Schlafhardt (walking to Germany)

Female lesser purple emperor resting on our basil seedlings 


Thursday started lovely and sunny but by the time we left at 9.00am it had clouded over and stayed that way until mid-afternoon.  It was one of those breezy days when it wasn’t quite warm enough for a tee-shirt when standing on an open boat for hours on end, but a fleece was too much.  Karen walked down to the opposite side of the European parliament building while I cast off.  The plan had been for her to get a cheeky picture of the boat with the union jack part of our red ensign in full view in front of the building.

The trouble was as soon as I set off, I seemed to be surrounded by rowers and then a trip boat started bearing down on me so there was no way I was going to manoeuvre safely in front of the building let alone hold the flag out.  This was compounded by the fact that to get completely in front of the building meant turning up one of the sections closed to private boats.  Maybe we’ll have another go on the way back.

The best we could do

After picking Karen up we worked our way around Strasbourg until we joined the canal du Rhône au Rhin that would take us south.  On the way we went through one of the large ship basins and also the port for private boats.  We couldn’t believe the number of boats still in the port and also the fact that there were very few spaces available as we know of a few large (20+ metre) boats that overwintered there and have now gone cruising for the season.  We were quite glad we’d moored where we had as the port was just as far from the centre of the city as it was from our mooring at the parliament building.  Mind you, it must be a great place to overwinter with so many other people there, especially those that enjoy socialising.

Turning into the Bassin des Remparts
A couple of Rhine river cruisers getting ready for their next guests

Leaving the larger waterway behind we joined the Rhône au Rhin which didn’t even have the customary welcome sign at the start of a new waterway just an aging VHF channel indicator for the canal.

Only indication we were entering a new canal

The canal was built in the late 1700s and used to run parallel to the Rhine from Strasbourg for around 135 km up to Mulhouse.  The correct name for the canal is the Rhône au Rhin branche nord.  The Rhône au Rhin proper runs from Mulhouse down the Doubs valley to Saint-Symphorien on the river Saône.  Only the top 35 km or so of the branche nord are now in use and when boats reach the end, they have to join the Rhine to get up to Mulhouse to get onto the canal du Rhône au Rhin main line.  There have been plans to restore the disused section but there are continuing budgetary issues which are not expected to be resolved.  Over the next few days, we’ll be going up to the current end of the canal at the Rhine junction and then returning to Strasbourg.

Red line = canal du Rhône au Rhin branche nord

When looking at the guidebooks for the canal the first reaction is that it must be very boring as it’s almost dead straight for 30 km.  We know of people who haven’t gone on it for that very reason and it almost put us off too.  In fact, everyone we know who has been on it has used it as a means of bypassing the Rhine around Strasbourg.  In the end we were glad we persevered because it’s a very pretty and rural canal running along the wide expanse of the Rhine floodplain.  To the west are the mountains of the Black Forest and to the east, the Vosges mountains of France.

A couple of the pages showing the canal with the Rhine to its right

The lock cottages were quite different to the styles we’ve seen on other canals and with their tile hung fronts looked almost Wealden rather than the austere or plain looking cottages we’re used to seeing.  There were no control huts for the éclusiers which is where the intercoms are normally attached for boaters to call VNF when they need to request assistance.   Because of this, the intercoms were placed by the front doors of the cottages which felt quite intrusive as they would mainly be privately owned nowadays. 

Different style of lock cottage

Intercom and information point by a front door

We only had to call VNF once and that was after a hire boat hadn’t waited for the gates to fully open before exiting a lock so consequently the lock went out of action indicated by the displaying of a pair of red lights.  Karen went off to use the intercom and at that particular lock it was in the porch of the turquoise blue one above which felt even more intrusive than if it had been on the outside wall.

Much of the route was lined with large plane trees which must provide welcome shade on hot days.  They weren’t as welcome for us though as they kept off what little sun there was.  We didn’t really expect to see any boats but an éclusier, who welcomed us to the canal at the first lock to take all our details, told us there was a small hire boat base and we did pass three hire boats during the day.  It seemed a strange canal to have a hire boat base as they wouldn’t be allowed on the Rhine, and it would take them a good few hours to reach Strasbourg. 

