Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Canal de Roubaix.

Since last Friday evening, we have been on what is officially called the 'Liaison Deûle–Escaut' that consists of the Marque Urbaine, the Canal de Roubaix and the Canal de l'Espierres.  That said, most people simply refer to the whole stretch as the Canal de Roubaix.  The French part of the waterway covers the first two, while the Canal del'Espierres, which is a continuation of the same canal, is in Belgium's Wallonia. The organisation that looks after the French section is ENML, which supervises Lille's metropolitan natural spaces.

Lock at Marcq en Baroeul

I have to say this is really one of my absolute favourite waterways experiences. This is now the second time we have done it and we are loving it just as must as we did last year. From the Deûle end, it starts off on the beautiful canalised river Marque, on which there are just two locks. The first one is VNF controlled as there is a yeast factory used by commercial barges just before the second lock at Marcq-en-Baroeul. It is fascinating to watch these commercial péniches leaving the factory and returning to the river Deûle as they have to reverse all the way. The river is quite narrow, so at forty metres long, there is nowhere for the barges to turn round. However, they reverse out with such consummate ease, you barely notice they aren't going forwards. Since we had to wait for Monday to continue up the ENML locks, we had the opportunity to watch a few of these giants go past.

On Sunday evening, we moved up to the second lock to be ready to continue at 9a.m. We've been having battery trouble for a while now, so it was just as well we decided to make the move as the Hennie H didn't want to start and we had to charge the battery with the generator. Once again, we were thankful for our noisy little machine; it's got us out of trouble more than once on this trip and did so the next day as well. Once we reached the lock, though, the evening sun treated us to a beautiful display of golden light that even made the factory behind us look romantic.

Waiting at lock at the foot of the Canal de Rubaix
 On the following morning, we were joined by a cruiser owned by a couple from New Zealand. We'd seen their boat in Lille, so it was no surprise to meet them here too. The poor souls had been pick-pocketed in Lille, something which seemed to have shocked them deeply; they couldn't imagine that happening in New Zealand. It's not the first time I've heard how safe their country is!

At the lock we were greeted by one of the lock assistants that guide boaters through the whole system. I later found out that his name is Huyghe, an unusual Flemish version of what is probably Hugh in English. In any event, he is a real asset to the ENML. Open, friendly and very helpful, he presented us with a folder of useful information about the canal with maps, brochures and guides for all the places we would pass through. Most of the lock assistants in France only speak French, which is generally fine for us, but Huyghe did his best to speak clear, accurate English too, which must have been a relief for the New Zealanders (who spoke no French), so I complimented him and practised my English on him too... well, I had to, didn't  I? It would have been churlish not to...

Anyhow, we'd decided to stay in Marcq-en-Baroeul for the day, so we arranged with Huyghe to be at the next lock first thing the following morning to be guided up the rest of the system. Then at about 4:30pm, we wound our way to the end of the canalised river Marque section of the waterway. What a magical few kilometres that was. In glorious late afternoon sunshine, we fared gently through banks rich with pleasant homes, sweeping lawns, majestic trees and dense greenery. The moorhens and ducks were out in force too. I sat up in the bows and let the scenery drift silently past me. Walkers on the towpath waved, laughed and gave us a thumbs up. Now I know the Henni H is a charming boat, but I have a feeling the extra smiles had something to do with our garden parasol, which we tend to keep up when faring as long as it's not too windy. I think perhaps it adds a touch of quirky humour to our appearance, don't you?

We moored up below the first lock at the beginning of the Canal de Roubaix using anchors hammered into the bank as there were no bollards. Even so, I found a new use for a boat hook. We needed to make a hole for the anchor to sink into and I used the hook to dig down by screwing it into the ground. People out walking came to look and some were really amazed to see a boat lying there, especially a small liveaboard barge like ours. It seems that not many boats pass this way, or at least not enough for people to be really aware of them.

Leaving the first lock

Duckweed on the canal

 When morning came, we watched in dismay as a huge sausage shaped thunder cloud headed our way spitting forks of lighting from its depths. Within minutes, the rain was bucketing down and the world was an interesting (for that, read alarming) sound and light show as the thunder storm crashed around us. Fortunately, it didn't last more than an hour, so by 9am, we were able to move into the first of the flight of five locks in only light drizzle. By the second lock, the sun was shining again much to my relief.

