Sunday 30 October 2022

Lagarde (sightseeing for a change)


Moored below écluse 13

Monday was cruise day, and we followed the routine we’ve adopted ever since we started keeping the car with us after returning to the boat at the end of August.  Each time we move, Karen combines her morning run with taking the car to where we want to moor next. The reason we’re keeping the car with us now is because of the lack of supermarkets within walking distance of the canal between Nancy and Strasbourg.  As we intend staying in these areas for at least another month we will continue the lock hopping routine. 

Heading for our next stop

We moored about a kilometre short of Lagarde just below a lock which, once again, was just as remote and peaceful as any of the other locations we’ve stayed at recently.  After a quick lunch we walked up the canal to have a scout around Lagarde, a typical small Lorraine agricultural village that once had a quay as shown in a postcard from the start of 1900s.  In those days this area was German consequently the text on the card is German.

The quay is now home to a large hire boat basin, rather out of place in such a small village.  In addition to a couple of overwintering private boats we counted 40 hire boats which looked like the whole fleet must be in as there only seemed to be space for a couple more boats.

The point of the walk was to check out where we’ll moor next, and when we walked out of the far side of Lagarde there was lock which looked ideal to moor above.  One of the reasons it was ideal was because it had a bench which would be perfect for sawing logs on. It's hard to believe the cold weather will arrive soon and we'll be needing the stove lit but it's always good to be prepared.  We didn’t bother looking around the village but saw signs to one French and two German war cemeteries, so we made a note to find these when we’re exploring the village once we’ve moved up to the lock.

On Monday we cruised two kilometres through no locks.


With the warm weather forecast to last until the end of the month in this part of France we wanted to make the most of it by getting in plenty of walks, so over breakfast we worked out a good walk to follow on Tuesday. 

Upside down view on Tuesday morning

Most walks we follow have some sort of signage to a greater or lesser extent. Usually, they take the form of coloured shapes such as circles or triangles attached to trees or posts.  This particular walk wasn’t signed and looked like it followed farm and forest tracks for ten kilometres.  It was also rectangular so met one of our requirements of being logically circular.  Setting off we headed north from the canal across a field with a kale-looking crop:

We then walked on a causeway across the middle of a lake which had more birdlife in evidence than we’ve seen for ages:

After the lake the farm track turned sharp right but we knew we needed to go straight through the wood ahead of us.  There was no obvious path but, as we knew we had to keep in a straight line we pressed on.  As usual Buddy was on his lead which was just as well with the number of deer and red squirrels we saw.  We also saw a fox which is not something we often come across in France.

No obvious track

We finally came onto a forest track and followed it for another kilometre until it emerged the other side into more arable land where we turned east.

Looking back at the woods we’d come through

Heading along the brow of a hill we could see the village of Ommeray below, but our track bypassed the village and turned back south towards the canal.


It was at this point that we saw the only other person during the walk, a dog walker who we could see in the distance walking out of Ommeray.  The track back to the canal at Lagarde gave us wonderful views across to Germany:

Dropping into Lagarde we decided to go straight to the canal and get back to the boat, as we would be exploring the village on another day; however, we did walk past the mairie which had unusually placed flags.  Normally they are flown from above the main doorway or the second floor, but this was the first time we’ve seen them at street level.  Not only that, but they were very small compared with those that are normally flown on mairies.  It was traditional in other senses such as originally housing the village school. 

Lagarde mairie and its tiny low flags


As we haven’t been to a town to do some sightseeing for a while, we went to Sarrebourg on Wednesday to rectify the situation and also celebrate my birthday.  It was a town we hadn’t visited before as it was just too far away from the canal when we came through earlier in the year but having the car meant we could get there in around 40 minutes.  Our first port of call was the tourist office where we were furnished with a couple of self-guided town trails.  As it was approaching noon, we decided to have lunch first and went to good local restaurant recommended by the girl in the tourist office.  It was the sort of place we wouldn’t have thought of going into but were really glad we did and had a great time.  Amazingly, after a long and leisurely lunch, we were still up for doing the touristy stuff, mind you Karen was driving so couldn’t celebrate in quite the same way as I did.

Lunchtime venue

We started our tour down at the river Sarre that runs through the town and found the area that used to house flour mills.  The mills were replaced by apartments and other buildings in the 1950s and ‘60s but two millstreams can still be seen. 

