(15) Winter at Meilhan-sur-Garonne

We spent five enjoyable months in the Port……………….well Peter did. I returned to England from mid November to mid January as I was keen to catch up with family and friends and the Micra needed its MOT.

Before I left we explored the locality. Meilhan has a fascinating history and huge ‘Tertre’ from which there is a panoramic view which stretches from Marmande to La Reole and beyond. A drive to Castelmoron on the River Lot- gave us a brief look at an area which we are unlikely to visit by barge.

The view from the top.

We spent some time with Chris and Erf at their home in Coirac and enjoyed meeting some of their friends. I discovered the wonderfully fresh and cheap farm produce available locally. We attended a bonfire night at the local Chateau-complete with ‘Guy’ and had a ’Sing-along-a- Mama Mia evening’ on the barge…………..well I did. Peter fled next door with the other chaps for a chilli and wine evening.

My journey to England was the longest to date and made all the more exciting by the fact that the Micra had recently started playing up, occasionally refusing to start. Fortunately, after one overnight stop at Rouen, I made it to my Dad’s. It failed to start the following day as I tried to take it for the MOT, luckily the garage towed it away and worked their magic and I was able to use it for most of my stay.

While I was away, Peter sanded and stained some of the hatches and wheelhouse sections and played tennis with George and Derek, ex-pat’s who live in the town.

 December. Might as well put up the lights despite being back in the UK for Christmas.

 Alone on the barge and a small Yorkshire pud to sustain me !

 With just over a week to go before Christmas, Peter rode the BMW back for its MOT and then popped over to Alderney to visit his mum. They then travelled back to England together and we all spent a lovely Christmas at my dad’s in Shepperton, Laura and Adam arriving on Christmas Eve.

With the canal due to be drained early in the New Year, Peter was eager to return to the barge. Despite the complication of losing his passport- which delayed him a couple of days and a bad cold, he made it back on New Year’s Eve, a real feat of endurance in the freezing conditions.

The canal was duly drained and for a while it looked as if the barge would settle on the level. Sadly, at the last minute it slid forward and ended up listing to the right front. During this time Peter was joined for a week by an ex colleague and friend- Michael who had visited with his girlfriend Jacky the previous February.

 Positioning the barge in preparation for the draining.

 Nearly drained. Sassi (unoccupied) in the foreground settles flat.

 Michael rescues stranded fish as the barge settles on a bit of an angle.

 When Michael returned to England, our paths crossed at the airport…he went on the plane I had just flown out on and (thanks to the wonders of modern technology)…………in the same seat- one of the few with plenty of leg room! Erf had kindly dropped Michael off and picked me up from Bordeaux Airport, which was great as my suitcase, was at the maximum permitted weight and my hand baggage the maximum permitted dimensions.

We had decided to leave the Micra in England from now on………..it had done us a great service with three fully laden return trips to France. As it turned out, this was the right decision, because while I was at the flat in Winchester, it failed to start again and I reluctantly pushed it into the garage and returned to Shepperton by train.

I had not been looking forward to living life on the tilt, but was assured that I would get used to it. After a sleepless night spent trying to stop rolling out of bed, we propped the mattress up on one side. This seemed to work and the only remaining problem was things sliding off the tables and breaking …… particularly glasses of wine! We also had to limit the use of the toilets on board and were pleased to be able to use the one in the port.

Chris and Bob (Sassi) had returned to England just after me in November and were not due back until the middle of March. Sassi had remained perfectly level as the waters drained out………………Sod’s Law!

Lucie and Malcolm (Body and Soul) and Carol and David (Min-ute) had sensibly moved down the canal to Caumont, where Mike had also taken the hire boats. We had decided to stay put and hopefully take advantage of the draining as Peter hoped to get some work done on the sides of the barge. This proved trickier than we had expected as the mud at the bottom of the canal was very thick and easy to sink into. Small branches (courtesy of the campsite gardeners) were laid on the mud, tyres (courtesy of Erf) were placed on the branches and then planks were balanced on top of the tyres. Peter then worked his way around the sides on these.

 Not ideal working conditions but managed to do a bit.

 We had a low key celebration of our 25th Wedding Anniversary, enjoying a splendid Reisling which Paul Chopping had given us when he visited us in October plus a Grand Cru Champagne. Being at an angle put a halt to our entertaining, although Louise and Alex (Riccall) paid us a visit and we had a pleasant lunch on the quayside in the spring sunshine. A few weeks later, we paid a return visit to them at Buzet.

 The paint arrives at last, the new lawn on the right.

 With the preparation done on the barge, all we needed now was the paint. This had been ordered from England and we were beginning to worry that it wouldn’t arrive before the canal was refilled. Meanwhile we were interviewed by a local reporter for ‘La Republicaine’ about our life on a barge and Peter sanded and painted the saloon roof area in preparation for the laying of the lawn and treated some patches of rust on the side decks with ‘Rust Bullet’ a very effective protector.

The paint finally arrived with just over a week to go before the canal started filling and Peter managed to get two coats on the sides all round.

At the beginning of March, the canal began to fill and before we knew it we were afloat….and level. On a dry breezy day we decided to lay the lawn. This was quite a task as it was expensive and we didn’t want to make a wrong cut. Fortunately, Peter had a steady hand and it went down very well. Ever since we have had people coming up and stroking it to see if it is real…..and no mowing required!

 Laying the lawn.

 Phew, all cut and no mistakes.

 Chris and Bob returned to ‘Sassi’, and ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Min-ute’ returned to port. Suddenly it was a hive of activity and the nearby restaurant (Le Gargouille) reopened providing us all with excellent lunches at 11,50 euros.

A final visit to Coirac resulted in my worst hangover for years after we went to a wine tasting followed by lots of Champagne at a friends birthday supper. We returned to the barge the following day in Erf’s car laden down with twelve 10litre cubies of wine. A final trip to Lidl’s for other heavy items while we had the luxury of Erf’s car and we were set to leave on April 2nd.

George Smith (our tennis friend) and his band were playing at a bar in Hure and we had decided to cruise down there for the evening before turning round to head off on our travels the following day. We had a farewell drink in the office/bar and left Meilhan at 6pm. The place was still bustling with passers-by as well as the resident boaters.

We had a lovely evening in Hure and the live music was great, a suitable end to another interesting winter. As in the previous year we left reluctantly, having made more good friends at Meilhan.

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