(9) The Petit Rhone and Canal du Rhône a Sete

As our Waterways guide is quite old we decided to explore the moorings further down the Petit Rhône by car. Taking a picnic, we drove through the Carmargue down to the Mediterranean at Les St-Maries-de-la-Mer, visiting several potential spots en route. This is a popular seaside resort and its market was in full swing. We eventually parked the car and spent a few pleasant hours on the beach. Having spent the last 20 years holidaying in Alderney, the Mediterranean Sea felt remarkably warm by comparison. We had found our ‘sea-side’ for the family visitors due later in the month.

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 Our beach picnic and a poor attempt to hide lilly white legs !

 The Fourques mooring on The Petit Rhone was perfect except for one thing- every time a car crossed the nearby bridge the planks clattered spoiling the peace and quiet. We left after a couple of nights and headed towards St Gilles where we had been told there were some wooden pontoons before the town. En route we found a wild mooring on the right- very ‘Africa Queen’. I had spotted it on Google Earth the night before and after a bit of necessary pruning we moored up.

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 lovely spot, shame about the noisey bridge.

 We stayed there just two nights in the end as the mosquitos were out in force and I had nearly forty bites. During this time, Peter cycled back to get the Micra, we explored St Gilles by bike and Peter fished unsuccessfully. We also cycled along the canal to look for the pontoon moorings which were available, although they were a fair distance from St Gilles. There was also a parking spot about 300m away from them.

We left our wild mooring on the Petit Rhone, turned right into the Canal du Rhône a Sete and almost immediately into the St Gilles lock.  This was quite a large one and so we were surprised when we only dropped 50cm. Having turned the corner after the lock we were relieved find the pontoon nearest to the town still vacant.

St Gilles

The mooring was very pleasant with a more open aspect and I hoped fewer mozzies. There were a few passing hire boats returning to the port each day and little else. Every evening we were entertained by the strange antics of weird air gulping fish which swam in small flotillas with their mouths out of the water. Peter tried in vain to catch one but they proved very elusive. We later discovered that they were Mullet.

The track which led to the town was very rutted and car un-friendly, so we decided to leave Micra at the port and commute in the dinghy. It took nearly twenty minutes but at least the ride was a smooth one.

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 The water taxi to St Gilles.

 St Gilles is a rather run down little town but does have a nice Abbey. Named after St Gilles, an inspirational 8th century nobleman turned hermit. It sits at the Gates to the Carmargue.

Whilst waiting for our daughter Laura and her boyfriend Jon to arrive, we spent another lovely day at St Maries-de-la-Mer and the rest of the time chilling out and trying to keep cool. We also rigged up some nets over the hatches in an attempt to keep the mozzies at bay. Sadly, we had to move inside the barge and batten down at the hatches at the ‘witching hour’… 9pm every evening!

Laura and Jon duly arrived and we spent a lovely week with them. An interesting visit to the Amphitheatre at Nimes (although the rest of the town was a bit disappointing) followed by an unexpected visit by Rosemary and Ian Lindley; a trip to the market and sights at Arles, including Van Gogh’s bridge (complete with artist); two beach days at St Maries and a day visit to the stunning Pont du Gard and the centre of Avignon on the way back.

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 Arles, near to where Van Gogh’s house was till the USA bombed it during WW2.

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 Nimes, and Laura with a well fondled Matador !

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 The famous bridge near Arles.

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 As Van Gogh saw it.

 With the benefit of hindsight, we could have moved on from this spot much sooner than we did. This would have given them a trip on the barge which is always interesting. However, we had more family flying into Marseille and were not sure of the mooring possibilities on the Canal du Rhône a Sete.

I said farewell to Laura and Jon and while Peter drove them to Marseille Airport, set about washing and cleaning in readiness for the arrival of my sister Kate, her husband Peter and children Megan(12)and Robert(9) the following day.

Although only a 5 berth barge, Peter had made a hinged bed from an old door in the work space in front of the bow cabin, affectionately known as the ‘shed’. This was re-named the ’Smuggler’s Cabin’ for the duration of Robert’s visit. He’s a great fan of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

We spent three more days at St Gilles and once again visited Arles market and the seaside. On the Sunday we decided to move on and hopefully find some breeze and a mozzie free mooring. This was in fact a two hour picnic mooring….. we had been there seventeen days!

