(16) Meilhan to Toulouse April 2nd to May 2nd 2011

We left Hure mid-morning having said farewell to Erf and Toby who had come to see us off and sounding the claxon as we passed through the port at Meilhan; then cruised to Caumont three locks up where the weather continued to be warm and sunny.

 Sunrise in Caumont.

 We spent a couple of days there and visited Duras and Monsegur by motorbike. Back at Caumont we enjoyed meeting Pat and Alan who were exploring the area in their campervan. They used to live on Alderney and so we had lots to chat about. Alan, 85 and a former racing driver had raced and beaten the likes of Graham Hill. He also owns and still flies a 1940’s Tipsy Junior airplane, the only one of its kind still airworthy.

We also had a surprise visit from Christian who we had met latterly while still at Meilhan. He worked on the local passenger boat. Christian rather unexpectedly presented Peter with a set of competition boules which he said were too heavy for him along with a couple of fire brigade t-shirts. He was very interested in our new lifestyle. Peter reciprocated with an SEG t-shirt.

 Duras bike trip.

BBQ and a chance to chat about motor racing.

The weather was unseasonably warm even for the south of France and from the UK weather reports we weren’t the only ones enjoying some sunshine.

At Serignac, we were joined for one night by Di and Dave who had collected their boat from Castelnaudary and were taking it back to Meilhan where they live. The following day, within the space of twenty minutes, we were joined by ‘Riccall’ and ‘Paprika’. Alex and Louise had somehow managed to moor up without my seeing them; even though I was in the wheelhouse (I blame the computer!) Lynn and Keith had collected ‘Paprika’ a few days earlier and decided to explore this part of the Canal before turning around.

We had an impromptu tea party on the quayside and later drinks on board ‘Aurigny.’ It was so lovely to be in great, like-minded company.

‘Riccall’ left first the next day, followed by us; Lynn and Keith having decided to avail themselves of the free services and give ‘Paprika’ a good clean.

We had unpleasant memories of the flight of locks below Agen and they didn’t disappoint. Once again the bollards were in awkward places for us and the fierce outlet on the right as we approached the lock, churned the water onto a whirlpool which moved us around too much. With a little help from the bowthruster we made it through without damage.

The wind across the aqueduct gave us some interesting moments and it was with relief that we arrived at the port basin at Agen, mooring up in front of ‘Riccall’ who had been expecting us and had kindly left room. We enjoyed another short exploration of Agen, this time on foot and paid our first visit to Mr Lidl’s brother Mr Aldi, for provisions.

Alex and Louise moved off the following day and not long after along came Lynn and Keith who invited us aboard ‘Paprika’ for drinks that evening. In the morning we headed towards Valence d’Agen where we had spent a pleasant weekend with Han and Gerrie last October. We cruised through pretty countryside and arrived late afternoon, mooring against the old quay on the town side of the canal.

The next day we moved off towards Pommevic, two locks up, attracted by its free electricity. Here we moored in front of ‘Pomme de Mer, meeting Sally and Nick who were gamely chipping away at some old deck paint in preparation for their scheduled dry dock at Toulouse.

On returning from a pleasant cycle into the surrounding area (during which we discovered a Lidl’s and Giant Casino just outside Valence d’Agen), Paprika was just cruising past and decided to stop for the night. Another impromptu aperros ensued on her back deck.

Sadly, the pong from a nearby drain cut short both our stays at Pommevic which we have renamed ‘Pongvic’. Lynn and Keith headed off early the next day and we followed soon after, stopping at Malause which had moorings, water and electricity for 3,50 euros per night.

The next day, after cycling to the Mairie to pay for the mooring we continued cycling along the towpath to Moissac (10km). There just below the lock we found Lucie and Malcolm (‘Body and Soul’) who had been slowly cruising towards their dry dock at Castelnaudary since the end of March.