Huyghe guided us through the flight accompanied by two other lock assistants. The three of them were so kind and friendly, they made the whole day a delight. They helped us with our ropes, checked where we wanted to put them and chatted to us while we moved up the system. The communication was perfect and once we were through the summit level, they advised us on where to stop and tie up while they went off to have lunch. 

The canal itself was everything that speaks to me. I loved the lush tree-lined sections at the beginning interspersed with canal-side houses and old industrial buildings. Then we passed through a more urban setting in Roubaix, which was where we stopped during their lunch hour just beyond two lifting bridges that form part of a roundabout. While there, some children from a nearby travellers' camp came to ask us about the boat. They were genuinely interested, as well as being funny and sweet, but they soon ran off when something else distracted them. Then a local man came by. He'd been wondering what Koos was up to when searching for a signal for his Wifi hotspot contract (more on that later). The two hour French lunch break thus passed very quickly and before we knew it Huyghe and the team were back to see us through the rest of the bridges and locks, which they did with all the friendly and professional efficiency they'd shown before. 

The next few kilometres were mostly through the urban area of Roubaix and it was so rewarding to see how the local people enjoyed seeing the boat. Fathers and kids on bikes followed us along the towpath and at one lock, a woman in muslim dress clapped her hands in delight at the Hennie H and blew us a kiss. Her smile would have melted an iceberg and I blew her a kiss too. It was instant mutual affection.

Beautiful rural scenery on the canal
Approaching Leers Nord
Then suddenly we were out of town and back into the more rural reaches of the canal. The bankside vegetation returned, rich with wild flowers and shrubs. Some fifteen minutes later, we reached the final lifting bridge before the Canal de Roubaix ends at the Belgian border. This was where we called our farewells to our lovely team of ENML lock assistants. They'd been absolute stars and when at the last lock, they asked us to write something about the service in their visitors' book, we had no hesitation in giving them a glowing report. Huyghe smiled as he read what we'd written.
'Thank you,' he said.
'It's a real pleasure,' I replied.
'For us too,' he finished. 'See you soon!'
'Definitely,' we called, and we meant it.
We waved until we couldn't see him anymore and went on with warm hearts to where the towering poplars marked our crossing into Belgium. Within a few minutes we'd reached Leers Nord and tied up to the pontoon where we stopped last year. It had been a wonderful day thanks to Huyghe and his colleagues. They are a credit to the ENML and I only hope more people cruise this lovely cut from the Deûle to the Schelde. We will certainly do it again.

It's now Saturday and we've been here at Leers for three full days. We've done some walking and cycling and enjoyed the relaxation immensely. We've had lovely neighbours in a WOBs* friend, Jude who was here with her husband, and another English couple I'll refer to as Rob and W. Rob is a former delivery skipper who regaled us with some wonderful stories of some of his adventures. They have both left now and we will be leaving tomorrow, so I'll  write about the Belgian experience (which I know will be great too) and our final trip home next week.  Enjoy your weekend allemaal!

*WOBs refers to a Facebook group I belong to called Women on Barges

And here's a photo of our wonderful team: Huyghe on the left and his great colleagues!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

On the way home: From Douai to the Canal de Roubaix

Evening sunshine in Douai
We are now approaching the end of this two month long adventure on the French waterways and are back in one of our favourites, the Canal de Roubaix, moored at Marquette (officially here it's the canalised Marque river with the real canal beginning a few kilometres further on). Anyway, this morning, Koos mentioned how much he loves being here, but then yesterday he loved being in Haubourdin on the Canal de la Deûle too. We agreed that maybe it's because he loves being on the boat and travelling from place to place. It's that special experience I certainly sought from a barge when I first bought the Vereeniging: being able to travel around and take your home with you.

On the way to Courcelles
We wake up in a different place almost every day, but our home is still full of all the familiar things that make life comfortable when travelling. Okay, in our case on the Hennie H, we are camping in comfort as we have few of the basics that we really have at home (no running water, no electricity unless we use our little generator and then it's a maximum of 1200w, no shower or bath) but even so, we have managed very well and it is much cosier than being in a tent, especially when it's raining.

