Couvrot (another reconfinement looming?)

We had to pop back to Châlons-en-Champagne on Saturday as a couple of parcels had arrived for us at the port office and whilst there, we did the food shopping.  The Châllonais (and us) refer to the town as Châlons but write it in full as it’s easily confused with Chalon (without an ‘s’) in Burgundy which is called Chalon-sur-Saône.  We visited Chalon-sur-Saône on the boat in 2019 and are hopefully going to cruise a different part of the river Saône this year,

After a quick lunch we took the car to Couvrot, checked the water was working at the lock there, and walked back to the boat at Soulanges.  Most of the French press is calling for a national lockdown and Macron is apparently making a statement about the situation on Wednesday or Thursday.  Looking at the numbers it seems that at the very least Marne, the département we are currently in, will go into a third lockdown (or second reconfinement) along with a few of the other départements under increased vigilance.  Making the assumption that Marne will go into lockdown we now need to get into the next département, Haute-Marne, which we believe we can do by Wednesday. 

Re-reading the previous paragraph makes me feel like the Parisians and Londoners who escaped their cities when they had one day’s notice of lockdown.  In our defence we believe being on the boat is the safest place to be as we don’t need to mix with people other than when one of us goes shopping and also we haven't been mixing beforehand.  Our only concern will be finding somewhere safe to moor if a second reconfinement is introduced.

We wanted to make sure we were filled up with water before getting on the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne as it’s quite a way up until its first water point.  The lock at Couvrot is the last chance to get water on the current canal but, being a lock, there’s an added complication that we have to make sure we’re not holding up a commercial.  Maybe some people don’t worry about it, but it always concerns us.  Saying that, we’ve only been in the situation once where we’ve had to pack up quickly with only a partly filled tank.  There’s a long straight before the lock with an old quay with a few metal stakes at a disused lime works at the end.  We thought we’d get there on Sunday morning, have showers and do the washing and then go up the lock if there was nothing coming.

Temporary mooring at the end of the straight

We passed the other disused lime works at Soulanges on the way
After a good breakfast we set off again as all was clear but as we pulled away, a commercial appeared around the corner.  There was nothing for it but to let him come past and go up the lock before us for which he was extremely grateful – thanking us on three separate occasions.

We liked the name – Feeling
Even though he was laden it didn’t take him long to go through and we were soon going in.  We always have a bit of a faff in these situations because the locks are automatic. Do we take on water once we’re in the lock and before we start the operation?  If we did, what would happen if the automatic operation kicked in after a period of time?  Or do we start the operation first, go up and then fill up with water hoping the gates don’t close on us after a period of time? Logic tells us that the automation won’t start unless a magic eye has registered us leaving the lock but it still worries us as we did get stuck once and had to call VNF to get us out.

Watering up at écluse de Couvrot
Anyway, it all worked out OK and we were soon on our way again.  To our delight as we left the lock our first orange tip butterfly of the year flew around the boat.  I know I say it every year, but this sight is my real harbinger of spring, outweighing blackthorn blossom, hawthorn leaves, or even any of the other early spring butterflies.  The males have distinctive orange tips to their wings, hence the name.

Male orange tip seen in a previous spring
Ironically, the commercial that we let past was the only other boat we saw all day.

Confusing lock information plaque on the lock cottage
I say the information plaque is confusing because it is at lock number 3 not 2.  At some point in the canal’s history an additional lock must have been added, putting all the numbering out of sequence.  We were caught out by this once when calling VNF out to a lock that had failed. I’d read the number on the old information plate and forgotten to add one to it.  They found us in the end but went to great lengths explaining what I did wrong.

We moored up for the day after going up one more lock and about a kilometre short of the final lock on the canal.  Our plan being to stay there until Tuesday morning when the ‘entre’ is due to open and then we can make our way quickly into the next département before the likely reconfinement. We walked back to Couvrot to pick up the car and had a look around the village on the way. 

Walking back to Couvrot
Couvrot is one of the larger villages along this canal with approaching 900 inhabitants which probably accounts for the large modern mairie…

…which replaced the original one which also had a school in centre of town…

…opposite St Martin’s church

While searching for the war memorial we came across this sign on the back of the lock cottage.  It states that American forces crossed the river Marne and the canal at this point at 14.00 on 28th August 1944. 

Another plaque on the lock cottage
We can find nothing about it on the web or elsewhere in the village other than a modern looking memorial with the same inscription not far from the lock cottage:

A puzzle to us
When we found the war memorial we were surprised to find that there were only 31 names inscribed on it considering it was in a village with a population of nearly 900 and covered the four recent main wars France was involved in: WWI, WWII, Algerian and Indochina wars.  

