Sunday, 16 June 2019

St-Florentin (another mystery tour)

Our mooring for the last couple of days at St-Florentin
We were heading off to St-Florentin on Friday as Peter & Helen were stopping off to say hello on their way down to their house in the south.  We had arranged to meet our éclusier at the first lock at 9.10am; I know it seemed an odd time, but we had suggested 9.00am and were told that it would take them 10 minutes to get there from home so ten past would be better (they don't start work until 9.00am).

We had to set the alarm as we needed to leave by 8.30am because it was a few kilometres away and arrived with five minutes to spare.  There was nobody in sight and we hung around outside the lock for a while before deciding to pull up and get off the boat to wait.  That plan didn’t work as the sides were so shallow, so we just turned the engine off and we gently grounded and carried on waiting.

Hanging around at the first lock
After a while we convinced each other that there had been a misunderstanding and that they would turn up at 10.  Ten o’clock came and went and still no éclusier and we were really beginning to rue not having taken a phone number yesterday evening.   The locks on the other canals we have been on so far and also those on the Saône side of the summit of this canal have generally had contact numbers to call.  For the last 100 locks though there have been no numbers and we have taken the mobile number of the last éclusier we have seen each day.  For some reason we have stopped doing this for the last few days.

An éclusier, on patrol, finally turned up on a scooter but explained they had no record of our request, but he would see us down to St-Florentin.  On the way we passed the obligatory lavoir of the day of course.

Lavoir at Germigny 
Ironically the last lock we went down actually had a board with contact numbers on it, so I made sure I took a picture of it just in case.

The lock at Germigny was originally built as a double chambered staircase but when the locks were enlarged to the Freycinet standard in 1882 it was converted to a deep single chamber.   

Strange lock at Germigny
The narrow section we are driving into is the old top lock chamber.  The other odd thing about the lock is the mandatory sign that means ‘Stop in certain circumstances’; it just seemed an odd place to have it and we have only ever seen it on rivers or narrows before.

As the lock was approaching six metres in depth and didn’t have sliding poles or floating bollards, we were glad of a couple of things.  Firstly, that we had bought extra long lines before coming over and secondly, that we had t-bars fitted over our rear dollies to keep the lines from slipping off as they get to the vertical.  I know we had a couple of dollies with t-bars added on both sides at the front of the boat too but we have used those on nearly every lock we have been up over here, so we have been glad of those since day one.

Going down
We finally made it to St-Florentin before lunch and made arrangements with the éclusier (we hope!) to leave on Sunday morning.  There’s a large port in the town with a marina and plenty of moorings with services.  As we didn’t need any services we moored in a stretch before the next lock where it was free to moor even though we were still in the town.

Arriving at the port at St-Florentin
Moored at St-Florentin
Once we were moored up, Karen went off to get a couple of things from town and I took Buddy for a walk further down the canal and then into the old part of town.
Parts of the medieval town
On our way back from our walk I chatted to a couple of the people in the port, an Irish couple and a Brit who had just arrived for their annual holidays.  They keep their boats in the marina rather than the UK which is a bit similar to having a holiday home abroad I suppose.

Just in front of our mooring is an aqueduct over the River Armançe and then a lock.

Our view from the front
Our view over town
Peter & Helen turned up during the afternoon with their friend Elizabeth.  We hadn’t seen them for some time and as this was their first visit to the boat, they had plenty of questions.  We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting before they had to leave for the next leg of their journey.  It was really great to see them and catch up and, as they travel down five or six times a year, we will no doubt meet up again and hopefully, next time, we can spend longer together.

When they were leaving Peter did let drop that they also enjoy finding lavoirs so it’s not just us who are mad 😉

When Karen was out in town, she had popped into the tourist information office and picked up a leaflet detailing a heritage/historic walk around town.  We will be doing this on Satuirday as well as visiting the market so it will be interesting to see how it compares with the one we did earlier this week in Tonnerre.

Karen also found a cuckoo clock house on her walk
On Friday we travelled ten kilometres down four locks.

We awoke on Saturday to lovely blue skies, but it did feel muggy.  After Karen came back from her run we headed off to the market and then called in at the tourist information office to pick up the key for the large church at the top of town.  This was the first stop on the heritage tour of St-Florentin that Karen was taking us on.

We had to provide id to get the key but didn’t have any with us; however, the lady seemed to like us and was happy I just left my name and French phone number!  As is often the case, the church was ostentatious by being far bigger than it needed to be for the size of the town.  We were surprised to learn that it wasn’t even finished as the nave was never built, that really would have made it more like a cathedral.

