Gurgy (and the journey begins)

We were a bit late getting going on Saturday morning and didn’t set off until 11.30.  Our first lock was 3km away, so we had plenty of time to get there before it closed for lunch at 12.30.  The only problem was that we couldn’t raise the lock keeper either by phone or radio.  In the end we just set off anyway.  Radioing ahead is pretty simple and I’ll include the general format as part of it comes into our story later on.  The locks on the River Yonne are on VHF channel 12 (the guide books always show the channels for each river and canal lock).  The message goes like this:

Écluse [name of lock], écluse [name of lock]
C’est  Chalkhill Blue, Chalkhill Blue
Montant [upstream] / avalant [downstream]
Je suis à X kilometre distance

Approaching the lock, we could see the gates were closed and there was no sign of life, so we pulled up at the rather narrowboat unfriendly waiting area.  Karen held the boat against the pilings while I went in search of the éclusier.

Unusual waiting area
I found Pierre mixing up some concrete; he explained that as it was the first day of the season, he had assumed no boats were coming and he would start lunch early and get on with some work.  We had a conversation in French with the upshot being that he would open the lock for us in an hour’s time.  I said this suited us fine as it meant we could do a spot of butterflying and have lunch.  Well, I have to admit that I didn’t tell him about the butterflying because I didn’t know how to say that in French.

I had a little panic when we were having lunch that when he said one hour, he actually meant one o’clock but relaxed when I realised that he would have said thirteen o’clock.

When butterflying we saw holly blues, orange tips, brimstones and small whites but were surprised not to see a speckled wood as the area seemed ideal.

Sure enough an hour later the gates were opening and we were soon going up our first lock. The locks on the River Yonne are somewhat larger than we have been used to lately at a minimum of 90 metres long and 8.2 metres wide.  We were really thankful to Mike & Aileen’s instruction on locking in France when we cruised with them on the Canal du Midi last summer.  We were also glad we had the mods done that they and other people recommended.

Pierre was a really nice guy and was interested in wildlife and intrigued at our interest in butterflies.  He said he had heard my radio message that we were on our way (they don’t always respond apparently, and you just have to assume they have heard) and he couldn’t work out what ‘Chalkhill Blue’ meant.  He soon realised once he saw the butterflies on our boat though.

Pierre saying goodbye

Heading for our second lock

Passing a pretty stone bridge carrying the towpath over a tributary to the Yonne just before the second lock
As we neared the second lock, we saw it wasn’t set for us and were surprised as Pierre had contacted the éclusier and said we were on our way.  We soon realised why, there were four boats coming into the lock led by Simon in his old French lifeboat.

The four boats led by Simon
We have found out that there’s a new law that means we have to get fire extinguishers tested every year rather than every two years.  We had called up Simon and he told us that it was true, and he gets a tester in each year to do all the boats in the yard that are due in one go but had missed this year’s date.

Simon pulled up alongside us to tell us he had found a tester from further upstream and that we should call him on Monday as he had the tester’s phone number in his office.  Boats do get boarded and checked by the waterway police over here and we have heard a few stories about how intrusive they can be.  We have a folder full of all sorts of documentation that we have to have close to hand at all times.    

As we went into the second lock, we realised one side was sloping.  We had known that when reading the navigation guide over breakfast but had then forgotten.  We decided to stay on the straight side.

The pontoons float up and down the sides as the water rises and falls
The system we have adopted means Karen has to place a loop at the end of a line over a bollard from the front of the boat.  I then keep the boat in forward gear with the tiller hard over to keep it against the lock wall and therefore not affected by the turbulence of the water filling the lock.

Karen hooking the loop of line over the bollard
As there is a lot of strain against the line where it rubs on the lock edge, we have a climbers’ rope protector on the rope where it tends to rub.  We haven’t quite got the knack of positioning it correctly but we’re getting there.

We have also put long zigzag fenders along the side at the back to protect the boat when it is being held against the lock wall.

The zigzag fender is down there, honest!
As we ascend the lock, Karen indicates when I should ease off the throttle so that the front line can be released from the boat dollies and retied.  We didn’t really have to do that today as we were the only boat going our way but it’s a good habit to get into as in a packed lock it would prevent us moving forwards onto the boat in front of us.

After coming out of Raveuse lock we left the river and joined a cut for the next few kilometres.  Even though this was a man made cut like a canal it was still relatively wide.

