Pagny-sur-Meuse (so much weed)

SATURDAY 18 MAY

Before we set off for the day we walked into Revigny-sur-Ornain as we needed to top up our fresh fruit and veg.  A stall in the main square provided most of what we needed and we picked up the rest at a nearby supermarket.

Karen trying to remember how queues work in France

As the name suggests, the town sits on the river Ornain and an old millstream runs alongside the main square; the mill itself having long been converted to a private residence.

The old mill in Revigny-sur-Ornain

In the square itself stood a rather elaborate war memorial:

When we returned to the boat and started getting ready for the day’s cruising Buddy made it clear he was much happier sleeping on Asterix the icebreaker’s deck than our small one.  We’d moored overnight alongside Asterix as the wooden jetty at Revigny-sur-Ornain had been removed.

No sign of movement

Regular readers may have noticed that the boat isn't adorned with flowers, instead we have some squash plant seedlings dotted around.  Karen, a village friend, is mad keen on growing fruit and veg and gave our Karen some butternut and spaghetti squash seeds a few weeks ago.  Karen’s aim is to grow them for entering at the village fruit and produce show in the summer.

Before moving on to the day’s antics I must say it’s been lovely getting feedback that the blog’s been missed.  Someone unknown said, “Hooray! I have been missing reading your updates. I found your blog on DBA and as my partner and I plan for a retirement cruising the inland waterways of the U.K. and Europe I have found your blog so informative and entertaining”.  If the author would like to get in touch then please use my email address, ntpayne@aol.com.

We had a pleasant day cruising through some lovely countryside as the canal wound its way up the Ornain valley with steep hills to our right and flood plains to the left.

When we reached Fains-les-Sources we were greeted by an éclusier who operated a lift bridge and the immediately subsequent lock for us.  He asked us how far we were going and what our plans for Sunday were, meticulously writing down the details in a little notebook.

Bridge and lock at Fains-les-Sources

Our plan was to moor for the night beside a VNF office on the outskirts of Bar-le-Duc, the only large town before reaching Toul a further 90 kilometres further on.  A couple of locks before reaching our day’s destination we stopped at an Intermarché right next to the canal so I could top up with diesel while Karen went into the supermarket to purchase some dog food and a few other odds and sods.   The only method of mooring was to use some dolphins which were about 30 metres apart to accommodate the 38 metre commercials.  We had a fun 15 minutes getting tied up with our long ropes but also making sure we could get on and off safely with jerry cans and a large bag of dog food.  All went well and it wasn’t long before we set off to complete the day's journey and were mooring up for the night just ahead of an old electric locomotive that used to tow barges on this canal until the early 1970s.

Moored by a barge towing loco outside Bar-le-Duc

On Saturday we cruised 14 kilometres, up 12 locks, through two lift bridges and saw no boats other than an old cruiser moored in Fains-les-Sources that looked like it hadn’t moved for months.

SUNDAY 19 MAY

When we set off on Sunday morning, we had to call VNF as they needed to set a couple of lift bridges in the centre of Bar-le-Duc.  The first bridge was a double one carrying a main road and presented an ample opportunity to video the whole operation for one of our grandsons.  We got everything from the traffic being stopped, the bridge raising, us going through, the queues of traffic either side and then the bridge coming down again.  Karen provided the commentary all the way through.  When we came to play it back later, we found I hadn’t actually pressed the record button!  Not surprising really as it’s only this week we’ve tried doing videos.

Once out of Berry-au-Bac we were back in the countryside.


Karen walked Buddy between a couple of locks and as I went under a bridge a car stopped and two girls got out to take photographs of the boat.  I slowed to a halt as they were trying to ask questions and it was difficult to understand them above the noise of the boat engine.  It turned out they lived in the local village and were both teachers at a school in Berry-au-Bac.  As a sign of how quiet the roads are in France, they were able to leave their car on the bridge while they came out and chatted. 

A couple of amiable teachers

After picking Karen up at the next lock we noticed the canal was getting quite weedy.  As we left the following two locks the top gates wouldn’t close due to them being choked with weed and both locks went out of action with double red lights indicating the same. It also meant that we picked up a lot of weed around our prop shaft and I was having to go down the weed hatch after every lock in order to remove it.  After about the fifth visit I started becoming a bit despondent as it seemed never ending. In case anyone is reading this because they want to use this canal soon then I must add that the pounds themselves were fine and a pleasure to cruise.  There was just so much loose weed collecting at the locks, in fact it was up to a metre deep in places making going extremely tough, we've never seen floating weed so deep.  When we got to the point we could hardly move Karen had to go to the front to fork the weed away from the bows.  The picture below doesn't convey the depth of the weed.

Karen forking away at the front

I could count on the fingers of one hand the times that I’ve queried why we bother with boating: wind and torrential rain going up the Saddleworth Moor locks; 40+ degree heat in Burgundy; ice breaking on the Stratford canal and removing coils of wire and plastic from the propellor in freezing filthy water in Birmingham. I was beginning to feel this was another of those days, but like the others it was soon forgotten about as conditions returned to normal and by late afternoon we were turning into the port at Ligny-en-Barrois where we planned on stopping for the night.