The touristy bits of the church were the locally made stained glass windows and the stone statues which were produced by the Troyes school of stained glass and sculpture in the early 1500s.  We don’t remember seeing so many stained glass windows in a church before and they really were stunning considering they were nearly 500 years old.
Some examples of the stained glass and statuary

By the time we were dropping the key back it had started getting cloudy and it was feeling even muggier, so we were expecting rain.  The rain never arrived, and the sun came back out in the evening, but we heard from other people in France during the day that hadn’t escaped some rain, so it seemed we were fortunate.

The next part of the tour was around the medieval part of town looking at the narrow streets and timber framed houses that we had seen yesterday.

One of the timber framed houses we missed yesterday
The museum which was in the original post office wasn’t open, so we made our way to the old abbey gardens at the top of town. It afforded a wonderful view over the surrounding countryside across the higgledy-piggledy roofs of old town.

Looking over part of old town
The round bell tower is the only remaining one of the original six towers that were part of the town fortifications built in the 12th century.

The 16th century town fountain with bronze dragons
The rest of the walk was around the canal to see points of interest like the port and the aqueduct and the lock next to our mooring.  We did get to see the aqueduct from the side with its strange drain holes.

The aqueduct built in 1810
After lunch we went on a bike ride as we wanted to go back and have a look at the lavoir at Germigny that we passed on Friday’s cruise.  We found it to be in need of a bit of attention, but it was nice and cool inside.  We even saw a couple of European Green Toads that made their way into the water when we got close to them.

Inside the lavoir de Germigny which still has its drying rails
 When we were nearly home, we stopped to chat to a nice Aussie couple who had just arrived on their Dutch barge, Quercy.  We had met them at Tonnerre, so it seems we are travelling at the same speed.  They have brought their dog over with them and she and Buddy obviously remembered each other from Tonnerre and had a good run around while we all chatted.

We are well on target for getting to Migennes by Tuesday afternoon as we only have 19 kilometres and seven locks to do, some of which we will do Sunday.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Percey (and the duck fish)

Our mooring at Cheney on Wednesday evening
As it was one of Tonnerre’s market days on Wednesday we had arranged to travel in the afternoon so we could pay the market a visit and pick up the provisions we were running short of.  There weren’t many stalls; apparently the Saturday market has many more.  As it was, we got nearly everything we needed and were soon back at the port.

The small market with the church we half visited yesterday at the top of the hill
We set off after lunch and Cecile was opening the lock at the agreed time of 1.15.  She had both gates open and as there were only bollards on the left side that was where we moored.  Unfortunately, that was also the side where she was standing so I apologised that it would take me a while to walk around to close the other gate. She explained that it wasn’t a problem as a wider boat was joining us so we needed to keep both gates open.

As there was no boat in sight she went off on her scooter and was back in five minutes saying the boat was coming.  It was one of the hire boats that had been moored behind us at Tonnerre and they were apologising profusely for being late.  They were clearly new to driving the boat as they were all over the place and, as they were going to be behind us in the lock, Karen took charge of watching our rear end.

Two French couples on the boat coming in behind us with Cecile closing one of the gates
At Dannemoine, as we approached the second lock, we felt we were back in the UK as there were weeping willows growing on the bank.  We hadn’t really realised but we have seen very few weeping willows over here.

A little bit of England
Thinking of England reminded us of the strange noises we had heard for the last two nights at Tonnerre.  In the UK we’re used to the sound of ducks, geese or swans pecking at the algae on the side of the boat.  Sometimes it can get quite loud and even wake us up first thing in the morning, but it’s one of those sounds that we find soothing.

Well, for the last two nights we’ve been hearing a noise like plastic chairs scraping on the ground.  At first, we put it down to the people moored on the plastic boat in front as they were eating dinner outside and were sitting on plastic chairs on the deck.  Once it had got dark and they had gone inside the noise continued so we knew our theory was wrong.  Karen finally got it yesterday evening as she was convinced it was coming from our hull - I was trying to ignore this idea as the last thing I wanted was an animal trapped behind the gunwales.  

The next thing I knew she had taken out one of our windows and was hanging over the water in great excitement as she had sussed it; large fish were busily attacking the algae.  We were so surprised that we had never come across this before but at least we knew what it was.

Anyway, back to the cruise.  By the side of the Dannemoine lock was a stone carving that took the form of a towel and bikini top placed on top of a block.

