Saturday 27 November 2021

Châlons-en-Champagne (is engine maintenance a pink job?)


Monday in Revigny-sur-Ornain was a workday for Karen although we managed to get a couple of dog walks together.  I did some log foraging and cutting as well as some of those other boaty chores that have to be done in the winter.


Tuesday was pretty much the same as Monday in terms of what we did and the sunny weather, although a VNF guy did pop around early in the afternoon to find out if we knew when we were planning on moving. When I told him we were hoping to leave at midday on Wednesday and were heading for Parngy-sur-Saulx, he had a bit of a think and said he would get a colleague along with him before we set off.  Even though the locks would all be automatic he wanted to get them all set, and as much loose weed flushed through as possible so we wouldn’t be held up.   I thanked him for his concern and took the opportunity to find out if there were any other boats on the move.  He said that there were no other private boats cruising on the canal at the moment but a péniche was heading up from Vitry-le-François which we would meet in a day or two.

Before he left, he said we could moor alongside the VNF icebreaker on the quay in front of us if we were concerned about the dilapidated staging we were moored on.  I thanked him but said we’d stay where we were as we weren’t planning on going out anymore during the day.


There was touch of frost on Wednesday morning followed by another sunny day. Karen had a meeting rescheduled, so we were able to leave at eleven rather than midday.  We’d been moored just above the lock at Revigny-sur-Ornain so a couple of hundred metres or so past the sensor that picks up our télécommande request to set the lock.  The sensors on this canal only work when the télécommande is pointed at them from the front whereas on other canals the sensors pick up signals from all sides.  This meant I had to walk back through the undergrowth on the bank to get to the right side of the sensor before we could get the lock set.

Setting off past the VNF ice breaker that we didn’t moor against

Once we were in the lock we tied up and topped up with water.  I know it was only a few days ago that we topped up but it’s always wise to take on water when it's available.

Buddy guarding the water point in Revigny lock

The cars by the lock are in the VNF yard and belong to staff who use VNF vehicles but aren’t allowed to take them home like many éclusiers can.  After a couple of locks, we no longer needed the télécommande as we were back to breaking light beams as we passed sensors in the bank thus triggering the start of lock operation.

Light beam emitter/sensors

A couple of goats were grazing by one lock and one of them took a particular interest in me and held my gaze as we descended.

Inquisitive goat and its mate

Now we're reaching the lower end of the canal we've lost the twists and turns of higher up and often there are straights around a kilometre long as we cut across the flood plain created by the rivers Saulx and Ornain which eventually feed the Marne. 

We passed the first commercial quay that we’d seen for a while, and it looked like it was still well used with rolls of steel ready for loading.

Loading gantries at the Contrisson steelworks

The éclusier who’d come to speak with us on Tuesday had been true to his word and all the locks worked perfectly during the day and were practically clear of weed.  He met up with us once during the journey to update us about the péniche and told us it would probably pass us later in the evening, well after we’d moored up for the day.  I asked him if the péniche was picking up steel from the steelworks and he confirmed it was.  I’d noticed that the nearest winding hole for a 39-metre boat was a couple of locks down from the steelworks and the éclusier explained that it would turn there and then reverse up the two locks before it could be loaded.  Not an operation I would relish having to do.

Catching the late afternoon sun in the last lock of the day

We moored up at the quay managed by the mairie in Pargny-sur-Saulx realising that our next cruise would take us through places we’ve visited before.  We’d started up this canal in July 2020 in the opposite direction, but only travelled about 15 kilometres before being turned back as the canal was being closed due to lack of water.  We’d got as far as a place called Bignicourt and whilst there we’d walked up to Pargny-sur-Saulx and checked out the mooring we were now on and had thought then that it would be a good place to stop.

Long shadows at Pargny-sur-Saulx

As expected, the péniche came through later in the evening and would no doubt be travelling in the dark for a further few hours before stopping for the night.

