Friday 3 September 2021

La Basse Vaivre (Back on board)

Back to waterway life

When we arrived in the UK for our holiday we had to isolate and so spent some time planning our cruising for the rest of the year.  We’d set out from Châlons- en-Champagne at the end of February and headed south down the Canal Champagne et Bourgogne to join and then travel up the Petite Saône.  By the end of July, we'd reached the navigable end of the river at a place called Corre and left the boat at the marina there while we went back to the UK.  During those five months we've covered 276 miles through 146 locks.

Our route so far this year

After several iterations we finally came up with a plan which involves going all the way up the Canal des Vosges then continuing north up the Canal de la Meuse where, just before the Belgian border, we’ll turn onto the Canal des Ardennes.  We’ll follow that canal down to the Aisne and then join the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne where we’ll be back in home territory before reaching Chalons-en-Champagne at the end of November.  This journey covers 312 miles through 220 locks over three months which, compared with the journey we’ve just completed, is quite ambitious.  When the circumstances are considered, it isn’t really ambitious as we had to travel very slowly during the last lockdown and Karen was working three days a week too.  Hopefully, further lockdowns won’t happen, and Karen only has a few more weeks of work.  

Planned route for the rest of 2021

When our isolation finished, we popped up to Wendover to see Ann, Karen’s mum, for a couple of days followed by a couple more in Yorkshire visiting my dad.  Whenever we go up to Yorkshire, we have a curry in Gargrave where he lives. We had a drink at the Masons’ Arms at the end of his road first and it was good to see it was packed.  It made us both realise how long it’s been since we’ve heard the proper sound of busy pubs.  We then went to the Indian and couldn’t believe it was fully booked all evening so ended up with a takeaway – it seemed the press reports of people going out after the last 18 months were ringing true.

On the way back south, we stopped off near Middlewich to see Karen’s fellow boat-living cousin Dave and his wife Barbara.  It worked out well as not only did we catch up with Dave & Barbara, but we got see some of their family too.  The rest of the month was spent seeing most of our children and grandchildren and many of us also had a few days camping. 

We travelled back to France on the day after the Bank Holiday and were surprised at how much better the weather was when we arrived at the boat.  August had been rather disappointingly grey in the UK but at least it stayed mainly dry.  Mind you it had obviously been pretty dull six years ago too as the boat log shows we lit the stove on 1st September 2015 whilst moored at Hillmorton on the Oxford canal.  After unloading the car and getting the boat ready for travelling we left the marina to spend the night on the visitors’ moorings just outside.  The only issue we found with the boat was that we seemed to have had an invasion of large spiders, many of which were comatose and appeared to be going into early hibernation.

Tuesday night outside the marina at the end of the navigable Saône

Having risen very early on Tuesday morning followed by a long car journey we were knackered so’d had an early night and slept for 10 hours: unheard of for us.  During breakfast on Wednesday, we heard a lot of splashing under the trees opposite and saw a family of coypus that appeared to be playing together. 

We’ve decided to keep the car with us until we get to the end of the Vosges as there are no train lines until we get to Toul at the far end and, as the whole length is very rural there are limited opportunities to catch buses.  During the morning Karen drove to La Basse Vaivre to find somewhere to leave the car and then ran back to Corre.  On her return she said it was a lovely spot and also ideal for Buddy, so we set off after lunch.  As we left, we passed a campervan park adjoining the marina and chuckled at how the vans seemed to be socially distancing.

The first lock taking us off the Saône was summoned by twisting a pole hanging over the river and as it was set for us, we didn’t have to hang around long.  

Joining the Canal des Vosges on Wednesday

The locks on the Vosges were built to take the smallest commercial barges of 39m x 5.05m although there is now virtually no commercial traffic on the canal.  Apparently, some way along, there is a section where four commercials ply back and forth transporting gravel.  I have also heard that these barges are different to the norm in that they have cabins at the front so we will be on the lookout for them and find out why they’re a reverse layout; maybe it’s because the canal is quite twisty.

Having risen up the first lock the immediate task was to obtain a télécommande or remote-control unit from the lockside dispenser.

Karen working out what to do

We had to get in touch with the canal control centre by pressing a button.  When a guy answered I told him we were heading up the canal and needed a télécommande and all I really understood was “elle arrive”.  This is the sort of response we get when reporting a faulty lock telling us an éclusier is on the way so I assumed an éclusiere was on her way.  After a few seconds a box popped out of the dispenser with a télécommande in it so we didn’t have to wait after all.

At least we’d learnt that télécommandes are feminine!

It was the first unit we’d had to use that only had one control button so at least it meant we couldn’t press wrong buttons by mistake.  The box also contained a handy instruction leaflet:

Other than the first lock the remaining 92 on the canal are all summoned by pressing the green button as we pass a sign about 200 metres before the lock.  The signs seemed to be well placed as the next three locks were all set with their green lights on as they came into view.

This lock cottage garden must have been really pretty a few weeks ago…

…although this lock cottage had clearly seen better days

Whenever we start cruising after a break when we’ve got used to travelling by car, it always feels as though the boat is not running quite right.  It takes a while to realise all is OK and we are just adjusting to the slower pace of life.

It was a lovely hot afternoon, and the forecast is for hotter sunny days to come so we will have to take extra care of Buddy.  We soon arrived at La Basse Vaivre where the mooring was on an old quarry quay and was occupied by quite a few fishermen.  We found a spot and received welcome bonjours from the guys and settled in for the rest of the day.

Moored for a couple of nights at La Basse Vaivre

On Wednesday we cruised four miles up four locks.

We stayed put on Thursday and got on with various jobs including getting on with the outstanding repainting of the back deck before the heat of the day.  We had a walk into the village of La Basse Vaivre which was reached by crossing the River Coney.  The south side of the summit of the canal follows the Coney valley all the way down to the Saône and by all accounts is very steep in places which accounts for the 46 locks we have to climb in a relatively short distance.

Crossing the River Coney

La Basse Vaivre was a typical village with about 30 houses and no sign of life other than a farmer unloading hay bales from a trailer.  Of course, even a village of that size was still able to boast a mairie.

The mairie and war memorial

With so few dwellings we were surprised to come across two lavoirs, one at either end of the village.  Unlike the majority of lavoirs in the Haute-Saône département these two were in need of some attention although one had been converted to a poor specimen of a flowerbed.

We spent the rest of the day lazing around by the boat and had a barbecue in the early evening.



Peter said...

Great to have my vicarious travels re-starting, and the questions…what are copyus! And lovely to see identical lock cottage designs…clearly a “company house”…safe and happy travels…

Helen and Chris said...

We are very envious of the sunshine - we managed to get to France (arrived the day you left and sorry to have missed you) and spent August on the Vosges arriving home in the UK last weekend and now back to work! The weather was much cooler and greyer than our usual French Cruises - we only needed sun cream on 3 days!! Have a great trip - it is a lovely Canal - especially on the Coney side of the Summit.

Constance said...

220 locks!!!

Neil & Karen Payne said...

Hi Helen & Chris - thanks for the Vosges endorsement. We did see your boat and were sorry to have missed you too. Maybe next year...