(18) Castelnaudary to the top of the Canal du Jonction

 An early Wind Turbine near Castelnaudary !

 Just below the flight of locks at Castelnaudary, we filled up with water and then in temperatures of 32 degrees C went through a double, triple and six single locks. The steering behaved beautifully and we finally moored on a small wooden quay near to Villepinte, much to the amusement of some local children who were playing there. After a very ripe Brie de Meaux and bacon baguette we strolled into the town in the relative cool of the evening. The next day’s cruise was equally calm and trouble free and Peter said that the steering was better than ever.

 Nice to be back on the move again.

 We moored just below the lock at Villesque for the night and then cycled to Sauzens a short distance away to check out the moorings. There was a free mooring with priority for passenger boats which we thought would do very nicely and we moved there the next morning. From there we were able to crane the BMW off the barge and ride to Carcassonne easily. The hamlet of Sauzens was very quiet with no shops and we couldn’t imagine why any passenger boats would want to stop there.

While there, we also visited the Grotte de Limousis on the BMW, a fascinating underground cave system with beautiful stalactites, stalagmites and an underground lake. It was even used by the local vignerons to store wine owing to its constant temperature. On the way back to the barge we stopped at the old City which we had visited with Chris and Erf last autumn. We parked free of charge just below the entrance and in strong cool winds walked around the walls and town. A strike prevented us from entering the Chateau but we enjoyed another lovely meal in the square. Carcassonne has a fascinating history and was taken over by the northern French noblemen following the cruel and brutal crusades against the Cathars in the Middle Ages.

 Nicci said we were going to some ‘Caves’…easily had over !

 Crystal clear and well filtered but no good with cheese.

 A fuel stop in Carcassonne…..

 …And a walk round the medieval city.

 We spent three hot days at Sauzens during which we relaxed and Peter actually managed to get the satellite dish working…… for the Monaco Grand Prix! On a surprisingly dull and grey Monday, we took the wheelhouse down in preparation for the low bridge at Port Marengo in Carcassonne. We had a pleasant morning’s cruise into the port and saw some young red squirrels playing in a tree as we waited at one of the locks.

With the wheelhouse down we cruised confidently under the bridge at the lock and ‘Wentworth’ cleared it by about 2”, so we would have been okay with the wheelhouse up. However……………better safe than sorry, even if we did get soaked later that day as the threatened rain poured down!

Just prior to the cloudburst we were hit by a hire boat (driven by Brits) as it exited a lock coming uphill towards us. We were moored on the lock pontoon and what surprised us most was not that we had been hit, but that the boat did a 180 degree turn first, hitting the opposite bank before reversing into our bow anchors…..!!??

We managed to put the wheelhouse back up in thunder and lightning and made it to a wild mooring above Trebes. The grass had been cut around the mooring and we could only think that the hotel barge ‘Calibri’ had prepared the spot as they like to moor in the ‘wild’. We spent two nights on the mooring and walked the short distance into Trebes which had sadly changed considerably since last autumn. Great swathes of Plane trees have been felled leaving gaping holes in the once pretty canal side.

Whilst there we walked across the River Aude and carried on up the other side on a road which led to Carcassonne. Several hours later, we returned the way we had come having failed to reach the barge by a different route…………………..a bridge I had thought crossed the river didn’t exist………………and all this with Peter wearing wellies!!

With a slightly brighter although blustery day ahead, we left our wild mooring the following morning and carefully approached the first bridge which was offset at a tricky angle. Having made it through successfully, our next obstacle was the blind bridge at Trebes. Here Peter gave the prerequisite three horn blasts and I was at my usual lookout post on the bow. Before we knew it two hire boats were speeding towards us under the bridge oblivious to the fact that they couldn’t see beyond it. More horn blowing, shouting and gesticulating ensued with the first one only narrowly avoiding a collision. We were pleased to see the following one aim straight towards the bank and out of our way.

As we passed the ‘Le Boat’ in the port, one of their cruisers had drifted  across the little space left for navigation. Eventually one of the employees came along to move it and tie it up properly. All this and we had only been cruising for half an hour!  it was just going to be one of those days.

