We left Chauny after I had a Skype conference call with Dagmara – and the whole team came to say hello! It was great to see everyone (hello guys!!). We headed down the last stretch of the Canal de St Quentin and entered the Canal de l’Oise a l’Aisne, with all reports telling us how pretty it was.
Well, it was for the first 2 kms of forest but after a while that gets a bit humdrum and several kms later it’s just boring. Stopping places are few and far between and when you get a recognised “halte nautique” it is full. So, we ended up stopping just after lock 7, about 7kms away from the entrance to the Souterraine de Braye. In the morning we left at 7:30 because I had another work conference call at 10:30 and we were happily tied up at the beginning of the summit level, just after lock 9, with the intention of staying the night and tackling the tunnel first thing in the morning.
We have these small trellis’s that we use to keep the dogs in or out of places and we have found them really useful when we are on a pontoon, to stop them getting off the pontoon and into trouble. As there was no sign of anyone else around we put our “gate” up and let the dogs have a run around. The next thing the guy running the halte came along with his 2 dogs, who came crashing down the pontoon and literally through the trellis. We managed to get our boys safely back on board but the trellis didn’t survive. The guy then goes on the demand his “sept euro” for the night and tells us we can have electric, no problem, and water if we have a 50-meter hose!!! We informed him the trellis had cost “dix euro” and that if we couldn’t have water there was no point in stopping. He was rude and arrogant, speaking very quickly in French – and I know he spoke perfect English, he was just being an arse.
I managed to get my conference call in but we decided to move on before the anglo-french relations broke down further. Just a couple of kms on and we entered the tunnel. It is a wide tunnel that is 2356m long and dimly lit by wide-spaced lights meaning you have a light then dark intermittently along its length. It took us 45 minutes to get through using our usual method – me on the bow with a fender just in case Frank wandered too close to one side or the other. About halfway through I spotted a kingfisher on the towpath just in front of us. As the bow of Thirza came level with him he took off and flew ahead into the gloom. After a short while I could see him again on the towpath. Again, as the bow came level with him he took off ahead of us. They are a beautiful bird. His iridescent blue feathers glistened intermittently as he flew in and out of the light. This pattern repeated several times and continued until his final flight took him out of the tunnel and into the sunshine. It was a magical experience – it made my day.
Four down-locks later we left the Canal de l’Oise a l’Aisne and joined the Canal Lateral a l’Aisne at Bourg-et-Comin where there is a pontoon with electricity and water – only there wasn’t enough space for us so we headed on, now feeling a little tired. It soon became clear that there are very few stopping places on this stretch of canal and by 5pm we were wondering if we would ever find anywhere to stop. Finally, we spot a possibility just beyond the bridge at Pontavert. It wasn’t a recognised mooring and there were no bollards to tie to – but there were holes in the sheet piling that form the canal bank. Part of the kit that Roger and Ann left on board when we bought Thirza from them were lengths of good rope, each with a huge hook on the end. We think they are meant to be used with the stakes but they made a perfect job of securing us to the bank.
We had a lovely evening, walked the dogs and had a few bevvies to celebrate our good fortune at finding such a great place to moor.