Saturday 11 November 2023

Condé-sur-Marne (avoiding Ciarán)


Looking across the ‘teeth’ of Montserrat in Catalonia

After just over a week in Spain it felt like our few nights in Avignon on the way down were an age ago.  We stayed in a villa at a place called Corbera de Llobregat which is in the hills to the east of Barcelona about an hour’s drive from the city centre.  Other than one obligatory trip into the city we spent the time relaxing and walking in the hills.  Catherine, our daughter who lives in Barcelona, was able to take some time off work and joined us for a few days too.  The weather, compared to that we left behind at the boat, was generally sunny and warm and even I spent time in the pool.  

A church we stumbled across on a hill during another walk
A view of Montserrat mountain during one of our hill walks

There were plenty of butterflies on the wing and it was good to see large numbers of clouded yellows.  These butterflies are usually abundant in France, but we’d see very few this year and were quite concerned about the apparent drop off in numbers.  We also saw some European species we hadn’t managed to see this year including the stunning cleopatra.  The cleaopatra is the same shape and colour as the brimstone, one of the harbingers of spring in the UK, but has a deep orange flush across its upper forewings making it very distinctive.  Lang’s short-tailed blues, another non-UK species, were also plentiful during our walks in the hills and we also saw a couple of bath whites, a species that is an extremely rare migrant to the UK.  

Lang’s short-tailed blue

One day we visited the Montserrat mountain which was an hour’s drive further inland from the villa.  The day we’d planned to make the trip dawned overcast and wet, the only day we saw any rain whilst we’d been away, so we delayed the trip to the following day and had some great views on our way up.  The mountain had a most peculiar shape unlike any of the other mountains around and at a little short of 1,300 metres was almost as high as Ben Nevis.  The shape was reminiscent of a set of teeth hence the derivation of its name: serrated mountain.  We drove part way up and parked at a monastery, a popular tourist attraction claiming over two million visitors a year.  A funicular railway took us even further up, so we cheated a bit by starting our climb at around 600 metres although we took a circular walk avoiding the funicular on the descent. 

On our way up

Considering the number of tourists at the monastery level the mountain walk was surprisingly quiet; we’d been expecting a procession as we’ve found on the popular walks like Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike in the UK.

Still happy at the 1,000-metre mark

As can be seen in the next picture, the rock formation was a conglomerate and looked very much like lumps of limestone and other types of rocks had been mixed together in concrete.

At the summit

We left Spain on Sunday and drove to the hilltop town of Duras in south-west France where we were staying for a few nights before returning to the boat.  With just a few hours of rain on one morning since we started our little holiday-tour 11 days previously we realised how fortunate we’ve been to have avoided the effects of storm Ciarán which seems to have affected much of the UK and northern Europe.  Mind you, the forecast for our stay in Duras was for cooler weather and rain so maybe our luck was running out.   

We stayed in a bastide on the edge of Duras with wonderful views across the Garonne valley.  As well as some sightseeing walks we met up with good boating friends Mike and Aileen who now live a few kilometres away from Duras.  They’d taken their narrowboat to France three years before us so were able to provide a lot of practical input when we started planning our adventure.  It was great to spend time with them and see the beautiful home they’ve made in France.  It was also the only day we ended up having rain but we managed to have a dry window to have a good walk with them.

Duras château dating from the 12th century
Duras mairie
All that remains of the town’s fortifications – the porte de l’Horloge
Duras war memorial

Wednesday was back to boat day and after ten hours on the road, we arrived in Condé-sur-Marne to find Chalkhill Blue safe and sound moored alongside Alistair and Sabine on their narrowboat Vector.  My first job was to get the stove lit while Karen took Buddy for a short walk.  When they returned, Buddy was soaked through; he’d been drinking water at his favourite watering hole between the boat and the lock when, uncharacteristically, he’d slipped and fallen completely in.  Other than standing in shallow water to cool down he really doesn’t like getting wet, let alone swim, but fortunately Karen had him on his lead and she was able to drag him out.

After warming the boat up and sorting Buddy out we emptied the car during which time I noticed that we’d driven 2,900km (1,800 miles) during our two-week holiday.  Once we’d settled in, it felt good to be back on board and we were able to reflect on what a fabulous time we’d had away.  With a week to go before returning to the UK for a few months it’s going to be a busy few days doing all the chores that always need to be done before leaving the boat for a while.  On top of that we really have to sort out what we’re going to do during 2024 in terms of splitting our time between France and the UK.

As I mentioned above, we’re moored up with another narrowboat, so it feels almost as if we’re on a canal in the UK, especially with our stoves going:

Chalkhill Blue and Vector

We toyed with the idea of having a little cruise for a few days but the weather really wasn’t conducive for it so we stayed in Condé for the rest of the week.  It wasn’t all chores as we socialised with our neighbours and still had cricket world cup matches to listen to.  One or two commercials came past each day, but we saw no pleasure boats on the move.

A laden Dahna passing early on Friday morning