examples or taken out for another reason.

What happened here?

We moored for the day at a small town called Stenay and found a pleasant place to moor in the lock cut using some commercial bollards.  Well, we could only use one bollard as at 50 metres between them they were too far apart for us to use a pair and we took advantage of a hole in the piling to secure the other end of the boat.  We were right opposite the entrance to the port in town which we found out later would have charged us €14 a night so we were quite happy where we were.  It was especially good for Buddy as we were on a spit of land at a junction where the canal drops back onto the river so the only people we would see, if any. would be the odd fisherman.

Moored at Stenay with Buddy guarding one of our extra long lines

We popped over to the port as it also housed the tourist office, and we thought we’d struck lucky as we picked up three different trails to follow around the town but obviously reserved judgement until after following them over the weekend.

The port was also a busy campervan stop with over two dozen vans in.  There was even a carpark-like sign at the entrance indicating how many spaces were free.  We felt it was a little over the top really, especially as every time we passed it said there were 21 free spaces even though vans were coming and going all weekend.  Talking about campervans reminds me that we saw a British one during the day, only our second this year.  We’d been cruising alongside a road and a van came past honking madly with the occupants waving just as madly.  We responded accordingly and as they went past us, we realised they were British plated. 

We were back onboard for a call in the late afternoon with boater friends in the UK and ended up staying in for the rest of the evening.

On Friday we cruised 14 miles down six locks.

We’ve been heading north at quite a good pace for us over the last few weeks and this map shows where we’ve travelled since setting out at the end of February this year.  Since then, we’ve covered 463 miles through 289 locks.

Green flag is our current location at Stenay

We’d put Saturday aside for following Stenay's three town trails that we’d picked up at the port-cum-tourist office on Friday.   Stenay grew up as an inland port and a garrison town so should have had some interesting stories to tell.  It was the ‘Heart of the town’ trail that we started with in the morning and the descriptions of the couple of dozen points of interest certainly piqued ours.  All the trails started and finished at the tourist office which was proudly described as the town slaughterhouse until 1989.  When we saw that the third item to visit was vegetable plots, we began to realise that maybe the trail wasn’t going to live up to expectations.  Next was a lavoir that was closed to the public thus adding to our disappointment; however, the church was different to those we usually see having only been built in 1830.

Having found a house that the guide told us was built in the 1760s we started wondering about the accuracy of the leaflet.

Lintel with the date 1714 tells a different story

The town’s coat of arms is topped by the head of a devil and reading that the hôtel de ville displayed a carving of the coat of arms gave us something to look forward to.  Unfortunately, the building was shrouded in scaffolding.

The bandstand in the foreground was quite quaint and was apparently built on the site of communal ovens.

The coat of arms with the devil

Several houses had stone busts protruding under their eaves and it is believed that they represented the original owners.  Sadly for us they were so small and high up that we couldn’t see them properly let alone take pictures. The main square had arcaded buildings around two of the sides which were quite attractive.

One of the arcades built in the 16th century

A large building that we did find stunning was the cavalry barracks built in the 1750s and is now used as offices and apartments.  In its day it housed over 300 horses with 400 beds on the first floor for the regiment.  The top two floors were used to store hay and tobacco and note the bus stop half way along.

The 144-metre-long cavalry quarter

The second of the two lavoirs on the tour was also closed to the public but in this case it was because it had been converted to a private dwelling.  The owners have bequeathed it to the inhabitants of the area in return for the town maintaining their tombstone.

Converted lavoir

During lunch we worked out a way of combining the ‘Old Town Ramparts’ and ‘Gardens & Waterways’ trails into one.   The ramparts part of the walk was a lot more interesting than the morning’s walk and quite a large proportion of the 17th century walls remain with a good grassy path at the top.

Walking along the ramparts

A lot was made of the gates through the walls, but it was very difficult to actually make them out as they’d either been demolished by road building or formed part of, or were enclosed by, more modern structures.

Remains of the northern entrance can be seen on the corner

The guide also raved about posterns which were small hidden entrances through the walls.  This one was so hidden it had been filled in with concrete.

Marker indicating the position of an ex-postern

Apparently, the bastion de la grille was worth a visit but when we found it, it turned out to be a park which was fine, but we couldn’t walk around it as it was private with no public access. 

Walking along one of the higher points of the ramparts we were invited to see the site where Vauban, the famous French military engineer, injured his left leg in 1654!  It wasn’t completely wasted on us as we could see some likely looking walnut trees ahead but found they were in a fenced off field of cows and horses.

Rampart walls to the left and walnut trees to the right

We’ve reached that time of year when the expression, ‘that looks a likely one’ can have two meanings depending upon which of us says it.  For most of the year it means that one of us has spotted a building ahead that looks like it could be a lavoir.  At this time of year, if Karen says it, it means she thinks the tree ahead is a walnut.

The ramparts ran out as we got back to the centre of town and headed for a large 17th century mill which had caught our eyes in the guide as it still had a waterwheel.

Several wheels used to operate machinery in its heyday

One of the last places to see was a needle dam which we’d been really looking forward to.  Alas, the guide was out of date as the needle dam no longer existed, having been replaced by a modern automated hydraulic weir.