We both leant out of the hatch to watch it go past and Karen commented how funny it was as we must have seen hundreds of commercials, but we treat each one as if it was the first!  It's probably because they're a wonderful reminder that the continental waterways are primarily there for them and without them we wouldn't have thousands of miles to explore.  Although on the larger rivers we pass boats at least four times as long, we have a particular affinity with the smallest 38-metre péniches like the one in the picture above. 

On Wednesday we cruised eight miles down 12 locks.


The overnight frost was the heaviest so far and was the first time this winter that we’d woken up to find the bedroom windows had iced up on the inside.  We were just about to leave at about 10.00am when we noticed that there were two red lights on at the first lock we had to go down.  I rang VNF and they soon sent someone out to fix the problem. 

It turned out that we weren’t delayed by the red lights as the engine wouldn’t start; it wouldn’t even turn over.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when we last had a good frost and I ended up hot wiring the engine to get it started.  It’s been alright ever since, and we’d forgotten that there was probably an underlying issue to resolve.  Karen suggested (I thought jokingly) putting the fan heater on in the engine bay as electricity was available at the mooring.  I ignored this and resorted to ringing more able boater friends.  Eventually, Karen’s cousin Dave said it sounded like condensation had got into the starter motor and frozen.   Yes, we went back to Karen’s original suggestion and put the fan heater on in the engine bay for half an hour and yes, you’ve guessed it, the engine started perfectly.

Of course, by this time we were two hours behind schedule but as it was a sunny day we decided to cruise until nightfall to make up for the lost time.  After a few kilometres we reached Bignicourt which was the point where we had to turn around when we came the other way up this canal in July 2020. 

The shade was welcome when we moored at Bignicourt last summer

Other than the issue at the first lock, which didn’t impact us, we had no problems with all the remaining locks and had a pleasant cruise through familiar countryside.  As soon as we could see the hillsides covered in champagne vineyards, we knew we were only a few days from home.  We do feel that Châlons-en-Champagne is our French home, probably helped by the fact we spent several months there during the first lockdown when we weren’t allowed to cruise.

More straight stretches

When we were one lock away from our destination, we turned on to the canal latéral à la Marne which we consider is our home canal as Châlons-en-Champagne is situated halfway along it. 

Right: Our home canal. Left: Canal entre Champagne et Bourgone

We were last at the junction at the end of March this year but turned onto the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to head south.   As we joined the latéral, Karen told me she felt quite emotional getting back onto it and I had to admit that I’d felt the same but hadn’t said anything in case she thought I was being a bit soppy.

The locks on the latéral are operated by turning a twisty pole hanging over the water a hundred yards or so in front of the lock.  Karen took the honours of having the first twist.

First twist for a while
Karen happy in her hat Catherine gave her last year

Twilight arrived before we moored for the night and as the canal was well used by commercials, we turned the nav lights on.  We moored at one of our favourite moorings on this canal, just below lock number one outside Vitry-le-François.

On Thursday we cruised 13 miles down eight locks.


We had an ambitious plan to reach Châlons-en-Champagne in one hop on Friday.  We’ve always taken at least three days to travel the 30 kilometres between Vitry-le-François and Châlons and in March this year it took us 24 days.  Admittedly, when we took 24 days we were biding our time waiting for the entre Champagne et Bourgogne to re-open after winter maintenance. 

We were getting ready to set off when a hotel boat came around the corner heading for the lock behind us, so we let them pass and then cast off dead on nine o’clock which was an early start for us.

Anna Maria 4 bereft of passengers

Having been up and down this canal several times you’d think we would’ve seen and reported on everything of interest to us.  What we did see that we hadn’t noticed before were a couple more engine sheds that housed the barge towing engines.  Although I knew that barges used to be towed by these engines, we’d never realised these modern looking sheds housed them until this year.  I know they’re not as picturesque as the UK canal heritage redbrick built buildings such as stables, smithies and lengthsmen’s huts but they are still part of the canal heritage here.

