Saturday, 13 May 2017

French Holiday part 6 - Argens Minervois to Marseilette

Friday 1st July 2016
Argens Minervois to Homps
6 kilometres, 5 Locks

As we were about to leave around 08:15 we started to chat to a group of Australians on the next boat. who had just finished their boat trip and were off on the next stage of their travels.  It was a very pleasant way to start the day.  Their Flying Bridge Locaboat – looked really nice, but more about those boats for another day.

Just before the first lock of the day this is what greeted us – not something we would have seen in the same way when we were coming from the other direction.  It was all very deceptive – which way does the canal go?  It was to the left.  

Just round the corner is this rather serious construction to keep the escarpment in place.  Again something I did not notice on our way down.  

The first lock of the day was a double staircase and our second uphill.  As we drew near we spotted a big metal broad beam (Narbonne) which boded well as two metal boats is much more comfortable than sharing with fibre glass boats.  In they went and we followed.  We had intended that I walk the rope up to the lock, however, they went on the tow path side, so I had to leave the rope and walk up to the other side of the lock and Chris then threw me the stern rope which I loosely secured and then we went and did the same for the bow rope – it all worked well!  I was certainly getting lots of exercise!

They don’t mess about with opening paddles slowly round here – it is quite a struggle to keep the boat stationary.

Just before the next lock is this flood gate.  There was a flurry of four boats heading towards us coming out of the lock.  One very large Le Boat boat was going at one heck of a lick, so much so that his wash bounced us all over the place and we were a big heavy steel boat!  Worse still he had the temerity to tell Chris to slow down!!  It is probably just as well that I did not hear the reply!

There was a big delay at this lock as the éclusier brought another three boats down before taking us up – we have no idea why!  By the time we got in two very small fibre glass boats came in behind us which was mildly frightening – it meant we really did have to hold on very tight to our ropes to avert disaster.  They had a crew of seven on Narbonne and very kindly lent us a lady to help with our ropes.

I wonder if they have a word in French for gongoozlers?!  It was another school cycling group.

Despite the little boats at the back, as you can see above, they did not hold back on the water.  I am glad to say that all four boats made it safely through this staircase of two and then at the final single lock of the day at Homps.

Just round the corner from the lock is Homps itself – would we be able to get a mooring?  It all looked pretty full

so we went round into Le Boat Basin and moored there.  
We were told last week that it is okay to stay as long as you book in and pay 20 euros.  We went to the office (the red brick building (above photo) in the far distance) to be told that they never take passing boats; that we could only stay until 3pm when we would have to go.  The advice was if there was space anywhere else we should move now as it would soon go.  Well the only gap was where this narrow boat was when we came through on our way to Capestang.

It would mean us putting pins in for the first time, so off I went with the pins and a mallet and was bashing away with all my might when a man from the other side of the canal asked if we had been chucked out by Le Boat (it sounds as though this is normal practice) and if so would we fit in in front of him?  Well that was a good question – he was steel, but the little boat (Lacewing) in front was not.  He offered to give us a hand, so we decided to be brave, take our life (or more likely Lacewing's!) in our hands and give it a go.  I was to stay on the far side and shout instructions about the proximity of the bow to Lacewing – no pressure there then.  Our knight in shining armour took a rope from Chris and helped get the stern moored nice and close to his bow.  I have to say it was a very tight fit and a great bit of steering, but we made it! Reginald Molehusband eat your heart out – and if you don’t remember him, you are not old enough!!

We were even nearer to the restaurant than we were the previous week (the green and white striped canopy behind our bow above) and as we had such a great meal we just had to go again.  It did not let us down – we both had soupe de poisson, gambas (they were too good for me not to have them  again), 
Chris had Crème Catalan and I had deux boules de sorbet – pêche (which surprisingly was pink) and cerise.  The sorbet was the only mild disappointment as it did not come anywhere near the stunning poire sorbet I had had in Le Somail. We undertook the arduous 50 yard walk back to the boat and both slept very well indeed with very full and satisfied tummies!

Saturday 2nd July 2016
Homps, La Redorte to Puicheric
10 kilometres, 3 locks

It was to be a latish start today as we had to take the electric cable back to Le Capitainerie and retrieve my driving licence and they did not open until 10:00.  It gave Lacewing time to move off thus making things a lot easier for us to get out without the danger of damage to their boat. 

We had spent quite a lot of time chatting to both crews (they were all British) and we discovered that the man who gave us so much help yesterday is a retired RAF pilot – they turn up all over the place!

Having safely turned in the Le Boat basin we were off.  At our first lock (Jourres) we met up with (we think) the boat we were moored beside in Argens Minervois with a new crew on board – an extended family group with Grandma and Grandpa able to take things easy.  We used the boat hook to get the rope from down in the lock up to the lockside to great effect and feel we have mastered the technique of going uphill.  

It is quite a tight squeeze going through some of the bridges.

