Wednesday 29 June 2022

Wasserbillig (Spud legging)


A bit like the iron and steel works we’d visited in Völklingen it’s not going to be possible to portray in pictures or words the awesome scenery we passed through as we continued our cruise down the Saar on Saturday, but it won’t stop me trying!

Before we set off, Karen bottled up the walnuts that were now ready for pickling.  Unfortunately. they won’t be ready for eating until after we return from holidaying in the UK at the end of August.  As soon as we left, we were straight into the steep, tree covered hillsides that would stay with us for the whole journey.

The start of the steep-sided wooded valley

The blot on the landscape in the picture above that looks like a giant helter-skelter, is a sightseeing platform and with the binoculars we could see dozens of people at various points on the spiral walkway.  We did wonder if it was sloped in that way so that buggies and wheelchairs could be pushed up and raced down.

At the German villages we’ve been passing lately we’ve been noticing small ferry pontoons and associated information signs indicating mooring for ferryboats only but have not yet seen a ferryboat.  As we approached Steinbach our first ferryboat came into view, full of passengers.  By the time we reached its pontoon all the passengers had disembarked, and the ferryman was left sitting on his own.

Lonely ferryman

Not only were the hillsides steep but there were also many sharpish bends.  They were so sharp that boats of 110 metres upwards were not allowed to pass other boats as they went through each one to two km section.  The warning signs at the start and end of each section were linked to banks of solar panels so they would be lit at night for those travelling in darkness.  These days sophisticated radar and satellite positioning systems enable inland mariners to monitor and track traffic.  Ship-to-ship radio communication has been available since the second half of last century and could be used to check the way was clear and as commercials they would almost certainly be aware of the current schedule of movements on the river as well. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, pictures just cannot explain but here we are coming up to one of the corners I was talking about:

The hills dropped a bit as we went through Mettlach, the home of Villeroy & Boch since the late 1700s.  Our only lock of the day was in the town, and we pulled up on the small-lock side of a wall dividing the approaches to the two locks.  We watched the large lock being set and noticed a tourist trip boat was on its way.  Once it was in, two private cruisers pulled in behind them and we suddenly realised we were also expected to go in but were in the wrong position.  We quickly cast off and turned the boat around in front of the weir and headed upstream so we could turn again and come down the other side of the dividing wall.  I know we’re usually wary of river weirs, but at least the German ones have been well protected so far and the flow on the river has been very low.  We had to hang back as we went in because the boat in front looked a bit out of control and was having difficulty tying up.  A guy in the boat in front of him got out and walked along the lockside to help him and we were soon all ready to go. 

As the rear gate started emerging from the water, a heron and a couple of crows alighted on it.  After the water had dropped four metres or so the cill was uncovered, and all three birds jumped down to pick at the stranded fish and other goodies.

Heron waiting for the water to start going down

It must have been one of their first locks as the Germans who’d had to be helped to tie up clearly hadn’t realised that they had to move their lines down to lower bollards as the lock emptied.  I must admit that we were getting worried that their boat would end up hanging from the side of the lock when the guy who’d helped them before, who was fortunately German, started shouting instructions as to what to do.  It was just as well they were shouted at as the lock ended up being 12 metres deep and a disaster was avoided.

Looking back at the weir and locks at Mettlach

The Villeroy & Bosh head office of approaching 250 years, was on the riverside as we left the lock and it was such a shame that the town hadn’t provided any visitor moorings, just a couple for the big tourist trip and restaurant boats. 

Villeroy & Boch HQ

After Mettlach we were soon faced with the stark expanse of the exposed red stone of an operational quarry ahead of us on another sharp bend. It looked like it was a type of shale more than likely used by the likes of Villeroy & Boch for the production of ceramic and porcelain products. 

Arriving at Serrig we moored above the lock at the far end of a long commercial quay under the southernmost vineyards of the Saar that extend from Serrig to the confluence with the Mosel.  We hadn’t realised but apparently the wines produced along this 20 km length of the Saar are amongst the world’s most expensive, so a challenge clearly lies ahead to try some.

