Bourg-et-Comin (a thank you to blog readers)

I wonder what this is?
We planned out a circular walk in open countryside for Thursday morning.  Rain was forecast off and on during the day, but we managed to avoid it until we were back on board having lunch.  One of the objectives of our walk was to visit a WWI German war cemetery.  We hadn’t considered such things existed in France so it would be the first one we had been to.  This one was really stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no metalled road access.  After going over the crest of a hill we could see our quarry, three kilometres away in a dead straight line down the farm track.

The cemetery is in the clump of trees at the far end of the track

The clump of trees
We’re not sure whether it was deliberately placed so remotely so that it was difficult for visitors to reach or to keep it out of the way of the locals; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more the latter.  It contains the remains of 4,154 Germans killed in battles in the 25 kilometre stretch between Reims and Berry-au-Bac.  

There are 2,241 individual graves and two mass graves containing the remains of a further 1,913 soldiers.  The graves were originally marked with wooden crosses which were replaced by metal ones in 1976.

The cemetery
Seven of the graves hold the remains of Jews and these are marked with a headstone rather than a cross.

When Karen was on one of her runs when we were moored at Sillery, she saw and took a picture of a headstone of a French Muslim soldier in the WWI cemetery there.  Seeing the seven headstones today reminded her that I had forgotten to include it when talking about the different styles of headstones depicting non-Christians on an earlier blog entry.

One of the several Muslim headstones at Sillery
One thing we have noticed with the French and British cemeteries we have visited is that there is a 'free to access' book contained in a watertight place, usually by the entrance.  The book shows the layout of the graves and the name, rank etc. of each plot.  This cemetery also had a book on similar lines and also contained details of the various German offensives during the war and other topical information.

When we got back it started raining and even though it was early, we had lunch with the thought we would be ready to move off as soon as it stopped.  It did stop while we were eating but a commercial came past going the same way that we would be going.  As he was fully laden, and therefore very slow, and we had five or six locks to go down we knew it would be pointless setting out too soon as we would just be held up behind him.  We gave him an hour and then set off just as it started raining again but it only lasted a few minutes and the rest of the journey was in the dry but with plenty of black clouds.

It wasn’t long before we were going under the A26 or l’autoroute des Anglais as the French call it as most vehicles using it have Brit plates.  For those of you who travel by road in France, especially away from the north, you will probably know the road and the feeling you get because you know Calais is only a few hours away.  Like in the UK we recognised the canal from when we’ve been over the bridge in a car.  Also, just like the UK, the bridge supports were graffitied. We were so far away from a settlement that we assumed the graffiti is done by people using the motorway – no other bridges other than those in cities seem to get the treatment.

Going under l’autoroute des Anglais
After dropping down four locks we were approaching the last lock on the canal and for some reason the twisty pole didn’t recognise us.  We had a bit of kerfuffle reversing back to try it again, exacerbated by two large boats moored opposite the pole.  Anyway, we got there in the end and it worked fine so we can’t have twisted it far enough on the first attempt.

Approaching the last lock on the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne
Once through the lock we were at the junction with the Canal latéral à l’Aisne.  This canal, opened in 1846, runs east west joining the River Aisne in the east near Soissons to the Canal des Ardennes in the west also connecting with a couple of other canals on the way.  It was so badly destroyed during WWI that it was practically rebuilt immediatel;y after the war.

When we got in the lock, Karen got off and went to look at the junction as there were meant to be moorings available.  She also walked past the first lock in the direction we were heading as there were moorings there too.  We had looked at the moorings on Google Earth and seen they were packed with commercials so Karen had gone ahead to see where there was a free space; that way we would know whether to moor before or after the lock.  As it turned out there were no boats moored anywhere so we needn’t have worried.

At the junction with the Canal latéral à l’Aisne
We were turning left and heading for Soissons and knew we had to pick up a télécommande at the first lock in order to operate the locks down to the River Aisne.  What we didn’t know was how to get the first lock to work.  It didn’t matter as when we approached it the gates opened, and the green light came on. We wondered how this happened and then realised that we were expected as the canal was now closed for winter in the other direction so there was only one way for us to go.  The éclusiere came out and took our details in exchange for the télécommande.

Green light at our first lock on the new canal
We dropped through the lock and moored up immediately after it on one of the stretches Karen had checked was free.  With such a grey day we felt we had been lucky to avoid the rain and in fact the clouds rolled away giving a pleasant evening in the end.

Moored at Berry-au-Bac on Thursday
During Thursday we travelled nine kilometres down six locks.

Friday was due to be full sun all day so we thought that when Karen returned from her run, we would have a longer cruise than usual. Unbelievably, it started raining when we were having our coffee so we changed our plans believing the sun would come out in an hour or two.  The new plan was that Karen & Buddy would do their run on the towpath and I would cruise alongside them.

