Tuesday, 9 May 2017

French Holiday Part 2 - Bram to Marseillette

Monday 20 Jun  2016
Bram to Carcassonne
24 kilometres, 6 locks

It was 10:00 by the time we had sorted out the parasol with Florence and then we set off with great trepidation, however, before I go any further I must go back to the night.  I did not sleep well – too concerned about whether we would manage the boat, I suspect.  I was awake at 04:00 and read my Kindle for a while, but when that failed I moved to the other bedroom, so I could put the light on.  I was sat up in bed doing a crossword when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move – it was an enormous spider sat on the pillow next to me and just a few inches away.  To say I moved quickly would be an understatement!  I moved the pillow onto the floor and got back into bed hoping that the spider would not climb up to join me again!   Thankfully we never saw it again, but I guess it must have been lurking somewhere!

Back to the journey – the weather had improved enormously - we had sun and no wet stuff.  We made it away from Bram without hitting anything, so far, so good. 

The canal had, as we expected plane trees lining the tow path.  

As most of you will know these are being devastated by a cancer brought over by the American GIs in the Second World War - it was carried in their ammunition boxes.  They are cutting down those affected and trying to stop the spread – there is a strict rule that no ropes from boats are to touch the trees.  Most trees at the Bram end are unaffected.  In fact we only saw two all day with paint signs that might signify hey need to be removed, or it could have been graffiti, but it certainly does not look very healthy.

And so to our first lock at Béteille – we got there to find that there was a yogurt pot (fibre glass boat) in there before us and we were waved in.  All went fairly well getting into the lock, but then I tried to disembark to get my bow rope round a bollard.  The ground looked a fair distance away, but I thought I could make it, so I jumped off.  It was the wrong decision as it was too high (remember how easy it looked when we were moored at Bram - I am afraid that was the exception, not the rule) and over I went. Thankfully I managed a great parachute roll!  Somewhat undignified, but with no damage to me apart from to my dignity!  Twenty years ago I am sure I would have made it with ease, however a different strategy needed to be thought out.

It was with much relief that we got safely through and out the other side

We were following the guide book which kept talking about kilometre markings – unfortunately they only seem to occur on maps, not in real life!  

A sad sight, but not as many as are to be seen in the UK.  Our neighbouring boat in Droitwich is called Adagio, but is in a lot better shape!

Some of the bridges are really pretty, but you do need to duck!

We arrived at Villesquesande at midday and we very grateful that there was a boat with an English crew aboard to take a rope from me.   Without them I am really not sure how we would have managed as the tow path is so low compared to our deck – we were lulled into a false sense of security at Bram where the dock was level with the boat deck.  The only way I could get off safely was to sit on the gunwhale (thankfully a lot wider than our narrow boat), swing my legs out, wriggle forward and go for it!   Not at all easy as there was a metal ridge running all the way round! It was certainly undignified, but it was safer than jumping.  This was our planned destination for today – a 2 hour trip.  Chris, however, felt we should go for Carcassonne, so after lunch we headed off.  I was not keen, but he was right – it did us good to get another 5 locks, which included a staircase lock, under our belts.

The locks all have cottages which we assume are the homes of the lock keepers (éclusiers).  They vary in size, but are all the same colour scheme.

Our third lock at Lalande was a staircase of two – staircases of 2 and 3 are quite normal on this part of the Canal du Midi.

There are a lot of cyclists on the towpath, but not many like this one!  I have to say that they do seem to be more courteous to walkers and boaters than some to be found in the UK. 

Quite a few locks have little cafés – another need for more crew – you need someone to be able to go and buy ice cream!

This is definitely wine country – there are a lot of these to be seen.

Most locks have these signs, so you are in no doubt how far it is to the next lock 

We suspect this is how our parasols got broken – someone motoring with it up and going under a bridge!

By the end of the day Chris was relaxed and proficient enough to sit down on the job and still go in a straight line!  It is very easy to over steer and end up zig zagging along the cut.

This is the rather imposing entrance to Carcassonne.

This lot had to scoot out of our way with the rest of the brood on the other side of the boat. There must have been at least 12 of them – an impressive feat to get them all to this size.  It turned out that these were the only ducklings we saw in the three weeks we were afloat.  A bit late in their season, I guess.

We had made it to Carcassonne a place we know and love in around three hours - bang on the time we had calculated it would take.  We had survived 5 more locks without too much trouble.  The lock keepers vary – some just look at you and let you manage, but most notably the last one came out with his gloves on expecting to take ropes and help you out.  He seems, sadly, to be a rare exception.  Still we had done it with only one bump that resulted in a small amount of carnage in our bedroom!   Thankfully nothing was broken and it did not take long to clear it up and it never happened again.

