Saturday 30 April 2022

Nancy (and a few days on the Moselle)


I set off from Toul at 9.00am while Karen and Buddy walked along the towpath.  After going under a bridge that formed part of the town’s fortifications the boat triggered a lift bridge into operation.  By the time the bridge was fully raised there was a queue of cars either side which had to be expected as we were in a large town and people were probably still on their way to work.  I waited for quite a while for the red light to be replaced by a green one so I could go through, but it just didn’t happen.  I was so embarrassed about holding the traffic up that I went through anyway.  It didn’t seem to cause any problems as the bridge started closing as soon as I’d gone through.

When I got to the penultimate lock on the canal before joining the river there was a boat waiting to come up.  They’d obviously had some sort of issue as an éclusier arrived and saw them through.  Karen and Buddy got on board, and we went down the lock, past the second port at Toul and turned right to go down the final lock.  This one had no lights on at all, so we moored up to the one and only bollard we could find and called VNF.  By the time an éclusier arrived a river cruiser had joined us with a couple of Kiwis on board.  They’d had their boat worked on in Toul over winter and were taking it out for the day to check it over. 

They were going the same way as us and we ended up following them all the way to Liverdun where we wanted to moor for the day.  Joining the Moselle meant we had now completed the length of the 131 km canal de la Marne au Rhin (ouest).  Until 1979 the canal continued on to Nancy and became the canal de la Marne au Rhin (est).  The section to Nancy was abandoned and boats now make use of the Moselle as we were doing.    

On the Moselle

The locks on the French section of the Moselle are 185 metres long by 12 metres wide so we’re rather dwarfed when we’re in them but like all the large river locks we’ve been in they’re really gentle.  We had two locks to go down to get to Liverdun and, as is sometimes the case, I got no voice response when radioing ahead at the first lock but using the binoculars Karen could see the ‘lock getting ready’ lights had been set.

Leaving one of the locks

Between the two locks we passed the only other boat of the day, the 110 metre long El Teide carrying scrap metal.  Coincidentally we’d seen the same boat two years ago, again full of scrap metal, when we were on the river Escaut up in north-eastern France.  It looked like they had the whole family on board this time judging by the number of people waving through the windows.

El Teide would only take up just over half of one of the locks

We couldn’t find out what this was jutting out of the water, but Karen suggested it was a toilet.

Toilet or duck house?

I got a really friendly response on the radio at the second lock and the éclusier was so jolly that he leant out of his control tower waving a piece of white cloth at us as we left.  We did rather wonder if he was locked in and was trying to get us to rescue him.

The mooring at Liverdun was on a pontoon a little way up a small inlet which was ideal as it meant we wouldn’t be bothered by wash from commercials.

Moored at Liverdun

After lunch we went exploring.  Karen had read that the old town was at the top of the hill overlooking the river, so we made our way up there first.  It was a steep climb up narrow cobbled streets with many pretty houses:

We were fairly near the top when Karen spotted a lavoir.  We hadn’t really been looking for one as they are usually down in the valleys. A plaque on the wall explained that it was relatively modern as it was only constructed in 1901 when water supply wouldn’t have been so much an issue.  A local benefactor had donated funds to have it built to save women walking down to the Moselle to do their laundry in a lavoir on the riverbank.  The plaque also explained that it was used by women into the 2000s.

At the top of the town was the old market square with a fontaine taking central place.  The houses around the outside had arcaded fronts which would have been used during market days.

The market square at Place de la Fontaine

There were so many cars and vans parked in the square that I thought I’d include a postcard from the turn of the last century too:

Leaving the market square, we went past the church and then came across a noticeboard containing a tourist route of the old town.  We then realised it was outside the tourist information office so, as it was open, went inside  to get a copy of the tour.

The tour of the town

As is often the case, we were amazed that the office was open as we seemed to be the only tourists around.  Even more surprising was that they felt that they could justify having not one, but two girls on duty.  Back outside we looked at the leaflet that we’d picked up and found that, apart from some houses with Renaissance doorways and windows we’d only missed a couple of other things.

12th century gateway to the town

The gateway was the only one surviving although we’d been through the vestiges of another as we’d climbed into the town from the other side.  The road through the gateway had great views over the meandering Moselle below:

We’d come down to Liverdun from the right and turned off into an inlet and we could just make out the boat from the gateway:

As well as the gateway, we’d missed some statuettes built into the sides of some houses.  It’s not clear why they were there but the popular thought is that they were location aids used instead of street names.  The ones we saw were all at the ends of streets thus rather supporting the theory.

