Choisy-sur-Aisne (& a history lesson)

 Morning on the river Aisne

We just had the one lock to drop down on Tuesday morning before we left the Canal latéral à l’Oise and joined the start of the navigable River Oise.  The plan was then to turn back on ourselves and head a couple of kilometres upstream on an unused section of the Oise called the vieille or old Oise.  As we’ve got accustomed to over the last few days, we couldn’t go straight into the lock as we had to wait for several commercials coming through the town.  Each lock on this canal is actually a pair of locks, side by side, which helps with traffic flow.  Even so, we had to wait for two turns of each lock before we were allowed in and had to share with an unladen boat.

Just about to leave the lock onto the River Oise

We had to travel just over five kilometres to end up about 100 metres from where we started albeit three metres lower.  At least we knew they’d be no large boats on the old Oise and there wasn’t really any chance of seeing any boats at all as it was a dead end.

The red line shows our morning cruise

We set out from START, went down the long straight where we waited for the lock then around the island at the bottom before heading up the old Oise to moor up for lunch at FINISH.

Coming around the bottom of the island before heading right up the old Oise
No commercials here
There were quite a few trees down but not impeding our passage so it clearly wasn't maintained in the same way as the main waterways.  As we didn’t have to worry about passing traffic when we got to the end we were able to tie to a couple of wooden posts sticking out of the water. 

Mooring UK style for lunch on Tuesday
After lunch we spun around using the current and headed back down to the officially navigable River Oise.  We only travelled a few kilometres downstream before reaching the confluence with the River Aisne.

Nearing where the Aisne joins the Oise

The Oise carries on for another 100 kilometres before it joins the River Seine north of Paris on its way to the sea.  We were looking forward to being on the River Aisne as there will be far fewer commercials and those that do use it are just the 39 metre Freycinet ones.  We went a little way past the confluence and turned around to head for the Aisne when we could see it was clear all ways. 

Heading back upstream to turn right onto the Aisne

We could immediately feel we were going upstream and I made a mental note to check the diesel level more often until we’re off the river.  The navigable River Aisne starts at Celles-sur-Aisne where it joins the Canal latéral à l'Aisne 15 kilometres to the east of Soissons.  It runs for 57 kilometres due west down to its confluence here with the River Oise.  We have been on the Aisne before but only the short section down to Soissons at the other end. Looking back at our blog entries for then we recalled what a wonderful October we'd had last year weather-wise. There were clear blue skies nearly every day and we didn't think of using the heating or lighting a stove until in the port at Châlons-en-Champagne in November.  It doesn't feel like we're going to be so fortunate this year.

Choisy-au-Bac ahead

The Aisne was definitely a lot quieter that the Oise, and we only saw one more commercial during the rest of the day.  The quay at Choisy-au-Bac was about 25 metres long so just right for us and, as expected at this end of the season, we didn’t have to worry about whether there was already a boat there.

Moored at Choisy-au-Bac

We went for a walk and at one point realised we’d wandered into the grounds of a private château complete with a moat still in water.  At first, we thought it was surrounded by perfect lawns and it was only on closer inspection that we realised it was a moat covered in a type of duckweed.  

Private château in Choisy

We were lucky with the weather again with sun on and off all day.  The only rain that fell was during the evening and that was only a small shower.

On Tuesday we cruised eight miles down one lock.

We found out on Tuesday evening that we were moored only four kilometres away from the site in the Compiègne forest where both the WWI and Battle of France 1940 armistices were signed.  This prompted us to change our plans and, rather than cruising on Wednesday, we decided to stay put and pay a visit to the site.  It also meant we could kill two birds with one stone and have a good walk too, starting with a little detour into the old part of Choisy-au-Bac.

The mairie…
…and the church

We also wanted to have a walk around the park and were surprised to see that masks were obligatory in the park even though they weren’t in the town.  A girl walked out of the park with a couple of toddlers as we were reading the ruling.  She took off her mask and explained that the virus only exists in the park and not in the streets of Choisy.  She was as nonplussed with the ruling as we were.  Our walk then took us across the River Aisne and then along its banks for about four kilometres.

Looking down from the bridge over the Aisne

The Aisne, although not as blue, reminded us of the Marne which has been our favourite French river so far: 

The path along the riverbank wasn’t that well used and we were lucky to uncover an old distance marker.  These markers cannot be seen from boats because they were placed where the person in charge of the towing horses would see them.

Old distance marker

Apart from a short roadside stretch our walk to the armistice museum was along the riverbank and then into the Compiègne forest.  The museum is next to a clearing in the forest where the armistices were both signed in a railway carriage. The clearing is maintained with several monuments and other artefacts commemorating the dead from various wars.  The railway carriage was one of those forming a train used by the allied commander, the Frenchman Marshall Foch and was exhibited outside Les Invalides in Paris for a few years after the end of WWI before being brought back to the clearing. 

In July 1940, the Battle of France armistice was signed in the carriage, leaving the Germans occupying northern France.  The Germans requisitioned the carriage and most of the monuments, took them to Germany and exhibited the carriage in Berlin.  It was later taken to a prison camp to keep it safe from bombing raids.  Unfortunately, it was destroyed in an accidental fire at the end of WWII.  After WWII, the monuments were brought back to the clearing and a carriage of the same vintage as the original was also displayed there and later housed in the museum where it can still be seen.

Picture courtesy of the Oise tourist office

One of the monuments taken to Germany and then returned is dedicated to the French Army and commemorates the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, German territories since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.  The monument portrays the German eagle being slain by the French Army.

The Alsace-Lorraine monument

From the Alsace-Lorraine monument runs a 250-metre avenue leading to the armistice clearing.  We could imagine that it make for quite a sombre spectacle on 11th November each year,

The avenue

In one corner of the clearing stands a monument to Marshal Foch; this was one of those not taken to Germany.

The clearing with Marshal Foch’s monument in the distance

Other exhibits include a peace ring which displays the word ‘peace’ in 52 languages.

The peace ring symbolising unification

A garden commemorates soldiers who have been killed in all wars since the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

The memorial garden

Various other exhibits included early tanks and cannons as well as more memorials were dotted around the place.  In a small glade near the avenue was a long low bench designed by a French landscaper and a German architect.  It was installed on the 100th anniversary in 2018 and provides a shady place for reflection in an area of the woods, also landscaped by the same pair, called le jardin du troisième train.

The two ends of the peace bench in the peace garden

We were the only people visiting while we were there which made the trip all the more poignant.

The rest of the day was spent pottering around including buying diesel, preparing for our Thursday online bridge session and being glad we were here in a year when there hasn't been much rain. 

Flood level marker next to our mooring


Ian said...

Shame the main exhibit wasn't open, it was superb. But you found lots more outside exhibits than we did. Article in our paper today suggests no EU travel for us next year, one of an increasing number with that view. A dreadful prosper. Thanks for letting us relive our cruising of 2018 through you travels. Keep safe. I&L

Neil & Karen Payne said...

Glad you can have a positive from reading our blog. Yes, a dreadful prospect ahead for many - where have you come across the speculation about non-EU travel?