Thursday, September 11, 2014

5th September - Pagny-sur-Meuse to Toul to Voidf and to Toul again

We had left Graham and Iris’ car in Void of course, planning to return by train once we’d arrived in Toul.   

I had occurred to us that the absence of a station or even a hint of a train line in Void would make this something of a challenge, but we thought that perhaps a solution would just jump out from behind a tree or something and it would all work out in the end.  As it turned out after making exhaustive enquiries, the alternatives seemed to be fairly limited.

We could of course walk, or perhaps borrow a bicycle from the garden in the town square which quite confusingly is actually a circle, but we couldn’t get a consensus on either of those options.  Since the shortest route back was on a national motorway, any thoughts that Graham and I had held regarding riding our own bikes back were forcibly erased from our databanks by the others in our quartet.

No problem is insurmountable however, so when the nice lady in the taxi asked us if we would like a lift, we could hardly refuse.

Twenty minutes was all it took to retrace our journey of the last two days, and a further twenty minutes saw the car repatriated.  

Note to file: In the event of a circumstance arising from which there is a desperate need to flee, a canal boat should not be considered appropriate for getaway purposes.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Not alone again.
Void to Pagny-sur-Meuse

It didn’t take long for Graham and Iris to get their sea legs back. I suppose this shouldn’t have been a surprise and not just because they had been staying on Roger’s barge in Chalon-sur-Saone.  Here, in truth there is nothing that even remotely resembles “sea” to trouble unadapted legs.

From the moment they arrived it was as if the last half-dozen years had not vanished, and we were immediately reliving those months we’d spent  with them on “Manatee”.  There was one slight difference though, and that was that the urgency with which we travelled then had us up before dawn, walking to glean what knowledge we could of each overnight stop, before leaving in time to be at the first lock in time for it to open.   Each day we would travel until lock-keepers hours dictated that we could travel no more, putting as many river kilometres under the boat as we could, Graham anxious to travel as far as he could in what was to be their penultimate season in France.

Today, sometime before lunch, unhindered by lock-keepers schedules because we didn’t intend to go through any, we gently motored away.   

An hour later or perhaps a little less, we stopped, ate lunch and decided that having no need to travel further.   

Somewhere between our afternoon rest and dinner we set off for a wander around the village, a mix of structures ancient and modern although the term “modern” is used advisedly to describe materials of the mass produced kind.  We wondered as we walked through a sea of roofing tiles similar to those which were marketed in the Antipodes as “Marseilles Pattern”,  whether they had been sold as “Mooloolaba Pattern” here to give them a suitably exotic ring.    

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sauvoy to Void

It’s three days since we’ve seen another boat and that was the empty barge we watched going through the lock at Tréveray.   

The photo itself does much to explain what words cannot.  The canals and locks were designed to accommodate vessels thirty-nine metres long and five wide.   This does not leave a lot of room for passing and we sometimes wonder how the big ships resist the temptation simply swat us like an annoying little gnat as they occasionally lumber past, with us taking a precious four or so metres of the width of their waterway as we do.

We can’t help but think that we are watching the end of an era, trucks have taken over from barges as a form of inland transport, and apart from the few months of summer each year it seems that few pleasure boats are moving.   We can’t help but wondering how long the waterways can be kept open for traffic.

We do a lot of wondering when we are alone.

And then this morning our wondering was shattered by the phone’s shriek.    

Iris and Graham were on their way!    Our planned day of recovery from yesterday’s marathon was in disarray.

So we untied and motored on to civilisation, wondering if the strain of having travelled five kilometres will show on our faces when they arrive.

Through the Mountain Accidentally
2nd September - Tréveray to Sauvoy

We set off early, with the vague idea of replicating the day we had just spent, intent on staying in a village we had visited by bike a few years ago at the end of a short disused branch canal, but ti appears we had not accounted for just how disused it had become.

This left us with a choice of staying for the night at the junction, or going just a little bit further.   Normally it would have been no contest, we have made the “little bit further” mistake before.

