We reached Lyon (second largest City in France) during the early afternoon but decided not to stop there on this occasion. We had heard several reports of problems on the moorings and being a Friday, didn’t want a noisy weekend.
Some modern industrial architecture just outside Lyon.
As we left the city’s industrialised outskirts the Saône joined with the Rhône and we were soon at our first lock- which was huge. We were a little uncertain as to the procedure required for the locks on the Rhône because we had no Waterway Guide to help us. All we had was a one page summary guide of the entire waterway system in France, the Guide du Plaisancier (mainly ports) and the novel ‘Narrow Dog to Carcassonne’. We had to wait ages at this first lock and when it finally opened we weren’t sure exactly what to expect.
Joining the Rhone, Lyon in the background.
To our relief, it was all quite straightforward and once we got to grips with the recessed sliding bollards, our descent was easy. Only the weird and eerie sound they made going down came as a bit of a surprise.
The first huge Rhone lock.
We had the lock all to ourselves, which is amazing when you consider the volume of water involved.
The Rhône is primarily a commercial waterway and there are thirteen Hydro-electric dams along its length. Pleasure craft are welcome, although hire boats are prohibited. The locks are basically built to the same dimensions and differ only in depth. The lock gates resemble guillotines (appropriate for France we thought!) and the ‘Eclusier’ sits in a high tower which spans the width of the lock.
The recesses for the sliding bollards.
After our calm but noisy descent, the gate was raised and we left the gloom at the bottom for the sunshine in the cut beyond.
Back into the sunshine.
With 40 km to the next lock, we decided to stop at the first available spot. A weary 18 km later Peter spotted a ‘No Mooring’ sign on a pontoon at Givors and decided to ignore it and moor there anyway. There followed a welcome and spectacular thunderstorm which raged all around us while we stood out on deck and cooled ourselves in the rain.
Givors had clearly been an important town once as it had a small river and branch canal with a port where it joins the Rhône. The countryside was changing and we were on the edge of the Massif Central and Rhône Alpes. Houses had flatter roofs with the tiles a pale brown colour giving it a Mediterranean feel.
A more Mediterranean look.
Since leaving Lyon we had seen many commercial quays and industrial areas as well as huge commercial barges, several of which passed us at speed during the day. It was important to keep a good watch behind as they travel very fast.
Beautiful scenery but keep a watchful eye behind too.
Our next stop was at Chavannay on another small floating pontoon, from where we were able to cycle to the shops for provisions. By now we had realised that moorings were few and far between on the Rhône and one had to take every opportunity.
With the wind picking up and a fast current propelling us towards the lock, it was very difficult to hold station above l’Ecluse de Sablons. We knew it was sensible to radio ahead and let them know of our intentions. Unfortunately, not having a guide to tell us the frequency, we had to wait until we were within binocular distance! I could then look for the VHF frequency on a signpost in front of the lock.
We were joined in this massive lock by Ian and Ros on ‘Sarah Jane’ a small and unusual looking vessel complete with a car port on the stern.
On arriving at Andance/Andancette, I knew there was a mooring of some kind from the ‘..Narrow Dog..’ and we spotted the small pontoon on the left just before the suspension bridge. Turning around and approaching against the strong current made it much more controllable.
Andance/Andancette from near the three crosses.
This was a pretty spot with the two towns on opposite banks of the Rhône joined by one of France’s oldest suspension bridges. Three crosses high on the hill opposite our mooring had been erected as a memorial to three young women who apparently threw themselves off when their fiancés did not return from the Crusades.
Nicci casts just her shadow over the cliff.
We stopped here for two days and were joined again by ‘Sarah Jane’ who asked if they could come alongside for the night. They too were having difficulty finding somewhere to moor.
There was just enough room to take the BMW off the barge, the crane being on the starboard side. The trip back to Neuville-sur-Saône to collect the Micra took over an hour, mainly on motorways and we realised just how far and how quickly we had travelled.
I took a walk up to the three crosses from where I had a stunning view of the surrounding countryside and later that evening Peter caught his biggest Catfish to date.
