(59) Winter to Spring plus a trip to the Alps.

Walking and more walking have been the order of the day with Lynn (‘Matariki’) and I clocking up quite a few miles each week along the canal in the generally fine weather. We also enjoyed watching a lively Volleyball quarter-final between Cambrai and Paris in the Salle des Sports.

Peter completed all the necessary winter maintenance jobs and relaxed on Aurigny.

We spent many convivial afternoons and evenings in the port on one or other barges and it will find it hard to leave when April arrives.

We drove to Arras one fine day to explore the town and search for some new ski boots, Peter had thrown his last pair away after the last trip to ensure there would be no more sore shins. The old parts of Arras are very pretty, with fine architecture around the main squares. The large port in the centre was completely empty of boats and looked rather run down with no obvious electric or water points. With plenty of space and deep water it seemed such a waste when so many barges struggle to find a winter mooring.

We visited a couple of the War Memorials, spotting a wild hare in one of them. As always we were struck by the terrible waste of the lives of so many young men during WW1.

Arras British cemetery.

We were successful at ‘Decathlon’ with Peter snaffling the last pair of ‘Salomen’ ski boots in his size. They were on offer too, saving us 90 euros.

We would have had the tour of The Wellington Quarry but it was still closed for the winter and we decided to return in a few weeks.

With new boots, helmet and goggles I booked a week in The Alps at Samoens. We had stayed nearby at Les Carroz a couple of times and knew the resort and ski area quite well.

We had a great week’s skiing, losing just one day due to high winds which closed all the ski lifts. Fortunately, we were able to get a refund and chilled out watching films instead. The highlight of the week was at Flaine where we were rewarded with superb snow and fabulous views. The new ski boots were a massive improvement, as were the goggles once we had discovered and removed the plastic liner inside. It took three runs before we noticed and were then able to see properly!

Laura returned to England after her world travels and I drove over to bring her back to Cambrai for some much needed R & R. It was lovely to have her with us while she set about looking for jobs on the internet and indulging in all the home cooked meals she had craved whilst away.

Christmas dinner (March) with Laura.

On a beautiful spring day we paid another visit to Arras where we left flowers at the British Memorial in memory of a friend’s grandfather before driving to the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge.

Sergeant G T Mullett.

After a spot of lunch we finally made it into the Wellington Quarry 20 metres below the city. It was originally a series of subterranean chalk mines created in the Middle Ages. These were extended and linked with tunnels dug by New Zealand and British sappers in 1916. They tunnelled to a position just 400m from the German front line. In the eight days prior to the biggest surprise attack in WW1 (9th April 1917), over 20,000 Commonwealth soldiers hid below ground in the tunnels. When the order was given the ten exits into ‘No Man’s Land’ were blown open and the Germans were overwhelmed. Sadly all this effort was wasted due to poor communications and the initial gains were retaken by the Germans within weeks.

Exit 10, just 400 metres from the German lines.

Some of the men and their tools.

Once we had donned our protective imitation ‘Tommy’ helmets and audio guides for the 20m descent the visit proved to be really interesting.

Not terribly flattering.

The beautiful memorial at Vimy ridge.

Hand carved on site from single blocks of stone.

In addition to further walks with Lynn, Laura and I cycled knitted and read. She also helped me with my piano playing.

Dinner aboard ‘Matariki’

”And another thing….”

Lynn and I drove over to the Abbey at Vaucelles one day where there was a superb International Orchid display combined with several beautiful locally crafted dresses.

Lovely orchids.

Inspired dresses.

With our departure date looming, Peter and I drove to the 6 kilometre long Bellicourt Tunnel on the St. Quentin Canal for a recce, ignorant of the fact that the Canal du Sambre has been closed for a few years. We stopped at some more War Memorials en route including the American one on top of the tunnel itself. Originally commissioned by Napoleon it was used by the Germans as a shelter, munitions store and was part of the Hindenburg Line. The Allied forces eventually managed to break through there at great cost.

En route to Bellicourt a Canadian memorial.

American memorial above the tunnel.

An accidental ‘selfie’ tells the story.

Unusually in a port, our local duck population has been well behaved and quiet. They even gifted us several eggs, spreading their generosity among the nearby barges in recent weeks until finally deciding to lay a clutch on the bow deck of suitably named’ Plover in John and Carol’s absence.

Eggs randomly left on deck, tasty.

One morning our French neighbour (the one who had objected most vociferously when we moved the ugly abandoned house boat out of the fishing zone in October,) surprised us by helping one of the fishermen move it back to the exact spot we had  put it, evidently he has seen sense at last!

Laura was ready to return to the fray after about a month and was looking forward to catching up with her friends so we drove back together and I stayed a few days with her at Dad’s in Shepperton. We both had a long overdue haircut and I was able to see some friends too.

Back in Cambrai, we decided to stay another week as John and Carol (‘Plover’) were due to return in the first week. We had several more aperros and meals together -including a barbecue on a rather chilly evening with several boat/barge owners.

DSC02651 DSC02680

Peter’s brother Paul arrived on our last evening and we feasted in style at ‘Le Petit Chef’ with Lynn, Stewart and John and Carol. We had enjoyed another super winter with great company in Cambrai and reluctantly said ‘Au Revoir’ to our new friends.

Stewart may just have over ordered !

The following morning we left port at around 9am and after waiting at each lock, eventually headed north while Lynn and Stewart headed south. The canal was still busy and we wondered if the Canal du Nord was still closed.

About to leave for Belgium.

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