Moored at Serrig

On Saturday we cruised 19 km down one lock.


Although we awoke to sunshine there was rain due in the afternoon, so we thought we’d leave straight after breakfast to get to Saarburg in time for lunch. 

Sunday breakfast view

We were only 400 metres from the Serrig lock, so I radioed the keeper while we were putting away the fenders and getting ready to leave.  He was our first lockie who spoke English which was fortunate as he was able to explain that we’d have to wait for 50 minutes.  As we were already practically underway, we moved across to the other side of the river and tied up to sit out the wait over there. 

After an hour the green lights came on at the large lock so I assumed a commercial was on its way and that was the reason we'd had to wait.  Also, assuming it wasn’t the maximum length, we would go in behind it.  We waited for what seemed like ages and no boat arrived and then the green lights were replaced by red lights.  I walked down to the lock to see what was happening and found that both locks were now being emptied so I was at a bit of a loss.  Back at the boat I radioed again and was told that the small lock was now out of action and that the big lock would be ready for us in 20 minutes after a commercial had come up.

Once the commercial cleared the lock the green lights came on and we were on our way two hours after we originally thought we’d be going down.  It was partly my fault as I really should have radioed the lockie when the green lights came on the first time to see if we could go in rather than assume we had to wait for a bigger boat to go in first.  As we went in, we noticed that one of the floating bollards was out of action which didn’t really matter as there are so many to choose from because we had the lock to ourselves.  A trailer on the lock side was loaded with a new floating bollard and we were shocked to see just how large they are.

Replacement floating bollard on trailer
The floating bollard I’d used on our way down

The heavily wooded valley sides continued as with the previous day but now every steep south facing slope had been cleared and replaced by vines.

Wooded hillsides continuing

Even though we’d been delayed by a couple of hours and the clouds had rolled in, we managed to arrive in Saarburg in the dry.  Despite the cloud cover it looked to be a pretty place and definitely worth a look around.

Saarburg riverfront

A castle stood overlooking the river at the other end of town:

The mooring was on a long quay reserved for commercials that adjoined a WSV yard.  There was a 20-metre length between the yard and the commercial section where private boats were allowed.  WSV are the initials of the German inland waterways authority, the equivalent of the French VNF and the UK’s CRT.

Moored in the WSV yard entrance

Looking the other way

The blue sign in front of our boat showed the start of the commercial mooring and had the white Roman numerals II on a blue background indicating that they may only breast up two deep.  Because of the delayed start we had a late lunch during which it started raining.  It didn’t end up raining for long and later on we had a short walk further downstream, leaving a tour of Saarburg until Monday.

Apart from the occasional passing boat the mooring was very quiet in the evening, then at about 10.30pm it sounded like a commercial was right alongside us.  Looking out we could see Samary was getting ready to breast up against the commercial that was moored in front of us.  At 172 metres long it would overhang the other by some 60 metres.  They didn’t end up breasting up as its spud legs were dropped so it could just sit on the riverbed leaving a narrowboat sized gap between the two boats.  Being larger boats, they have to leave their navigation lights on all night so it was light all night in our bedroom!.

All quiet again after mooring up

On Sunday we cruised 10 km down one lock.


We were awoken by Samary’s engines starting at 5.00am but it had lifted its spud legs and gone within 10 minutes.  A cloudy day was forecast so ideal for doing a town trail but first we had to get to the far side of Saarburg where the tourist office was situated next to the rathaus and pick up a trail guide and some other useful information on the area.  We needed to do some food shopping so thought we’d get that out of the way, unload at the boat, have lunch and then tour the town.  On our way to the supermarket, we couldn’t resist stopping at one of the many bars alongside the Leukbach which runs through the former market area of the town now commonly called Little Venice.

The food smelt so good that we decided to stay for lunch so by the time we ended up going shopping and dumping it back at the boat it felt a bit too late to be going on a town trail.  As the weather was set to be hot and sunny for the following few days, we decided to leave the tour until Tuesday morning.  