Channels at top left and in the centre were millstreams

Apparently, there was a large town lavoir where the tree now stands but nothing seems to remain of that other than in old photographs.  We then made our way to the market square, and it obviously wasn’t market day because the square was being used as a car park.

The old market halls stood on the square but with rather a garish sign although the market bell helped detract the eye.

Sarrebourg wasn’t as large as we thought it was going to be, so it didn’t take long to look around.  The next square was called place de Cordeliers and was the original market square; the oldest surviving building there being the chapel of Cordeliers:

The theatre looked quite out of place as it seemed to be the only building in the town built in the Art Nouveau style:

Sarrebourg theatre

The hôtel de ville, in common with town halls in other French towns and villages, was still flying its Ukrainian flag, and stood on place Wilson, along with the town war memorial:

Next door to the hôtel de ville was a fine solid looking building, dating from the 1600s, built for the Count of Custine.  He was also known as the Lord of Niderviller, a pottery town we visited earlier this year.

Hôtel de Custine

A Hungarian sculptor in metal who we’d never heard of, Sandor Kiss, lives locally.  We were rather taken with the grills he designed for the original gateway to the library that had several Rococco style adornments. 

A fountain in the library courtyard also had Rococco style adornments but it was looking rather sorry for itself.

Fountain described as beautiful (?) in our leaflet

As was common with the large towns of the Middle Ages, it was surrounded by ramparts.  Originally the walls ran for over 1,600 metres interspersed by 28 towers.  Nowadays very little remains of the walls other than a stretch on the edge of parc de la Liberté…

…and a couple of towers lurking incongruously amongst modern buildings elsewhere in the town:

As I mentioned earlier, there was also a sculpture trail around the town.  Each year for the last 20 years or so, a new sculpture is added to the trail which seems a nice idea.  Even though the accompanying leaflet highlighted the places the sculptures could be found, there was no key indicating the name of each piece or indeed the sculptor.  The next few pictures show some of the sculptures we came across with the names taken from the pieces themselves.

Jean et Christophe by Monique Mol
La Grande Matinée by François Cacheux

Le torse by Gérard Ramon

Tellina by Elisabeth Cibot

We also took advantage of being in a town by getting some food shopping done on the way home.  Unbeknownst to me Karen had bought a rather nice bottle of wine and a selection of local cheeses on behalf of her mum as a birthday present to me so we spent much of the evening enjoying the same. 


After a busy day on Wednesday, we took it easy on Thursday, although I definitely wouldn’t call going for a morning run is easy but that’s why Karen does them and not me.  We took it so easy that we didn’t cruise the two kilometres up to the lock at Lagarde as we had planned to do. For my part I did some log cutting which I suppose is a form of exercise especially in the unusually warm weather we’re continuing to experience.


We decided to move up to the lock at Lagarde on Friday morning, but first of all, we combined moving the car with a morning walk, not that it was onerous as we only had to move the car a couple of kilometres.  It was another day in the mid-20sºC, and Buddy was really taking it easy.  When we go up locks, Buddy usually jumps off when we’re near the top, has a quick sniff around and then jumps back on board.  Today, when we neared the top of the first lock he jumped off as usual but rather than sniffing around, he just lay down on the grass until I called him back.

Near the top and a relaxed Buddy

In Lagarde we stopped at the hire boat base and took on water.  A sign said that there was a charge of 2€ but I suspect that if we’d filled up and just left then we wouldn’t have been spotted as the hire boat office was at the far end of the yard.  Whilst the tank was filling, I walked down the quay to see about paying.  There were a couple of guys working on a boat that was out of the water, but they weren’t interested in taking money and directed me to the office.  The office was hidden away from the quay and after ringing a bell several times, a woman finally appeared and seemed really surprised when I said I wanted to pay for water but was happy to take my cash and put it in a drawer.  A few minutes after moving off from the water point, we were going up the lock where we were mooring for the weekend.   

