(77) Full up!

Thank you for following our blog, WordPress and our Facebook site have been great for keeping in touch and sharing our travels and experiences.

This WordPress blog site has reached it’s capacity so we are starting a new one, this one will remain here of course but the new one ; aurignyaperos.wordpress.com will now commence. Same name but with one less ‘r’

Peter & Nicci.

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(76) Terry’s visit- early June 2015.

Terry’s trip involved a flight from Alderney to Southampton and an overnight stay in the Premier Inn. I drove over to England in the trusty Micra a few days prior in order to drive her back to the barge via the Dunkirk ferry.

My trip over went well (discounting my detour towards Thanet from Dover owing to the badly signposted route out of the port) until I spotted that the temperature gauge on the Micra was rising quickly at around Junction 7 on the M25. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with that little car and together we nursed our way back to my Dad’s in Shepperton, just about keeping the needle out of the red.

Alas the belt that drives the water pump had come off…but a visit to Dad’s local garage sorted us out, Martin the mechanic also replaced the dodgy looking alternator belt. Such a hero…and well deserved of a box of Belgian Chocs on my return.

My rendez-vous with Terry at Southampton was trouble free and we were soon heading into Dover increasingly aware that gale force 8 winds were whipping up the channel and delaying ferry sailings.

Unlike my pre-Christmas return to the barge the outside lane approaching the port was clear of lorries and we were soon checking in and delighted to discover that although there were delays, we would be sailing on the delayed 10 am set to leave in 30 minutes. ‘Result’ we thought, as we were actually scheduled for the 2pm sailing.

Alas no…we eventually left Dover on a packed ferry which had to be pulled off the mooring by a tug at around 3pm. The two hour trip (never happened in all my trips so far!) took much longer and we then waited half an hour to disembark, being the last lane of cars to leave.

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Rough crossing.

Only a three hour drive remained! Fortunately Terry was great company and I had a supply of ‘singalongs’ to keep us going. Just two fuel stops, one for the Micra and one for us – a bowl of frites!

We eventually arrived exhausted at the barge in Houx. Sadly the sight of the beautifully illuminated hillside opposite our mooring was somewhat lost to us through tired eyes.

The view across the river.

After this rather inauspicious start to her holiday, Terry had a lovely time.

The first morning we enjoyed a pleasant cruise from Houx upstream to Dinant where she and Brian had spent many lovely holidays in the past. It was about forty years since her last visit there so it was a real bonus to be able to find the hotel they had stayed in and made so many local friends.

Window Bar Dinant.

The picture we used to trace the hotel.

Group Bar Dinant.

Many happy memories with the locals.

Peter & Mum on the bridge.

On the bridge with the hotel behind.

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Sightseeing.

A visit up to the Citadelle and the Commonwealth War Grave just outside, plus a tasty lunch at ‘Le Confessional’ gave her the chance to re kindle fond memories. We were also able to create some ‘then and now’ photos with the old holiday snaps Terry had brought with her.

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Relieved to be out of the cable car, not great with heights!

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Visiting the graves of two RAF bomber crews.

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Lunch at The Confessional.

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Proper wine glasses!

We were joined in Dinant by our friends Torild and Nils on a newly ‘de-mouled’ and painted barge ‘Passe Lagom’, enjoying aperros a couple of times in the evening sun. We also met Sasha and Ekko on their lovely hotel barge ‘Cinclus’. It was nice for Terry to sample the camaraderie that we have enjoyed amongst the barging community.

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Drinks on top with friends old and new.

Mum Dinant Ibis

Back then…

Mum River.

…Now.

Nicci Mum Memorial

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A moving memorial to those murdered in 1914.

Afternoon tea overlooking the river and choosing Leonidas Belgian Chocolates rounded off a lovely week and it was soon time to retrace our steps back to Southampton, happily trouble free this time.

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(75) Reunion at Dinant May 2015.

