Sunday 23 August 2020

Chaillevois (pastures new)

Karen checking for a mooring space on Friday

We’d heard rain off and on during Thursday night although it had stopped by the time we got up.  It was still cloudy though, but the clouds soon dispersed once we got on the move.  In fact, it was a day of alternating cloud cover and sun which made it quite pleasant for cruising even though it was hotter than expected.

We only had one lock to drop down before were leaving the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne and arriving at the junction with the Canal latéral à l’Aisne.  Being a ‘latéral’ canal means that it runs parallel to the course of a river, in this case, the River Aisne.  We had hoped to be turning right and heading north east to reach the River Meuse and meet up with the girls on Puddleduck.  As luck had it (or rather didn’t have it) there’s currently a badly damaged lock preventing access up to the Meuse, so we had no choice but to turn left.

Coming out of the lock onto the junction with the Canal latéral à l’Aisne

Looking back the way we’d wanted to go

It was straight into another lock as soon as we’d turned left.  This one is manned (or womanned as there was an éclusiere on duty) and she gave us a télécommande to operate locks on the Canal latéral à l’Aisne.  

Remote control unit for the next week or so

That lock was in fact the only one before we reached Bour-et-Comin where we planned on mooring for the night.  As we left the lock, we passed a feeder canal which carries water diverted from the River Aisne into the canal.

Feeder canal to the left

It’s a fairly straight lock-free 20-kilometre cruise down to Bourg-et-Comin through one of the most rural areas we’ve travelled yet.  We explored the handful of villages when we came up and down last year so only planned on a quick lunch stop.

Following the previous blog update, where I couldn’t understand how we’d used so much fuel, Mike Fielding had got in touch wondering if it had been stolen.  As we have a locking fuel tank, we knew it wasn’t that, but I was thankful he’d contacted us as it jogged my aging and decrepit memory.  It came back to me that I’d filled up the two jerry cans before we set off without making a record of it.  In addition I hadn’t topped up the fuel tank so we had started off with much less fuel than we thought. 

One of the things our children make jokes about us is the number of breakfasts I have.  Karen had bought some pastel de natas when she last went shopping and she had also made a blackberry and apple crumble from the previous day’s pickings.  This meant I had a difficult decision to make for breakfast #4 which I was having on the move – I went with the pastel de nata in the end as crumble makes for a good mid-afternoon snack.

Clouding over approaching Maizy

Apparently, there are moorings at Maizy but we couldn’t find them last year.  We were determined to give it another go as it was the one place we hadn’t visited.  As we cruised slowly along the bank, a guy came out of his house to ask if we were OK.  I said we were looking for an ‘amarrage’ (mooring).  He was very helpful and told us where there was a bollard a bit further along and he also offered to take a line.

We were soon moored up and having lunch

Before setting off again we had a wander around Maizy.  Although the buildings were mainly well looked after there was something sad about the place.  We soon realised that, unlike most villages and towns in France, it was lacking in floral displays.  The mairie usually leads the way setting the style of the displays and looking at the picture of the mairie you will see what we mean.

Possibly the most soulless mairie

The only flowers were on the war memorial which was well looked after and quite grand considering it only commemorates a handful of village people.

Petunias in front of the war memorial

We didn’t have far to travel after lunch and we hoped to moor at the junction with the next canal, the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne.  There’s a pontoon at the junction and we’d stayed there last year.  As we approached, we could just make out that were boats on the pontoon, so Karen checked with the binoculars and saw there was no space for us.   As there were commercial moorings on the left that were completely empty, we decided to pull up there instead.  In the end it was much better than the pontoon as Buddy could roam free and we were totally on our own  

Moored at Bourg-et-Comin

After settling in we needed to go for a walk and fancied seeing if we could get access to the many lakes that appeared on our map. We’d had a good explore of Bourg-et-Comin when we’d previously visited including finding a rather grand lavoir, so it was good to try something different.  Unfortunately, all the lakes we checked turned out to be private fishing lakes with no public access. 

