Thursday 10 September 2020

Cappy (orange van men)

Information handed to us at the first lock on the Canal de la Somme

After two stressful days we were looking forward to Tuesday as we would be getting off the busy Canal du Nord and joining the Canal de la Somme which, by all reports, is very quiet and peaceful.  Of course, we still had a way to go on the Nord first and we were both feeling nervous when we woke up. There were two things: firstly, we hadn’t been down the deep Canal du Nord locks before, and Karen admitted she was a little apprehensive about getting her rope work right.  It hadn’t worried me as I knew the locks were very gentle, if deep, and that ropes probably wouldn’t even be necessary.  Knowing Karen was worried about them did make me a little nervous too though.

The other worry, which was mainly mine, was getting in ‘the system’.  Once we’re in the first lock of a series we generally know we won’t have to worry about any commercials catching us up because we’re then in ‘the system’.  The trouble was that we had about three miles before we would get to the first lock of the five locks we were going down and we couldn’t see far behind us from our overnight mooring.  This meant that I was constantly looking behind to see if a boat was in view.  I probably checked far too many times but none came into view and when we arrived at the first lock a boat was coming up, so it wasn’t long before we were going down.

Even though we got through all the locks without any real issues, only two of the five éclusiers responded to our radio requests and we seemed to wait an inordinately long time for a couple of locks to be ready.  At every lock either a boat was coming up or we met one as we came out and a couple of times it was both.

Waiting while a boat to come out of the first lock

There was a little issue coming out of one lock where a commercial was waiting to come in.  He was in one of those positions where I thought I should go to port rather than the natural starboard side.  Of course, being a narrowboat there was plenty of room both sides.  I chose to take the normal path which wasn’t what the guy wanted as he made gestures as we passed as if to say he’d left room on the other side. I shrugged a sorry and repeated it on channel 10, meanwhile his wife was laughing and gave me a big smile and wave as if to say that her husband was a grumpy old man.  As Karen said, if I’d gone the ‘wrong side’ then some people would have had a go too.  It was a welcome relief to be leaving the last lock on the canal, the 8-metre-deep lock at Cléry-sur-Somme. 

Guillotine rising as we left

As we were going under the gates so soon after they had been submerged, we had a shower every time we went beneath them.

Goodbye to the last lock on the Canal du Nord for a few weeks

After another kilometre we were at the junction with the Canal de la Somme where we were turning right.  We hope to spend a few weeks on the new canal and then come back to this junction (it’s that or we go out to the English Channel!) and carry on down the rest of the Canal du Nord.

Getting ready to turn right at the junction

The River Somme was an early trade route to England from Paris and Picardy and used in favour of the Seine for centuries.  It was completely canalised by 1843 to form a 156km waterway from St Simon on the Canal de St Quentin down to the sea at St Valéry.  This means that much of the canal is on the river with diversions for lock cuts.  The first 16km from the Canal de St Quentin is now disused; you may remember that we stayed on an island there ten days or so ago.  The locks are Freycinet standard but very few commercials use the route nowadays.  It is one of the few waterways that are managed by the local département rather than VNF so it will be interesting to see the differences. 

Goodbye to the VNF and welcome to the Somme département

Éclusiers operate the locks and swing bridges which means we have to contact them whenever we plan to move.  As soon as we came out of the last lock on the Canal du Nord, I called them up but forgot they were closed for lunch.  We moored up at the first lock and waited until 1.30pm then called them back.  We were told an éclusier would be with us in 20 minutes, but we noticed a guy waving to us from the lock, ready to help us through.  I suspect he was being given a bit of latitude in case his lunch overran.  He gave us some useful information on the canal and the area and said he would be at the next lift bridge to see us through.

The first lock on the Canal de la Somme

The canal immediately had a different feel to the recent large canals, and it was strange seeing large expanses of water either side.  The wetlands of the Somme were created through centuries of peat digging.

A different feel to the recent large canals

We moored for the day just after going through the lift bridge and told our éclusier our cruising plans for the following day.  We were moored next a British boat called Archangel; Tony and his wife Nick have been on the Somme for a couple of months and have really enjoyed it. They’re now heading back to Bruges for the winter.

Moored with Archangel at Feuilléres

In the afternoon we went for a walk around the area; the village of Feuilléres had a mairie that closely resembled the design of the church next door.