While Karen had been in the supermarket, I'd taken Buddy for a walk up through one of the many vineyards above the town.  Understandably, the vines look quite different to those in the vineyards we’ve walked through in Champagne and Burgundy.  On the way back down, we followed an old stone track:

We made it back to the supermarket just as Karen emerged with her shopping trolley, so we loaded up our backpacks, returned to the boat and spent the rest of the day at home.     As France are now giving second Covid booster jabs we made appointments for when we go back through Nancy in July.  Once again we were joined by two boats later in the evening, this time they were both 110 metres long so were able to breast up comfortably together for the night.

Ben & Dragonfly


Knowing that we had quite a long cruise ahead and we also needed to get water before we started, we left early for our tour of Saarburg.  Safe to say that other than large places like Strasbourg and Nancy, Saarburg was the most touristy place we’ve been to this year.  We started off by walking up to the castle which dated from 964.

Saarburg castle

It really was in a commanding position looking along the Saar valley and also that of the Leukbach that runs through the middle of the town.  Looking north we could see the commercial quay upon which we’d been moored for the last couple of days.

Expand the picture to see the long quay
Looking south

Looking west over the vineyards we could see a cable car running up to the top of the hillside taking tourists to a viewpoint and a restaurant.

Cable cars in the trees

After making our way back down we followed the Leukbach from where it flows into the Saar and up past the Hackenberger mill.  It was fascinating to see how the millrace was split into three to drive three overshot wheels.  When the mill was first built in the 18th century it consisted of an oil, a tan and a grain mill.

Hackenberger mill

Reaching the top of the waterfall we were back in Little Venice where we’d had lunch the previous day.  Tourists were beginning to fill the restaurants for their morning coffees and breakfasts.

Little Venice

Many of the streets were quaint and traffic free with colourful houses, both old and modern:

Back at the boat we set off in the wrong direction for a few hundred metres to poke our nose into the marina, or what the German’s call a yacht harbour, to fill up with water.  Being a yacht harbour, it’s only designed for boats shorter than us, but we managed to squeeze onto a pontoon at the entrance next to the water point.

Getting water at Saarburg Wassersportclub

We had 11 km and one lock left on the river Saar before we reached the Mosel.  The lock was the first one in Germany that was actually ready when we turned up and we were just about to start descending when the rear door opened, and we had to wait for another boat to join us.  Second time around we were on our way and soon approaching the confluence with the Mosel.

The German Mosel ahead

We were heading for Wasserbillig, the first town in Luxembourg on the Mosel, or I suppose I should say Moselle as it’s not Germany.  The valley sides were a lot shallower than those that we’d been going through on the Saar.

Mosel vineyards

We’d joined the Mosel at pk 201 and would be going upstream and it will all be new to us until we reach Nancy about 160 km further south.  After travelling up through Luxembourg we’ll go through Schengen at the French border and the main French towns we’ll be travelling though will be Thionville and Metz.  Once we joined the Mosel we swapped our German courtesy flag for our Luxembourg one as the river between Germany and Luxembourg is under Luxembourg waterways control.

Courtesy flag changed

The flag is similar to the Dutch flag but with a lighter blue.  Seeing some boats flying the alternative Luxembourg flag with a rampant red lion on a blue and white striped background, we wished we’d had one of those instead.

Alternative flag of Luxembourg
Approaching Wasserbillig with the river Sûre joining on the right

Our friends who live in Wasserbillig had already carried out some investigation and found there was little or no space in the town marina which was where locals keep their boats and where there is a nightly charge.  The town quay, in common with all town quays in Luxembourg, was reserved for passenger trip/restaurant type boats.  However, private boats could use the quays outside the times the passenger boats were docked.  Thoughtfully, electronic displays at the quays and also a website, give the full schedule of dates and times the passenger boats would be using the quay.  Fortunately for us we were outside these times and the quay was empty, so we moored up and settled in.  A car/passenger ferry was constantly crossing in front of us taking passengers to and fro to Germany.