Moored above écluse 12 in Lagarde

Once again it was a stunning open location with no passers-by and the only sign of life being farm vehicles, even the house next to the mooring seemed empty but we did notice the shutters were closed in the evening.  Mind you, there seemed to be a tractor passing on the road opposite every ten minutes or so that I began to wonder if we were in some farm machinery display, especially as some of them seemed to be vintage vehicles.  After a while I realised that the pre-war tractors were moving log piles from the woods and re-stacking them in communal areas in the village, a task that always seems to be carried out using the oldest equipment.  Late silage making was also going on but with more modern tractors, and the cut fields were being sprayed by muck spreaders.  This meant it wasn’t particularly peaceful until the evening but it wasn't intrusive apart from the waft of muck coming in through the open hatch each time a spreader went past.

Our view for the weekend

On Friday we cruised two km up two locks.


We stayed put on Saturday doing various odd jobs during the morning and then had a walk around midday, making sure we took in the two small WWI cemeteries that are at either end of Lagarde.  Lagarde is only a small village (pop. 185) but was the scene of a devastating conflict early in WWI.  On the 11th August 1914, 553 French and 379 German soldiers died in the battle and were buried by the Germans in the two cemeteries over the following two days.  The French cemetery lay to the west of the village, signposted by a Michelin sign:

The cemetery, as always seems to be the case, was well maintained and contained the marked graves of 352 men with the remainder in two ossuaries at the rear.

We then walked through the village to find the German cemetery. 

Centre of Lagarde

Beside the church stood a memorial to the battle of Lagarde on 11th August 1914:

The bilingual sign for the German cemetery included the German War Graves Commission logo which I always find rather stark:

The cemetery itself wasn’t as well maintained as any other we’ve visited which was a bit sad.  The crosses mark the graves of two soldiers, sometimes three:

We hadn’t realised until this visit that 100,000 Jews fought in the German army during WWI; one of them was buried in the cemetery:

Unusual sight of a gravestone marking a Jewish German soldier

Two stones can be seen on top of the gravestone of the Jewish soldier.  It wasn't until this visit that we learnt about the Jewish custom of placing stones on graves rather than flowers. Both customs are probably rooted in the belief that the soul is kept down for longer. 

We were going to put the butterflies and name on the remaining side later in the afternoon, but the bank was just a bit too high for us to do it comfortably without hurting our backs.  As we want to get the outside finished before the weather breaks, we’ll probably move back to the lock at Xures on Sunday where we did the butterflies and name on the other side.

Monday 24 October 2022

Xures (No longer naked)


After our mid-morning coffee, we set off from Parroy for a small village called Xures.  Earlier, Karen had used her morning run as an opportunity to move the car and left it by a nearby lock.  While Karen was away, I topped up the water tank and checked the engine over as we hadn’t used it since I serviced it last week and then got the boat ready for cruising so we could set off when she returned.  Considering there was very little sun during the journey it was still mild and with the leaves beginning to fall and the colours changing it was beginning to look quite autumnal.

Autumn colours are arriving

When we arrived in Xures we stopped for lunch at the port de plaisance where there were half a dozen boats moored up.  The boats looked like they were all shut up for winter and there was no sign of life anywhere.  Fortunately, there was room on the pontoon for us to tie up for our lunch stop.

Plenty of log piles at our lunch stop in Xures

When Karen had taken the car up to Xures in the morning, she’d checked out the port de plaisance and also the lock a kilometre further on.  Arriving at the lock she realised it made a much better spot to stay at so, after lunch, we moved on and made ourselves secure just below the lock.  It was indeed very quiet just like it had been at Parroy with just the sound of the occasional tractor passing over the bridge at the lock.  Now the tourist season's over, the towpath which doubles as the Paris-Strasbourg-Prague pan-European cycleway, is no longer frequented by serious cyclists and those on more leisurely, walking or cycle-camping trips.  With no towns of any appreciable size between Nancy and Strasbourg the cycleway isn’t even used by commuters so the only human life we tend to see is the odd fisherman who’s driven out to spend the day at their favourite secluded location.

Moored below écluse 15 - Xures 

You’ll notice the wide towpath in the picture above, which reminds me how different the French towpaths are compared with those in the UK.  Unless the canal is running through a town, the UK paths tend to be narrow and grassy making them very attractive compared with the French ones.  The trouble with the traditional UK paths is that cyclists use them nowadays which results in winding up many boaters.  To be fair, it is difficult for walkers and cyclists to share a UK towpath unless someone gives way and that’s where the problem starts.  Clearly, the faster mover should give way to the slowest, but it seems more and more cyclists are becoming selfish and refusing to give way, hence the increase in the anti-cyclist brigade amongst boaters.  French towpaths, especially those in the north and east are generally a lot wider, especially as they used to house rail tracks for the barge towing locos.  Nowadays most are tarmacked which, although not aesthetically pleasing like the grassy UK ones, does mean walkers and cyclists happily coexist.

