The Journey -
The time of departure approaches, and I find myself looking back over the past eight years. There have been very few bad times and lots and lots of good times. The only really significant downside of it all, is that there are so many friends in the UK that I have not seen enough of (if, indeed, anything of!!) over the last few years.
The raw statistics are that since we arrived in Euroland, on 25th February 2000, Rosy has flown the courtesy flags of six other countries - Belgium, France, Holland, Luxemburg, Germany and Poland. She has covered 14,628 km and has passed through 2,664 locks. Interestingly, before I met up with Mike and June on Temujin, I was a potterer, and there was only one year when I covered more than 1000km. I therefore guess that if I return to pottering, I'll be able to cope with the increased costs of diesel by not using so much.
The highlights are too numerous to specify. Meeting up with Fanny-the-Woof is: pretty close to the top, as is spending time with friends who came out to visit. But on the canally front:
And unfulfilled ambitions? Yes. There are a few of those.
It is 242 km long, and the 30 km from Dijon to St Jean de Losne is pretty straight, but then the Mittlleland Kanal in Germany was pretty much dead straight for several; hundred kilometres and was far from boring.
As for the locks, it has 189 of them. You either love locks or hate them. If you really hate them, then perhaps you ought to think again about this whole canal malarkey. Canals and locks go together - just like peaches and cream, Ron and Eth and David and Charles. (Who?? David and Charles were (are?) book publishers based in Newton Abbot. If you see a canally book published by them, its probably worth reading - I've only come across one that isn't). I'm not sure of the current situation regarding lock-keepers and automation. Those who don't get on too well with locks should travel from South to North as there will then be 76 locks up to the summit from St Jean de Losne, followed by the 113 downhill locks to the River Yonne and Auxerre. Downhill locks, of course, are easier to deal with than the up-hill ones.
Some boats will have a problem, as the maximum headroom for a passage through the summit level passage is 3.10 metres. The information that I have to hand about the maximum beam is a bit contradictory, so prospective navigators have got a bit more research to do!! Rosy could certainly make it through.
There are a great number of interesting side visits on either side of the canal, so take some bicycles with you!! At a gentle 30 lock/Kms per day, it makes a two-week cruise, but for real indolent idleness, three weeks might be better.
By now, you might have gathered that the Canal de Bourgogne is calling me to visit it, and I very much hope to travel its length one day. But not, I think, on Rosy.
THE CANAL DU MIDI
I thought that a few words to wrap up the Midi might be appropriate.
The Midi as it is today has greatly altered since Riquet's day.
The locks were amended by Riquet shortly after the first few were built. As built, they were 'normal' rectilinear locks, but one of the very early ones collapsed inwards soon after it was built. Hence, Riquet had them all built with outward curving sides, and also wider at the top than at the bottom. (Hence cramming boats in three abreast on the way up is fine - on the way down there is a danger that the three boats could find themselves 'hung up' - that is to say wedged together between the lock walls - as the water drains away from beneath them.
At least one town on the route didn't want anything to do with the canal, so Riquet bypassed it. Once the town realised what a boon to commerce the canal was, they rapidly put up the money to have the canal diverted through their town.
More importantly, nearly all the streams and rivers that had to be crossed were done 'on the level'. I have read that on some crossings, the actual canal boat did not do the crossing - it was left to dedicated ferries to tranship goods and passengers - passengers were an important cargo on the canal. However, the winter floods could cause havoc with these crossings, and many had to be rebuilt several times as the floods washed them away.
THE LIBRON CROSSING
It was Vauban who carried out some major works, and replaced most of these level crossings with aqueducts. However, the last crossing was not properly solved until 1857. The problem was the little river Libron, which crosses the path of the canal just west of Vias which, in turn is a little west of Agde, at the eastern end of the Midi. The canal bed here is just about at sea level, so that the aqueduct solution could not be applied.
Initially, in floods, the Libron flowed across the Canal, flooding the pound and depositing silt in the canal for some considerable distance on either side if the crossing.
The first solution was an oversized, decked barge, with up-stands at either end. When a flood was imminent, the barge would be manoeuvred into position, and filled with water so that it sank. The flooding Libron could then flow over its deck. The fore and aft up-stands prevented the Libron waters from flowing off into the rest of the canal. At the end of the flood, water was pumped out of the barge, until the barge could be floated back to its 'off-line', standby mooring.