So there we were back at Dinant all spruced up and ready for the summer. Linda arrived for a few days and after a day of sightseeing and ‘doing’ the Citadelle (third time for me!) we headed upstream to Waulsort where we enjoyed several lovely walks.

SAM_9429More a hill climb than a walk!

Peter caught a huge carp while we were there, which was similar to the monster he eventually landed after three hours in our first season on the Bourgogne.

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32lb carp at Waulsort.

We filled up with water and with the weather far better than expected, we headed back down to Dinant and visited the Maison de Leffe (another third for me!) This time it was full of people and lots of children, all very noisy and unexpected. The young assistant was rushed off her feet as she dealt with admissions, explaining the interactive displays and tastings. In fact she was so busy that the usual choice was reduced to one large glass of whichever Leffe beer you wanted from a selection of nine!

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Another beer?

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Linda left at the weekend after a fun few days with lots of laughs and Peter and I relaxed and prepared for the SEG reunion the following Friday. We went for a beer at the restaurant that we had booked to confirm the arrangements and were presented with a lovely Salad  Nicoise which we enjoyed on the patio.

Late one evening at our mooring outside the Ibis, Peter caught another huge carp. it was so heavy it broke the landing net and became his best fish to date, not the heaviest but certainly the best. He was unable to weigh it properly as he had dropped the scales in the river whilst weighing the one at Waulsort, but he assures me it was over 40lb.

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Best carp to date, over 40lb.

Despite unexpectedly losing a shopping day on Ascension Thursday, we were fully ‘vitteled’ by the time everyone arrived for the weekend. As expected many arrived by motor cycle, but some by car or train. Seventeen people in all.

When asked by one of the group if there was anything we wanted brought over from England, Peter had replied ‘’Well a couple of packets of Jacobs Crackers and some Cheddar would be handy to tide us over till the end of the month.’’ As everyone arrived during Friday afternoon, it soon became obvious that he’d been set up, as each person in turn brought crackers and cheddar! The fridge was soon brimming with cheese and there was a year’s worth of crackers plus other goodies generously added.

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No shortage of cheese and crackers!

We had a super weekend, with a bar and buffet lunches on board and two river trips downstream on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Several of the chaps took a turn at the wheel and everyone got a flavour of our lifestyle.

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Having a steer.

On Saturday evening we all walked down to Leffe for a lovely meal at ‘The Confessional’ where Peter presented balls from the old SEG snooker table as mementos – several of the guys being singled out for extra ‘coloured prizes’ … alas the table, which had been with the Group since the 1950’s is no longer. Humorous stories abounded as the wine and beer flowed and everyone enjoyed the evening.

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Peter ‘Green Ball’ Cane.

On Sunday morning we all assembled for a team photo with the motor cycles and Brian and Annie’s rather nice Caterham 7 – which Peter still thinks would fit very nicely on the front of the barge.

SAM_0012Boys and Toys.

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Group photo.

All too soon our reunion was over, but we all agreed that it had been great fun. The only question on everyone’s lips was … when is the next one?

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(74) Hard graft at Houx.

For several days were very lucky with the weather and managed to wash, scrub and rub down the sides of the hull before treating any rust with Owatrol. The twenty four hours wait before a second coat enabled us to turn the barge around and get going on the other side. When the weather changed and became unsettled, it did allow us a little R ‘n R which was much needed as we aren’t getting any younger.

Having thought we had a second can of Owatrol onboard, we were annoyed to discover that we didn’t – and they don’t seem to sell it in Belgium either. Fortunately we managed to buy some from a fellow bargee who was moored nearby and I was able to bob around in the dinghy, slapping it on the sides. This was good practice for the following few days when I could be found bobbing around in the dinghy painting under the stern and the bow. No mean feat when you have to get close enough to paint while trying to avoid touching what you have painted with the dinghy. The bow provided its own fun as I balanced precariously on the dinghy seat in order to reach above the rubbing strake. Meanwhile, Peter painted the sides and we wondered why we had bought such a long barge…especially by the time we were onto the second coat!

