Épinal (dry rainy days)

At the end of the last blog update I mentioned how few hire boats there seem to have been since the start of September.  To prove me wrong, four arrived at the hire base next to us on Tuesday evening and four more went out before I left to take the car to Épinal the following morning.  We concluded that this particular hire base at Fontenoy-le-Château has changeover days on most days of the week.

The couple who moored neared us yesterday and didn’t say a lot were very talkative on Wednesday morning and it transpired that he was Dutch, and she was German.  This was their first year on the boat, and they’d come down from Berlin and were heading to Marseille so had lots of questions about boating both generally and in France.

I had an uneventful drive to Épinal, but it could have been quite different.  Passing through Bains-les-Bains I came up behind a bush in the road:

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: a guy in an old Peugeot had been doing some drastic pruning.  I hung back as the offcuts didn’t seem to be attached and were just dragging along the road.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to follow for long as he turned off at the recycling centre (déchetterie). 

Arriving in Épinal I made my way to the port at the northern end of town and found a handy place to leave the car.  Apart from some small boats for hourly hire there was only one other boat moored there and with mooring available on both sides it clearly wasn’t going to be an issue for us finding somewhere to stay.

The port at Épinal

I had a 20-minute walk to the bus station which was really busy, not surprising as the town is the county town of the Vosges département.  I ventured into the booking office and managed to buy a ticket back to Fontenoy-le Château.  It took a while as there was there was a Fontenay as well as a Fontenoy and I couldn’t pronounce either correctly.  When I explained that I’d telephoned to reserve the bus, the lady understood where I was going and told me that the other place was quite large and had a regular bus service.  She also helpfully explained how to pronounce Fontenoy which was nothing like I’d been doing so no wonder I’d confused her.  A guy outside was directing all the buses and he’d obviously been told about me as when my bus arrived he came up to me to let me know. 

After lunch we set off in another glorious summer’s day towards the summit of the canal.  The locks were getting closer to each other as we climbed through the thickly wooded Côney valley.  The locks all had cottages, but many were in a sorry state of repair.  It was such a shame as on the other French canals we have travelled they are generally well maintained and not often left derelict.  Most still had metal cladding on the end walls still and we’ve begun to think the metal may be tin as there was a tin sheet rolling mill further up the canal that we planned on visiting.

Tin (?) clad and inhabited lock cottage

The height of the locks on this particular stretch were just at our limit of 3,50 metres.  Any higher and Karen would be struggling to get her pole up and loop a line over a bollard.  

At one of the locks, I took a picture of the enamel plates showing the lock name and number and it wasn’t until I looked later that I saw I’d inadvertently caught a red admiral butterfly in flight!

Red admiral photo bombing to the right of the lock name

Just before we arrived at Manufacture Royale, the tin production plant we wanted to visit, we had to call VNF because the lights at the lock below were showing two reds meaning out of service.  An éclusier arrived very quickly and found a log was stuck behind one of the gates but he soon got us on our way.  When we moored up to visit the factory Buddy went straight into the water to cool down and just stood there for about five minutes.

Moored for our factory visit waiting for Buddy to cool down

The factory site was fascinating, one of those places where the entrepreneurial owners built model villages for their employees, like Saltaire near Bingley in Yorksire and Port Sunlight in Liverpool.  The site was built in the 1730s and produced tin sheet, the tin was imported from the Dutch colonies but the iron ore for smelting was mined locally and the river Côney was harnessed to drive the mill machinery.  Records show that in 1764, 600 workers lived at the remote site and tin sheet was produced until the 1850s when production switched to nails, especially nails for horses.   

Visitors were allowed to roam freely to view various exhibits in the old workshops and even Buddy was allowed in.

Buddy wasn’t bothered by a dead horse in one of the buildings which we assumed was something related to the fact that horse nails were produced there:

I still don’t understand why many factory roofs have this uneven angular design:

There was even a chapel built for the employees next to a large ‘management’ house:

I was saved the task of producing a ‘then and now’ shot of the village as one was on display in one of the workshops:

We carried on cruising when we got back to the boat and pulled up at a place called Pont du Bois so Karen could have her weekly call with her mum and sister.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as the phone signal was so poor, so she gave up and we decided to carry on until seven when the locks closed.

Moored at Pont du Bois for the failed phone call

At 6.25pm we were approaching a lock and the lights went out.  Our assumption was that we had the closing times wrong, so we moored up for the night just under the lock.

Moored earlier than expected on Wednesday evening

During the day I’d had to visit the weed hatch twice to release debris caught around the propeller. Ironically and annoyingly, the culprit each time wasn’t weed but brambles that contractors had been cutting along the banks and left to float in the water.  

On Wednesday we cruised five miles up eight locks.

At four o’clock on Thursday morning we were woken by a loud crash and a frightened Buddy.  The water level in the pound had dropped overnight and, even though I’d left long loose lines, we were at an angle.  Before going to bed we’d made sure nothing was out on the sides that may slide off in such circumstances, but the noise was of drawers sliding out in the kitchen.  I was straight outside and managed to push the boat out further into the channel.  Being so remote is was wonderfully dark and starry but I was surprised to the stars as we were expecting rain in the early hours.