Lovely old plane trees

Every so often there were open sections for a few hundred metres and in some of these, old péniches had gathered to see out their days converted to permanently moored liveaboards.  We always say we’d love to see around one of these conversions as there must be so much space and therefore scope for designing quite stunning accommodation.  We stopped for lunch at one of the open stretches just above the lock at Schafhardt.  We were alongside a golf course, the first we’ve seen over here and funnily enough we'd recently been discussing the reasons for an apparent paucity of golf courses in France.

It was a bank holiday in France and one of those taken more seriously as most shops and offices were closed.  Many people take the Friday off too thus making it into a long weekend and we saw families cycling along the well-made towpath with their bike trailers full of camping gear.  Some were just out for the day and had taken food and drink and set up elaborate table settings on picnic tables along the route.  We've never felt so much in the limelight with people taking photos and videos of us, many were very polite and asking first.  I have to admit that after being on the canal for a few days, Karen's estimate of 80% of people stopping to take pictures was probably about right.  

At one point we had to cross the river Ill, one of the rivers that flows through Strasbourg.  Rather than crossing on an aqueduct, the canal and river form a crossroads, so care had to be taken to counteract the cross current which fortunately was quite benign when we crossed.

Crossing the Ill

The canal became quite remote once leaving Strasbourg with very few settlements and consequently very few moorings.
 We felt that we would be safe mooring with pins above a lock as there was so little traffic and ended up doing just that at a place called Gerstheim.  While tying up Karen found an old ring hidden in the grass, so we made use of that at one end of the boat.  By that time the sun was out, and we had a lovely warm end to the day with pleasant views across to the Black Forest mountains in the far distance.

Moored at Gerstheim

On Thursday we cruised 27 km up nine locks through one lift bridge.


We continued our dead straight journey up the northern branch of the Rhône au Rhin on Friday morning.  Between two of the locks the original poles for carrying the overhead electric cable for the towing locos were still standing along the bank.  I know I’ve mentioned many of the vestiges of this bygone era before but surprisingly this is the first time we’ve seen the poles.

The canal used to run almost dead straight for the 135 km up to Mulhouse but is now abandoned for the last 100 km.  Where the abandoned section started, a three to four km link had been built at right angles to join the Rhine (see map above).  Once we turned off onto the branch to the Rhine, the nature of the canal completely changed.    

More like riverbanks

A road crossed on a bridge near the end, and as we approached it, I thought I saw a VNF van going over.  As we went under the bridge, I could see a van parked on a track and an éclusier standing on the bank, so I slowed down as it looked like he wanted to chat.  It turned out that he just wanted to know if we were going on the Rhine as he would have had to operate the lock onto it for us.  I explained that we were going to reach the end and then turn around - I think he thought we were mad.  Reaching the end, we spun around and moored up opposite some dingy looking cruisers in a sad looking boat yard.

Moored at the end

After checking around the immediate area we shut the boat up so we could have a walk along the Rhine.  Walking by the lock that opens onto the river from the canal we noticed it had sliding doors instead of hinged or guillotine gates or even those strange semi-circular ones that rise from the bottom.  Thinking about it we realised that this was because the water level of the river would sometimes be lower than that of the canal and at other times higher; sliding gates would cater for both circumstances.  When we’ve come across this situation before, pairs of hinged gates have been used that open in opposite directions.  The operator would then select the pair of gates appropriate to the water level.

Sliding lock doors

Arriving at the Rhine we could see we were in a canalised section and to be honest the flow didn’t look too bad, but we were sure we’d made the correct decision not to join it.  We always marvel at the engineering feat of canalising a river and this was no exception here, especially considering the height difference that has to be allowed for either side of the locks which are all 13 to 15 metres deep.

Arriving on foot at a canalised section

We weren’t too far from a lock alongside one of the hydroelectric plants installed on the weirs along the river so went up to see how close we'd be allowed to get. 