Stunning views, well worth the climb.
Parts of the Rhône Valley are really quite stunning and the smaller towns and villages are very picturesque. We mastered the next lock pretty well, managing to moor on the waiting pontoon while two big commercial barges came through heading upstream. Tournon offered two reasonable moorings, but it was a bit early to stop so we noted them down and carried on.
At l’Ecluse Bourg-les-Valence we had to wait while an enormous double gas barge plus pusher went in before us. It took up the whole lock and we had to wait for the next one. By the time it reopened another smaller commercial had arrived and we followed him in. Whilst waiting to descend, a young couple turned up brandishing booklets about the Rhône and a guide on how to negotiate the locks.How helpful, we thought…..they would have been useful four locks ago!! At least they had the VHF frequencies so I could now put the binoculars away.
A Pusher Barge pushing a barge pushing another bigger barge. Very skillful.
Bright and sunny….
…..Dark and damp !
Reaching Valence late afternoon, we ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ over whether to moor at the dyke type mooring just outside the Port de Plaisance. Having decided to give it a go we were just making our approach when a man from one of the barges there started gesticulating and directing us into the port. This we knew to be unsuitable for us from our guidebook, so we carried on downstream.
It had been another long day and at last we reached La Voulte which initially looked promising. However, the sloping quayside wasn’t good and we couldn’t fend sufficiently; the commercials do come past at quite a rate.
Wearily we turned around and headed back upstream to a commercial sand quay which Peter had spotted earlier. Not the prettiest of spots but we didn’t care about that and just wanted to stop.
Sandy shore ! better than nothing.
The following day we were up and away by 8am. Just past La Voulte, as Sod’s Law would have it, we found what would have been a suitable mooring and noted it down for future reference.
Hoping to stop at the antiquated walled town of Viviers, we turned right up the ‘embranchement’. Sadly no mooring was permitted on what looked like a perfect quay and after looking a little further up we could find nothing suitable and abandoned the idea.
Returning to the main river we made it to our third lock of the day- The Bollene, which at 75’ is the second deepest in Europe. Quite an experience!
Seriously deep lock…400 million gallons and just for us !
Escaping the guillotine.
By 5pm we had been on the go for nine hours and I was taking turns at the wheel to give Peter a break.
At St Etienne-les-Sorts, we spotted the pontoon which again is only meant for boats of up to 15m (surprise surprise!) In desperation and in choppy, windy conditions we moored up determined to stay. We agreed that if anyone tried to turf us off we would plead ‘une urgence.’
The town is one of the Cotes du Rhône Villages and has one shop selling everything and a couple of ‘Caves’. Peter entertained the locals by catching two more Catfish and a Barbel and decided that he really must buy a bigger landing net.
We stopped here for two nights making the most of the free electricity, although the available water wasn’t hose friendly. We also visited one of the Cooperative Caves and bought some of the local wine. It had been a welcome resting place on our journey south. Our next stop…..Avignon!
Avignon is a short way along a branch of the Rhône on the left as you travel south. After the sharp left turn we found ourselves battling against the current as we approached the city. It seemed to take along time, but we eventually passed the famous Pont d’Avignon (actually the Pont de St-Benezet.) It no longer spans the Rhône having been partially washed away but there were lots of tourists willing to pay the 5 euros to go ‘sur le pont’. A walk ‘sous le pont’ costs nothing!
Passing the Pont of no return …..sorry !
Unsure of whether there would be a mooring or not, we hovered by the port and were soon hailed by the capitaine who indicated that we could go alongside another barge. With charges of 36 euros a day it was much cheaper to stay for a week at a cost of 144 euros. As we had arrived south far quicker than anticipated, we decided to stay a week and enjoy the city.
I went off to explore and left Peter to sort out the water and electrics.
The approach from the port was via several steep flights of stone steps to the Rocher Des Doms, but the view from on high was worth the climb. There was a park at the top with all sorts of activities and rides for families with young children. As I descended past the Musee du Petit Palais and Palais des Papes, I was pleased to discover that Avignon was in the midst of its three week annual Arts and Theatre festival. What luck!
