Thursday 2 December 2021

Condé-sur-Marne (last cruise of 2021)

Leaving Châlons-en-Champagne for our last cruise of 2021


Saturday started out as a most pleasant and relaxed day as we rediscovered old haunts and familiar places around Châlons-en-Champagne.  That all changed later in the afternoon when we started doing all the last-minute stuff for travelling to the UK on the coming Friday.  One of the tasks was to order and pay for a ‘Day 2’ lateral flow test before we leave France.  At the point of payment something made me stop and we had a quick discussion about whether it was wise to buy them yet.  The news about the new Covid variant was becoming more serious and as we didn’t need to buy them until later in the week, I halted the transaction.  Unbelievably it wasn’t long before Boris announced the testing changes for international travellers, thus confirming we’d made the correct decision.

That was an easy change to accommodate as we would just book PCR tests later in the week, glad we hadn’t wasted money ordering lateral flow tests which, understandably, aren’t free for travellers.  With the announcement came the reintroduction of isolation until a negative PCR test result was obtained and we suddenly realised that I wouldn’t be able to make the Southampton-Brighton game I was going to on Saturday and Karen would have to postpone a trip to see her mum.  Not wanting to miss a once in a year opportunity to watch a key match with two of my sons, one a fellow Saints supporter and the other a Brighton one, we set about seeing if we could bring our crossing forwards.  There were four main constraints, Buddy’s mandatory vet visit, our booster jabs, moving the boat and changing our ticket.

We couldn’t do anything about bringing Buddy’s appointment forward as the vets were closed for the weekend until Monday.  There were plenty of spare places on the Eurotunnel so we would be able to change the ticket and we would just have to move the boat whatever the weather, so we concentrated on bringing our booster jabs forward.  Karen was having hers on the Friday we were due to leave so we set about moving that one first.  After a lot of scouring different local(ish) vaccination centres we finally got an appointment at Metz for Sunday morning which meant a journey of just over 1½ hours each way.  With the high vaccination rates in France (fuelled no doubt about the need for a passe sanitaire to even have a drink), appointments are snapped up as soon as they come online.  Perseverance paid off and after about an hour we secured the appointment at Metz.  My appointment was for Wednesday, so we set about bringing that one forward as well.  Amazingly, after about 30 minutes of pressing carriage return, another slot became free at Metz, this one an hour or so earlier than Karen’s, so we snapped it up too.


It was a pleasant drive through the Ardennes to Metz early on Sunday morning and there was laying snow at the higher points as we went through places such as Verdun.  The vaccination centre was a well-oiled machine with 22 vaccination rooms on the go and they let Karen come in with me even though her appointment was 90 minutes later.  We hadn’t had the same luck when having our first jabs at Chaumont which, although it too was well organised, it was far more regimented, and we’d had to adhere to the gap of over an hour between our appointments.


I rang our vets as soon as they opened on Monday only to find out that the one and only practitioner on duty on Mondays was having a day off.  This meant finding another vet in Châlons that could see Buddy during the day.  Being a large town, it wasn’t difficult, and I got an appointment for him later in the afternoon.  As 24 hours has to pass before Buddy is then allowed into the UK, this meant we would be able to bring forward our crossing from Friday afternoon to Tuesday evening.  The major thing left to do would be to move the boat down to Condé-sur-Marne where we will leave it for a while which we would do on Tuesday morning.

The rest of the day was spent doing everything that was going to be done over the next four days, rather putting a new focus on those jobs such as filling the car and boat up with fuel and getting two new gas bottles.  After a successful trip to the vets, I took the car to Condé-sur-Marne and Bill kindly came down in his to pick me up.


We were ready leave soon after 8.30 on Tuesday morning so I walked down to the lock at the bottom end of the port to ask them to set it for us.  The lock is normally operated by triggering a sensor further upstream but as we were way beyond that it was much easier to go and ask the éclusiere.  It was the girl who was often on duty there and she was especially chatty and interested in knowing what our plans are.  The Châlons lock is the only one on the canal that is manned or womanned and that’s because it’s a control lock where they take details of each passing boat and its expected destination.  The plate on the lock cottage still shows the old name of Châlons-sur-Marne from before the time the town was renamed to Châlons-en-Champagne for touristic reasons.

Information plate on the lock cottage

As you can see from the information plate, we had just over seven kilometres to travel before the next lock.  The 16-kilometre cut between Châlons and Conde-sur-Marne was practically dead straight apart from a slight left-hand bend about a quarter of the way along.  As it was quite a grey day this didn’t make for a very interesting cruise as you no doubt can imagine.  To highlight this, I would say one of the most interesting things we saw was the bridge carrying the A26 or Autoroute des Anglais; only interesting because it was the motorway we would take to get to Calais later in the day.

Going under the autoroute des Anglais

Mind you, a little further on we had a bit of excitement as in the far distance we could just make out a boat coming in the opposite direction.  Of course, on a long straight stretch it can seem like it takes forever to actually meet a boat.

Rallye – our last boat of 2021

Our last lock of the year was at Vraux where we have moored a couple of times in the past, both above and below the lock.

Descending our last lock of 2021

The bridge over the tail of the lock still has the remains of the tracks used by the towing locos of the last century.  It was at this lock that the tracks changed from one side of the canal to the other.

After three hours we were at the junction with the canal de l‘Aisne à la Marne which is where the port at Condé-sur-Marne was situated and where we were leaving the boat.

Approaching the junction

The port was full of overwintering or abandoned cruisers but has a 15-metre pontoon on the outside that had been reserved for us.  Once tied up, it only took us an hour to pack the car, winterize the boat and have lunch and we were on our way again, this time heading for Calais.

Home for the boat for a while

We left for Calais earlier than we’d planned and this meant we caught a train two hours earlier and were back in the Caversham flat by 9.00pm.  Our Day two PCR tests were waiting for us when we arrived so we took those and got them in a priority postbox so we could get out of isolation as soon as the results came in.  The term day two is a bit misleading as the test has to be taken by the end of day two, day zero being the day of arrival.

On Monday we cruised 10 miles down three locks.

NOTE:  This will probably be the last blog update until we start cruising again after Polly & Loch provide us with our first granddaughter early in 2022.