Hydroelectric plant at Rhinau opened in 1963

Surprisingly we were allowed to walk across the weir right up to the plant and, following some narrow steps, climbed up beside the building to see if we could get access to the lock.  At the top there was a padlocked gate into the lock area but also what looked like an unused door into the building.  Karen tried the handle and to our surprise it opened, and we entered a gallery overlooking the power plant.  Along the wall were posters explaining about hydroelectric power and the history and development of navigation on the Rhine.

I’ve never really thought about the mechanics of how hydroelectricity is generated but there was a simple diagram on display that really helped us. 

Looking down from the gallery, four alternators could clearly be seen.  We assumed only two were in operation as when we’d walked across the weir there were only two major outflows, the sluices for the other turbines being shut off.

The four alternators

We then managed to get across to the locks which are built in pairs on the Upper Rhine.  Both are 185 metres long, but one is 12 metres wide and the larger one 23 metres.  We have only been in the 185 x 12 metre locks in France which seem to be the standard size on many rivers.  The locks on the Rhine are open 24 hours a day and a boat was just entering the smaller lock when we arrived.

At twice the length of the péniches we come across on the canals this boat, at 80 metres, was still a baby as two of them would have easily fitted in the lock together.  After watching the boat tie up, we continued across the locks so we could set foot in Germany for a few minutes.  Walking back to the canal we saw a larger, fully laden boat heading upstream for the lock that was about to be vacated.  According to one of our boat tracking apps it was the 105-metre German registered Wendelin on its way to Basel.


Back at the boat we harvested some cherries from one of the many cherry trees that can be found along the canal and then set off.  We wanted to return to Gerstheim where we’d stopped over on Thursday night as it was in a peaceful open section with wonderful views to the Black Forest mountains one way and the Vosges mountains the other.

Not only were there cherry trees in great abundance but there were also a lot of walnut trees although the fruits were still not large enough to pick for pickling.  Insects were in abundance too with an amazing number of butterflies and dragonflies especially along the section onto the Rhine.  We saw four new species of butterfly for the year including a lesser purple emperor that took a great interest in the burgundy sections of our roof as well as our flowers.

No comments about the paintwork please!

With the dry winter and spring, water cannon are already being used on the crops along the plain and we were sprayed a couple of times as we cruised along! We reached our mooring just as the locks were closing for the day at five o’clock.  Before we tied up just above a lock we spun the boat around first as we’d passed the pully pole and would need to go back to pull it when we left on Saturday.

On Friday we cruised 24 km up two locks and down two locks.


Saturday morning at Gerstheim

When Karen took Buddy out for his pre-breakfast walk, she had two lucky finds, a Michelin sign for the canal...

…and towing loco tracks on a bridge:

We had a leisurely start as it was Saturday and had one of those journeys where the sun alternated between being fully out and completely clouded over.  Our first target was to reach the VNF yard at Krafft where we hoped to take on water.  The plane trees were more welcome on the journey this time, especially when the sun was out.

Not so tall as the previous day’s avenue

When we arrived at the VNF yard it was closed up and so were the offices but there was one éclusier on duty sitting at a picnic table. He was on call for the day and was happy we’d arrived as it relieved the monotony of playing on his phone while waiting for a call that might never happen.  He helped us tie up and then fetched the hose for us.  I know Karen won't be happy I'm mentioning something personal but there's something extra relaxing about being hooked up to water.  Not only can we get the washing done but we can have long showers knowing full well that we'll still be leaving with a full water tank.

The VNF yard was one of those moorings that was fully secure overnight and at weekends and would be a great place to stay for boaters not bothered about getting out.  While we were topping up, the éclusier received a call, moved his car next to our boat (we've no idea why) and disappeared off in his van presumably to help someone out.

The VNF yard at Krafft

We carried on to a place called Schlafhardt where there was a pleasant mooring just above a lock, so we stopped for the day.  

At Schlafhardt

After lunch we had a walk to Illkirch-Graffenstaden, a modern suburb of Strasbourg.  If you count walking down one side of the canal and back up the other as part of a circle, it was actually a circular walk in that we didn’t repeat any steps along the way.

