Friday 31 May 2019

Courcelles-lès-Montbard (foreigners get everywhere)

We fancied a short cruise on Wednesday and met our éclusier at 10 at the first lock.  For some reason, and I forgot to ask him why, he wasn’t wearing the VNF uniform.  He had a very laid back approach but, after supplying him with coffee, we suddenly realised we had gone down seven locks in the first hour.

First lock of Wednesday
As usual, every lock had a cottage, and in three consecutive ones we met the people who lived in them.  The first was lived in by Swedes, the second by Norwegians and the third by Brits!

The Swedes' lock cottage
We could see the Norwegian flag flying in the next garden before we arrived at the lock so we knew the couple standing in the garden filming us approaching them were probably Norwegian.  They were very chatty and explained that they live in their cottage in the spring and the autumn and have been doing so for 20 years.

The Norwegians' lock cottage

Norwegians waving us away from their lock 😉
The next cottage was unusual in that it had vehicular access and the two Brit plated cars gave away the nationality of the couple who lived there.  These guys came out to chat and said they have been living in different parts of France for the last ten years.  They told us about the ‘canal project’ which is where VNF are trying to save their derelict properties.  They are asking for people to use the properties in return for returning them to habitation and providing something sustainable or useful to the community such as growing fruit and vegetables.

The Brits
There were some wild orchids  growing by one of the locks and, because I’m not really up on orchid recognition, I contacted our naturalist friend Stephen who confidently told me they were pyramidal orchids.

Pyramidal orchid
We reached Venarey les Laumes before lunch and made for the port where we expected to be able to dump rubbish and take on water.

The port at Venarey les Laumes
We had to turn left into the basin to get water which was quite fun negotiating because we had to spin the boat around with the plastic hire boats close by.  This was the first hire boat base we have seen on this canal which will explain why we haven’t seen any hire boats so far.

I went to the captainerie to find out about services: there was no rubbish disposal, but we could have water for 3.50.  We had showers, did the washing, washed the side of the boat and had lunch while taking on water and then duly paid.

Moored for lunch and water
We then moved out of the port and headed out of town to moor up before the next lock.

Our mooring for Wednesday night
An éclusière stopped in her car and asked if we were sure we wanted to moor and not carry on for the afternoon.  We told her that we were happy staying where we were. She then explained that there would be five hire boats leaving the basin the next day and that we might want to avoid being with them!  We said we were happy but did arrange to leave at 9 rather than 10 on Thursday morning.

Karen cycled into Venarey to top up with fruit and veg while Buddy and I went for a walk and a spot of butterflying.  As we walked along, I noticed that there were dozens of new poplars growing along the towpath and found out that 350 had been planted along this section in 2017 to replace ones lost by disease.

Attached to many of them was the name of the person who planted that particular tree
We than walked back towards town to meet up with Karen who happened to just be turning onto the towpath as we approached the road.

Looks like Karen got the short straw doing the shopping rather than butterflying 😉
During the evening, three hire boats came out of the basin and headed past us.  The first two appeared to be racing each other but the third was travelling at a more sedate pace.  It was a lovely sunny evening and we could both imagine the feeling the hirers would be havong, moored up with a few drinks in the sun before dinner.

On Wednesday we cruised four kilometres down ten locks.

As agreed, we arrived at the first lock at nine on Thursday morning where two éclusiers were waiting for us but no hire boats in sight.

Karen taking us through the first lock of the day
Looking at the picture above you can see that it was quite cloudy.  We still do not understand how the local French weather forecasting works.  Whichever day we look at it then the weather forecast gradually improves over the following week; however, it seems to be a rolling forecast because the better weather hardly ever seems to arrive.

Forecast for the next few days
We have seen the above profile many times, but those high temperatures have only materialised a few times when the actual day arrived.

At the second lock the éclusière came up to me and started telling me something that was totally incomprehensible.  Usually, when I tell someone that I didn’t understand they will either a) repeat it but at a slower pace, b) repeat it but choosing different words or c) say it in English or at least broken English.  She was a lovely lady but insisted on taking the American option: repeating the same words but louder and no slower.

