Saturday 28 October 2023

Condé-sur-Marne (holiday time)

Sunday evening view from one of our favourite moorings on the Marne


We left Pont-à-Binson after breakfast on Saturday under skies full of cloud but with a promise of sun to come.  We were heading to Damery for the weekend which will probably be our penultimate stop before leaving the river Marne and getting back onto the canal system.  During breakfast we’d been fortunate to be able to watch a kingfisher fishing from a small shrub growing out of the water less than two metres from our side hatch windows.

Leaving a grey Port-à-Binson on Saturday morning

We were due to get some strong gusts of wind during the journey but weren’t aware of any until we were trying to tie up in the sloping sided lock at Damery.  As it had sloping sides it wasn't possible to attach the boat to the lock side as would be done in a normal perpendicular sided lock.  A floating pontoon is provided on one side of the lock where boats are secured to when they’re ascending.  When they're filling, the rush of water into the sloping sided locks on the Marne is feisty to say the least, so making the boat fast is mandatory.  Karen was about to get her line on at the front when a gust of wind blew through the open doors of the lock and the lighter front of the boat moved swiftly away from the pontoon and we were quickly sideways in the lock.  It took a lot of manoeuvring to-and-fro around the entrance before we got the boat secure and could set the lock in operation.  I was glad that Karen had come with me rather than move the car as it would have taken me a long while to get through the lock on my own making the journey quite a traumatic.

After leaving the lock cut, we were soon mooring up in Damery opposite where the village bateau lavoir used to be moored.  The only vestige now being the restaurant on the bank which is called le Bateau Lavoir.

Moored in Damery

Back in 2019 when we were applying for our French residency a kind lady called Wendy, who lived in Damery, had offered to be a hand-holder if we’d had any difficulties during the process.  She was one of many people around the country who offer this service to Brits caught out by or having difficulty negotiating the pitfalls caused by Brexit.  Karen received her resident’s card after a few months without any hassle but mine dragged on and on.  The authorities were convinced I lived down in the Dordogne and already had a card and were not happy I was trying to get another.  By this time we were in covid and Wendy couldn’t help me because the préfecture where my application was being processed was in Châlons-en-Champagne which was over 10km from her house.  10km was the limit that people could drive from their houses during that period.  Fortunately, we managed to resolve the situation ourselves and convinced the authorities that I wasn't the Neil Payne who lived down south, and I finally received my residency.

Since then, we’ve passed Damery a couple of times but for one reason or another couldn’t meet up with Wendy.  This Saturday was different, and we were able to go around to her house which was almost on the quayside.  It was lovely to spend time with her and she was the first English person we’ve met who speaks English with a French accent.  I suppose living here for over 40 years, being married to a Frenchman and only returning to the UK a couple of times is what’s called full immersion.  It was quite funny during our conversations as she often had to ask us for an English word as she couldn’t translate her French.  Of course, if it was an idiom then we had no chance, and she certainly used a lot of French phrases. 

We shared a very pleasant bottle of champagne, and she regaled us with her stories of life in France.  Her husband had lined the room we sat in with champagne pupitres, the lengths of wood that champagne bottles are held in during the riddling process.  Riddling (remuage) is when the bottles, which are held downwards at a slight angle, are turned a little way each day and as the sediment loosens it collects at the neck.

Pupitre lined walls
Our delightful hostess, Wendy

When we returned to the boat in time for the rugby the lights on the road bridge behind us were shining pink for October, the breast cancer awareness month.

Pink lights for October breast cancer awareness

On Saturday we cruised 10km up one lock.


Once again, we started our cruise under grey skies and once again, the clouds cleared and the sun came out when we arrived at our new mooring.

Leaving Damery on Sunday morning

We were heading for Cumières which was going to be our last stopover on the Marne but first we had one lock to go up.  Unlike Saturday there was no wind, and we had no problems in the lock.  In fact, the champagne valley cruise/restaurant boat was coming out of the lock as we approached so we didn't even have to wait for the lock to be set. The éclusier came out of his cottage to collect our télécommande as it won't be required as the next locks we will be going up will all be called by using twisty poles hanging over the water.

