Sunday 30 May 2021

Langres (could it be summer?)

Friday was our visiting Langres day.  We left at 10.00am which was early for us but just as well as we avoided climbing up the two-kilometre steep hill in the heat of the day.  We then walked anticlockwise around the walls which vary in length between 3 and 3,5 kilometres depending upon which literature you read.  Halfway around we went into the town for a while and then continued our walk on the walls.  The walls, other fortifications and the views were stunning, but obviously photos couldn’t do them justice.

Langres has been fortified since Gallo-Roman times, over 2000 years ago, but rebuilt and improved over time.  There are 12 defensive towers and seven towers still in existence and the gates had drawbridges and although they were removed in the 1850s during major military re-engineering work, the drawbridge wheels were left in place.

Drawbridge wheels at one of the gates

We joined the walls at Porte Longe-Porte where the original Roman arch can still be seen with the wall built around it.

The 2000-year-old Roman arch

All the gates allow road access into the narrow streets of the town:

The housing inside the walls was a mixture of age and style:

Here are a few shots of the walk around the walls and some of the towers:

The main road through Langres runs around the outside of the walls.  We found that that’s a much better way to take in the walls rather than walking around the top of them!

A campsite and motorhome park stood just inside the walls at one part, ideally located for exploring the town.  As expected, it was busy with French campervans but there were only a couple of tents.  

The windmill gate was rebuilt in the mid-1600s and guards the main route into town, down the high street to the cathedral.

Portes des Moulins

A thriving market was in progress by the Portes des Moulins so we couldn’t resist having a wander around.  As we’d gone into the town to visit the market, we took the opportunity so look around more of the place before continuing our walk along the walls.  Judy & Bob Evans on Mon Amie had recommended finding a café around the statue of Diderot, the famous 18th century French philosopher.  A man after my own heart with many of his now famous quotes including:

"The most dangerous madmen are those created by religion"


"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the intestines of the last priest"

Little & large Diderot statues (well I’ve assumed the modern bronze is Diderot too)

We thought about stopping at one of the cafés on Place Diderot, but it was far too noisy from the nearby renovation works in progress, including the cleaning of the outside of the 12th century cathedral just past the square.

The rear of the cathedral afforded a good view of its Burgundian style roof:

The views from the walls were amazing but it wasn’t clear enough to see the Alps when we were on the western side but apparently, they can be seen under the right conditions.

Looking over lake Liez to the west

Lake Liez is one of four reservoirs built at the summit of our canal to keep it supplied with water.  Our next mooring will probably be alongside the lake. 

Every so often we came across a numbered stone and couldn’t find out their origin, but they were probably used for location identification as they were in sequence (well, many were missing) but not uniformly spaced.

The railway reached Langres in 1858 when the Paris-Mulhouse line was built.  Being by the Marne and the canal in the valley below meant the station was a couple of kilometres from the town.  In 1887 a steam driven rack and pinion railway was built to link the station with the town and was electrified in 1935.  This operated until 1971 and one of the carriages is on display at the top.

The French word for that type of railway is crémaillère and as we’d practically circumnavigated the town when we reached it, we visited a bar of the same name for a well-earned beer.  French bars and restaurants had opened up the previous Wednesday but only on outside terraces and this place seemed popular with the locals.  After a couple of drinks, we thought the food smelt so good that we decided to stop and eat there too.  We’re not used to a big three course meal at lunchtime, even though we were there for 2 ½ hours, so we were unable to eat later in the day.

It started with a beer and a coffee

The other guests were all clearly locals as they all used the traditional French greetings even with the restaurant owners.  It must be a strange time for them as it seems that they will shortly be getting foreign tourists which will change the look and feel of many towns.  For example, Langres has those ‘tourist’ car trains that are seen the world over, although it must be quite hair-raising for walkers and cyclists when they do the circuit of the walls. 

I must admit that when each of us went inside to use the loo that we both forgot to put on our masks and, in retrospect we realised we weren’t picked up for it either.  Mind you, it wasn’t surprising as there were some guys eating inside which is against the current confinement regulations.