Engine shed at Couvrot

One of the bollards at the lock at Soulanges had been decorated.  We’ve met several people who paint bollards, especially those at popular mooring spots and assumed this was one of theirs.  It does raise the question of when graffiti becomes allowable.  If you believe they shouldn’t be decorated by random people, then would you be happy if VNF commissioned the work to brighten up a lock or mooring?

Is it graffiti-art or just graffiti?

Karen and Buddy walked ahead for some of the way which is always handy when there are other boats around as she rings me to provide a warning when one is coming towards us.

The unladen péniche Tonga

After 5 ½ hours cruising we were approaching the centre of Châlons.  We were glad that we’d set out early because wind and possibly rain were forecast for later in the afternoon and also on Saturday.  At least if the weather did turn, we’d be safely moored up in the town port.

Arriving in Châlons-en-Champagne

When we left Châlons-en-Champagne nine months ago the footbridge in the picture above had been removed as it had become unsafe and was in need of restoration.  It was good to see it had been repaired and was back in place.

We moored on the visitors’ pontoon as we would only be staying for a few days.  The visitors’ pontoon is the first pontoon boats see when they arrive at the port.   When we’ve been before we’ve always stayed on the farthest pontoon.  As much as we’ve always enjoyed the view across the park from our old spot it’ll be a nice change to have a view in the opposite direction where we look out onto the main canal and will be able to see passing boat traffic.

Moored in a new spot in Châlons

After making the boat secure we had a quick catch up with the other people who’re overwintering in the port, all of whom we’ve stayed with before other than Mac, a New Zealander who’s been cruising in Europe for some time.

We’re looking forward to spending five or six days in our ‘home’ town doing exciting likes getting our Covid boosters and replacing the empty gas bottles as well as socialising.  We will then set off further downstream and get ready to leave the boat while we go back to the UK to await, amongst other things, the birth of our first granddaughter.  

On Friday we cruised 18 miles down seven locks.

Monday 22 November 2021

Revigny-sur-Ornain (yellow white lines)


Wednesday was yet another grey but dry day, the fifth on the trot without seeing any sunshine.  The two sailboats we moored with overnight at Naix-aux-Forges left as soon as the locks opened for pleasure boats at 9.00am as they both wanted to get as far as they could during the day.  They'd been stopped travelling by VNF yesterday to enable a slow péniche to get a good distance ahead.  We arranged with VNF to set the first lock for us at a more leisurely 10.30am as we were only going eight kilometres or so down to Ligny-en-Barrois.

Fifth sunless day but lovely open countryside

We had eight locks to go down, the first three to be operated by our éclusier and from the fourth onwards we would be back to being on our own and using a télécommande.  VNF have done a great job clearing the weed which is notorious on this canal.  However much they manage to clear there’s always loose weed left floating, and this gathers at lock entrances stopping gates fully opening and thus the assistance of an éclusier is called for.  Knowing this, our éclusier drove with us and set every lock to make sure we got through OK so we ended up not needing to use the télécommande at all. As we left each lock, he would leave the bottom gates open and flush the weed through by opening the paddles in the top gates.

Flushing the weed through

He obviously did a good job as we didn’t have to visit the weed hatch at all during the journey and, to be fair, we’ve had very few visits lately.  The stretch of the canal we’ve been travelling for the last few days doesn’t have many lock cottages which makes going through locks feel quite different.  At least the ones we have seen have been lived in apart from this one we passed today:

Abandoned lock cottage

A couple of miles from our destination we passed a small village called Givrauval where there looked to be a really good mooring spot.  We’ve made a note of it as we may well be coming back along here early next year if we finally end up going to Strasbourg.

Nice looking mooring between locks 19 & 20
Longeaux, one of the other two villages we went through during the day

We made it to Ligny-en-Barrois for a late lunch and where the mooring was in a small halte fluviale and shared with campervans.  Apparently, there’s a charge of €10 a day to include services but at this time of year the office was closed and the water was off so it will be interesting to see if we get called upon for the money before we leave on Thursday.