Unusual method of mooring at Schafhardt

On Saturday we cruised 13 km down four locks.


A decidedly cooler morning greeted us on Sunday which was welcome as we’d planned a nice easy day.  After a late breakfast we went for a walk around a lake with the idea that we would then walk through some parkland and then around another lake.  When we reached the parkland, it turned out to be a pitch and putt course linked with the golf course I mentioned earlier so we had to give up on the idea of walking through it.  We went in search of the second lake by another route only to find that it was still a working gravel pit and therefore had no public access.  We ended up returning to the boat after walking around part of the first lake again.  The weather slowly improved during the day and by mid-afternoon it had warmed up and we had clear blue skies presaging the forecast return of sunny days with temperatures in the high 20s.

Much of the day was spent researching the time we’ll spend cruising in Germany and Luxembourg when we’re travelling on the river Sarre and then the Moselle in a few weeks.  We had to do things like find out how to receive alerts from the respective authorities about navigational incidents and planned outages.  Other important tools included downloading apps that provide the current state of the water levels and flows on the rivers at various points on the route.  It’s going to get confusing as to which language we shall use when spelling things, for example the Sarre is Saar in both German and English.  The Moselle is the same in English but Musel in Luxembourgish and Mosel in German.  I think we’ll probably stick with the French names as far as the blog is concerned. 

Before we hit the river Sarre in Germany we’ve got to get back through Strasbourg, retrace some of our steps along the Marne au Rhin, go up the inclined plane again and then turn onto the canal de la Sarre which will be yet new territory for us.  We will travel the length of the canal de la Sarre until we join the river shortly after entering Germany.   

Strasbourg (why do I tempt fate)

Dramatic skyline reflected in rear of the European parliament building


When we got up on Monday we weren’t sure whether or not we would go all the way to Strasbourg or have an overnight stop on the way but left early anyway.  We’d been moored at a commercial quay at La Fôret where boats unloaded roadstone and as we left, a guy had arrived and seemed to be checking out the various piles.  Soon after leaving we passed Vogel Gryff laden with roadstone, so we realised that the guy at the quay was getting ready for its arrival.

Roadstone delivery

When we reached Souffelweyersheim we pulled in as there was a handy fuel station 200 metres from the port. It was one of those ports where there was a daily charge which, at this one, was €14 including electricity and water.  We spoke with a couple of American guys who told us that some days a person comes to collect money and other days they don’t.  There was a sign saying that boats could only stay for 48 hours but the Americans said they’d been there for a few weeks as it was so handy to take a tram into Strasbourg.  They did add that they’d left for a night or two a couple of times, but it sounded like they were just paying lip service to the restriction.

I went off to get some fuel which was available at a Renault garage that only had one pump and that was tucked away in the service area for customers’ cars and wasn’t particularly cheap.  As I had a trolley rather than a car, they were more than happy for me to fill up my cans.  I only did one trip thinking we would fill up completely when we get back to Saverne as we’d seen a nearby filling station at regular prices.  It started raining while we were having lunch, so we thought we’d stay put for the rest of the day and walk into the village later in the afternoon.  By the time we’d cleared up and done a few odd jobs, the sun was back out and as it looked like staying that way for the afternoon, so we changed our minds and set off for Strasbourg.

Leaving our lunch mooring at Souffelweyersheim

There was a lock next to the port and a couple of guys were working on the electrics so saw us through.  They were having issues with the lower gates not registering when the lock was empty, and it was funny to see one of them employing Karen’s gate jumping trick to trigger the sensors.

As we approached the final lock before we planned to moor by the European parliament building in Strasbourg I remarked to Karen that we will have come down the 51 locks on this side of the summit without having had to call out VNF once with one issue or another.

Heading for écluse 51

After the lock emptied the bottom gates wouldn’t open and neither of us were surprised because of the comment I’d made.  We were just about to call out VNF when they started opening; it was obviously a very slow lock.  Not only did we think the locks were well maintained we also reflected on the fact that the whole canal was well looked after with very little weed and bank side vegetation and trees kept in check.