SAM_0088Bobbing about.

One day I walked back to Dinant to collect the car and was pleased to find myself amongst hundreds of Belgian soldiers who were resting at the lock as they walked along the River Meuse.

Louise and Alex arrived on ‘Riccall’ having decided to make use of the low quay once we had finished. Just after they had moored up the police arrived and spent nearly an hour checking theirs and another barge’s papers. We had ours all ready for inspection but they left without coming to us…perhaps we were still on the books from last summer?

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A shiny new coat for Aurigny.

Lorna and Lawrence (and Tilly) ‘Waterdog’ came over one night and we all had a pleasant evening catching up over supper onboard ‘Riccall’.  Peter and I had spent another long day painting and I’d had the uncomfortable job of doing the rails, which of course also run the length of the barge.

Madame from and adjacent house was amazed at how hard we were working and said our boat looked as good as new. Well we were certainly pleased with our efforts and the camaraderie was great as Riccall’s rails were given a coat of red and we relaxed together in the evenings.

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Much smarter.

Having finished our hull we swapped places with ‘Riccall’ and while I finished our rails, Louise and Alex set to work on their hull.

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Riccall’s turn.

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Walking the plank.

After a couple more days the grafting was over for the time being, with just a few areas still requiring attention on ‘Aurigny’.

Having completed our spell of hard labour, Louise, Alex and I set off on a Saturday morning for the fortress Poilvache on the opposite hillside above Houx Village. Peter and I had eventually found our way up to it by motorcycle last summer, but it had been closed. The fortress is mainly in ruins, but the 2 euro entry was worth it for the views alone, and we all agreed it was good to get away from the barges for a few hours and stretch our legs. And didn’t both barges look smart from our lofty vantage point?

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View from the top.

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Some ancient ruins!!

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Dinner aboard Riccall.

On Sunday 3rd May, Riccall left for the short trip to Dinant stopping for water on the way and we followed an hour or so later, mooring in our old spot by the Ibis Hotel and Casino. They had ordered a new dishwasher to be delivered there in a couple of days and needed a proper delivery address.

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A good job done and in lovely surroundings.

We had a few days to relax before Louise and Alex headed south for the summer and all enjoyed a meal at Taverne Wiertz in town. My friend Linda would arrive in a few days time.

 

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(73) Season six begins…

Several weeks into our sixth season cruising in Europe and we wonder where the time has gone. We are still really pleased that we took the plunge and started this adventure. Our early days exploring the Canal du Nivernais seem like another life.

Reminiscing aside, our first day of the season was not all that great. Sunday proved too wet and windy to set off and even the start of Monday wasn’t hopeful. We said our ‘au revoirs’ and left the Port at Erquelinnes around 10am having phoned the lock keeper to arrange passage. He said the current was quite fast and asked were we sure we still wanted to leave? Peter had already been down to the port entrance to check the state of the river and also do a spot of pruning to a small tree in the entrance that had caused a few scratches when we entered back in October.

Although the Sambre had a bit of a flow after the recent rain, we’d had experience of several rivers in spate over the years and it didn’t look that bad. In fact, the first couple of hours went ok, with our only problem arising in the second lock. On entering, the bow starboard fender snagged on the lock gate and snapped its shiny new rope. I quickly retied it and we were soon on our way down.

As we tried to exit the lock, both of our rear fenders got snagged in the gates and we weren’t going anywhere. I managed to release one but the other could only be freed by undoing it completely and then walking it around the side of the barge as we slowly moved off. Of course, had the lock keeper opened the lock gate fully, we would probably not have had a problem at all.

The weather was fine with sunny spells but a fairly stiff following breeze. Conditions were changing more rapidly than we realised. With an increasing flow and wind veering from side to side across the stern whilst rounding a bend, we ended up in some overhanging trees. This caused a few scratches on the topsides, bent the blue board back and gave me a large bruise…plus a telling off.

