Thursday, 11 May 2017

French Holiday Part 4 - Homps to Capestang

Sunday 26th June

Homps to Le Somail
11 kilometres, 6 locks

It was with much relief that we found the wind had died down, so we were off by 09:20 – Homps is such a pretty place and one we both really liked.

Just round the corner was the first lock of the day – (Homps single lock).   We were getting into position when I spotted this full beer bottle.

I decided to move it in case I knocked it with my foot or rope and lo and behold look what was underneath
 A two euro coin!  Does someone leave tips for the éclusier?

We were back to queuing at Ognon double staircase lock – something we are getting used to.  At least there was some shade here.  



Then an added bonus – we had entertainment.  There was a vintage vehicle rally along the tow path.  Not something we will ever see in the UK on a towpath.  They came in all shapes and sizes and the procession just went on and on.





After about 45 minutes it was our turn and this lock had another helpful éclusier.

At the next lock (Pechlaurier) we came across a fairly common site – a boat moored at a ‘no mooring’ spot.

The éclusier here keeps a well-stocked vegetable/market garden.

Quite a few locks have resident canine éclusiers, but I had to take a photo of this one at Argens lock – he is a bit smaller than Monty, but he was so typically Border Collie.  He monitored all the boats in,

paced around or lay and supervised whilst we were locking, watched us go and then gave a few barks to send us on our way.


There is no difficulty in working out which way the prevailing wind blows!

We would have liked to stop to have a quick look at Paraza, but you cannot moor here

And the only other place we could get into was occupied by this rather large craft!! Typically right in the middle hence blocking it for anyone else!!

There was no space at Ventenac either (that was the last bollard, so nowhere to tie the bow) – maybe we would have more luck on the way back.

And so on we went to our destination for that night at Le Somail and our third attempt at mooring stern in.  There was no one about, so there was nothing for it, but for me to climb over the back rail with a rope in my hand and leap onto the bank.  Actually it was easier than it sounds and we were secure in no time at all.  This is a Nicolls hire boat base, so I went along to pay our dues.  

La Somail is definitely a good place to explore and an essential stopping point.  Like Homps it said ‘hello’ to us.   Our first stop was the tourist office right by the canal.  There are quite a few of these figures on display – Chris described them as ‘over full’!  

Armed with information we set off to explore.  Our second stop was Madame Gourgeues’ antiquarian book shop also right by the canal.  If anyone saw the Timothy West/Prunella Scales programme from this canal you will recognise it.

There is a small selection of books on the outside

And then you go in

It goes on 

and on

with books on every subject imaginable.


Some are rare first editions and cost a lot of money, but a most are affordable to mere mortals.




After we had had our fill in the bookshop we took a wander outside.  The building behind the boat is the Chambre d’Hotel.

There are several antique/bric a brac shops


An art gallery selling all sorts of items along with the paintings – I was taken with these coffee cups

And anyone for cake?

From water tower to water closet – it is now the public loo!

There is a small church which was open, but no photos were allowed.

There is also an ice house – the only one remaining on this canal. In the 18th Century, the passenger boats which regularly plied the canal took four days to get from Agde to Toulousse.  The staging posts were at Le Somail, Trèbes, Castelnaudary and Negre.  Although at the time, the trip only cost £6 in today's money, there is no reason to be envious as passengers were required to change boats each time they reached a double or triple lock – a total of 25 times.  At each of these change overs they had to carry their baggage up or down the steep slope to the next boat.

This green barge is the shop!  If you order baguettes and croissants you can collect them first thing in the morning.

We went over the bridge with this rather wonderful view

 to the other side of the canal to have a beer in the bar/restaurant 

Then it was back to the boat for another peaceful night.

Monday 27th June
Le Somail to Capestang
22 kilometres, 0 locks

Another lovely sunny day and we were off after Chris had collected his ordered bread and croissants from the shop.  

It is a certainly a charming scene as you leave Le Somail heading for Capestang. The canal is lined with many boats and we were glad we stopped where we did last night as I don’t think we would have found any gaps along here, never mind one that is as big as we were.

Le Somail is the base of Minervois Cruisers – a company based in the UK – they have narrow and widebeam boats.  As lovely as the idea of a narrowboat is, we still think we will opt for a cruiser next time as they are more suited to the climate and the waterways round here.  The biggest advantage of a narrowboat would be the ease of disembarking as they are the lowest craft around.

You can tell how hot it gets – it is not often you see car tyres protected from the sun.

There are a lot of these hotel boats – they are huge and you always hope not to meet one at a bridge or on a blind corner.

And then there is this which is even bigger!

This is the aqueduct over the River Cesse – the house we will be renting in Bize Minervois has a terrace overlooking this very river.



This is the only junction we have to negotiate – left to Port La Robine, which looks as though it is for private boats only, 

Right to Narbonne.  With a smaller boat or more crew we would have taken this route, but with Winnie, two crew and 10 locks each way to negotiate (they are all self service) we were not even going to give it a go.  Another time maybe.

It was straight on for us to Capestang.

The unmistakable sound of young voices rang out along the canal and sure enough there was a party of primary school age children on a cycling trip.  All very organised and they looked to be having a great time.  Children having fun sounds pretty much the same in any language.

We were travelling wide open spaces – possibly a view that we would not have had if so many trees had not had to be destroyed.