Whenever Karen runs on the towpath, unless it is a marked cycleway, we always check on Google Earth that there is a path for at least six kilometres.  We were about to check when we felt the lock starting to empty behind us.  Looking out we saw a laden commercial was on its way down.  As we didn’t fancy being stuck behind it, we set off straight away but did check we both had our phones with us first.

The first two kilometres were quite stressful as I was keen to keep in front of the commercial having pulled out in front of him and feeling rather guilty about it.  With such a wide, deep and straight canal he was soon going almost at my speed, but I was relieved he wasn’t gaining on me.  I was in front of Karen, who was keeping pace with the boat behind me, and suddenly realised I couldn’t see a path either side of the cut.

I realised that things were going to get more stressful so I pulled into the side hoping there wasn’t a ledge that the commercial’s wash would lift us onto as he passed.  To give him his due he slowed right down, and we exchanged cheery waves as he passed me.  His partner even popped out to take a photograph as they went by 😊

The Aisne valley and the commercial way in the distance
While this was going on, a farmer on a tractor stopped Karen and explained to her that she wouldn’t be able to run along the canal and would have to take a detour by road.  She rang to explain what she was doing, and I saw on our map that the road she was running down would come out on a road that crossed the canal a few kilometres further down.  I told her I would wait under or by the bridge.

As I approached the bridge, I could see a commercial coming in the opposite direction so thought I ought to tie up securely.  Fortunately, the side had metal pilings with holes in the top so I made safe to those.  On a canal, the wash is so strong from these big boats that standing on the bank holding onto a line won't work so we either have to be tied up or on the boat with the engine in gear.  Karen & Buddy soon appeared and whilst they were sorting themselves out, I saw another commercial approaching from behind so this time I let him go before we set off again.

We stopped for lunch by some silos at a place called Villers-en-Prayères.  This was the first time we have stopped somewhere like this, but it looked quiet, we weren’t stopping long and we moored as far away from the loading bay as possible.

Stopped for lunch at our first ever silo mooring
We only had a couple of kilometres left to go after lunch as we were hoping to moor on the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne which meets the current canal at Bourg-et-Comin.

Approaching the junction with the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne
Unusually for a canal there was a pontoon provided for pleasure boats and as there was room for us, we pulled up for the day.  The other boats there looked like they had been left for the winter and to be fair to a couple of the owners they had moored along the ends of the pontoon rather than selfishly hogging the pontoon itself.

Moored at Bourg-et-Comin on Friday
Welcome sign to the town moorings
As it was such a lovely day we went for a walk as soon as we moored up, heading for the village first.

Good old concrete bridge over the canal
Looking down from the canal bridge we could see a large building that looked just like a pumping station.  Sure enough, when we got nearer we saw a sign to the hydroelectric pumping station.  It turned out that it pumps water up from the River Aisne into the canal.

The pumping station
Crossing the River Aisne, we had a good view of the village of Bourg-et-Comin:

At the entrance to the village was a very good information board that showed some interesting local walks and also had pictures of lavoirs in those villages.  One of the walks was 20 kilometres around the locks on the two canals running through the area and the other one, a little shorter at 15.5 kilometres, takes in some caves that used to be inhabited until relatively recently.  If the weather is fine on our way back to Reims next week we fancy stopping again and doing the ‘Circuit des villages troglodytique’.

An informative information board
Just as we were about to carry on, Karen spotted a lavoir on the other side of the road.  This wasn’t even on the map and turned out to be one of the rare twin-tub wash houses and also had the highest roof we have ever seen.

Lavoir at Bourg-et-Comin
The twin tubs
As usual more pictures can be found by clicking here.

Just past the lavoir was the old railway station building.  The railway must have been disused for a good long time as a couple of not too modern bungalows were built over the tracks where we were standing to take this picture:

The church dates from the 12th century
Before leaving the village, we walked around an arboretum which had a good range of trees with neat information boards against each. Some of you may remember a blog entry from a month or so ago where I mentioned about a nut tree that we often see over here but don’t know what it is.  In that blog entry I asked readers if they knew and we were overwhelmed by the responses: not a single suggestion was received 😊

To our luck, one of these nut trees was in the arboretum and we found out that it is one of the fastest growing hardwoods – the paulownia tree.  Also known as the princess tree or empress tree it was originally imported to Europe from Asia in the 1840s as an ornamental.

Paulownia nuts on the paulownia tree
All in all, we felt that the village was well worth visiting and were pleased that the information plaques and boards were actually informative.  The only downside was that it was one of the very few places we have visited that didn’t have an internet signal.  This was a downer for us as we wanted to watch the rugby on Saturday.  We will now have to avoid the results and find somewhere else to moor on Saturday where we get a signal so we can watch on catch up.

On Friday we cruised 19 kilometres through no locks.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Sorry, what this blog reader knows about tree varieties could be easily written on the back of a postage stamp 😏