We left Bessan early on Sunday 11th August. We had one final Midi lock to go through and wanted to be there when it opened at 9am. It was a beautiful morning and we didn’t see a soul until we reached the confluence of the Midi and the Herault where a few fishermen were set up for the day.
We reached the lock at about 08:50 and to our surprise the lock keeper was there. After she let a British sail boat through from the other side we were in and through the lock just after 9am. Virtually unheard of for the locks to be open early – our experience is that they are almost always a few minutes late.
As we made the final few kilometres towards the Etang de Thau a stiff breeze picked up and we wondered if we should have made the crossing Saturday when the winds were forecast to be very light. As it was, the breeze did nothing to cause us any concern with waves and 3 hours later we entered the Canal du Rhone a Sete and made our way to the quay at Frontignan. We were able to moor, minus bow thruster, without too much trouble.
The following morning at 8:30 sharp the road bridge lifted and a convoy of boats, hire and private alike, surged through the bridge and continued their journey along the canal. We hung back to be the last through as most boats are quicker than us, and meandered through the etang’s and grass lands of the Camargue spotting white horses and the odd Flamingo en-route.
We couldn’t believe our luck when we got to Villeneuve-les-Maguelone and found 2 of the 3 pontoons empty. We picked the middle one and tied for the night – in a stunning setting just a kilometre or so from the Med.
We considered staying for a bit longer but decided to move on Tuesday and at 2pm we entered the harbour of Aigues Mortes. Again, luck was on our side and there was a perfect spot for us behind Groen Licht, Hans and Angie’s lovely Super Van Craft. We called out that our bow thruster was broken and before you knew it the pontoon was filled with helping hands provided by Hans and Angie, and also Jeremy and Sheena (Jo de Mer). The Capitanerie also joined in and we were soon safely landed. And breathe!
We had a lovely time catching up with friends old and new. Dave and Fiona (Warrior) joined us for an Indian meal at Banaras while Hans and Angie kindly babysat for Bosun and Brody. They also looked after them a couple of times when we headed off to the beach and soon became an important part of the pack!
We went to the Course Camarguaise in Grau du Roi one evening and thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment. Razeteurs (Camargue bullfighters) come head-to-head with Camargue bulls in this chivalrous game and they attempt to remove small ribbons attached to the bulls horns. These attributes hold value placed on them by local businesses and the razeteur who gets the ribbon claims the prize. Skill and agility, along with a mutual respect, are key to the Camargue bullfight.
But the true star of the show is really the bull! From fight to fight, his qualities bring him glory and make him a sought-after animal, guaranteeing some very action-packed evenings! No blood is spilled in the Camargue bullfight – at least not the bull’s. The Camargue bull does not come to kill, unlike his Spanish cousin!
We were lucky enough to be in Aigues Mortes for their annual Medieval Festival. Inside the walls the business owners dress in medieval style and cover the floors of their shops, bars and restaurants with straw to recreate the atmosphere of this bygone age. Then, twice a day, a parade of people, horses and donkey’s weaves its way through the town with musicians banging drums and playing pipes. We never imagined it could be so good. Held within this incredible fortified town it seemed to work just perfectly…..it was spectacular! We were lucky to grab a spot at Nellie’s bar with Hans, Angie and another boating friend, Chris (Ti Ouarka) to watch the festivities unfold.
It is hard to describe Aigues Mortes and even more difficult to capture it in a photo. It is in the “dead water” delta leading to the Med with no high ground to climb to get the perfect shot. So, all photo’s of the walls are taken at ground level meaning getting to a place where you can get it all in is nigh on impossible! But it is an impressive and awesome structure nonetheless.
The bowthruster part that we’d ordered whilst heading towards Aigues Mortes never materialised. The tracking told us the delivery had failed and despite Chris’ best efforts at getting it redirected to the Capitanerie it never arrived.
We both love Aigues Mortes and had intended to stay here for the winter but we heard so many stories this year of the northern canals closing in July/August due to a lack of water and there are several places we want to go that are important parts of this adventure. We eventually made the difficult decision to take a berth in Auxonne on the Saone and head up the Rhone now while it is at its most benign.
We have seen the lower reach of the Rhone in flood and it is fascinatingly frightening. We once, many years ago, got caught on the quay at Arles where the water rose a couple of meters overnight covering the gangway leading off the pontoon and I had to don a pair of wellies to put the rubbish out! It continued to rise and we had to evacuate down to Port St Louis but by that time they had closed the lock to navigation as it was too dangerous to continue operation. We had to hold on outside the port, on the Rhone, in the hope it didn’t get worse. It did, and we ended up leaving the Rhone through the natural mouth to the sea – not recommended and usually not permitted. But that is another story!
And so we said our goodbyes to all our friends and on Thursday afternoon we let go of the lines and made our way out of this beloved harbour and on to adventures new. Our navigation book told us that the lock at St Gilles closed at 7pm and we were due to get there at about 7:30pm so we’d planned to find somewhere before the lock for the night. Unfortunately as we were considering our berth options (very few!) the light went green and we were beckoned into the lock. There was virtually no difference in water level and we were soon heading out into the Petit Rhone. This is all very well, but the mooring opportunities between St Gilles lock and the first Rhone lock are limited and there is no way you can anchor in the Petit Rhone as it is full of trees and debris on the bottom.
I admit to becoming very anxious as the light started to fade and I was considering how I would be able to get a line onto one of the channel posts so we could hang off it for the night when a small jetty presented itself and as we approached it was clear with a little thought and patience we would be able to hold onto it for the night.
As it turned out is was a lovely spot, apart for the 40 million mosquitoes that live there, and we had a very peaceful night’s sleep.
Friday we awoke early, walked the dogs and made our way to the head of the Petit Rhone to join the Rhone and get up to the first lock at Beaucaire, which we managed 7 hours later. After a bit of a wait while a commercial came down through the lock we were in and through the worst and slowest part of the journey. We passed Vallebregues on the right and continued to the new port at Aramon.
We didn’t expect to suddenly see a squadron of fire-fighting aeroplanes sweep across the river behind us and dump their unused water into the river. But we did!!
What a great little port Aramon has turned out to be – sturdy pontoons built to withstand the mighty Rhone, with all facilities, electricity, water, bins and even a pump out station. The village is just a 5 minute walk and it has bars, restaurants, a small supermarket, boulangerie etc. And we just happened to arrive when they are having a party weekend! A small fairground has been set up for the kids, there are pop up bars and fast food cabins and a disco, all in the centre of the village.
We had a pizza, chips and drinks from the pop-up traders and listened to the music for a couple of hours before heading back to our berth and watched the huge Rhone ships navigating up and down the river.
We’ll stay a few days – and why not!