I have done the washing by hand and apart from duvet covers, I've managed everything else; we have had showers in the marina where we stayed for a few days last week and also earlier on in the trip. Then there's the camping shower when the weather is warm enough to heat the water, and a bucket and sponge when it isn't. We use LED lights in the evening and just go to bed early instead of staying up to the wee hours as we are accustomed to doing at home.

Since last Saturday, we have only travelled from Douai to just north of Lille, so there isn't much to tell about the faring. We did this stretch going south too and the only difference is the weather, which is much cooler and rainier now than it was then. All the same, the light is always changing, and we are facing northwards instead, so Koos has taken heaps of photos on the way. This has given me more opportunities to steer, which I've also enjoyed. It's good that we can take turns, although Koos still does more of it and he does all the tricky manoeuvring. Of course, I do lots of practise for that in my head...😁

Morning mist over the marina in Courcelles
We spent several days at the gare d'eau marina in Courcelles where Koos' son visited us on Saturday and we had a visit from our friend David from Cambrai on Sunday. There is a quirky and quaint bar on the bank of the gare d'eau, where we enjoyed chatting to the locals about how things used to be there. Apparently, it used to be used extensively by passing péniches as an overnight stopping place, and it had a working ship yard as well. I chatted to one elderly gentleman who was on a real nostalgia trip about how good things used to be, and I must say, I'd have loved to have seen it in those days.

Looking out over the Gare d'Eau, Courcelles
Boat cats!

We left Courcelles on Thursday morning, as both of us felt ready to move on. What struck me (which I hadn't appreciated before) is that there are only two locks between Douai and Lille. They are both large and fairly deep, but nothing like those on the Canal du Nord. I think that having done all nineteen of those deep caverns in a couple of days, everything else will seem relatively tame by comparison.

Against the quay in Lille

Disused lifting bridge on old Canal arm in Lille

Another lovely bridge on the old canal arm, Lille

A pretty muse behind the quay in `lille

In Lille, we spent an hour walking around the Bois de Boulogne in the sunshine, taking photos of the old canal and its pretty bridges. Then we did the final stretch to the beginning of the Canal de Roubaix, picking up our télécommande from a very friendly lock keeper at Le Grand Carré, where I gave it back last year. This télécommande  is only needed for the first lock operated by the VNF. For the rest of the locks on the system, we will be guided through by the organisation that maintains the Canal de Roubaix (whose name I have forgotten at the moment). For that, we have to wait where we are until Monday, as it seems they don't work at weekends. Never mind. It's a rainy day and we are just relaxing on this lovely tree-lined stretch of river. Next week, we'll work our way slowly through the system to the Schelde/Scheldt at the eastern end and from there, we'll head home. For now, though, have a great weekend everyone.

Lovely Hennie Haha in Lille

Entering the Canal de Roubaix 

Friday, August 04, 2017

Slowing down: From Péronne to Douai

The peaceful beauty of the Somme

Last Sunday I said we'd be heading towards Valenciennes, didn't I? Well, us being us, we've changed our minds again and we have been in Douai for the night on our way to Lille and thereafter to the Canal de Roubaix where we spent some time last year, but to our mind, not enough. What changed our minds was the realisation we have barely stopped moving since we started and the three days we spent at Courcelles on the way down are the longest we have stayed anywhere. But we are going back there again tomorrow, and again, we hope to stay for a few days. A big plus for me is that apart from the peace, there are showers, something that's been rather lacking in our lives for most of this trip. Despite being dry most of the time, the weather hasn't been hot enough for my camping 'douchesack' to produce enough warm water for anything more than a hair wash. But enough of that. It isn't something I really want readers to dwell on...

Gorgeous bankside flowers

A poignant reminder of Sailly-Laurette's
connection with Wilfred Owen's poetry
The Somme in reverse was beautiful, but we didn't linger, except when we had to wait at locks until the lock keeper turned up. Since this involved an hour at Sailly-Laurette, the first lock back from Corbie, I took the opportunity to look around. What serendipity the delay proved to be. When I crossed to the other side of the the lock, I found a notice board describing how it was from this village on the river that hospital barges took the severely wounded to Amiens during the intense battles that took place on the front line in 1916. In fact, the inspiration for Wilfred Owen's poem, Hospital Barge, came from here. It was one of those moments when again, I felt deeply moved to be here, in this region, at this time - 100 years on from that dreadful and tragic waste of human life that was WWI.

