Friday 2 October 2020

Péronne (au revoir à la Somme)

Karen was gone longer than usual when she took Buddy for his pre-breakfast walk on Wednesday and I suddenly realised why.  They must have gone back to the walnut tree at the lock for a final check before we left.  I wandered down and sure enough there they were.

She’s at it before 9am

As you’re probably bored of hearing about walnuts, I’ll try not to mention them anymore, but I did say try.  We weren’t sure where we were going to get to on Wednesday but knew we wanted to stop at Cappy because it’s one of the very few places along the Somme that has the complete range of recycling bins.  We arranged for an éclusier to meet us at the first lock in time for us to get to Cappy for the lunch break.  You may have noticed that since being on the Somme we have only mentioned éclusiers and not éclusieres It’s unusual because, compared with the other French waterways, they have all been men.  We did see one girl (éclusiere) in Somme département uniform a couple of weeks ago but, rather than operating a lock, she was driving a tipper truck that was being loaded with weed from the canal.

Not sure why I took this picture

Although it was a fairly grey day it was warmer again which made for a pleasant cruise.  We passed through an area that had lakes both sides and many little islands with fishing/shooting huts on them.  These huts are only accessible by boat and must be the perfect getaway.

Passing one of the huts

When we arrived at the lock cut in Cappy we were reminded that most of the Somme from this point back to the Canal du Nord was quite weedy.  The section around Cappy itself was a lot clearer than on the way down as the weed cutters had been at work but I still had to visit the weed hatch.  We moored up for lunch behind a weed cutter and opposite a farm that looked like it had all its equipment on display for an agricultural sale.  We seemed to get plagued by flies during lunch and assumed they were coming from the cows in the farm so were rather glad to get on the move again.

Cappy for lunch and a view of farm machinery

Over lunch we decided to carry on to Feuillères which is the last place where we can moor before leaving the Somme.  Karen walked with Buddy as he hadn’t really had a proper walk in the morning.  As we had two locks to go up, I had the dubious task of doing them on my own.  I say dubious because going up locks in France is not easy for single-handers compared with in the UK where single-handing is quite simple.  It means that I had to go into the lock, stop the boat against one side, go down to the front of the boat, get a line over a bollard, go back to the tiller and put the boat in forward so it’s held against the wall as it ascends.

After going up the second lock I pulled in at the lock landing for Karen & Buddy.  As it seemed nice and peaceful and we were only a couple of kilometres from where we originally planned to stop, we decided to stay for the night.

You can guess what Karen’s doing and also what the two arrowed trees are, but I did say I would try not to mention that word again.

Moored at Frise

On Wednesday we cruised nine miles up four locks.

We were expecting rain on Thursday morning and rain it did – the first continuous rain we’ve seen for ages. It was just as well we had an online bridge session for a couple of hours as it gave us a great excuse not to go outside.  We had a classroom session for the first hour and, considering the participants were our age or older and therefore not necessarily technically savvy, it went very well.  There were some funny bits, such as hearing off camera conversation when couples forgot to go back on mute after asking a question.  Mind you, our teacher was very patient which really helps; we used to attend his classes at Tunbridge Wells bridge club and thought he was rather good then.  We then had an hour or so playing bridge online with prepared hands that covered the areas covered by the lesson.

Whilst having lunch the rain stopped and the sun came out.  As it was forecast to be sunny all afternoon we set off as soon as we’d finished eating.  After ringing for an éclusier as we had a lift bridge a couple of miles away, black clouds started rolling in again.  By the time we were ready to set off the skies opened, and the rain came down harder then ever.  Poor old Buddy was outside and couldn’t get on the boat to shelter as our back was hanging over the edge of the mooring.  While we were untying our lines, we noticed he was digging a hole in the bank and was trying to hide, not very successfully, from the downpour.

Karen & Buddy walked to the lift bridge where I picked them up as it was still bucketing down.  No sooner were they on than it eased and within a few minutes had stopped and we had blue skies again.  We went through the final lock on the Somme and said our goodbyes to the éclusier.  We have absolutely loved our 24 days on the river and consider ourselves most fortunate that we made the trip down to the coast in glorious weather even if we’ve had a few grey days and some rain on the way back.

Goodbye to the Somme

The final stretch from the lock is canalised as you can see above, and we were soon joining the Canal du Nord.  Having come down from the north on the Canal du Nord we were now going to head south to its end where it joins the Canal latéral à l’Oise. As we approached the junction the rain started again, and we could see it was busy which was going to be a bit of a shock.  Not only have we seen very few pleasure boats over the last three weeks, we haven’t seen any commercials as they no longer use the Somme.

Just about to turn right onto the Canal du Nord

Boats were passing at regular intervals dictated by the length of time it takes to get through a lock.  The boats are limited to about 90 metres because of the locks on this canal and we call these boats little big boys.  They’re obviously a lot larger than the 39 metre Freycinet barges we’re used to on the canals in central France but nothing like the big boys of 180 metres that we’ve encountered on the large rivers.  In fact, travelling with these little big boys will ease us into being with the big boys when we reach the River Oise in a week or so.

39 metre Freycinet peniche pushing a 50 metre barge 

In France, boats over 20 metres in length have to have their dimensions and weights clearly shown on the sides.  It makes it easy for us to see how long the boats are without guessing.

We didn’t travel far on the Canal du Nord before we had to moor up at Péronne for the rest of the day.  There are very few spots for pleasure boats to moor on the canal so Karen has put together a detailed plan of where we will be travelling on each of the next few days.  The next mooring after Péronne was a good few hours away and we didn’t feel like tackling it late in the afternoon.

Our 'industrial' mooring at Péronne

Sitting inside the boat we instantly remembered the noise of a busy commercial canal, the throb of the engines can be heard quite a distance away so it sounds like they are constantly passing.  Don’t get us wrong, we think it’s fantastic that the waterways are still being so well used by commercials.  In fact we feel like we’re trespassing on their territory which I suppose we are.

The current plan, which has had to be adjusted for winter stoppages for maintenance, takes us down to the latéral à l’Oise and then onto the River Oise itself.  Rather than following the Oise down to the Seine into Paris we will go up the River Aisne to Soissons which was the furthest north and west we made it to last year.  From then we will make our way back to Châlons-en-Champagne with a detour a little way down the River Marne if the weather stays kind.

The next step of our journey: Péronne down to Châlons-en-Champagne

While we were having dinner there was a knock on our door.  A French couple were selling fruit, vegetables and eggs from their car.  As well as servicing the commercials that moor overnight they clearly ply their trade with tourist boats. We bought a few things but not potatoes.  They were really plugging their pomme de terres and we're sure it was because they realised we were English!

On Thursday we cruised eight miles up one lock.

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