On the way back we went via the mooring on the other side.  Karen wanted to check the water situation for her records.  The previous times we’d visited, the bornes weren’t working but we’d supposed it was because we were out of season.  As we approached the boats, we could see some were hooked up to the bornes with both electric cables and water hoses which rather confirmed our supposition.  We recognised the two boats at either end from last year so they were either dumped or belonged to people who couldn’t get over to France because of the travelling situation: sadly, so many of the people we’ve met here have been unable to come over and cruise this year. The other three boats were occupied by French couples and two of them were the ones we’d briefly encountered at Courcy at lunch on Thursday.

The two guys were sitting in the shade and asked if we were from the narrowboat (the word is used in French as well as bateau anglais and bateau sauccison).  We confirmed the case and immediately set about finding out which way they were heading; they were continuing on the latéral to Soissons as we did at the end of October.  They also told us that the third boat was heading back in the direction we had all come from.  This meant we were the only ones going up the Oise à l’Aisne which rather pleased us especially as we would be charting new waters for us.

The guys were really friendly, asking lots of questions, and also offering to shuffle the boats around if we wanted to move over for electricity and water.  They were impressed that we didn’t need to because of our panneaux solaire.  We had a good chuckle after we left because of the attire of one of the chaps; he was wearing white plus fours with long black socks and plimsols 😉

We spent most of the rest of the day outside watching the sun go down which is now relatively early as it is dark before nine o’clock at this end of summer.  A fisherman had set up near us and he had a little dog that played with Buddy every so often.  Not knowing much about fishing let alone anything about it in French means we never exchange anything other than a bonjour with fishermen.  At least with a dog we had something in common which broadened the conversation slightly.  Anyway, the point of mentioning him is that later in the evening a car pulled up and two girls and a guy started unloading serious looking fishing gear.  Our fisherman took great exception and quite an altercation took place, resulting in him speaking animatedly into his mobile and the others packing up and leaving.  We never found out what it was all about though.

Commercial passing later in the evening

On Friday we cruised 13 miles down two locks and saw two boats on the move, a German pleasure cruiser and the commercial above.

By nine o’clock on Saturday morning, the two French boats had left the pontoon mooring and were on their way to Soissons.  Shortly afterwards the other one left and was coming past us on its way to Reims.  We left an hour or so later and headed onto the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne for the first time.

Passing the now vacant pontoon as we turned onto the new canal

This canal, as its name implies, provides a route between the valleys of the rivers Oise and Aisne and was opened in 1890.  It was one of the last French canals to be built and is a popular route for freight traffic travelling from places like Belgium and Calais down to Champagne and then on to the south.  It's fairly short at 49 kilometres, has 13 locks and a tunnel at the summit.  The locks are Freycinet sized which means only the smaller 39 metre commercials can use it.  Our current plan has us staying on the canal for a week before we join the Canal latéral à l’Oise.

The Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne in context with the north of France and its waterways

Crossing the River Aisne with Bourg-et-Comin in the distance

After crossing the Aisne, it wasn’t long before we were heading for the first of the four locks that took us up to the summit.  We knew they were deeper than of late, so Karen got on the roof in readiness for looping her line over a bollard.

The look didn’t look that deep, it was only 3.75 metres, but the bollards were set so far back that Karen couldn’t reach them.  The very deep locks we have been through before have either floating bollards, sliding poles or floating pontoons which make them very easy to use.  The deepest we have encountered so far was on the Canal du Centre in Châlons-sur-Saône at just under 11 metres. 

To make it easier this lock had stepped bollards so Karen could make secure to a lower one and then move the line to the top when the boat had risen.

Looping onto a stepped bollard

Fellow boaters may ask why Karen didn’t use a ladder to climb up with the rope which is often an alternative solution.  For some reason this lock didn’t have ladders set in the side!

Once secure we then had to start the lock operation which was achieved by pulling up on a blue rod set into the lock wall.

Blue rod to operate the lock is in the recess

As you can see in the picture above, the recess was too far back to reach even after reversing as far as Karen’s line would allow.  In the end Karen had to release her line, I reversed back, pushed up the rod, sanitized my hands then pulled forward again for Karen to get her line on to secure the boat before the water started rushing in forcing us all over the place.

