Sunday 8 May 2022

Crévic (cupid at play)


With a chance of thunderstorms in the late afternoon we set off in brilliant sunshine at 9.30am to retrace our wake along the embranchement de Nancy.  Having only come down it a couple of days previously there wasn’t a lot to add about the journey other than we were both pleased we'd done it and would highly recommend it as an unexpectedly pleasant and rural canal considering how close to Nancy it is. The only drawback is the fact that it is part of the boucle de Nancy, an 85 km ring of canals and rivers encircling Nancy.  Not that that in itself is a problem it's that the towpath alongside the boucle also provides a well-known and well-made cycle route for the complete circuit.  Consequently, not only are there holidaymakers walking or gently riding their bikes but also serious lycra-clad cyclists who’d probably rather other people weren’t allowed on their cycle path.

One thing that I didn’t mention before was that all the locks have a wildlife home which is a nice idea.  Each lock had a different animal as its design, even the wild cat lock had its wildlife home in a cat.  This one is a dog by the way:

Oh, and one thing that was different about the journey was that this time we passed a boat – a fat boy or widebeam, whichever term you prefer (non-narrowboaters in France call them widebeam narrowboats).  It was owned by a German couple who'd bought it from an English guy who had it shipped to France but never used it and they were hoping to get it down to the south of France through the summer.  Karen took a couple of pictures of its rear as it went past but they were rather unflattering of the German lady driving - she wouldn't have managed in a narrowboat.

Fat boy Charlotte

We moored two locks above Fléville-devant-Nancy a couple of km short of the end of the embranchement.  Other than having a walk during the afternoon, we spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun, the threatened thunderstorm never arriving although it did rain during the night.

On Wednesday we cruised eight km through 16 locks (five up and 11 down).


We needed to go food shopping as Karen had worked out that we wouldn’t be going anywhere near a supermarket over the next fortnight as the canal becomes very rural once it leaves Nancy.  This meant that after we’d gone down the last bit of the embranchement we would retrace our steps into Nancy where we could moor right alongside an Intermarché.

We set off in lovely sunshine even though cloud cover was forecast for the day.  In fact, we were lucky and had sun all day apart an hour at midday.  We immediately dropped down the last two locks of the embranchement watched by quite a few gongoozlers including a couple of gendarmes.  Karen pointed out that one of them was left-handed because of the position of his gun holster which I thought was really astute although I hoped it’s not the sort of observational skill we would ever need in anger.

Leaving our overnight mooring on Thursday morning

Back at the junction with the canal de la Marne au Rhin (est) we turned left and headed down to the Intermarché.  Karen went to do the shopping and I busied myself, well, I wanted to but Brian from a 24-metre barge seemed keen to talk.  To be fair he was an 82-year-old Aussie who’s lived on his own on the boat for 15 years so was probably keen to converse in English for a while.  He told me that he alternates his moorings every four weeks between the supermarket and the commercial port in Nancy where we’d stopped last week.

Brian’s mooring outside the Intermarché

After a while, Karen rang to say she’d finished the shopping, so I took my leave and went to help her push the trolley to the boat.  After returning the trolley we set off back the way we’d just come but at the junction continued on and triggered the lock just past it.  We had to wait a while as a hire boat was filling up with water in the lock before coming down.  As we went through the lock we filled up with water too and had just about finished when another hire boat came along.  We’d heard that there are a few hire boat bases on the way to Strasbourg because the canal goes through some pretty Alsatian countryside, there are very few locks and also there’s the attraction of an inclined plane.  Clearly, we’re probably going to be seeing quite a bit of traffic from here on in.

We moored for lunch just above the lock during which Karen remembered that while shopping she’d taken a photo of a table and chairs that she’d thought would be ideal to replace the camping ones we have on the boat.  When I saw the picture, I immediately agreed and we ummed and aahed about whether to walk back two kilometres with our sack barrow to get a set or turn the boat around and go back again.  In the end we opted to take the boat.

After turning around again we went back down the lock, past the junction with the embranchement and were soon at the supermarket.  As we moored up we explained to Brian what we were doing as he’d come over looking very puzzled about us turning up again, and went to get the table and chairs.  Sadly, we could only see the display set, all the boxes contained other items of garden furniture.  I went to customer services to find out if they had any in stock.  A guy, who turned out to be the manager, checked the computer and said they had three so made a quick phone call to get someone to bring us one.  The computer stock levels were wrong, and they couldn’t find any so I asked if we could take the display set.  Not only did he say we could, he also gave them a good clean and then knocked 15% off the asking price!  Better still was that we didn’t have any plastic packaging and a large cardboard box to dispose of.

Our new table and chairs

Once we’d made our way back yet again, we tied up above the lock once more and sat outside to christen our new furniture.  We’d had the washing machine on during our trip to the supermarket and while I was hanging the washing out later a couple stopped to have a chat.  I’m not sure how it happened but somehow, during the conversation, I lost Karen’s favourite tee shirt.  I spent a long time fishing for it and as the water wasn’t particularly clear for a change I couldn’t find it.  It didn’t help when I suggested she now has the chance to choose a new favourite.

Moored above the lock at Laneuveille-devant-Nancy on Thursday

On Thursday we cruised nine km down three and up two locks although with the toing and froing we were just under three km from where we’d started.