Of course, by now my mind was going blank.  Usually, in this situation, Karen and I find we can at least pick up on a few words and then get the gist by repeating our understanding in our French.  In the end, she smiled, admitting defeat and went back to operating the lock.  The closest I could get to an understanding was that there was some sort of Swiss cheese, that wasn't weed or a boat, either covering or crossing the canal.  As it turned out, the rest of the cruise was uneventful, and we saw no cheese or boats or anything else that we should have been warned about.

Last lock of the morning
At the last lock, in the pretty village of Courcelles-lès-Montbard, there were cars parked either side right up to the edge.  Looking at the fields around the village we could see lots more parked cars, so we asked our éclusier what was going on, he told us there was a brocante which is the equivalent of our second hand or flea market.

We moored for lunch, and the rest of the day, just after the lock with a lovely view of the village.  During the afternoon the weather improved and, has often been the case lately, the evening was the best part of the day.

Our view of Courcelles-lès-Montbard
During the afternoon we started rubbing down and preparing the paint chips on the boat.  It’s nearly a year since we last attacked these and then we only did the roof, well half the roof, so there’s quite a few chips to sort out.  We also went for a wander around the brocante but weren’t tempted to buy anything.  It seemed that every household in the village were involved and had set up a table full of second hand goods.

Our Thursday night mooring

We even had bollards and they were coloured!
On Thursday we cruised seven kilometres down six locks.  We plan on staying put on Friday and probably continuing our adventure on Saturday.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Pouillenay (our first hoopoes)

It was a nine o’clock start on Monday because we wanted to finish before lunch as there was a chance of rain in the afternoon.  As it turned out it was pretty cloudy most of the time and we saw very little sun. In fact, just as Karen took over steering, it did start to rain so it was on with the wet weather gear but only for 10 minutes.

Exiting our 300th French lock under grey skies
We had the same éclusier for all 11 locks and he was ready as agreed by nine o’clock when we arrived at the first lock.  This guy had a different approach to others we have seen, partly because there were bollards on only one side of each lock.  The locks were all semiautomatic; the gates and gate paddles were opened manually but the ground paddles were controlled electronically.

The controls for operating the ground paddles were on the opposite side of the lock to the bollards.  We only needed one gate open so naturally he opened the gate on the side he was working.  This meant that once we were in the lock, we had to get over to the other side to get a rope around a bollard.  This wasn’t really a problem because the locks are so long, but we had to keep remembering to do it.

Our man and his scooter
Once he opened the bottom ground paddles to let the water out, he would hop on his scooter, scoot down to the next lock, open the top ground paddles to fill the lock and scoot back to us. He clearly knew how to time it as whenever he returned our bottom gates were just about ready to open.  It occurred to us that this was the first time over here that we have been left alone in locks.  It all worked well as we were down the 11 locks in under two hours.

Another difference was that many of the gates were opened by a windy wheel
None of the lock cottages were empty or abandoned today and most had lovingly, cared for gardens.

One of today’s pretty lockside gardens
We moored up in the village of Marigny-le-Cahouët, had lunch and then went for a walk.

Our mooring for Monday night
While having lunch we noticed the water level dropping and, as it was a very shallow mooring in a shortish pound, it was a quick dash to loosen the lines and push the boat out.  We did it just in time as the boat was beginning to ground.  We then realised that a widebeam was coming up the locks, hence the sudden drop in water level and they moored up a little way in front of us.  We introduced ourselves as we walked past, and it was Alex & Sue on The Busted Flush who Paul & Sue on Flubs had talked about when we cruised with them for a few days on the Canal du Nivernais.

Thinking about the Canal du Nivernais reminds me that I haven’t included a route map for a while.  The royal blue line shows the journey we have been on since setting out at the end of March, that’s 300 locks and 538 kilometres ago!

During Monday we cruised six kilometres down11 locks.

