Sunday, August 27, 2017

Faring home: the end of the journey

When I posted my blog last week, we were still on the Canal de Roubaix at Leers. We eventually left on Sunday afternoon; neither of us really wanted to go at all and if we'd been able to squeeze one more night on the Belgian stretch, we would have done, but let me backtrack a bit first.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. It was a lovely morning, so we decided to make a bit of a day of it and took the Hennie H back the way we'd come to the first (or last) bridge at Grimonpont. We'd noticed some good moorings there when we were on the way to Leers and we thought it would be fun to go and spend a few hours there. It was only about twenty minutes faring, but we enjoyed the move to this lovely spot.
Mooring at Grimonpoint

Looking towards the bridge at Grimonpoint
I took a walk around and found it an attractive and peaceful place. In fact, it is on the outskirts of both Leers and Wattrelos, so mostly there are just houses there, some of which caught my eye, like these two - one so vivid and colourful and the other so classically serious:

I loved these colours!

Symmetry and classicism  - seriously
We then cycled into Wattrelos, which had some nice architectural features. I quite liked the town altogether even though it wasn't very coherent.

I loved the upper windows on this house
and the pretty balcony

Looking down a side street in Wattrelos

The Wattrelos town hall complete with palm trees
and decorative paving

Wet paving always looks lustrous. This
was just after a shower

When we got back to the Hennie H, we called the Wallonia waterways service to ask if it would be possible to go through the locks beyond Leers. Being Sunday, we weren't sure if they would do it and it was already nearly 4pm. At first, they asked if we could wait till the next morning, but shortly afterwards, they called us back to say we could do it as there were some other boats coming through.
We cast off and headed back to Leers where a crowd was at the lock to watch the action. This is always fun as we know how fascinating it is to watch boats locking through - we do it ourselves all the time.

The Walloon lock keeper was every bit as nice and friendly as our French crew and he took us through the three bridges and two locks with great good humour and friendly banter. In truth, he was too good as we were tempted to stop on the way, but he was ready for us in advance every time so we didn't have the heart to say we didn't want to go further. This eight-kilometre stretch of the system is called the Canal de l'Espierres (the 's' seems to be optional depending on what you're reading) and it is absolutely beautiful as you can see below:

Tree-lined canals like this are just so Belgian. I love them

A lovely sight. This girl stopped her horse to watch us pass

One of the classic lifting bridges on the Canal de l'Espierres

Our delightful lock assistant. What a nice man he was/is

Magnificent barns around a village church
As we left the last lock and waved our friendly Walloon goodbye, I felt a great sense of loss. This was it now. The holiday was over and our return through Oudenaarde and Gent would be all too familiar. After all, we'd done it all last year on the way south. But I hadn't taken into account that everything looks different when going the other way. Added to that, this time the weather was beautiful (it poured with rain last year) so in fact I enjoyed it to the full all over again. The Schelde/Scheldt is a lovely river. It has a sort of majesty in its remote beauty as it winds its way north and down to the huge estuary the other side of Antwerp. It also has some of the industry we enjoy seeing so much, as well as being very busy with commercial barges. Here are a few images.


Waiting at a lock on the Schelde for a big one. The barge
that came out was 110 metres long!

The kind of industry I like seeing

Industrial art in heaps

We spent the night in Oudenaarde, a classical Flemish town on the edge of the Vlaamse Ardennes, so called because it is an area of outstanding beauty with some unusually high hills for this rather flat region. I like Oudenaarde, but for me it's a real sign of being close to home. Everything is familiar and normal, unlike France, which still feels exotic in its different customs and culture. Shops in Belgium open all day, as do restaurants - just like the Netherlands, so in many ways it is more comfortable; I love being in France almost because of its differences. All the same, it was good to be there and the morning light at our mooring was breathtaking.

Morning light in Oudenaarde
On Tuesday we made the final push for home. Once again, it was lovely weather - in fact even lovelier than the day before. I had such mixed feelings heading north. The river was magical, the skies were clear with picture book clouds and the scenery was a perfect mix of rural splendour and industrial loading quays heaped with a variety of sand, coal and cement. There were commercial barges aplenty whose skippers waved cheerfully to us. 

Huge commercial barges waiting to go through the lock
at Asper

Rich reeds and greenery


A lunchtime stop at Gavere

Industrial buildings on the Schelde


In other words, it was a perfect day, but all too soon, we were crossing the Ringvaart round Ghent and winding our way through my favourite of all cities. Again the mixed feelings fought each other: the sorrow of a journey reaching its end, but the joy of being on some of my favourite stretches of water. The lock-keeper at Brusselsepoort lock in Ghent was another lovely chap who cheerfully operated the lock manually (which takes time) and seeing we had trouble getting our umbrella down, he sped off on his bicycle to open a low bridge for us (Yes...his bicycle! All the other lock assistants we've had have driven vans - even to go a couple of hundred metres. I was very impressed with this one :)). 

The lock assistant in Ghent

Approaching the lifting bridge

There's much love for the Hennie H

Our passage here is the middle of a roundabout
 And at last we were back out on the great Ghent to Terneuzen Canal. As always, I loved being on this huge shipping corridor with its docks, cranes and turbulent, choppy waters. It never fails to inspire me and I felt my spirits lift, even as we headed for home.