I was valiantly trying to stop the branch damage (having been told to stay in the wheelhouse) and could have been swiped overboard! Our rudder backed up on itself, (which it does on occasions when the barge is in reverse) bent the rudder indicator and left Peter with no idea which way the rudder was!

There was another hairy moment on a tight bend when we touched bottom at each end which was also a worry. Then finally, as we approached the moorings at Thuin, after an amazingly easy lock at Lobbes, we saw just how much the flow had increased during the day. With the rudder backing up once again at the critical moment, we glided past the desired pontoons and I only just managed to get a rope on a bollard by stepping onto a moored passenger boat. Rope in hand I found a useable bollard on the bank, while Peter tied the rope off onboard…phew!

Were we pleased to stop at last! In fact we had slotted into the only available mooring before the lock with just a few feet to spare at either end … and there we stayed for several days. The wind gradually abated but the flow and level increased considerably and we weren’t going anywhere.

We heard from Lorna (‘Waterdog’) that the VNF had indeed closed the French section of the Sambre owing to the current.

Peter’s brother Paul and his wife Jean arrived a couple of days later and were happy to potter around the area. We drove back to Erquelinnes to collect our car and stopped off in the friterie (La Chope d’Or) for a ‘Belgian’. After telling the charming chap who worked there that this was our final visit, he presented each of us with a Leffe glass as a gift which we thought was very kind.

Saturday’s Market at Thuin provided us with some tasty fish for lunch and supper and several new mugs (which we needed as the dishwasher requires that we have considerably more crockery!) Jean and I had a couple of pleasant walks around the town and the chaps mended the damaged blue board and attempted to fish in the strong current.

SAM_9357              Fish for supper.

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Jean makes friends with St. Nick.

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Nice view from the top.

On Easter Sunday we visited a local bar (remembered from the previous year) and I had my first taste of a Trappiste beer which was amazingly pleasant…and very strong. It was served with cubes of cheese sprinkled with celery salt, plus small wrapped Easter Eggs in honour of the day.

photo 3    The weaker of the two, just 9 per cent!

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 I can feel a snooze coming on this afternoon.

Next we drove in both cars to Namur and enjoyed more Croque Monsieurs in the bar by the Pont de Jambes. There too the River Meuse was running fast. On the way back we left our car at Auvelais where we would cruise to the next day, conditions permitting.

After walking to the lock to alert the lock keeper of our intentions to leave Thuin, we cast off at around 10am. I have to admit to feeling a little nervous about what the day might bring. Happily, we had a great day with no problems … so we could still do this barging stuff after all.

The pontoon at Auvelais was empty and we moored up in sunshine. When the chaps left to do the car shuffle in the morning, Jean and I walked up to Colruyt. Well that was our intention, but we went the wrong way and found instead a French Military Cemetery set on a hill. The land had been gifted to France by the Belgians and had a memorial in the design of a Breton Lighthouse – as Brittany was the place of origin of many of the dead.

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Interesting, not unlike the one at St. Symphorien.

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After our interesting and moving detour, we eventually found Colruyt and did the necessary provisioning, stopping at the bank-side Lidl as well on our return. When the chaps returned we left for the cruise to Namur, where we moored on the quay opposite the Capitainerie in solitary splendour the first night.

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En route to Namur.

As part of the inevitable car shuffle, we drove to Dinant the following day and enjoyed a lovely lunch at ‘The Confessional’ restaurant near the Leffe Abbey. We had been there with Paul the previous year for a beer and Peter was keen to try the restaurant as a possible venue for his planned SEG reunion in Mid-May. After the lunch we met the chef and agreed an evening menu for the reunion.

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Cracking authentic Belgian restaurant.

In ever improving weather we set off fairly early the next morning for the trip to Dinant. Paul drove his car, hoping to get the odd picture of us en route.

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Unusual to get pictures of us on the move.

River traffic was minimal and the sun shone all day charging the batteries with our new solar panels as we went. We moored up outside the Hotel Ibis where we had spent a good deal of time last summer.