Moored in Ligny-en-Barrois

On Wednesday we cruised five miles down eight locks.


It was a bit foggy on Thursday morning and we had a quick look around Ligny-en-Barrois before setting off for the day.  Sightseeing in the fog is not really recommended for those who enjoy views and taking bright sunny pictures but I’m including some of ours anyway.  The main square housed nothing but a very early Christmas tree, the outside restaurant and bar seating having been removed for winter.

Place de la République

The tallest building in the far corner is the mairie that was built in 1747.  The arches on the ground floor rather give it away that the offices were originally on the first floor with a covered market below.

Fog lifting from the spire of the 16th century church

The town was walled for many centuries, but the ramparts were almost completely removed when the control of the town was transferred from Luxembourg to the Duke of Lorraine in the mid-1700s.

About half the length of what remains of the ramparts today

Rue de la Tour led down to the one remaining gateway which granted access through the walls, and it reminded us of UK towns with its yellow no waiting lines not often seen in French towns.  Yellow lines were introduced in the UK in the 1950s and my parents tell me that when I first saw them I called them 'yellow white lines' and that term has stuck in the family ever since.

Yellow white lines

The Valéran tower, built in the 14th century, was difficult to view as it was surrounded by buildings that were more modern.  It would be even more difficult to arrange a visit as it’s only open in July and August and then only for two hours each week.

The Valéran tower

Our trip around town didn’t last long and we were soon back on board for mid-morning coffee before setting off for the day’s cruise.  As expected, nobody came around to collect mooring fees although a police car was parked alongside us while we were drinking our coffee.  From what we could see, the two gendarmes spent the whole time on their phones.  Leaving Ligny-en-Barrois we passed the second engine shed we’ve seen on this canal.  It would have housed the electric locomotives that towed the barges in the last century:

The sun occasionally tried to burn through the cloud, but it never quite made it, making it the sixth consecutive grey day.   Lock cottages continued to be scarce even though the locks were generally in remote situations:

Going into écluse 33 - Maheux
Tannois – the only village we passed on our journey

Apart from the first and last locks where we had to call up the control centre, they all behaved perfectly when responding to our télécommande.  At the first lock, the bottom gates wouldn’t open, but we only had to wait for ten minutes for an éclusier to arrive in his van to help us through.  At the final lock of the day, the top gates wouldn’t open and also wouldn’t respond to Karen jumping up and down on them, but it only took five minutes for another guy, who was full of smiles, to arrive and get them working.

A walker stopped to watch us go through one lock and he explained that he aims to walk 1,000 kilometres a month because of a heart condition.  Most days he sets out at 7.30am and walks along the canal from his home in Bar-le-Duc to Ligny-en-Barrois and back again, a return journey of 35 kilometres.  We thought it can't have given him much time to recover and do other things during the day.

We moored up just after the final lock at a place called Longeville-en-Barrois with a view to moving on to Bar-le-Duc on Friday.

Our Thursday night mooring

On Thursday we cruised 7½ miles down 12 locks.


We were just about to set off on Friday morning when our smiley éclusier from yesterday pulled up in his van to ask if we were moving on during the day and, if so, what sort of time we thought we’d leave.  He was very chatty and even though he had no English he was happy to talk slowly or use different words if we didn’t understand him.  Like many French people who engage us in conversation, he brought up the subject of Brexit whilst shrugging his shoulders and rolling his eyes to show he couldn’t understand why it had happened.

Our target for the morning was to get to Bar-le-Duc, the capital of the Meuse département, have a look around and then possibly move on again a bit later in the afternoon.  We didn’t need éclusiers for the locks but there were four lift bridges in Bar-le-Duc that they needed to operate for us which is why our man wanted to know what our plans were.  Karen and Buddy walked to Bar-le-Duc while I took the boat, that meant she would get there first and be able to sus out the mooring situation.