Three of the statuettes

On the way back to the boat we checked out the Renaissance doorways and windows we’d missed and back near the river crossed a section of the now abandoned canal de la Marne au Rhin. 

We were moored in such a peaceful spot that we’ll probably stay at Liverdun for another day before heading off for Nancy.

On Tuesday we cruised 21 km down four locks and through one lift bridge.


We had a ‘no cruise’ day on Wednesday so we pottered around enjoying the continuing good weather.  It was also a chance to work on the job list and I don’t mean rewriting it but actually getting some of those niggly jobs done that have been outstanding for ages.  We also took the opportunity to have a walk along the river and potted up some more plants.

Liverdun on the hill, Moselle to the right, and us on the left


Karen had read that water was available on a mooring further down the Moselle at a place called Pompey.  Our plan for Thursday was to get there for lunch and do the washing before continuing on to Nancy later in the afternoon.

It was still when we left our little inlet at Liverdun

We only had one lock to descend before reaching Pompey and both an éclusier and an éclusiere responded to my radio request.  The girl seemed to be responsible for operating the lock which she got ready immediately.  The guy wanted to know which direction we were going in, either further downstream towards Metz and Luxembourg/Germany or through Nancy on the canal de la Marne au Rhin (est).  I explained we were leaving the river and would be joining the canal to moor in Nancy but omitted to tell him we planned on stopping at Pompey first.  

Arriving at Pompey with the wind picking up

Once we were tied up, Karen went to check the water situation only to find that it wasn’t going to be turned on until spring without any indication of what date that was.  Electricity was available however, but we had no need of that under bright blue skies.

When in the tourist office in Liverdun we’d noticed that there was a self-guided tour of the steelworks at Pompey so I’d taken a picture of the trail on my phone on the off chance we would visit.  The walk sounded really interesting as it had been a massive steelworks, opened in 1872 and closing down in 1986.

When we got to the first point of interest, words almost failed us even though the map was accurate and clearly indicated each of the sights.  Each site was numbered but not in sequence, but I suppose that would only bother logical people like us.  What we couldn’t believe was that there was only one extant point of interest!  It turned out that the works, that had spread along both sides of the Moselle had been demolished and were now high technology business parks.  The first item on the tour (labelled as 4) was a picture of the works in 1970 and also a comparable contemporary shot and showed the scale of the works:

Some sights actually had a picture of what it was like and some accompanying text in French …

The training centre for apprentices was here

…and other sights were just a QR code that allowed us to display the ‘then’ picture and text on a phone:

The office buildings were here

The only surviving sight was the pont bow string, a railway bridge providing access across the river between the steel works on either side:

Amazingly, daily guided tours are also available entitled ‘Discover the world of iron and fire of the Pompey steelworks’.  Reading the small print, you find out that you will actually be shown around the buildings of the high technology parks.

When we returned to the boat the wind was really quite gusty, so we decided to stay put and leave for Nancy in the morning.  During the afternoon an éclusier came to see us and explained he was the guy from the lock who’d asked where we were going.  The next lock had reported that we hadn’t turned up, so this guy was just checking we were OK and said it was no problem us staying there.

Moored on the far side at Pompey

On Thursday we cruised seven km down one lock.


We were getting ready to leave Pompey for Nancy on Friday morning when El Teide, the scrap metal boat from Tuesday, came out of the lock behind us now empty of its load.  This was good news as we had to pull out from our mooring and cross the route large boats take when leaving the lock.  As long as we left fairly quickly then the coast would be clear as there wouldn’t have been time for another boat to have come down the lock.  As soon as we started to cast off the 110 metre Amara arrived in the opposite direction heading for the empty lock, so we had to wait for her to pass first.


As I’ve mentioned before we don’t always receive a response when radioing for locks to be ready even though we’ve obviously been heard as the locks do get set for us.  As we approached the lock at Frouard we saw a sign telling us that we must radio ahead which we duly did.

There was no response, but we could see that the lock was being set.  Once at the top we had to walk up the steps of the éclusiers’ tower to pick up a télécommande for the canal we would soon be joining.  As it was, he came down and met me halfway and I took the opportunity to ask if we could also take on water.  He was happy to oblige and let us use the hose available for the commercial boats.  I also took the opportunity to ask if he’d heard my radio message to which he said yes but I’m afraid my French wasn’t up to asking why he didn’t respond.  Well, I could have asked but rather imagined I wouldn’t have understood the reasoning.

