The best laid plans, as I've mentioned before, are made to be altered.
Just to explain, we have started our faring adventures for this year and are going south, not north at all. Why? Well, not actually because I was a wimp about crossing the Westerschelde, but because I was even more of a wimp about the prospect of sharing the waterways with an army of small cruisers all hell-bent on gaining the next vantage point (being the best mooring spots) before they are all taken. Given that this is a national sport during the Dutch summer and we who own old and very slow barges are always at a disadvantage, it all started to sound a bit too stressful for me.
The new plan was then to go through Belgium by way of Bruges/Brugge and then take the canals that follow the coast down past Nieuwpoort and Veurne. We thought we might go to Ypres/Ieper too before slipping into France at Dunkirk and then going to Bergues, a place that's long been on our wish list. After that, we would head for Calais, and then the Somme. I was even developing this idea of writing a travelogue based on WWI history.
Well, the drought has dispensed with that plan. After a lovely day's faring in hot sunshine on Thursday, we spent the night moored below the quay of a factory at Aalter on the canal from Ghent to Bruges. It was a wonderfully peaceful spot and just up our street as we like informal moorings the best. As we were settling in a Belgian liveaboard spits cruised past us. A man waved enthusiastically and called out to us, but we couldn't see who it was or hear what he said. A few other commercials came by and all of them slowed down as they motored past us, which impressed us no end. Such kindness is always appreciated!
The next day, Friday, we set off under blue skies and intense heat and continued on to Bruges. We were amazed at how quiet it was; in fact there were more commercial barges than cruisers. We had to wait for the bridges into the city and as one opened, the woman on the cruiser that came through called out to me: "Is that Val?" she asked. "Yes," I called back. "It's Margaret!" she waved, smiling broadly. Of course I was thrilled. Margaret is one of the lovely members of the Facebook group, Women on Barges, to which I belong. I kept waving until I couldn't see her anymore. What a special and exhilarating surprise that was. It's funny how uplifting it is to see people you've connected with on the net, even in passing.
|The first day in shorts! Can't be bad|
When we arrived at the Dampoortsluis, the lock in Bruges that leads into the sea canal to Ostend, we discovered why it was so quiet on the waterways. We couldn't go any further. Apparently, there isn't enough water in the canals for the locks, so they were only operating the one in Bruges for commercial barges and pleasure craft could only go through with them. Even then, we wouldn't have got further than Nieuwpoort as the waterways are much too low beyond there, so we'd have had to come back again anyway. I learnt this last piece of news from Margaret who told me later on Facebook that they'd had to turn back themselves. They'd wanted to do the same route as us. We also discovered from Facebook that the man on the spits who'd called out to us was none other than old friend, Frederic from Bruges. His barge is moored some distance beyond the lock, so we didn't get to see him, which was a real shame.
Resigned to yet another change of plan, we spent the night in Bruges and explored the town in the morning. It is a beautiful place with inner city canals and bridges that would rival any Dutch city. After a few regulation visitor snaps, we headed back to the Hennie Ha and set off back the way we'd come, this time in a chill wind with drizzle most of the way.
After three hours, we stopped again at our first night's mooring, happy to be back and away from the city noise. Again the commercial barges were kind and considerate to our little Shoe. There was even a 110 metre passenger river cruiser that was just as kind. It looked massive on this quiet and not particularly wide waterway.
On Sunday morning, we took it slowly. We've had niggles with a leaky oil cooler and water pump for some time now, and they are still requiring vigilant attention, which Koos is giving them. I did the house mouse thing and cleaned up inside before we cast off again at twelve. It was fresh and windy, but thankfully dry. A few sunny spells kept me from getting too cold as we fared back towards Ghent past calm Flemish scenery with equally calm cows lying on the banks of the canal. Then about twelve kilometres before Ghent, we turned right. South now by means of the Afleidingskanaal van de Leie. Around three o'clock, we arrived at the turning to Deinze and again decided to call it a day. Mooring up in the town centre meant we could easily access shops and cafés with Wifi, something I needed to finish off a course I am still busy teaching. Still, it cost us dearly. Belgium is much more expensive than the Netherlands when it comes to having a cup of coffee on a terrace! The sun came out as we did our necessary communicating and we spent a pleasant evening pottering. Maybe we'll go further on Monday, but maybe not. We'll see. We have time and Flanders is gentle and peaceful. I'll keep you posted!