Couvrot war memorial

On Sunday we cruised three miles up two locks.

On Monday morning I received an email from the tourist office at Châlons-en-Champagne letting me know that they had updated their website and brochure.  The picture on the front of the brochure shows the canal, partly frozen over and the cathedral.  It chuffed us to see that the picture was clearly recent as our boat can be seen in the port!

You can just make out our boat – it’s the closest one
My main task on Monday was to move the car into the next département but I went to investigate more about the misleading lock numbering.  The canal was originally three miles shorter and started near where we were moored at a lock leading off the river Marne.  This lock was therefore lock number one as shown on the information plate at the lock cottage which still stands by it.

Plate also shows it was at the start of the canal
At some point the canal was extended three more miles into the middle of Vitry-le-François and two more locks were added and the lock onto the river became disused.

The disused lock at the original start of the canal
Even though I surmised earlier that an additional lock had been added, it appear that two locks were added and one disused with a net result of one additional lock, hence the change in numbering.  

After my little excursion around the locks and a short walk along the Marne I drove to St Dizier with the intention of getting the train to Vitry-le-Francois and then walking back to the boat.  I parked the car up and went to the station where I checked on the times of the trains only to find that during the day the trains are buses.  I had an hour to kill so went in search of the tourist office to get some jetons (tokens) for the water and electricity bornes in the port ready for when we come through.  Like last year I find it amazing that tourist offices haven’t restricted their hours much even though the number of tourists has dropped off dramatically.  The pleasant lady said she’s only getting French tourists at the moment and we spent some enjoyable time with her practising her English and me my French.  I had to lie and make up a reason to get away in the end but at least we have some jetons.

I arrived back at the station ten minutes before the bus was due to leave and found one sitting there with its engine ticking over.  I checked with the driver and it was the right one.  He wasn’t happy with my ticket (even though you get an e-ticket you still have to have a printed copy) as he said I had the wrong date.  I pointed out that it was my date de naissance and he laughed and apologised.  It was just as well I got there early as the bus left seven minutes before it was due to leave and was a Covid-free ride in as far as I was the only other passenger on the journey to Vitry-le-François.

It was also a tantalising ride as it went via the back roads through a dozen or more villages most of which were really quite pretty.  I said tantalising as we must have passed at least six lavoirs all of which would have been new to us.  I managed to get some shots through the coach windows but only a few were recognisable as lavoirs.

The lavoir at Scrupt – what a wonderful name
The lavoir at Scrupt was an impluvium style in that rainwater is collected into the wash basin from the pair of inward sloping roofs.  Another picture that was recognisable was at Favresse where there was a stream fed lavoir in the village square.

The lavoir at Favresse

I got off the bus at the station in Vitry-le-François and made my way to the canal office at the start of the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to see if I could find the latest on the reopening date.  When I popped in over the weekend it was all closed up but today it was open with an éclusiere on duty, and she confirmed that the canal will re-open at nine on Tuesday morning.  I then started making my way back to the boat and was surprised when I heard someone calling me.  It was Stefan who was dropping his dog off at a friend’s house on his way to work.  We met Stefan at Châlons as he lives on his boat and continuous cruises (lock hops) around Vitry-le-François where he works.

Rather than following the canal all the way back to the boat I cut across the centre of town as it was shorter; it was also eerily quiet.  The canal used to go through the middle of town through a port and wharves, but a bypass was built around the western side in the 1960s.  As I turned away from the canal into the centre of town, I saw a boat that looked like it was stuck across the cut.  Upon closer inspection I saw it was reversing into a dry dock.

Another Suez?

I was heading for the line of the bypassed canal and soon found it.  A lot of it was still in water but very weedy of course.  There were plenty of butterflies around including my first small white of the year. 

The bypassed canal into town

After a few kilometres I turned a corner and could see our boat nestling below an old quarry above the lock at Couvrot.

Our mooring at Couvrot

With the good news that the entre Champagne et Bourgogne reopens on Tuesday we’ll be setting off soon after eight in the morning to get up the last lock on this canal, around the bypass, turn off onto the 'entre', ready for when the first lock opens at nine.




ParadisePoontonFam said...

Avoid St Dizier... you never know who you are going to meet and get stuck with.
Enjoy cruising. ❤

Neil & Karen Payne said...

We've got a Piper now - it's the only way to keep you away!