Poppies or coquelicots, fitting floral tributes to this area

Waiting for the lock at Sailly-Laurette

 At the next lock, we had to wait again. According to the information, the locks are manned from 9 a.m. 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The French have to have their food after all. However, what one has to take into account is that for them, they have to be at where they will be having their lunch by 12:30, which means leaving the locks earlier to drive home and arriving back later than 1:30 (because lunch itself only finishes then). The result is that you can count on at least an hour and a half's wait if you arrive just after they have gone, which is what happened to us. As luck would have it, we'd joined a gorgeous former police boat at the lock, whose Belgian owner was very proud to show it to us. The time went quickly and after that, we managed to go through all the subsequent locks and bridges until the last available stopping place before Péronne. Despite the noise from the TGV railway and the motorway, it was a peaceful mooring and we weren't in a great hurry to leave the next morning.

A gorgeous former police boat

Some locks are raging torrents as they fill up

We finally motored out of the Canal de la Somme at about two o'clock and turned right for Péronne to do some shopping. Mooring up near the bridge, we saw a tiny sailing boat with a young couple and a toddler on board. The name of the boat was in Russian lettering, so Koos, who is justifiably proud of being able to read a bit of Russian, called out to them. It transpired they were from Brest in Belarus and they had sailed all the way from Gdansk in Poland, through Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium into France. They were on their way south to Marseille, where they are planning to take to sea and sail back round Italy and Greece to the Black Sea, then up river through the Ukraine and back to Brest. What an amazing journey! I have a feeling they were being sponsored too, judging by the sign-writing on their boat, otherwise I can't imagine how a young family like that could afford to make such a long trip. Hats off to them anyway, especially with such a young child!
After doing our shopping, we spent the night at bollards on the Canal du Nord just north of Péronne. It was a gorgeous evening and one of the most peaceful spots we've ever had. The evening sky was translucent and to my huge delight, I heard an owl hooting. 

A beautiful, peaceful mooring on the Canal du Nord

Ghostly barges creep past us in the Ruyaucourt Tunnel

Koos goes bush bashing in a side arm

Back on the commercial waterway proper. On the way to Douai

On Wednesday morning, we set off up a series of five deep locks in convoy with another Dutch cruiser. Despite the fact these locks are around six to seven metres deep, there are unfortunately no floating bollards, so we had to keep putting our ropes up to the next wall bollard We followed them all the way to the next hurdle for me, the Ruyaucourt Tunnel, a 4.6 kilometre souterrain that had all my 'what if' instincts raging. However, for this one, we didn't need to be towed through and could traverse it under our own steam. What I didn't realise was that we would have to stop half way in a wider section to wait for traffic coming the other way. Oh gulp. As we approached it, there was a roaring sound and a light in the distance. It sounded terrifying and even Koos thought it was another barge coming towards us, but as we crawled along the section, hugging the side, and towards the roar, we realised it was the overhead fan in the tunnel and the light was an illusion. I don't know about Koos, but I felt a bit foolish for being so anxious. We moored up behind our Dutch cruiser companions at the end of the widened section where there was a clear red light forbidding us to go further. Even so, we quickly put on our navigation lights for certainty. The barges, when they did come, were silent as ghosts and they slipped past us. No noise at all. It was a very creepy experience and I was glad to get going again, even if it meant I had to steer while Koos did some filming. I should mention that I lose all sense of direction in the dark, so I don't really like steering in the tunnel, but I managed and it gave me something to think about other than 'what if'?

From then on, it was literally down hill all the way, The Canal du Nord is generally straight, but it runs through some lovely rolling Picardie scenery and we really enjoyed it. Picardie is said to be the bread basket of France and produces 11% of the country's grain. The golden tree-capped hills are beautiful with a lonely kind of majesty.  The canal has the reputation of being a concrete gutter, but we liked it because of the variety of the scenery and the constant passage of commercial barges. Last night was spent after the fifth of the down hill locks when we both felt we'd had enough for one day. We joined our Dutch fellow travellers in mooring up to the quay. Again, it was a lovely, peaceful spot. We walked up to the lock before making supper and watched a commercial barge enter. What practiced ease. One rope, one bollard and then when the gates closed, he took it off and let his barge drift gently forward as the waters rose. By the time he was within talking distance with us, the barge was taking care of itself and we learned he had been to the same skippers' school as Koos. Another moment of Serendipity.