There are very few moored boats to pass, but why is that there is always a boat coming the other way when you do need to pass one?!

One thing we have noted is the absence of bird life, including water fowl.  This was the only family of black swans we came across and the only other water fowl were a few ducks at various ports.  

This is the Aqueduct de Quarante which was built in 1693 by Rusquier under the direction of Vauban.  It had only two arches the third being added in 1737.  The lower section acts as a spillway and a little bridge allowed the horses to cross.

The one thing you cannot miss as you approach Capestang is the church.

Just before we were to moor you pass under the lowest bridge on the canal.  We had been warned to take care, so I was at the bow acting as look out.  You have to approach at a rather odd angle, not helped by moored boats and overhanging trees.  Then there was the worry about whether the bikes would fit whilst still in their racks.  I had unlocked them in case I had to move them in a hurry.  Well I am afraid we ended up in the trees which knocked one bike over. Once I had disentangled myself and I then laid the other bike flat, just in case!  I am glad to say we made it through at the second attempt and I don’t think anyone was watching!  I was too busy fighting trees and bikes to take any photos of just how low the bridge was and how awkward the angle is going from west to east.

When we arrived in Capestang and were told to moor opposite the France Fluvial office as they had three boats (Alice, Tilly and Potter) they were preparing to leave that afternoon.

The space was very tight between two cruisers, but we managed and were soon tied up.  Mind you if we thought hat was tight we were to learn the true meaning of tight on the way back!


We were told we would be moving across soon, so we had lunch, a siesta and then just hung around and around and around!  It was a very frustrating afternoon as it was after 18:00 before Alice and Tilly left crewed by 9 Australians travelling together.  I am not sure how far they would have got that night, but with so many crew stopping in the middle of nowhere would have been more than possible

We then moved across and moored up by an hotel boat which made us feel rather small!  

After we had showered and changed we went to the restaurant right by the canal for dinner.  We both ordered a Plat – this way you do get an entrée, a main and a dessert, but they are all quite small – we did find that some of the meals served were rather too large for our appetites!  They were all okay apart from the chocolate mousse which was light, frothy, not at all chocolaty and far too sweet!!  I am not sure we would go back again.

Tuesday 28th June
Capestang

This was to be a day off – Franz from France Fluviale supplied us with clean towels and filled up the diesel by 09:30 and we then free to go off into Capestang on our bikes. 

However before we headed off there was entertainment to be had as Potter slipped from her moorings for the trip to Bram!  Do you remember our broken parasols?  Well as I mentioned yesterday the bridge out of Capestang is the lowest on the entire canal......

We and others were on the tow path shouting ‘Stop’, ‘Reverse’!!  I am glad to report that he did manage to salvage the situation and made it through with no damage to the boat, bridge or parasol.  It must have been a rather traumatic start to their journey.  His 'crew' was inside and only popped her head out briefly when she heard the hard reversing to inquire if he was okay and then promptly went back inside!  I think look out on the bow might have been a more sensible place to start off.  Still they must have managed as the boat made it back to Bram in one piece.  I have to say I would love to know how they managed getting on and off as Potter was very similar to Winifred and they certainly did not look any younger than we were.

Capestang is a mid-sized town that is much smaller now than it was in the middle ages when it was a thriving and important ecclesiastical centre in the this part of France.  The church is large and it does dominate the town.



Inside is equally as big and was definitely worth visiting.




This is a picture of what it looked like before all the houses and shops were built round it.

 The only other place to visit is the chateau that used to house the bishops in the Middle Ages. 

This is as it was 

This the entrance now

When we arrived there was a party of school children learning about life in the Middle Ages.

There is not a lot left to see inside and what there is is mostly kept dark, but there is a good video presentation with close ups of the highly decorated ceiling beams.  It is amazing that the colours have survived so well and is a good reason for keeping what is left in the dark.  It was only 2 euros each to go in and there is an English booklet to translate all the information about its history.  Also on our way out the curator came outside and had a very long conversation with Chris (I did understand a bit of it) about the history of Capestang, so it was well worth a visit.  

This is the exit – certainly nothing Middle Aged about it these days.

Next we retrieved the bikes and headed for the Intermarché.  As much as I hate shopping the air conditioning was very welcome.  Two rucksacks and two baskets full of provisions, including some large crevettes for dinner, and we headed back to the boat to unload. 

Lunch was next on the agenda – we walked back to the rather charming main square in the centre of the town, picked a table in the shade and ordered two beers and two Croque Monsieurs.  

They were, sadly, the worst we have ever had!  They had taken two slices of white bread, slapped a small slice of 'plastic' ham in the middle, sprinkled some cheese on top (I have no idea what sort, but it certainly was not Gruyere) and stuck it under the grill!!  I am afraid I did not even manage a quarter of mine.  I am sure we will get a good one somewhere before we leave France.



The rest of the day was quiet – we ate on the back deck under the parasol.  The winds had died down, but we still had to keep and eye on it as it lifts up and heads off all too easily.  If we do this again we have to have a boat with a canopy.  We looked with envy at those people able to sit in the shade without worrying about their parasol flying off down the cut.  Mind you the only company that does boats with bimini covers down there seems to be Le Boat, so we might have to think carefully about how essential that is.

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