Monday 26 April 2021

Bologne (competitive allotment-ing?)

Sunset over Bologne

Friday was moving day and we were off to a place called Bologne which, as far as we’re concerned, had a normal mooring, in other words no water or electricity.  This did mean getting ready to cruise included additional jobs like getting the washing done, filling up the water tank and other receptacles like saucepans that we use to store water.  On the electrical side I made sure the solar panels were clean and put away the power-hungry electrical appliances that we only use when hooked up.  The electric kettle was replaced with the ordinary kettle and the fan heater put away.  Mind you now the weather is warm again there’s not really been any call for the heater other than the occasional blast to take any chill off first thing.

As we rose up the first lock, we saw our first scarce swallowtail of the year.  Contrary to its name it’s fairly common and widespread in Europe, more so than the more recognisable and darker yellow swallowtail. It got its English name from the fact that it’s a very rare migrant to the UK which also has its own species of swallowtail that can be found in the Norfolk Broads.  This picture is one we took last year at Chepy near Châlons-en-Champagne and you can see why it’s in the swallowtail family.

Scarce swallowtail seen at Chepy on July 11th 2020

It seems to have been the weekend for their emergence as we have seen several more scarce swallowtails since.  Just before the next lock we passed Roôcourt-la-Côte which is one of the places we looked at when driving around before the current confinement scouting for mooring spots.  There was nowhere to moor in the village when we looked, but we did find two lavoirs and included them in the blog for that day as they were really well maintained and quite stunning.


The next spot we’d seen on our scouting trip was by some silos below the next lock at Bologne.  When we got there, we realised the only place we could moor would be directly under the silos.  When we were sussing it out from the other side of the cut we’d thought there were bollards just before the silos, but we’d been mistaken.  Although there were bollards under the silos it wouldn’t be pleasant as the sun would be blocked out from early afternoon.  Not only that, we can really only moor underneath silos overnight in case commercials turn up to be filled with grain.  We had to carry on up the lock and check out the next likely site.

Looking back at the shunned silo mooring

Coming out of the lock we crossed over the river Marne which is now about 300 kilometres upstream from its confluence with the river Seine in Paris.  We reflected on the many happy days we’ve spent cruising the length of the navigable river from Paris and now continuing up the Marne valley by canal as the river is unnavigable this high up.

The river Marne is ‘paddleable’ this far away from Paris

Soon after the aqueduct we found the old quay we were looking for and it looked ideal as there were four sensibly spaced rings and plenty of space to park the car.  After mooring up Karen ran back to Viéville with Buddy to get the car.  I have to admit to having a kip while they were gone as yesterday’s jab had wiped me out a bit – so annoying.

Arrived at Bologne

We were moored in a quiet spot with views across open fields.  The only drawback was that we were on the towpath side so Buddy had to be kept tied up.  Being only 1.5 kilometres from Bologne it’s an ideal place for locals to walk their dogs or go for a run or bike ride which means people often stop to look at the boat and try to engage us in conversation. No doubt it’ll be busier at the weekend as Bologne, with approaching 1,900 inhabitants, is quite large compared to recent places we’ve stopped at.  Mind you it’s lovely when curfew arrives as it becomes lovely and peaceful, and the only signs of movement are from birds and insects.

Early in the evening two private boats came through, these were the first we’ve seen in the seven weeks since we set out from Châlons-en-Champagne.  Judging by the speed they were going and the fact they looked quite sparse inside we assumed they were being moved somewhere, possibly to be sold.  The southern end of this canal joins the river Saône not far from St Jean de Losne where there’s a massive harbour where many people live on their boats and where there’s also one of the largest collection of boats for sale in the country. 

On Friday we cruised three miles up three locks and we now only have 31 miles and 29 locks to go before we reach the summit at Langres.

Having had no reaction to the Oxford jab back in February I’d been a bit upset that I felt wiped out and my arm hurt after the Pfizer one I received on Friday.  Fortunately, I was back to normal by Saturday morning so I can’t really say I had any significant reactions.  Karen was due to get her first jab on Saturday morning and hers was slightly complicated because she was allergic to penicillin as a baby which she has to declare.  Our French friend Brigitte helped us out by supplying a few statements explaining the history and that other vaccines such as the flu jab have been fine since.  Karen used Brigitte’s words when she completed the box asking about allergies.  Ironically, there wasn’t any need for concern about misunderstanding through language difficulties, as the doctor she saw wanted to speak English!