Unusual carving
Whilst in the lock we noticed a long low roof that looked suspiciously like a lavoir so made a note to cycle back and check it out later in the day.

Is that the roof of a lavoir near the lock?
By the time we reached Cheney, and the third lock, our French cruising companions were getting more confident.

In the lock at Cheney
As we were going to moor up for the day when we found a decent spot, we let the French boat pass us as soon as we were out of the lock.  The first stretch was nice and deep at the sides but had very high trees and we weren’t looking for shade as the hot weather has disappeared for the last few days, so carried on for a while. If we believe the forecast though, it should be returning to the high 20s from Thursday – let’s wait and see.  What we did pass though was yet another lavoir so one more to add to our list for our bike ride later.

Passing the lavoir at Cheney
We soon found an open spot and moored up for the day.  Compared with recent moorings this one didn’t have a pathway next to us, so we won’t have people passing by the boat.  It did mean that we will have a pleasant walk along the grassy bank to get to the closest road back at the lock at Cheney.

Moored for Wednesday – water coming through the gate paddles at Cheney lock can be seen in the far distance

After putting our feet up for a while and having a cuppa we cycled down the grassy track back to Cheney.  As we approached the lavoir we came across the community recycling area that contained some very new looking bins.  On closer inspection we realised how new they were because, in addition to the normal stickers explaining what can be deposited, there were stickers headed ‘New’.  These stickers indicated that they could now take those items like yogurt pots.  We have always found it odd that we could recycle these in the UK but not over here. 

We buy yogurt and similar dairy stuff in 1kg pots which we wash and have been stacking up and storing to take back to the UK.  At least we have now found somewhere that will take them – a job for Thursday morning.

We stopped to have a look around the lavoir at Cheney and, as expected, found that it had been fed through a sluice from the canal.

Sluice from the canal beyond
Next, we crossed at the lock and got onto the towpath to cycle on down to check out what we thought was a lavoir at Dannemoine when we came through on the boat.  Sure enough, it was a lavoir, and I’m afraid I need to include a couple of pictures to explain the two new words and the fact we learnt today.

As you can see the basin was fed by rainwater from the sloping roofs.  There was also a spring running into the basin but that’s not so obvious in the picture.  Apparently, the Romans built villas with roofs like this to catch water and the basin it was collected in was called an impluvium and the roof was a compluvium.  These two Latin words were new to us, but we found out later that they are used in French descriptions of this type of lavoir.

On top of a drying rail we noticed a couple of wooden boxes and we also found out that these were used by the washerwomen as knee protectors when leaning over the washing stones that surround the basins.  These wooden knee protectors are called garde genoux in French and comprised our new fact for the day.

A couple of garde genoux resting on the drying rail
For completeness I will mention the other items in the above pictures but I will try and refrain from further discussions on lavoirs 😉 At the far end on the right is a fireplace for producing wood ash for cleaning and at the far end on the left is a twin holed lavatory that is open to the stream below.  Also, the smooth washing stones can be seen around the basin and, the cast iron pillars that are often seen holding the roof beams on impluvium lavoirs.

On Wednesday we cruised six kilometres down three locks.

When Karen went off for her morning run on Thursday, I walked down to use the recycling point we found yesterday.  When I got back, I went in the annual search for suitable large twigs that would make ideal sweet pea sticks. 

We set off at 1.00pm on a journey that should have taken about three hours but ended up taking nearly six!  It wasn’t that we had a lot of disasters, but it seemed everything was against us. At least the weather was back to full sun and in the high 20s so, after the last few greyish days we felt summer was back again.

Before the first lock we went past a fuel point.  We had seen it marked on the waterway guide but couldn’t understand why there would be diesel available in the middle of nowhere.

Fuel point but goodness knows when it was last used
We arrived at the first lock and there were no éclusiers in sight and as it was quite breezy, we didn’t fancy hovering around in the middle of the cut while we waited.  As usual there wasn’t a lock landing, so we tied up to a pole by the lock and used a stake for the rear.

Waiting for our first éclusier
After about a quarter of an hour a hire boat with a British couple on board turned up behind us.  We thought great, they must have been let down the previous lock so their éclusier will be on his way.   No such luck but after waiting a bit longer one did turn up but told us there was a lock broken further down which should be mended by the time we got there.

When we got to the broken lock, the British couple were still behind us and started hovering around with us while we waited for the repairs to be finished.  In the end they gave up waiting and turned around to moor about 400 metres back at a mooring site we had just passed.  After another long wait the men opened the gates and let us in and we sat and waited for the éclusier.  