After a nice brunch, Paul and Jean ‘did’ the Citadelle and then we met them on the bridge for the stroll up to the Maison de Leffe. You have a choice of four different beers in the small glasses or just one large glass of your favourite, plus the free gift of a large beer glass on leaving which makes the 7euro entry pretty good value.

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Sadly no spittoon, I feel another snooze coming on!

On the way up there we noticed a rather interesting looking memorial to the victims of German brutality at the start of WW1 and later on after Paul and Jean had returned home we went there to have a look.

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Below the Leffe museum a memorial we’d previously overlooked.

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Inside the names of the victims are projected by the sun.

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Whole families wiped out, their ages indicated by dashes and dots.

A quiet week followed during which I gave our wooden wheelhouse some TLC and Peter relaxed and fished, psyching himself up for more maintenance work on the hull. The previous year we had spotted a low quay just below Houx lock, which would do very nicely for painting the sides. With Peter’s birthday looming and me too tired to cook after my ‘hard labour’, we had enough of an excuse and so enjoyed a great steak meal at the Taverne Wiertz just down from the mooring in Dinant.

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A chubby chub from outside the Ibis.

Louise and Alex (‘Riccall’) joined us for a couple of days before starting their summer’s travels and as the fine weather held, we all cruised down to Houx taking in the sights en route. After lunch our friends departed and we moved the barge to the low part of the quay and relaxed for the rest of the day in anticipation of our coming labours.

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One of the sights!

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Alex has a turn at the wheel.

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Pals.

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Our spot at Houx for the paint job.

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(72) New Year 2015 at Erquelinnes (Jan-March)

To our delight, Laura had decided to prolong her stay with us until after the New Year, but with a trip to Orlando planned with her friend Kim in early January, the time came for her to leave. We drove her to Mons station, once again visiting the St Symphorian Cemetery and Nimy railway bridge on the way.

As expected, the port was very quiet, but sadly terrorism reared its ugly head; this time in France where some Muslim extremists murdered several innocent people in France resulting in a tremendous show of solidarity, with anti-terrorist rallies Europe wide.

We drove over to Cambrai where we wintered the previous year and joined Lynn and Stewart (‘Matariki’) for another lovely meal in the Petit Chef at the port to celebrate Stew’s birthday. En route, we stopped at the fortified town of Le Quesnoy, where the New Zealand Soldiers scaled the walls to usurp the Germans who had occupied it since the start of WW1. The alternative had been to bombard the town with shells and so this very brave action saved the town from destruction. Although rather wet underfoot, it was well worth the visit.

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Not exactly peak season but an impressive fortification!

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Memorial close to where the New Zealander’s scaled the wall.

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The townsfolk were very grateful it wasn’t bombed.

With time on our hands, I continued with my knitting (graduating from scarves to hats,) counted cross stitch, reading, learning to play the piano and walking. Peter did the inevitable engine room maintenance jobs and we both enjoyed snoozy afternoons watching old films and evenings watching the two series  ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Dexter’.

As January drew to a close, we drove over to Seneffe to spend a couple of days with our friends Louise and Alex (‘Riccall’). On a dull, wet day Alex drove us to the big IKEA south of Brussels where we had lunch before ‘following the yellow brick road’ around the store and buying some odds and ends in the ‘market place’. Always fun to spend time with good friends though whatever the weather.

A couple of days later we were joined by Torild and Nils (‘Passe Lagom’), who we had met last year in Ypres. They drove down from Bruges for a night and it was really good to catch up with them again.

Next a mercy dash to Cambrai with our spare generator for Lynn and Stew, whose electrics and generator had combined to stop working at the same time. That evening two of their friends were arriving from New Zealand and it was very cold. Unfortunately our spare generator failed to start, but Peter and Stewart did at least manage to get Matariki’s generator working before we left.

At around this time we decided to spend another year in Belgium and had secured a winter mooring at Flandria Jachthaven in Bruges. This meant that we would be spending our 30th Wedding Anniversary where we honeymooned.

