Juvigny (autumn has arrived)

Tuesday at Billy-le-Grand
If the weather forecast is correct, we are in for some very strong winds for a few days from Friday.  On the back of this knowledge we decided to move on Tuesday even though it was looking quite grey.  That way we had a good chance of reaching Châlons-en-Champagne before the winds arrive. 

Grey skies at Sillery on Tuesday morning
There were quite a few boats we know who were overwintering at the port in Sillery; most of which looked like they were left until next year.  There were a few with people on still including a lovely French lady, on the boat with the bike on the back in the picture above, who we met last time we were here.  She didn’t know a word of English but loved talking so much that she was really helpful and patient with our French.  She came out of her boat to say goodbye as we left and helped me by indicating how close the front of the boat was to the other boats and the ends of the pontoons.

Looking back at the port with the promise of blue skies on the way
Just outside Sillery we passed a factory that rather reminded us of the fume-belching Tata, chemical factories near Northwich up on the Trent & Mersey canal where our boat was fitted out.  Not sure what they were doing at the Sillery plant but it looked like small lumps of limestone were being cleaned.

Reminiscent of Northwich
We only had three locks to go up on our way to Billy-le-Grand where we planned on stopping for lunch.  Today we had no problems and they all worked smoothly; just as well as there was a commercial a couple of kilometres behind us.

After the last lock we were at the summit and could see the first vineyards along the hills heading down to the Marne valley.  They had lost their green colour over the last couple of weeks and were well on their way to their distinctive golden colour of autumn.

Vineyards turning golden in the distance
We were soon approaching Billy tunnel, where we had planned to have lunch before going through.  As we got closer, we had obviously been spotted by the guy at the other end of the tunnel as the lights turned green.  He sits up in a tower with a closed-circuit TV overlooking the portal at the blind end where we were approaching from.  As he had changed the lights we decided to go through anyway, hoping we could moor on the far side.

Passing through the well-lit 2.3-kilometre-long Billy tunnel
Work on digging the tunnel was started in 1841 and it didn’t open until 1856.  I think I mentioned before that most of this canal was rebuilt after WWI because it was so badly bombarded.  What I hadn’t mentioned was that the tunnel was used as a place of storage during the war; artillery being kept on boats in the tunnel.

Moored for lunch after emerging from the tunnel
It had turned into such a lovely day that we decided to stay put and go for a walk in the afternoon instead of continuing.  There was no clear towpath either side, but the grass had been mown so it was easy to walk along.  We found a few trees that had come down in the past and had been roughly logged.  As the logs had clearly been laying there a long time and hadn’t been collected, we made a couple of piles that we would pick up on our way through on Wednesday.

The black spots in the distance are two of our log piles
It had turned out to be really warm and we regretted bringing our coats as we had to carry them the whole way.  This sort of walk is ideal for Buddy as, with no houses around nor any walkers or cyclists he could be off the lead.

More autumnal colours
On Tuesday we cruised 15 kilometres up three locks.

We all set off at the same time in the morning, Karen & Buddy for their run and me heading for the locks.  On the way we stopped to pick up the logs we had piled up on the side of the cut yesterday.  

As we were going downhill it’s quite easy to single hand the locks.  I still haven’t worked out how to single hand going uphill in a French lock though.  Saying that it’s easy, the locks on the flight down to Condé-sur-Marne were a bit tricky as they had railings really close to the edge making it hard to walk along with a line in one hand.  The larger boats have walkways along either side, so crew don’t have to get off to throw a line over a bollard or operate the controls but it’s not so easy on a narrowboat.

On the way down - not a lot of room to walk along the side
I passed one commercial and a hotel boat on their way up and then met up with Karen at the fourth lock down.  The commercial was one we have seen several times before and the couple on board always seem pleased to recognise us.  The hotel boat was on its last cruise of the season and on its way to Sillery where it moors for winter.  It took us little over two hours to cover nine kilometres and drop down the eight locks and as there was a bollard and a convenient lamppost at the bottom at Condé-sur-Marne we moored up for an early lunch.

There is a small port at Condé with a couple of dozen boats moored up for winter including a narrowboat called Temujin.  Mike & June live on the narrowboat but they appeared to be out, so we didn’t stop.  They have been cruising in mainland Europe for 19 years so have a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Temujin in the port at Condé-sur-Marne
We then turned left onto the Canal latéral à la Marne which is the canal that will take us up to Châlons-en-Champagne.  Having got down the eight locks in the morning without any issues we had a little difficulty at the first lock of the afternoon.  The operating pole thingy wasn’t long enough for us to reach and neither of us could turn it properly so the lock lights stayed on red.  Another issue is that we have got complacent and only slow down a bit expecting it to be easy to twist the pole.  Of course, as we hadn’t slowed down, we were soon way past the pole and so had to reverse back and try again.

I made a right pig’s ear of getting back and ended up nearly turning the boat around in a semi-circle.  I decided that it didn’t matter as it would be a simple matter to spin around again.  Anyway, Karen stood up on the back locker and just managed to twist the pole before I had spun right around.

Got it this time
Strange angle to be going forwards
We moored up just after the second lock near a place called Juvigny and stayed in for the rest of the day.

Wednesday night mooring by the lock at Juvigny
Now the clocks have gone back we have noticed more commercials on the move in the dark but then working hours don't change just because the clocks change.

Just leaving the lock where we are moored
On Wednesday we cruised 18 kilometres down eight eight locks and then up two more.  It remained dry but was feeling quite chilly - definitely warm coats weather.

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