We found the mooring we were looking for and it was empty so were able to tie up.  If a boat had been there, we would have had no option but to carry on and moor in the private port further on.  Even though it’s described as a mooring outside the European parliament building there was a new bridge across the canal making it look a less than salubrious place to stay.

It wasn’t so bad looking the other way:

The front of the EU building from the far side of our bridge, sadly lacking a well-known flag but flying the Ukrainian flag as a sign of solidarity:

Rather than doing any sightseeing straightaway we walked into town to visit the tourist office and picked up some information on town trails.  Neither of us had been to Strasbourg before and we were both caught with how stunning the place was and were really looking forward to having a couple of days exploring.  With the temperature forecast to be dropping to the low 20s during our stay it should be ideal for walking around for both us and Buddy.

The other exciting thing about Strasbourg is that it appears to be a city built on water.  Not only are there many large ports built along the Rhine on the east side, there are several canals and rivers crossing through the city.  Probably the most well-known water feature is the area called Petite France which we are looking forward to seeing.  Until relatively recently many of the waterways were open to boaters but nowadays there is only one route through the city with a few exits onto the Rhine; the other routes only open for trip boats.

We came in from the top of the map and moored where the green cyclist is where it says, ‘Palais de l’Europe’. 

Later on, when we were back on board, Vogel Gryff came back past but empty this time as it had delivered its load of roadstone.  We wondered how far up or down the Rhine it goes to get reloaded.    

Looking at our mooring you would think it would have been rather noisy being almost under a bridge.  We were pleasantly surprised how quiet it was during the evening as we couldn’t hear any road noise at all, just the occasional tram rumbling across.    

On Monday we cruised 14 km down five locks through one lift bridge.


When we awoke on Tuesday morning we couldn’t believe how quiet the night had been although the trams had started early in morning for the first city workers of the day.  While we were having breakfast a laden cement boat came through on its way to the works we’d passed in Hochfelden a few days ago.  A short while afterwards an empty sister ship came past in the other direction, obviously on its way back after offloading at Hochfelden.

Full & empty

Shortly afterwards, Vogel Gryff came upstream fully loaded with roadstone.  This clearly answered our question about how long it takes to complete its journey as it must have moored up in one of the Rhine ports in the city overnight.  It had then taken on its load and started making its way up the canal when the locks opened at 7.00am.  So, in 24 hours it takes on a load in Strasbourg, cruises to La Fôret where it offloads and makes it way back to Strasbourg the same day.  In fact we saw it pass us again in the evening, empty as it had been the previous evening.

We spent the best part of the day on a self-guided trail we picked up from the tourist office and combined it with walking alongside all the waterways in the city that private boats are no longer allowed to travel.  It wasn't quite all of those waterways as we were able to discount about six kms of them that we'd walked the previous afternoon.  In total we walked 13 km and loved every minute of it especially as the weather was warm rather than hot.  We thought the city was wonderful with amazing architecture and vibrant colours, so much so that I’ll include more pictures than usual and also write fewer words than usual.  

The court of human rights

The river Ill runs through the centre of Strasbourg and after passing the European parliament building it runs across our canal, so we’ll have to watch the flow when we come down it in a couple of days.  The l’Ill runs from left to right in the picture below and our canal from top to bottom.

We’re moored just under the bridge at the top

The 19th century united reform church is quite an impressive building considering it was fairly close to the cathedral:

United reform church

The cathedral which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries:

Notre dame cathedral
Stonework detail on one of the entrances to the cathedral
The square in front of the cathedral

The current chamber of commerce in place Gutenburg was built in 1585 as the city hall.  The square also hosts a statue to Gutenburg, one of the claimed inventors of the printing press nearly 500 years ago:

Place Gutenburg

This 15th century house had its upper floors replaced in the 16th century with the ornately carved half-timbering:

Kamerzell House

Here are some of the houses in the Petite France area:




Swing bridge swung for a trip boat in Petite France
Trip boat just locked up one of the Petite France locks

The western end of Petite France was marked by les ponts couverts so we were looking forward to finding these bridges that we thought would be lined with buildings.  Unfortunately, the original wooden ‘covered bridges’ were replaced by a series of stone bridges linking four defensive towers.  Mind you, they were still lovely old bridges and we stopped at a restaurant under one of the towers for lunch.