Our latest télécommande

There were no instructions with the télécommande and none of the four buttons were labelled.  I assume the red was for emergency but will have to use trial and error for the others.  We soon turned right off the Moselle onto the canal de la Marne au Rhin (est) and the first of 27 locks that will take us to the summit 68 km away at Gondexange.

It wasn't long before we were approaching the middle of Nancy where we went through two manned lift bridges.  Between the two bridges we felt like we were somewhere like the River Lee in Hackney with all the liveaboards lining one side of the cut.  The only difference was these were all converted 38 metre péniches.

Long line of liveaboards coming into Nancy

Once through the second lift bridge we moored on the quay opposite the commercial basin just down from the basin for private boats.

Moored at Sainte Catherine basin

During the afternoon we went for a walk further along the canal and then back across town to find the tourist office where we picked up a guide leaflet that we would follow on Saturday.  The tourist office was in the corner of the famous Stanislas square which was busy with tourists.  The sun wasn’t out so we weren’t tempted to take a drink or two in one of the many busy bars around the square.

Hôtel de ville on one side of the square

Looking diagonally across

We’ll do the tour in the morning but probably move on later in the afternoon as we suspect it will get noisy at night especially as Sunday is a big day in France being labour day when even the canals are closed.  Reading Ian & Lisette's blog during the morning made us realise that we really should start using our decent camera.  Their pictures are amazing so we'll try and remember to take it on our tour.

In the early evening a young couple started salsa dancing opposite the boat - it was so sweet as they were totally oblivious to the promenaders.  After a while another couple joined in and by the time there were half a dozen couples we realised it was probably something more organised than spontaneous.

Evening entertainment

On Friday we cruised 13 kilometres up two locks and through two lift bridges.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

Toul (new pastures from here onwards)

Our peaceful mooring at Givrauval


Karen went for a run first thing while I went off to explore Givrauval.  With a population of fewer than 300 it didn’t take long to look around and one of the first things I came across was the sign for an égayoir or horse wash. 

It was a sure sign that if the village still had a lavoir that the chances were that it would by the égayoir.  The directions took me down the main street to the other end of the village and sure enough in a small courtyard of houses and a farm there was an open air washing basin and behind it the horse wash.

The village must have been more proud of its égayoir as it was labelled as such with no signs to, let alone on, the lavoir.  More sophisticated set ups often also have an abreuvoir or horse trough and a fontaine for drinking water.

The égayoir

The mairie was fairly nondescript and also the first we’ve come across that hasn’t been flying a Ukrainian flag.  The war memorial contained a rather stark message and Karen and I wondered later if, in the PC mad UK, it would have had to be removed. The text at the bottom refers to the barbaric Germans.

The church was pretty and, as is often the case, was perched at the top of a hill overlooking the village.


While I was on the hill Karen rang me; she’d finished her run and had called in at the Carrefour on the way back.  She’d found some bags of soil and flowers and needed me to bring the trolley down to cart them back.  If anyone had seen us we must have been a sight walking just over 1.5 km down the towpath with the trolley and then back again with three 40 litre bags of compost with Karen carrying trays of plants.  Halfway back I spotted what looked like a dead kilometre stone down the bank.  I scrambled down and sure enough it was pk 65 that had rolled down the side.  It signified that we’ve completed a fifth of the length of this canal since joining it a week ago.

It was midday when we got back to the boat, so our breakfast was rather late, well for us anyway.  We decided that as we were moored in such a lovely spot that we would stay put for the rest of the day.  A lot of the afternoon was spent cleaning plant pots and planting them up.  As it was quite breezy, they were all put on the back deck for safety while they hardened up.

Writing up the boat log later we realised that it’s now been a week since we last passed a boat.  It’s going to be a bit of a shock when we do see one.


Our plan for Friday was to reach the summit at Demange-aux-Eaux.  We got ready to leave at 8.00am but the first lock went onto red lights when I summoned it.  Ringing VNF we were reminded that we wouldn’t get any support for an hour as only commercials are supported out of the hours of 9-6 on this canal.  Fortunately, we hadn’t gone very far so reversed back to the pontoon we’d just left.  An éclusier turned up dead on nine and got the lock ready for us.