While Karen went off for a run before breakfast, I pottered around and then set about getting things ready so when she returned we could wash off the latest dump of Saharan sand from the boat.  It doesn’t sound much compared to having a run, but first I had to pull the boat back towards the lock behind our overnight mooring and use pins to secure it.  The hose on the water point in the lock wasn’t particularly long so I then had to connect our two hoses together and then to the lock hose to reach the desired length.  By the time I’d done that and taken everything off the roof Karen & Buddy were back.  As luck would have it, two boats came through the lock while we were cleaning the boat, so it was just as well we hadn’t done it in the lock.  Ironically, they were the only boats we saw moving all day.

Lock cottages tend to have information plates above their doorways showing varying degrees of information.  On this canal they generally seem to be very basic with just a lock number on.  We have come across a couple that have also shown the distances to the next locks upstream and downstream like the first lock we went up after having a late breakfast.

Having said earlier about the wonderful countryside we would be encountering as we travel through Alsace, we went through one of the largest salt production areas of France. Not only were there salt factories there were also plants producing sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate.  The large piles of salt we could see really reminded us of the Middlewich area on the Trent & Mersey canal in England.  As there was a large factory alongside the next lock we decided to stop for coffee and a look around the place.

Moored at St-Phlin

St-Phlin seemed to centre totally around the sodium carbonate & bicarbonate factory of Novacarb with no sign of anything else going on at all.

Part of the massive factory in St-Phlin

In order to visit the factory village we’d been moored on a narrow lock landing on the approach to a pair of locks as you can see here.

The lock on the right is now closed and no longer used so we’d come up the left hand one.  In the late 1800s the Freycinet gauge was introduced as the minimum standard on waterways across France.  Where locks weren’t already large enough they were converted in situ, but on some canals a larger lock was built alongside the smaller one thus causing less disruption.  With less traffic these days only the larger locks are in use on this canal.

A little while later we crossed the Meurthe and were soon approaching St-Nicolas-de-Port where we planned to stop for lunch.

Crossing the Meurthe

As we came into St-Nicolas-de-Port there were more large salt factories complete with signs offering tours around their mines.

We moored in the centre of town next to a busy railway line and near a main road.

Feeling like dwarves moored behind the péniches at St-Nicolas-de-Port

We had a wander around the town and found the basilica built in the 14th century in honour of St-Nicolas who was the patron saint of bargees. If that’s true, then the bargees would have been plying their trade on the rivers as canals weren’t built then.

Narrow streets of St-Nicolas-de-Port
The twin towers of the basilica

The two towers were badly damaged in WWII and restored in 1984 following a large donation by an ex-resident of the town who’d moved to the USA.

Plaque commemorating the benefactor

We turned our walk into a circular one and were nearly back at our mooring when we spied an insect hotel in the shape of a butterfly. 

After lunch we went through our 4,000th lock since living on the boat (1,481st in France):

Écluse 23

Followed by another salt factory…

…and then the large port at Dombasle-sur-Meurthe which is now used for private boats.  It must have been packed with salt barges back in the day especially as Solvay, the major salt production company in the area had 160 barges.  It now seems that most of the transportation is carried out by freight trains and lorries.

Dombasle-sur-Meurthe port

After another lock we pulled in and tied up at Sommerviller.  A local lady was resting at a picnic table and was interested in the boat and where we'd been in France.  When I found out she lived in the next village I plucked up the courage to ask if she knew of any lavoirs around.  I had to pluck up courage as when I’ve asked people in the past, they’ve assumed from my poor French that I really meant a launderette and I ended up really struggling and getting tied in knots trying to explain what I really meant.  Anyway, she understood but explained there aren’t many in Meurthe-et-Moselle, the département we’re currently in.    

A guy sitting at another picnic table could overhear us so came over and joined in and we had an interesting chat in broken English and French about lavoirs and also the history of a couple of the local villages.  After a while I took my leave and they continued chatting.  I’d obviously been a bit of a matchmaker as they continued for over an hour and seemed to take forever to say their goodbyes as he stood by his car, and she slowly walked away backwards.

Moored for Friday night at Sommerviller

On Friday we cruised 12 km up three locks.


After our traditional Saturday breakfast of pancakes, we walked into Sommerviller to have a look around.  Apart from people making their daily trip to the boulangerie it was typically dead as we’ve come to expect in small towns and villages even on Saturdays.  The only old pictures I could find of the village were of the church and a salt works.  The salt works has long since disappeared and been replaced by canal side villas, so we had to try and capture the church from a similar position for a then and now picture.  Nearly every house along the high street had retained its original cart/horse/produce gateway as can be seen here:

Then and now
The school on the small central square

We had an easy couple of hours after our walk sitting outside reading and in the afternoon we carried on a few km to Crévic, the next village along the canal.  We haven’t seen walnut trees since we left the Marne valley nearly four weeks ago, so we were beginning to think we’ll miss out on the imminent pickling season.  That was until we reached the first lock and we saw the tell-tale sign of the young green-purple leaves and the walnut tree shape of a walnut tree.  They are the last of the common trees to come into leaf, even later than the oak and ash which are among the last to come out.

Walnut tree at Crévic lock

Hopefully they’ll now be present at the locks as we continue eastwards so we’ll be able to pick the young fruit while they’re still soft and green in a few weeks. 

We moored up when we arrived at Crévic but decided not to venture into the village until Sunday.  Once again, we saw two boats on the move during the journey, and again both were hire boats.

Our mooring for Saturday night at Crévic

On Saturday we cruised three km up two locks.

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