The town quay and ferry

The river was busier than the Saar with commercials passing every 30 minutes or so, but we did notice that there were a lot more boats travelling throughout the night.  We’ve noticed that the boats look in very good nick but just after mooring up a 160-metre fuel boat passed heading downstream looking a bit sorry for itself.

Lynn coupled with Lynn II

After Ian finished work, he and Helena popped down to see us which was the first time we’d seen them for nearly 13 years.  We all used to work together at the Woolwich, and they moved to Wasserbillig about 12 years ago.  It was great to see them after all that time and we’re really looking forward to seeing them for a proper catch up on Wednesday.

On Tuesday we cruised 17km down one lock.

Saturday 25 June 2022

Dreisbach (lost mooring)

Disused blast furnaces at Völklingen Hätte


As I was packing away the power cables and hosepipe ready for leaving Saarbrücken on Tuesday morning a German guy stopped by for a chat.  When he found out we were heading north he explained that the first part of the journey would be through industrial Saarland.  He was keen to talk about the rich industrial heritage as well as the countryside, in fact he was quite proud of the industry of the area.  Thinking about it later, we are just the same in the UK and are keen to protect our own rich industrial past too.

Thilo’s peniché where we spent Monday evening

We only had one lock to go down before reaching our destination for the day, Völklingen.  It would be the first of the larger 190-metre-long locks on the Saar and of course we were approaching it with some apprehension as we always do at the first large lock when we’re on a new river.  The apprehension was compounded because of the language barrier and when I radioed ahead there was a fairly long response, but I gathered we were being asked to wait a while.

Waiting at the lock

A work boat was unloading equipment onto the lock side and we had to wait for nearly half an hour before they’d finished and left the lock.  

Work boat finally leaving the lock

Once we were called in we tied up towards the back of the lock as I recalled the word hinter during the conversation with the lockie.  The lock had floating bollards which we are always pleased to see as they are the simplest device to use when descending large locks.  Nothing else happened and the gates didn’t start to close so we just sat there.  Then the lockie radioed us and it transpired that the lock had two sets of rear gates and he wanted us to tie up after the middle set as only half the lock was going to be used. 

I felt so embarrassed, but the guy was OK and used the international, ‘no problem’.  Using the middle gates must save a lot of water and time as they decrease the lock length from 190 to 120 metres; mind you that’s still an impressive size for a narrowboat. 

Waiting for the gates to open

The autobahn ran alongside us for much of the journey and, as expected from the conversation with the guy earlier in the morning, we passed quite a few factories, both old and modern.

Autobahn following the valley on the left

Arriving at Völklingen we found the long pontoon where we were planning to moor.  We pulled up and made ourselves secure and went off to check out the services available.

Practically empty pontoon

It transpired that the pontoon was gated and there seemed to be a strange process for obtaining a code to unlock the gate.  I called the phone number provided and before I could talk, something was said to me, and the phone was put down. Being a bit bemused, we checked the gate again and it was now unlocked.  We really weren’t keen on going through in case it locked again so we packed up and moved over to a wall on the other side of the river.  It was a much better mooring as we were able to put most of the boat under a higher part of the wall and thus keep it in the shade.

In the shade of a high wall

The main reason for stopping at the town was to visit the world heritage site of the town’s iron and steel works, the Völklingen Hütte.  Because of our record of turning up to visit places on days they are closed, Karen had already checked the site was open on Tuesdays.  She’d also found out that the entry fee is waived for entry after 16:00 on Tuesdays so we made our way down to arrive dead on the dot of four!

The works were founded in 1873 by a guy called Julius Buch and it soon became one of Europe’s prominent iron and steel works.  In its heyday, 17,000 people worked on the 15-acre site operating the six blast furnaces as well as coke ovens, an iron-ore processing plant and sintering furnaces.  The works closed in 1986 and are being preserved as a living museum that also hosts concerts and art exhibitions.