 But the water on our route today was spectacularly clear, so clear that every detail of the canal bottom was visible and we were compelled to keep going albeit ever so slowly, as if propelled by an invisible force. Plants and fish idled past as we slowed to match them.   We watched fascinated as water voles swam below us and alongside, perhaps equally fascinated to be watching us with the cover of a metre of water.   At times we were simply gliding on air, looking down on an aquarium.

We could have kept going forever.

If it hadn't been for a lock in the way we may not have noticed when the tunnel turned up, a giant gateway to the other side of the hill.  The tug which once towed us through is no longer in operation, so now we go through under our own steam, but bizarrely in the company of a man on a bicycle, presumably to ensure we don’t take a wrong turn somewhere along it’s five kilometre length.

This is how the cruising mindset comes unstuck;   We had had a glorious morning, it was almost lunch time, and we arrived just in time to make the scheduled departure time for vessels heading in our direction through the tunnel.  Perhaps we should have said "No thanks, we'll see you in the morning."   Perhaps we didn't because we felt sorry for the guy on the bike, having to ride into the blackness alone, but we didn't.

We just kept on trucking, as they say about another form of transport.   We did stop at the first opportunity there after though, still marvelling at the clarity of the water.  The magic was still there.

But we probably need need a day off to counteract the effects of travelling twenty kilometres in a single day.

Sometimes we sits and thinks
1 September - Naux-aux-Forges to Tréveray

Tréveray was even by our standards an almost ridiculously small distance to travel in a day, not the smallest we’d travelled this year, but not much more than a hop, step and a jump none the less.

Yet here we were, tucked quietly on a gentle bend of the canal with the urge to continue having entirely faded away, replaced by an even stronger urge to sit in the sun for a bit and perhaps go for a long walk through the countryside.  

So we walked for half a score of kilometres, and had some lunch before deciding that we hadn’t sat watching the view for quite long enough.

We were still sitting, come to think of it, when the sun went down.

Going slowly again
31 August - Ligny-en-Barrois to Naix-aux-Forges

There were three boats in port beside ourselves when we went to sleep last night, and they all had intentions of taking the bone in their teeth and charging up the twenty locks that remain to the top of the hill so that they could be through the tunnel first thing the following day.

We let them go at nine and waited till their wakes had long disappeared.

That of course left us alone. For the first time in several months without cruising company or friends aboard the boat seemed suddenly terribly large, and terribly empty.

We were in truth happy to be alone but sad too in a way, because the way ahead is hilly and twisty and beautiful, with valleys stretching on one side and hills coming down to the water on the the other and we would have no one to share it with.   The others had helped us through the parts commonly described as “boring” though, so we could take some consolation in that!  

We know this part of the canal is treated as a thoroughfare, we’ve come down thirty locks in a day here ourselves once in a commute to Paris, but there is too much to absorb to do that again.  

Eight kilometres seemed more than enough, and at the end of it, a sit in the forest near Naix-aux-Forges was certainly a pleasure.   We’ve never been to Naix before without at least walking to the village, or riding off in the opposite direction to try unsuccessfully to find the ruins of the ancient Roman town apparently nearby.

Today we were happy to just sit the afternoon away, quietly enjoying the mist and the moisture that never quite got to be rain, accompanied only by the sound of the odd fish splashing nearby.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The morning after

We think of weather as unpredictable, but the forecast we check is by the hour and it rarely seems to be far wrong.  Perhaps it’s a matter of probability that when changeable weather threatens by making a different forecast every hour reality cannot be far away.   Today the forecast for most hours was illustrated by a symbol of a sun with a little white cloud beneath it.

Only the size of the cloud varied throughout the day, and since we were connected to electricity and had a water supply, that could mean only one thing.   


Everything that has ever been even close to dirty had a turn of being pummelled to death in the machine, before being sent outside to play in the sunshine.  As fast as things could dry or every twenty-nine minutes whichever happened sooner, they were replaced by things emerging fresh from the washing machine.

The boat was turned upside down looking for stuff that may have escaped.  Production barely stopped for long enough to eat, let alone to replenish our supplies.

By the time the white clouds turned to grey and the sun had disappeared, so had the pile of laundry, and pretty much any other sign that anyone else had ever been aboard.

