Sunday 2 August 2020

Châlons-en-Champagne (a mad dash)

Someone’s nicked our mooring

We knew we had a hot day ahead on Friday but at 39 degrees at least it wasn’t going to be quite like the two heatwaves last year when it rose above 40.  The definition of a heatwave varies between countries not least because mean temperatures vary across countries.  In France a heatwave or canicule is generally when there are three consecutive nights where the temperature doesn’t drop below 20 degrees Celsius.

Matthew’s visiting for a couple of nights on Sunday and we’d arranged to moor back in the port at Châlons-en-Champagne whilst he stays.  This meant we had 30 miles to cover in two days back down to the end of the Marne au Rhin and then turning right onto the latéral à la Marne to Châlons.  We set off early so we could get moored at a spot we knew we’d get shade later in the day.  We had to ring for help at one lock but the éclusier arrived very quickly so he must have been in the area at the time.  He got the lock going straight away and we were soon on our way and heading for the last lock on the Marne au Rhin. On our way up we’d noticed there was a water point at the lock so this time we stopped inside the lock and filled up. 

Water points at locks are good because they tend to be high pressure with a large bore and consequently it doesn’t take long to fill up; however, it does highlight another difference between cruising in the UK and France. In the UK water points are maintained by the CRT and are one size fits all so our standard hose attachment has never failed to work. Over here, we have a plethora of fixings and adapters as there’s no standard way of attaching hoses.  As if to prove the point this lock had a fitting that we hadn’t come across before and none of our adapters fitted.  This meant it was out with the water pump pliers to temporarily remove the fitting and put one of ours on.

After we got back onto the latéral à la Marne we manged to moor at the spot we wanted in time for lunch and the worst heat of the day.  In case you’re worried about Buddy, we keep him cool by covering him in a wet towel at night and quite often during the day too.

Having not seen a boat on the move for a few days we were surprised to hear a commercial come past us an hour before the locks closed at 7.00pm.  He must have been the last boat off the Marne au Rhin behind us and we hoped he would get a little way ahead of us so we wouldn’t get stuck behind him in the morning.

On Friday we cruised 11 miles down five locks.

The other day, Peter Williams, an old friend of mine, asked why we have a fascination for lavoirs, and I must admit he’s not the first to ask.  I never bothered to learn much at school although I have come to regret it in later years.  World history, especially, is one of the subjects that I wish I’d studied.  Ever since having holidays in France and Italy I’ve been aware of wash houses but not the impact they had on social life.  Although their main purpose was for cleaning clothes, they were also the meeting place for women in the community and where all the gossip happened.  You can just imagine the impact that the introduction of early electronic washing equipment had on the social interaction; there would have been no excuse for women to gather to exchange the latest news and they would spend more time alone at home.  As I said to Peter, we can feel all this when sitting inside one of these cool and quiet places.  It’s a testament to France that they’re preserving these places for posterity.

With nearly 20 miles to cover on Saturday we set out early and planned to stop at a mooring we had seen just below the second lock.  Unfortunately for us, the commercial that passed us the previous evening was moored there.  This was quite surprising as we would have expected him to have left as soon as the locks opened at 7.00am.  We then saw that his Audi A4 wasn’t on the back so realised that it must be a day off or a shopping day or something similar.  Anyway, it meant we wouldn’t be getting in each other’s way.

Tell-tale disappearance of a car from the back deck

We carried on to Soulanges for our breakfast stop, after which Karen and Buddy walked while I carried on through the next couple of locks to meet them further downstream.

Getting ready to moor under the tall trees at Soulanges

Some of the waterway information signs have English and/or German translations and we noticed one where the English translation was a bit confusing.  The locks on this canal are set in motion and opened by twisting a pole ¼ of a turn .  Generally, there is a sign warning that there is a pole ahead with the text, ‘¼ de tour pour écluser’ or simply ‘Pour écluser’.  One such sign had an English translation of, ‘Make a quarter of tour to close the locks’. 

Why would we want to close the lock rather than open it?

At many villages there are signs indicating points where fire engines may take on water.  These are nowhere as interesting as Birmingham’s red doors.  During WWII when bombing in Birmingham often damaged water mains, the fire brigade resorted to using canal water to extinguish fires as there were so many canals in the city providing a plentiful water supply.  Holes were cut into bridge parapets for the hoses to be dropped into the water and red doors placed over the openings.  We’ve spent many a happy hour spotting these red doors in Birmingham and they’re especially good at highlighting where canals have now been filled in.

Fire engine water extraction sign

Cruising on our old boat under two red doors in the centre of Birmingham

After a long day’s cruising by our recent standards we arrived back in Châlons.  There were very few boats in the port and we were able to take the pontoon we had occupied during the lockdown.  Martin was on his old Dutch barge at the other end and kindly walked down to give us a hand mooring up.

Back at Châlons but no Puddleduck next to us

On Saturday we cruised 19 miles down seven locks.

So, since setting out just over three weeks ago and being turned around on two canals we are back where we started.  With all routes to the south, east and north east closed we have nothing for it but to head west or north.  West is down the Marne and Seine to Paris and as we were there last year it looks like we’ll be heading north when we return from out little trip back to the UK next week.  Even though it’s not the way we wanted to go it’s still exciting as we’ll be able to explore yet more new places.

140 miles through 80 locks in just over three weeks

Before I sign off, I’ll include a recent picture of Ellis:

Lauren and Ellis both looking well and happy

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