On the Derivation de Gurgy
The UK navigation guides that we have used always show markers at every mile so you can work out distances travelled or to travel.  On canals that also have physical mile markers we would have expected the two to marry up but, irritatingly to us, they never seem to.  We were pleased to notice that the same is not the case over here; the kilometre markers on the French guides tie up exactly with the kilometre posts on the towpath.  Although the physical posts aren’t always there of course😉

One of the kilometre posts
At the end of the cut we rejoined the river at Gurgy flood gates.  As the river wasn’t high the lock gates were open, and we went straight through. 

Passing through Gurgy flood gates
We had plenty of admirers again whenever we went through a village with lots of waves and compliments; we’re still convinced they all feel sorry for us for being British at the moment or maybe they’re applauding us for getting away from it all.

Approaching the moorings at Gurgy
As we approached our mooring for the night, we were surprised to see a boat already moored up.  It had a red ensign flying and Adrian and Rose came out to help us moor up.  They had overwintered in Auxerre and were heading to Migennes to get some work done on the boat.

The moorings were twinned with a motorhome park and there were half a dozen vans there already with people picnicking outside, so it really did feel like summer was on its way.

We were shattered so after doing a few necessary boat chores we had a short walk around the village, watched a boules match for a while, and then spent the evening indoors.

Our Saturday night mooring
At our last lock of the day the éclusier had asked us what time we were setting off in the morning so he could ensure the locks would be set for us.  It wasn’t until later that we realised that we would be losing an hour overnight and hadn’t taken that into account in our deliberations

Anyway, we had had an amazing first day and, although feeling shattered and somewhat sunburnt, we were happy and relaxed.  Judging by the comments we have had from people we are going to really enjoy ourselves.  One comment that someone said to Karen springs to mind, ‘We came over here for two years ten years ago and if you only have half the fun we do you will love it!’.

On Saturday we cruised 14km up four locks.

Laroche St. Cydroine (it feels like we’re on holiday)

Our first orange tip of the year

When Karen went for a run along the river on Thursday morning, she saw lots of butterflies including our first orange tip of the year.  As I mention every year in the blog, this butterfly is really our harbinger of spring and what a warm day it turned out to be on Thursday.  Whenever we were on the boat Buddy seemed to be so happy as he just lay outside stretched out in the sun.

After lunch we walked into Migennes to get a French data SIM card for the boat internet.  On Wednesday we had walked down the right bank into Migennes, so we decided to try the left bank this time.  It was more wooded but sheltered from the breeze and we saw more orange tips and also lots of cuckooflower (aka lady’s smock) which is one of the two main plants that orange tips lay their eggs on and the caterpillars subsequently eat.

Their other main foodplant is garlic mustard (aka Jack by the hedge) and is the one that we have more success with when searching for the eggs.  As with many butterflies the specific name is akin to its food plant specific name.  The orange tip is anthocharis cardamines and the specific name of cuckooflower is cardamine pratensis.

I’m sorry to witter on about butterflies but one more fact about the orange tip.  It has been accepted since the early 1900s that the orange tips resident in Great Britain are a separate subspecies to those in mainland Europe.  Also, those in Ireland are yet another subspecies.   So, the full Latin name for the UK butterfly is anthocharis cardamines ssp. britannica and the Irish form is anthocharis cardamines ssp. hibernica.

Anyway, back to SIM cards.  On one of our regular phone chats with Mike & Aileen, Aileen told us this week where the shop was in Migennes that sold SIM cards.  It was over two years since she had bought a SIM there, but the shop was still in business and we successfully purchased a data SIM from Free to replace the UK one from Three that we used for internet on the boat.  Quite a difference in price; we paid £30 a month for 100gig in the UK, the one from Free is only €19.99 a month and we can also use it for making calls.

Our boat looking a bit small when walking past our mooring on the way into Migennes
We used our UK data SIM in our router but, after research, we have found that ordinary phone SIMs are cheaper in France, so we will use a spare phone for data tethering rather than the router. This means we will have no need for the router whilst over here which is one less (fewer doesn’t sound right 😉) appliance needing 240-volt power.  So now we only need the inverter on to create 240 volts when using the food processors or the washing machine.

It wasn’t entirely successful as the SIM didn’t work in the spare phone; it only worked in our regular phones which we really want to keep with their UK numbers at present.  So, it will be a trip into Auxerre tomorrow to pick up a cheap second-hand phone that we can use.

Flood levels on one of the bridges we walked under

Back to wildlife, we did see one solitary swallow in the morning taking insects above the water.  It hung around for a while before it looked like it was carrying on with its journey northwards.

Friday’s two main tasks were to get rid of the car and get a cheap phone to enable us to have internet.  Auxerre is the nearest large town, so we headed off there in the morning before getting rid of the car.