Approaching the lock there were more gaps in the trees and we can only hope that some kind of replanting will be done if the Canal du Midi is to maintain its character and World Heritage status.

Our descent in the triple lock was easy, once the lock keeper realised we were there and the reach below was interesting with several bridges and tight bends, The canal was busy with hire boats, many of which tailgated each other stupidly. Why the mad rush?

One such (oncoming) tried to pass us on a tight bend and became very anxious when he realised that our stern took up the remaining space. Another exclaimed (in German accented English)  “ I’m not going fast!” after nearly running into the back of a boat which had sensibly slowed down.

Our next joyful encounter was with a stone thrower, followed by two boats exiting a lock shouting that we were taking up too much room………….. and that finished off what had been a stressful morning. Fortunately, such experiences do not happen often.

The next lock keeper spoke to Peter…………..they always seem to prefer talking to the captain even though the crew speaks better French! Apparently he had said something about the ‘next lock’ and ‘three hours’, Peter wasn’t sure. Was it:- -“the next lock will be closed for three hours” -“the next lock will be closed until 3pm” -“the next lock will only be open for three more hours” We soon found out.

There was along queue at the next lock (we were twelfth in line) and what he had said was “there is a three hour wait at the next lock”. In fact it turned into a five hour wait as, being a triple lock it took a lot longer for the passage of boats up and down. Unbeknown to us there had been a lock keeper’s strike the previous day and this was the resulting backlog of boats.

It also explained to some extent the tearing hurry that some of the hire boats had been in that morning. Mooring in the approach was tricky as a strong gusty wind was blowing us off. Fortunately, I managed to get a bow rope around a tree and secure it back to the barge midships, there being no bollards this far back. Several smaller boats had trouble keeping their mooring pins in and also adopted our method.

 Best we could do given the circumstances and there is another path.

 We were just tucking into a lunch of burgers and a cuppa when a pair of cyclists in matching canary yellow outfits and a dog in a cycle trailer took umbrage at our mooring lines which crossed the lower of the two available towpaths.

As Peter tried to explain that we had no other choice, monsieur took out his penknife and pointed to our ropes. Peter calmly picked up our club hammer and pointed to his bicycle, this had the desired effect and he muttered angrily and cycled off. Further along the towpath we could see them relating the story to two more cyclists who also had a moan.

It is very much a last resort to use trees for mooring purposes and had there been some decent roots available we would have used them. Explaining this to an irate French canary with a little white poodle in a bike trailer, whilst maintaining a straight face, was a challenge! P.

Within an hour, several more boats had moored up, all of them with their mooring lines across the lower towpath and it began to resemble a giant game of cat’s cradle. No more cyclists attempted the lower towpath that day.

 Cat’s cradle as the queue lengthens.

 Finally, it was our turn in the lock and as we passed through I asked if we could moor on a pontoon below the lock. It was gone 6 pm when we stopped there and the lock kept working for at least a couple of hours to clear the remaining boats.

 A little light humour by one of the lock keepers.

 Our next stop was at La Redorte – an internet black spot where water and electricity are available at 1 euro each for 30minutes, a bit steep we thought. Homps was better as the first 24hours are free and we stopped on the same mooring as last year, it having just been vacated by the hotel barge ‘Caroline’.

 Homps.

 The weather was still variable and not what we expected from the South of France. Our next stop was another passenger mooring at Argens Minervois. This was overlooked by a derelict chateau and had just the one shop which sold everything.

A cycle ride into the countryside took us past an olive grove and mill and to the Lac des Aiguilles. Evidently the water level in the River Aude and tributaries varies considerably during the year. We were back among the vineyards now and after leaving Argens Minervois went through Argens which is the last lock on the Midi for 54km.

After a brief stop above Port Minervois where we chatted to an interesting Australian chap who had canoed all the way down from Lyon and was seeing how far he could get in a month, we cruised on. As we reached the turning for the Canal de Jonction, it became clear that there was another lock keeper’s strike, but fortunately we were able to moor at the junction behind a smaller luxemotor ‘Eole’.

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