We took it easy for the rest of the day in case Karen had a reaction and also it was such lovely weather we didn’t fancy doing a lot anyway.  We just had the occasional wander for 100 metres or so along the towpath or through the woods at the back of the mooring. 

A portion of the large arable field opposite us has been marked out and men, watched by women, have been turning the soil by hand and raking it into the sort of mounds used for asparagus or strawberries.

What are they doing?

Cars and people were coming and going all afternoon; the men always doing the work while the women watched.  Some lines had a few stakes in of varying heights and also labels could be seen marking the end of some of the rows.  Karen was convinced it was some form of local competition.  Whatever it was it certainly warranted a closer inspection and as we could only see from the far side of the cut, we’ll have to walk down the other side for a closer look on Sunday.

A rare event – a passer-by
Fortunately, other than a heavy arm, Karen didn’t react to her Covid jab, but we stayed relatively close to the boat on Sunday just in case.  After a late breakfast we found a circular walk that would take in the gardening work in the field, the village of Bologne and along the river Marne.  When we reached the area that was being worked on, we found that each row was labelled with the name of the person working on it.  They weren’t evenly distributed, some people only having one or two rows and others half a dozen or so, and on closer inspection we could see a variety of different vegetables were being grown.  Maybe the landowner had allocated it to the villagers so that had vegetable plots by the canal where there was a plentiful supply of water – we’ll probably never know.

Looking closer

We walked across the fields to the southern end of Bologne, walked the whole length of the village and out the other end without seeing a soul.  Whenever that happens it reminds us of the phrase. ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’.

Mairie, war memorial & church in one shot

As we came out at the northern end, we crossed a millstream with an old mill to the right and a lavoir to the left.

The mill
It was lovely and cool inside the lavoir, so we sat for a while listening to the water running through.

There was an opening at the far end of the lavoir that had an iron grill barring passage.  As the opening led to the millstream it was probably barred for health & safety reasons; unusual to see in France but it does happen sometimes.  Looking through the grating we could see a hole leading into the stream and thought it was probably an old privy on the lines of a castle garderobe.  We’ve come across privies inside and alongside lavoirs before but only a handful.

The outside toilet
With the weather set fair I now have no excuse but to continue with making good the paintwork.  It was a job I started but didn’t finish in the first lockdown but at least I got the roof completed which was the most important and largest area area to do.


Friday 23 April 2021

Viéville (bloody contractors)

Morning over Viéville

When Buddy got up on Monday morning the limp that he’d picked up during our walk on Sunday, had improved.
  He still seemed a bit stiff so to be on the safe side we didn’t walk him during the day, and he seemed to be more than happy just laying down beside the boat.  He did move every so often to get out of the sun into the shade or back the other way.

An item outstanding from the last blog update was the saga of my residency application which was rejected due to the préfecture being unable to find my paperwork when we had our appointments last week.  On Sunday evening, as well as making a new appointment with the préfecture, I emailed them with a timeline of events ready for challenging their decision.  Early on Monday morning I received an email apologising that they’d mistaken my details for another Neil Payne down in the south and that I should come to the interview I’d arranged for Wednesday and hopefully all would be well.  Amazingly in these days of tight data protection they included this other guy’s details and address in the email. 

During Monday morning a pickup arrived by the mooring and two guys got out and started mowing the grass alongside.  All was well until they started strimming the edges and we realised that the strimmers were sending gravel onto the sides and roofs of the boats.  At least they stopped and moved away from our boat when I pointed out what was happening.  We’ve had this before in the UK where the contractors used by CRT happily mow and strim the towpaths without worrying about chipping paintwork.  Other than the potential damage to boats it can be quite a controversial topic as some people think towpaths should be mown like lawns.  Others, like us, are happy that they are left to be wild or at least cut back at a time that causes the least damage to and for insects etc.  To be fair, our guys may not have been contractors, they may have been local council workers but even so they should’ve taken more care.

As Buddy seemed fine on Tuesday morning, I took him for a longer walk with the aim of seeing the Roche-Bernard from the bottom; this was the cliff we’d visited the top of during our walk on Sunday.  We had to walk through the village of Viéville first where I saw a pair of black swans on a millstream.