We weren’t disappointed, as a thunderstorm started just before 6.30am at the same time as I noticed the red light had come on at the lock.  The timing was obviously wrong on the lock and, even though it was in operation for 12 hours it was starting and finishing at 6.25 not 7.00.  Anyway, it startled a half-asleep Karen as she couldn’t understand why a bright red sun was shining in the boat in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Ready to leave on Thursday morning

The storm didn’t last long, and we got ourselves ready to leave by 7.30 but we then realised the lock light was off again.  We walked back to the previous lock and saw its lights were out too so concluded there’d been a power cut.  Walking back to the boat a VNF van stopped to talk to us and the éclusier explained that the orage had caused the power cut, but all was now restored and he was going along resetting the trip switches at each lock.

By the time we were up the first lock, the clouds were beginning to clear, and the sun was starting to appear.

Leaving the first lock of the day

We were due to have rain most of the rest of the day, but we were lucky and no more fell so we were able to cruise in the dry.  After the first couple of locks qe stopped for breakfast at the mooring we’d hoped to reach the previous evening.  It certainly would have been a lovely spot to have been at overnight.

Breakfast at Harsault

We continued our climb up to the summit during the morning passing yet more dilapidated lock cottages:

We even passed the first sign of industry so far on this canal, an old factory at Thunimont which had clearly seen better days.

We stopped for lunch at a basin in a place called les Forges d’Uzemain.  There was another boat moored there and it was in rather a sorry state, but a Frenchman was on board. We came to the conclusion he was now using it a weekend retreat rather than for cruising.

Moored in the distance as les Forges d’Uzemain

After lunch we had a look around the village which, unsurprisingly, was based around an old iron works.  What was surprising though was that there wasn’t a mairie, church nor even a lavoir.  Several of the buildings were uninhabited.

This must be beyond renovation
The centre of Forges d’Uzemain

We’d aimed to moor below écluse 8 for the night where there was a well-publicised mooring popular with boaters. We moored up at 4.00pm and were sadly disappointed as the place was completely in shadow.  We’re sure it would have been ideal on a very hot day with the shade being most welcome while having a barbecue, but there were a lot of flies around, so we didn’t fancy sitting outside.

You can just make us out moored on the right at the (in)famous lock 8

I walked further up the flight and after a couple of locks found a much nicer area to stay overnight so we moved up there.  Before we retired, I made sure we had plenty of slack in the lines as the sides were quite shallow and the pound was quite short.

On Thursday we covered nine miles up 20 locks.

Like Thursday, we were due to have rain most of the day on Friday, but it was dry when we awoke so we set off early again.  After five locks we stopped at Girancourt for breakfast, one lock below the summit.  It wasn’t a particularly attractive mooring especially as it started raining as we were tying up. 

Breakfast at Gironcourt

We were lucky and the rain stopped before we finished breakfast and held off for the rest of the day although dark clouds did roll in a few times.  Before leaving again we went for a look around the village which consisted of mainly modern housing.  As there weren’t many older buildings, we weren’t expecting to see much of interest but were pleased to find two lavoirs.  Both had washing stones positioned unlike any others we have come across:

The unusual washing stones of the two lavoirs at Gironcourt

Setting off again we reached the summit of the canal des Vosges after going up the final lock.  Most canals seem to have tunnels at the summit but not so on this one, although we did pass through some steep sided cuttings:

We also passed the watershed of the Med and the North seas, not to be confused with the midpoint between the two.

We stopped for lunch at a place simply called Les Forges before starting our descent down the first 14 locks on the other side of the summit.  We would now be following the Moselle valley until we reach the end of the canal.  We passed a large reservoir that is fed by the upper reaches of the river and in its turn feeds the canal.

Lunch at Les Forges

As we were now going downhill, we didn’t need both of us at the locks, so Karen was able to have a walk with Buddy.  The flight reminded us of the Caen Hill flight on the Kennet & Avon in Devizes as large side ponds were utilised.  As the locks were larger on this flight, the side ponds were a lot larger too and cruising between the locks was rather tricky as the wind whipped across the open water.  By the time Karen had walked down the flight and back up again to meet me I’d only reached the sixth lock where I was on the phone to VNF as the lights were out.  Fortunately, they were able to sort out the problem remotely which I was rather glad about as it wasn’t easy hovering outside the exposed lock.

Crossing one of the side ponds

At the 14th and final lock, we had to press a button to indicate whether or not we were turning off the mainline and heading onto the branch into Épinal. 

The final lock with a signpost for the junction ahead
Turning right down to Épinal

We soon realised why we had to indicate which way we were heading.  A short way from the junction we crossed on a narrow aqueduct over the Moselle, and we’d obviously activated the traffic lights controlling the passage across.

Crossing the Moselle

After just over three kilometres we reached the port at Épinal and found we were the only boat there.  It was very grey which was quite a contrast to the glorious sunshine when I’d left the car at the car park on Wednesday.

Moored for the weekend at Épinal

We’re now looking forward to a day or two exploring the town before moving on again.

On Friday we cruised 14 miles through 20 locks.


1 comment:

Mike said...

The 'sawtooth' roof profile for industrial buildings is to bring light in. Windows are easier to weather-proof when they are vertical or near vertical, hence the non-symmetrical shape. It means that light can flow in along each 'valley' in the sawtooth, and because it is repeated many times, the result is a lot more (and even) light than simply having windows at the end or side.