Cumières is really one of our favourite moorings on the Marne. I know we usually prefer moorings in the middle of nowhere, but this mooring, even though it is in the village, is secluded and has such wonderful views over the vineyards above the river.  Arriving at the pontoon there were already two boats there; a Norwegian on an old trawler and a French guy on an ex-hire boat.  The Norwegian took a line as we pulled in and explained that he was waiting for the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne to open after some bridge repairs had been effected so he could make his way down to Morocco, and that the French guy was waiting for an engine part.  We squeezed on to the pontoon with about half the boat hanging over the end, but we managed to secure the front to a tree.

Mooring up at Cumières

Alongside the riverbank are metal sculptures depicting the different stages of champagne production that we’ve shown in previous blog entries.  The sculpture beside the mooring was, coincidentally, of the remuage that was discussed a few paragraphs ago.

Champagne bottle riddling or le remuage

On Sunday we cruised three km up one lock.


Having cruised on two consecutive days we decided to stay put at Cumières on Monday.  It was a still day, albeit grey and a little chilly and the first task was to walk back to Damery to retrieve the car. By the time we returned it had started drizzling which we weren’t expecting but it gave Karen a chance to sort out this year’s walnut haul.  She deliberately doesn’t take small nuts as the return is not great for the effort taken to crack them but even so the difference between the smallest and largest was stunning:

Bottle of wine provides scale

In the end it rained on and off all afternoon, so we had a lazy time on the boat.  On the way back to the boat after a brief walk during one of the dry periods I took a picture of our mooring to show just how secluded we were from the riverbank and the rest of the village.

Pontoon mooring at Cumières

All summer we’ve had the notion that in November we’ll have a week or two in Barcelona to see our daughter Catherine but haven’t done anything about it.  With the dismal weather on Monday, we put that right deciding we would do it and planned a trip.  We would leave on Thursday, drive to Avignon for a couple of nights and then onto Barcelona for just over a week.  On our way back we’re going to stay in Duras for three nights as it will give us the opportunity to meet up with our friends Mike and Aileen. We’ve talked about visiting them over the last few years but never quite got around to it so this will be the chance to rectify the situation.

Of course, once we started booking places to stay rather put the focus on getting off the river and to the port at Condé-sur-Marne where we’ll leave the boat while we’re away.  So, we’ll be having long cruises on Tuesday and Wednesday to make sure we get there in time.


For the third successive cruising day we set off under grey skies but had brilliant sunshine by the time we moored up for the day.  After a couple of km we reached the lock that would take us off the river Marne and up onto the canal latéral à la Marne. 

Approaching the lock to take us off the river

As the name implies, the canal latéral à la Marne runs alongside the river Marne and it does so to its end at Vitry-le-François, 67km to the south east.  The canal was completed in 1846 and until its opening the Marne was navigable the whole way to Vitry but had become increasingly difficult hence the building of the latéral canal.  There are 15 locks on the canal, and they are all Freycinet standard (39.0m x 5.2m) to accommodate the smallest commercial péniches.  At Vitry-le-François the canal Marne au Rhin heads east to the river Rhine at Strasbourg and the canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne runs south to the river Saône.  The latter canal is the one the Norwegian guy, we moored with at Cumières, was waiting to be reopened as he would join the Saône which flows into the Rhône which in turn will take him to the Med.  At Condé-sur-Marne the canal has a link with the canal Aisne à la Marne which goes north through Reims.

Canal latéral à la Marne

About halfway into the journey, we went through Aÿ and were met with the strong smell of grape must at a processing plant.  The must is collected from the champagne houses when they’ve completed their pressings and then converted into all sorts of products such as champagne liqueur, cosmetics and medicinal items.

Clouds clearing as we went through Aÿ

Going through Mureuil-sur-Aÿ we passed the port which was beginning to look very autumnal:

Port looking autumnal at Mureuil-sur-Aÿ

We’d decided to ignore the port and moor a little further on below the town lock where there were three handy bollards and no other boats.  As the mooring was between the twisty pole that summons the lock and the lock itself, we turned around before tying up.  This meant we would be pointing in the right direction to go back to the pole, twist it and then turn around to go up the lock when we cruise to Condé-sur-Marne on Wednesday.