After sampling some of Malcolm’s homebrew and buying some fresh asparagus being sold to the boaters by a local farmer, we headed into town where the annual arts festival and market were in full swing. We had a pleasant lunch with Lucie and Malcolm in a restaurant just off the main square, followed by some very alcoholic plums preserved in rum, on a neighbouring boat.

 A cycle to Moissac and lunch with Lucy and Malcolm.

Suitably refreshed, we cycled back to the barge, stopping briefly on ‘Pomme de Mer’ for a welcome glass of water. We made a slight detour to St –Nicholas-de-la-Grave which is on the River Tarn where a Leffe Pression went down very well.

 All that cycling deserves a beer !

That evening we dined on fresh asparagus, cold chicken salad and French bread which rounded off a ‘cracking day, Grommet!’

After a quiet day at Malause we cruised to Moissac, hoping to be able to moor in the spot vacated by ‘Body and Soul’.  Fortunately, it was still free and we stayed free of charge for three days.

While there we cycled along a section of the River Tarn towards Montauban and also to Castelsarrasin, a popular canal-side town. Here we boarded ‘Body and Soul’ once more to sample another of Malcolm’s home brews. This has prompted Peter to order a beer kit so that he can start brewing, English beer being one of the few things he misses!!

On our last evening, ‘Rosa’- of Rick Stein fame arrived and we had to move up to make room. I was not looking forward to manoeuvring out of the tight spot, but as usual Peter took it in his stride when we left the next morning….his birthday.

 ‘Rosa’ behind and a tricky Manoeuvre to exit Moissac.

 We didn’t cruise far, just up to the pontoon near to an Intermarche with a fuel station. Using our two trolleys, we made five fuel and one shopping run and also bought some mozzie netting and velcro for our portholes and hatches.

Cruising through Castelsarrasin was a bit tricky as boats and barges were moored on each side of the canal making it rather narrow. It was also getting breezy which is always a challenge.

At the Montech Flight of five locks, we had to wait for the barge in front to leave after the lunch break. By the time it was our turn; the wind had picked up and was gusting left to right and slightly against us. The inflow from the right on the approach to the lock made things very interesting, and a grass mowing tractor accompanied us for the whole stretch causing much coughing and sneezing on our part.

With relief we left the final lock and branched left onto the Canal de Montech. Within half an hour we were at Lacourt-St-Pierre mooring up alongside ‘Body and Soul’.

We had a great evening, pooling our resources for a feast of cannelloni with ricotta bacon and asparagus, salad, cheese, lemon flan and After Eight Mints- all washed down with red and rose wine and of course Malcolm’s beer.

 Lacourt-St-Pierre and supper alongside ‘Body and Soul’

 A chilly breeze the next day (Good Friday) kept us inside where we took the opportunity to make our mozzie screens from plastic tubing, netting and velcro.

Unfortunately, we discovered that our red diesel tanks, although not empty, had reached a critical level. With the generator being gravity fed, the diesel we had was not sufficient! We couldn’t believe that despite our delivery of red diesel in Meilhan a few months before the tanks were now so low.

We said ‘au revoir’ to Lucie and Malcolm, having arranged to spend the Royal Wedding Day in Toulouse together. At the first of nine uphill locks towards Montauban, we received our remote contol zapper- another first for us. The zapper is pointed at the lock from a distance of about 100metres and then activates the lock gates.

Five locks up we passed ‘Paprika’ who had spent several days in Montauban and several hours in the hospital there where Lynn had to have a large splinter removed from her leg. We hoped that Han and Gerri might still be in the port as they had wintered there but sadly we had missed them by a couple of weeks.

After waiting on the opposite bank for the departure of some hire boats, we moored up near to the Capitainerie and tidied the barge in preparation for our daughter Laura’s visit on Easter Sunday.

 Montauban.

The following day Peter drained one of the red diesel tanks and used it to top up the other one. Unfortunately it made no difference and on enquiring at the Capitainerie, a fuel delivery would have to wait till after the Easter weekend.