Going into the broken lock
He finally arrived and then promptly said he should go and get the British couple so he scooted off on his scooter.  He was back in a few minutes and we all carried on waiting for them to arrive.  In the end he gave up waiting for them and let us down on our own.

About to go down at last
The next lock was all set for us, and we were straight in and out without any delays other than a conversation with the éclusier.

Straight in…
…and out of this lock with only a conversation as a delay
Our conversation with the éclusier was mainly him explaining that a hotel boat was coming in the opposite direction, but not to worry as we would get through the next lock first and could then wait for it to pass us at a point where it was a bit wider.

It’s good that they tell us when large boats are coming so that we can be extra vigilant.  As it turned out the next lock was set against us and we could see the hotel boat going in, so we made fast to the bank to wait for them to come up the lock and get past us.  Of course, the pound started dropping as the lock was filled for them and we ended up at a fair angle as we got stuck on the bottom.

The hotel boat had a full English crew and they were most apologetic about us getting caught but we said it didn’t matter especially as we weren’t in a hurry.  With a fair amount of reversing and poling we were soon free and heading for the lock ourselves.

We told Buddy to stay on the boat when we went into the lock as we could see several dogs running around the lock cottage and lockside.  To our surprise, when we arrived at the lock, they weren’t dogs, but goats, so it was just as well we told him to stay where he was otherwise it could have been pandemonium.

An éclusiere took over for the last two locks and she had obviously got hot as her mum turned up with a bottle of water for her.  Although we offer our éclusiers coffee, we haven’t thought about offering water.  We took a while to find somewhere to moor for the night as the sides were so shallow, but we eventually found somewhere that even had some shade even if it was four feet from the bank.

Moored for Thursday night outside Percey
Tomorrow we need to get to Saint-Florentin as Peter & Helen are popping in to see us on their way down to their house in the south, so we have arranged for a 9.00am start.

On Thursday we cruised 12 kilometres down six locks.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Tonnerre (a DIY fix that worked!)

Yes, another wash house – this one’s at Tonnerre
On Monday we sat having breakfast while watching the early morning activity on the hotel boat opposite.  The crew were getting ready to leave by nine and the guests were slowly appearing on deck to be served their breakfast.  After exchanging goodbyes with those of the crew that we had met, they were off with the deck canopy lowering for the bridge at the end of the port.

Soon after they had gone, we did a figure of eight to end up where they were moored but slightly behind and opposite where we had started from.  We wanted to top up with water in case we couldn’t get any more before getting to Migennes next week.

Everything was timed perfectly as by the time we had topped up, put the hose away and got to the first lock it was bang on our allotted time of ten o’clock.  Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we hoped to get to Tonnerre by lunchtime.

Enterprising advertising by the second lock offering pick ups from and wine deliveries to boats
Unlike most days there were other boats on the move and four hire boats passed us in the opposite direction during the morning.  We remembered that there is a large hire boat base down at Migennes so guessed that’s where they were coming from.

By 11 o’clock the clouds were rolling in and we were beginning to wonder if we would get to Tonnerre before the rain came.

Clouds starting to roll in
At the final lock, which was just before the town moorings, the rain started.  It came down quite heavily for a while, so it was on with the waterproofs while we moored up.  There was a concrete sided quay stretching for a 100 metres or so but without rings and bollards for the first 30 metres, making it impossible to moor on that stretch as stakes can’t really be driven into the pavement!  Saying that we did see a couple of boaters doing just that on the Ashton canal up near Manchester.  The tarmac on the towpath had just been laid and was still soft and these guys hammered their stakes into the drying tarmac.

We eventually found a spot between two rings that were so far apart that we had to use both the extra-long lines we had specially bought for use over here.

Our mooring outside the captainerie in Tonnerre for a couple of days
It continued raining while we had lunch and didn’t stop for another couple of hours and then we took Buddy out for a walk around the town.  The older part of town was like a larger version of Raviéres, some lovely looking buildings/architecture but most in need of a lot of love and attention.  We did find the town lavoir (as shown at the top) which was really interesting.

It was built in 1758 on the site of the spring that supplied the water for the townsfolk.  It was fairly large and consequently had four fireplaces but there was no sign of there being any drying rails or toilets 😉  I have since re-learnt that wood ash is a good cleansing material and was mixed with fat to produce soaps so my assertion that the fireplaces were for drying clothes was probably not the complete story.