The port froze over several times during February and I was glad to have the use of the free washing machine and tumble dryer in the capitainerie plus my new 13.5 tog duvet!

My friend Karen arrived at the start of half term for a few days. I was pleased to have found some lovely walks which we could do, but still managed to get lost on one of them…in fact the same one that Peter and I had gone wrong on back in September! I think we must have crossed the French/Belgian border a couple of times! The ‘Belgian’ from our local friterie went down very well that night!

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The bedraggled walkers return.

While we were out one day, Peter began demolishing our single cabin. The swapping over of our utility room and single cabin was something he had been mulling over for several months. The former was the other side of the saloon from the galley and the latter adjacent to it. It seemed to make more sense to change them and would mean that we would have room for a dishwasher too.

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The old bedroom in the process of becoming a utility room.

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Where there was a bed, now a dishwasher (less squeaky than the old one!)

The changeover had not been planned for this winter, but with time on his hands and me planning to return to England in a couple of weeks, it seemed possible.

Despite the delay caused by us both getting colds, the conversion was soon underway. The new utility room began to take shape. We were delighted and a not a little surprised when we went to buy vinyl flooring from a shop in nearby Maubeuge.  The chap quoted us 225 euro for the size of vinyl we wanted, but then managed to find a couple of off cuts and end of rolls in a design and colour which were also suitable. When he said they were both ‘gratuit’ we couldn’t believe our luck. As he helped us load them into the car we shook his hand and then chuckling at our good fortune, drove off.

By the end of the day the flooring was laid, and by the end of the next the work surfaces were in place too. With Louise and Alex popping over for the night en route to England the following day, we just had time to move the washing machine, freezer and drinks fridge into the new utility room and tidy up the front cabin. Phew!!

I went back as planned to England for the dentist, hairdresser etc and managed to see several friends and spend time with the family. Laura treated me to a wonderful classic rock ballet and a meal in London and Adam to a meal plus chocs and flowers as belated birthday/early Mother’s Day gifts.  Whilst in England, I was able to get the car’s windscreen and faulty light bulbs replaced and drove around for a week with our new dishwasher sitting in the back of the trusty Micra.

Meanwhie Peter was working hard to finish off the conversion and by the time I returned he had almost done it and was suitably exhausted. I was amazed and delighted and really pleased that he had bitten the bullet this year instead of waiting for next winter.

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The old utility room en route to becoming a bedroom.

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Just enough room for a bed and the hot water cylinder.

Everywhere was covered in dust, but our new G.Tech vacuum cleaner was soon put to good use and a few days later we were almost shipshape. Both new rooms appear to have more space than in their previous lives and having the utility room next to the galley is much better. We had an interesting half hour or so getting the dishwasher onboard and through the front hatch. The fittings I had brought from England meant that the washing machine and dishwasher were soon plumbed in.

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Only way in for the dishwasher.

With the end of March rapidly approaching, we told Toni the Capitaine of our intention to leave at the end of the week. Peter was getting itchy feet.

With just a few days left, we drove over to Dainville near Arras to visit the WW1 War Grave of my Great Uncle Frank. This was a moving experience as I was probably only the second relative to have been there. On the way back we stopped over with our friends Lynn and Stew in Cambrai and enjoyed another convivial evening with them and John (‘Plover’).

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Nicci plants Violas at her Great Uncle’s grave.

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The location had remained unknown until just recently.

Back in Erquelinnes, Lorna and Lawrence (‘Waterdog’) and Louise and Roger (‘The River’) had returned from England and with more inclement weather forecast, Peter was persuaded to delay our departure for a day or so.

We held an impromptu farewell ‘aperros’ onboard Aurigny two days before we left and were pleased that twelve of the ‘locals’ from the port were able to join us. It had been another enjoyable winter and we had made some more great friends.

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(71) Autumn and Christmas 2014.

