I left you at Joinville.
A very diffident VNF (the French equivalent of British Waterways) person
appeared. There is a problem on Sunday. Not enough staff are
available to keep the canal open, so it is closing. She winced,
expecting an explosion from me, and sighed with relief when I said, "Then
I'll wait 'til Monday".
Monday came, and off we went. All went well until we reached a lock
where there were several VNF people, one of whom started the filling cycle
as soon as Rosy was in the lock. The system on these automatic locks
is that, on your approach, they set themselves for you. You drive
in, and moor (or whatever) and then pull a lever to start the cycle.
The gates you came in through will then close, and the lock will start
to fill (if you're going uphill, which we were), and then the top gates
will open, and off you go. Anyway, Yo-yo started the fill cycle
without Rosy being attached to a bollard. As we were going up hill,
I had to try to lasso a bollard 2 meters above me - which (inevitably)
I missed. Another VNF person saw the problem and grabbed the rope,
but wasn't a ropey person, and didn't take a turn round a bollard, but
just tried to hold it. In the event, no damage was done, but we
bounced and banged about a bit.
I should add that although Rosy is a big girl (17 tonnes), she is quite
easy to control in all these locks with just a centre line. At those
locks with gate paddles, the éclusier knows about opening the paddle
on your side first (so that the incoming water jets across the lock, bounces
off the wall, and comes back to push your boat onto the lock wall).
In the absence of gate paddles there are ground paddles. These make
things very easy, as the water does not (as in most UK canals) enter the
lock via a hole in the lock side. Instead it is taken down under
the lock floor, and rises through a hole/holes in the lock floor.
So it just bubbles, painlessly, up. Going downhill, there is no
need to use ropes, the engine holds her on tickover.
Anyway, we eventually arrived at the tiny village of Froncles, where there
is a secure mooring with free water and electricity. The boat 'Cathy'
(crewed by Geoff and Rose) was already there, and we had a little drink
in the evening, agreeing to travel together the next day. This will
save the VNF lots of money. One éclusier can travel with
both of us, rather than one éclusier travelling with each of us.
I was up early in the morning, and at 7.30 a.m. 'Bobbles' hove into view.
'Bobbles' is a Wilderness boat. A sort of fibreglass narrowboat.
Shortish, but trailable. 'Bobbles' has been all over, and her owners
(John and Sandra Parker) were IWA (Cambridge Branch) Committee members
when I was the membership secretary. We exchanged greetings and
e-addresses. "Do I know you?" was his initial question,
as I've changed from having very short hair and a beard to having (much)
longer hair and no beard.
Cathy and Rosy had a good day. Climbing up through a series of locks,
we slowly left the cereal fields and silos behind us, and came to the
forests, where deer and wild boar are still hunted. (Two-day weekend
breaks - Day 1 is the hunting, with 'the kill' laid out in the evening
(or, for the non-gunners, going to watch people shoot duck), and Day 2
is in the kitchen for a lesson on 'cooking the kill', followed by an evening
meal of 'eating the kill'. Since the forest is also full of truffles,
ANY meal is likely to be pretty good, especially as it tends to be washed
down with the local sparkling white wine called 'Champagne').
The fields are unploughed, but remain as meadows, with Friesian milk cows
and Charleroi beef cattle. This is the ancient heartland of France,
where humans have been living since the very earliest times - old stone-age,
new stone-age, iron age, bronze age, Romano-Gallic etc. have all left
their traces, along with WW1 and WW2. At Chaumont you can moor for
free, or pay a fiver and get water and electricity. The guardian
of the paid moorings was a bit hesitant with us. We were Brits,
and she had had a VERY hard time when, on Saturday, she told the crew
of the boat 'Oryx' that the navigation was closed the next day.
What was to become of their schedule? Oryx was a sail boat (with
mast and sails furled, of course!), and I've always assumed that what
with things like tides and weather, sailors live in the knowledge that
any schedule is merely a first rough estimate draft guess, or Fredg.
I rather missed out on Chaumont, and didn't visit the old town, needing
to do a supermarket shop. This mainly for beer, which I'm getting
through at quite a rate. Little 25 or 33 ml bottles only cost 10
or 12p each, so I'm sometimes a bit liberal with them, and distribute
them to helpful éclusiers.
The next day we had an easy few hours' cruising, and the following day
we extended ourselves a bit and got to Langres, where there is a free
mooring with water and electricity. The town is on the site of an
ancient hill fort, and still has its medieval town walls. i.e. our
mooring was on the canal, and the town was up the hill!! I went
up with my bike in the morning to the supermarket and flew back (I had
to - the brakes couldn't hold my weight!!) In the afternoon I walked
up and was breathing very heavily at the top - I guess it was the altitude
and lack of oxygen. To the rather unimpressive Cathedral and the
museum, with a varied collection. Finds from the various archaeological
sites. The tattiest collection of stuffed animals I've ever seen.
A Wimshurst Machine (for making static electricity, I think) that I've
not seen since 'O'-level physics. And a lovely picture by Jean Tassel
(1608 - 1667) born and died in Langres. His picture is a 'Head of
the Virgin', and an absolute profile, but I'd bet a pound to a penny that
Modigliani was influenced by it. In the evening I cooked a rabbit
for Geoff, Rose and me, and Rose did an upside-down apply tart, with the
apples all caramelised and lashings of custard.
The next day, Saturday, I set off alone. Through the long (4.8 km)
Balesmes Souterrain (Tunnel). A long day for me - 10 hours and lots
of locks. Ditto today (Sunday). All the locks are downhill,
and are little pussy cats. No need to use ropes, I can control Rosy
with the engine. The only problem has been mooring. Stopping
any old place is possible on this canal, BUT peniches come along, and
would rip out Rosy's mooring pins. Hence I would need to tie to
sturdy trees, and these are all on the other side of the towing path (that
people walk, cycle and drive along). Anyway, I've just found a good
mooring, and am only a pair of locks and half a kilometre away from the
River Soanne, and the next stage of this year's cruise.