The next challenge was mooring stern in with just two ropes at the stern to secure us with a wind blowing us all over the place.  The weather was actually really hot and sunny, but wind is a boat’s worst enemy.  Thankfully a nice young man from the Capitainerie (Port Authority) with lots of muscle came to help us out and deploy a third rope.  There was just one casualty – his trousers – the material gave way under the strain of trying to pull us in!  Fortunately he had a good pair of underpants on to spare his blushes!   The third rope helped to stop us wobbling around 

until other boats came along to shield us from the wind.

This is when we discovered why we have a ladder at the stern – it was the only way on and off.

We have been to the Medieval Cité at Carcassonne too many times to count, but this was our first visit to the port

 and lo and behold it is right by the railway station.  

We went over the bridge to pay our mooring fee for the night and to ask about mooring on the way back.  The Capitainerie advised us to phone a few days ahead and ask for a mooring below the lock as we would be against the bank, so it would be much easier for us.

We wandered into town to the supermarket for a few supplies and then made our way back to the boat to have dinner.  We had thought about eating on the back deck, but it is not easy to transport plates, wine etc down the side of the boat, so we ate in with the A/C running (it was not very efficient!).  We took our strawberries outside and then Chris discovered that the window in the galley opens up, so you can use it as a hatch to pass things through to eat on the back deck.  A good find!  Mind you we were to discover that we needed the floor cloth to prevent burning our knees on the very hot deck!

Tuesday 21st June 2016
Carcassonne to Trèbes
12 kilometres, 7 locks

We were up and out of the boat by 07:30 to go to the food market in the town.  There is the one main street to go up which is pedestrianised, but beware - each road it crosses is not, so you have to remember to stop, look and listen! 

 We continued on passed the market and this fountain

to find ourselves looking at this – did the steps lead down to something interesting?  Sadly no it is a car park!  

It is in the Place General de Gaulle which was of interest with some lovely fountains and flowers.

We also discovered the reason for the name

The only other feature is, rather obscurely, this café.  Even when we went back on our return much later in the day it was still deserted.

The market was well worth getting up for with fruit and vegetables of a much higher quality than those in the shops.

We set off at 10:20 behind this trip boat which was with us for two locks and we were able to listen to some of the commentary.

Just after this very low bridge we had to pull over to allow the trip boat to turn round and head back.  Not a very long journey for them, but quite an experience if you have never been through a lock before. 

We were all afforded this rather magnificent view of La Cité.

The next set of locks is at Fresquel which is a staircase of two, a short pound (yes this is the 250 metre shortest pound on the entire canal) and a singleton lock – all controlled by the éclusier from on high in his box.  You are definitely on your own with little time to secure the boat!  

By the time we reached the next lock (l’ Évêque) it was 12:31 and the lock was fermée (the locks do not operate between 12:30 and 13:30). 

However there in the shade was a bench under a tree with (we hoped) our name on it.  There were a couple of English ladies on the bench when we arrived with an elderly somewhat rotund Jack Russell. One asked the poor dog why he was puffing and panting so much when it should have obvious to all that the poor animal was too hot and probably in need of a drink!   It was very reluctant to leave when they set off again. As soon as they went Chris parked himself there whilst I got our lunch together.  We were the only boat around, so it really did make a great break.  As soon as we left the bench it was taken by a couple of cyclists.  

We set off again at 13:30 on the dot and managed that lock quite well – we thought we were doing okay, but the next lock (Villeduct, the last of the day) we did get in a bit of a muddle, but nothing that caused any damage to anything or anyone and no one shouted at us! 

All the éclusiers take every opportunity to find shade.
After Villeduct lock we came to our first piece of really open country with hills/mountains to the south of us. This was also where we first came across the new trees to replace the felled planes.  

They use canal water to keep them hydrated until they are mature enough to look after themselves.

Just under an hour after lunch we were approaching Trèbes 

Across the Pont-canal d’Orbiel

round a couple of corners 

and we were there for the final challenge of the day – reversing in between two fibre glass cruisers, which we (that is the royal we meaning he!) managed very well.  This is a Le Boat base, but they are happy for other hire boats to use their moorings, electricity and water – all for a fee of course!

We wandered into town to try and find the hypermarket only to discover it was a fair distance away and the road was too busy to allow us to use the bikes in safety.  Our walk did take us to a bridge across L’Aude.