We craned the BMW off the barge and left for Toulouse Airport at about 4pm. It was about 50 km away and much bigger than I’d anticipated.

Laura’s flight arrived on time and she and I caught the shuttle bus to the station and the train to Montauban.  A twenty minute walk from the station to the barge concluded what had been a fairly straightforward transfer.

We spent the next day at Montauban and enjoyed exploring the old part of the town which was across the other side of the River Tarn. After a splendid lunch in the main square, we returned to the barge and were soon joined by Alex and Louise. We enjoyed supper with them on ‘Riccall’ although Louise’s paella went down much better than my French bread chocolate pudding!! Well I saw the recipe in a magazine and thought it would be good for using up leftover baguettes.

 Laura and a nice lunch in Montauban.

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 Mmmm…French bread chocolate pudding !!

We left Montauban the next day, missing the installation of new pontoons by a few hours. The nine locks took about three hours to do and we stopped briefly on the mooring we had used the previous autumn in Montech. A rather blunt and ‘jobsworth’ woman from the Capitainerie informed us that it was not ‘gratuit’ as we had thought and we should go immediately to the office and pay. Peter went to the office to say goodbye and we moved up to the mooring before the next lock for the night. Not to save money, but because of the womans rudeness.

This wild spot provided frog and birdsong and the lovely scent of acacia blossom. After a walk to the shops the following morning with Laura (during which time Peter solved the diesel problem by rigging up a temporary fuel tank), we left at midday and cruised to Grisolles, mooring just beyond ‘Body and Soul’ on an old quay and enjoying aperros on her back deck in the sunset.

Lucie and Malcolm left early the next day for the last industrialised stretch into Toulouse. We followed later on and all met up again in the Embouchere Port where the Midi and Garonne canals merge. Aperros on ‘Body and Soul’ followed by a short walk in the evening ended another pleasant day.

Royal Wedding Day.

The day began with Peter putting up our bunting and lights and tuning in the satellite dish, followed by coffee and croissant aux amandes.

We all spent an enjoyable couple of hours watching the ceremony and toasted the Royal couple with Cremant d’Alsace. Then after a lovely chicken salad lunch on deck prepared by Lucie, we continued to watch more of the tv coverage.

 A break from the tv coverage for lunch on Royal Wedding day.

A little later on we had good old fashined cream tea after which Peter and I went off for a much needed walk in search of some duck fat for our Yorkshire pudding and Toulouse sausage supper.

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 A small compromise, English Yorkshire and Toulouse sausage.

 This main course was followed by Eton Mess and cheese and biscuits, then with the sun setting we put the lights on the barge and went inside to watch the highlights and enjoy a glass or two. All in all a very pleasant, very British day.

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 All lit up for the evening.

 We all moved off the following day and the three locks proved to be quite taxing as they were all a bit different, one requiring me to climb a steep ladder with my long (and heavy!) bow rope.

By midday we were moored on the Esplanade having (unusually for us) pre booked the place. Sylvianne was her usual pleasant and helpful self. We availed ourselves of the Lidls which is just a short walk from the port and later that evening Laura and I went for a walk around the city.

On Laura’s final day, we decided to walk via the museum park to an indoor food market before lunch. We bought some strawberries and a very expensive melon. Luckily we had just enough cash left to pay for an equally expensive taxi to the airport-having discovered rather too late that the shuttle bus was not running on May Day.

It had been a great week with lots of variety and good company.

I persuaded Peter to stay one more night in the Port as we had heard about a possible lock strike during the next few days and were unlikely to get very far.

As it happened we only made it into the reach beyond the lock at Castanets and waited two days for the strike to finish. We were joined on day two  by ‘Body and Soul’ with Malcolm’s brother Rob onboard. He had flown out to help them work in the dry dock at Castelnaudary and they were now pushed for time to reach the port.

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