Weather looking promising on Friday morning
We found a mobile phone shop and bought the cheapest phone we could get that met our needs.  We had hoped to get a recondition/used phone but there didn’t appear to be any shops that dealt in such goods.

Pleasant looking buildings above the modern shop fronts in the centre of Auxerre
After our purchase we wandered down to see what was happening on the river as there were some celebrations planned to mark the opening of the river to navigation on Saturday.

It was quite surreal as we walked along the river front.  It seemed that we knew nearly everyone we saw as we had met them back in Migennes.  They were a mixture of English and French people who live on their boats there but had driven down to Auxerre for the day to watch the activities.

It was quite fun as each party grappled with the opposite language, but practise helps build confidence.  We and the other Brits would speak French to one degree or another and the French guys were trying out their English, again to a greater or lesser extent.

The Yonne runs through Auxerre and we plant to come through here on Sunday
The boats to the right have overwintered in the port and we could see quite a lot of activity as people were getting them prepared for the cruising season.  The boats on the left are a mixture of trip boats and restaurant boats.

With such glorious weather and seeing people eating and drinking outside it really feels like we’re on holiday at the moment.  Our children wouldn’t understand that as they think we’re on holiday all the time 😊

There were a few boats on the move taking people on trips up and down the riverfront through the town.  Simon was there on one of his many lifeboats; he buys old lifeboats and restores them at his yard.  This particular one was a French one and he was showing off its firehose to the paying guests.

Photo taken by Judy Evans
On the way back to Migennes to drop the car off we called in at a place called Gurgy.  We planned to stop there overnight on Saturday and wanted to check out the mooring situation.  Of course, with the river currently closed, the pontoons were completely empty, but the water was on, so we’ll get a chance to top the tank up when we stopover.

When we got back to Migennes we left the car at Simon’s yard and walked back to the boat in Laroche.  We both admitted that it’s a lovely feeling to be carless again but accept we need one for getting back to the UK when we need to.  It really does appear to be the easiest way to travel over here when you have a non-lap dog (dogs have to be on laps in public transport and are also not allowed on Eurostar).

So, the locks open on Saturday morning and we are now really excited (and nervous) about setting off.

Oh, and there were several swallows catching the insects above the water as we watched the sun going down on Friday evening.

Laroche St. Cydroine (yes, we’re now in Burgundy)

Finally, in French water
All my siblings and their families stayed in Gargrave over the weekend for my mum’s memorial ceremony in the village hall.  There was a tremendous turnout from the village too and, although it was very moving, it was a wonderful way to celebrate her life.

It was back to the boat at Gayton on Sunday afternoon and we spent the rest of the day packing the inside and outside and making sure everything was secure.  We were up early on Monday morning to finish off the last bits and pieces before heading down to the crane ready for the start of the journey.  One of the last things to do was to put all the plant pots inside and they all fitted in the bedroom.

We had been moored opposite Toby & Sue on Baleine while we had been at Gayton and they came along to wish us luck as we were waiting to be lifted out.  They’re such a lovely couple and seemed so excited about our new adventures; Toby was even waving both arms in the air and saluting us!

The crane driver was ready, so we cruised slowly into the sling.  There was quite a bit of trial and error as he tried to find the balance point.  After four attempts of lifting and dropping us again to move the sling he finally got it.

Driving into the sling
At one point I had to get back onto the boat to put back the front and back lines; I had removed everything, forgetting they would need a means to steady the boat as she was lifted.

Clearly too heavy at the front
Level at last

The lorry hadn’t turned up when the boat was ready, so the lads went off for a tea break and we sat and waited.  We spoke with the trucking company and found out that there had been issues on the M25, but Paul was about 12 minutes away with 15 minutes to go before he had to take an enforced 45 minute break.

Paul arrived and immediately split the deck and lengthened the loading area
The operation to swing the boat around and lay her on the lorry deck went very smoothly, but…


and on the truck ready to remove the shackles holding the sling
…there wasn’t enough room for the sling to be pulled out from under the boat.  So, it was back on with the shackles and up in the air again.  Thicker lumps of wood were found, and everything was sorted out.

Struggling to get the sling out
We were finally on and then Paul needed me to help him measure for height clearance.  As I was clearly nervous about our home being damaged, I made sure the tape measure had some kinks in it 😉

Measuring for the height
Once we had seen the restraining straps had been put on, we set off for Reading after arranging to meet Paul at 8.00am two days later in Migennes.  We were staying with Lauren & Lewis overnight and also seeing Sophie & Yanos and Polly & Lochlann for our final goodbyes.