As the saying goes, we were blown away by our visit and were amazed at how free we were to wander around the place and climb up the beside the blast furnaces.  Words and pictures just cannot do the scale, grandeur and history of the works any justice, so here are a few of each:

The inside areas were lit atmospherically

One of the six blast furnaces

Trucks of iron ore ran on suspended tracks

Northern part of the site with slag heaps in the distance


The eastern side with Völklingen town in the background

We were asked to wear hard hats when we wanted climb up beside the blast furnaces so here’s the obligatory picture:

Some areas were given over to modern art installations. We know such things are put on for marketing purposes and getting visitor numbers up but we hardly ever get the messages that are being portrayed by modern art exhibitions.  The only piece I’ll include is where a modern artist had taken over a couple of rooms for a display of workers’ lockers.

We spent over two hours exploring the site and would highly recommend a visit.

Coincidentally, after talking about dragon boat racing at Saarbrücken, two dragon boats were practising up and down the river during the evening.

On Tuesday we travelled 12 km down one lock.


A Rhine river cruiser went past before 9am on its way to Saarbrücken to disembark its passengers at the end of its eight day 'four rivers' cruise.  It would pick up the next lot of guests for the return trip to Würzburg along the rivers Saar, Mosel, Rhine and Main.  At 110 metres long it would have just fitted in the cut down lock of yesterday, but the crew would know that and not suffer our discomfort of course.

One of the first morning tasks was to move the walnuts to the next stage of the pickling process.  Having been soaked in brine for a couple of weeks, they will now dry out and finish turning black in the sun for a few days.

A couple of walnut blackening trays

As we left Völklingen a goods shunter was crossing a bridge over the river but stopped hallway across.
  Unbelievably, the driver got out and stood at the side waving and giving us the thumbs up as we went underneath.  I wish I’d had the presence of mind to have guessed what was going on and taken a picture of him looking so happy

There was only one lock to go down on the journey and, learning from our middle doors trauma of the previous day, we went in and headed for halfway along.  To our surprise, this time there were no middle doors, so we had the whole 190 metre lock to ourselves.

Arriving in Saarlouis we pulled up on the town pontoon where there was just enough room for us and a German cruiser that was already there.  After a quick lunch we went into the tourist office to pick up some suggestions for town trails.  The town certainly looked interesting with extensive fortifications but as we felt quite tired, we had a quiet afternoon back at the boat leaving the trails until Thursday.

Saarlouis town mooring

Apart from the Rhine river cruiser that went past us in the morning the only other boat we saw all day was in the late afternoon when a small cruiser passed on its way downstream.  So far, we have been surprised how quiet the Saar has been but no doubt it will get busier, especially with commercials as we near the Mosel.  We were a little surprised when we heard a boat coming at about nine in the evening and then remembered that the locks from here down to the Mosel operate 24 hours a day.  It turned out to be the Rhine river cruiser we’d seen in the morning but now going in the opposite direction.

Thurgau Casanova

On Wednesday we travelled 13 km down one lock.


Before leaving Saarlouis we followed a town trail starting with a walk around the large park between the river and an old arm that used to be part of the town’s defence system.  We then went along the fortifications before we visited the old town and then the more modern area.  The fortifications followed the line of the old arm and were designed by the French military architect Vauban whose work we’ve come across quite regularly this year.  An island in the old arm is called Vauban Island on which stands a couple of sculptures.  The first is of Marshal Ney, one of Napoleon’s most successful generals, and the other is of a French soldier called Lacroix from the Franco-Prussian war of 1815.  In the background is one of the ornamental fountains along the waterway:

Soldier Lacroix

Lacroix is commemorated in several places in Germany and France as an example of a committed soldier who remained at his post even as the French troops fled.  Apparently the Prussians were impressed by his courage so fed him and let him leave unharmed.

Remains of walls on either side of the arm
Vauban island

The main square in town was formed in the 1600s as a parade and drill ground and is now spoilt by being used as a car park. We couldn’t help thinking how different the atmosphere would be if it was traffic free as in towns such as Nancy and Siena.