Difficult to see as the sun was dead ahead 

A causeway ran across the wetlands from the village but as there were so many fishermen around we couldn’t let Buddy off the lead so ended up going back to the canal to walk along the towpath where he could run free. 

We’re going to have to learn how to read the signs on this waterway as they are quite different to the VNF ones we’re used to.

Passing a sign during our afternoon walk

It’s now two months since we left Châlons-en-Champagne after a strange start to the year when we couldn’t move because of the lock down.  We first headed south and had to turn around when the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne was closed due to lack of water.  We then tried going east on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin but were turned around for the same reason. We’ve been travelling northwards since then and in that time have covered 340 miles through 172 locks.

The red is our journey so far this year

We started at the blue flag and are currently at the green flag and the next part of our adventure is to travel along the blue line to the end of the Somme.  

On Tuesday we cruised ten miles down six locks.

We were ready to leave by 10 on Wednesday morning so rang for an éclusier as the next lock was about 20 minutes away.

Leaving Feuilléres on Wednesday morning

Our éclusier had already set the lock and was waiting for us so we were able to go straight in.  The control rooms at the locks on the Somme are rather weird looking castellated buildings.

The first lock of the day with its castle

Since being further north we’ve noticed there are far fewer walnut trees which is a great shame as we wanted to take advantage of what looks like being a bumper crop this year.  Nikki & Gorete sent us some pictures from where they are on the Meuse showing that they’ve already started harvesting them.  Anyway, just before the lock we’d noticed our first walnut tree for ages so that cheered us up walnut-wise.  In the end we saw quite a few during the day but none had the tell-tale fallen fruit on the ground which is how you know when they’re ready.  We learnt last year that we have to be quick because the locals appear in force as soon as the nuts start falling.  We did have the advantage of being on a boat though, as we were able to find plenty of trees away from human habitation.

Our first walnut tree on the Somme

We offered the éclusier a cup of coffee and he readily accepted.  Karen remarked that it wasn’t really fair as it was only instant, but I joked that that was a good idea as he’ll tell all the others not to accept coffee from the Brits on Chalkhill Blue.  The éclusiers drive around in Somme département vans which are bright orange, making them easy to spot so we know if they're at a lock or lift bridge waiting for us.

Much of the canal that we’ve been on so far has been quite weedy and when we arrived at our destination for the day, Cappy, the weed cutters were out in force.  There was a boom across the water to stop stray cut weed from continuing downstream but the guys moved it when they saw us coming.  We moored up immediately past it and they put the boom back as soon as we were secure.

Moored at Cappy

After lunch we went for a circular walk taking in Cappy and another village, oddly or coincidentally, called Éclusier, before walking back along the Somme.  The church in Cappy was built in the 12th Century and its imposing bell tower added in the 14th.

St Nicholas church in Cappy

It was a surprisingly hilly walk considering we were in the Somme valley, but it seems that the flatlands are to the north of the river and we were walking to the south.  Looking back towards Cappy and the canal we wondered what the white object was in the far distance.  We found out later that it was the first hotel boat we've seen in service this year.

The white thing in the centre below the trees is the hotel boat

At the top of one hill we suddenly came across a WWI cemetery in the middle of what felt like nowhere.  It didn’t have many war graves but we realised that, as it also contained a few local family vaults, it was the communal cemetery for the village of Éclusier.

Mix of WWI war graves and family vaults

When we reached the village of Éclusier we joined the canal to walk back to Cappy along the towpath.  On the way back we saw our first kilometre post on this canal.  It showed that we were 49 km from the original start of the canal meaning we were now just over 100km from the sea locks down at St Valery.  I say original as the first 16km are now abandoned and the next 20km were taken over by the Canal du Nord when it was built.

We heard a big boat on its way and after a while the hotel boat came into view and we were amazed to see it had guests on board.  I suppose they’re allowed to operate as long as they can show they’re following all the current rules and maybe the guests were from the same household too.  When we got back to Cappy, the weed cutters were packing up for the day and before they left they reinstated the boom across the river; they obviously knew no more boats were coming through today.

Weed cutters mooring their boats for the day

Later in the evening I had a look at the boom and noticed it was holding an enormous amount of weed back already.  It did mean though that it was lovely and clear beside our boat.  

On Wednesday we cruised six miles down two locks.

1 comment:

Ian said...

You're going to love the Somme. And if the weather stays as good as in these photos, we may have to stop reading - it's torture!