(10) The Etang du Thau and Canal du Midi to Beziers Sept 2010

We left Frontignan at 10am and headed towards Sete and the Etang du Thau. As expected the Etang was huge. There was a fairly constant breeze, the sun was shining and we were looking forward to the trip. Leaving Sete behind us, I insisted that we all put life jackets on, just to be on the safe side.

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 Fishing boats in Frontignan.

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 The Etang du Thau.

 There were few other boats about. Even so we narrowly avoided a small fishing boat; the sole occupant of which was busy hand lining in a nice salmon, and had abandoned the tiller with the motor still running. We were also surprised to find someone diving in the middle of the channel with only a tiny flagged buoy to warn of his/her presence.

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 Motor still running while pulling in a nice Salmon.

 The rows of oyster beds stretched for miles in the northern part of the Etang and had to be avoided at all costs. The small fishing ports looked very inviting but we were probably a bit big to moor in them. Another time maybe when we’re braver.

After two and a half hours, during which the engine had a much needed ‘blast’, we passed the lighthouse marking the channel and entered the relative calm of the Canal du Midi.

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 About to enter the Canal du Midi.

 Initially it looked a bit run down with lots of semi derelict boats moored each side, but we were soon passing through the typical shady plane trees and vineyards. Our first lock was a ‘garde’ lock which was permanently open and the second was our first encounter with an oval one – peculiar to this canal. We were unsure how to tackle these. Fortunately, Adam was there to jump off and catch my front rope and Peter was able to fend off at the stern.

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 Adam enjoys a beer and a change of scenery.

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 Our first oval lock.

 In all the excitement we completely forgot to lower the flag pole as we normally do for the low bridges. After a horrible scraping noise the wooden top popped off, luckily the rest remained intact.

We moored up on the River Herault just below the round lock at Agde, tying to some sturdy tree roots. While the chaps fished; Adam having seen the photos was keen to catch something big, I walked into Agde to explore the town and was surprised to find it had Greek origins. I also checked the train times at the station in preparation for collecting the car the next day.

When I returned the fishing competition was over and a boules one had commenced on the adjacent public terrain. This went on until bad light stopped play. We stayed at this spot for a couple of days during which time I collected the Micra from Frontignan an did some shopping while Peter washed the barge down- eager to remove all the sand and salt from the last few weeks. The weather definitely had an autumnal feel to it now and the duvets had to go back into their covers for the first time in months.

We passed through the round lock at Agde, which with its three gates allows passage south onto the River Herault down to le Grau-d’Agde as well as onto the rest of the Midi. It is also the only lock on the canal big enough to have another boat in with us.

There was no available mooring at Vias where we had hoped to get electricity, so we eventually moored just past the ‘le Boat’ at Cassafieres. From here it was just a 10km cycle back to Agde to collect the Micra. After giving Adam a rather severe haircut which proved too much for our electric hair clippers, we all went to the restaurant in the port and had a lovely meal.

The next morning we set off towards Beziers, not wishing to get too far west as Adam was due back in London within the week, flying from Montpellier. On reaching the outskirts of Villeneuve-les-Beziers, we moored in a shady spot in the cut not far from the lock. The town looked busy and was hosting a Harley Davidson Rally. I cycled back to collect the car again and on my return we drove down to the lovely beach at Serignan just 15 minutes away.

The next day, a space became available on the quay right below the lock so we moved onto it. Here we met Alex and Louise from Riccall who were out cycling and checking available moorings. We had passed them at Vias a couple of days before. They are now good friends and we have enjoyed meeting up with them at various places over the past nine months. After a glass of wine or two they went on their way and we had another lovely afternoon down on the beach at Serignan.

A text from Alex and Louise the following morning alerted us to the first of many VNF strikes. We decided to stay put and drive into Beziers to explore the town and have a look at the famous flight of locks at Fonserannes. The outskirts of Beziers were fairly standard for a city and ugly, but the old part near to the cathedral did have a certain charm with superb views from the park overlooking the plains below.

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 Adam (Papillon) and the view from Beziers.

 There were no boats using the lock flight that day because of the strike but it is obviously a popular tourist attraction. I have to admit to being somewhat apprehensive, especially as it wasn’t operating so as to give us an idea of how it all worked.

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Taking the dinghy out while the locks are on strike.

 The next couple of days were rather frustrating as the strike also affected the airports. Adam’s flight was cancelled the night before he was due to leave as was his amended flight the next day. Time was running out and he needed to get back in order to sign a contract for new his student house. In desperation, we booked a 234 euro train ticket from Montpellier to London. The only bonus for Adam was that he could now take his huge can of ‘Desperados’ back with him on the train.

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The keg that went back by train !

 Once Peter returned from dropping him at Montpellier station, the strike having ended, we made our way through to the Port at Beziers in anticipation of ‘doing’ the flight of locks the next morning.

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