Since being moored at Viéville I’d only managed to find one old picture of the village so took a similar shot as we carried on down the main street.

No date for the earlier picture

As we were leaving the village, we passed an alleyway that got my hopes up, ‘Sentier du Lavoir’.  They were immediately dashed, and you can see why:

A cat laying in the path and it wasn’t keen on moving

As we had to return the same way I thought I’d have another go on the way back.  The walk wasn’t entirely fruitless as there were plenty of butterflies out and about and I saw my first common blue of the year.  After about three kilometres we came to the base of the cliff, but it wasn’t the breath-taking view I’d hoped for.  There were so many trees growing on the steep hillside below that the rocks were only just visible.

On Sunday we’d rested at the top where the rocks can just be seen

Walking through the woods was interesting as in one area the woodland floor was covered in flowering lesser periwinkle.  I also came across a plot boundary marker with numbers inscribed on either side so the tree owners knew which plots were theirs.  You may remember Karen remarking that it was just as well the markers we saw a few days ago weren’t numbered otherwise it would give us something else to collect.  Seeing this one made me laugh out loud, but I did refrain from looking for more.

Plot 18 - the other side indicated plot 17

Having given up on getting any decent pictures of the cliffs that didn’t look like I was just close up to a rock we made our way back to the boat.  When walking across open countryside we always keep Buddy on a lead because if he caught sight of an animals or birds like pheasants he would be off.  It was just as well because a group of deer ran across the fields at one point and he was desperate to get after them.  In the woods on Sunday, when he picked up his limp, three deer ran across the path in front of us and he was off.  We should have realised then that he wasn't himself as it was a half hearted attempt and he came back as soon as we called him.

Retracing our steps back to the village

The cat had gone from the path, so we started walking up it to see if there were any traces of a lavoir.  We came across the cat again halfway along and yet again it was reluctant to move which of course started getting Buddy extremely excited.  Once I got it going, I realised it only had three legs hence its unwillingness to move.  Maybe three-legged cats are common in this village as that was the second one in a week that I’d seen.  Anyway, there was no lavoir to be found and as the alleyway ran down to the stream running through the village I wondered if the lavoir had been demolished.  Maybe there never was one, just washing stones lining the side of the stream with no structure above.  We've come across such types before but there was no sign of any vestiges of washing stones either.

The rest of the day was spent lazing around the boat as I seemed to have hurt my back during the morning.  Having avoided serious back problems for a few years now, it’ll hopefully be alright after a good night’s sleep.  There are advantages to resting, for instance I was able to watch a redstart pecking around in the bushes by the boat.  Having never been so close to a redstart for so long before, it made my day.

On Wednesday I had a six o’clock start to drive to Châlons-en-Champagne for my appointment at the préfecture.  I got there soon after eight and was first in the queue and also first to be seen when they opened.  It started as badly as last week as they couldn’t locate my paperwork again.  You can imagine how my stress levels started going up, especially when they repeated that I ‘d already applied elsewhere and therefore couldn’t apply at Châlons.  I patiently explained that it was a case of mistaken identity and showed them the email they sent to me on Monday apologising for the mix up.  After another search my file was found and the lady was full of apologies again. When she explained what had gone wrong, she spoke so fast that I just shut off completely through a lack of understanding and just smiled the best I could with a facemask on.  Sorting out my fingerprints and photographs went smoothly, and I was given my temporary carte de séjour and told the permanent one would be ready in a few weeks.  They’d told Karen last week that the card would be posted to the port at Châlons, but I was told they will ring us when they’re ready because we live on a boat.  We will wait with bated breath to see what it will be.

Walking back to the car, which I’d left in the port, I noticed decorations going up in the streets ready for the tourist season which the town must be hoping will begin soon, but no one really knows when.

Fuchsias in one street

I also came across 11 freshly painted manhole covers around the market halls.  It seems the artist doing these has started up again having not done any last year.  There are now approaching 400 manhole covers that have been painted and we have seen nearly half of them.

The new covers, mainly cats, quite bland and not as colourful as previous paintings

On a walk later in the afternoon Karen and I came across a meadow that seemed to be full of cuckoo flower (aka lady’s smock).  This is one of the food plants favoured by orange tip butterfly caterpillars and its usual habit is to grow along hedgerows and on banks.  It’s not often we’ve seen it growing in such profusion and we wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen dozens of orange tips flying rather than the handful we saw.

