St-Audebert (misleading signs)

With a sunny day forecast for Wednesday we went for a walk to Cells-sur-Aisne before having a cruise.  Even though, as the crow flies, the village was only a kilometre or so away it was on the other side of the River Aisne to where we were moored.  This meant walking downstream to find a road bridge over the river first.

Crossing the Aisne with Celles in the background

When we were here a year ago, we didn’t bother visiting the village as, from a distance, it looked quite modern.  What we hadn’t realised was that the original, older part, of the village was on top of a hill and laid out along one steep street.  The properties all looked well kept and typically rural French with many farm buildings interspersed amongst the houses.

Near the bottom of the hill

On the way to the village we’d passed a sign advertising a farm shop that claimed to have fresh local produce of the season and was open nearly all the time.  After climbing up the hill and starting down the other side, we eventually found the farm shop, but it was closed and a sign outside showed that ‘nearly all the time’ meant four afternoons a week!

The closed shop 

The street was lined with flower beds that must have been a riot of colour in the summer.

The large house in the picture above appeared to be privately owned and we could find nothing about it when we searched on the web later.  We thought we’d struck lucky when we saw the name of a side street though:

It was a very short street with three houses and the village hall but sadly no lavoir.  A little further up the hill we saw what looked like a lavoir in the distance but it turned out to be a drinking trough with fresh running water.

Fontaine Saint-Laurent

If a washing stone had been installed across the front in place of the roughly hewn slab it would have made a neat washing area for a couple of women.

Could have been a small lavoir

When we made the return journey through the village, a couple of workmen were measuring the opening to the fontaine.  We asked them about the missing lavoir on the street of the same name and they confirmed it had been demolished long ago.  They also told us some other stuff that we didn’t quite understand but assumed that the lavoir had made way for the village hall.

Back at the mooring Karen spotted a clouded yellow flying along the grassy bank.  Clouded yellows are one of the few butterflies that don’t rest with their wings open.  The only way to see the beautiful upper wings is on set specimens or stills captured from a video of one in flight.

The undersides of a clouded yellow are amazingly vivid though

We had coffee and cake when we got back and, as the sun was still out and it was feeling quite warm, we decided to move up the staircase locks to try the next mooring spot.  Once we were up the locks, we were off the River Aisne and onto the Canal latéral à l’Aisne.  You may have noticed that the names of several of the canals we have been on have been of the form 'latéral à la X', this is because they run parallel to river X where the river is too far upstream to be navigable.  The other popular French canal name takes the form of 'canal de Y à Z', where the canal runs between the valleys of river Y and Z to provide a route between the two rivers.

The Canal latéral à l’Aisne is a Freycinet gauge canal and it felt good to be back on a ‘sensible’ sized canal after the last few weeks of rivers and the large gauge commercial canals of northern France.

Good to be back on a smaller canal

Another canal related good feeling we’re having is due to the lock closure that we’d got past last weekend.  Because it’s closed for five weeks it means there is no through traffic at present, just boats loading or unloading at the few silo quays this side of the closed lock.  This means we’re currently only seeing two or three commercials a day.

One of Wednesday’s two commercials

I know the picture above doesn’t really look like we’re on a narrow canal and that’s because a kilometre long section that we were on at the time made use of the original course of the River Aisne before it was diverted to allow the canal to be built.

We didn’t travel far before we found the mooring we were looking for, an old commercial waiting quay but with some reasonably spaced bollards for shorter boats like ours.

Buddy seemed happy with our mooring for the rest of Wednesday at St-Audebert

On Wednesday we cruised three miles up two locks.

With a pleasant day forecast for Thursday we thought we may move on a bit after lunch as we had our weekly bridge lesson and practice in the morning.  We went for a walk along the canal before the bridge lesson and, unlike one of last week’s towpath walks, found the way was clear.

Chemin de halage or towpath

At one point we came out at a wider part of the cut where one side was given over to a graveyard for redundant barges.  Some were just wooden skeletons, and some were still recognisable metal hulls.

One of the barges and the wooden ribs and tiller of another one behind

As we passed a lock, we saw the remnants of an old towing wheel.  These used to help give towing horses traction when they needed to get boats under motion as they came out of the lock.

Old towing wheel

The bridge session was enjoyable and, as is the case every week, it was brought home that most bridge players are of what is called ‘a certain age’.  This week one reminder came from a participant who’d forgotten to go on mute, and we all heard the unmistakable sound of a toilet flushing.  At another point we could hear an elderly female voice mutter beneath her breath, ‘oh fuck’ when she'd played the wrong card and didn't realise she was unmuted.  As there was a pregnant pause I couldn’t resist jumping in with, ‘I could have sworn I heard someone swear then’ which lightened the atmosphere and brought laughs and an apology. 

After lunch we went for a good circular walk taking in the village of Presles-et-Boves.


The church looks larger than it would normally as it’s covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting for renovation works.  Even so, as with the majority of churches, it is far larger than is needed for such a small settlement.

For the second time in as many days we came across a promising street sign:

Also for the second time in as many days, the sign turned out to be a red herring and there was no lavoir in sight.

Our walk brought us back to the canal towpath again but, unlike the morning’s towpath, this one wasn’t so well defined.  This didn’t deter Karen as she could see plenty of walnut trees ahead.

The unmistakeable sight of a walnut tree

Amazingly, she hadn’t equipped either of us with a collecting bag before we set out on our walk so we (well, mainly she) resorted to stuffing pockets.  I maintain that it’s more efficient to only collect the larger ones and am more than happy to wait until we near Reims in a week or so.  Last year we found some massive ones at a place called Courcy a little way north of the city.  To be fair to Karen she doesn’t pick up the smallest ones and I sort of understand how she finds it difficult to leave any on the ground.

We currently have over 25 kilograms drying in a baskets around the boat that have to be turned each day as they dry out.  If that sounds a lot then bear in mind that freshly picked walnuts are €7.50 a kilogram in the supermarkets at the moment so the obsession is turning into a bit of a gold mine.

When we got back home to the boat, we decided to stay put for the rest of the day so ended up not having a cruise on Thursday.  Spending the night again at St-Audebert was hardly a burden as it’s so remote we can’t even hear the sound of distant church bells.  We’ll probably spend a few more days on this canal before turning off onto the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne towards Reims.

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