Tuesday night mooring at Mureuil-sur-Aÿ

We'd noticed the vines opposite our mooring were still quite green compared to all the others we've seen along the champagne valley over the last week or two.

On Tuesday we cruised 10km up two locks.


We’ve not needed the stove since lighting it on a cold morning 10 days ago but after a night of rain it felt quite damp on Wednesday morning, so I got the stove going when we got up.  It seemed typical that on the one day we had to move, it looked like it was going to rain all day.  We had to move because we were going on holiday the next morning and needed to get the boat to Condé where we were leaving it for a couple of weeks.  By midday the rain stopped so we were able to set off in the dry for our last cruise before our holiday.

We knew works were going on at the swing bridge at Bisseuil as we’d received a VNF notice explaining that the bridge would be repaired over the last three months of the year.  Arriving at the twisty pole that requests the bridge operation we saw the pole had been taped up to the structure that suspends it and that temporary speed limit and VHF radio signs had been erected.

Getting closer to the bridge we could see it had been completely removed but there was no sign of any activity, so we didn’t bother using the radio and just went straight through.

We moored at Tours-sur-Marne for lunch, after which Karen and Buddy ran back to retrieve the car and I carried on towards Condé-sur-Marne.  About five minutes after setting off the rain started again and it soon got very heavy and didn’t ease off until I arrived at the port.

Getting drenched

I was drenched through by the time I arrived at the port and had just finished tying up when Karen and Buddy arrived in the car.  Of course, they were wet too as they got caught at the same time as I did when they were running.  Fortunately, it dried up later and we were able to pack the car for our holiday.

On Wednesday we cruised 10km up two locks.


Not the way most people spend their birthday, but we were in the car most of the day driving to Avignon.  We’d been looking forward to listening to the England-Sri Lanka cricket match for the whole journey.  If the game had lasted the full 100 overs, the seven hours driving plus wee and food stops would have meant we could have heard it from start to finish.  Of course, we hadn’t taken into account the England factor, so the game had finished as we were nearing Lyon, just over half way to our destination.   

Other than ridiculously heavy rain on the autoroute going through Lyon it was a pleasant journey and lovely and warm when we arrived at our Airbnb directly opposite the city walls.  We were pretty knackered after our long journey and decided to leave exploring until the next day.


Other than the mighty Rhône and the Pont d’Avignon the most striking thing when arriving in Avignon are the city walls.  A successive series of walls started by the Romans in the 1st century were built to enclose the ever-increasing population, the current walls being completed in the 14th century.  They are intact and run for 4.3km encircling the city, although several of the covered entranceways have disappeared following road widening schemes 100 years or so ago.

The walls opposite our Airbnb…
…and in the other direction

After a late breakfast we spent the rest of the day wandering around Avignon.  There were still plenty of tourists showing how busy it must be in the height of the season.  There were dozens of typically provençale narrow streets and a large number of buildings with towers.  We hadn’t realised that in the 14th century the Catholics were split in two; the French headed by a pope based in Avignon and the Italians by a pope in Rome.  Being a tourist town there was also an overload of restaurants making it difficult to decide where to lunch but needless to say we found somewhere and even had room for large ice creams later in the afternoon.  

Outside the walls, the must see tourist attraction is pont Saint-Bénézet or pont d'Avignon as it is more commonly known and immortalized in the popular children's song.  The four arches that stand today are all that's left of the original 22 erected to cross the Rhône and was just under a kilometre long.  It wasn't built wide enough for carts to pass each other so goods were still transported across the river by barge and it remained the only bridge across the Rhône south of Lyon for more than a century.  Nowadays it is one of the most photographed attractions taken by boaters on their way down to the Med. 

All that remains of the pont d’Avignon
Looking to the city from pont d’Avignon

Here are a few of the pictures we took while exploring:

Avignon from outside the city walls
The pretentious pope's pad
One of the many squares
Hôtel de ville
Not sure what it was but it caught our eyes and is now a museum
A few random towers

Tomorrow, we have the relatively short drive of around five hours to the villa we’re staying at in the hills to the west of Barcelona.