Cuckoo flower interspersed with dandelions and cowslips

As we walked along the towpath I said to Karen that it was a day off three weeks since we’d seen another boat on the move.  To which she replied that a commercial went through whilst I was at Châlons and she was out with Buddy.

Perthos heading north through Viéville

I rang VNF in the afternoon to give the requisite two days’ notice of our intention to move on Friday.  We’re going to head for a place called Bologne for the fourth week of lockdown.

Having completed an attestation allowing me to go to the Marne préfecture in Châlons-en-Champagne on Wednesday for state administrative purposes I had to complete another on Thursday afternoon.  This was a different one again as I was travelling to have a Covid vaccination.  I had to travel about 20 kilometres to Chaumont where there was a vaccination centre set up in a sports hall which couldn’t be used for its usual purpose by the Chaumont handball team due to the lockdown.  The whole experience was very efficient and well organised just as it was when I had my first jab in the UK.  I had AstraZeneca in the UK, but it seemed impossible to get the second dose in France, so I had a Pfizer one instead with a second booked in six weeks’ time.  Karen has her first on Saturday so at least I can explain the procedure and make sure she has the correct forms with her.  

I know it doesn’t bother some people, but I get quite self-conscious if I don’t get things right in a public arena.  Sitting in a large hall waiting for my number to be called had the potential for an embarrassing (to me) situation to occur.  The girl calling out the numbers spoke quite quietly and I stupidly had chosen a chair near the back.  I thought of moving closer but had the issue that as moved she may call out instructions to me that everyone but me would understand.  So I was left listening intently for my number and although I knew full well that the French for 184 is “cent quatre-vingt-quatre” I still sat there worrying I would miss it.

Once I was on a one-on-one situation then I was fine, first with a doctor to check my Covid history and then a nurse to do the jab.  I asked the doctor to speak slowly so I could understand him and he even tried a little English with me and, as with a lot of French people, just could not pronounce my name, it always comes out as “knell-le”.  As soon as I mentioned Neil Armstrong, he was fine and as he was typing in my details into his computer he kept repeating my name the English way!

So far, like with the Oxford jab I haven’t had any reaction so hopefully all will be good for cruising to our next location on Friday.  Karen and I also came top in a weekly duplicate bridge session organised by our old club in Tunbridge Wells so I was obviously OK mentally. 


Monday 19 April 2021

Viéville (rejected again)

Moored at Vouécourt

I’ve remarked before that the most common flower in the Marne valley at this time of year seems to be the cowslip and it only occurred to us during our main walk on Thursday that we see very few primroses.  The reverse is true in England, at least in our experience. Also, it seems the cowslips have been in full bloom for longer this spring and very few flowers have gone over to produce seed heads as yet.  I wonder if it has something to do with the warm weather at the beginning of the flowering season followed by the current much cooler weather?

Our walk on Thursday took us north from the village, up into the hills, along the tops and then back down into the opposite end of the village.  We’ve not been in such a hilly area for a long time so we’re not so used to walking up and down steep inclines but at least it must be doing us good if only to get our heart rates up.  The microclimate in the woodland glades was particularly noticeable on this walk as butterflies were out whereas there would have been very little chance of there any being on the wing in the valley below where it was quite cold even in the full sun.  It did mean we saw our first speckled wood of the year though.  These butterflies are lovers of woodland glades and we've been most surprised we hadn’t seen one earlier in the spring.

Walking back through the village we passed a small square, between the canal and the river, called Place des Auges.  

Having come across the French word for water troughs before we weren’t surprised to see the remains of a long trough.  The length of the trough forms the side of the square so you can understand why I said the square was small.

The house next to our mooring is occupied by a very friendly man that we’ve taken to calling yellow van man on account of his yellow van that looks like a la poste van.  He even beeps and waves madly if passing us on a lane on his way to or from work.  I imagine he’s off to work because he leaves and returns the same time every day.  The paintwork on his bungalow is in the same yellow as his van as is the fence around his plot.  We assume he was also responsible for the fishermen and yellow fence posts on the fishing platform just in front of our boat that you can see in the picture at the top.

