Saturday 29 August 2020

Quessy (we did it our way)

Sunrise on Thursday at Guny

Guy & Ardon were leaving early on Thursday morning and popped around to say goodbye as we were having breakfast.  We were going to get on the move too but wanted to have a look at the village of Guny first; having stayed there overnight it felt almost rude not to pay a visit.  Like so many villages, the boulangerie was closed down and replaced by a baguette machine in the square.  It seemed to be doing a roaring trade, but we thought that probably because we were out a lot earlier than we would be normally.  It was mainly a collection of farm buildings and, other than the mairie and church, there wasn’t much else to the village, so we went back to get ready to leave.

We were heading to the northern end of the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne where, for some reason I had it fixed in my mind, the canal crossed the River Oise on a stunning aqueduct.  So that was our target for the lunchtime stop. As we neared the end, the forest of the last few days started thinning out and we could begin to see open countryside again.

End of the forest

By the time we arrived at the aqueduct the sun had burnt through the cloud cover and we found an ideal spot to moor. Ideal for us is somewhere where nothing can come past whether walkers, cyclists or vehicles.  This means Buddy can be left outside the boat without us worrying if he is bothering anyone or getting in the way of traffic.

'Ideal' mooring for lunch by the aqueduct over the Oise

As it was a bit early for lunch we had a walk first to take in the aqueduct and the junction with the next canal, the Canal latéral à l’Oise which, as its name implies, runs parallel with the River Oise.  As the aqueduct was the first thing we came to we looked for a way down from the canal to the river below.  We tried both sides, but the undergrowth was so thick there was no way down.  As it was, the aqueduct wasn’t the amazing sight of many arches stretching over 100 metres or so that I had in my mind, just a trough on concrete pillars.

Not the aqueduct of my imagination

We then carried onto the junction and found an interesting railway bridge in that we couldn’t find out (not even on the internet later) what was carried on it.

Bridge at the junction at the end of the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne

What was carried over the canal here? 

After lunch we carried on to Chauny, our final destination for the day, but first we had to drop down the final lock.  Its lock cottage had been demolished but the information plate that would have been set above the front door was proudly displayed in a plinth beside the lock.

Information plate from the demolished lock cottage

Going down the last lock on the Canal de l’Oise à ‘Aisne

We turned right at the junction to travel the last three kilometres of the latéral de l’Oise to the port at Chauny where it joins the Canal de St Quentin.

Arriving at the port in Chauny

Opposite the port was a 300-metre-long concrete quay with plenty of sensibly spaced bollards.  There were only two other boats and a sightseeing boat moored there so there was plenty of room for us.

Moored on the concrete quay

As it was a concrete quay, in the middle of a town and no grass around it wasn’t particularly suitable for Buddy so will probably move on tomorrow.  We checked out the town later and it turned out to be busier than other places we have visited of late with people shopping in a long high street that stretched from the canal towards a large park at the far end.

Floral display on bridge over canal

After crossing the railway line, we arrived at a roundabout that had three large monkeys in the middle.  The monkey is the emblem of Chauny and reading up on it later we found that there are at least three different legends as to the reason the monkey is the chosen emblem.  We like the one that says that when they wanted to populate the many waterways in Chauny with swans that they asked Paris to send some.  In those days monkey was spelt ‘cynge’ in French (nowadays it is ‘singe’); this was either misspelt or mistaken for ‘cygne’, the French word for swan!

Three monkey swans in front of the Notre Dame

Dogs weren’t allowed in either the large park at the top end of town nor another one we found so we continued walking the streets.  The market hall was an attractive building as was the mairie or hôtel de ville as they are called in towns. The current hôtel de ville was built in 1931 to replace the earlier one that had been completely destroyed in the earlier war.  Many of the buildings in the town were rebuilt in a similar style too.

Hôtel de ville

Chauny has two churches, this was the other one, that was also had to be extensively rebuilt.

Église St Martin

After exploring the town, we headed along the Canal de St Quentin in search of an abandoned waterway.  The St Quentin canal originally joined the River Oise in Chauny but when the latéral à l’Oise canal was built the river became unnavigable and so the link to the river fell into disuse.

Walking up to the first (or final) lock on the St Quentin

Above the locks we branched right towards the Oise and eventually found what we were looking for.

Abandoned lock on the canal that used to link the St Quentin with the River Oise

Later in the day we were contacted by Helen; she and Peter are friends from the village where we used to live in Kent.  They have a house in the south of France and always try and pop in to see us on their way down there.  Helen had been reading the last blog update where we recounted our visit to Coucy-le-Château.  It had taken her back to the 1960s when their annual family holidays were taken in Switzerland.  They used to drive down and every year they would stay at the Bellevue hotel in the upper town of Coucy on the way down and also on the way back.  She said it brought back such happy memories and sent us some pictures of a few items left from those times.

The hotel’s business card from the 1960s 

On Thursday we cruised nine miles down one lock and saw a day boat and a commercial on the move.