Suddenly we felt quite alone.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Goodbye Cliff and Gina, hello Superheros!

I suppose I should describe the joy of walking around the village of Ligny-en-Barrois, the ancient towers and mills, the parks and river and the amazing little arcades that run under the buildings connecting the squares, or perhaps the gardens atop the remains of the towns ramparts.    

I should probably mention the inevitable twinge of sadness as we made sure Cliff and Gina were on the bus to the next leg of their own adventure, the pleasure we had from their company and how their visit was all too short.

But I won’t, because those sentiments are best left for cards and letters and besides we arrived back at the boat with the dust from the departing bus still in the air to find we had new neighbours.  One of our cruising inspirations had arrived in port, the German couple in the raft whose registered name translates to “With Pleasure III” greeted us on our return with a bowl of plums they’d scavenged from the edge of the canal a few kilometres back.

We have seen them from time to time, and often use them as an example of the expression “where there is a will, there is a way”.  The majority of people dream their dreams then spend their waking hours finding excuses to carry them out.   This pair do not, although it helps said the skipper, to have a husband who is a little crazy.

The set up reminds me so much of the camping holidays our family had half a century ago, except the trench around the tent is a lot bigger of course.  The sides do roll down at night, the stretchers come out from somewhere and the music system is a battered guitar.   There are no mooring fees involved as at the end of every summer the raft is dismantled stacked on a trailer and stored in their garden under a tarpaulin.

No detail has been left to chance.  Even the captain’s parrot has a home affixed to the mast.

On longer sea voyages, admittedly the space is less comfortable, as indeed is the welcome, but when they left this afternoon, they left us with the feeling that all things are possible.

For further insight into just how far this vessel has been, click this link!   

For those waiting for a better time to follow their cruising dream, be inspired, don't wait!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bar-le-Duc to Ligny-en-Barrois

One of the realities of having friends aboard, is that at the end of their stay they have buses to catch and connections to make and the sorts of places we travel through don’t always have ready access to those connections.

Therefore, while we wax lyrical about our lack of plan, our freedom to go and do as we please, we are never able to share this aspect of our cruising life.   Had we been able to do so, we may never have recovered from our lunch time stop.   We may well still be in Tronville-en-Barrois for instance, waiting for our mood to change to “move” again.

Moving of course is not a terrible impost, and we are heading uphill at a rapid rate once again with locks every few hundred metres. One of the things we can rely on is that with each lock will come a  a different experience, sometimes a complete surprise awaits as we emerge from their depths.

The decoration on each lock-keeper’s cottage for instance varies from “abandoned” to “shabby chic” to “ wildly eclectic”, although occasionally we find one that we’d describe as “imaginative”.

Occasionally we find ideas we could possibly incorporate into our own garden.

Even this very afternoon we were given a couple of pointers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Walking up the hill

The waterway on which we travel is conveniently located at the lower end of town in Bar-le-Duc.  The little port is wedged between the rail lines, the freeway and the bus station and is only a few hundred metres from the village centre itself just beyond one of those Scottish fast food stores that people go into to use the free wifi.

Unfortunately for he among us with jetlag and the onset of decrepitude in his legs, the old village, the one where the Renaissance was said to have had its roots, is located a little further away and on top of a hill.  Three of us were undeterred, so fitted the fourth with a spare set of hiking poles, implied that it wasn’t as far away as it looked,  and set off.

The road to the upper village is a rather steep climb until it reaches the top, and then if falls away sharply, this does increase the degree of apparent difficulty for one walking without being able to bend one’s leg appreciably, but it also slows the pace of exploration for those who can allowing time to see details along the way that perhaps had not been seen in previous visits.  On the other hand, it certainly is as far away as it looks, and we were all uncomfortable with Cliff's discomfort.

For the second time in a week we failed to complete the tourist walking trail.  This was not because of Cliff’s injury or tiredness on our part, although none of us were arguing the case for continuing, but simply as it had been last time, that we were interrupted by the onset of lunch.  Today with inclement weather closing in we retreated to the boat, where Cliff could rest his legs, and we could rest ours, and we could all continue our breakfast conversations without risk of being tossed out at midnight by an over-tired waiter.