Fléville-devant-Nancy (what, no spiders?)

Tuesday night’s mooring at Bauzemont


Having stayed in Canterbury on Sunday night with Trevor and Brigitte, we arrived back at the boat on Monday afternoon after an uneventful Channel crossing and journey down to Parroy.  Not only was it a good opportunity to have a catch up with our friends it also meant we only had 600km to drive on Monday.  After a 4.00am start and a stop to stock up with food near Nancy we were back on board a little under 10 hours later.  Arriving at the tunnel we found it was a lot busier than usual for five in the morning; there were even four staff in the pet processing area rather than one.  It was only when we saw the number of children milling around in the departure building that we realised it was the start of the Easter holidays.      

It wasn’t long into our journey on the French side of the Channel before we were encountering some of the things that we miss about France when we’re not there: miles of open countryside, log piles in gardens, trees laden with mistletoe, the lack of litter and the fact there is very little traffic.  

Arriving back at the boat I went in first to clear the cobwebs that usually build up when it’s been left for a while.  Amazingly there were no cobwebs to be seen but not only that, it seemed there was only a week’s worth of dust.  The good luck continued as the bilges were stone dry, the engine started on the first turn and there were hardly any fallen leaves on the roof.

Chalkhill Blue’s home for the last few months at the campsite in Parroy

Once the car was unloaded it seemed that things started going wrong: Karen’s glasses broke, fuses went on a couple of plugs and the gas didn't appear to be working.  The plugs and glasses were soon fixed but it took a while to get gas through to the cooker.  After faffing around I finally got it sorted by disconnecting the pipe from the gas bottle and letting a few blasts of gas escape.

By the time we went to bed it felt like we hadn’t been away, so even though we’d been concerned, before leaving the UK, about how we were going to feel about being away from our new land home for a few months, we knew we were going to be happy.


In November the French started the third covid booster jabs for our age group but as we were already back in the UK we decided to keep things simple by staying in the French regime and waiting until our return.  We managed to get appointments for this coming Friday in a small town outside of Nancy but as it’s some way from our canal we will keep the car with us until then.  We’re quite used to carhopping in France as we kept the car with us during 2021 in case of any potential and unforeseen impact from the pandemic.  To that end Karen drove to Bauzemont first thing to leave the car at the lock there and go for a run whilst I left in the boat on the start of our journey downstream towards Nancy.

Leaving Parroy on Tuesday morning

The locks on the canal we are on, the canal de la Marne au Rhin est, are automatic and triggered by a remote-control unit (télécommande).  I’d wondered if the battery on the télécommande would have kept its charge whilst we were away, but I needn’t have worried as it set the first lock going as soon as I pressed the button.  Karen admitted later that she’d already checked by using a test button as she’d also been worried.  For those of you who haven’t come across these automatic locks or are not regular readers of the blog, the next section illustrates the steps we go through when going downstream as we will be until we reach Nancy (going upstream is a more involved process).      

Each lock has a traffic light system with an illuminated red light as the default setting.  Up to 200 metres before each lock a receiver stands by the towpath:

Pointing the télécommande at the receiver should cause a yellow light to start flashing on the traffic lights indicating that the request has been received. At the same time a green light appears alongside the red one indicating that the locking operation has started.  The section of the canal that we’re currently travelling on is quite bendy so it’s not always possible to see the traffic lights and thus confirm our request has been received.  More than once we’ve had to reverse back or turn around to get alongside the receiver to try again!

Lights indicate the lock is being prepared

If a boat coming in the opposite direction has already requested the lock, then the green light won’t come on next to the red one, but the yellow flashing light provides the confirmation that the request has been received.  We don’t often come across boats coming in the opposite direction, so we normally see the red and green lights indicating that the lock is being readied for us.

Once the lock is set, the gates open and we’re able to go in to get ready to start the descent:

The locks on this canal are 39 metres long and 5.10 metres wide which is the minimum size of locks in France and were built to accommodate 38.5 x 5.05 metre barges (péniches).  This minimum standard is known as the Freycinet gauge and was introduced in 1879, most of the canals we travel on are of this small gauge.  It tends to be rivers that have the much larger locks built to other European standards.

When going downstream we don’t usually tie up in the lock unless we are sharing with another boat or we are in one of the larger locks where it is mandatory to tie up whether going up or down.  We just need to get near the side so that we can continue the lock operation by pulling on a blue rod set on the lockside. 

Blue rod to pull/push up to start the rest of the lock operation

If I’m on my own I try to position the boat so that I can reach the rod without getting off but when we’re both on board, it’s usually easier if one of us gets off.

