TUESDAY 20 – THURSDAY 22 SEPTEMBER
We had a lovely surprise in the early hours of Tuesday morning as we heard about the birth of our fourth grandchild; Lauren and Lewis now have a brother for Ellis. He was born at 26 weeks weighing about two pounds and he and Lauren are both doing well. Arriving so early meant they hadn’t chosen a name even though they knew his gender, so he was called Elvis by the family until his parents decided upon Evan. Of course, this meant another trip back to the UK, so we gave ourselves a week to find somewhere to leave the boat, retrieve the car from Metz, get Buddy to the vets and attend to all those other little things that need to be done. Whilst writing this we've also heard that Chris & Cee's baby will probably arrive soon as she is booked in to be induced at the beginning of October so it looks like we'll be seeing grandchild number five too!
The lovely weather from the weekend continued so it was a few days of boat painting in the morning followed by walks in the afternoon and, for Karen, walnutting. Having been at Laneuveville-devant-Nancy for seven nights we both felt like moving on so, after taking on water at the lock we set off for Sommerviller on Thursday morning.
VNF contractors have been busy since we came along this canal in May as all the locks we’ve come up since leaving the Moselle have had traffic lights installed on the locksides. The lights control when boats are allowed to leave the locks and are in addition to the existing ones at lock approaches that control when boats are allowed to enter.
|The new lights at écluse de St-Phlin|
The building to the right of the lock is a factory producing sodium carbonate which, together with salt, is a popular product along this part of the canal. A little further on we went over the river Meurthe which flows into the Moselle at Nancy giving rise to the name of the local département, Meurthe-et-Moselle.
|River Meurthe to the north|
|River Meurthe to the south|
|One of the salt factories at Dombasle-sur-Meurthe|
After another couple of locks, we were approaching the village of Sommerviller where we planned to moor so I could go and retrieve our car that we’d left in Metz when we'd returned from our summer holiday in the UK. The mooring was empty and was next to an old boat towing locomotive shed. As soon as we moored up, we spotted a pair of freshly emerged, second brood, grizzled skippers flitting around the vetch on the bank. Actually, there are a few different species of grizzled skippers found in France and I’m not totally sure if they were the grizzled skipper found in the UK or one of the other French species.
|Moored at Sommerviller|
Once we were settled in I looked online for a vet and found one that could see Buddy and give him his prescribed treatment on Monday that would allow us to go to the UK. Travel has to occur between 24 and 72 hours following the treatment so we would be able to travel on the Wednesday. We also booked a ferry crossing, deciding to try a ferry rather than use the tunnel, our preferred crossing method since it opened in 1995. The tunnel is not only a faster crossing, but embarkation and disembarkation are a lot simpler, mind you things may have changed over the decades. Another reason for staying with the tunnel is having a dog. Buddy is nervous of metallic sounds, and we worry that he would freak out in a ferry where the vehicle decks are extremely noisy on all but the smoothest of crossings. The noise is due to the sound of the chains that are used to fasten lorries to the vehicle decks for safety. Until this year, pets had to be left in the car on their own while owners were upstairs in the lounges. European Ferries have now opened pet lounges so that’s the reason we’ll try the ferry this time. Depending upon how it goes we’ll decide which method to choose on the return trip.
In the afternoon we found a farm track that took us back to Dombasle-sur-Meurthe where there was a railway station. The track eventually brought us back to the canal and then across some fields before heading into the town.
|Looking back at the houses lining the canal before heading into town|
It was a pleasant walk with plenty of butterflies on the wing including many clouded yellows which always make a lovely sight in the autumn. Karen and Buddy left me at the station and made their way back to the boat whilst I caught a train to Nancy where I transferred onto a train bound for Luxembourg, alighting at Metz.
|Yet another salt factory by the station in Dombasle-sur-Meurthe|
|The impressive façade of Metz station and this is only half of it|
The car was safe and sound when I arrived where we’d left it, and the hassle-free drive back only took just over an hour.
On Thursday we cruised 12 km up three locks.
FRIDAY 23 SEPTEMBER
Heading east again reminded us we would soon be back in white stork country, but we probably won’t see any this time as their winter migration back to Africa will have already started. Amazingly, due to the tailwinds, it takes them half as long to fly back in the autumn than it does to arrive in the spring: an average of 25 days as opposed to 50. When we visited Sarralbe, the first town we went to with a large stork population, we were fascinated by a live webcam that had been installed on the roof of the mairie in 2017. Since then it has been trained on the nest of a ‘famous’ pair of storks, Mélodie & Maurice, but it now shows an empty nest so they and their young are probably on their way to Africa - click here.