We settled in quickly at our friendly port, the weather remained warm and sunny and I found several long walks to keep me occupied. I even persuaded Peter to join me on occasions!

SAM_0001The trusty map and the lovely countryside.

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Dragged out on the promise of a cake…

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Yep, it was worth it!

The ‘Peniche’ bar in the port is a handy ‘local’ and ‘La Chope’ in the high street soon became our favourite for a ‘Belgian’…………beer and frites, the frites there being exceptionally good. We spent several pleasant evenings with Lorna and Lawrence (Waterdog) and Louise and Roger (The River) who are also moored in the port.
I drove back to Cambrai for a weekend with Lynn (Matariki) who was recovering from a knee op. On my return, we were joined by Paul and Jan Mellor, who were visiting WW1 sights on the Somme and popped over to see us. Paul and Peter worked together in the SEG some years ago. We persuaded them to stay the night and enjoyed a meal plus one or three glasses of wine!
After a lot of planning and measuring we ordered our new solar panels and control box; the panels from the UK to be collected by our friends Louise and Alex (Riccall) and the controller via Amazon from the US. We were surprised to have to fill in a form from the Belgian Postal Service in order to ‘dedouaner’ the contol box which had been held in Customs. Fortunately, my French was up to the task and a couple of days later it arrived safe and sound……………not until we had parted with another 30 euro though!

Two more ex-colleagues and friends of Peter – Arthur and Peter arrived by motor cycle for a couple of days. En route, they had stopped by Ron’s Warehouse (aka my Dad’s house) to pick up the various other items Peter had ordered to enable him to fit the solar panels.
They had a very wet ride over which meant all their gear had to be dried. Running the barge engine for half an hour provided the perfect place down below.

The rather soggy solar dispatch riders arrive.

We all motorcycled over to Mons the next day to show them the WW1 memorial at Nimy railway bridge and the St Symphorien Cemetery which had been the focal point of the Centenary service attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier in the year.   We also visited the Strepy Lift which has a ‘wow’ factor as did the patisserie on the way back.

Three heavy objects being moved around Belgium!!

Peter embarrassed about his second cake!

Thankfully the weather improved and we had a nice lunch at the ‘friterie’ the following day before they headed off back to England.

No sooner had they left than we were driving over to Seneffe to help Louise and Alex unload their new fridge freezer and washing machine from the van as well as enjoying an evening catching up on news. A couple of days later they drove the van over to us to deliver our new solar panels, Louise and I enjoyed a walk and a good natter while the chaps fitted them onto the back deck of Aurigny.

SAM_0010Making good use of the aft deck, 1KW of solar energy.

On Remembrance Sunday, I returned to England once again for my annual extended visit. This time I travelled on the ferry from Dunkirk to Dover – a longer ferry trip but no tolls and about 30 km shorter by road.
Once again I filled my days catching up with family and friends. Highlights were walking across the O2 roof with my friends Karen and Linda followed by a cable car ride over the Thames and the DLR to the Tower of London. There we managed to see the poppies in the moat even though it was very dark outside it was a spectacular sight. I also spent a lovely week in Yorkshire with my brother Andrew and his wife Kathryn, enjoying a couple of scenic walks in the Dales.

Kitted out ready for the O2 experience.

The experience!

Back in the south I visited the Imperial War Museum, where the WW1, Holocaust and Victoria Cross & George Cross exhibitions were interesting, thought provoking and very sad. Later that day Laura and I saw ‘Billy Elliot’ at the theatre, which was brilliant.

In mid-December we had booked various flights for the four of us and Amy, Adam’s girlfriend to Alderney to celebrate Terry’s (Peter’s Mum) eightieth birthday. With a weather ‘bomb’ threatening to cause chaos to our travel plans, we were relieved that all the family was able to arrive safely and in time. The only problem wasn’t caused by the weather at all, but by a complete airspace computer black out over Gatwick where Laura was flying from. Fortunately she was able to connect with the very last flight from Guernsey to Alderney which had waited for the delayed Alderney passengers. We had given up hope of her arriving and were delighted when she turned up that evening. Peter, Adam and Amy were out at the time and unaware that she had managed to make the flight were assuming she had been forced to stay in Guernsey. She managed to hide away and surprise them as we all sat down to the evening meal.
We had a lovely weekend of celebrations including a fabulous birthday surprise meal at June and Nigel’s Pizza restaurant. It was great to get the Skerritt family together again after such a long time.