Back in Douai again
Yesterday morning (Thursday) it was raining heavily, but by the time we were ready to set off, the rain had stopped. We joined our Dutch cruiser friends in the first of the last two locks down and shared some friendly banter with them. When we reached the last lock, the sun was shining and after a quick bit of Koos bush bashing into a very pretty old sidearm that had me terrified we'd get stuck in the mud (which we didn't, luckily), we continued on to Douai in clear blue skies and hot sunshine. So here we've been for the night again. Our friends, Lisette and Ian are still here; we are behind some other charming New Zealanders and a Dutch boater who was here last time is also back. It almost feels like coming home! Still, who knows what tomorrow will bring. Will our plans change yet again? Watch this space next week and have a great weekend everyone.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

From One part of the Somme to the other

It's been a long and rich week since I last blogged saying we'd reached St Qentin. We actually stayed the night there giving us the opportunity to walk through the city on Sunday morning. It was much more impressive than I imagined it would be with its steep hill leading up to the huge church at the top. Again, I don't know much about what happened there, so I'll be doing some more digging later, but given that this whole area bears constant reminders of both wars, I'm guessing the church was partially destroyed at its west end and that it was rebuilt later in a style that is different, but somehow in keeping. When we returned to the Hennie Ha, our departure was delayed a flat battery, which gave us a moment of panic, but thankfully our small generator came to the rescue and in an hour, we could set off - just as well as we'd been politely informed that the World Fishing Championships were due to begin the next day and we were moored right on the stretch they would be occupying!

The Canal de St Quentin continues to Chauny, but we didn't actually go very far on Sunday because we found a wonderful halte nautique in a side arm at Séreaucourt le Grand. It was positively idyllic, so we settled down to enjoy the delights of this green, peaceful mooring. It happened to be right next to the Somme river too, which has its source a little to the north east of St Quentin. In fact in its northern, rising reaches, the Canal de St Quentin is fed by the Scheldt/Schelde/Escaut (pick whichever name you prefer) and in its southern, descending sections, it is fed by the Somme. I liked the village of Séreaucourt le Grand very much. It has a fine church, mairie and war memorial, all of which are surrounded by attractive houses. It even had a small supermarket that was open late on Sunday afternoon, the proprietor of which was a very friendly, apple-cheeked lady who made us feel very welcome. I should also mention I would have been smiling too at the amount I was making from the goods on sale if I'd been her! They were steep to say the least, but that's convenience shopping for you.

The following day we set off again in grey skies. There were occasional bursts of sunshine and frequent showers of rain, but the Canal de St Quentin continued to delight us. At St Simon, we turned into the entrance of the formerly navigable Canal de la Somme. Sadly, this hasn't been open since 2005, but its lock is still beautifully kept and a woman living in a nearby house with a barge moored in front of it said she's been complaining ever since about its closure. It seems crazy considering it makes an ideal short cut for pleasure craft through to the still navigable reaches of the Somme. And it really is very lovely as our short walk along it confirmed. Anyhow, we carried on down several more locks and moored up on a concrete quay in Chauny for the night, the place that is officially the point at which the St Quentin canal ends and one of Koos' special places from former faring days.

Chauny was a lovely surprise. We went into the town in the evening and decided to go again on Monday morning. Koos hadn't explored it before and we were both charmed. It is lively, vibrant and colourful with some very interesting architectural features. I was very taken with it and enjoyed sitting watching the locals chatting, shopping, drinking coffee, queuing for their bread and generally causing traffic mayhem.

We  then left Chauny after lunch and carried on the same canal although from there to Pont l'Evêque, it is known as the Canal Latéral à l'Oise. Some way along, we came to the turning leading to the Canal de l'Oise  á la Sambre. We stopped here briefly as at the top of the very first lock, there is an aqueduct over the Oise river that we wanted to see. As luck would have it, there was a full-sized commercial péniche approaching, so we were able to watch it cross the aqueduct, enter the lock and go down to the canal we ourselves were on. I love watching commercials manoeuvring so it absorbed us both for a good half hour.