It’s been good to see that many butterflies are still on the wing taking advantage of the sunny days.  Those we’ve seen this week include clouded yellows, small coppers, speckled woods, holly blues, several species of white and the common autumnal vanessids such as peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshells as well as several others that were flying too fast to be identified.

On Wednesday we cruised six kilometres up one lock.


It was food shopping day for Karen, and she had a 30-minute drive to the nearest supermarket which was at a place called Vergaville while I carried on with some more painting.  After lunch we went for a walk taking in the village of Xures where we were moored.  The current population is a little over 150 so it wasn’t surprising to find that there was just one street of houses and we saw no traffic all the while we were there.

Looking west in Xures

The centre of town
The eastern end

The current church was erected in 1918 after being destroyed during WWI.  At the far end of the village stood the war memorial and we were surprised to see very fresh wreaths laid at its base even though we were a few weeks away from Armistice Day.  We were further surprised, and also saddened, to see 25 names inscribed on the memorial, as at the beginning of WWII there were only 115 inhabitants and the inscription indicated that the dead had been deported.

Researching the memorial later we found out that the entire village had been deported to Hanover in 1944 and that’s where the 25 people died.  The village had been ransacked by the time the Red Cross was able to repatriate the survivors.  Since then, Xures has a day of commemoration every 18th October which explained the laying of the wreaths.

Now we know we won’t be travelling on any more new waterways this year, I’ve updated our 2022 cruising map to show where we've travelled this year covering just over 1,000 km through 334 locks.

2022 travels

We started at the green arrow on the canal latéral à la Marne and headed west onto the river Marne for a while to revisit the Champagne villages that feel like home to us.  We then turned around and travelled the length of the canal latéral à la Marne down to Vitry-le-François where we joined the canal de la Marne au Rhin ouest and followed it to its end at Nancy for a few days on the river Moselle with a brief spell up and down the canal de la Jonction.  After Nancy we travelled the length of the canal de la Marne au Rhin est to Strasbourg followed by a return trip south on the canal de la Rhône au Rhin nord.  Next we went north up the river Sarre which we followed downstream through Germany to its confluence with the Moselle.  We then went upstream on the Moselle through Luxembourg and back into France, re-joining the canal de la Marne au Rhin est at Nancy thus completing the large loop.  We are now at Xures, indicated by the blue arrow, and the following map shows our travels in France since 2019:

Our French travels


With rain forecast all day we expected to spend most of it indoors.  We awoke to a very wet morning, and it really looked like it was set in for the day, but it stopped around 11.00am and was replaced by warm sunshine but with a strong wind.  Of course, this meant I could get on with yet more painting and managed to finish the port side.  During the first lockdown we repainted the roof, last year the rear deck area and this year both sides have been repainted.  All that’s left now are the bows, the stern and between the rubbing strake and waterline. 

We ended up staying in and around the boat most of the day and realised just how remote this part of the canal is as we only saw one person, a dogwalker, pass along the towpath opposite.  We did see one other person, an éclusier, who visited the lock to do the daily checks such as removing any weed that has built up by the gates.  Before he left for his next lock he walked down to see us and find out what our plans were.  He was concerned that we may not have known the canal was closing for winter works 16 km further upstream in 10 days.

Sunset below écluse 15 


Regular readers will know that we take a keen interest in lavoirs and are always on the look out for them during our travels.  The French are very keen on preserving these buildings of sociohistorical interest but apparently there isn’t a central register of sites.  Most départements are collating their own registers so hopefully one day they will all be recorded.  It is thought that there are upwards of 30,000 lavoirs in France making the 250 we have found rather pale into insignificance.  Even with finding such a small number we can see distinct differences between départements.  For example, last year when we spent a lot of time in Haute-Saône we found 150 whereas this year, which has mainly been in Moselle and Meurthe-et-Moselle we have only come across 25.  Were the population of Haute-Saône more hygienically aware or is the modern population keener on preserving their heritage?  Also, those in Haute-Saône tend to be a lot grander than those in other départements so maybe that’s another factor leading to the disparity.  Click here for the lavoirs we have seen.

