The Journey -
Anyway, I stuttered out my request, and she had my package in the post drawer, and I bought a mobile phone recharge card from her, and she kindly put it in to the phone for me, and I profusely thanked her and headed for the door, when she called me back to pay for the phone card.
Some 10 hours later I learned that there should have been TWO packages, so I headed back at 8.30 am the following morning. She, thank goodness, had changed bras to one with normal straps, so the conversation was not quite so stilted. She denied all knowledge of the second package, but checked her drawers (so to speak) and found it.
It took me a day to process all the mail (and read the magazines), so it was not until the Wednesday morning that we could continue our wanderings. We brought our moorings line aboard and set off, continuing along the Canal Lateral de l'Aisne, though after a few kilometres it turned into the rather more romantically named Canal des Ardenne.
Despite the longish straights, the canal is quite pretty. Much of it is bordered by woodland, but occasionally these break up to reveal views across a rolling, agricultural countryside. The locks are few and far between, so we only pass through three or four a day. There are several villages en route, but, in the main, they remain hidden behind a screen of trees.
The sun has been hot, Hot, HOT, and it seems to be encouraging the fruit trees. Certainly the walnut trees are heavily laden, as are the elderberry trees and the sloes. I always think that an ardent home brewer (which I would be if I was not on a boat) needs access to at least two good elderberry trees, as a source of flowers in the spring (for wine and 'champagne') and berries for wine in the autumn. I make sloe gin on Rosy, but in our own, special, house style i.e. no sugar. We one third fill a bottle with washed and slashed sloes, top up the bottle with gin and leave it for as long as possible (two to four months is fine). Strain the liquor off, and filter it (I use a simple kitchen paper towel, folded in four, to use as a filter paper in a plastic funnel). Of course the resultant liquor is extremely dry, but a couple of drops in a G&T adds a bit of a zing, and some drops in a dry martini are simply divine, my dear.
Our first stop was at a lock. Three small boats were following us, so Mike invited them to go into the lock ahead of us. We do this, so that we can be side by side at the back of the lock (we were going up-hill) and sit there, comfortably, for the ride up without having to bother with any ropes. However, his guestimation of their overall length was a bit out, and we couldn't get into the lock, and had to wait for the next sequence. Hence our second stop was at the little village of Asfeld. After a comfortable night, I walked into the village with Fanny the Woof to post some letters and to stock up with bread. Then on up to Rethel, where there are moorings with water, electricity, loos and showers BUT they want Euro 5.50 per boat per night. For a variety of reasons we stayed for two nights.
Rethel is an old town. Our walk into the town took us over the River Aisne, and a sign on the bridge reminded us of the many armies (from the 13th Century onwards) that have crossed the Aisne at this point.
Our departure day was frustrating. We got up in time, but then thunder storms came over, so it wasn't until 11am that we finally got going. We were then held up by two malfunctioning automatic locks, our suspicion being that some nit-wits in boats ahead of us were incapable of following simple instructions. We were then caught up by WaterWolf, a Dutch flagged cruiser, whose crew recognised Rosy from four or five years ago, when we were held up for a few days at a lock on the River Yonne. The hold-up was due to a strike by the lock-keepers who were attempting to sort out some differences of opinions with their employers.
Anyway, we reached our planned mooring at Attigny, but it was full, so we went on through the Attigny lock, and moored above it.
The following day we climbed up a 26 lock staircase, the greatest number of locks I have done in a day whilst cruising in Europe. The locks are all automatic, so all one has to do is to push a pole in each lock, and Mr Hydraulics does the rest. The only difficulty was that it was a HOT day. In the evening, we moored a few kilometres above the top lock.
The following day, a Monday, we arrived at Pont à Bar, where the Canal d'Ardennes joins the river Meuse. We wish to travel up the Meuse a bit BUT downstream is Belgium, and the opportunity to fill up with cheaper red (reduced tax) diesel, so we went downstream. The Meuse is a delight to cruise. Much of the time one is passing through a deep valley with wooded sides. Large rock formations peek out of the forest, and most of them have ancient legends associated with them. There are several stops on the way down, some one has to pay at, others are free. A small boat can moor by the bank in places, but our boats were a bit large for this. The only problem is that, in the summer, the moorings can get full, so it is wise to plan to stop at 2 or 3 pm. Leave it until 6 pm, and finding a mooring spot can be very difficult. In extremis, I guess that one could moor in one of the lock cuts. The Belgian border crosses the Meuse after the lock below Givet, and, immediately, there is a fuel station. We filled up there, an motored back up to Givet. There used to be a Givet customs post, so there is a long quay wall for barges to moor whilst they clear through customs. This clearance is no longer needed, but the quay is still there. A short section is reserved for pleasure boats, but this section, and the pleasure boat harbour on the other side of the river, fill up, leaving the commercial quay empty, which is where we moor. No one has ever queried us mooring there.
Givet is dominated by a massive fort, begun in the 1500s, improved by Vauban, and used in subsequent wars.
At this point, Dick and Jeannie Goble arrived by car for a visit. (Hence this wittering is a bit late, as my time was devoted to cleaning all the grime, dead flies, grot, gore and general filth out of Rosy in preparation for their visit. Fanny the Woof is now bothered and bewildered as all her familiar smells have vanished). Dick is known in UK boating circles as Mr Kelvin, in that his love (apart from Jeannie) and work is the keeping going of Kelvin engines - a long lived, classic engine, but now no longer made. Dick and Jeannie have also visit GIGs (Great Internet Get-togethers) where people who participate in the various UK canal internet forums and newsgroups get together for face to face contact.
D & J stayed on Rosy for the next couple of days whilst we cruised back up the river. At Laifour they took the train back to Givet to collect their car, returning to Laifour for the night, and a planned barbeque.
A little before they went off to collect the car, we were delighted to see some old friends hove into view - David and Jacquie Long on the good ship Falcon. So (as the quay is quite short) we had three narrow boats breasted-up there for the night. This, of course, called for a bbq, and some serious drinking, and we all had a splendid evening - even more so as D & J shopped on their way back from Givet, and brought in some lovely bbq side dishes.
The following morning, Falcon left quite early, going down-stream. Temujin left shortly afterwards going up-stream. Rosy waited to say farewell to D & J who were motoring back to UK, and by the time they left, the previous night caught up with me, and I zonked out.
Coming to a few hours later, I found myself in the company of a hire boat with four children in it. The two adults each claimed parental rights over two children, and live near each other in Belgium. I found out more about them at 10pm on a balmy evening when the smalls were asleep, and us adults could get down to the task of DMICB (drinking more ice cold beer) or DMNRW (drink more nice red wine). This we most enjoyably did until about 1am.
In the morning I was up early, and away by 7am, and flogged all the way up to Pont à Bar to moor up with Temujin again at 3 pm.
Which is where this is being written.
That's all folks!!