The last section of the canal to Pont l'Evêque went quite quickly as it is wide and rather stately, lined as it is with majestic, towering poplars. The two sets of double locks are in use and manned, so we had to give back our télécommande, which felt like a loss. We'd had one since entering the St Quentin canal system at Iwuy before Cambrai, and we'd got used to travelling at our own speed with it. Nevertheless, on Tuesday evening, we arrived at Pont l'Evêque where we spent the next two nights. Another small town at the confluence of the Canal du Nord and the Canal Latéral à l'Oise, Pont l'Evêque  charmed us more as there was a working ship yard at the end of the harbour where we moored up. We had great fun watching the activities there, especially their 'shunting' session which involved moving a large section of a barge hull between the moored cruisers (including the Hennie Ha) to another part of the canal using a rowing boat and outboard motor as the tow boat. There were a few near misses, but it all went pretty smoothly and the yard workers were very cool. They used extra long boat hooks to ensure there were no real collisions and looked for all the world like medieval jousters. The quayside houses at Pont l'Evêque are gorgeous, although many are in great need of repair. However, one of the quirks about travelling in France is the frequency with which all types of establishments are closed. We would have loved to eat in a restaurant there, but the only one we could find was shut for two weeks, proclaiming proudly that it would be open in August, and a quayside brasserie was only open during office hours, and woe betide the visitor who wanted a drink while they were serving lunch as that wasn't possible either.

We headed up the pleasant Canal du Nord on Thursday in company with a British cruiser, whose owners, Jane and Andy were having great fun in the locks with their visitor friends. They made us seem rather serious with their constant laughter. On the whole, Koos and I communicate with hand signals in the locks and just get on with it , so all the hilarity behind us was fun to watch.  We all spent the night at Péronne where the Canal de la Somme meets the Canal du Nord again and enjoyed meeting each other properly over a glass or two of vino collapso (so-named for what it does to me!). Péronne has a major WWI exhibition to mark the centenary of the war in its much restored castle and most of the tourist office is given over to WWI information. This was such an important town on the Western Front.

Friday found us all casting off at the same time to make our way down the Somme. As soon as we were through the first lock, we appreciated how lovely this 120 kilometre stretch of the canalised river promised to be. Richly varied with densely wooded banks, steep sides, huge side ponds, pretty well-kept locks and gorgeous wild flowers, we were very impressed as we moved through for our first night's mooring at Cappy. Yesterday, Koos and I branched off to Bray sur Somme leaving the others to go on ahead. Our diversion led us via a channel through several natural lakes, all well-frequented by fishermen. It was stunning and we enjoyed our evening at the halte nautique at the end of the oxbow arm next to a campsite. Many of the French visitors were amazed to see us there, so we can only assume boaters are rare on that part of the river, but Bray is a nice town with an interesting war museum that includes the entrance to an underground tunnel - apparently one of many that run under and between the town's houses and all of which are said to lead to the church. Like many others in the area, the church is pock-marked with bullet holes, but it is a fine edifice and a powerful reminder of what the area has suffered. There is also a German war cemetery and the museum had mock-ups of the Red Baron's airfield and planes that were based at Cappy.

Tonight, we have also arrived at Corbie, where it seems all boats must stop and stay before going on to Amiens. There are a lot of them here! However, tomorrow, we will probably turn round and go back. We have been wowed by the rural beauty of this river, but for us, it has been enough now and we miss the commercial traffic, the variety and informality of the less holiday-focused areas. The Somme is lovely and I can recommend it highly, especially to nature lovers, but I'm looking forward to the coming week when we'll be heading north and east again on our slow way back to the Netherlands. We're not sure which way we'll go yet, but it will probably be via Valenciennes and maybe the Dender/Dendre.

Okay, a few photos added now. See below. I still don't have much internet access, so these have been hurriedly plonked on :)

The shipyard at Pont l'Eveque

Beautiful canal side scenery

A village on the Somme

The gorgeous white cattle so common in France

Entrance to our mooring at Séreaucourt le Grand

The scenery round Séreaucourt le Grand

The closed section of the Canal de la Somme

Mooring at Chauny


The mairie at Chauny

The pock-marked church at Bray sur Somme

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Racing south From Arras to St Quentin

It's hard to know where to begin this week's blog. So much has happened and we've covered so much more ground than last week.