We usually make it a rule that we won’t do any work at the weekend but we broke that rule during the morning.  Firstly, a puddle of water had collected on the bedroom floor during some overnight rain so we clearly needed to sort that out.  Secondly, we were acutely aware that the name and butterflies on the side of the boat still needed putting on, so we wanted to get one side done while the weather was still good.  We also needed to move above our lock as the lower bank there would make it easier to do the jobs, so soon after breakfast we moved up.  As we were moored at the lock itself, Karen had to walk back with the clicker (télécommande) to find the radio receiver in order to set the lock in operation.  Once up the lock, we spun around and settled in.  Moored just in front of us was an old cruiser, looking very sorry for itself and I doubt it had moved for a few years.

Moored above écluse 15 after our 200 metre cruise 

The rainwater leak was the first thing to sort out and we soon found the drain holes in one of our bedroom portholes were completely blocked.  It didn’t take much to unblock them and we checked all the drainplugs in the other windows to make sure we weren’t building up the same problem to occur elsewhere.  After what we thought was a well-earned coffee break, we applied the name and butterflies onto the side of the boat that was bankside.  It didn’t take long, and we spun the boat around again so we would be able to finish the other side before we next moved off.

No longer naked

We went for a good long walk during the afternoon through a real mixture of farm and woodland with some amazing views from the tops of the hills.  Most of the walk followed cart tracks so was easy to follow but through one wood the path petered out.  We decided to persevere and made our way through to the other side, albeit a bit scratched and with Buddy on high alert as we disturbed deer on more than one occasion.  It clearly answered a question Karen had had as she was wondering how many people went on the walk.

Looking east to the Black Forest

In one wood we took a short detour to find the remains of WWI German machine gun emplacements and accompanying command centre.  The pictures on the web were obviously taken many years ago as, when we found the area, the structures were so covered in undergrowth and surrounded by trees that we could hardly see anything.  We also found some trenches but again these were so overgrown that they could hardly be seen.

One of the four machinegun emplacements

The command centre looked like what we would call a pill box and there was a rough inscription over the door indicating that the 1st Bavarian field artillery battalion were stationed there:

The walk took us through a place called Mouacourt which we found was even smaller than Xures, the village where we were moored.  Even though it only has 70-odd inhabitants Mouacourt boasted both a mairie and a church.

The only street in Mouacourt
Mouacourt mairie, open for two hours every Friday
Leaving Mouacourt

Most of the remaining part of the walk was alongside the river Sânon until it reached an old mill just outside Xures.   As we were on the south side of the river and Xures lay to the north, we’d been wondering how we were going to cross to the other side.  We couldn’t believe it when the path took us across an old iron footbridge in the middle of nowhere and wondered why it had originally been put there.

Old footbridge across the Sânon

On Saturday we cruised 200 metres up one lock.


Sunrise above the lock at Xures

As winds were forecast for the afternoon and we fancied another good walk we decided to set off during the morning.  This time we went south of Xures and with a lot more woodland but far gentler inclines it was a somewhat different and easier walk than Saturday’s.  This time there were foresters’ tracks through the woods, so we didn’t have to be intrepid.  Although there are still a few butterflies around, the woodland rides would be great places to visit in the spring and summer.

Camouflaged and faded speckled wood

At one point we came out into open fields and on top of a hill we could see the woods that we had to clamber through yesterday.

Pathless woods at the top of the hill on the right

In a clearing we came across a large maison forestier that looked like it was no longer in use but would make a brilliant and remote home.  Traditionally, families of more than one forester would share these houses but nowadays many remain empty or have been sold off by the Office National des Fôrets.

The usual habitat for spindle trees is in hedges and on the edges of woods and we saw several during the walk, easily identifiable from their pink and strange looking poisonous fruit.  Spindle trees are so called as the wood is used for making spindles for spinning wool.  

The wind certainly did get up in the afternoon so, even though it remained dry, we were glad we had had our walk in the morning.  

Where we walked over the weekend

We’ll probably move on tomorrow and find more places to discover.