Monday 18th July 2016Third time lucky – L Écluse de Fonserannes
We did a quick dash to the supermarket first thing, went back to unload which is when our problems started. You cannot park in front of the Bolt Hole, but you can do a quick unload. You then need to reverse a bit so you can get round to the car park and/or the way out of Bize. However, best laid plans – a car pulled up behind us, waited whilst we unloaded and we then had to go straight on. Well Bize is a veritable maze of little side streets made all the more complicated by the one way system (it is not always marked – you need to know!) with road works and roads closed to add to the confusion. To cut a long story short it took us around 15 minutes to navigate round the village, find ourselves outside going we knew not where, so we turned on the sat nav and set her for Bize and we did eventually make it back to a road we knew! It should have taken about 2 minutes. Whilst all this was going on the water bomber planes were flying overhead to put out another forest fire. Thankfully this one was much smaller and was dealt with very quickly.
Anyway safely parked we made up a picnic, had a coffee and then hit the road to Béziers. We ate our picnic in the car at the Fonserannes car park and were reporting for our boat trip at 14:30 as advised. Up the slope from the car park, we paid our money and were let through the barriers to join the Santa Maria.
We were glad we were early as we were able to get some seating under the canopy and on the side that was in the shade whilst we waited to go. Looking back you can see the people on the top deck beginning to grab the parasols.
Within no time at all the bucket was empty
15:10 and we were off
Past the building works – it is going to be a huge site with many different areas and aspects. We really will have to come back one day, but not next year – one always wonders when they say the completion date is July 2017 whether they really mean it? Even before this centre opens these locks are the third most visited tourist attraction in this part of France after the Pont du Gard and Carcassonne.
As we neared the first lock a crew member disembarked to secure us whilst we waited. We had heard that these locks can be a real bottle neck with boats waiting for hours – there were none there today which makes me hope that if we do come this way before the school holidays we won’t have too much trouble.
From here you can just see the top of the ‘Water slide’ (top left), but more of that later
At 15:12 we were entering the first lock
It is a reasonable view , but the locks are very tame going down and we were beginning to wonder why we had decided to do the trip.
At 15:41 we were out of the bottom (7th lock). Ahead is l’Orb – we needed to turn right. This was achieved by attaching a rope to the side and pivoting round.
We proceeded along a quiet stretch of canal where there does appear to be plenty of mooring for boats waiting to ascend the locks.
And then the Canal bridge that takes the canal over l’Orb hove into view.
Over we went, but there is not much to see – on tip toe with the camera as high as possible I could just make out the Pont d’Occitane
There is, however, a really great view of the Cathedral
And then you come to another lock which took us into the basin at Béziers.
Being French and a trip boat you can enter on red!
In we went
To be observed by French Gongoolers
It is an incredibly deep lock
And out into Béziers itself, only to turn round and go back up,
The water came in, but fairly gently and we were still only secured by one rope
Up we went and on over the Canal bridge with a view (still on tip toes and at full stretch) the other side this time of L’Orb
As we near the bottom lock at Fonserranne we got a good view of the water slide and the new bridges that are part of the new visitor centre. The water slope was built between 1980 and 1983. It was the second and last to be built in France - the first was at Montech, Tarn-et-Garonne in SW France which was built in 1974 and is still working. This was to replace the 7 locks at Fonserannes. Trials started in 1984, but it within weeks technical problems arose. It was never used and was officially abandoned on 11th August 2001.
And so into the bottom lock at 16:30 and I spotted these – I hope I never have to use them to get out of these locks!
The first thing we noticed was that it was indeed a double lock. You go in lock 1 and the gates of lock 2 are open – our memories are correct, they do indeed work two locks at the same time.
The water comes in
You move through to the second lock and then the gates of that lock open before the water is level.
We have never experienced anything like this before and probably will never again however many years we spend afloat. I must mention the little lad in front of us – he was so well behaved – not a murmur for the entire 2 hours we were aboard.
The next paddles are opened
The water pours in
You end up in a raging torrent, but we are still only secured by one rope and amazingly the boat did not bounce around.
We were out of the top lock at 16:55 – just 25 minutes to complete 7 big locks!! It was certainly exhilarating and confirmed to us that we were right to make the trip. If we do the one way from Negre to Lattes in the future we will be going down, but these really need to be experienced going up, so we may have to go from Lattes to Negres! Maybe we should throw caution to the wind and go there and back! Definitely a trip worth taking.