On our drive down we both realised how nervous we had been watching our home being lifted out of the water and being swung around.  We also remarked, that considering there were four guys from the yard involved in the operation for well over an hour, that £350 seemed good value for money.

We arrived in Reading well before the girls got home from work, so we made ourselves at home and went for a last UK walk along the River Thames to Sonning lock.

Sonning lock in the distance
Before having dinner at Lauren’s, we went around to see Sophie & Yanos’s house that they had moved into last week.  Having been in house or flat shares for all their academic lives (they are now both lecturers at Reading university so still in academia), it was lovely to see them finally on their own and starting to make a home together.

We left at 6.30 on Tuesday morning and without too much trouble on the M25 were soon in the tunnel and on our way to France.  Unlike our holiday this year we took the autoroutes and headed straight for Burgundy.  After another four hours or so we were in Auxerre where we had an Airbnb for the night. 

Wednesday was another early start as the boat was due to arrive at the yard at 8.00am.  As it turned out, Paul had arrived the night before and had left the truck in the yard overnight ready for an early craning.

Simon, the yard owner, soon got things moving and it wasn't long before we were being lifted off the truck.  Unlike the UK, there were no hard hats in sight of course.

My weight was needed to keep the boat level 😉
We had wondered why the boatyard at Gayton hadn’t marked where they placed the sling so that it would make it easier to get the balance when lifting it off the lorry.  It soon became clear that it wouldn’t have helped because the cradle sizes were different, but it only took Simon two attempts to find the balance.

The barge in the middle, Catharina Elisabeth, belongs to Ian who has been very helpful during our preparations for moving over here
It took a couple of hours to unpack the boat to get it back to normal and we were pleased to find nothing had broken on the journey.  Once we were sorted out, we sat down to open a present Chris & Sue had given us to open once we were afloat.  It was a gorgeous circular sun catcher complete with chalkhill blue butterflies.  Such a thoughtful gift and we were so pleased to have received it.  We put it up in one of the kitchen windows but somehow, whilst we were adjusting it, managed to drop it on the worksurface where it broke into pieces

Karen has since been in touch with the maker to order a replacement
We were now on the River Yonne which is navigable for over 100km all the way to the Seine.  We were very close to the southern end of the navigation where it joins the Canal du Nivernais at Auxerre which is where we’re heading for first.  We had been very fortunate as this time last year the water levels were so high that the yard was flooded, and the lorry wouldn’t have been able to get in.

The locks on the river weren’t due to open until Saturday so Simon said we could stay at his yard until then or go up into the port at Migennes and wait there. We had a wander up to the port and thought that would be the best solution as it was in the town centre and meant we could spend a couple of days making sure we had everything.  Simon rang the éclusier to see if he would open the lock and let us into the port; he had to leave a message as the éclusier was out but was hopeful all would be OK.

The port is at the eastern end of the Canal de Bourgogne and if things work out as planned for the first few months, we will be travelling the length of the canal at the end of our anti-clockwise tour of Burgundy.

Walking up to the lock that connects the Canal de Bourgogne to the Yonne
The port of Migennes is the far side of the lock
When we had driven past the lock in the morning, we had noticed it was empty and the gates were open, so we had assumed that Simon had already spoken with the éclusier during the week as he had offered.  As you can see above, the gates were now closed and the lock was full – it seemed that the French lock keeper wasn’t going to let us up before the official opening date.  Walking back into the boatyard we saw a couple of small whites, our first for this year.  Although small whites are among the commonest of British butterflies, it’ll be interesting to see how many non-UK species we’ll see this year

When we got back to the boat Simon came and found us to apologise for not being able to get the lock open and he also understood that it wouldn’t be easy to stay at his yard because of Buddy.  He had more boats to lift into the water over the next few days so we would have to moor four boats deep and Buddy would not find it easy clambering over three large barges.

Simon had been out and found a good mooring for us further downstream.  We knew it was in the opposite direction to that which we wanted to go but it was safe and quiet whilst we waited until the weekend and it would also give us a little cruise.

First, we took the car down to the mooring which was at Laroche St. Cydroine.  Although we are going to leave the car at Simon’s yard while we are cruising, we fancied keeping it by us until we set off, in case we found we needed to get something.   As we walked back to get the boat, we passed several couples also out for a walk along the river and exchanged pleasantries just like walking along the cut in the UK.  When we got back, we joked about how easy it had been to have conversations in French albeit not much was said other than, ‘bonjour’.  

We set off downstream as soon as we got back and had a small farewell party of French liveaboards to see us off. 