Tuesday was another early start and as we were getting ready to leave, Alex & Sue set off in the opposite direction.  As we were heading for the first lock an éclusier pulled up to tell us that there was a problem with low water in a pound further up and that he would be with us about 15 minutes late.  We moored back up and waited for him to return which true to his word was only about 15 minutes. 

We’re still cruising through the lovely rolling green fields and hills of the Côte d’Or and we’re still amazed as to the extent of the region, which neither of us have ever visited before.

For the last couple of days I think I have spotted a hoopoe flying across the cut in the distance and today I saw several closer by and could see they were definitely hoopoes; their black and white tails make a distinctive sight when in flight.

These poplars seem to have escaped the disease that have hit so many around here:

 The ones the other side of this lock haven’t fared as well though:

We moored for lunch below our twelfth lock and we had an extended lunch break as our éclusier had finished for the day and was handing over to someone else who wasn’t available straight after lunch.  When we went to set off, we realised we were stuck; the pound had dropped, and we were stuck fast on the bottom.  No amount of poling and rocking would free us from whatever we had grounded on.  We couldn’t use the engine as the propeller and rudder were both immovable too.

In the end our new éclusier came to find out why we weren’t at the lock on time.  When we explained the issue, he said we would open the paddles on the lock above us to raise the water levels.  This he did and once the water was coming past us, we were soon free and on our way.

Our first lock after lunch
You may just be able to make out a guy and two young girls behind Karen in the picture above.  They were fascinated by the boat and we had a good chat as it transpired that he and his partner and the girls have lived in a camper for a few years.  They have covered much of southern and parts of eastern Europe and are now working around France and hope to get up to Norway by the end of summer.

As you may have gathered, we are going down a lot of locks at the moment and they are relatively close together for a few days, so we have to be careful where we moor overnight.  We moored in a nice wide pound between two locks that is a recognised mooring spot with a few bollards.  There were a few fisherman along the bank and, while we were coming down the last lock, our friendly éclusier went over and asked them to make room us!

Moored at Pouillenay with fishermen and campervan for company
When we said goodbye to our éclusier he thanked me for my sourire (smile) which made us smile all the more.  It wasn’t the first time we’ve been thanked for being friendly and happy either.

As it seemed the threat of rain had gone for the day, we went for a bike ride further down the canal and then had a look around the village.  For once, there was a little grocer shop, but typically for us, it was closed on Tuesdays

Boat looking lonely in the far corner
We were next to a water point where you turn a handle to get the water, but the outlet is only suitable for filling buckets – no fixings to attach a hose.  As we were next to it, we had a couple of trips to top up the water tank using our newly found plastic water carriers which we easily filled using a funnel.

Karen had a handy bollard to sit on
During Tuesday we cruised six kilometres down 19 locks.

Monday 27 May 2019

Villeneuve-sous-Charigny (how can we get lost on a canal?)

After a couple of nights moored below the lock at Chailly-sur-Armançon we had a Saturday morning cruise to Saint-Thibault where we hoped to find yet another quiet mooring.  To be honest it’s never difficult to find quiet moorings but the level of the pounds at the top end of this canal do fluctuate a lot so, with shallow sides to the cut anyway, we have to be extra careful where we moor.  We’re lucky in that we have a very low draught compared to say, a hotel boat or working péniche so get a lot more choice.

Aileen had told us that they weren’t allowed to moor in the pounds around here when they came through a couple of years ago.  She and Mike had to spend one night in a lock because the éclusiers were worried about the levels.  Anyway, all was fine for us, I kept the lines slack and the boat seemed to be in deep water all night.

As expected, our éclusier for the day stopped by the boat just before 10.30 to check that we were still wanting to go.  He also wanted to tell us that a boat was coming down the locks behind us and we would therefore be sharing.  It happened to be the French couple that unsuccessfully tried to lock up with us on the other side of the summit.  This time, as we were going down, the boats are easier to control, and we managed all five locks together without any issues.