Karen & Buddy setting off

On the outskirts of Bar-le-Duc the canal passed a French WWI war cemetery.  It looked quite macabre being surrounded by modern housing and offices, but I suppose the town has expanded somewhat since the 1920s.

Over 3,000 French soldiers buried here

Karen rang as I went through the penultimate lock to tell me she’d found the mooring, but she wasn’t particularly enamoured with it as it was sandwiched between a main road and a railway line.  She started walking back to meet me and I picked her up at the final lock.  Our éclusier met us there too as he needed to operate the lift bridge on the far side of the lock.

Three of the day’s lift bridges

Approaching the mooring in the centre of Bar-le-Duc

Despite the way Karen felt about the mooring we tied up anyway so we could have lunch and then decide whether to stay or carry on and find somewhere else. The services were shared with campervans and there were six parked up including a very rare sight over the last two years, a Brit plated van.

The mooring at Bar-le-Duc

To be honest neither of us felt inclined to stay, let alone work up any enthusiasm to walk around the town.  It was probably really unfair of us to feel like that, but the mooring really was dismal, and we imagine the town would be a great place to visit on a sunny day.  It was therefore an easy decision to move on again straight after lunch, so I rang VNF to let them know we were leaving as there was still one more lift bridge for them to operate.  Karen always thinks that I have a good conversation with the people on the other end of the phone and is sometimes even impressed when I understand the exchanges.  After a protracted conversation, Karen said it sounded as if I understood what the guy was saying but I had to tell her that I really didn’t have a clue, but we set off anyway.

As we cruised out of the town, blue sky started appearing spoiling the chance of a seventh totally grey day.  Mind you, the sun never came out as the broken clouds were in the wrong place and after an hour or so there was no hint of blue skies at all.  Looking at the forecast it does seem that we’ve got to wait until next week to finally see the sun again.

Passing another old towing loco as we left Bar-le-Duc

We stopped on the outskirts of town where there was a large Intermarché with a fuel station alongside the cut and I made a couple of trolley trips to fill up with diesel.  There were four commercial dolphins which were too far apart for us to use so we moored the back against one of them and used a stake for the front.

Buddy waiting by a dolphin while I did the diesel run

The last lock of the day was at Fains-les-Sources which had a lift bridge immediately below it and then the mooring.  The lift bridge looked fairly new so had clearly been replaced in recent years.  There was a cruiser at the mooring which looked like it had been there a long time, but it did have two electric leads running to a borne alongside.  There was just room to get in behind him and, although the electricity wasn’t working, we were pleased to find the water was on.

Friday night at Fains-les-Bains

On Friday we cruised six miles down eight locks.


With several rugby matches to watch on Saturday we left Fains-les-Sources early so we could get to Revigny-sur-Ornain, our destination for the day, in time for lunch and an afternoon in front of the TV.  I say TV but, as we haven’t had a working one since a couple of years before coming to France, I mean laptop, as we find that’s the best way to watch anything, especially when we need the internet.  The forecast was for yet another grey day so we couldn’t believe it when we got up and saw blue skies.  It wasn’t just a fluke as the sun was out for the whole journey.

Heading for the first lock of the day

Karen and Buddy got off at the first lock and walked alongside for a few miles, getting back on for the last couple of locks.

It felt like a different world after nearly a week of greyness

We moored up just above lock 52 at Revigny-sur-Ornain where there was a VNF yard and quay.  The main quay was taken up by an icebreaker called Asterix, so we moored on some old wooden staging that had seen better times and had been taped off as a sign that it wasn't safe.  It was absolutely ideal for us because it was on the offside at the end of the yard so no one would be walking by, meaning Buddy would be free to roam whilst we’re outside.  The yard was gated and locked shut overnight but that wasn’t an issue because we could always get out by walking across the lock gates.  Not that we could envisage a reason why we would want to go out in non-working hours when it would be pitch black anyway.

