Thursday 16 September 2021

Toul (onto the Moselle)

By Monday we were a day’s cruise away from the end of the canal des Vosges where turning right would take us on the canal de la Marne au Rhin to Strasbourg and left onto the river Moselle.  We’re going to join the Moselle but only for a day as we will turn off at Toul and head for the canal de la Meuse that will take us up through Verdun to Sedan, just short of the Belgian border, for the next leg of our 2021 adventure.

Both of us get a little nervous about going on rivers and therefore we wanted to get into position to be as near to the Moselle as possible on the evening before venturing onto the river.  We cannot believe that we will encounter much traffic this far upstream but the 185 metre locks are designed to take barges over ten times our length.  To be fair we’ve been in those size locks and also been passed by those big barges before but there’s never been a problem.  We find the worst boats to mix with are speed boats who seem to delight in creating large wakes to toss us all over the place or maybe they just don’t realise.

With all this in mind we set off early on Tuesday to get to the final mooring on the Vosges which was at Méréville just two locks above the Moselle. 

Leaving Bayon on Tuesday morning

The weather was one of those cloudy-sunny days so felt quite muggy which wasn’t surprising as rain was forecast for Wednesday, our day on the river.  At the second lock the lights were out and an éclusier was in attendance to see us through.  He explained that something was broken with the automated system, and they would have to see us through manually for the next few locks.  It didn’t really affect us as operating them manually meant the automatic timings could be overridden and we got through quicker than usual.

After crossing the Moselle on what’s meant to be a fine seven-arched stone aqueduct we moored for lunch during which some rain did fall.  It had stopped by the time we’d finished so we walked back to the aqueduct to get a view of it from river level.  Try as we might, we couldn’t find a way down so we never managed to ascertain if the aqueduct was indeed fine.

Moored for lunch below the aqueduct

Our éclusier caught up with us while we were on the aqueduct and told us a péniche was coming upstream and that he had to see him through a couple of locks.  This was a disadvantage of the manual system as commercials obviously take priority and the éclusiers have to see them through first.  On top of that it must have been the slowest commercial we have seen, and we ended up being delayed for well over an hour.

The cause of our delay

Once we were on our way, we only had a couple of locks before arriving at Richardménil which was about two kilometres from where we were heading.  There was a pay to stay mooring at outside the town which looked nice and open but we decided to carry on anyway.

Richardménil moorings

The mooring at Méréville was empty and we were soon settled in for the night.  

We were pleased that we’d finally made it along the length of the canal des Vosges as it’s been closed due to water shortages for the last couple of years.  No problem with water shortages this year and in fact a few locks were overflowing, although draught restrictions are being put in place on some canals even up in the north.  The canal has also been notorious for weed problems, but we encountered none on the whole journey, so it seems VNF have done a great job clearing it all up.

Too much water?

On Tuesday we cruised 12 miles down eight locks.

It was due to rain from about four in the morning on Wednesday and last all day which meant we’d gone to bed in two minds as to whether or not we’d be cruising.  It hadn’t started when we awoke and was still dry at eight, so we got ready to go.  As we were spending most of the day on the Moselle that meant extra preparations such as getting out our 17-metre lines, checking the VHF frequencies for the locks, digging out ours and Buddy’s life jackets, making sure the anchor was easily droppable etc.  It started spitting with rain at nine, but we set out anyway and it’d had cleared up by the time we’d reached the second lock.  Apart from a 15-minute shower later on it was dry for the rest of the day but the dark clouds made it very gloomy.

Overnight we’d been moored at a junction where a branch of the canal runs up to the canal de la Marne au Rhin at Nancy.  There was a lock at each leg of the junction and when we used the télécommande it set the one on the branch by mistake.  Karen was already off the boat as she was walking Buddy until we got to the Moselle.  As she was already at our lock and had seen what had happened, she contacted VNF to explain the situation.  We waited for a while, but no one turned up so she walked back to the receiver machine and tried the télécommande again and this time it worked.

The second lock of the day and last lock on the canal des Vosges dropped us down onto the Moselle where there was a massive winding hole for the large boats that come right up to the end of the navigable Moselle.  We’d rather assumed there wouldn’t be any large boats this far up the river so were a bit shocked to be confronted with a 115-metre long commercial soon after coming out of the lock.  We know they can be half as long again on these size rivers but as we hadn’t seen anything larger than the standard 39 metre Freycinet barges for over a year it was still a shock.

The navigable Moselle runs 250 miles from the point we joined it through northern France, along the Luxembourg-German border until it joins the Rhine.  There are only 28 locks along the 250 miles, and we went through three of them during the day and we were only on the river for 15 miles.  Both last year and this year we’d planned on going down the Moselle through Luxembourg, meeting up with friends Ian & Helena who live there, and then returning to France through Germany on the Sarre but have had to change plans because of Covid travelling restrictions.       

The first two locks were 7,20 metres deep, hence the need for our longer lines.  Deeper locks tend to have stepped or floating bollards so that long lines aren’t required.  The trouble was that we didn’t know what bollards these locks used and had to assume the worst and would need lines that would reach up to the top and back again.

We soon had the first lock in sight and radioed ahead and got the response that the lock would be prepared for us.  It turned out to have stepped bollards and so was very easy to descend with each of us taking turns moving our lines down at the front and back as the next bollard was uncovered.