Sharing all our locks today (we're at the front)
Karen and Buddy walked for the first four locks so Buddy could have his morning walk and we ended up mooring (we thought) by Saint-Thibault.  The plan was to have a walk around the village after lunch and stay until tomorrow afternoon so we can have a slow Sunday morning.  Well, I don’t think going for a run makes for an easy morning, but I know that’s what Karen has planned 😉

Moored at Saint-Thibault

Not a bad view either 
When we finished lunch, Karen was checking what facilities there were at the village and noticed that it was a two kilometre walk along the towpath before we take a road leading up to the village.  It’s amazing, but this is the first time this had happened to us: we had both misread the map and thought we had moored by the road that leads up to the village.  We were more than happy to stay moored where we were as it was deep enough, had gorgeous views and was away from any shading trees.

We decided to take the bikes as we hadn’t cycled for a few days and that way Buddy gets a good run too.  The village was like many we have visited recently, quiet and no sign of any commerce other than a boulangerie which was only open in the mornings.  The village centre, again like most, had discrete posters, all the same size, of the EU parliament candidates.  It feels not so in your face as the massive roadside electoral hoardings seen in the UK.

Fair & discrete approach to electoral hoardings
The village church was out of all proportion to the number of parishioners, as is often the case.  It was an imposing building for such a small place but became derelict in the 14th century.  It was rebuilt a century later but became derelict again for several centuries until it was fully restored in the 18th century.  It fell into disuse again and public and private funds have been used to complete its third restoration.  As much as none of us like to see buildings falling into disrepair, I am always astounded at the money that pours into these places that, in my mind, should be being channelled into worthier, such as making cleaning up the planet and slowing down the loss of our animal and plant species etc.

The village church
We searched the whole village for a lavoir but this time we drew a blank so here some pictures of other buildings instead:

On the way back Buddy had a good run around in the cut – he still won’t go out of his depth so shows no signs of swimming.  We do admit to each other that’s its probably for the best, but we do wonder why we try and encourage him.  I think it’s because we like a challenge and Karen thinks it’s because we think he’ll enjoy it.

Buddy having a mad ten minutes, sort of cooling down
Actually, looking at the picture of Buddy in the water you can see how shallow it is on the sides and why we have to be careful where we choose to moor.

During the afternoon I was in the engine bay trying to locate a box of spare bolts and nuts that I knew I had somewhere but hadn’t seen them for months.  Whilst searching for them (I did find them in the end) I came across two collapsible water containers.  They were tucked down behind the calorifier.

Now, this was strange, as Karen had just ordered two collapsible containers to be picked up when we pop back to the UK next month.  Neither of us knew we had these two hidden in the engine bay.  Neither of us remembered buying them nor putting them in the engine bay either.  Karen did a search on her Amazon order history and found that we had bought them last March 😊

Apart from Karen going for a run we had a slow Sunday morning sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.

Promising looking Sunday with the mist burning off at 7.00am
This has been the quietest canal or river we have been on so far; we haven’t seen a single hire boat and very few private boats in the 100+ kilometres we have been travelling on it.  Though we did see quite a few hotel boats at the beginning between the Saône and Dijon.  Saying that, two boats went past in the opposite direction during the morning.  One was a British couple in a cruiser who called out that this was only their first week here and that they were really happy!

We were going down our first lock at two o’clock and set off after an early lunch at about 12.30.  One section was in a cutting for just over a kilometre where no overtaking or passing was allowed: essentially meaning one-way only.  It was strange going through a narrow passage although we wouldn’t think it narrow at all back in the UK as two narrowboats would easily pass each other.

Tranchée de Creusot
We arrived at the lock nearly half an hour early and as there was no sign of an éclusier and there was a lock landing (the first we have seen in days) we tied up to wait.  Unfortunately, it was too shallow to get right up to the lock landing, so after Karen had successfully thrown a lasso from the gunwales, we stayed on board whilst we waited.  After a while we felt the boat moving and realised our man turned up dead on 2.00 and was filling the lock so we were soon on our way.