Some of the towers linked by bridges

The Vauban dam was named after its designer, the famous 17th century French engineer whose works we’ve come across a few times in the past.  It was built on 13 arcades that had floodgates that could be closed thus flooding the southern side of the city as an additional fortification.    

The Vauban dam in the background and a lock no longer available to private boaters

The houses in the tannery area had open overhanging balconies for hanging animal skins to dry as can be seen to the left of this restaurant:

We found a British post office pillar box and, after hiding the monarch’s cypher, took a picture and sent it to our family WhatsUp group for Victorian post boxes.  Steve was one of the first to respond and could tell from the cap and aperture that it was an Elizabethan not Victorian box.

Elizabethan not Victorian

Our walk back to the boat was along the river Aar which is now only open for water sports but I’m sure we could have got our boat along it.  When we were back almost under the shadow of the EU parliament building, we walked through a garden city sponsored in the 1920s by the philanthropist Léon Ungemach.  It consisted of 138 similarly styled houses on large plots to give an air of space.  Nowadays the land would probably be worth a fortune judging by the smart apartments built around it.

Some of the houses funded by the Fondation des Jardins Ungemach

Having had lunch out we stayed on the boat for the evening discussing ideas on what we’d do for our remaining time in Strasbourg.   


Having had a few comments about our decision not to go up the Rhine next, I must explain that we haven’t given up completely and will probably head on a canal south of Strasbourg that meets the Rhine 30-odd km further up and have a bit of an investigation.  Failing that, then next year our current plan will be to attack it in the reverse direction by going up the Doubs valley from Châlon-sur-Saône and then down the Rhine back to Strasbourg.  At least, going down the Rhine will be doable but probably at a scary pace.

Activity during breakfast on Wednesday was a repeat of the previous day in terms of exchanging pleasantries with the three commercials on their daily journeys.  We did a bit more sightseeing but took it easier than Tuesday.  We included a walk around the parc de l’orangerie which is one of the popular parks used by the locals.  It was created in the 17th century as a place for residents of Strasbourg to stroll.  The orangery was added in 1807 and surrounded with flower beds laid out in regimented French style.  The remainder of the park was relandscaped in the then English style of what the information board said was called ‘chaotic’!  The orangery had four storks nests on its roof and we could see young in two of them. 

The orangery and formal gardens

After our leisurely walk around the park, we popped to the Council of Europe building which was near the court of human rights.  The pavement alongside the building was inlaid with plaques like the walk of stars in Birmingham and other cities around the world.  These plaques were brass stars containing quotes of famous statesmen both past and present.

The council of Europe building

We thought the tramways that weren’t shared with roads were well looked after with the greenery rather than tarmac or paving:

When we arrived back at the boat for lunch an old barge was very slowly making its way past.  The occupants told us that they were converting it to live on and it was built in 1924.  The reason for going so slow was that they just had an outboard motor for propulsion. 

During the afternoon we took the very short (110 metre) walk from the boat to the entrance of the European parliament building and had a fascinating self-guided visit.  As well as learning about the reasons for the three EU centres of Luxembourg, Brussels and Strasbourg and what functions are performed at each, there were tangential exhibitions.  One of these was displaying first day covers from member states on the subject of the EU.  A couple of the French first day covers included these two from either end of the UK story:

The chamber

As expected, there were interpreting booths all around the chamber (behind the white panels in the picture above) and it was explained how sometimes chained interpreting would be required.  For example, when Croatia joined, very few of the existing interpreters spoke Croatian.  This meant that the simultaneous translation in the listener’s language may have gone through two or three interpreters simultaneously.  Our interpreter daughter, Catherine, explained later that this is known as a retour and is relatively uncommon and of course can lead to greater inaccuracies further along the chain.  

Leaving through the atrium

We’ll probably cast off on Thursday morning and head around to the southern side of Strasbourg.