Our mooring taped off behind the icebreaker in the VNF yard 

The internet signal was good, so we decided to stay until Wednesday while Karen works for a couple of days.

On Saturday we cruised seven miles down nine locks.


Other than dog walking, log cutting and doing some admin, Sunday was generally a lazy day.  As is the norm at the moment, no boats went past during the day, and it made us think about when we last had to negotiate a boat coming in the opposite direction to us as we cruised.  After a bit of memory searching, we remembered it was near Bayon on the canal des Vosges when, on one day, we met two commercials and two cruisers, all exiting locks as we approached them.  Looking at the boat log we found out that it was on 12th September just over 500 kilometres ago – it’s going to be odd when we start meeting boats again which, no doubt will start happening when we reach the more commercial routes in the Marne valley next week.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Naix-aux-Forges (it's all downhill from here)

No way of escaping the church bells at our mooring in Void

We’d arrived in Void on Friday evening and as it was raining when we got up on Saturday we decided to stay put for the day.  We were glad that we made that the decision as it didn’t stop raining until after lunch but at least the sun finally came out and left us with quite a mild day.  The mooring at Void was outside a VNF office, opposite a church and next to some grain silos with a péniche quay.  VNF had erected some interesting information boards including one explaining the history of the electric locomotives that were used for towing barges up until about 50 years ago.  For more information on this mode of towing barges please click here for the blog entry (opens in a new window).

Grey at Void on Saturday morning

During the morning we had a look around Void but without a tourist office we had to make up our own trail.  The recently re-roofed, covered market halls were built in 1750 and are used as a car park on non-market days.

The market halls

Void was built around the river Vidus, a tributary of the Meuse and apparently is where the name Void stems from.  The Vidus splits into several mill streams through the town but, other than street names such as rue des Moulins and rue des Tanneries etc. we could find no evidence of any mills or associated industry.

The Vidus

We did come across a lavoir on the banks of one of the arms:

Water seems to be quite a feature of the town as there were several fountains; the largest was in the square opposite the market halls and a board indicated that a copy of the fountain can be found in a square in Saigon in Vietnam.

The fountain in place Cugnot
The mairie

A castle was first built in Void in the 11th century and was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its life.  All that remains is the tour de l’audience, one of the gates that was rebuilt in the 14th century and still seems to be undergoing restoration.  The oval hole low down to the right of the entrance is a rather ornate opening for a canon.  

The audience tower
My picture didn’t come out so here is one courtesy of the Lorraine tourist website

Even though it was a nice afternoon we took it easy, staying indoors watching three enjoyable rugby matches.

Sunday dawned grey but dry and mild and as it was forecast to stay that way, we set off soon after 10.  We had a dozen locks to go up to get to the summit of the canal de la Marne au Rhin (ouest) and once we got going, we were soon into a good rhythm.  This was especially so as it was quite a uniform journey; ½ mile between each lock, and all were the same depth of three metres, an ideal height for Karen to work with her lines.  Not only that but the locks also operated in a chain so once we set the first one going, the following locks got themselves ready as we went up.  Our only issue was that we couldn’t get the first lock going.  Sensors either side of the cut are meant to recognise when a boat breaks a beam between them thus triggering the start of the sequence.

One of a pair of sensors

For some reason we couldn’t get the sensors to recognise us.  We reversed back a few times and repeated the operation at different speeds and distances from the sensors.  In the end I rang VNF who immediately set the chain in motion for us remotely.  The following few pictures show how we work a lock when going uphill as we were in this 12-lock chain.  Coming out of one lock the next would be ready with the green light on:

Green for go

As we go in, Karen climbs onto the roof to get ready to loop her line over a bollard:

About to climb onto the roof

As we approach the bollard we want to use, Karen gets ready to stand up to loop her line over the bollard:

Steady as she goes!

Karen found these locks easy as the the water went right to the top of the lock walls which meant she didn't have to reach more than the three metre depth.  The water line in many locks is often a good metre below the top thus necessitating a four metre reach.  The other issue that impacts her reach is how close the bollards are set to the set the side of the lock.  

