Saturday 18 July 2020

Hallignicourt (getting a move on)

Perfect spot for catching the dawning rays on the solars

Thursday was ‘get through Vitry’ day.  Vitry-le-François, the town at the southern end of the Canal lateral à la Marne, is generally considered fairly grim by boaters.  We understand why as the three canals in the town pass through the industrial areas.  Last year we moored in the town to check it out for ourselves and were nicely surprised when we found it to be quite pleasant so spent a day there exploring the history of the town. 

We had left our car in the middle of town when we went food shopping on Wednesday so would need to stop and move it on as we went through, otherwise the plan was to carry on south and moor out in the countryside.  Our pictures taken as we cruised through the town do seem to justify the ‘grim’ view, especially as it was such an overcast day. We set off early for us at 10.30 and, after going up the last lock on the canal could see Vitry ahead of us.

Heading into Vitry-le-François

The town is hidden by the trees, but you can see an example of the history of the town.  The canal used to run straight into the old town but is now largely built over.  We turned left into a relatively new bypass.  The map below puts it into perspective; the orange dot is where the top picture is taken and the original line of the canal can be seen continuing straight down to the formally laid out old town, bending left past what were transhipment warehouses then meeting the Canal de la Marne au Rhin at the green star.

At the end of the bypass is the current junction with the Marne au Rhin (red star).  Before the coronavirus hit, our plan for this year had been to turn left onto the Marne au Rhin and head for Strasbourg and then Germany and Luxembourg.  That will wait until next year when we will have more time.  We turned right to cruise down to the River Saône.

At the red star

After turning right it was only a kilometre to the end of the Marne au Rhin and we were at the original junction (green star) which is now a boat yard one side and a pleasure boat port on what is left of the original canal on the right.

The boatyard looking rather sorry for itself and the port just out of sight to the right

Although the boatyard looks rather sorry for itself, it may well be the place we get craned our when we finally come back to the UK.  It can’t be seen here but they do crane out commercials to work on and have a dry dock that accommodates two 40m boats.

This junction is also the start of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne which we joined and hope to travel its length this year, having had to turn around last year when it closed due to lack of water.

Welcome sign at the first lock on the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne

We stopped at an old quay just after the lock so we could get the car and move it on.  As we came up the lock, we could see there were a couple of boats already moored there and suspected we wouldn’t get in.  In the end we were lucky as Karen found a couple of bollards hidden in the undergrowth and we managed to moor up OK – the blue star in the map. 

At the blue star

The plastic boat at the back looked like it had been there all year but there were an American couple on board the Piper.  They live in Geneva and had recently bought the boat in Holland and were on their way to Mâcon where they have secured a mooring.  They remarked how quiet the waterways are and said we were the first people they had bumped into since going through Paris.

The final thing to point out about the map of Vitry is that the River Marne can be seen forming a natural boundary to the town as it runs down the western side.

After lunch I walked into town to pick up the car and then came back for Karen and Buddy and we all drove to Luxémont-et-Villote where we left the car by the canal and walked back to the boat.  We were just about to set off when we noticed a commercial coming up the lock behind us, so we tied back up to let it go through and had a cuppa while we gave it time to get ahead.  We were just about to set off again when the same thing happened.  This time we set off as soon as the boat had passed.  As it happened, while the lock disappeared into the distance behind us, we saw the red and green light coming on indicating yet another boat was coming up.

A VNF van pulled up alongside us and told us not to worry as, even though it was another commercial, it was heavily laden and wouldn’t catch up with us.   He also told us that they don’t expect any boats to be coming through on Friday so we would have a quiet day.  We had a slow journey to where we planned to moor for the night as there was a lot of weed.  VNF had cleared a lot of it as it could be seen dumped on the banks all the way along.  Even so, we had several trips to the weed hatch to clear the propeller.

We were also delayed at the penultimate lock of the day where we caught up with the two commercials ahead of us. We’re not sure what held them up, but it looked like the lock was extremely tight as it took a long time for the one we were following to get in.

Mentioning locks reminds me that these operate in a different way to those on the previous canal.  They are still automatic but, instead of using a twisty pole and rods to operate them, we were handed a télécommande at the first lock.

Our télécommande

This remote-control unit is required for the first 30-odd locks on the canal and is used to set and operate them.  This is rather handy as it means we don’t touch anything and can dispense with using sanitiser at every lock when we use the twisty pole or operating rods.  This handy sign sits before (most!) locks indicating at which point the télécommande will work.

As we went up our fifth and final lock of the day, we were quite ready to moor up at a spot we have used before where there is just enough room for one boat.  It is also on the offside away from the towpath so is private with no walkers or cyclists passing by.  Unfortunately, as we came up the lock we could see there was already a boat moored there.  We were both really disappointed, especially as it meant we would have to carry on cruising into the evening to the next stop.  As it turned out there was a rare lock landing at the top of the lock. so we were able to moor to the two bollards provided on the onside.

Moored at Écriennes

On Thursday we cruised eight miles up five locks which is a lot for us compared with the previous days this week.

Over breakfast on Friday we decided to get a bit of a move on to reach the outskirts of St Dizier.  We set off after moving the car further up the canal and walking back.  Once we reach St Dizier, we will probably stop moving the car daily as we will be in pastures new and will want to spend time exploring.  We plan on just moving the car every week or so, using the train to get back to where we left it last.

We thought we had explored Écriennes last time we were here, but we soon realised we were wrong as we didn’t recognise the village at all.  On top of that we found two lavoirs that are new to us, thus confirming we hadn’t visited before.

Two small lavoirs in Écriennes

There are very few bends on the first 30 kilometres of this canal, consequently there are some long straights.  The one we went along today is 14 km long! Sounds like it would be boring, but surprisingly we found it interesting.  Maybe because there are views for miles across the open countryside through the trees lining the sides and also there’s a lock every couple of kilometres.

Next lock in the far distance

The lock cottages on the northern section of this canal are all built in the same style and have the opening date, 1864, inscribed into their front door lintels.  Some are really well looked after and have beautiful gardens.  This one doesn’t have much of a garden – there were a family eating lunch outside the prettiest one so I didn’t feel I should take a picture!

Typical lock cottage of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne

An information plate is positioned over each front door giving the name and number of the lock and the distances to the next locks upstream and downstream.

Typical information plate

The sharp eyed may see that the plate shows the name of the canal as the Marne à la Saône and not the entre Champagne et Bourgogne.  Many French canals provide a route between two rivers and consequently their name reflects the two rivers such as the Marne à la Saône.  It owes its modern name to marketing; it was renamed to the entre Champagne et Bourgogne to make it more attractive to tourists. Other than those that link two rivers, most other canals run along the valleys of unnavigable rivers and are named Canal latéral à la Marne/Aisne/Oise etc.

After another long cruise for us, we arrived at Hallignicourt where we planned to moor as we knew there are two handy bollards there. The undergrowth was so tall that we could only find one of the bollards and ended up tying the other end to a tree.  We know it's not usually the done thing to do but we are on the offside there is no access so no one will walk past and risk falling over the rope.

Moored at Hallignicourt

We are right alongside the St-Dizier-Robinson aerodrome where Rafale fighter jets are operated from.  Last year we could hear them all day performing their exercises but today all was quiet.

On Saturday we cruised 10 miles up seven locks.

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