On Friday morning Buddy and I took the car to Viéville, our next stopping point, parked the car by the mooring and walked back along the towpath.  Even though there were some motor cruisers and yachts already moored there I could see there was a couple of spaces where we could squeeze in.

Ample space for us at the mooring
The forecast was for heavy cloud all day, but we were duty bound to move because we’d given VNF the requisite 48 hours’ notice.  We were expecting rain at some point because we knew Chris & Sue were cruising on the Grand Union at the same time and it invariably rains on them when they set out.  As it turned out it was really quite sunny albeit with a biting wind but at least we didn’t get wet.

Getting ready to leave

Yellow van man and his wife came out of their house to wave us off and they were still waving when we turned the corner to approach the lock in the village.  We had one further lock to go up after that one before we reached the mooring at Viéville.  Judging by the large piles of weed at both locks they had been freshly cleared of vegetation that had accumulated thus presenting us with no problems as we went through.  We passed a field of Charolais cattle making us realise that we were getting ever closer to Burgundy.  We hadn’t seen fields of Charolais since we were cruising in and around Burgundy in 2019.

There’s a lift bridge just before the mooring that has to be operated by VNF rather than by us using our télécommande which is the usual mode of operating bridges on this canal.  I was just thinking about giving VNF a call to remind them we needed the bridge lifting when an éclusier, timing it perfectly, came by in his van.  

We were soon through he bridge and mooring up having cruised three miles up two locks on Saturday.

Snuggly mooring

Later in the afternoon I saw that I’d received an email from the Marne préfecture at Châlons-en-Champagne and that really got my hopes up.  I immediately assumed that they’d sorted out the issue with my missing paperwork and were calling me in to get my residency card (you may remember that Karen received hers on Wednesday but not me as my paperwork had gone astray).  When I opened the email and read it properly, I realised things had got worse: they reckoned I’d applied through a préfecture in the Dordogne and had already received my carte de séjour therefore I couldn’t apply again.  It was too late to try and sort things out on Friday evening so that job will have to wait until Monday.     

The five unoccupied boats moored at the quay looked like they hadn't moved for well over a year because of the lockdowns.  They were likely to have overwintered there in 2019/20 and not been used at all last year like many sorry looking boats we see at ports.  Viéville is one of those places where boaters have to pay but then that fee includes water and electricity, so we hooked up and settled in for the afternoon.  In all our years boating in the UK we never hooked up to electric points, mind you unless you go into a marina there are only a few places that have canal side electric hook ups over there.  This habit carried over when we came to France and we didn’t hook up at all during 2019. It took a long time to come to terms with paying for electricity especially when we have an engine and solar panels and we only hooked up three times last year.  Anyway, we’ve decided that while we’re in lock down and not moving much that we’ll take advantage of the added benefits of having electricity on tap so to speak.

Saturday was food shopping day so, after completing our attestations explaining why we had to travel further then 10 kilometres, it was off to our nearest town, Chaumont.  In the afternoon we had a look around Viéville and Vraincourt, the two closest villages to the east and west of the canal respectively.  Both small places although Viéville boasted a post office and a small grocer’s store that looks like it made its money from making take away bruschetta and pizza providing they are reserved by pre-ordering.  The service was only available on Wednesday and Saturday for some reason and then only late afternoons but that’s understandable because of the curfew.

We came across more signs that were approaching Burgundy; glazed brickwork in traditional colours.  The traditional Burgundian geometric patterns on roofs are stunning but many houses also sport coloured glazed bricks.

Not quite Bourgogne and shame about the replacement glazing

Vraincourt with fewer than 100 inhabitants was even smaller than Viéville but it still had a mairie although it was housed in a couple of rooms at the back of an old school:

Vraincourt church of Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens

We planned a longer walk for Sunday taking in some viewpoints over the Marne valley.  There’s one particular walk called the circuit of Marie Calvès that we keep seeing signage for.  It makes us chuckle as it’s 74 kilometres long which is too far for us to walk in a day.  I suppose in normal years it’s popular with hikers who probably stop over a couple of nights or so at different places en route.