Saturday promised to be another fine day but before going anywhere we did some planning for the next few weeks.  After an early lunch, we set off to walk to the lake that we saw from the top of Langres on Friday.  As well as plenty of butterflies, including our first wall for a while, we saw a western whip snake sunning itself on a large log.  It soon disappeared when it became aware of us but we earmarked the spot so we could walk slower and quieter when we came back.

When we reached the reservoir, we had a quick look around the information boards before walking across the top of the dam.  One of the boards helped put the water supply to the canal in context.  It showed the four reservoirs that were built to feed it in relation to the points where the feeder channels ran into it. 

The ‘E’s are the lock numbers leading up to the summit.  Langres, is between E2 and E3 on the left

The lake would be teeming with water-sports in normal times

Looking down the other side of the dam we could see a house built along the same lines as the lock cottages on the canal.  No doubt that was where the guy lives who works on the various sluices along the dam.

Dam keeper’s house

The canal feeder or rigole can be seen leaving the dam and heading off to the right in the picture above.

Every week, each VNF region sends out a report on the state of its waterways and the water reserves.  We are nearly at the southern end of the North-East region and the state of play looks pretty good over the whole area:

The orange length of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin Ouest in the middle of the map indicates that the depth is restricted to 2 metres.  The picture was completely different over the last two years with many orange stretches and by late summer there were a few red ones too. 

Information relating to the reservoirs

Again, in previous years much of the green would have been orange or red.

To avoid walking back to the canal the same way we'd come up to the reservoir we thought we would follow the rigole which, by definition, must take us back to it.  It joined the canal just above the top lock into the 10-kilometre-long summit pound.

Following the rigole from lake Liez

We remembered to take it stealthily when we reached the log pile again and this time we were rewarded with an adder sunning itself.  Unfortunately, it skedaddled really quickly so there wasn’t time to fully identify it as there is more than one type of adder/viper found in this part of France.

When we got home, we did a bit more planning and then joined Buddy who loves nothing better than lazing outside in the weather we’re currently enjoying. 


Friday 28 May 2021

Langres (tarred with the Brexit brush)

Is this what we’ve been looking for?

Rain was expected during the afternoon on Monday so after breakfast Buddy and I walked back to Rolampont to pick up the car.  When we'd come along this particular stretch in the boat, we’d noticed there were no kilometre stones along the towpath which is quite unusual for this canal as most have still been in situ.  So, walking back I kept a keen eye open for the missing stones and also the asset marks that help identify them.  Asset marks are white lines painted on the towpath that identify VNF assets that have to be maintained such as benches, bollards and sluices.  I soon came across a mark that wasn’t identifying anything obvious:

I beat back the growth on the bank and sure enough found a distance stone lurking there:

Flailed to death

Hidden stones must make a mess of the verge side mowers if the driver doesn’t know they’re there.

Later I drove into Langres to do the weekly food shop.  As it was a non-serious public holiday some shops were open, and some were closed.  The first two supermarkets I tried were closed but the third was open and really quite empty, so I wondered if it was about to close, and I’d missed a notice on the door or a loudspeaker announcement.  As it was, I needn’t have worried as it stayed open but was just strangely quiet.

By late afternoon we thought we’d missed out on the forecast rain but then at six o’clock the skies darkened, and we had thunder and lightning for about half an hour.  It really seemed an odd time of year for a thunderstorm and as the temperature had dropped too, I lit the stove.  By the time the wood was giving out heat the rain had stopped and the sun was back out!

My morning walk on Tuesday took in Jorquenay, the next village up the canal and the last place before we reach Langres.  It felt decidedly chilly and consequently there were no butterflies to be seen.   A relatively modern lift bridge takes a road over the canal as it runs through Jorquenay.  When the canal was built a swing bridge had been installed rather than a lifting one judging by the name of the area next to it:

Turning bridge square

Place du Pont Tournant on the far side of the lift bridge

In the canal’s heyday there would have been a man employed to operate the swing bridge and he lived with his family in the house on the left in the picture above, overlooking the canal.  The building in front of the bridge keeper’s house was yet another converted lavoir, this one is now a salle de fêtes whereas the last one, in Hûmes, had been converted to a doctor’s surgery.  Looking at old photographs later I found one from 1906 that showed the lavoir prior to its conversion.  The bridge keeper’s house even had an enamel information plate in the same style as those on the lock houses:

The original swing bridge was removed in March 2014 and the new bridge wasn’t installed and opened to road traffic until January 2016, although the canal was open during most of that period.  Incredibly, the project cost just over €1,4m of which VNF (the French canal authority) paid a little under 10% and the balance was funded by the departmental council of Haute-Marne.