Shallow lock landing but at least we had one
Just after the first lock we passed the port at Pont de Royal which had four boats moored in it including some Germans on one.  The German guy obviously had a sense of humour as, once he saw our flag, kept repeating, “Welcome to Europe – stay over here”.

The port at Pont de Royal
We have noticed many of the poplars, or maybe they’re black poplars, are suffering from a disease around here.  Some are clearly dead or dying to such an extent that the mistletoe is also dying.  Many are marked with crosses presumably as they are earmarked for destroying.  It reminded us of the Canal du Midi last summer where the plane trees are suffering a similar fate and in some stretches dozens of trees had been removed.

X marks the spot

Here there is a gap where two trees have been removed, the next down is clearly starting to die, the next has died including the mistletoe and the third is dead but the mistletoe is just hanging on.

When we got to the second lock there was already a boat in it waiting for us.  They were a young friendly French couple with a baby who must have been moored at Pont de Royal as we hadn’t seen them before.

Locking down together
Just as we came out of the lock, their boat slowed and then stopped.  He came quickly to the back and gestured for us to pass as he had run out of fuel.  We asked if he wanted us to hang around and help but he said no so we carried on past them.  He only put a small amount in as, in very little time, he was catching up with us again and we went down our third and final lock of the day together.

The only other people we saw today were fishermen and there must have been at least a dozen of them so maybe Sunday or election day brings them out.  It never ceases to amaze us how they get their little cars along the banks to find their fishing spots.

We had no idea how this guy got his car here
At the last lock we asked our éclusier if we could start the next set of locks at nine in the morning.  He wasn’t sure as he was due to start his weekend so he said he would drop by later in the evening after talking with his colleagues.

Moored up for the rest of Sunday at Villeneuve-sous-Charigny
True to his word our éclusier pulled up in his van around six o’clock and said everything would be fine for going down the first lock at nine in the morning.  That means an early start for us 😉

On Saturday morning we cruised nine kilometres down five locks and on Sunday afternoon we cruised nine kilometres down three locks.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Chailly-sur-Armançon (it’s all downhill from here)

Nearly all the lock approaches looked looked the same today

We spent the morning in Pouilly-en-Auxois as we had a few chores to do and wanted to take advantage of nearby shops.  Buddy and I went to the captainerie to pay €2 for 0.5 cubic metre of water and I explained to them that people had been appearing in their cars during the previous evening, filling up water containers and then disappearing.  I was thanked for letting them know and they agreed the whole system is based on trust so no doubt some people fill up out of hours and others take more than they pay for.

While Karen went to SuperU, Buddy and I went to find a bricolage, but it seemed the one I was looking for had now been converted to a medical laboratory.  At least it was the other side of town, so we got a bit of a walk in.  I then topped up with diesel at the SuperU and went to meet Karen to help carry the shopping home.

When we got back, we decided we would move on in the afternoon and moor out in the country for a day or two.  So, Buddy and I went off again, this time to find an éclusier, and we duly got booked in for 1.00pm at the lock leading out of the port.

Just as we were about to leave, the tunnel trip boat left for the third time that day.  It was packed with sightseers each time, so they were probably doing a good trade.

Tunnel trip boat setting off
We are now going downhill all the way until we get back to Migennes and complete our first round trip over here.  Current plan is to get back to Migennes by the 16th June – I have now booked a Eurotunnel ticket on that basis and a ticket back to France a week later.  This side of the Canal de Bourgogne runs all the way down to the River Yonne which then flows northwards to meet the River Seine and then through to Paris.  We have 113 locks left to do which is quite a few when we consider we only have 155 kilometres left to travel.

Heading for the first lock of the afternoon – lock number 1 on the Yonne side of the summit
The éclusier asked how far we were going and when we told him that we wanted to moor up after the seventh lock I think he thought we were a bit mad as it was in the middle of nowhere.  When we told him we would probably not move on tomorrow he really looked at us strangely.  He gave me his telephone number and said I should call him when we decide to move on.