Part of the washing area and one of the fireplaces

Look how green the water is from the minerals in the ground
I shared a picture of the lavoir on our family WhatsUp group and my daughter Sophie gave the feminist point of view that “increased mass production of white goods was detrimental for women because although they had things to help with the volume of housework, they were removed from public space like the wash houses and the female social networks that came with it”.  She’s right of course, but what happened before we became civilised enough to start washing clothes?

While on history, a fellow boater (Shaun on Elle) provided a link to a very interesting website that includes details on the different types and construction of the lock houses on the Burgundian canals.  I won’t dwell on it here, but this is the link, so thanks Shaun.  

During Monday we dropped down six locks over nine kilometres.

I had a DIY success while Karen & Buddy went for their morning run on Monday.  I managed to get the electric hook up working.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that we tried the hook up for the first time since we bought the boat in a place call Franges.  It wouldn’t work and we even had the nice girl from the captiniere come along to check that the supply was okay. 

A few days ago, when I was doing my monthly rain channel clearing duties around the engine bay, I noticed a couple of wires were adrift at the bottom of the control panel.  Upon investigation I found that they were wires at the back of the hook up plug so I connected them back up.  As we were moored right next to an electricity point here at Tonnerre I tried the hook up and, to my surprise, it all worked fine.  I didn’t leave it hooked up as the solar panels provide enough juice even on the two greyish days we’ve had today and yesterday.

After lunch we went on a historical tour of Tonnerre; Karen had picked up a leaflet from the tourist office on Monday, so she led the tour.  The tour all started well, and the first stop included a descriptive plaque in English, so we learnt all about the secret agents of Louis XV of France.  The Knight of Eon was one such agent and fooled his enemies by dressing as a woman.

Where the Knight of Eon was put under house arrest for six years from 1779
From the next stop onwards, there were no more plaques The guide sheet just had numbers on a stylised plan of the town.  The numbers had a key that gave a small clue like ‘Mansion XVIIIe siecle’ but no description or picture to make sure we had found the right place.  As the numbers were on a stylised plan we also had to guess where each point of interest was.  

The tour itself was fun and Karen improved it by finding things that really should have been included!  I say improved because we really had to stretch our imagination to understand why many of the items of interest were on the tour in the first place.  Although it was a grey day, it wasn’t cold and it didn’t rain and, as we’ve come to expect on days like these, the sun came out for the evening.

Here are some of the highlights of the tour, including some that should have been in the tour:

The main street with a blue door in a 17th century archway

'Beautiful' wrought iron grills

Neo-Gothic house dated 1893
There are three waterways plus the canal that run through town including the River Armançon that the canal has been running alongside for the last week or so.

The Petite Venise part of town (not on the tour)

At least one of these houses dates from the 16th century

An old mill waterwheel

No idea about this one

An entrance to a chapel, dated 1709, that has been built around
Not on the tour but must have been quite grand in its day
We walked to the top of the hill in the middle of town to find the church of Saint Pierre.  Buddy wasn’t allowed in so I didn’t bother either, but Karen popped in to get a couple of shots of the stained glass.


Looking over the old town from the church with new town high rises in the background
The seventh century Sainte Catherine’s crypt is in a medieval square and, although on the tour, it is no longer open.  It has been paved over but at least the planters were full of tomato plants that were advertised as being for the community to share.

Crypte Sainte Catherine
The general sad state of the buildings of Tonnerre old town

A statue of some biblical relevance
We came across a redundant sweet shop that doesn’t look like it has been entered for years.  It even had a plaque in the window explaining that Charles de Gaulle’s wife used to pop in to buy his favourite sweets.

Thévenin confectioners (not on the tour)
Probably the grandest building is the Hôtel d’Uzès, built in 1532 as a private mansion and converted to a bank in 1907 but now closed down and decaying.

Hôtel d’Uzès
As it was a Tuesday the place we really wanted to visit was closed of course.  This was the hospital built between 1293 and 1295 and now houses a museum.  The blurb says: “it is one of the most emblematic medieval relief structures in Burgundy, if not the country itself”.

It certainly was an impressive building given its age
We don’t want to put you off Tonnerre because it certainly is well worth a look around, just don’t put it high on your list if you’re looking for somewhere to base yourself in Burgundy for a holiday.  The local wine from Épineuil is very good though, well the red provided by Don & Cathy when we visited them on Oldtimer was, so do look out for it, I certainly will be.  

We will be leaving after lunch on Wednesday as it’s one of Tonnerre’s market days and we must pay a visit, not only because we need to top up with provisions, but also because we can 😊