The square next to Palais des Papes.
My stroll took me down the main Rue de La Republique to the station at the end, just beyond the city walls. Here I collected several railway timetables – a useful habit, before returning by the same route through the plethora of street acts and festivities.
At the barge, Peter had put some extra ropes across to the quay and been for a cycle round. He was now in fishing heaven having caught another Barbel, the first of many from this mooring in Avignon as well as another huge Catfish.
The fishing certainly compensated for the expensive moorings.
The following day, we went to the station. Peter took his bike and caught the first of several trains back to Andance to collect the Micra. Meanwhile, I meandered my way slowly back to the barge having shopped at a Carrefour Cite( a bit like Tesco Local.) I reached the barge just in time to save the motorbike cover being blown off the BMW in a strong gusty wind. Peter eventually returned, having endured heavy holiday traffic en route and stopping at Decathlon to buy a bigger landing net…..his other one having died of exhaustion!
The following couple of days were spent relaxing and exploring Avignon and the surrounding area…..plus more fishing. The largest catch to date, a 60+ pound Catfish which was only landed with the help of another fisherman from the adjacent barge.
Exploring on the bikes, Avignon in the background.
The new landing net may still not be up to the job.
We had decided that our next stop would be at Arles and drove there to check out the moorings.
Arles is an interesting town with a fascinating Gallo-Roman history and a huge amphitheatre. Having parked by the quay, we spotted a British ensign on a barge on the opposite side of the river. It was ‘Elsie May’- owned by Peter and Linda. Peter was in Marseille buying paint, but Linda told us about the mooring and said they were heading up to Avignon in the next day or so. After exploring the town some more we left the car at Arles station and headed back to Avignon by train.
The rest of our time at Avignon was spent relaxing, exploring the town, washing (as there was such a good drying wind) and preparing Aurigny for the next stage of our voyage. A couple of pleasant evenings were spent with Peter and Linda once they had arrived, comparing notes, swapping stories and supping du vin…………as you do.
We left Avignon on 30th July, our daughter Laura’s 22nd birthday. The wind and current were both strong and our one and only lock (Beaucaire) proved very testing. Fortunately, we were gaining experience and learning to deal with things calmly as they happened.
We arrived in Arles late afternoon and having tried a couple of alternatives, eventually moored as ‘Elsie May’ had just in front of a restaurant barge. Having been warned of the daily change in levels at this mooring, Peter cobbled together a system. This included tying our stern rope to the outside of the restaurant barge (with their permission of course) and various planks to keep us from riding up onto the camp shedding we were moored alongside. Our new gangplank was used here for the first time too.
We spent three days on this rather precarious mooring. The Halte Nautique was still being refurbished at this time but it looked as if they were going to provide proper moorings eventually. The variation in river level coupled with the passage of very fast, huge commercials at all times of the day and night was beginning to wear.
At low water.
One highlight of the stay was undoubtedly Arles market, the biggest and best we had seen so far. Its colours, smells and variety drew us back there with guests on two more occasions.
Colourful Arles market.
It is also famous for the fact that it was here Peter caught his ‘Jaws’ of a catfish. I kept asking him to cut the line, but he would insist on beaching it! Despite having no proper gloves and with just an old cloth to protect his fingers, he finally managed to haul it onto the bank.
Landing net no use for this one, it’s head wouldn’t even go in.
Fish mud wrestling !
Beached at last.
Not a bad carp from this spot too.
After another restless night during which Peter heard a commercial barge misjudge the nearby bend in the river accompanied by a loud bang, we decided to find a better mooring. Our visitors weren’t due for another two weeks so we browsed through the waterways guide and found a potential mooring just a short way along the Petit Rhône at Fourkes.
Having done a quick recce in the Micra, it seemed suitable so we left Arles on 2nd August and after an hour’s cruise we were on the Petit Rhône………