After two locks we joined a chain of 17 automatic locks that would take us up to the top lock at the summit.  This meant that we didn’t need the télécommande any longer, just an éclusier to set the first lock and then the rest all operate automatically when they realise a boat has left the previous lock.  It didn’t quite work out like that and the éclusier who set the chain ended up staying with us all day because of various problems with gates or paddles not opening or closing.  This actually worked in our favour as with someone setting the locks ahead of us, we got up a lot quicker than if we’d have been doing them ourselves let alone the impact of having to make a phone call every time we had a problem.

The journey up went through the stunning countryside of the Ornain valley with just the odd village on the way.

Our éclusier racing ahead in his van to get the next lock set

We did have a few issues with weed which surprised us as the canal had been practically weed free so far.  In the end it was only in six pounds but did require five trips to the weed hatch.   As the éclusier was happy not taking a lunchbreak we had lunch on the move and made it into the top lock in just over six hours.  I suspect the éclusier was just going home early as it’s normal practice to take a break.  We topped up with water when we rose to the top of the lock and made arrangements with the small VNF outpost in the lock cottage to go through the Mauvages tunnel at nine in the morning.  Regular readers will know that this tunnel is the only one we’ve come across where an éclusier has to accompany each boat on a bicycle.

Buddy hiding in the shade of the sign while we topped up

Leaving the lock we turned sharp left at the junction where an arm heads off to Houdelaincourt.  When we were here in November, we went down the arm as it isn’t frequented by many boats these days because one of the entrance gates at the start is left closed meaning only boats like ours can get down there.  Those of you with larger boats will be pleased to know that both gates were now open, so a little adventure awaits you if you so desire.

Both entrance gates wide open

Once past the junction we moored up at the VNF yard which is where the tunnel maintenance buildings are situated.  In front of us was a sadly decaying electric towing tug which was in use until 2013.  

Moored at the VNF yard in Demange-aux-Eaux

After a relaxing drink outside we went for a walk around the village of Demange-aux-Eaux (pop. just over 500) which, as its name suggests has quite a bit of water around it.  In addition to our canal, there was the river Ornain with a couple of manmade channels from the river and also a couple of streams.  The Ornain is a lot smaller now we are higher up and Buddy had a welcome drink and cool down.  We had to keep him on his lead as the water was flowing quite fast through the arches and he’s never shown any inclination to swim.

Next to the bridge was the village war memorial which seemed rather large and grand for a medium sized village but then we didn’t count the number of names inscribed.

We than crossed a bridge over one of the manmade channels and found a lavoir.  Sadly it was closed to the public and appeared to be full of farm equipment.

There was a bar and a boulangerie in the centre, but the bar was closed for the afternoon which was a shame.  The mairie and church looked like they were built of a similar stone, but I couldn’t find out anything about their history.

It was still lovely and warm when we got back to the boat and the breeze had died down too so we lazed around for the rest of the day.  Well, I did most of the lazing as Karen baked this week's cake and cooked dinner.  My cake of choice this week was a ginger cake.

On Friday we cruised 20 km up 19 locks.


As we had to be at the entrance to the Mauvages tunnel by 9.00 am we had an early breakfast.  Rain was forecast for the morning, and we noticed a few spots in the water before setting off.  Fortunately, it was dry when we left and stayed that way for the whole journey apart from a few attempts at a drizzle, but it rained properly for nearly half an hour just after we moored up for the day before leaving us with sun and clouds for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  As we set off, we passed the decommissioned electric towing tug that I mentioned earlier:

Decommissioned towing tug...
...and its service building

An éclusiere had arrived in her van just before we got to the tunnel and clearly had some procedures to follow as the light was on red, so we had to wait before going through.  The tunnel at 4.9 km is the second longest still in use in France and was opened in 1846.  We always marvel at the amount of material that must have been removed to make the French tunnels as they were built to take large, deep-draughted barges.   

When it was first opened the bargees pulled their boats through manually which in France used to be called “à la bricole” because bricole is French for the chest harness that used to be worn by the people towing the barge.  This method was stopped when a steam tug was introduced to tow convoys of barges through.  This was replaced in 1913 by an electric tug and this service was carried on for 100 years until it was discontinued in 2015.  Although boats now go under their own power, the overhead electric cables are still in place as can be seen here where we are waiting for the green light:

Waiting for the green light with trolley wires above
As an aside, the longer Riqueval tunnel is the only French tunnel that still has an electric towing service, and we went through there in a small convoy of three boats on 3 September 2020 (click here to open the blog entry in a separate window).