The village war memorial

The other end of Jorquenay with its church on the hill

The three of us went for a walk in the afternoon and fortunately it had become warmer which meant butterflies were venturing out again.  Karen mentioned that she thought she’d seen a walnut tree by a lock on her run the previous day, so we went to have a better look.  It’s quite a tradition for walnut trees to be planted by lock cottages so it wouldn’t have been odd to find one.  What was strange though, was that we didn’t realise that they are the last of the common trees to come into leaf in this part of the world, even later than the ash and the oak. 

Bare walnut tree by the lock cottage

It seemed almost unbelievable that within a month it would be covered in leaves and fruit ready for pickling.  Hopefully we won’t miss out on the young nut harvest as we did last year, although we made up for the mature nut harvest in the autumn as we’ve still got a couple of bags of unopened nuts.

There's a farm on the far side of the lock to the right and every morning and evening cows from a field on the left make their unaided way across the lock to the farm when they're ready to be milked:


Our last morning at Hûmes

We left for Langres at the pre-arranged time of three o’clock on Wednesday.  I say pre-arranged as VNF have called by at the boat on each of the last three days checking which day and at what time we would be leaving Hûmes.  They needed to know as they had to have an éclusier on hand to lift the bridge at Jorquenay.  Each time our answer was the same, ‘mercredi à quinze heures’.  After lunch Karen took the car to Langres to leave it at the port then ran back and we left dead on time.  It had been threatening rain all day and as we set off it started and within a few minutes it was pelting down.  According to the press we will be in for a prolonged spell of good weather from Thursday, so fingers crossed.

Sure enough, soon after we set off, an éclusiere came past in her van heading for the bridge.  She timed it perfectly as it reached its vertical position and the lights turned green when we were about 20 metres away. 

The bridge at Jorquenay on a murky afternoon
It was just as well she was there as the first lock was just past the bridge and it refused to recognise our télécommande.  She saw that we weren’t getting anywhere so drove up to the lock and set it going for us.  She kindly drove up to and waited for us at the following lock to make sure it worked ok which it did.  It was only another couple of hundred metres or so after going up that lock before we were mooring up at the port in Langres.  It had room for a dozen or more boats but there were only two there and they looked like they hadn’t moved for months; they were at one end, so we tied up at the other. 

Our new mooring at Langres

True to form the rain eased up as we arrived, and I set about making the boat ready for a stay of a week or two.  A fisherman further up the quay came down and asked if we were English because of our flag.  When I concurred, he spoke in Dutch sounding English and said he could also have guessed because we’d brought the rain with us.  Even though most nations make fun of Brits and their obsession with the weather it’s not something French people have joked about directly to us so that also confirmed he wasn’t French.  It's not that the French don't make fun of us but they usually laugh at the strange eating habits of Brits; the odd times of day we have our meals, the fact that meals are rushed, the constant snacking etc. 

I noticed a Belgian car parked next to where Karen had left our car, so I asked the fisherman if he was Belgian and if he was on holiday.  He told me that he was and that he’d been in France since the beginning of May on a fishing holiday, moving around the canals while staying at different campsites.  When I asked how he did it as Belgians are not allowed to travel, he said that it’s only advice and he keeps himself to himself.  I must admit that he must be really dedicated as the on-off rain for the last two weeks must make it pretty miserable living in a tent, especially if during the day he’s been fishing in the rain too.

Langres is one of those ports where electricity and water is free but with a difference and that’s because the electricity is only available for three hours a day, one hour at 7.00am, one at noon and one at 7.00pm.  We didn’t really need electricity, especially as the weather is going to improve again, but thought I’d hook up anyway.  The allotted time of 7.00pm arrived and the power didn’t come on.  After waiting 15 minutes it still wasn’t on, so I hooked up to the next borne along with the same result so gave up trying.

Wednesday sundown at Langres - looking the other way

On Wednesday we cruised three miles up two locks.

