|What's going on here then?|
We were heading for Meaux on Saturday, the town where the famous Brie de Meaux originates. It was another one of those half cloud/half sun days, so the parasols were up and down and thankfully it wasn’t too hot either.
Another difference we have noticed is that every bridge has a nameplate together with its associated pk distance from La Villette where the canal starts in Paris.
The locks we have encountered so far have all been boater operated with our large Ourcq key but the control mechanisms seem to be different at each lock, so you have to keep your wits about you.
Turn the key in the top keyhole, when the light goes out move to the second, when that light goes out then drive the boat out of the lock. Simple!
|We saw a few of these – were they seats for resting while watching the boats?|
|Gongoozlers at every bridge|
Anyway, one of the taggers went by the name Jospa and, unfortunately, hasn’t just used the authorised wall. It seems that every bridge hole and other likely spot since we left Paris has been visited by him/her. Even places a few kilometres from the nearest town or village haven’t gone unscathed – hence the subtitle of this blog entry.
We passed several moorhen nests with eggs in, not unusual except these were all on floating islands of vegetation. Thankfully we didnt knock into any.
|One of the moorhen nests|
After our first lock we noticed the channel was getting shallower and we made very slow progress for most of the day and it seemed to take all day to reach Meaux.
|Meaux cathedral – must be nearly there|
We came to a large basin in what is probably downtown Meaux and moored up on a couple of the dozen or so conveniently sited bollards and went for a walk around the town. Our first port of call was the River Marne to have a look at the moorings there. We will be coming through here in a couple of weeks so it’s always good to know what’s available.
We got chatting to PJ & Dieter on the rather nice blue Dutch barge above and it transpired that Karen & Dieter had been exchanging ideas about places to moor on the Marne. This was in response to a question Karen posted on a group called Women on Barges. The members of the group call themselves WOBs and have their own flag which you may have noticed has joined our French courtesy flag at the front of our boat. Of course, the flags are a great way of breaking the ice when you meet another boat with one on.
We spent a while on board with PJ & Dieter and Dieter insisted we took a selfie, but as you can see we’re not the selfie-skilled generation.
|Another view of Meaux|
We popped into the tourist office to see if they had leaflets for a self-guided tour. They didn’t but the guy took ages to explain, via a map, where we should go. He was very patient because of our French and we started to feel uncomfortable because of the long queue of tourists that built up behind us.
When we returned to the boat, we decided to carry on another few kilometres and find a more rural spot and headed for the WWI museum which is based to the west of Meaux.
Another odd thing about this canal is the money that must have been spent on tree planting. It seems that every stretch that wasn’t lined by natural woodland had been planted with avenue type trees.
|Moored for Saturday night (we thought) near the WWI museum|
I wasn’t convinced about them as they weren’t in any recognisable uniform, so I asked to see their id. It transpired that Christian and Didier both worked for the Mairie de Paris and this was when it dawned on us that VNF weren’t involved. I explained that we hadn’t received an email about the closure, and they said that wasn’t the way things worked on this canal. We were a little shocked that there had been no warning or even signage at previous locks.
After the excitement died down, they said that we should proceed to the next lock and spend the night in it as that would be the safest place. Fortunately, it was only just over a kilometre away but seemed to take forever to get there due to the low water. In places we had to reverse many times before we could find a clear channel. At least the water was getting clearer, so Karen kept a look out in front where she also had to use the barge pole numerous times to help get us off the silted up areas.
We have to admit to being very disappointed that we obviously weren’t going to get near the end of the canal but consoled ourselves that we would just make it over halfway along the 108 kilometres. If conditions were right, we would still love to try another time though.
When we reached the lock, we spun the boat around in front of the weir alongside it, then reversed in and Didier and Christian were there to help us moor up. Didier was a canal mechanic and lived in the lock house so I asked him if we could use his water supply. He was more than willing to let us and while we were filling up he arrived with some brie. His wife worked in a fromagerie where they make three different types of brie and this was the most local and it tasted delicious.
As it was the night before the French National Day (or Bastille day as the Brits call it) there were two firework displays in Meaux, both starting at 11pm. The guys told us that if we stood on the boat, we would be able to see both displays. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a lot as there were too many trees obscuring our view.
