(19) Canal de Jonction and Canal de la Robine June 2011

As it turned out, the strike lasted another day so we decided to cycle the 3-4 kilometres into Salleles D’Aude. Here we took refuge during a downpour and spent a pleasant hour or so having coffee with Chris and Val (‘Liza’) on Graham and Janet’s yacht moored in the port. We had met both couples a few days earlier while waiting in a lock queue. The subject came around to fishing, as it often does and Chris told Peter that ‘Frolic’ dog biscuits were good bait for carp. They became top of the days shopping list.

 Good tip, the dog biscuits..don’t tell anyone else though !

 We took the opportunity to do some shopping and then cycled along to have another look at the dry dock at Gailhousty lock. We were booked in for ten days at the beginning of July. Our return to the barge on the opposite bank took us past ‘Jazz’ and we had a chat with Ian and Jill for an hour or so before heading back.

The following day we were pleased to see that the locks were open – and as many of the hire boats had given up and turned around, we were soon on our way. As the next five locks were close together I decided to walk the stretch preparing the locks as I went.

 Salleles d’Aude just before the lock.

 We moored up on the left and spent a couple of days at Salleles D’Aude which is a pretty, unassuming town with the ‘7 Ecluses’ cave by the canal and a Casino supermarket within five minutes cycle of the port.

One morning, after dismantling the wheelhouse, we prepared the deep lock for our departure and were annoyed when a hire boat nipped in front of us and stole the lock while we were untying our ropes. We had heard of this happening to others but were surprised at their audacity or rather ignorance. This delayed us by about half an hour and was quite deliberate.

As we passed the ‘calle seche’ (dry dock) at Gailhousty, we took some photos in anticipation of our stay there in early July.

 Dry dock at Gailhousty, a good facility.

 After Gailhousty lock we entered the River Aude for a short distance and cruised carefully to avoid the sand bank marked on the chart along the left bank. Navigation was challenging as the channel narrowed considerably opposite the weir where a series of green buoys ensured that we hugged the right bank.

Passage through the ‘garde’ lock was tricky owing to the angle of approach we’d had to take, but once we were through the countryside was very pretty with vineyards on both sides.

The lock at Raonel was no problem, although we were glad to have taken the wheelhouse down as the bridge at the down side was very low and we would not have made it through otherwise.

The weather had improved but there was a stiff breeze which always makes things interesting and about an hour later we were at the first of the Narbonne locks (Gua).

 Low bridges on the approach to Narbonne.

 It is really best to arrive at Narbonne by boat from the north, as the city is based around the canal and the bridges are very pretty. We felt very much ‘on show’ as we passed under the bridges and into the town lock (Narbonne). There is a weir immediately after the lock with the water pushing you over to the right as you exit. A long motorway like metal barrier is positioned to collect any boats that are forced over. We managed alright this time but it did catch us out on a couple of subsequent occasions.

 Curious place for a weir, right accross the lock gates !

 The low Pont des Marchands gave ‘Wentworth’ a bit of a bashing and it was strange to pass under a bridge which was covered in buildings. In fact the Roman Via Domitia crosses the canal at this point.

 Passing under the Pont des Marchands, now we can get the wheelhouse back up.

 With moorings advertised at 24 euro for boats up to 16m and 1,80 euro per metre on top per night, we cruised on, past the many boats moored over a long stretch of quay and hoped to be able to visit the town properly another time.

We decided to moor at the next available spot and were pleased to find an old concrete structure near a memorial stone about 30 minutes from the centre of Narbonne. This became known as ‘The Memorial Mooring’ and we were to use it several times during the next couple of months. It had a sad story having been erected in memory of a young woman and her brother who both died in a drowning accident in 1841.

 The Memorial mooring and a relax prior to putting up the wheelhouse.

 In bright, breezy conditions, we put the wheelhouse back up and enjoyed a distant view of the cathedral at Narbonne. We were careful to clip the roof panels down!!

As we left the following day, a Saturday, we were mindful that we might encounter some skiffs on the next stretch. We did and wondered at the sighting of a skiff club on a narrow, winding canal. In fact there was only a short, straight stretch just before the next lock (Mandirac). Despite several return trips, we never saw any more skiffs………….but then perhaps we weren’t cruising on a Saturday!!

 Barge Marie Therese 1855 just before Mandirac lock.

 Gradually, the vineyards gave way to salt marshes on either side as the canal meandered its way down to the sea. The scenery was very reminiscent of the Canal du Rhone a Sete further east. As we approached Ile St Lucie, the salt marshes became huge lakes. The stiff breeze made for difficult steering as did the shallowness and we passed through a lot of weed.

 The scenery changes as we approach the Med.

 We moored above the lock (Ile St Lucie) on the left and then cycled along the canal to explore Port La Nouvelle –only about 4 km but it seemed further in the ever strengthening wind. The wind, as we later discovered is a feature of this area.

 Sunrise at the Ile St. Lucie mooring.

 Port La Nouvelle is the seventh largest port in France, serving both cargo ships and fishing boats. It is also a popular beach resort with extensive golden sandy beaches.

We were delighted with the beach, which stretched as far as the eye could see. Many of the beaches in the South of France are blue flag ones and they are cleaned and raked every morning.

After my compulsory paddle in the sea (having forgotten to bring a swimming costume and towel,) we cycled back through the town to the barge.

 Lovely beach at Port la Nouvelle.

 The next day we explored the beach near the lock. This required a 1km cycle between the salt marshes and a 1km walk across the wide beach to the sea. This beach was a ‘wild’ one with no lifeguards or facilities and we walked along it back towards Port La Nouvelle. After locating the rail station and drinking a well deserved beer at a bar, we cycled back to the barge and relaxed for the rest of the day.

 The beach opposite Ile St. Lucie, empty for miles.

 As we were adjacent to the Nature Reserve on the Island, we took the opportunity to walk around it the following day. Armed with water and cold beers, we set off.

There are strict rules about what you can and cannot do here and the island boasts a variety of flora and fauna. The route is about 7km long and there are several viewpoints which give lovely views over the lakes towards the mountains and hills. We saw plenty of flora, but only a butterfly and a frog…. ………….not the hoped for wild boar or deer.

 A pause during our walk round Ile St. Lucie.

 We relaxed over the next couple of days as the temperatures soared into the mid 30s. A hot and sunny afternoon on the main beach followed by the discovery of a large Super U enabled us to replenish our dwindling provisions.

When a space became available nearer to the lock, we moved down but had to put planks out to keep us off the rocky bottom. Unfortunately, the cats in the sanctuary at the lock spent most of the night jumping on and off the barge, so after a bad night’s sleep we decided to move down to the port and turn around.

Once in the lock, we chatted to a pleasant lady who was acting as a guardian/guide at the lock house. When the downside gate refused to open she rang the VNF and after twenty minutes or so we were on our way. During the wait, we showed her around the barge and she was amazed how like an apartment it was.

Where the canal enters the port there was just enough room for us to turn around near the pontoons. This was fortuitous as the larger fishing port was blocked as the road bridge was being painted.

Unbeknown to us, we should have checked the state of the tide and flow before entering the area. However, ignorance is bliss and we manoeuvred without any problems and were soon moored up on the long quay on the right of the canal (left bank to those in the know).

 Port la Nouvelle.

 We had a couple of days before the arrival of our first guest of the summer- Peter’s Mum and used the time to tidy up and chill out.

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