I think this epitomises what we experienced for the most part – solitude and wonderful scenery.

By 12:10 we were moored at the eastern end (we were at the western end on our way to Capestang) of La Redorte on a good wooden landing stage.  The bikes came down and off we went to the Intermarché which is our last good supermarket before we end our trip on Saturday.  Carcassonne (Tuesday) does have a reasonable shop, but nothing compared to this Intermarché.  

A surprising find on our way to the shop and she was still there solving her suduko puzzles when we returned about an hour later.  Can’t be a bad life. 

I am afraid this epitomises our life at times!  The Quayside Restaurant

Under new management and re-opens tomorrow!  A day early and a dollar short.

This is why you need six on board – lots of lovely bite sized cakes to share.  Too many for two of us I am afraid.

Around 3pm after lunch and a siesta we were off again heading for Puicheric.  We had just the one double staircase to negotiate with a tantalising glimpse of Puicheric church in the background.

This is another lock that is well tended with some pretty plants and shrubs.

We knew there were moorings both sides of the bridge, so we stopped before the bridge, I got off and went and had a recce.  We moved through to where there was a tree and some shade.

And so to Puicheric – it is a long straight road, so the bikes came down again.  You know it is bad news when you start off freewheeling on the way there for quite some distance. Thankfully it was a gentle incline which did not cause us problems on our return.  

We headed for the church which was impossible to miss – you can see it from a very long way off.

Beside the church is what remains of the Chateau – it must have been an impressive place in its heyday.  

The town is not that big, but the church is huge and quite impressive. This is what greats you as you head for the door through the arch on the right

And they have not skimped on the blood

Not the best picture I am afraid, but it gives an idea of the losses suffered in WWI.  Although I did take a few other pictures none came out that well.

We left there around 17:30 and shortly afterwards the bells began to chime and we realised that they were preparing for the Saturday evening mass which is why we had been able to get in and look around.  For once we were in the right place at the right time.

The town has certainly kept a medieval atmosphere whilst encompassing modern life.  It is a maze of small streets that mostly lead to the big central square with a variety of small shops.  

As with a lot of towns they have useful maps and we did try to find L’Aude, but failed – the banks all seemed to be fenced off, so we turned round and re-traced our steps back to the boat.

How about this for a great piece of art work – I would love to know how old it is.

On the way out we came across these steps.  Where do they go?  Would you go and look?

Well I did and whilst they did not really go anywhere they did afford a good view across the countryside.

By the time we got back we had been joined by a floating shed!

Sunday 3rd July 2016
Puicheric to Marseillette
9 kilometres, 8 locks

It was sunny, but breezy, so we started out with light fleeces on!  Just when you need trees to shield you from the wind we were afforded wide open views.

We were up and off around 08:30 today aiming to be at the first lock (l’Aiguille another double staircase) as it opened and we were with five minutes to spare only to find two hotel boats moored on the lock landing.  We could have got in behind the second one, but the bank was very low and on a slope – all too difficult with this boat, so we pulled over to the other side and I acted as a double mobile mooring pin.  At 09:05 when nothing had happened I left Chris to hover whilst I went  to see what was going on.  

This is the lock with all the artwork – it was all quiet and deserted as I approached when suddenly this lot sprung into noisy action as I passed!!

These are just a few more of the many sculptures to be found here.

 The éclusier was in his office oblivious to our presence, but he sprang into action and we were out of the lock by 09:25 and on our way.

The air mass had suddenly changed and for the first time we have been afforded some really clear views of the surrounding mountains.  

Bird life has been rare, but today we saw what we thought was a type of heron.  It certainly behaved in the way a heron does – taking off as the boat approaches and landing further down the canal.

It was 09:40 when we reached the next double staircase lock (St Martin).

By 10:40 we were out of the triple staircase at Fonfile which was ready when we arrived.  Starting early certainly seemed to prevent the delays we experienced on our way heading east.

One more lock at Marseillette and we were on the lookout for a mooring.  We hoped to use the wooden landing stage we had used on our way east.  At first sight it looked as though we would be out of luck, but there was thankfully room in front of this rather lovely English barge.  Even better the man came out to take a rope and help us moor.

It was 11:25 by then and we needed bread and had no idea when the boulangerie shut on a Sunday, so we quickly deployed the bikes and off we went.  We were in time, got what we needed and went back to the pub across from the boulangerie for a drink. 

So that was it for today – a very quiet afternoon and evening enjoying a siesta and some serious reading time.  I was reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (our WI book club choice for this month).  I was not really looking forward to it as it is so long (over 1100 pages) and I am a slow reader, but I thought I would give it a go.  It had me hooked from page one.   I was not half way at that stage, but I got there.  It is fascinating, disturbing, shocking (the brutality of life in the 1100’s is appalling), but I found it compelling reading.  There was a good breeze blowing most of the day which helped to keep us lovely and cool inside the boat.

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