After securing her line, she walks along the roof to the operating rod (tirette) which she pulls up to start the operation that closes the bottom gates, fills the lock and finally opens the top gates.  With the engine in gear, I hold Karen’s line taught and the rear of the boat against the lock wall as the lock fills:

Going up with a taut line

Leaving the lock, we have to drift through the detritus that has built up behind the gates to avoid weed getting caught on the propeller:

And repeat

The journey passed through some lovely countryside which must be wonderful on a bright day and, apart from getting the chain started, the only issue was that we couldn’t shift the tirettes in the final two locks.  Fortunately, an éclusier was close at hand to sort things out for us.  In fact, there were two of them positioned at the top lock to explain how we would get through the 3-mile long Mauvages tunnel which we were coming up to.

Until a few years ago, boats were towed through by an electric tug whose power was supplied via overhead wires like trolleybuses.  We experienced being towed when we went through the 3 ½ mile long Riqueval tunnel in northeast France last year and were slightly put out to find that the service had been removed from this particular tunnel.   As it turned out we had another new experience as we would have an éclusier cycling alongside us as we went through. 

Approaching the tunnel with trolleybus wires overhead

The ‘velo éclusier’ was ready and waiting for us as we reached the entrance and he waved us though.  He lowered a barrier behind us, got on his bike and caught up with us.  He remained parallel with us until about a kilometre from the end when he suddenly raced off.  We soon realised he was making sure the barrier at the exit was raised for us.  It was the first tunnel we’ve been in where boats, even commercials, are accompanied like that and we still don’t know why, especially as they disappear for the last fifth of the journey.

Don’t you love continental sit up and beg bikes?

We slowed down at the exit to thank him for coming with us and also to arrange our rough cruising plans for the coming week.  We were ready to moor up and he explained we could moor in the VNF service area next to the out of service electric tug which was about a kilometre further on.  We were pleased about that as it meant we didn’t have to go through another lock to get to the mooring Karen had had in mind for us.

The tunnel tug service unit

It turned out to be a really good mooring as we had a full internet signal and a handy bench for me to do some log cutting on.

About to moor behind the tower (touer)

The written English word 'tower' can be confusing as it has at least two meanings but at least in French the spelling is different as in 'Tour Eiffel' and the 'touer' we were moored next to.  Thinking about French/English equivalents reminds me of the phrase ‘technical footbridge’ which we often find mis-translated on VNF signs containing an English section.  The sign at today’s tunnel used the phrase when explaining we would be accompanied by a VNF agent on a bike who would cycle along the technical footbridge.

After mooring up, Karen took Buddy for a walk and called in at the small VNF office next to the top lock on our new side of the summit.  She wanted to check the water situation as she'd heard there was a tap in the lock.  An éclusier told her they would let us hook up our hose when we go down the lock. 

On Sunday we cruised 13 miles up 12 locks. 

Our mooring at Demange-aux-Eaux

Karen worked on Monday, so we stayed at our mooring next to the touer at Demange-aux-Eaux.  It was ideal as Buddy could be off his lead and I could use the bench to cut some logs.  As we’d told the ‘velo éclusier’ on Sunday that we wouldn’t be staying, I popped down to the top lock to tell them that we’d changed our minds and would leave on Tuesday instead.  An éclusiere was getting out of her van as I arrived, and she immediately guessed who I was and that I was from the joli bateau.  I explained we’d changed our plans and she also confirmed that when we come through the lock, they would turn the water on for us so we could fill up.

After saying that we were staying where we were on Monday, we did actually have a little cruise.  We are moored by a junction with a feeder canal that supplies water to the summit of our canal.  The feeder canal, known as the embranchement d'Houdelaincourt, is four kilometres long and starts at a place called Houdelaincourt where it is fed by the river Ornain.  