When we went through today’s tunnel in the opposite direction last November an éclusier saw us through by pedalling his bike along the towpath next to us.  He told us that this is a requirement, and all boats must be accompanied in this manner for health and safety reasons.  Our girl today either hadn’t heard about this requirement or didn’t really care or was frightened of tunnels as, once we were in, she got on her bike and shot off quickly to the other end.

It took just under ¾ hour to get through and then we were out into the Meuse valley with 12 locks to go down to reach our day’s destination of Void.  These locks were like yesterday’s, in that they were in a chain but, unlike yesterday, presented no issues so we ended up with a dry and uneventful journey before mooring in Void for the day.  Also we had no weed issues and found out why when halfway down the flight:

Weedcutter at work 
Moored for Saturday night
We’d tied up in Void before and explored the town which reminded us that we think we’ve done rather well finding new things to do and discover considering it’s only four months since we came along this canal.  There are very few places to moor so Karen has seen it as a challenge to plan our route in such a way as to avoid repetition in our lives and to ensure I don’t repeat things in the blog!

During the afternoon a private boat went past in the opposite direction making it the first boat we’d seen for nine days.  As we’ve had three long days in the last four and we’d previously explored Void we stayed in for the rest of the day.

On Saturday we covered 20 km down 12 locks and through one tunnel.


It was a grey morning but at least, once again, the forecast rain hadn’t arrived.  Election day here in France but dear old Brexit withdrew the right of Brits who were French residents but without full French nationality to vote or stand for election in France.  This has even impacted those Brits who’ve lived in France for many years, especially those who’ve held elected positions in their locality as they have now had to stand down.

We left Void during the morning intending to get to Pagny-sur-Meuse in time to watch the England girls in the six nations match against Ireland.  We would then move on to Lay-St-Rémi as we hadn’t moored there before.  Leaving Void, we passed a green obelisk commemorating a man called Nicholas Cugnot who was born in the town.  

Cugnot was famous for building the world’s first mechanised vehicle; his steam powered cart started trials in 1771 and was never successful due to its massive weight and having a body too rigid for the rough tracks of the day.  The obelisk was erected in 1969 to replace an original statue that had been melted down by German soldiers in WWII.

We had an uneventful journey to Pagny-sur-Meuse with Karen and Buddy walking the last six km when I dropped them off at the junction with the canal de la Meuse.  Non-boaters may wonder why I include pictures of junctions, but they are primarily there for the benefit of other boaters.  Many read fellow boaters’ blogs to find mooring spots and get general navigational hints.  Seeing a picture of a junction can help when wanting to travel along a new waterway.

The southern end of the canal de la Meuse to the left

Light rain started during the second half of the rugby and as it was still drizzling when the game finished, we decided to stay put at Pagny-sur-Meuse.  This means we’ll probably give Lay-St-Rémi a miss and get down to Toul on Monday. 

A 75-metre pontoon to ourselves at Pagny-sur-Meuse

On Sunday we travelled 12 km through no locks.


Our aim on Monday was to reach Toul where the canal will drop us onto the Moselle.  When we get on the river we’ll be turning left to travel downstream picking up from where we left the river when we turned off to reach Toul last year.  This means that we’ll be on new waters to us for at least the next few months.

A few kilometres after setting off we approached the tunnel at Foug and triggered the magic eyes as the lights were set to green as we arrived. Once through the tunnel we had 13 locks to drop down to reach Toul and Karen got off for a while to give Buddy a run.

Looking back at Foug tunnel

They were back on board when we went down the fateful lock 23.  This was the lock where Karen had lost her phone and French residency card last September.  We had to go through a few hoops to get her a replacement card but finally got it a fortnight ago.

They were dropped near the wall close to the frothy water but with a depth of at least 2,50m they’d been impossible to see even though the water had been clear.

Passing the port at Toul

Once we’d gone past the port, we dropped down one more lock and moored under some of the town’s fortifications.   

Moored for Monday in Toul

During the afternoon we went to a supermarket to do the weekly shop and also popped into a garden centre to buy a few more plants.  As we’d done the town tour last year we saw nothing new to us other than the war memorial from the Franco-Prussian war (aka war of 1870) and WWI.

The war memorial we missed

The only other job we had to do was to make sure we and the boat were ready for river cruising first thing on Tuesday.

On Monday we cruised 14 km down 13 locks and through one tunnel.