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80th Birthday celebrations.

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A birthday hug for our hosts June and Nigel.

SAM_0013A chilly stroll around Alderney.

Everyone returned to England after the birthday celebrations apart from Peter who wanted to stay and enjoy some more fishing with his brother Paul, leaving himself just one night in England before heading back to the barge for Christmas.

                                          A good evening’s ‘squiding’ 

With only a day in hand before we returned to the barge, I was still able to join the Treble Clef Choir for our Christmas concert which was great fun.
Ordering our perishable groceries online for delivery to ‘Ron’s warehouse’ was a great idea, saving the last minute dash around crowded pre-Christmas supermarkets. Peter was able to cram everything into our long suffering Micra while I was out singing.
Our return journey to Belgium went almost without hitch. A problem at Dover led to lorries being stacked back for miles on the approach roads and with several of them blocking the outside lane, it looked like I would miss my ferry.
While Peter was able to weave through the traffic jam on his motor cycle, I endured two hours of ‘stop-start’ driving with more emphasis on the ‘stop’! As I watched my ferry dock from the hill above the port, the air inside the car turned a dark shade of blue. With the departure time gone, I had almost given up when Peter texted that the ferry was waiting for 30 minutes. Amazingly, a gap in the traffic opened up and I made it aboard with minutes to spare. Phew!
Once in France we had a pleasant drive in clear skies with a beautiful sunset to the west. We had left ‘Janet’ (the sat nav) in England for Adam to use later in the week and somehow managed without her as darkness fell. Our only slight problem was finding the correct road from Mauberge to Erquelinnes. Fortunately, Peter found the correct one and we were soon home on board ‘Aurigny’. A quick trip to the nearby ‘Brico’ to buy our Christmas tree followed by a welcome ‘Belgian’ (beer and frites) while the barge warmed up, ended a rather tiring day.

While I was back in England Peter had been busy on the barge finishing off the solar installation and painting all of the kitchen cupboards to brighten things up. He had also put up the outside LED lights in readiness for Christmas, knowing there would be little time when we arrived back. It all looked lovely.

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Old…

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…New.

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Aurigny lit up.

With only a couple of days left before the family arrived for Christmas, we set to decorating the barge. On Christmas Eve, everyone arrived safely.

Instead of catching the Eurostar late afternoon and coming separately as planned, Laura stowed away with Adam and Amy in the car, jumping up from under a pile of coats as Peter was helping with the unloading. It was a lovely surprise, catching both Peter and I this time and it meant that the festivities (ie drinking) could begin early!

As well as the rest of the Christmas supplies they also brought out our Tower of London Poppy. We had ordered one for ourselves and one for Terry for her birthday but sadly they hadn’t arrived in time to take her’s to Alderney.

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Our Poppy, which will have pride of place as a tangible reminder of  the many WW1 sites we have visited over the last two years.

We enjoyed a great Christmas together and inaugurated the ‘Aurigny Indoor Putting Competition’ – likely to be an annual event at Christmas…………….and Peter and Adam’s snow bathing – which isn’t!

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Christmas afloat.

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‘Angling it’ off the hearth.

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The tricky elevated 19th tee!

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Lunch with all the trimmings.

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Seemed to go down well.

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A little bit of madness on Boxing Day!

All too soon we had to say ‘au revoir’ to Adam and Amy, but were pleased that Laura decided to stay a few days longer and spend New Year with us. Her offer to prepare the meal for New Year’s Eve was gratefully received and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening along with our friends Louise and Alex who joined us for a couple of days.

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