(54) Canal du Nord and Canal de la Somme with Laura and Jon – August 2013.

With Laura and Jon set to arrive the next afternoon, it was all systems go to prepare the bow cabin and restock with vittels for their stay.

They arrived at Thourotte on Saturday 17th August after a straightforward journey via the Channel Tunnel and we enjoyed exchanging news that evening. Unfortunately the weather had become dull and cool and we hoped it would improve over the coming days.

The next day, after a fortifying petit dejeuner of pastries and croissants, we left Thourotte and after cruising through a couple of locks were on the Canal du Nord. As is often the case when changing canals, the locks were different- long, narrow and quite deep, requiring me to move the eye of my rope up onto the next bollard as we rose. We stopped on the public mooring at Noyon which was shared with commercial barges loading at the adjacent silo.

Another canal for the collection and prettier than we had been led to believe.

After a late lunch, Laura and I walked into the centre of Noyon which was about 20 minutes away. A visit to the station and tourist office provided the information we required and a bar, the liquid refreshment, on what had become a warm, sunny day.  Later on while relaxing onboard, we watched the owner of the commercial barge behind us crane his car back onto the barge; swinging it out across the canal.

Noyon.

Hard work all this sightseeing.

Large scale fishing !

The following day was spent sorting the cars out. This involved Jon and I walking to the station and catching the train back to Thourotte to collect both cars and then he and Peter driving up to Peronne top drop Jon’s off near the port. So it was late afternoon by the time we left Noyon, shared a lock with a commercial barge and moored up just below Campagne lock.

That evening we were treated to the sight of several parachutists exiting their aeroplane at various heights overhead as the sun set and we relaxed on deck.

Our next day was quite long and we reached the 1 km long tunnel at the summit with no problems. We had been pleasantly surprised at how pretty the Canal du Nord is as we had expected a more industrialised landscape, although the number of commercial barges are a ‘negative’; but then we are the visitors and just have to keep out of their way.

One other downside is that the locks are lined with camp-shedding and the water churns about a fair bit, both of which make fending a bit tricky. They are also quite deep and have fixed bollards which I had mastered quite well on the way up.

Sadly this was to change! At the first downhill lock the other side; I decided to use a running line as I would have been unable to take the eye off the bollard once we were down- the lock being quite deep. Unfortunately, the rope got trapped and Peter had to wield his axe for the second time in our barging experience or we would have become ‘hung up’.

Arriving at Peronne late afternoon, we passed through the commercial port and had a look at the port de plaisance which was full. Peter then reversed the barge back out into the canal which was a difficult manoeuvre as it was on a bend with shallow areas to avoid. We ended up in the commercial port next to ‘Aslaug’ which we had last seen at St Mihiel in March. They were en route from St Valery and had enjoyed cruising on the Canal de La Somme – our next destination.

The port at Peronne and a full roast dinner for Laura and Jon.

When they had left the next morning, we moved along to their mooring which had better bollards and were just about to walk into the town when the owner of a tandem commercial barge at the end of the quay came along and very politely informed us that we were in his spot. He was a very pleasant chap who was quite happy for us to stay there while we visited the museum (Historial de la Grande Guerre) and did some shopping, as his delivery wasn’t expected until the following day.

The museum was good value at 7,50 euros each and after a couple of hour’s history we quenched our thirsts at a nearby bar. The Intermarche was a fair drive from the port and we were glad not to have to rely on bicycles for the trip.

Interesting displays thoughtfully laid out.

After lunch, Laura and Jon drove along to the first lock on the Canal de la Somme while Peter and I cruised there. This canal was certainly different as it was narrow and winding with no commercial traffic. It is not controlled by the VNF but by the Conseil General. The first lock was automatic and Laura and Jon confirmed that there were no suitable moorings nearby. We decided to rendez-vous at the next Lock (Frise 1) and gave them the waterways guide so that they could find it.

A sign had given us a telephone number which it transpired was the only way to arrange passage through the locks, swing and lift bridges on the Somme. At the lift bridge at Feuilleres, this was confirmed by a friendly Dutch couple who showed us their Somme leaflet. I eventually got through on my mobile to the CG lock control and twenty minutes later the bridge was raised and we were given our own map and leaflet.

Another few kilometres and we were approaching the first Frise lock with its suitable mooring just above. Laura and Jon were waiting there and so unfortunately was another barge which left the lock and moored in ‘our’ spot. Fortunately all was not lost and the lock keeper told us we could moor on the left on one of two pontoons just after the lock. The mooring was in fact one of three pontoons just before the second Frise lock…………and had a much prettier aspect, so we weren’t too disappointed.

Frise Lock.

It was an idyllic spot with etangs on one side and was evidently an angler’s paradise. We stayed a couple of days. This enabled Jon and I to ferry the cars again, leaving his at Cappy. All of us relaxed on deck playing chess, reading and fishing.

Time to chill out.

Jon’s intimidating ‘chess face’ !

We planned to stop next at Cappy, but only stayed for a couple of hours over the lunch break as the available space was too shallow. This gave us the chance to take a car up to Corbie several kilometres way. The quay just beyond the town and above the next lock was taken so we cruised on to Froissy where we stopped for the night. As the weather began to break, Laura and I walked back to the car at Cappy, did some shopping and eventually found our way back to the barge having failed to enter the location into Janett (the sat nav).

Rather like on the Nivernais and Bourgogne canals, one has to prearrange departure times with the lock keepers who are a friendly, helpful bunch.

We left Froissy as planned at 10 am the next day and unfortunately for me it was raining. My waterproofs continue to fail and as I am out on deck in the locks this is rather a pain. The Canal de La Somme is very pretty and a popular fishing and hunting area. The Somme of World War 1 is mainly to the north and east in the Department, rather than on the river, but there are areas near the canal which have memorials and cemeteries.

One such was on the lock at Sailly-Laurette where there is a memorial stone to Wilfred Owen; who was wounded nearby and transported from there by barge back to England.

Wilfred Owen was transported from here by barge after being wounded. Having recovered he went back and in 1918 just before the armistice he was killed whilst attempting to cross another canal during a battle.

Arriving at the end of lunchtime at Corbie, the halte fluviale was still full and our slow cruise past elicited no response from anyone who might have been considering moving on. Jon and I had spotted a quay just above the lock on our previous day’s recce, so we stopped there. We were just tying up when a smaller barge which had been at the halte fluvial came alongside. They needed the lock mooring and had said nothing as we passed, despite it being fairly obvious that we were looking to moor!

While I walked back to the ‘halte’ to pace out the available space, Peter reversed the barge 200m and after moving a French cruiser a few metres we were soon moored along the quay enjoying a rather late lunch.

As the rain continued we took a drive out to see the 3rd Australian Division Memorial, the site where the ‘Red Baron’ was shot down, and Australian Military Cemetery and Memorial at Villers Bretonneaux. Once again we were struck by the sacrifice of so many young men and these ones so far away from home.

Next to the Australian memorial recently ploughed up munitions.

Not far down the same road is the field in which the mortally wounded ‘Red Baron’ crash landed after being shot from an Australian machine gun post.

The Australian War Graves and Memorial on Hill 104 just outside Corbie where they fought bravely to stop the German advance.

The view from the top shows why it was such a strategic hill.

It was strategic in WW2 as well and was badly damaged. They repaired it but left some of the evidence for historical interest.

Our enjoyable week with Laura and Jon drew to its close and after a breakfast of pastries and croissants, they left for the drive back to Calais the next day. Laura would be off on her world travels in a week and Jon would begin his teaching course.

 

 

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