I woke up on Thursday morning with the electricity situation bugging me.  There were four more bornes to try before the ones that the two boats at the end were hooked up to.  I got our extra-long, 60-metre extension lead out and thought I’d keep trying.  The second borne I tried was working so I moved the boat down to the working borne and settled us in again.  When 8.00am came, the power didn’t go off and as it was still on at 10.30am so we suspected it would be on constantly rather than the three set hours a day.

The walled town of Langres is about three kilometres from the port and we can just see it from the boat, above the trees:

We’re looking forward to spending time exploring the old town and its famous 3,5-kilometre-long walls that are still intact.  Before we could do that, we had Thursday to get through.  We had our weekly bridge session in the morning and in the afternoon, I drove to Châlons-en-Champagne to pick up my carte de séjour (French residency card) which had finally arrived.  I went on the autoroute for the whole journey, so it only took two hours each way.

The car journey of a little over 200 kilometres back to Châlons-en-Champagne rather made a mockery of our journey by boat since we left there nearly three months ago.  Anyway, the trip was successful, and we are now both proud owners of French residency cards even though they are stamped with “ARTICLE 50 TUE” marking us as obtaining them under the voluntary and unilateral withdrawal of Great Britain from the EU 😖

While I was back in Châlons I checked on who was left in the port and found that only Guy & Ardon on Vindi hadn’t set off yet.  I stayed and chatted with them a while and heard all about their cruising plans for this year and then left for the journey back to Langres which was as uneventful as the journey up had been.  Although I had the embarrassment suffered by drivers of right-hand drive vehicles when going through European tolls on their own: the ungainly clambering/leaning across the passenger seat and hanging out of the window to reach toll tickets and make payments.  At least the machines now dispense tickets automatically and take contactless payment so there’s no need to touch anything. 

With the sun out all day on Thursday and set fair for the next couple of weeks it bodes well for the weekend and our exploration of Langres.  Oh, and the elctricity is still on!

Looks promising at 7.00am on Friday

Monday 24 May 2021

Hûmes -Jorquenay (what are steppingposts?)

Change of neighbours at Rolampont
Friday dawned grey again and by 8.45am we could hear our neighbour’s engine running meaning they were probably getting ready to leave.  Sure enough they left ten minutes later timing things just right to reach the first lock at opening time which is at 9.00am on our side of the summit on this canal.  They actually open at 7.00am but that’s only for commercials, although for some reason on the other side of the summit they open at 7.00am for all boaters.

All on our own again
Soon after breakfast Buddy and I walked back to Marnay-sur-Marne to pick up the car.  On Thursday, when we’d cruised the section, we saw several cyclists and walkers but while walking I didn’t see a soul.  I stopped for a wander around the small village of Vesaignes-sur-Marne (pop. c100) to see if I could find a lavoir. 

I was out of luck but was surprised to see the mairie and church were both enormous for the population they served.

The mairie of Vesaignes-sur-Marne
The water trough was a large affair too
One of the things we’ve been looking forward to seeing around our current mooring at Rolampont was a Roman bridge over the Marne.  It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, when I was researching places to go over the weekend, that I found out that it wasn’t Roman.  It was built in 1764 but in a Roman style so visiting the bridge dropped down the priority list.

Later on Friday all three of us walked into Rolampont to have a look around.  It’s more of a town really as it houses around 1,500 people and is large enough for a few small shops as well as a car showroom.

Rolampont mairie and church from the canal side of the river
We found two lavoirs and they looked identical, both from the exterior design and the size and shape of the basins.

Saturday was a much better day and the rain kept away which was good as we had a 12-kilometre circular walk planned.  Soon after a very late breakfast we heard the sound of a boat and realised that someone was mooring up in front of us.  Jutta & This were a delightful Swiss couple in a 20-metre barge called San Francisco.  Buddy was in his element as they had a dog which soon became his new playmate while we had a short conversation and agreed to meet up later in the afternoon as we were just about to set off for our walk.  

We wanted to walk over the hills to the west of Rolampont, down into the Saulx valley, visit the village of Faverolles to see the remains of a Roman mausoleum and then back through the woods to Rolampont.  Our first stop was just outside Rolampont where there are some extensive tufa formations.  These are often seen in limestone areas such as in the Yorkshire Dales where limestone rich water precipitates over the moss-covered rocks forming the delicate and relatively soft tufa stone.