The gates will then close and the paddles in the lower gates will be opened to let the water out and once the lock is empty the lower set of gates will open so we are free to leave.

Leaving the lock at Hénaménil

It wasn’t a long cruise and just after leaving the lock at Hénaménil I picked Karen up.  She’d finished her run and was on her way back to meet me and Buddy.  We soon reached Bauzemont and moored up just below the lock there (as pictured at the top of this blog entry). 

Bauzemont from the lock

Our evening view over the river Sânon at Bauzemont

On Tuesday we cruised five km down two locks.


It was a very frosty start to the day but at least it meant we had lovely blue skies.  We moved the car further downstream during the morning and then walked back along the canal.  A few weeks ago, one of Buddy’s paws became infected so his walking was severely curtailed whilst it was treated.  It is nearly healed now so we are letting him walk further and hope he won’t be restricted at all in the next few days.  Back at the boat we set off for Maixe. Although the sun was warming, we could feel a definite chill when in the shade and were thankful there wasn’t a wind.

Between Bauzemont and Einville-au-Jard

After dropping down the lock at Maixe we moored up and spent the rest of the day pottering.

Wood pile and mistletoe in the garden of Maixe lock cottage

Later in the afternoon we wandered into the village to post a letter and have a look around.  Other than a pizza vending machine there was no commerce and the only public letter box was on the wall of a private house accessed via the garden path.

Maixe church

Maixe is one of those villages that has introduced a traffic calming system using lights to try and ensure traffic keeps to the speed limit.  A light is positioned in a straight stretch of road set away from a road junction.  It is set to red and if a vehicle approaches it slowly enough it will change to green otherwise the traffic has to wait for 30 seconds.  We think this is a great idea especially as there is the potential added embarrassment factor if a speeding car then holds up a queue of traffic!

Speed calming traffic light

Moored at Maixe

On Wednesday we cruised 7.5km down two locks.


A second successive heavy frost greeted us in the morning and, although it was another dry day, the blue skies were often hidden in haze.  As we wanted to reach Dombasle-sur-Meurthe by Friday for our booster jab appointments it was another move day.  So, after moving the car we set off for Sommerviller.  We travelled through a quiet part of countryside and, other than a group of walkers, we passed no one on the towpath.  As the leaves on many trees are only just budding it felt like the canal was still in its winter clothes.

Looking wintry through Crévic

We moored up for the day at Sommerviller next to a shed that used to house barge pulling locomotives and 500 metres north of the village as can be seen in the picture below.   

Moored at Sommerviller

As we did on Wednesday, we spent the afternoon pottering and taking in a couple of shortish walks.

On Thursday we cruised 6.5km down two locks.


We drove to Lunéville on Friday to get our covid booster jabs and took the opportunity of being in a town to visit the retail park and pick up those supplies that can’t be found in village shops.  Getting the jabs was a comedy of errors and it was just as well we weren’t in a hurry as we were in the pharmacy for 45 minutes.  Normally the appointments are very quick and we are in and out in a few minutes.  Whenever we need anything of a medical nature such as visiting a doctor, going to hospital or having jabs at a pharmacy we have to show our French medical card (carte Vitale) so we don’t have to pay as it shows we’re covered by the French health care system.  For the last few years we have been issued with a temporary card whilst waiting for the permanent one to arrive which we have recently been told is now only a matter of weeks away.

The pharmacist took our temporary card and used it to locate our appointment and confirm our details but for some reason he couldn’t find us on the system.  It really wasn’t clear what was going wrong and my head was exploding from trying to understand what he was saying in French. Karen and I had to laugh at one point as he asked, in all seriousness, ‘you are French aren’t you?’.  Never before and probably never again would a French person assume we were anything but English!  Anyway, he got a lady to take over as he couldn’t sort things out and she soon realised that our temporary card had expired a week ago and we hadn’t noticed.  For some ludicrous reason the temporary cards are only valid for 12 months and the holder has to apply for a new one when the current one is about to expire rather than a new one being automatically issued.  Not only that but the social security number changes each year too.  I sort of understand it as there is so much identity fraud these days but it meant we had to pay 7.90€ each for our jabs and will have to claim it back (if we can be bothered).

After a visit to a supermarket to stock up on dog food and compost we popped into Action, a non-food discount store, and then went in search of a garden centre to purchase some plants that we would pot up for the boat.  Unbelievably, as it happens so often to us, we forgot about the two-hour lunch break that means many large outlets are closed between 12 and 2 so went home bereft of plants.  In the afternoon we took the car to Dombasle-sur-Meurthe where we will leave it until we get somewhere that has a station on the same line so I can return to pick it up.