We made do with a few basics from the boulangerie and went out for dinner at this restaurant just across the canal.  There are in fact about four and the mistake we made was not making a reservation as the one we thought we would like to go to was full.  We did, however, end up with a good meal at one of the others – the down side was rather loud music to contend with.  The food was excellent – I had a Gambas Salade and Chris a Salade Nicoise.  They were both excellent and for those of you who know Chris well you will be amazed to hear that he ate all of the ‘green stuff’!!

Wednesday 22nd June 2016
Trèbes to Marsiellette
10 kilometres, 3 locks

Today was a good day – the sun was shining, but there was a much needed breeze to keep us a little cooler.  We had a slower start than on previous days and we wandered into Trèbes to the Boulangerie for croissants and bread.  We did resist the temptation of this alluring display of goodies! 

Leaving the mooring around 11am was no easy feat as not only did we still have a boat on either side of us there was also a large boat plus a small plastic job dead ahead on the opposite bank .  We made it – just.  The locks at Trèbes are a staircase of three.  There were three boats waiting when we got there.  When they went in we pulled forward to wait our turn. 

Whilst we were there we saw the first of many school outings – a day out on the tow path on your bike.  All very well organised and this lot stopped for a drink, snack and to re-apply sun cream.  

before heading off again

Boats kept turning up behind us – we made it into the lock at 12:05 with one other boat, but the rest would have to wait until after the lock keepers lunch. This meant they would be waiting until 14:00 as we were the last movements before lunch, so it would be boats going up that would start at 13:30.  I am glad we were no later.  There is a really nice looking restaurant (Le Moulin) by the lock, so maybe on the way back……!!

We  managed quite well through the three locks.  We have worked out that as the boat goes through the gate I can sit on the side and swing myself off with the bow rope.  Not very elegant, but it works!  I ‘walked’ the boat from lock 1 to lock 2 holding onto the bow rope and fully intended to do the same from 2 to 3 until Chris asked me what I was going to do about the bridge!!  Too late though for me to get back on the boat, so nothing for it but to throw the rope into the bow and for Chris, once he was safely in the next lock with the stern rope loosely tied, to make his way to the bow to retrieve it.  Anyway we made it and were on our way at 12:30.

 All that was left to do was 10K to Marseillette.  We were aiming to moor near the lock, however as we came under the bridge into Marseillette I spotted a nice looking wooden landing stage which was level with our deck, so we decided to moor and then go and explore to see if we could move on or not.

We deployed the bikes and headed off to the lock around a kilometre away and decided we were in the right place for us as the banks near the lock were all rather low.   There were two boats going down when we got there

 and then three went up.  

This boat got in a bit of a muddle, but they made it safely.  They certainly made us feel quite proficient!  

From there we cycled into the village and spotted a bar in the shade – what better on a hot afternoon than stopping for a beer or two!  Whilst there we heard a conversation between an English father and his adult son all about the Referendum which would take place the next day.  We, like they, had voted before we left.  They were firmly of the opinion that we would vote to stay in.  Our next stop was the boulangerie - the only shop in town, but it did have a few basic supplies.  We then went and found the church which sadly was locked, but did offer some stunning views. 

 I was hoping we could get to the churchyard which you get tantalizing glimpses of from the towpath, but it was not to be.  

Then it was back to the boat to prepare dinner and some unexpected entertainment.  This was moored fairly close to us.  It became apparent that they were on the move without the benefit of an engine!

They made in under the bridge to we know not where as we never saw them again even on our return journey.  I have to say they left no rubbish of any sort behind them unlike some of the more ‘alternative boats’ in the UK. 

After dinner we cycled up to the lock to see how many boats were on the lock landing as we wanted to get off fairly quickly the next day as there was another triple lock after the single one in Marseillette,  We want to ensure we would get through the triple before the lock keeper stopped for lunch.  There was one boat on the lock landing (permissible out of lock operating hours, but it does mean you should be ready to go first thing in the morning - well that is the theory!) and others nearby including this replica of a Barque de Poste built by a man called Robert Mornet.  This type of boat was used as passenger transport (nothing to do with the post).  It carried around 50 passengers – first class on padded benches with the rest standing or on a wooden bench if you were lucky.  If you want to know more look here - http://www.plan-canal-du-midi.com/robert-mornet-la-barque-de-poste-etait-lancetre-du-ter/.  

  The day ended with a rather splendid sunset behind the trees on the opposite bank.

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