We elected to do the 12-kilometre circuit de Roche-Bernard which was yet another hill walk, this one starting and finishing at the lift bridge in the village.  We didn’t see a soul until we were about a kilometre from the end.  This was at the top of the Roche-Bernard itself; a sheer rock face popular with climbers and it boasts 37 routes of varying climbing grades.  A young couple had walked up from the village for some quiet time at the top and annoyingly for them a mad English couple and their dog were sitting up there already.  As we were at the top of the cliff we had a view of the surrounding countryside so will have to have a walk along the valley another day in order to see the rock face itself.

The first few kilometres were through communal woodland which had the tell tale granite blocks marking the corners of each plot.

There was the odd sign of a tree or two having been felled in some plots but hardly any sign of replanting for sustainability.  Mind you we can’t really comment as we’ve no idea how many trees each house burns a year.  Most of the trees were beech and the logs in the woodpiles seemed to be mainly beech too.  Beech has a long, hot burn so is very efficient, I imagine a couple of metre lengths would keep going all day in our stove.

Woodpiles at the edge of the communal woodland

We spent the rest of Sunday relaxing in and around the boat, especially Buddy who had picked up a bit of a limp from his walk.  I did do a bit of admin, getting the necessary paperwork together and making an appointment for Wednesday back at the préfecture in Châlons-en-Champagne, where I will be challenging the rejection of my residency application.




Thursday 15 April 2021

Vouécourt (Jabs next week)

Discriminatory sign by our mooring at Vouécourt?

Since we’ve been travelling around France this is only the second place we’ve come across a sign banning travellers.  It’s a bit ironic when taken literally as liveaboard boaters are, to all intents and purposes, travellers.  French anti-discrimination laws forbid signs like this but clearly some have slipped through the net.

Sunday was a washout; it was raining when we got up and it was still raining when night fell.  We’d planned a long walk over the hills around Vouécourt although we wimped out a bit because of the weather by cutting out about half of it, but we still enjoyed ourselves.  The first two kilometres were up a steep road, and no cars went past all the way up, by the same token we didn’t see a soul the whole time we were out, but bear in mind it was raining. The woods on the steep slopes have only been there 100 years or so as vineyards used to cover the slopes as mentioned in the last blog.  It was interesting seeing vestiges of the vineyards as we walked out of the village, such as street names like rue des Vignes and rue de Pressoir.  We’ve seen these names in use on other ex-Champagne villages along the Marne valley before but had never really understood why, until last week.

Even though the village is very quiet, when we do see someone, they are always friendly and seem genuinely pleased to see a new face.  Villages like this one that are on the tourist trail would normally be busy with walkers and cyclists and the gîtes and campsites full of holidaying families at this time of year.  The campsite here looks particularly attractive on the banks of the river Marne which, on warm sunny days, must be a brilliant place for children to swim and generally have fun in the water.

Campsite eerily quiet these days

It hasn’t rained since Sunday but it’s still relatively chilly with tee-shirt weather not due to return for another few days yet.  Since we’ve been here I’ve only managed to find two early photographs of Vouécourt, both of which show the hills covered with vines in the year 1900.

Looking north up the canal (keen eyes will pick out Chalkhill Blue)

Looking across the village from the west

The village cemetery is nearly a mile from the village which seems an awfully long way out of town even for French standards.  Walking out to it on Monday I found that it was shared between three villages and was equidistant from each.  This also sort of explains why it has such a large chapel which to me looks like many churches found in east Kent. 

St-Hilaire chapel in the shared cemetery

A stone cross stood beside the road halfway between the village and the cemetery but try as I might I could find nothing out about it, it had no inscriptions either.  It didn’t look particularly religious so maybe it marked the village boundary.  There are a couple of smaller crosses elsewhere in the village, but they are definitely of a religious nature.

The unexplained stone cross

On Tuesday afternoon we did the complete circular walk that we’d cut in half on Sunday when it was raining.  Since we’ve been at Vouécourt we’ve been noticing small granite blocks like tiny gravestones in the woods and along the edges.  It suddenly dawned on us during our walk that they were boundary markers from when the trees were planted after the vine clearance defining the plots allocated to each household.  Karen did make the remark that it was just as well they weren’t numbered, or we’d be clambering over the whole hillside collecting them all!