Friday dawned bright and sunny as we started on our journey to travel the length of the Canal de St Quentin.  The 93km long canal was opened in 1810 and runs from Chauny at the southern end up to Cambrai where it joins the River Escaut.  It is a Freycinet gauge canal which means it takes boats with a maximum length of 39 metres.  Until the larger, intermediate gauge Canal du Nord was opened in 1960 the St Quentin was the only route to the extensive canal network of northern France.   Strangely the Canal du Nord wasn’t built to the largest gauge so is limited to boats up to 90 metres in length, because of this it too is being replaced.  Its replacement, the Seine – Nord Europe canal is currently due to open at the end of this decade and will take boats up to 185 metres in length as found on the Seine and other large rivers of Europe.

As with some canals in the UK, such as stretches of the Trent & Mersey and Grand Union, the locks on the St Quentin were doubled up in the early 1900s to cope with the volume of traffic.  There are 35 locks on the canal, all paired, and two tunnels including the longest surviving canal tunnel in France where, incidentally, boats have to be towed through.

By the time we actually set off the clouds had rolled in and the sun had gone although it was appearing again by lunch time.  We were reminded of Chris & Sue who nearly always get rained on when they cruise during the summer months, although we didn’t get rained on so not really à la Hutchins.  As we left the port we passed the point where the latéral à l’Oise joins the St Quentin.  It was marked by a kilometre stone that also confirmed the length of the canal as 92.542 kilometres.

The start (or end) of the St Quentin

A little further on we saw where the original canal used to drop down to the River Oise via the abandoned lock we found yesterday.

Original canal a lot narrower than when it was widened when the locks were doubled up

Unusually the locks had lock landings, but the bollards were massive and 40 metres apart so not suitable for pleasure boats.

Lock landing with commercial sized bollards

The télécommande we used on the last canal also works on the locks up to the summit of the St Quentin where it has to be handed back.  The only difference being that as the locks were in pairs we had to wait for the appropriate lights to indicate which lock to approach.  The idea is that the right hand locks are for going upstream but it wasn't always the case.  After going up the fourth lock we reached a junction where a branch of the St Quentin goes off right to join the Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise.

Turning left into a lock to continue up the St Quentin

The locks generally had two lock cottages; the second ones were added when the locks were doubled up.  Most of the original cottages still have their information plates showing the name and number of the lock as well as the distances to the next lock and major town in each direction.

Information plate at écluse 29, ‘Fargniers I’Add caption

After three more locks we started looking for somewhere to moor.  The banks had far more bollards than we’ve seen before, but they were at least 40 metres apart so no use for us.  In the end we found two that were 20 metres apart at a place called Quessy which was just outside the towns of Tergnier and Fargniers that were divided by the canal.  We decided to go for it and moored up for the rest of the day.

Moored on the only pair of bollards close enough

After lunch we did a bit of research to find out where we should walk for the afternoon.  We knew we weren’t far from a big railway yard and also a model village built for the 1,500 or so railway workers.  There were also the expected memorials to the world wars but for some reason we couldn’t find out the locations.  For example, there would be an explanation in great detail about the Veltin school being bombed and how the clock on the tower survived but stopped working.  The account then went on to describe how the clock was incorporated into a new building and still shows the time of the raid but no description of where the school could be found.  In the end we decided to investigate on our own.

It wasn’t long before we came across a fishing lake in Quessy, but as there were quite a few fishermen there we had to keep Buddy on a lead as we walked around.

Half the fishing lake

We then came back to the canal and crossed it to find the railway goods yard.  In the end we couldn’t miss it and it looked fully operational with shunters moving wagons around. 

Goods yard

We then read an information board on the bridge over the tracks which gave information about an air raid in 1944 when 50 lines were blocked, and 16 locomotives destroyed.  The Germans were using the yard as a hub for supplying arms etc. to their forces occupying northern France.  On the night of 10th August, 789 British bombers raided four railway hubs in France and one in Belgium; 19 planes didn’t return.

We then carried on and found the model village that was built for the railway workers and learnt the sad fact that on that same night, ¾ of the houses were also destroyed by the British planes.   

Some of the model village houses…
…and a few more

Just around the corner we found the Veltin clock.  It was at the top of a tower on a building that houses a dance school. 

A plaque outside reiterated that the clock stopped on the night of 10th August when ¾ of the “railway workers’ wonderful homes” were destroyed.   

Apart from having a delightful evening in the sun together (Karen does read this sometimes) the only other thing of note was three ladies coming over to the boat to take pictures.  They brought a small table with them and used it to display meringues and tarts they had made.  For some reason they wanted the Chalkhill Blue butterfly on the side of the boat as the backdrop to their pictures.

On Friday we cruised six miles up seven locks and saw four boats on the move, all commercials.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Ah, we wondered about the monkeys. Both Lisette and I immediately though of this piece that we saw years ago.