Needless to say, we weren’t particularly impressed with the trails but both felt that of the three, the ramparts was the most interesting and worth following.

The rain held off all day, but we heard it occasionally during the night and we also heard the wind getting up, so the forecast rain and strong winds on Sunday seemed like it was going to be correct.

A wet Sunday morning on our spit of land

Sunday was indeed wet and windy, but at least it wasn’t cold when I set off at 9.00am to catch the one bus a day to Verdun to pick up the car.  The town bus stop was by the most impressive building from the previous day’s tour, the cavalry quarter.  It was handy as the building had walkways between the front and back every 20 metres so there was somewhere to shelter while waiting for the bus.  While walking to the bus stop, I'd noticed a sign dated from 1908 high up on the wall of a disused building.  It was so high that I could hardly read it.

How would cyclists read this, let alone follow the instruction?

The bus turned up on time which always seems to be the case other than the last one I caught which rapidly made up time by breaking all the speed limits as highlighted by the constant beeping each time the limit was broken.  The buses must be heavily subsidised as the fixed fare, which seems to vary by département, is either €2 or €4 for a ride of an hour or so and it’s not often there’s more than one or two of us on the bus.  Travelling by car isn't necessarily any quicker either as the buses hardly ever stop as it seems to be quite rare that passengers get on or alight.  By the time I reached Verdun it had stopped raining, so I was able to walk to the car in the dry.  On the journey back I stopped at a WWI German war cemetery where over 11,000 German soldiers were buried. 

German war graves at Consenvoye

A statement by Jean-Claude Juncker (former PM of Luxembourg and former president of the EC) at the entrance translated to: “Those who question Europe or despair about Europe should visit these military cemeteries. They show what a disunited Europe, the confrontation of the individual peoples with don’t want to join or can’t join attitudes, must lead to”.

I was back on the boat within two hours and as it rained nearly all day we stayed in with the odd short walk during each lull so we didn’t go stir crazy.

Karen worked on Monday and as Sunday’s inclement weather had been replaced by warm sunshine I got on with more painting at the rear of the boat.  I’ve repainted all the burgundy on the boat over the last year and much of the blue.  We’ve had a spotty back of the boat for a week or two as we’ve done a lot of cruising lately not leaving enough time to paint.  It’s been spotty because of the anti-rust treatment followed with red oxide.  At least I got the first coat of undercoat on the areas that will be blue, so it doesn’t look quite so bad now the spots have been covered up. 

With France making covid booster jabs available to people my age I’ve managed to make an appointment to get mine.  As France recommend six months elapse between the second and third doses I’ve booked myself in for just before we go back to England at the end of the year.

Replacing Karen’s carte de séjour is still not progressing as it has now transpired that the system that accepts requests to replace or renew cards only works for numeric card numbers.  Cards issued to Brits under the withdrawal agreement have alphanumeric identifiers, so we have to wait for IT to make the necessary changes.  Must be quite a backlog as the system caters for all changes for British residents such as addresses and names as well as replacing lost or stolen cards.

There was a chance of rain at lunchtime on Tuesday, so Buddy and I went for a good walk instead of risking doing more painting.  We went to a village called Cervizy where there was an amusingly ironic sign at the lavoir I found.  We’re used to seeing signs that say, ‘no bathing allowed’ or ‘water not drinkable’, but this was the first ‘no washing’ sign!  

There was also quite an elaborate series of water troughs where the next-door neighbour was pumping water from for his garden.

Later in the afternoon I took the car to a place called Montmédy where we would leave it until we get to Sedan when I’ll catch a train down to pick it up again.  I knew Montmédy was one of Lorraine’s famous fortified hill towns so gave myself plenty of time to look around before catching the bus back to Stenay.  The trouble was, that it started raining on the way there and was really quite heavy by the time I got there.

Over the years the town has expanded into the valley below and that’s where I planned on leaving the car and then walking up to visit the citadel at the top.  I know that’s almost a tautology but not all citadels are at the top of hills.

The citadel on the hill behind the current mairie

I have to admit to chickening out and ended up driving to the top as it was raining so hard.  It really was quite amazing and would be well worth finding out more about the history and then visiting on a fine day.  Mind you, with the weather it did mean there was no one else around.

The road going through one line of fortifications…

…and then another one further up the hill

There were a few houses, a church and a couple of bars at the top but the original mairie was in a sorry state together with some of the other buildings:

An information board explained that the town didn’t become French until 1657 and previously had been part of the Spanish Netherlands.  Vauban (he of the injured leg) was responsible for significantly improving the fortifications in the following years.

I walked around some of the ramparts but was getting drenched and was just about to turn around and go back to the car when I found an entrance that took me along a passage deep into the ramparts and could walk along in the dry for much of the way back.

By the time I got back down to the bottom of the town and found somewhere to leave the car the rain had stopped.  There were two of us on the bus and I thought that I was becoming a creature of habit as I noticed I always sit in the same seat on every journey.  Goodness knows how I’ll feel if I get on a bus one day and find someone else sitting on the left, by the window, four seats back from the front.

Having spent five nights at Stenay we’ll be setting off on Wednesday and plan to be in Sedan for the weekend.