Longueil-Annel (a chance to be intrepid)

Rear view from our mooring at Noyon on Sunday

I can’t have needed coffee that badly on Sunday morning because when I noticed that the flame had gone out under the kettle I opted to go back to bed rather than venturing outside in the dark to swap to a new gas bottle. When I finally gave in and went to change it the wind gusted strongly and blew me off balance as I got onto the gas locker at the front of the boat.  Fortunately, the wind was coming across the cut and I managed to fall safely onto the quay.  When I mentioned it to Karen later, she casually said she’d noticed but assumed I hadn’t gone in the water as she saw me back on the locker a short while after.  We were obviously suffering from the winds that the south of France, Italy and the UK have had recently although we didn’t have the rain.  To be fair, you can count on it being any combination of raining, snowing, windy or dark when gas bottles run out.

Our plan for Sunday was to have a look around Noyon during the morning and then, as the winds weren’t strong enough to stop us cruising, move on down to the end of the Canal du Nord in the afternoon.  Noyon was a pleasant town and we imagined it would normally be quite a tourist spot but, as is coming to be the norm, we seemed to be the only people wandering around other than locals on a mission to buy bread or go to a pharmacy.  Large signs informed us that since last Wednesday masks had to be worn outside in the town so maybe that was another reason it was so quiet. 

We didn’t have a trail to follow so we made up our own.  One of the two museums was housed in this bishop’s palace and we particularly liked the effect of the tower topped and tailed by cones…

…and around the back were the remains of a bishop's palace that was even older:

A service was going on in the cathedral and Karen popped her head in to see how the congregation were arranged.  She was surprised that although it seemed people were wearing masks there was no social distancing nor any sign of seats or pews being taped off.  She seems to be making a habit of checking as when we were in Cambrai she looked inside the cathedral and saw that alternate seats were taped out of use,

Two views of Noyon cathedral

These houses had rather grand gates but I couldn't ascertain the reason:

The town war memorial looked like it housed a pair of pissoirs:

We came across the old girls’ school but could find no trace of a building in a similar style that would have housed the boys:

During lunch the wind picked up and it became so strong that we decided that it’d be safer to stay put rather than cruise in the afternoon.  To be honest, we’d moved for each of the previous 12 days and were happy not to go especially as we now only had one day before we reached the end of the Canal du Nord.

After Southampton’s poor start to the season I’d also decided not to watch their match against West Brom in the afternoon.  In the end, the pull was too much so we put it on just before kick-off. Fortunately, we won so I wasn’t sad for the rest of the day.

As we didn’t go for a cruise we went for another walk and, as luck would have it, got caught in the only rain of the day.  We’d nearly reached the point farthest from the boat when it started.  Happily, it only lasted about ten minutes and the sun had practically dried us out by the time we returned.

Most days we see our grandson Ellis on video calls with Lauren & Lewis and it’s amazing how much he’s changed in the seven weeks since we were last back in the UK and we can’t wait to see him again.

Lauren & Lewis with our gorgeous Ellis – nearly 10 months old

We were moving on Monday whatever the weather and even set the alarm half an hour earlier than usual.  Not that we'd really needed to have set the alarm as we heard and felt the first commercials coming through while it was still dark (France is one hour ahead of the UK).  Once again we were fortunate with the weather as it didn’t rain until later in the evening once we were inside for the night.  As usual, we made sure no boats were coming before we set off for the first lock, but as seems to be the rule over the last few days, one appeared around the corner about a kilometre away as we left. 

We slowed down to let him catch up so we could gauge whether or not we could share the lock with him.  As luck would have it he was Freycinet gauge so plenty of room to tuck in behind him.  Not only that, he was Dutch and wanted to speak in English not French on the radio which was fine by me.

Following our Dutch friend out of the first lock

A third stroke of luck was that he was fully laden which meant that we would be able to keep up with him and share the rest of the locks we wanted to go through.  After the second lock, the last on the Canal du Nord, we joined the Canal latéral à l’Oise where both of us turned right.

Junction ahead

The latéral à l’Oise is only 33 kilometres long and runs parallel with the River Oise from the Saint Quentin canal at Chauny at its north eastern end down to join the navigable River Oise at its south western end at Longueil-Annel.  We joined the canal at about its halfway point and immediately felt the difference with the Canal du Nord which was strange as it was just as wide and straight.  We put it down to the fact that it's a much older canal and somehow felt less functional.  For example the Canal du Nord was built with sloping sides so the only places we can really moor are at the quays alongside grain silos which, in themselves, are functional.

Turning right onto the new canal

While following the Dutch boat I saw a kingfisher hovering over the water just in front of our boat, a behaviour I’ve never seen before.  It reminded me that the over the last couple of days Karen has spotted two separate kingfishers perched in trees.  Usually it’s the flash of them flying or their call that brings attention to themselves, so I was rather impressed, especially as they sit motionless.  While on wildlife the only butterflies we’re seeing now are the usual whites, the occasional speckled wood and the hibernators like the red admiral, but at least they’re still around.

We shared one more lock with the Dutchman before exchanging our goodbyes and mooring up for the day at Longueil-Annel.  The locks on the latéral à l’Oise are double the width and double the length of those on the Canal du Nord so can fit the 180 x 12 metre boats seen on the Seine and other large rivers.  Actually, alongside each lock is a second, smaller lock, and we wondered if we would have had to use the smaller one if we’d been on our own.

Plenty of room to share

There were lots of residential boats moored at Longueil-Annel and they were nearly all converted Freycinet péniches.  It always amazes us to think of the amount of space there must be to live in on boats of that size.

Moored at Longueil-Annel in front of a more sensibly sized boat

The town had a real boaty feel to it and there was a museum about the history of the French canals but it was closed on Mondays. 

The museum

Part of the museum was in a converted péniche moored opposite the museum building but that too was closed. Even the town is known as the cité des bateliers and it did feel as if the houses along the canal and the river were at one with the boats, especially those flying flags of course.  There was a footpath over a lock in the town which gave us good views.

Looking upstream to our mooring in the line of boats on the right

Looking downstream with the smaller lock on the left

About half a kilometre further on from the lock was the end of the canal where it meets the river Oise.  There was a large island in the river at this point and it had even more residential boats moored around it.  The guidebook said that smaller boats could turn upstream for a few kilometres to the navigable end of the river which was something we fancied doing.  As we've found several items that are quite out of date in the book we thought we ought to check for ourselves first.  

We walked along the riverbank to where there was a small basin with a few boats in various states of repair, the longest of which was no more than ten metres long.  We decided we would like to be intrepid and have a go at getting to the navigable end but would leave it until tomorrow.

The navigable end of the Oise unless in a kayak or similar 

We’d realised during the day that it was four years ago to the day that we moved from our old boat onto the current one and remembered how Buddy behaved at the time.  Even when the old boat was empty and we’d moved everything onto the new one, he still wouldn’t accept it and resolutely stayed on the rear deck of the old one.

Buddy didn’t want to move across to the new boat

On Monday we cruised ten miles down three locks.

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