And we’re off
Simon’s yard behind us
Heading for the SNCF railway bridge across the Yonne at Migennes
We were a little conscious of flying the Red Ensign but it’s illegal not to fly your national flag in mainland Europe.  We were a little concerned that we will get backlash as we come from that mad country that seems to be heading for a black hole at present.  As it was, we got loads of waves from walkers along the river bank and also some toots and waves from cars.  We suspect it was also because we would have been the first boat they had seen on the move since October.

Self-conscious being a Brit

As we were on a river Buddy had his life jacket on
After a mile or so we found the mooring which was just long enough for one boat and soon settled in for the evening.

Our first overnight mooring in France
Our first sunset – feeling so happy 😊

Gayton (and it’s goodnight from him)

We took it easy on Thursday morning as we only had four miles or so to go to reach our final destination.  First, we had to get through the 1 ¾ mile long Blisworth tunnel that we had moored outside the previous night.  We had noticed that there are visitor mooring rings along the entire length of the towpath from Stoke Bruerne top lock to the tunnel entrance, a good few hundred yards.  In the cruising season these would be packed but we were the only boat on the entire length last night apart from one boat that had come out of Braunston marina for a couple of nights and they had moored right down at the lock to be by the pub and therefore miles from us.

Approaching Blisworth tunnel
When the tunnel was built it had 22 vertical shafts for removing debris and ensuring the tunnel line was straight.  To ensure the shafts themselves were in a straight line, a series of poles was used from one side to the other and the poles were lined up by sight.  All shafts but five were closed off when the tunnel was opened in 1805, the five remain as air shafts. 

When we went through today the tunnel was practically dry apart from two of the shafts where water was cascading down.

Into our last UK tunnel
Once through the tunnel, Karen & Buddy got off to walk the rest of the way to Gayton.  We met no boats in the tunnel and only met one other on the way on the whole journey although a couple came past when we were washing the boat at Gayton junction. 

Heron on the towpath with another boat coming out of Blisworth village towards me
At Gayton the Northampton arm heads off to the east for the short stretch and 17 locks down to the town.  We were turning down the arm but only for ¼ mile or so to the marina where we will be lifted out.

Getting ready to turn right onto the arm
Gayton junction signpost
We stopped at the entrance to the arm for water and then decided to wash the boat.  Boats on the move get very dirty very quickly especially when it's wet and muddy.  The lines get dirty and the sides get covered in rope marks however careful you are.  The roof gets filthy from our boots as we walk along it to go up and down the muddy side ladders inside the locks.

We always tackle the roof first so that meant getting everything off.  Everything will need to be off when we are ferried over the Channel anyway, so the bags of coal and a few other things went straight into the cratch.  The flowers had to go back on top as we won’t move those inside until Monday morning.  The cratch is now rather full but as we will be away until Sunday night it won’t be a problem.

The inside of the boat is beginning to look very bare and sad as Karen has packed away an awful lot of the items that were on open shelving or fragile items in cupboards like glassware.

Clearing the roof
As is our habit, Karen washed the roof with the mop (thanks Mike & Lesley) while I went behind with a sponge clearing off the bits she missed.

Karen sweeping the roof before washing it – she’s showing off our broom with its broken handle
Once we cleaned the roof and the side by the water point, we thought we may as well spin the boat around and do the other side.  The junction wasn’t busy, and it was quite an easy task to spin it around especially as there was only a gentle breeze.

Getting ready to wash the other side
As I was putting more stuff in the cratch I dropped the shears (£1 at a Cropredy charity stall) in the cut.  Out came the trusty magnet again and it wasn’t long before they were fished out.

Thursday’s fishing expedition
Of course, we had to spin the boat back around again once we had finished but again that was an easy job and we were soon on the way to the marina.

The service point was at the farthest end of the marina but fortunately just before where the crane operates.  I say fortunately as there was a training day going on; three of the guys in the yard were being trained on craning boats in and out of the water.  We were pleased to see they were using their hire boats for the practice and not a customer’s private boat.  They assured me that an experienced operator would be on duty for us on Monday morning 😌

We breasted up against another boat at the service point and had our last pump out until we return to the UK.   We explained to the yard manager that we had to leave the boat with the yard as we will be going back up to Yorkshire for my mum’s memorial celebration and returning on Sunday evening.  They said we could use their offside moorings so the boat would be secure whilst we’re away.

Our final mooring in the UK
Karen spent the rest of the afternoon inside doing more packing whilst I started removing more items like the centre lines and fenders and securing them away.  We will be back on Sunday evening and will need to be up early on Monday to move the plant pots and a few other things off the roof and secure them inside.  We will then move up to the craning area for about 9.30am.

That’s it folks – the next blog entry will be made from France - but still in English I hasten to add.