Arriving in Ligny-en-Barrois

As you can see there were no other boats in the port but there were a few campervans and by the time late evening came more vans had arrived and there were no spaces left.

Our lonesome mooring in Ligny-en-Barrois on Sunday evening

On Sunday we cruised 16 kilometres, up 16 locks, through two lift bridges and saw no boats.

MONDAY 20 MAY

Karen went for a run first thing while Buddy and I took it easy on and around the boat.  Buddy normally flops down and sleeps when we’re not walking him but for once there was quite a bit of activity to keep him alert and awake.  He watched while half a dozen of the campervans packed up and left their spots alongside the overnight port.

Good to see Buddy awake for once when relaxing

The canal de la Marne au Rhin has two summits, one on the western section which we are currently on and one on the eastern section.  Rather ambitiously we had hoped to reach the summit during the day even though it was 22 kilometres and 22 locks away.  We realised pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be possible as we started having weed issues at the locks just like the previous day.  By the end of the cruise we’d had to call out VNF five times because some of the locks wouldn’t operate due to being choked with weed.  Fortunately, it was a lovely warm day, and the journey was completely rural.    

Three girls had left Ligny-en-Barrois on bikes at the same time we did.  They must have had lots of breaks for rests as we kept catching them up during the morning.  When we went through the village of Naix-aux-Forges we saw them emerging from the lavoir there

Naix-aux-Forges lavoir

New readers probably won’t know about our keen interest in lavoirs.  As it was the first lavoir we’ve seen on this trip I’ll include a picture of the washing basin that we took when we visited it three years ago.

The washing basin in the lavoir at Naix-aux-Forges

The next lock was one of those where we’d had to call out VNF.  The gates wouldn’t close behind us and while we waited for the éclusier to arrive we started having our lunch while stuck at the bottom of the lock.  After ten minutes or so we heard a shout and immediately assumed our guy had arrived. I went out on deck and looking up realised it wasn’t our éclusier.  It transpired that he was an Austrian and on a boat coming in the opposite direction so he was waiting for us to get through the lock.  I explained it was out of action and we were waiting for help.  What was surprising was that he was on a day boat and was living in it for the summer as he took it around northeastern France.

Austrian on his day boat/summer home

With Southampton getting through to the playoff final at Wembley next weekend my main task during the afternoon was to get tickets for me and youngest son Jake.  When the online window opened, I was put in a queue with a count down so was able to leave the laptop running while we carried on cruising.  The queue was 2¾ hours long when I joined it and the time was constantly updated during the afternoon.  10 minutes or so before the latest estimate for my turn, a message appeared indicating all tickets were sold out so we'll have to find a way of watching the game on the laptop.

We’d already agreed with our éclusier that we wouldn’t make the summit during the day so had no choice but to stop at the only other mooring on the way up, at a place called Tréveray.  We did agree with him that we would set out at 9.00am the next day so that we could get to the top and have passage through the five-kilometre-long tunnel.

The mooring at Tréveray was lovely and peaceful but it did have the drawback of having sloping sides so we would have to use a gangplank to get on and off.  It also meant we kept slack lines in case the level in the pound changed overnight.  Two old ladies were sitting on a bench in the shade at the mooring and engaged me in conversation. They lived in the village and sat there every day when the weather was fine.  They were the sort of people who would have chatted for hours if I'd felt so inclined but I managed to take my leave not before being told for the third time what the opening hours were for the boulangerie in the village.

Tréveray and my lady friends on Monday night

On Monday we cruised 12 kilometres up 12 locks and saw one boat, the Austrian's day boat.

TUESDAY 21 MAY 

In the early hours of the morning we were awoken by a loud crashing and we immediately realised the water level had dropped and the boat had caught on the side.  The sound was a combination of the side of the hull grounding and the kitchen drawers flying out as the boat tipped at an angle.  All this happened even though I’d loosened the mooring ropes before going to bed.  Clearly, I hadn’t loosened them enough so had to go outside, slacken them some more and then push the boat out until it was level again.  I know we could use child locks on the drawers but then we would lose our boat tipping early warning system.

While I was sorting the boat out, I was accompanied by what seemed like continual flashes of lightning but at least it wasn’t raining.  Soon after getting off to sleep once more we were yet again woken up, this time due to heavy rain pounding on the cratch cover.  We sleep with the front doors wide open but, unless it’s the summer, with the cratch cover sides down.  The noise of the rain falling on the cratch cover is particularly loud so, as it rained most of the night, we had quite a disturbed sleep.

The rain stopped soon after we got up and we left Tréveray straight after breakfast.  Although we had dark clouds all morning, the rain held off as we continued our way up the Ornain valley to the summit and the tunnel at the top.