Map showing the plots

At the top of the hill, we came out into an old quarry which had dozens of traditional woodpiles.  Some were very fresh, and some had clearly been there for years.  As we walked through the area, we came across a couple who were loading their trailer with logs from what we assumed to be their pile.  They had a puppy with them who wouldn’t leave Buddy alone.  We stood and chatted about the dogs while they played with each other (the dogs that is) as I didn’t have the courage, or rather the French, to start discussing the history of the forest and the woodpiles.   When we went to carry on with our walk the puppy still wouldn’t leave Buddy alone and certainly wasn’t coming when called.  It was quite entertaining as they tried to catch their dog without coming into close contact with us, but they finally managed it.

Some of the woodpiles

After we left, Karen did confide in me that she’s often wondered what the protocols are around the woodpiles we see in the middle of nowhere and how people know whose pile is whose. For example, there are two piles alongside our mooring which aren’t obviously attached to a house.  

On the way back down from the top we passed an old lane which looked rather inviting so we earmarked it for another day.  When I was younger, I used to love finding what are called green lanes in England and exploring them imagining scenes from medieval times.  To be honest I still do that 😊

As we returned to the village, we saw a signpost pointing the way to the canal towpath and both remarked that we haven’t seen a kingfisher for several weeks even though it seems to be the canal’s emblem.

Our pre-curfew walk here in Vouécourt is similar to the one we were doing in Froncles last week.  It’s a circular walk taking in both sides of the cut, crossing on bridges at either end.

Passing the mooring on our pre-curfew walk

Wednesday was a big day for us as we had our appointments at the prefecture in Châlons-en-Champagne to receive (hopefully) our temporary residency permits [cartes de séjour].  We had to leave at six in the morning so as that was the end of curfew, we didn’t need a form for travelling during curfew hours, but we had to fill out one for travelling more than 10 kilometres.  Visiting the prefecture for administrative reasons being an allowable reason.  

We were in the batch of 15 people given an appointment time of 8.30am and were second in the queue.  I noticed that we were the only white people in the queue and also I was the only one wearing glasses.  Karen pointed out that we were the oldest people there too, which probably explained why there weren’t other spectacle wearers there.  Once inside our stress levels went through the roof; we couldn’t believe that in a government building there were no social distancing measures in place.  The chairs where we had to wait in turn were all crammed together without any gaps and none were taped off so we immediately put bags on the chairs next to us.  You would have thought we would have been second to be attended to, but we weren’t seen until the 9.30 group had started arriving and this was because they couldn’t find my paperwork.

Karen had her fingerprints taken and was presented with her interim residence permit which is valid for three months relacing the ceritficate she had confirming she had applied for residency under the Withdrawal Agreement. This interim permit will be replaced by a five-year permanently renewable one in a month or two.  I was told that I would have to reapply and at least we are still in the allowable time to apply for residency under the Withdrawal Agreement as we were living here before the start of 2021.  You may wonder why we’re going through all this hassle: it’s because we would be limited to just 90 days in the EU in any 180 without residency or a long term visa.  We could apply for a 12 month visa every year but that’s a long-winded process entailing two trips to London each time with a lot of additional expense and no guarantee that one would be granted.

Karen’s proof of residency

It wasn’t all bad news on Wednesday.  When we got back to the boat, we heard we’ve each been granted a carte vitale, these are the health insurance cards of the French national health system.  Also, we’ve both managed to book our covid jabs for next week and the follow up ones six weeks or so later.  I know I had my first the night before we last came back to France but that was an Astrazeneca one and I’ve opted to start again with Pfizer as it’s practically impossible to get the Astrazeneca one in France now it’s been removed.  I may or may not cancel the second appointment depending on what the received wisdom is about mixing jabs is at the time.

Something happened that made us smile as we left the prefecture in rather despondent moods.  We noticed a freshly painted drain cover.  It wasn’t particularly elaborate, but it was a smiley face after all. 

If you’re new to the Châlons artwork on drain covers then have a look by clicking here.

As we drove back to the boat, we noticed a mechanical digger working at the lock in the village.  It was bucketing out all the weed that had built up over the last few days.  As in the UK, the éclusiers do their own bit by raking out weed and other debris but every so often we’ve noticed that they use a digger to do the job here.  Maybe it’s because they let it build up for a few days when they know there aren’t any boats coming through; we haven’t seen a boat on the move for nearly a fortnight.  

Because we have to give a couple of days’ notice before moving we mused about our next move and decided we would have a little cruise on Friday.  I rang VNF later in the afternoon to let them know our intentions which also means the next update will be from somewhere new.