Having retrieved the car on Thursday and booked Buddy into the vets the next main thing to sort out was finding somewhere to leave the boat, which was the objective for Friday. This task was made easier by having the car of course, as we could drive to the likely places to sus them out. We’d been in touch with the mairie in a small village called Parroy which is by a large reservoir that feeds the canal we’re on. There are some moorings by a campsite in the village and the mairie had told us there was space for us to leave the boat there.
After breakfast we set out in the car for Parroy and were immediately remined how remote this part of Lorraine is. The mooring seemed ideal, on a large expanse of water so the wake from any passing, speeding boats would be negligible. It would also be in the sun all day so we could leave the fridge and freezer on, powered by the solar panels. There was no one at the campsite but a notice in the window of the reception building informed us someone would be around at 6.00pm each day to look after any boat or camping arrivals. The mairie had pointed out that the facilities would be closed by the time we get back from the UK so we would have to pay in advance which we’ll do when we arrive.
On the way back we also checked out the moorings at Einville-au-Jard but couldn’t find any information about leaving boats there. We found out that jetons could be purchased at a restaurant for four hours of electricity or 300 litres of water. As some places charge for overnight stops we didn't want to come back to the boat and find a bill for €12 a night or similar so we decided to stick with Parroy.
As we now had the car with us, we’ll need to car-hop every day until we reach Parroy. Rather than driving all the way back to Sommerviller we stopped at Crévic where we left the car and walked back the last few kilometres to the boat. We walked along the same route that Karen had run along in the morning so she already knew where every walnut tree was. The most fruitful ones were away from the locks as she finds that the locals living by the locks seem to be constantly on the look out for the nuts, evidenced by the trampled ground undergrowth around the trees. She's also noticed that nutting is predominantly a female occupation.
|This season's haul so far|
SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER
As we’re cruising every day until we go to the UK, we left Sommerviller after our customary Saturday breakfast of pancakes. It was one of those half cloud half sun days but still lovely and warm and we had a pleasant cruise to a place called Maixe. We passed Crévic where we’d left the car on Friday and I was pleased to see it was still there, although why I would think it mightn't be is a bit beyond me. The whole journey was very rural and surprisingly, as we normally see many herons, we only saw one and also only one kingfisher. What we did see, that was unusual, were about two dozen mallards; they're not very common on French canals and if we see any it’s usually just a pair.
There was a lock at Maixe and Karen got off the boat before the point where we have to summon the lock with the télécommande and walked up to see if there was somewhere to moor either below or above it. She found we could moor either side of the lock, so we decided to moor below to start with, walk back to get the car and then decide whether to move to the top or not.
|Buddy settle in below the lock at Maixe|
After lunch we went back to get the car and, being on foot, we could appreciate how quiet it was which made it feel even more rural than when travelling with the sound of the boat engine.
|Walking back to Crévic|
The V52 cycle route that runs between Paris and Strasbourg follows the valley of the river Marne from Paris for 200 km and then uses the towpath of our canal which links the Marne to the Rhine for another 300 km to reach Strasbourg. Many sections are tarmacked and in good condition but some, especially along the part of the canal we’re on at the moment, are cart tracks. A major improvement programme is underway on the 22 km section we’re currently on and according to a sign it’s costing 4.3M€.
|A whopping 200,000€ for each kilometre!|
Arriving back at the boat we decided to stay where we were below the lock so remained put for the rest of the day. When we parked the car opposite the boat, we could see for the first time, the side that’s been repainted and were very pleased. It just needs the cream of the coachline repainting to bring it back to how it looked when we took delivery.
On Saturday we cruised six km up two locks.
SUNDAY 25 SEPTEMBER
Our morning routine has been the same for years; I get up first to make a pot of tea for Karen and a cafetière of coffee for me and Karen appears when she hears the kettle whistling for her tea. Sunday morning was different as she was up before I’d filled the kettle and I suddenly realised what was happening. She was going to go to the large walnut tree on the other side of the cut to gather those that had fallen in the night before anyone else got there. When we opened the curtains and blinds on the water side, we could see she’d already been beaten to it by the guy from the lock cottage.
|Lock cottage man thwarting Karen|
After our tea and coffee, I took the boat to Einville-au-Jard while Karen drove the car to Bauzemont where she would leave it in the village and then run back down to meet me at Einville-au-Jard.
The locks on this canal have rather ugly buildings alongside the bottom gates but they house some important equipment. The equipment is used to generate hydroelectricity from the overspills at each lock when there is a surfeit of water in the canal. The buildings also house a pump which operates after each use of the lock to pump water back up above the lock, an operation we’ve rarely seen in operation elsewhere. Maybe the back pumping is one of the reasons this canal has remained open all summer.
|Turbine and pump building|
|Turbine and pump|
The water that is pumped back up to the top of the locks runs along an open channel:
|Overspill (runs the other way when pumping upstream)|
Overspill water is channelled through a large bore pipe buried underground to reach the hydroelectric turbine.