Much of France is suffering from drought which, of course, is unusual for this time of year.  Fortunately, for us, the area we are in has had recent rainfall so the water reserves are being replenished. In fact, there has been so much rain that the Moselle and Meuse, both of which we want to travel on, were closed for a couple of days last week due to high water levels.  Reopening is fine for the powerful commercials, but the levels need to drop considerably more before we would dare venture out and this is one of the reasons we’ve only been travelling a couple of miles a day this week.

To get to the Meuse we have to get around Nancy which has an M25 type waterway ring around it.  We will be joining the ring from the east and leaving at Toul to the west:

The quickest route in terms of number of locks (six as opposed to 21) is to go anticlockwise through Nancy to join the Moselle at Pompey at the top and then go upstream on the river around to Toul which could be a struggle in our boat against the increased flow.  Our plan is to take the clockwise route where the embranchement de Nancy leads down to the Moselle at Pont-st-Vincent at the bottom and then travel downstream to Toul which is much easier for our boat when the flow is higher.

The grey skies of Friday had been replaced by sunny blue ones again and we set out after breakfast on Saturday.  It wasn’t long before we were in the salt production area of Dombasle-sur-Meurthe and Varangéville and we were immediately reminded of the Middlewich area in the UK where salt production still takes place and can be seen alongside the Trent & Mersey canal and the river Weaver.

Dombasle-sur-Meurthe lock with salt factory in the background

One of the largest companies is Solvay and they are still heavily present in the town but nowadays rely on road and rail transport.  In their heyday they had 160 péniches operating from their factories there.  Sadly, the barges are no longer used to transport the salt and the large ports are turning into graveyards for unloved boats:

The old port at Dombasle-sur-Meurthe

As there was such a large volume of traffic, the locks from this point down to the Moselle were built in pairs, although these days only one of each pair is in operation.

Pair of locks at Varangéville

At St-Nicholas-le-Port the large church dedicated to the patron saint of bargees could be seen in the distance:

Shortly before lunch we crossed over the river Meurthe:

We stopped for lunch at the lock in Laneuveville-devant-Nancy and took the opportunity to take on water which was available from a tap at the side of the lock.  We had to join two 30-metre hoses together in order to reach the tap from outside the lock so we could have lunch whilst we waited.  If we had filled up when we were inside the lock we would have been worrying if boats were wanting to use the lock while we were eating.  We needn’t have been concerned as no boats appeared and once again, we didn’t see any other boats all day.

Taking on water at Laneuveville-devant-Nancy

It clouded over whilst we were stopped for lunch but cleared again later in the afternoon and evening.  After lunch we dropped down the lock and turned left onto the embranchement de Nancy which was the start of our clockwise route around to Toul.

Turning left onto the embranchement

At the first lock an éclusier came out of the local office to ask if he could take pictures of the boat so I grabbed the chance to ask him about the state of the Moselle.  He assured me that it was now only a little higher than usual and we should have no problems.  We now had 13 locks to go up to the summit of the embranchement which involves a different operation to that I described earlier for going down.

Karen has to be in the front of the boat to use her lines so the cratch covers are tied away to give her plenty of space:

Before we go into a lock, Karen climbs onto the roof with a line attached to an extra-long boat pole with a special attachment, called a dock-a-reni, that enables a loop of line to be dropped over a bollard on the lockside.  This can be very tricky on deep locks as she cannot see where the bollard is so I have to position the boat at an angle in order that I can see the bollard from the rear and stop the front right alongside it.

Not such a deep lock this one so not much stretching or angling

Karen then secures the other end around a couple of bollards positioned on the gunwales that we had added to the boat before coming over to France.

A pair of additional bollards either side

Once she has secured her line Karen gives me the thumbs up and I put the engine in forward gear with the tiller held over to keep her line taut.  This also keeps the boat tight against the lockside as we ascend thus avoiding the turbulence from the incoming water.  We have special fenders that we use at the rear to stop the boat scraping against the lock sides as we go up:

We went up the first two of the 18 locks on the embranchement and then moored up for the day in an open area outside Fléville-devant-Nancy. 

Saturday night mooring

On Saturday we cruised 14km down three and up two locks.


Wendy said...

Seems everything is under control weather improving even the Marne is quite high best wishes

Neil & Karen Payne said...

Good to hear from you Wendy - maybe meet up later in the year?

R said...

Yes no problem if you coming anyway near me let me know - do you still have my mobile phone no