We had ten locks to ascend before reaching the summit and, as with the previous two days, had all sorts of issues due to the weed.  We ended up calling out VNF at four of them, so progress was slow.  Approaching the sixth lock we saw there was already a boat in there and they were going up as well so, considering we'd caught them up, progress must have been even slower for them.  We could see there were Brits aboard by the flag they were flying and found out later that it was Tim and Belinda on Dutchess.  We’d moored with them for a couple of nights on the river Marne last year.

The éclusier who kept having to come out to us told us that Dutchess was going through the tunnel and we could go through at the same time as them.  We lost sight of them until the final lock where we saw another British boat that turned out to be Gisèle and Vic on Clair Matin who’d just come out of the tunnel.  We’d met them a couple of years ago near Strasbourg and as we waited for our lock we exchanged stories of our recent journeys and as we left them, we weren’t hopeful of the weed getting any easier on our descent down the other side.

Gisèle and Vic on Clair Matin

I wrote about the five-kilometre-long Mauvages tunnel and its history when we came this way previously so won’t cover it again (opens in a new window).  Suffice to say that until fairly recently an electric tug used to tow boats through the tunnel but nowadays they go through under their own power.  The overhead electric cables are still in place along the length of the tunnel and the electric tug is still moored outside the maintenance building.

The overhead wires

An éclusier accompanies boats as they pass through by cycling along the towpath for some unfathomable reason.  Although signs of health and safety are usually practically non-existent on the French canals they do seem to appear at every tunnel.  This is quite the opposite situation to the UK where, for example tunnels are hardly ever lit but nearly all the French tunnels we’ve been through have bright lights throughout.  One thing that had changed since we last went through was that the éclusier hands out masks for all crew members to be used in case of fire.  

Mask and instruction leaflet

We didn’t need to use the masks and Karen handed them back to the cyclist as we emerged from the tunnel:

I wonder how many have been dropped during the handover

Dutchess moored up for the day soon after exiting the tunnel and we did the same just above the top lock of the flight that will take us down to Void tomorrow.  Looking at the picture of where we moored you will see that the weed is no better on this side of the tunnel but hopefully it won’t cause as many problems as we’ll be going downhill.

Moored at Mauvages for Tuesday night

On Tuesday we cruised 19 kilometres, up 10 locks, through one tunnel and saw two boats.

WEDNESDAY 22 MAY

Our éclusier turned up in his van at 9.00am to see what time we wanted to set off down the next 12 locks which were in a chain.  As he was there, and I would have needed to ring up to get the first lock of the chain set anyway, I said I wanted to leave straight away. He’d grown close to Buddy over the previous few days so made a fuss of him while I got the boat ready.


Karen had gone for a run earlier and had deliberately started down the lock flight in case I set off, that way I could pick her up on her way back up.  At the second lock a holidaying German family were watching the operation.  We’d seen them briefly the previous day as they came up to us when we were mooring up after the tunnel as they wanted to know what it was like going through it.  They were showing so much interest in the locking operation that I offered to take some of them down to next lock.  The mother, Stefanie, and her three children eagerly accepted but the father was reticent as he wasn’t keen on dogs.  Stefanie turned out to be quite a linguist as she was a French teacher back home in Nuremberg as well as being fluent in Italian and English. They all had loads of questions (interpreted by Stefanie of course) and seemed to really enjoy their little trip.  Karen arrived at the next lock at the same time I did with my party so she was a little surprised to see I had company. 

That's the dad on the side of the lock

Although there was still a lot of weed at the locks during our cruise, we only had to visit the weed hatch once and called VNF just three times so a much better day than the previous two.  On two occasions VNF were able to reset the locks remotely and on the third our éclusier was already on his way to see how we were getting on.  The net result was that we were hardly delayed at all, and it wasn’t long before we were down the 12-lock flight to the Meuse valley and having lunch in a place called Void.

Moored for lunch at Void with another old towing loco

A few kilometres after setting off again we crossed the Meuse on an aqueduct and then shortly afterwards were passing the junction with the canal de la Meuse.

Valley of the river Meuse

Start of the canal de la Meuse

The canal de la Meuse is currently closed for much of its route to Givet on the Belgian border because of lack of water.  The main reservoir that feeds the canal had work done on it over the winter and has yet to be refilled so the opening date of the canal is not currently known. Selfishly, we’re glad we explored the length of it last year. 

As we passed the junction, a freshly emerged male silver studded blue alighted on Karen’s running shoes which were on top of the boat. It stayed for a while so giving us an opportunity to get some photographs and allowing us to see the stunning undersides showing off the blue/silver studs giving rise to its name.

It wasn’t much longer before we were nearing Pagny-sur-Meuse, our planned overnight stop.

Heading into Pagny

Pagny church

Just after the church we moored up on a long pontoon with a boat at either end, both looking very unloved. Soon after mooring up we heard a commercial on its way.  When it reached us, we realised it was being converted to a liveaboard as it already had portholes cut into the hold.

Ex-commercial La Lucarne
Our Wednesday night mooring at Pagny-sur-Meuse

Looking at the picture above you can see how clear the water is in the canal at present. 

On Wednesday we cruised 22 kilometres down 12 locks and saw one boat, the commercial undergoing conversion.