And back out on the Ghent to Terneuzen Canal
We finally arrived in Sas van Gent at about 6:30pm. It had been a glorious day, both uplifting and poignant, but now we've brought the Hennie H to rest after two months of fantastic faring. What a great little barge our Hennie is! We can really give thanks that she never once let us down. We had a few battery issues but that wasn't her fault and she brought us safely and happily through 930 kilometres of glorious waterways. A big 'hats off' to our Shoe for her faithful service.

So that's it, allemaal. I hope you all have a wonderful week. I will have some other news next week, but for now, our journeys on the Shoe are over for this summer. Many, many thanks to all of you who have been kind enough to read these blog posts. I am so grateful for your kind comments. I've loved writing them for you and it's been a great way of cementing my impressions. Bless you all!

25 comments:

  1. Oh dear Val, Koos and Hennie H, my spirits are down! I've so much enjoyed your faring blogs and following you on Google Earth. It has been a wonderful journey with you all and I've learnt a lot about northern France. But my spirits are now up again as I wait to hear of your next Faring plans! Thank you so much.

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    1. And thank you so much for your ongoing interest and comments, Colin. We've really enjoyed knowing that you were 'following' us. I'm so glad you had some good faring too! There's nothing quite like it, is there?

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  2. How absolutely wonderful Val ... what a memorable and enriching experience x

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    1. It really was, Derval. I will never forget it, and thank you so much for reading these endless posts!

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  3. A beautiful ending to a wonderful trip Val. The architecture you show is so attractive, and the tree lined canal absolutely beautiful. 930 km is an amazing length of waterways, and what great sights you have seen. It will be hard to settle down in one place again :)

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    1. You are so right, Patricia! In fact, we are away again next week, but not on the Hennie H. I'll reveal all in due course, but it's quite exciting :)

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  4. What a wonderful account, Val, I loved reading it! x

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    1. Thank you, Beth!! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm now looking forward to catching up with your and everyone else's blogs. I've missed reading them :) xx

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  5. Thank you for taking us along with you both on your faring on the lovely Hennie H, a wonderful, varied and fascinating journey. Here's to future faring ... cheers Val!

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    1. Thank you so much, Carol, but what I really want is to fare along the Thames with you!! At least I can do it through your blog :)

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  6. I love the houses with their beautiful Windows and doors. You've had a great holiday I hope you feel refreshed and relaxed.

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    1. Thanks, Anne! I have some photos of doors in Douai that I took especially for you. I'll tag you when I've sorted them out :) The funny thing is that it's more of an adventure than a holiday, so quite often it's not relaxing at all, but definitely refreshing! x

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  7. Hi Val - it's great to have your notes of your journeys ... and I love travelling along with you - though I'd rather be on board!! Fantastic 2 months you were able to have over the summer - a glorious camaraderie with canal friends - enjoy being home - cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary, yes! It has been so inspiring. Thanks so much for following my stories. I now need to catch up with yours! x

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  8. Welcome home, Val - and you probably have mixed feelings about picking up the familiar pieces again. (I know exactly how that feels!)

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    1. Thank you, Jo. Yes, the feelings are very mixed, especially as we are away again for a week tomorrow. I'm at sixes and sevens!

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  9. Thanks for the glorious faring. I hope to follow in your Watery Ways in the not to distant future. Would love to catch up with you the next time you are in The Hague. Yes, with my recorder!
    Best,
    Lily-Anne

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    1. Bless you, Lily-Anne. That would be lovely!

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  10. I am so lucky to have caught this last blog entry, via a Facebook friend. Now I have to go back and read everything on your blog!

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    1. Thanks, Michael! You are very welcome here :) It might take a while to go through my posts. I'm afraid I suffer from verbalitis and my posts are all hopelessly long, but it's great to hear from you!

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  11. How lovely for me to finally catch up with your summer adventures. I loved looking at all the photos (and had a soft spot for the barge cats), and reading about some of your challenges. We've had such a pathetic summer in terms of warm temperatures and also so much rain that so many of our waterways were flooded in late spring that it was a bit jarring to read about droughts altering your plans. Thanks for sharing your photos and your trip. I especially loved looking at Ghent, which will always have a special place in my heart. <3

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    1. I'm sorry to hear your summer's been wet, Anne Marie! Maybe that helped for doing the renovations? We thought of you when going through Ghent too. A special day, that was. Miss you too! xxx

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    2. It actually slowed everything to a crawl because the bulk of the reno work was to the back yard. We are not even done and are awaiting a hot tub delivery and the end of the dreaded black walnut season to add the topsoil to the new flagstone. By the time it all gets done, it will likely quickly be hidden under a few feet of snow! xx

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  12. What a wonderful trip you have had and I have enjoyed every minute of it too from the comfort of my armchair. I love your photos which help us to see what you see and to appreciate the beauty all around us - even in industrial areas! Mind you, your descriptions are so vivid I can close my eyes and picture the scenes. X

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    1. What a lovely comment, Rebecca! I'm so glad you've enjoyed these posts. I shall be reading them myself in the months to come just to keep the memories alive X

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