The Journey -
I spent a ghastly few hours mopping out foul liquids the engine room bilges and, and cleaning the wooden floor panels. A shopping trip resulted in a victory - I finally found a suitable 'plateau' (as the French call them). It is a circular backing disk that can fit either an electric drill or a grinder, and to which circular sanding disks can be attached. The painting jobs are hence a bit closer to the start line.
Fanny had some splendid fun at Le Basin Rond, chasing rabbits. Her speed was increased somewhat immediately after swallowing the de-worming tablets, but she still cannot catch a rabbit.
I finally started the preparations for painting - sanding down the cabin sides - or, rather, 'side' as I only did the bank-side one. I then titivated the sealant around the windows, and primed places where the sanding operations had revealed some bare metal.
The next day it rained.
On Friday 9th June, summer finally arrived. We left Le Basin Rond, and headed for the Canal du Nord, mooring below the second lock. The mooring is a floating pontoon beside a canoe club, and is a trick business, in that one needs to be very secure, as the barge traffic is heavy.
The Canal du Nord is very much a commercial canal, with a stream of barges working along it. By French standards the locks are narrow. Most French locks can accommodate two barges side by side. On the Nord, two barges can go in in-line, with very little room left on either the sides or the rear of the lock. Pleasure boats have to wait until a single peniche comes along. Anyway, we stayed put the next day, and I finally got some paint onto Rosy's side. We also did a shopping trip to Cambrai, where I managed to find some white, 'go-faster' plastic stripe that I intend to incorporate into Rosy's new, simplified colour scheme - more later.
We spent the weekend there. On the Monday morning I went to see the lock keeper - all very hi-tech. The has a big, wide screen TV, which can have three rows of four pictures displayed on it, but, in his case, the bottom row is missing, so he only has two rows of four. The top row has pictures from the four video cameras at his lock, and he can manipulate each camera with a joy stick. The other row of pictures is of his other lock - the next one up the flight - that he also works from his desk.
(Out of interest, a complete cycle takes 35+ minutes, and each lock has a side-pond - reducing by 50% the quantity of water used in each locking).
Anyway the lock keeper was most helpful. He had three barges waiting, and another one about half a kilometre away. He announced to everyone that the next locking would be the first two barges, and the second would be the third barge and two pleasure boats.
When the time came for us to enter the lock, several other barges had also arrived. Luckily, the barge we were sharing with was fully loaded, so we managed to keep up with her all the way up the flight.
The canal might be busy and commercial, but it is still very attractive. There are some grand views across the rolling countryside. Some military gents would say 'Good tank country'. It is, so long as there are no enemy around. There are a few too many copses, and the rolling nature of the land lets an enemy tank get both hull and turret down, out of sight. And, of course, battles HAVE been fought there - at one point the canal passes a British Military Cemetery, which is set in a peaceful hollow, surrounded by verdant fields.
At the top of the flight one gains the summit level of the canal, and after a few kilometres, arrives at the northern portal of the great Ruyaulcourt 'sou-terrain' or tunnel. It is 4354 metres long, and can be described as a one-way tunnel, as the entrance is just wide enough for a barge. However, the central kilometre of the tunnel is widened so that barges may pass each other. Hence, at the entrance, one only has to wait for barges to get to it from the central passing place. The tunnel is well lit, with fluorescent tubes every 12 metres or so, and with distance markers every 10 metres. Right in the middle there is a massive ventilation shaft, complete with a fan, that sucks air out of the tunnel, creating quite a draught in the tunnel. It is very effective.
At the far end of the tunnel, we cruised through a cutting, and moored before the first, descending lock. It had been a long day (for me) - well over eight hours.
The next morning, the last of the gaggle of barges that overnighted with us cleared the lock by 0900 hrs, so we then went in, followed by two cruisers that appeared behind us. In the next pound, we collected another cruiser that, I assume, had overnighted there. The gaggle of us went down the flight of locks together but, where the Canal de la Somme turned off west, we were the only vessels to take the turn.
The canal roughly parallels the river, and on occasions, joins it. The banks are softened by the overgrowing trees and vegetation, which also provides sanctuary for wild life - moorhens, coots and ducks abounded, and the sapphire flash of a kingfisher was not un-common. In some ways the canal looked a bit neglected - as if it could do with a good dusting! - for the surface was densely littered with fluff from the willow trees.
The first lock is a straight-forward, do-it-yourself, automatic lock. Thereafter, locks and moveable bridges are worked by a travelling lock-keeper. We were shadowed for several kilometres by a biking woman with a big camera. Our destination was the little village of Cappy, where the Locaboat organisation has a hire base, and where Falcon (the narrowboat belonging to David Long) was moored. Temujin and Rosy moored on either side of her.