One of the tufa formations
The walk over to Faverolles alternated between woodland and arable land and provided wonderful views in the open areas.

Novel steppingstones had been installed to help us cross one stream.  I suppose that strictly speaking they should be called steppingposts.

Karen managing the steppingposts
When we reached Faverolles (pop. <100) we stopped for a picnic and a look around. 

One of the largest buildings housed many Roman artefacts that have been discovered in the area but was unfortunately closed because of the covid restrictions. It seemed rather incongruous that the museum was housed in one of the largest buildings in such a small village.

Museum is the second building on the left
Our next stop was the mausoleum which was reached after a climb back up and into the forest, although the information board pointed out that 2.000 years ago, when the mausoleum was built, the surrounding area was cleared of trees.  The mausoleum was very disappointing, all that was left was a pile of blocks under a nondescript shelter and the whole area was fenced off.

All that remains of the 80’ tall mausoleum
A little further away stood a ¼ size replica carved from a single block of stone.  The carving was performed by students at a stonemasons’ college in the nearby town of Langres.  Even though it was only 20’ tall it demonstrated what would have been the size and spectacle of the original structure.
The ¼ size replica
The return walk was in the forest until we dropped down the other side of the hill back into Rolampont.  As we’ve found in all the wooded areas we walk, plots numbers are clearly marked by plastic tags pinned to trees every 100 metres or so.  The National Forest Office or Office National des Fôrets (OFN) control the management of the majority of the woodland in France whether privately owned or not.

This particular forest seemed to have an abundance of the original stone boundary posts.  These ones looked remarkably like some of the distance stones we’ve seen along the canals.  Karen joked that they were the missing distance stones that we couldn’t find as we photographed them on our journeys.

In a similar vein to the lack of walnut trees this year we seem to have missed out on the wild garlic season.  Normally, this is impossible to miss as the smell from swathes of the plants can be very strong, even to the extent that they can be smelt from the boat as we cruise past a wild garlic area.  This year we haven’t seen any, that is until we nearly reached the end of our walk.  Even though the season is now over, we came across a meagre clump that were still in flower.

Our only wild garlic specimens this year
After we got back, we popped around next door for tea and freshly made chocolate chip muffins.  As Swiss, they spoke a multiple of languages and they were quite comfortable keeping the conversation in English.  Their barge was built in 1932 and converted to a pleasure craft about 20 years ago and, now they’ve retired they spend most of their time on the waterways of Europe.  They both caught covid in November and told us that, in Switzerland, people only receive one jab if they have had covid; not a practice we’ve heard of.

As we were moored alongside a high quay at Rolampont the inside of the boat felt quite dark even when the sun was out so we both fancied moving to somewhere more open even though we'd only been there for three days.  Jutta & This left just before nine on Sunday morning heading the way we’d come, and we left an hour or so later for the shortish hop to Hûmes.

After using her line at the fourth lock Karen noticed two sides of the eye had badly frayed.  This was a sudden thing as she’d not even seen any sign of fraying previously.  The four locks had all been very feisty, so I’d had to put the revs up higher than usual to keep the boat forward.  This extra friction coupled with lock sides that were unusually square and abrasive seemed to have caused the problem.  We’ve used rope protectors in the past in this situation but with the bollards on these locks so close to the edge it was the loop itself being damaged rather than the line so the protector wouldn’t have helped.

The damaged loop
Fortunately, we had a spare 13 metre looped line but need to find a way of adapting the rope protector to use it to stop the loop fraying in case we come across a similar situation in the future.  If we trusted our splicing. we could form a loop at the other end of the damaged line.  I seem to remember Aileen once spliced a rope when she and Mike needed to make up a spare, so perhaps she can give us some pointers.  

We didn’t see much sun on the cruise, but it came out after we moored up and turned into a pleasant afternoon.

Moored at Hûmes
We had a quick look around the village and spent the rest of the day relaxing around the boat.

Hûmes war memorial, mairie and church
The doctor’s surgery in a converted lavoir

We noticed the roof of the surgery was laid with 'violon' tiles.  These tiles were a specialism of the local area around the 1850s and are shaped like violins giving a rather pleasing finish.

On Sunday we cruised four miles up five locks.