Sign at the junction  
About to turn left onto the feeder

When Karen walked to the VNF office the previous evening she’d looked into the building on the right in the picture above.  Inside she saw one of the old electric locomotives for towing barges.  This one looked like it was in its original state and not restored in any particular way.

Electric loco nestling amongst stanking planks

As soon as we turned onto the feeder, we were faced with flood gates.  One of the gates was closed so I doubt any other boats, other than ones our width, had been exploring along there for a while.  No doubt the gates are closed fully when the river and feeder levels rise thus preventing damage to the banks of the main canal.

Flood gates at the end of the feeder
Heading down the feeder canal

As well as the usual herons following us along there was a great egret, a bird that we’re finding more common in this part of France compared to other regions we’ve been in.  The canal ended at Houdelaincourt where there was a large grain silo and péniche quay although, sadly, it looked like the quay hadn’t been used for a while and grain was now transported by road.

Grain silos at Houdelaincourt
The river Ornain feeds the canal under the road bridge at the end

Compared with the canal de la Meuse that we left last weekend, the canal de la Marne au Rhin that we are now on is relatively busy.  During the morning on Monday, a commercial came through and then in the afternoon an Austrian motor yacht followed shortly afterwards by a Swedish one.  They were all going in the same direction as us and it will certainly be strange having to be wary of other boats in the days ahead.

On Monday we cruised five miles through no locks and ended up back where we started.

We have a little over 80 miles and 80-odd locks left before we arrive at Conde-sur-Marne where we’re leaving the boat whilst we go back to the UK for the New Year period.  We will be going downhill through all these locks and as going down is easy for one person it means Karen will be able to give Buddy some good walks on the towpath as we’re cruising.   

We left a little before 10.00am on Tuesday and as we approached the first lock we saw the Swedish sailboat that passed us when we were moored on Monday, was already waiting there.  As there was a VNF office at the lock there were several éclusiers standing around and one of them asked us to share the lock with the sailboat.  I had to explain that they needed to go down first as we wanted to take on water.  He apologised for forgetting and made sure the tap at the office was open for us.

Taking on water in the first lock of the day

When we reached the second lock, the Swedes were being held there by VNF who wanted us to lock down together which makes sense when needing to save water.  It turned out that even though they were Swedes, the boat was Polish, and they’d recently bought it in Poland and were taking it down to Marseille for the winter.  

Sharing the locks with the Swedish-Polish boat

We had a very pleasant cruise winding our way along the Ornain valley through pretty and remote countryside:

Although the locks were all automatic, an éclusier stayed with us in his van for the whole journey.  It was just as well, as the gates got stuck on a couple of the locks.  Our éclusier used Karen’s trick and jumped up and down on the gates to get them moving.  Men were planting trees around one lock, and they stopped work when they saw the lock was being used.

Taking a welcome break from tree planting to do some gongoozling

The only place we went through that was more than a handful of dwellings was a place called Tréveray.

Autumnal looking lock at Treveray

The Swedes were carrying on to a town called Ligny-en-Barrois but we were stopping a few miles earlier at a place called Naix-aux-Forges.  When we were in the last lock before we were due to stop a second VNF van pulled up and told us that both boats would have to moor at Naix-aux-Forges.  There was a very slow péniche in front and they wanted to get it a good way ahead, so it didn’t slow down the boats behind.

The mooring was just above the next lock and the Austrian motor yacht from the night before was already there having been told to moor up for the day too.  The Austrians had only bought their boat in October and planned to live on it for a year before planning what to do with the next stage of their life!

The Swedes, the Austrians and us moored at Naix-aux-Forges for Tuesday night

We had a quick walk around the village before settling in for the evening but didn’t see a lot other than quite a substantial lavoir for the size of the village.  The stone floor was probably the original as it was worn smooth with countless numbers of passing feet over the years.  The water was also particularly clear but, as Karen pointed out, that is one of the major requirements for a lavoir.

On Tuesday we cruised nine miles down 14 locks.