(73) Season six begins…

Several weeks into our sixth season cruising in Europe and we wonder where the time has gone. We are still really pleased that we took the plunge and started this adventure. Our early days exploring the Canal du Nivernais seem like another life.

Reminiscing aside, our first day of the season was not all that great. Sunday proved too wet and windy to set off and even the start of Monday wasn’t hopeful. We said our ‘au revoirs’ and left the Port at Erquelinnes around 10am having phoned the lock keeper to arrange passage. He said the current was quite fast and asked were we sure we still wanted to leave? Peter had already been down to the port entrance to check the state of the river and also do a spot of pruning to a small tree in the entrance that had caused a few scratches when we entered back in October.

Although the Sambre had a bit of a flow after the recent rain, we’d had experience of several rivers in spate over the years and it didn’t look that bad. In fact, the first couple of hours went ok, with our only problem arising in the second lock. On entering, the bow starboard fender snagged on the lock gate and snapped its shiny new rope. I quickly retied it and we were soon on our way down.

As we tried to exit the lock, both of our rear fenders got snagged in the gates and we weren’t going anywhere. I managed to release one but the other could only be freed by undoing it completely and then walking it around the side of the barge as we slowly moved off. Of course, had the lock keeper opened the lock gate fully, we would probably not have had a problem at all.

The weather was fine with sunny spells but a fairly stiff following breeze. Conditions were changing more rapidly than we realised. With an increasing flow and wind veering from side to side across the stern whilst rounding a bend, we ended up in some overhanging trees. This caused a few scratches on the topsides, bent the blue board back and gave me a large bruise…plus a telling off.

I was valiantly trying to stop the branch damage (having been told to stay in the wheelhouse) and could have been swiped overboard! Our rudder backed up on itself, (which it does on occasions when the barge is in reverse) bent the rudder indicator and left Peter with no idea which way the rudder was!

There was another hairy moment on a tight bend when we touched bottom at each end which was also a worry. Then finally, as we approached the moorings at Thuin, after an amazingly easy lock at Lobbes, we saw just how much the flow had increased during the day. With the rudder backing up once again at the critical moment, we glided past the desired pontoons and I only just managed to get a rope on a bollard by stepping onto a moored passenger boat. Rope in hand I found a useable bollard on the bank, while Peter tied the rope off onboard…phew!

Were we pleased to stop at last! In fact we had slotted into the only available mooring before the lock with just a few feet to spare at either end … and there we stayed for several days. The wind gradually abated but the flow and level increased considerably and we weren’t going anywhere.

We heard from Lorna (‘Waterdog’) that the VNF had indeed closed the French section of the Sambre owing to the current.

Peter’s brother Paul and his wife Jean arrived a couple of days later and were happy to potter around the area. We drove back to Erquelinnes to collect our car and stopped off in the friterie (La Chope d’Or) for a ‘Belgian’. After telling the charming chap who worked there that this was our final visit, he presented each of us with a Leffe glass as a gift which we thought was very kind.

Saturday’s Market at Thuin provided us with some tasty fish for lunch and supper and several new mugs (which we needed as the dishwasher requires that we have considerably more crockery!) Jean and I had a couple of pleasant walks around the town and the chaps mended the damaged blue board and attempted to fish in the strong current.

SAM_9357              Fish for supper.

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Jean makes friends with St. Nick.

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Nice view from the top.

On Easter Sunday we visited a local bar (remembered from the previous year) and I had my first taste of a Trappiste beer which was amazingly pleasant…and very strong. It was served with cubes of cheese sprinkled with celery salt, plus small wrapped Easter Eggs in honour of the day.

photo 3    The weaker of the two, just 9 per cent!

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 I can feel a snooze coming on this afternoon.

Next we drove in both cars to Namur and enjoyed more Croque Monsieurs in the bar by the Pont de Jambes. There too the River Meuse was running fast. On the way back we left our car at Auvelais where we would cruise to the next day, conditions permitting.

After walking to the lock to alert the lock keeper of our intentions to leave Thuin, we cast off at around 10am. I have to admit to feeling a little nervous about what the day might bring. Happily, we had a great day with no problems … so we could still do this barging stuff after all.

The pontoon at Auvelais was empty and we moored up in sunshine. When the chaps left to do the car shuffle in the morning, Jean and I walked up to Colruyt. Well that was our intention, but we went the wrong way and found instead a French Military Cemetery set on a hill. The land had been gifted to France by the Belgians and had a memorial in the design of a Breton Lighthouse – as Brittany was the place of origin of many of the dead.

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Interesting, not unlike the one at St. Symphorien.

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After our interesting and moving detour, we eventually found Colruyt and did the necessary provisioning, stopping at the bank-side Lidl as well on our return. When the chaps returned we left for the cruise to Namur, where we moored on the quay opposite the Capitainerie in solitary splendour the first night.

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En route to Namur.

As part of the inevitable car shuffle, we drove to Dinant the following day and enjoyed a lovely lunch at ‘The Confessional’ restaurant near the Leffe Abbey. We had been there with Paul the previous year for a beer and Peter was keen to try the restaurant as a possible venue for his planned SEG reunion in Mid-May. After the lunch we met the chef and agreed an evening menu for the reunion.

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Cracking authentic Belgian restaurant.

In ever improving weather we set off fairly early the next morning for the trip to Dinant. Paul drove his car, hoping to get the odd picture of us en route.

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Unusual to get pictures of us on the move.

River traffic was minimal and the sun shone all day charging the batteries with our new solar panels as we went. We moored up outside the Hotel Ibis where we had spent a good deal of time last summer.

After a nice brunch, Paul and Jean ‘did’ the Citadelle and then we met them on the bridge for the stroll up to the Maison de Leffe. You have a choice of four different beers in the small glasses or just one large glass of your favourite, plus the free gift of a large beer glass on leaving which makes the 7euro entry pretty good value.

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Sadly no spittoon, I feel another snooze coming on!

On the way up there we noticed a rather interesting looking memorial to the victims of German brutality at the start of WW1 and later on after Paul and Jean had returned home we went there to have a look.

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Below the Leffe museum a memorial we’d previously overlooked.

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Inside the names of the victims are projected by the sun.

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Whole families wiped out, their ages indicated by dashes and dots.

A quiet week followed during which I gave our wooden wheelhouse some TLC and Peter relaxed and fished, psyching himself up for more maintenance work on the hull. The previous year we had spotted a low quay just below Houx lock, which would do very nicely for painting the sides. With Peter’s birthday looming and me too tired to cook after my ‘hard labour’, we had enough of an excuse and so enjoyed a great steak meal at the Taverne Wiertz just down from the mooring in Dinant.

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A chubby chub from outside the Ibis.

Louise and Alex (‘Riccall’) joined us for a couple of days before starting their summer’s travels and as the fine weather held, we all cruised down to Houx taking in the sights en route. After lunch our friends departed and we moved the barge to the low part of the quay and relaxed for the rest of the day in anticipation of our coming labours.

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One of the sights!

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Alex has a turn at the wheel.

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Pals.

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Our spot at Houx for the paint job.

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