When we left Douai last Sunday, we said our farewells to the lovely folks we'd met there and turned right after the Douai locks to head up the Scarpe towards Arras. We'd managed to acquire the necessary remote control to operate the locks after Koos had been passed from pillar to post on the phone and eventually learned that we had to pick it up at the lock before the turning. The Scarpe proved to be a dream stretch of 24 kilometres to the end of the navigation. We loved it so much we spent two nights going up, a third night at the end and another night returning.

Info board on the lock at Douai

Through the first lock on the scarpe
 Highlights of the trip were a disused and semi -demolished China Clay factory, where Koos persuaded me to face my fear of going down steep ladders by climbing up to the old factory hall with our guitar and mandolin and recording a song there. The acoustics were amazing and it was great fun to do. When we were back on board (yes, I did it without incident) and Koos was taking photos, a security man appeared. Rather severely, he told Koos that photography was not allowed. Koos told him he understood he was doing job, but since the factory was being demolished, it seemed an odd rule to be imposing now. Mr Security relaxed, smiled ruefully, agreed and waved us on our way, for we were not going to make any other waves for him.

Leaving the industrial area at the beginning of the Upper Scarpe
The next highlight was our first and fourth nights' mooring at Brébières above the lock. It was so peaceful and really beautiful. By this time, we'd noticed how clear the water was and we could see right to the bottom. It was very weedy, though, so now and then some strong reverse action was needed to clear the prop, but we had the whole waterway to ourselves. For Koos, another peak moment was sitting in a camping chair in front of a railway bridge and filming TGV trains going past. While he did his train spotting thing (quite a challenge as the TGVs go so fast you've blinked and they're gone), I cycled to the nearby village of Fampoux and visited the WWI war cemetery where British soldiers were buried, all of whom died between 1917 and 1918. It was a very moving experience for me. So many, so young. Most of them were between 19 and 22 years old.

Brebieres lock and mooring where we first noticed
how clear the water was

Our mooring at Brebières

Beatiful, dream like Upper Scarpe

Koos watching and filming TGVs from the comfort
of the bank

At the end of the navigation, we spent the night at St Laurent de Blangy. We couldn't get all the way into Arras as the last two locks are no longer operating and the river has silted up. We moored up next to a children's water adventure centre and were hugely entertained by 'Chaos in Canoes'.  The kids were organised into a sort of rosta of activities, so every hour or so a new wave would arrive and the high jinks and fun would start again. I laughed till I cried at some of the nonsense that was going on. It was wonderfully harmless, cheerful fun and even better, not a smartphone in sight.

Chaos on Canoes at St Laurent Blangy

The end of the navigation at Arras - we couldn't get there by boat,
but I walked to the end on this beautiful summer evening.
After the Scarpe (which we left last just two days ago), we headed south to Arleux where we were going to take the Canal du Nord to the start of the Somme. Don't ask me what impulse got us though. We had to wait for a few commercials and decided instead we'd go via the Canal de St Quentin where we went last year. This time, however, we'd go through the tunnel I'd baulked at last year.  We spent Thursday night in Cambrai and Friday night at the mooring before the tunnel. What a dash through that was. 19 locks in one day was a bit much really, but the canal was as beautiful as ever. Last night we realised how far out of our way we'd come and felt a bit foolish that we hadn't looked at the map first, but heck, making beds and lying on them is something we're good at.

The Hennie H on the Canal de St Quentin (I walked along
the towpath to take this and some film footage too)
This morning then, I gathered up my courage again (remember the ladder) and faced the 5.5 kilometre Riqueval (or Bony) tunnel that we were towed through with two other cruisers. I was very quiet until we were more than half way through, and then life looked a bit brighter. It took an hour and a half, which was faster than I was expecting. It was also very cold, but then it was raining when we went in and when we left the tunnel. As an experience, it was something I am still absorbing, so there may be more on that later. There was another shorter (1km tunnel) after the long one, which seemed like child's play after the biggie.
Waiting to go in the tunnel

Leaving the light behind. Not to be seen again for 5.5kms
Now we are at St Quentin for a couple of hours (or maybe the night). We still have a long way to go to reach the Somme, which we'll be approaching from the south this time, but at least I'll be able to say I've done the whole Canal de St Quentin and all the Canal du Nord by the time we head north again.

More from me as and when I can. For now, enjoy your weekend allemaal!