I arrived at Einville-au-Jard before Karen and had just finished mooring up and putting the cruising paraphernalia away when she arrived. We had a late breakfast and then set off for Bauzemont where Karen had left the car.
|Moored for breakfast at Einville-au-Jard|
At the far side of Einville-au-Jard was an old commercial quay and we spotted a large walnut tree on the quayside. The area wasn’t accessible to the public as evidenced by the large number of nuts on the ground, so I had no choice but to pull up for Karen. Whilst I held the boat, she got herself quite a haul; hopefully she now has now completed this year’s harvest!
|20 minutes work|
Once again it was a fairly grey day, but we had a pleasant cruise though the quiet countryside:
It wasn’t long before we were approaching Bauzemont and moored up below the village lock.
|Sunday night’s stop in Bauzemont|
In the afternoon we went for a walk, first taking in the village of Bauzemont which, considering the population was only 160, had more housing than we were expecting. The census shows that 200 years ago, in 1821, the population was at its highest recorded: 432.
|The mairie is the building on the right|
It’s amazing how such a small place supports a mairie but then reading the notices it transpires it’s only open on Mondays and then only between 17.00 and 18.30.
The church seemed large for such a small place which often seems to be the case and not just in France. We do wonder if there is any congregation these days though but then the main religion is Catholicism where believers are traditionally expected to attend mass. Although currently 40% of the French have no religion, 47% say they are Catholic or were brought up as Catholic compared to just 2% who say they are Protestants.
|Village war memorial|
A château stands at the edge of the village, originally built in the 12th century for the Bauzemont family. The current building was erected in 1712 and the round turrets at its entrance later in the same century.
|Entrance to château de Bauzemont|
|View from the entrance to the château|
|The main street leading down to the canal|
On Sunday we cruised eight km up two locks.
MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER
At about 8.30am we thought we could hear the sound of a boat approaching which was a little strange as the locks don’t open until 9.00. Sure enough, a 22-metre Dutch barge pulled up alongside and asked if we knew anything about the lock not working. We explained about the opening times, so they pulled into the bank opposite us to wait until the lock opened. We then realised that they must have spent the night at Einville-au-Jard as there were no locks between that mooring and ours, but it was still odd that they weren’t aware of the opening times. Anyway, when the lock opened two red lights came on indicating it was out of action which we assumed was because they’d tried to summon it too early.
They rang VNF who told them they would send an éclusier to sort it out and then we noticed a hotel boat had pulled up behind us, obviously waiting for the lock too. We had been planning to leave soon after 9.00am ourselves but with a queue forming (the first we’ve encountered over here) we decided to move the car first and then cruise later.
It didn’t take long to drive to the day’s destination which was écluse 16 and we managed to park alongside the lock itself and then walked back to the boat. On the way the Dutch barge and the hotel boat went past so we knew the lock had been sorted out and would be clear for us. At one point we were close to the river Sanon and could see three white storks standing in a water meadow so clearly they haven’t all started their winter migration yet.
Strangely, when we got back to the boat, the lock was already ready in that the gates were open and the light was on green as if it had been summoned. We couldn’t see any boats around, so we went straight in and had a short and uneventful cruise to écluse 16 where we moored at the top.
|Buddy settled straight in at écluse 16|
In the afternoon we drove to the vets in Dombasle-sur-Meurthe for Buddy’s pre-UK-entry treatment and also popped into a supermarket to stock up on those items we like to have in the UK.
On Monday we cruised five km up two locks.
TUESDAY 27 SEPTEMBER
Tuesday was our final day in France before going back to the UK for a fortnight, so it was a day for getting to Parroy where we were going to leave the boat followed by packing. Karen took the car to Parroy and then went for a run while I took the boat down to Parroy. When I saw the mooring in the distance, I could see there was a large hire boat moored there and also a large cruiser that I believe was there when we cruised past four months previously but there was plenty of room for us.
As I pulled up, the people on the hire boat, four French men, came over and asked if they could take pictures of the boat. I, of course, agreed and we exchanged a few pleasantries and then they returned to their boat and set off for the day.
|Our mooring at Parroy|
It didn’t take long to pack as we were only going back for two weeks so we had a nice and easy day on board. We also lit our first fire of the autumn but began to regret it after a couple of hours when the sun came out.
|The view at Parroy|
On Wednesday we cruised one km through no locks.