During Saturday we cruised 17 kilometres up three locks.
We left our overnight mooring in the lock about 10 on Sunday morning and, as expected, there were very few people around. It sounded like the National Day celebrations had gone on very late into the early hours and no doubt there were some sore heads around.
The pound was noticeably low, it was very slow going and we had a few awkward moments before we got to the bridge that we knew would give us trouble. The moments were awkward because it’s not so easy to go very slow when heading downstream because of the current. We needed to go slowly so that we could stop as soon as we felt we were rising up on silt otherwise the back end would soon drift onto the obstruction.
With Karen acting as lookout at the front, we arrived at the road bridge and tried to guide ourselves away from the silted areas, but we finally got caught. Fortunately, a crowd didn’t turn up as they must have still been in bed but one guy hung around shouting out what we should be doing. There’s nothing more annoying than someone trying to tell you what to do (whether they know or not) when you are doing exactly what they are suggesting. I kept my cool and said thank you and he left.
After 15 minutes or so of us rocking and poling at front, back and centre the guy returned saying he had called the pompiers. In no time at all, three pompiers turned up and we threw them three lines as we felt a sideways and forward motion would free us (that explains the picture at the top).
The guys were more than happy to do this and were just about to start when their boss turned up and immediately stopped proceedings. This really was French bureaucracy at its best as he insisted that we needed frogmen to check the underside of the boat before anything could be done.
|That’s the boss leaning into his car on the bridge radioing his base|
This was quickly followed by five gendarmes turning up in cars and then two more on bicycles. One of the gendarmes then started taking details from us ready for their report including our movements for the last four days!
|Five gendarmes turning up|
I had of course suggested they contact the navigation control centre so that more water could be let down the lock a kilometre away. Apparently this would normally be the procedure, but as it was 14th July then it wasn’t possible ☹
Two hours later the frogmen turned up and a collapsible ladder was taken out of their dingy. These two guys were quickly down the ladder and walking over towards us.
|It’s only a metre deep at the most!|
The two guys then circled the boat, checking all along the sides and then returned to the back where they stood up and pushed it out into the channel. This was exactly what I was going to do next if it hadn’t all got taken out of our hands – it wasn’t as if the water was cold either 😉
|Swimming in less than a metre of water|
At the busiest point we had seven gendarmes, two pompier frogmen and five other pompiers - not a bad turnout for July 14th. They were all jovial and seemed to enjoy the whole exercise and it was certainly a great opportunity to practice our French and we found out that at least two of the guys hadn’t even been to bed after the celebrations of the previous night!
Once we were free, we were off again and had no more problems until we stopped for fuel and lunch at the same place as we had stopped on our way up yesterday. I took two jerry cans down to the petrol station and was all set for filling them up when the cashier appeared to tell me that their regulations don’t allow them to sell loose fuel at the weekends. I’ve not come across this before so not sure if it was a rule in Meaux or the fuel company or that I’ve never tried to get fuel at a weekend.
Back on the boat and we were having lunch when Didier and Christian (the Mairie de Paris guys) turned up in a car and said we need to get moving and through the next two locks before we could moor up. We acceded and off we went. They stayed with us the whole way, driving extremely slowly along the towpath for about 12 kilometres. They were very apologetic and operated both the locks for us. They clearly weren’t going to leave us until they knew we were in a safe pound.
|Back in deeper water with with WOBs and French flags proudly flying|
We finally moored back at Trilbardou at the spot where the water was being pumped in from the River Marne down below. At least we felt safe and now need to work out what we are going to do with all those spare days we now have. Still, at least we managed to cover just over half the length of the Canal de l’Ourcq which not many people can lay claim to 😊
So we had a few incidents over these last two days but still feel happy and so glad we're having this adventure. The only real downside was when we put up the homemade mosquito nets over the doors, hatches and windowholes in the evening. Karen found one was missing and we have no idea where it went as neither of us remember removing it during the morning😕
On Sunday we cruised back another 17 kilometres down two locks.
On Sunday we cruised back another 17 kilometres down two locks.