(36) Argeliers to Agde – April 2012.

In the end we only made it as far as La Croisade where we stopped overnight in front of ‘Rust Roest’. The following morning, after a quick visit to the cave by the bridge for more Merlot, I drove the Micra to Capestang and then cycled back.

A fuel stop in the local cave at La Croisade with Margreet.

We left shortly afterwards and cruised to Capestang under increasingly overcast skies. The threatening rain was soon upon us and with the low bridge rapidly approaching; all our potential mooring spots were running out. As we were trying to moor up, ‘Anjodi’ went past far too quickly and only avoided side-swiping us by my hasty positioning of ‘Wilson’ our squashy fender. We eventually moored up on the right, 100m above the bridge and using the last available roots (the trees having been removed last year owing to the disease.)

The rain was intermittent for several days and as the low bridge required the lowering of the wheelhouse; we decided to sit it out. The only ‘plus’ was that with no trees we could get a TV signal for the first time since the end of January. No surprise though, the standard of broadcasting was as poor as ever and we realised that we hadn’t missed very much!

Whilst at Capestang, Peter fitted two more of the bilge sensors and finished off the engine room by re-positioning the new steel ladder.

In anticipation of being able to continue our journey, I drove the Micra along to Poilhes and cycled back along the towpath. The poor weather cleared on Easter Monday, six days after our arrival. It was a fine sunny day and with the wheelhouse down, Capestang Bridge was no problem.

It was a pleasant cruise on what is probably one of the prettiest stretches on the Canal du Midi. Our only incident was on the approach to Colombiers where a large hire boat took the bend too quickly and panicked when he saw us approaching, ending up sideways across the canal. He was suitably ‘desole’ so we forgave him and continued on our way, arriving at the top of a very busy Fonserannes early afternoon. The only available mooring was the passenger pontoon, so we stopped there until the locks opened for that afternoon’s downhill passage. Once the ‘whacky races’ rush was over, we moved back into a bank-side mooring and put the wheelhouse back up.

The following day we had hoped to combine cycling back to Poilhes (12km) to collect the Micra with a spot of sight- seeing at The Oppidum of Enserune. Sadly the weather was a bit grim so we settled for collecting the car and stopping off at Montady on the way back to view the drained lake there.

Bad hair day at Montady !

Not a problem for some !

The tower at Montady which can be seen for miles.

We were up early the next day to ensure we were first down the flight of locks at 8.30am. With only a few onlookers, we made it down without incident and even raised a wave and ‘bonjour’ from the usually rather dour lady eclusiere.

Our good fortune was short lived, as we discovered in the next lock, which is at the top end of Port Neuf in Beziers. Having negotiated this lock easily on several previous occasions, we were annoyed to get ‘hung up’ at the stern. We had thought we were far enough in to avoid the shelf at the back and only after having opened the sluices did the lock keeper saunter out and double check. She advised us to move forward a short way to be on the safe side but alas………….too late.

As Peter tried to put the barge in gear, it became clear that we were stuck. We shouted up to the lock keeper who thankfully was aware of what was happening and refilled the lock. I leant over the stern to find us perched on about 18’’ of rudder! The bow seemed very low with the rubber fenders bobbing around the sides. I have to say that it was an appropriately ‘Titanic’ moment, as we later realised that it was April 11th and almost the Centenary of that disaster!

Fortunately for us, it felt worse than it was and we were soon afloat once more and mooring up in the port. Unfortunately, water and electrics are still unavailable here to all except passenger boats. Beziers is definitely missing an opportunity, as many boats now stop only briefly as the old part of the town is not easily accessible and they are often in need of one or the other utilities.

Beziers port- Nicci chilling out on top after the Titanic incident.

We spent eleven days at Beziers and the weather was mixed for all of that time. We endured several visits to ‘Bricoman’, searching for more bits and bobs and Peter was finally able to fit the gas regulator to the Butagas locker which is now finished. He also put together the blue-board and worked out a way of bolting it to the starboard side of the cabin roof.

The ‘Blue Boardnearly complete, just needs a flashing light fitted.

First fish of the year, some nice ones in the port.

We were now awaiting the delivery of the remaining dials lights etc for the Rhine Certificate alterations and as if on cue, William contacted us to say they had arrived.

One day we drove to ‘Decathlon’ where Peter bought some shorts, trainers and a shirt and I bought some in-line skates. These were something I had wanted for a while as there are often very good cycle paths along the canals. My last pair (circa 1966) was the adjustable metal kind that you strapped onto your shoes. I had looked with envy at Laura and Adam’s rather splendid modern skates when they were children. Peter insisted that I buy the protective elbow and knee pads too and it was rather embarrassing trying them on amongst the children who were also in the shop.