The first lock was manually operated but the following six were automatic and, as they were all set for us, we were down the flight and moored up in a little over an hour.

Each of the six automatic locks looked the same, even the approach as can be seen in the picture at the top.  The lock cottages were yet another different style to ones we have seen before and one had had, what we thought, an out of character new extension.

Lovely place to live though 
Karen walked Buddy down the first couple of locks, but he wasn’t really interested as it was a hot day, so they came back on the boat at the third lock.  We were glad we had bought a sunshade for the rear deck too.

Moored for the rest of Thursday and probably Friday at the bottom of lock seven
The bottom gates of the lock behind our mooring were left open so we could hear the constant tumbling of water leaking through the top gates.  We find it such a soothing sound and reminded both of us of the many nights we have moored at Welsh Road lock on the Grand Union with the same sound.  Obviously, we have moored at other locks where we can hear the water but for some reason, we were both reminded independently of Welsh Road.

Charolais investigating the incomers
On Thursday we cruised two kilometres down seven locks.

We enjoyed our overnight mooring so much that we decided to stay put on Friday.  In the morning we walked a couple of miles up to the nearest village, Chailly-sur-Armançon, and had a nose around.  Apart from a golf club and a château converted to a hotel there were no retail outlets: shame, as it was the perfect weather to sit outside a bar and have a drink in the sun over lunch.

One of the village streets…
…and another
We found what looked like a feeder or irrigation channel and further investigation later informed us that it was a feeder to the Canal de Bourgogne – the ‘Rigole d'Alimentation du Réservoir de Cercey’.  This takes water from the Réservoir de Cercey and feeds it into the canal at the summit at Pouilly-en-Auxois (where we stayed on Wednesday night). 

This is the rigole, dried up outside the château…

…and rather overgrown outside the village
The château (I imagine it’s far more impressive and imposing from the other side)

The village green with a well
We are still seeing butterflies but not in the numbers that we have been recently.  Maybe it’s because we are in an extensive area of agricultural grassland with few woods and hills at present.  Still, we saw several common blues and small heaths as well as the usual orange tips, brimstones and others from the white and vanessid families.  We did see one skipper, but it didn’t rest long enough for us to identify it.

Female common blue (the uppersides are mainly brown with some blue rather than completely blue on males)
Small heath  
Poor Buddy is still finding the heat difficult; when we got home, he went straight to the canal and, after having his fill of water, found a shallow spot and stood there for about ten minutes.

Buddy cooling down
We spent the afternoon on the boat and ended up doing a few maintenance jobs that we hadn’t planned on doing for a week or two, so at least we’re ahead of ourselves.

Karen planted on her sweet pea seedlings - an annual task for the last seven years
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned our ant invasion.  We have only suffered from the odd ant in the boat and have never really had an ant problem, which is rather surprising as boats tend to be moored against vegetation most of the time.  This all changed a few days ago when we noticed ants in the cratch and in our bedroom.

It took a few days to get them under control without access to any repellent, but we were still getting a couple of dozen a day at the front of the boat.  Karen bought some ant repellent from Gamm Vert, the garden centre, when we were in Pouilly-en-Auxois and that seems to have done the trick.  The odd ant that we find in the boat now is on its last legs so to speak so it seems we have cleared them up.  We assume they got on by crawling up one of the mooring lines or when we were moored close to a bank with overhanging vegetation.

One of the jobs I did in the afternoon was clearing and cleaning out the rear lockers and funnily enough I found a tube of ant repellent.  Neither of us remember buying it and have no idea why it was there but suspect we moved it over from the old boat.

When we had got back from our walk an éclusier stopped in his van and asked if we knew when we wanted to move on and I told him 10.00am on Monday.  Early in the evening he called by again and asked if we minded starting at 10.30 rather than 10 and we said that was fine.  We asked him if any boats had come through when we were out for our walk and he told us that no boats had been through all day and we were the only one to come through yesterday.  However, he did say that there is a boat coming through tomorrow which I assume is why he changed the timings.