Of course, this all meant that during floods, barge traffic could not navigate along this section of the canal. Hence it was not until the little known engineer Urbain Maguès came along that, in 1857, a 'proper' crossing came into being.
Where the canal crosses the Libron, the Libron was divided into two channels, about 30 or 40 metres apart. Steel guillotine gates can be used to divert the Libron flood waters down either of these channels, and other guillotine gates can be raised and lowered to isolate the section of the canal between the two channels.
In action, when the Libron is in flood, a barge will pass through two, open, horizontally sliding, steel gates and into the central lock chamber. It can go no further, as the horizontally sliding, steel gates ahead of it will be closed. At this point, the two gates behind it will be closed, and the Libron diverted so that it now in flows in the channel between the two gates behind the barge. The horizontal, sliding gates ahead of the barge can now be opened, and the barge can continue on its way.
THE LOCK KEEPERS
The lock keepers on the Midi can be extremely brusque, unhelpful and downright rude, especially at the eastern end, from Beziers up to the summit. There are some notable exceptions, and the daftness of many of the hire-boaters is enough to try the patience of a saint, especially at the end of a long, hot summers day.
I've just been out for an evening walk with Fanny the Woof, and we (well, I. She spent the time wondering why we weren't doing anything) came upon a hoopoe foraging on the ground. It was there for three or four minutes before flying off with the regulation swoops, and the white banded tail feathers on display. Hoopoes always seem to gladden my soul. How on earth 'natural selection' brought them to such an exotic state is hard to fathom. And the first one I saw was whilst we were in Cyprus, and life was happy, relatively stress free and mildly exotic, with lots of Anglais brandy on tap, and a much used cocktail-shaker being kept permanently cold in the fridge. Ahhhh! Those were the days!!
Our present moorings, near the village of Vias, are a bit dusty.
The towing path seems to be basically clay, but it is very well used by cyclists and walkers. There are stables nearby which offer 'Rides', but which are, actually, 'Walks' and the horses stir up the dust, which attaches itself to the moored boats. Hence boat painting is a minority interest on the mooring.
However, it gets worse.
Strings of horses, from four up to thirty, walk past at least once an hour from about 9am to well into dusk. These horses mark their passage with daily dollops of droppings which are never cleared away. The sun dries them, and other horses walk over them so they slowly disintegrate and turn to dust. I reckon that 25% to 50% of the dust thrown up by the passing horse is dried horse shit. Not many people know that!!
FRENCH TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH
If you go to visit the site of the Libron crossing, take the above notes with you. The on-site 'interpretation' boards were, for me, wholly not understandable.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in France, and have carefully avoided those frequent, ghastly meetings of Brits who do nothing but complain about the French and their little ways BUT
French translations into English are often quaint and sometimes 100% wrong. For example:
The French use the words 'pont canal' (literally 'canal bridge') to refer to an aqueduct that carries a canal over a river, road, railway or what have you. A bridge over a canal is simply referred to as a 'pont' (bridge).
In English, this usage is totally reversed. We use the word 'aqueduct' or, sometimes, 'canal aqueduct' to refer to an aqueduct carrying a canal over a river, road, railway or what have you. In English, a 'canal bridge' is a bridge over a canal.
In all the French canal guide books with English translations that I have seen, they have translated the French 'pont canal' (i.e. what the French call a canal aqueduct) directly into English as 'canal bridge'.
I suspect that this is because, in France, if one wants to be officially recognised as an English teacher (or, I guess, as translator into English) then one must first prove that you are perfectly fluent in French. This explains why I have met several French teachers of English whose English is barely understandable.
(In contrast, and as I understand it, the English 'Teaching English as Foreign Language' (TEFL) and 'Teaching English as a Second Language' (TESL) systems do not require practitioners to have any skills in a foreign language).
Another problem with translations from French into English is that many words are translated literally. For example, the one explaining the Libron crossing, in English translation, used the words 'veritable', 'sluice' and 'caisson'. Now, I don't think these three words appear in the 3,000 - 5,000 or so words that are allowed (allegedly) to be used in the pages of the 'Sun' newspaper, as that is the lexicon that the 'Sun' believes is known by their 'average' reader.
LATE BREAKING NEWS
I had expected to be back in UK in Mid August. Due to problems with the transport system, this is now delayed, and, currently, we expect to leave, on the truck, from Agde, on or about 8th September, the total journey 'home' taking four or five days.