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 Taking the taxi.

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 St Gilles, pre witching hour.

St Gilles to Sete

Having warned the family that we were entering uncharted (for us) territory, we set off at midday. The chaps had already taken one of the cars to Aigues- Morts, so after turning the barge around at St Gilles we headed west.

It was to be a long day. We hoped to top up with water again as our last fill had been over three weeks before at Avignon and the level was lower than we would normally let it get.

Just east of Gallician, there was a place to get water but no room to moor. A young man living on a huge barge took pity on us, letting us moor alongside and use his hose. We stopped for over an hour and as a thank you gave him a box of beers. Our cruise took us in a fairly straight line through the Carmargue where we were delighted to see the famous black bulls, white horses and pink flamingos ………..not all at the same time though!

We could see the Tower of Constance from a long way off as we approached Aigues-Morts, but there were no moorings to be had and the ones which had been free in the morning during the car run, had been taken. We were just approaching the railway swing bridge at the port having received a green light, when the bridge swung shut in front of us. Perhaps we were too small to be seen by the operator!! We had to wait over an hour while the two carriage train rumbled over the bridge and back again. Finally the bridge swung open and we passed through into the Port de Plaisance.

We were all weary, especially Peter who had now been at the wheel for six hours. A quick look at the guide showed us that the Le Grau-du-Roi (second largest Mediterranean fishing port) was within striking distance, but the depth of the canal became an issue and we were forced to turn around and head back through the swing bridge.

With the sun setting behind us we were getting desperate and were very relieved when we were hailed from the barge ‘Argonaut’ to come alongside.

Roger and Anne-Marie live on ‘Argonaut’ and have a permanent mooring on the approach to the town. They kindly offered us three days mooring complete with water and electricity. Roger also advised us of potential mooring and watering spots on the Canal du Midi.

After a hastily prepared dinner, we chilled out for the rest of the evening and were later entertained by a distant firework display. Apparently, the celebrations were to commemorate the departure of St Louis on the Crusades, which probably accounted for the popularity of the town and scarcity of moorings.

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 Alongside Argonaut and ‘chillin’.

 We ended up staying in Aigues-Morts for just two nights and during this time; explored the walled town, had a meal out, provisioned the barge, and did the inevitable car shuffling.

We reluctantly said goodbye to Roger and Anne-Marie, who have put ‘Argonaut’ on the market. They had certainly provided us and others, we discovered later, with a haven when we needed it.

The day’s cruise took us at sea level between huge inland lakes and the sea, past small wooden fisherman’s shacks and two working dredgers. We also saw many flocks of Flamingos. Finally we reached the pontoon bridge at Villeneuve-les-Magoulonne. After sounding our horn, the operator stepped out onto the bridge which was fitted with two outboards at one end and ‘motored’ it open.

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 Fishermen’s shacks.

 As Kate’s hire car was here, we hoped to find a space and were pleased that there was just enough room in the passenger boat mooring. We were asked to move the next day and fortunately were able to slip back into a space vacated by a couple of hire boats.

It was perfect. A salty breeze (of varying strengths!) kept the temperature down and the mozzies away and we were able to sit out on deck in the evenings for the first time since leaving Avignon.

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 Breezy but lovely.

 We spent an idyllic five days here and were joined by our son Adam who flew into nearby Montpellier. The beach was just 1.5km away and served by a free small road train service. The sun shone everyday and we had various outings to explore Palavas, Frontignan and Montpellier.

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 Things could be worse !

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 Evening view from deck, mozzie free.

 On 30th August, we left Villeneuve-les-Magoulonne and while Kate and Peter drove to Sete for a day out, the rest of us cruised on the barge to Frontignan, stopping for two nights. There were some lovely beaches here too, as well as the fun of watching the twice daily ‘free for all’ as the lift bridge was raised  and the hire boats rushed through with no heed to the rules of passage.

Kate and gang reluctantly said farewell the next day and Peter, Adam and I prepared for our crossing of the Etang de Thau on 1st September.

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