Grosser Markt

The large building right of centre was built in 1680 for the town commander and was another of Vauban’s designs; it is now a bank and post office.  There were identical drinking water fountains at each corner of the square, nowadays used by thirsty dogs.

The old town consisted of narrow streets of bars and restaurants, some of which were already open with people breakfasting while others were being set up for the day’s trading.  Back at the fortifications a long line of vaults behind the walls that used to house solders, horses and their equipment has been converted to another large eating area with restaurants stretching as far as the eye could see.

No town gates exist these days; the German gate was demolished in 1866 and used to stand over the road we took to walk back to the boat.

Where the German gate once stood

When we set out after lunch, we knew it was going to be the first day we would be sharing the river with the larger commercials.  We had four more locks to go through before the Saar joins the Mosel and all of them are in pairs.  One of each pair being 190 metres long and the other, a Freycinet standard, 40 metre one.  Assuming there are no problems with the smaller locks, we’ll be using those so back to the size we’re most familiar with.

Soon after leaving we passed the commercial port at Dillingen and could see boats being both loaded and unloaded.  From that point on we had to be extra alert and keep the radio on the ship-to-ship channel, although if we heard someone, the chance of understanding the message would be very small but at least we'd understand if we were being told to keep to the right or the left.

Entrance to the port at Dillingen

The rolling hills alongside the river made for a stunning journey:

Before we got to the first and only lock of the day, we were overtaken by a 180-metre boat, practically the largest that will fit in the Saar locks.  It had three cars on board, all plated differently: Belgian, German and Dutch.  It probably operated 24 hours a day with four pilots judging by the names stencilled on the side of the cabin.

The 180-metre Vera Cruz

In case you wonder how we know how long the boats are, in a similar fashion to HGVs, they have their length, breadth and gross weight stencilled on their hulls.  As we approached the locks we could see the large one was already set for Vera Cruz with its lights on green – no hanging around for the big boys compared to our own experiences.  Even though we’d radioed ahead for our lock, the big boat was already leaving his by the time we were entering ours.

Vera Cruz filling his big lock

Plenty of room in our little lock

We saw a few more commercials underway but no other private boats and moored at one end of a 500-metre-long quay at a place called Merzig.  Unfortunately, it was facing west, so the high wall didn’t protect us from the sun, but it did present a bit of an issue getting Buddy on and off.  With temperatures back in the 30s the steel boat was too hot to touch so we covered the roof of the boat where Buddy had to tread to avoid burning his feet.

Moored on the wall at Merzig

On Thursday we cruised 17 km down one lock.


At 2.30 on the morning, we were awoken by the deep sound of an engine and then realised it was a commercial going by.  We don’t think there were any more during the early hours, but a couple went past while we were having breakfast followed by an empty one that pulled in and moored up behind us.  Two guys stayed on board washing it down while the third one got his car off and went to do the shopping.

Preparing for the shopping run

We were due to move on to a place called Mettlach where there was meant to be a mooring above the weir by the pair of locks.  As usual, Karen rechecked the details before we left and found that the mooring didn’t actually exist or rather it was no longer available for private boats, so we had a quick replan.  We were faced with a choice of carrying on another 12 km to the following mooring or stopping earlier at the one previous mooring which was only five km away from where we were.  Not fancying a long cruising day, we opted to go to the closer mooring and have an easy day listening to the cricket.

Friday cruising on the Saar

When we arrived at Dreisbach we were expecting a two-metre-high quay like the one we’d just left but it was more like a metre meaning it would be easier to get Buddy on and off.  We made sure we moored right at one end as it was obviously another stopping place for commercials although not nearly as long as the one we’d been on the previous night.  It was just as well we had moored at the end as, while we were having lunch, a boat that we’d passed earlier, having its cargo of coal unloaded, tied up behind us.

Moored at Dreisbach

On Friday we cruised five kilometres through no locks.