Once we had risen halfway, Karen put a second line over the bollard at the top and then had to remove the first line.

Secured at the top but bottom line nearly submerged

Once we were safely through we discussed how we should approach the remaining locks and decided that I would push up the rod as we were going in and Karen would do the rope work whilst the gates were closing.  All went well and we were soon up the all the locks and at the summit level.

Sadly, most of the lock cottages were abandoned

As well as having a different style of lock, this new canal felt quite different.  One obvious thing was that there was no towpath on either side so the vegetation was growing right up to the bank side making it feel very much like a river.

A different feel to the canal

It wasn’t long before we were approaching the 2.3-kilometre-long tunnel at Braye-en-Laonnois which is only six metres wide at water level so has a one-way operation controlled by traffic lights.  When we went through the one-way tunnel at Billy earlier this week, the controller didn’t see us, and we had to hang around a while before he noticed us and set the traffic lights.  This time the controller saw us as soon as we came into sight and set the lights to green for us.

Approaching the tunnel at Braye-en-Laonnais

A section of the tunnel collapsed during WWI and we could see the rebuilt section as we went through.  I have been unable to find out anything about the collapse other than the scant mention in our guidebook.

A commercial came in the opposite direction soon after we came out of the tunnel.  This was rather well timed and we were pleased we got through when we did otherwise we would have had a long wait as it takes an age for large boats to get through when they take up the full width of a tunnel making water displacement difficult.

We carried on a little way after the tunnel to Pargny-Filain which is on the banks of a large leisure lake.  This was our planned destination for the day and as we went alongside the two-kilometre-long lake we could see crowds of people sunbathing and swimming from the beach on the far side.

Lac de Monampteuil

There was a pontoon at the far end which had an abandoned cruiser alongside but there was still enough room for us to fit on.

Moored at Pargny-Filain

The mooring notes had mentioned that there was a cost of €7 to moor and we assumed this was only if we wanted electricity and water.  A guy came over from the liveaboard péniche on the right in the picture above and asked if we wanted services and didn’t ask for a charge when we said we didn’t.  We assumed that we could stay overnight for free and decided to go for a walk around the lake.

The village of Monampteuil on the hill above the lake

As many of you know we always like to have circular walks where possible.  This always presents us with a conundrum: which way around do we walk?  The answer is always that the most boring part should be walked first but this still leaves a discussion as to which way that would be.  This time it was simple as part of the walk had to be along the path between the canal and the lake and as we had just cruised along it, the choice was easy. 

We came across a kilometre stone soon after we started and were surprised we hadn’t seen it when we passed on the boat.  We then remembered that we had been concentrating on finding the mooring spot and had obviously missed it. 

Kilometre stone

The stone looked like it could easily have been there since the canal opened in 1890 other than the white 36 in the blue circle which was clearly a more recent addition.  

When we got to the far end and started walking back along the beach side, the path was under trees which gave a welcome relief from the sun that had been beating down out in the open.

Looking back from the far end

When we reached the area where people were swimming and using the beach, we were stopped by a high fence which wasn’t surprising considering there’s a charge to use the beach.  We then had to turn around and find a way around the perimeter fence.  It wasn’t just the beach that was fenced off but a large adventure park and forest trail. This gave us a lovely walk through the woods towards the village of Monampteuil but did mean we ended up walking nearly four kilometres further than we originally thought.

When we got back to the boat we had a quick discussion about whether we really wanted to stay there overnight and we realised that both of us wanted to carry on and find somewhere where we could be on our own.  We got going again and carried on through a couple more locks to the next mooring spot which turned out to be ideal if a little overgrown.

Quiet mooring at Chaillevois

Other than the three boats that left the pontoon at Bourg-en-Comin early in the morning the only other boat we saw on the move on Saturday was the commercial near the Braye tunnel.  During the day we cruised ten miles through six locks. 

Now we’re on a new canal we will revert to having a day off every other day so plan on staying here for Sunday


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