The stepped bollards
Waiting for the bottom gates to open

The éclusiers at all three locks were very friendly and at least responded to our radio messages even if I didn’t really understand what one of the guys was saying.  We found some on the Seine didn’t always respond but we’d been told to assume they’d heard us and just follow the lock light signals.

Control room placed for the best view

As it turned out we saw no other boats on the river and had a very uneventful journey apart from the short rain shower I mentioned earlier.  Distance posts were position every 500 metres and were rather difficult to miss:

It was a shame it was such a gloomy day as there would have been some wonderful views:

We were asked to wait at the second lock as it had to be filled so tied up using the little boys’ bollards and we were able to get off and stretch our legs.

Actually, it wasn’t entirely uneventful as Karen took the opportunity to make some tomato and chilli chutney.  We'd brought a couple of bags of large green tomatoes back with us that were surplus to Karen's mum's requirements.  Keeping them in the bags ensured they ripened over the last couple of weeks.  We had such a bumper crop of chillies in 2014 when we last lived in our house that we are still using them from frozen seven years later – they are just as hot as they were back then and the fresh chutney taster we had with some strong cheddar smuggled from the UK was excellent.

Batch of freshly made chutney

Our target for the day was Toul which has two ports, one of which several of our friends have overwintered at.  We had visited them by car, but this was our first time by boat and were looking forward to seeing some of the sights especially the extensive fortifications.

Passing Toul cathedral

The Moselle around Toul forms part of the boucle de Nancy or Nancy loop.  This is a ring of canals and rivers taking in Toul and Nancy and is over 50 miles long. Looking at it like a clock, it has entry/exit points at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. 

The boucle de Nancy 

We joined at six o’clock and went clockwise along the Moselle and were leaving at nine o’clock to join the canal de la Marne au Rhin.  The Moselle heads off at 12 o’clock on its northern journey and the eastern branch of the Marne au Rhin leads to Strasbourg at three o’clock.

As we left the last lock on the river the éclusier called us up to find out where we were heading.  We told him we were turning off onto the canal so he said he would let the éclusiers there know.

Turning onto the canal

The 300+ kilometre long Marne au Rhin runs from Vitry le François on the Marne in the west to Strasbourg in the east and was opened in 1855.  It is considered as two canals these days (oust and est) divided by the boucle de Nancy.  We have travelled on a small section at the far western end on each of the last two years but had to turn back because the canal closed due to too much weed.  We were only spending a day or two on the canal at the Toul end as we were turning off onto the canal de la Meuse so hoped the weed situation had improved.

The Canal de la Marne au Rhin divided by the boucle de Nancy

We obviously went into Toul from the wrong end as it seemed quite a dismal place, not helped by the sight of a lot of weed.  Having visited our friends there we did realise that the town wasn’t all run down, and dismal so were getting a jaundiced view.  We did remember that the locks are operated by the boat passing waterside sensors which are fine out in the countryside, but we noticed that being in a town they were heavily protected.

Protected waterside sensors

Sensors were also used to operate a lift bridge on a busy road through the town:

Just before we moored up, we went under a strange looking bridge that we would have to investigate:

We moored between the two ports in town on a long wall overlooking some of the fortifications and a large Buddy-friendly grassy area.

After tying up an éclusier came down to find out what our plans were, and we told him we would stay a couple of nights and leave around ten on Friday morning.

On Wednesday we cruised 19 miles through seven locks (down five and up two).

Mentioning the other day that we have another grandchild on the way reminded us of how quickly Ellis has grown.  He'll be two in December and here he is on holiday with Lauren & Lewis in South Wales this week.

Ellis loving the sand

Thursday morning was spent looking around Toul which was as we remembered, plenty of quaint old streets and colourful shops.  The tourist office wasn’t too bad and had a few trails we could follow but as it was over the other side of town, we’d seen some of the attractions by the time we got to the office.

The main attraction for us were the remains of the city walls although there was an impressive cathedral that was started in the 13th century:

The hôtel de ville was also impressive in its size, here it is standing in front of the cathedral:

City walls were initially built in the 3rd & 4th century and greatly fortified during and following the Franco-Prussian war, or war of 1870.  The moat that encircled the walls is now mostly dry but can still be followed nearly all the way around. 

Part of the moat still in water

The sites of three gates remain, two of which now have roads running through them and across the moat on bridges.

Porte de France
Porte de Moselle

The third gate is closed to the public as it is now in a dangerous condition and apparently still has a drawbridge but of course we couldn’t get to see it.

Porte de Metz

One of the places we wanted to find out more about was the unusual bridge across the canal that we went under on our way into Toul on the previous day.  On our trip around the fortifications we found it was part of the 1870 extension of the fortifications and housed canons that would have been aimed along the canal.

Standing inside the canonniére

When we were back in the area where we were moored we popped in to see the upper of the two ports as we remembered there were a couple of old locomotives on display.

Footbridge over the canal leading to the port

The two engines were used in the 1900s for towing barges along most of the canals in northern and eastern France.  There were driven by overhead electric cables and the last ones were taken out of use in 1973.  More information can be found at the blog entry for March 27th 2021 by clicking here.

CGVTN were a forerunner of the French canal authority, VNF
The upper port behind

We spent the rest of the day at the boat and after a day off from cruising are now looking forward to getting on the move again on Friday.

Back at the boat under the fortifications with the cathedral in the background


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