12th to 15th July – Pontavert to Reims

After the boys had a good run around playing what appears to be their own version of British Bulldog, we set off. Just as all lines are in and we are gently pushing Thirza away from the bank, Brody decides he is getting off. After a game of “chase me” I catch up with him and we are on our way.

It didn’t take us long to complete the next section to the lock and before we know it we were locking into the Canal de l’Aisne a la Marne. Wow, what a difference. Suddenly we are in the smaller canals, with locks designed for the old Freycinet barges at just 40.5m long and 5.05m wide. It is a bit more challenging for the helmsman/woman as it requires more accuracy but once you’re in the lock you can’t get too out of shape because we are 4m wide, leaving only ½m each side of the boat (even less when you take the fenders into account).

The northern end of the canal is lovely, and the first few kms promise so much more in terms of scenery. There are also numerus mooring possibilities and we both feel instantly calmer and more relaxed. At lock 4 we stopped for a spot of lunch and with just 2 more locks to go before the 12km run into Reims we decided to complete the locks then stop somewhere for the night before the final leg.

We have long pronounced Reims as ‘Rem’, having stopped the original ‘Reems’ that we used to say. As we came along the last few canals and were asked our destination we realised that ‘Rem’ is met with confusion. We say “Champagne” and the response is ‘Ah, Rass!’. So ‘Rem’ is pronounced ‘Rass’…….who knew!!

Anyway, having completed the last lock of the day we look for a nice place to stop. There was nothing. Really, nothing at all. So we went on until we reached the Halt Nautique in Reims – almost daring to hope there might be a spot for us. And there was – right along the quayside wall where we could get the scooter off – perfect!

It was late and we were tired so we decided to leave getting the scooter off until the following day. That evening and all through the night one after the other hobos came and sat on the bench outside the boat, drinking, smoking, laughing and talking to themselves. First thing in the morning we got the scooter off and moved across to the berth next to us – far enough away from the quayside to get some piece of mind – and peace and quiet! We’ll work out how to get it back on again when the time comes. That night (Friday 13th July) they had a huge firework display which started at 23:00 to welcome in Bastille Day. It turned out to be in the Leo Lagrange park, which is on the opposite canal bank to the halte. We set up our lounger chairs on the coach-roof and couldn’t believe our luck when this incredible display started right in front of our eyes! Ringside seats or what! It was a late night with much merriment among the people of Reims but we were very content in our new berth away from the quayside.

With the scooter we were able to find somewhere to repair Frank’s bike (the spindle holding the pedals together seems to have broken). We found a place about 7kms away at a large sports store called Decathlon where they have a repair shop. The guy spoke good English and was confident he could fix the bike. All we had to do was get the bike to him. This is when you wish you had a car.

We went back to the boat and contemplated the conundrum with a glass of Pimms. Then decided the best way to get there was by Frank driving the scooter and me holding on to a rope tied to the back box. It worked a treat – although it would be fair to say it was not strictly legal (at all!!!) and not strictly safe. It took a couple of false starts for me to get into the habit of not holding the handle bars with the same hand that I was holding the rope with while we got underway – I had to ensure the pull away was as smooth as possible. Once under way it was ok and we were able to do 15-20mph without any problem. Traffic lights and roundabouts were the trickiest, with the stop/starts and the need for Frank to stay further into the road than usual to ensure he didn’t force me into the kerb.

Only once did we see the Police Municipale de Reims so I quickly let go of the rope and coasted into the kerb, then walked until we were a good way past them before picking up my ‘tow’ again. Great fun!

One downside of being in a city is the fact we are never too far from a busy road so the dogs have to be walked on extending leads, rather than have their usual leadless freedom. That said, on the opposite canal bank not only can they have a carefree walk but we have also found a spot where the bank has collapsed making it possible for the boys to get a swim.

We have taken the opportunity to order some large ball fenders to assist us in the locks and we have been assured they will be delivered to the halte on Wednesday. The bike should also be fixed by Wednesday so hopefully on Thursday we’ll be ready to move on. Between now and then we intend to enjoy Reims – it is a lovely city, very clean and lots to see.

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