We stayed at Cappy for six days. The Locaboat centre there hires out penichettes, with friendly and helpful staff. I got on with beautifying Rosy, and completed the paint job on one side of her - though I still haven't stuck the white lines on - and sanded down the other side. We had a good bbq with Bob and Ellie from the barge Osprey - they were both enthusiastic narrowboaters in the North of England, their barge being constructed by Pickwell.
We took a half-holiday to do a Somme Battlefield tour. I did a commercial one a few years ago, and visited the main sites. This time I sat down with my Nit-Wits Guide to the Battle of the Somme, and did my own itinerary. It was only then that the limited scale of the ground hit me - the whole, massive battle was fought over a very limited front.
We drove a route that took us from a Brit Corps HQ at Mariencourt, over the original front line, across the battle field, and over to Flers, where the front was at the end of the battle. En route we visited Mametz and a British war cemetery, and Fricourt where we visited a German one.
We went to the Australian Memorial, located next to a particularly difficult German strong point. The wonderful views across the battlefield from this strong point shows what the Australians had to endure, as pretty much every step of their advance was visible, and within range, of the defending Germans.
We also visited the peaceful New Zealand memorial.
I can sort of understand the 2nd World War - us standing up to the scourge of totalitarianism and aggression in the form of Hitler's Germany and Japan. But the 1st World War leaves me mystified. I can vaguely understand the collapse of the intricate system of alliances that caused the war, but not the huge wave of enthusiasm that caused so many British and Commonwealth young men to volunteer to fight it.
ON DOWN THE SOMME
Finally, on a Monday morning, we stacked up with provisions at a Shoppi supermarket in nearby Bray, filled with water at Locaboat and then waited for over an hour for a lock-keeper to arrive to open a bridge. Then it was his lunch time, so we had another hour's wait until he returned to work the lock for us!!
Finally, we got going, and had a sunny trip down to Corbie. We cruised by the 'proper' moorings, as the Sky satellite is behind some trees, and cruised on down to the lock, mooring immediately above it.
On Tue 20 Jun, we set off on a sunny morning for a quite delightful voyage to Amiens. The Somme is much admired by the piscatorial fraternity. At frequent intervals we cruised by nests of caravans and chalets, which diver the fisher folk easy access to the many ponds, lakes, streams and rivulets that accompany the canalised Somme on its journey. Most fisher folk were cheery enough, but one particularly grumpy old man got very upset, and shouted and shook his fist at us. My cheery wave and enthusiastic greeting wound him up even more, to the extent that even Fanny felt constrained to give him a good barking.
The approaches to Amiens are particularly pretty (twee?). It is an artificial landscape. Many of the ponds and lakes are the result of peat workings, and many were covered with white or yellow lilies - rarely did the two colours share the same patch of water. One side of the canal has a substantial towing path with stream running immediately beside it. This stream is crossed by a series of little bridges leading to what look like allotments, many devoted to flowers - roses, of course (for this is Picardy) - and Arum lilies. I think I saw more Arum lilies in an hour than the total I have seen in my life to date. There were also some beautiful weeping willows, reaching down to caress the water. We saw an example or a 'cornet' - a black wooden boat, more slender than a punt, and with a long bow. They are peculiar to the region.
As we approached the town centre we saw the main quay - immediately beside a busy car park. Convenient for visiting the town, but boaters complain of thefts from their boats. We cruised on, and moored above the lock at the far side of Amiens, opposite the VNF (French equivalent of British Waterways) compound.
Mike and I walked into town to find an internet café, and at night we went back to town to see the son et lumière.
Amiens is blessed with a beautiful Gothic cathedral that escaped radical damage in both of the 20th century great wars. The west front is particularly impressive, with its three great arches, and a myriad of stone figures. When erected, these figures would have been painted, but over time the painting was stopped, and these days the figures are just plain stone. The son et lumière 're-paints' the west front, and it is absolutely gorgeous.
The show starts late at night, when it is dark, and is accompanied by a commentator, a breathy woman who, I think, is more there to add to the atmosphere that to interpret and explain. Although she does a bit of the latter, she seemed to spend too much time telling us how wonderful and beautiful it all was. It takes her some 25 minutes to get through her chit chat in French, by which time one's bum is cold from sitting on the stone steps, and the idea of sitting for another 25 minutes whilst she repeats herself in English is too much to face. So, as I was listening to her in French, AND since I'm not ever so good at French, AND since her breathy voice was fed through an amplifier with the bass control turned full up and the treble right down, I couldn't hear or understand much of what she said. Apparently, after the English chit chat, she does the whole thing over again in German. All her chattering is backed up by some pseudo-classical muzac.
The next day it rained, but more of that next time