Straight back into it after a 40 year gap !

No stopping her now….literally !!

Fortunately, the odd ice skating and roller disco experiences when the children were young meant that it didn’t take me too long to regain my skating feet and the paved port area was a good place to practise.

We finally managed our sight seeing trip to the Oppidum one unusually fine day. An ‘oppidum’ is a Celtic hillside village and the one at Enserune is famous in France. 7.50 euros each seemed a bit steep especially as the information sheet wasn’t great; however the views from the top were superb with a 360 degrees panoramic view from the Black mountains in the north to the Mediterranean and Pyrenees in the south.

Same hair but a different location and view of the drained lake.

Must have been a very desirable residence.

Top left – the Mediterranean, below – the tree lined (for now) Canal du Midi and a couple of old ruins in the foreground !

We drove from there to Argeliers, Le Somail and Salleles d’Aude, collecting the ‘bits’ from William and catching up with Johan to discuss our progress towards the Rhine Certificate. In a state of shock at the cost of everything, we returned somewhat dazed to Aurigny and realised that we still had some way to go to fit all these new things.

To compound things the exhaust on the Micra finally broke completely on the rutted road to Le Somail and we now had to find a dealer and fitter; easier said than done in a country which caters mainly for French cars!

While at Beziers I walked into town and managed to find some violas at the flower market, so the ‘garden’ is now almost complete. Peter also celebrated his 54th birthday with smoked salmon, prawns, chocolate cake and a bottle of Stratagem red wine from Chateau d’Agel.

Having decided to leave on 23rd April, I drove down to Villeneuve-les-Beziers the day before, left the car and skated the 5km back to the barge………….and I didn’t fall over once! We had stopped there several times during our travels and were shocked to find that all of the bank-side plane trees downstream of the town for over a kilometre, had been cut down. They were just finishing drilling out the roots and burning the wood in a large pit. We had witnessed the removal of trees at Trebes and Capestang, but this was the most drastic yet. A works sign gave a cost of 300,000 euros for the work which had lasted two months. We wonder if any attempt will be made to replace them?

A very much changed scene at Villeneuve les Beziers, only a few trees remain.

We cruised peacefully down the next morning and moored on the quay (the only part of the town which still has its plane trees.) There followed several days during which Peter faced the unenviable task of fitting a plethora of wires, dials, gauges and alarms requiring much brainwork and patience.

A little further down the previously tree lined canal.

We finally found a dealer and fitter for the exhaust and parted with yet more cash, but at least the Micra no longer sounds like a F1 racing car. We were less successful in our attempts to find reasonably priced fire extinguishers……………yes………our six, of varying sizes are insufficient to pass the certificate!! The first dealer had moved premises. The second wanted 125 euros per 6kg extinguisher and the third 150 euros. We gave up.

Peter managed to get his head around most of the electrical tasks, fitting the light to the blue board and linking the horn to a posh new amber light which has to come on on when the horn blows……………!!!!

I drove the car to Vias and cycled the 12km back to the barge stopping en route for a pee, almost landing on a big snake when I jumped over a ditch into a field! Well I thought the tail looked liked it belonged to a large lizard, but Peter said they don’t grow that big over here and it was probably an Adder. Very reassuring !

We left Villeneuve-les-Beziers just after 9am the next day and nearly lost the new blue board (which we had left in place) at the first bridge. Fortunately we had slowed down enough to reduce the impact, but once again………….lesson learned.

We met several speedy bumper boats on the approach to our one and only lock of the day and were overtaken by yet another, the driver of which was then severely ticked off by a couple who had cycled down from their mooring, past which the boat had sped.

We arrived at Vias at lunch time and were soon plugged into the electrics and topping up with water (10 euros for 24hours.) With a good broadband connection and TV signal we settled in for the rest of the day and began the first of several wash loads. The ‘whacky races’ continued all afternoon on the canal and we agreed that we would be pleased to leave them behind us for the summer. Luckily they aren’t allowed on the Rhone.

On Sunday afternoon after more washing and drinks on board a neighbouring boat, I drove the Micra to Agde, checked the mooring and cycled back. We left shortly afterwards and were soon in the round lock at Agde being photographed and admired by the inevitable onlookers.

We moored up on the River Herault as we had done on several previous occasions…………..and with none of the usual  fishermen to contend with this time.

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