Le Pouzin, Condrieu and Trevoux

On Thursday 5th September we left Le Pouzin and headed to Valence. The wind remained strong from the north, but the Mistral had passed. Arriving in the harbour it was quickly apparent that in such a wind and with no bow thruster the short narrow berths on the visitor pontoon were not an option for us and we turned Thirza around and allowed the wind to bring us smoothly onto the fuel jetty.

Once we were in safe and sound the dogs got a much-needed leg-stretch and we paid our dues at the Capitainerie. The wind continued through the night and if anything had strengthened by morning. I was a little apprehensive, but we moved on and actually had a nice cruise up to Tournon but when we got there a small launch boat was taking up half the hammerhead pontoon with the resident trip-boat taking up the other half. We temporarily moored on the berth reserved for passenger boats and waited for the lunch hour to come to an end in the hope the owner of the small boat would turn up. Just after 2pm our patience was rewarded and we were soon securely fastened to the visitor pontoon. I called the number displayed to ask about where we should go to pay. “I’ll come to you tomorrow” was the reply. We got the combination number for the gate and headed across the square for a bite to eat.

Tournon is a great place to stop with lots of shops and restaurants. Later that evening we made our way across the river to Tain l’Hermitage by way of the suspension footbridge, the concept and construction of which is attributed to Marc Seguin and was built to carry trading merchants across the river. Of course, we had to sample a few glasses of the local wines and headed to one of our favourite little bars of the trip, Le Bateau Ivre, or The Drunken Boat. Stocked full of local Hermitage wines and served by polite and knowledgeable sommeliers it is a nice experience to sit outside at up-turned wine casks-cum-tables, drink wine and watch the world go by.

20190906 05 Bateau Ivre - Hermitage Tournon

We stayed 2 nights in Tournon and never saw a soul from the Capitainerie so were very happy to have had a safe, comfortable berth with water and electricity for free!

On Sunday we moved on to Andancette, opposite Andance with the memorial crosses placed high on a hill to remember 3 sisters who threw themselves off having waited in vain for their fiancés to return to them. It is a nice little place nestled in the valley with steep hills either side of the river.

We had planned to stop here on the way down in April, but the pontoon was in poor repair with bits of metal sticking out. We decided to take a look to see if anything had been improved – it hadn’t. The difference for us this time is that we are now in possession of Alan’s plank that we can use to fender against the broken pontoon.

The pontoon is placed right next to a small park area giving the boys some much needed freedom and we had a good game of petanque that reached “best out of three” status.

The following morning I was treated to a wonderful visit from 2 Kingfishers who landed on the pontoon right next to the boat.  They didn’t stay long but it was a wonderful thing to see and I always feel blessed when I have a rare moment of up-close wildlife.  I suspect I wouldn’t feel like that if it was with a wild boar!

20190909 01 Kingfishers at Andancette

Monday 9th we made our way to Les Roches Condrieu knowing we would stay at least a couple of days. When it was clear the Port Captain was open to a bit of negotiation, we got our first 3 nights for the price of two and, having decided to stay here while I scooted back to the UK for a couple of days, we got the next 10 nights for the price of 1 week!

We had a nice berth on the visitor pontoon and there are still plenty of people making their way up and down the Rhone so every day we had new neighbours including Brits, Swiss, Dutch, Swedish and Canadians. The people working for the Capitainerie here are really friendly and they are obviously proud of their jobs as the place is clean and tidy, with the grounds and flowers kept beautifully. One day one of the guys came over in the harbour launch and gave us a handful of freshly picked figs. They were gorgeous!

We had got the scooter off and went up into the hills above Condrieu to look down on the Rhone. It is spectacular up there with deep, lush forests and terraced vineyards sweeping down to the shores of the river.

20190914 10 Rhone Vine Terasses

The weather has returned to scorchio but without the intensity we experienced in the south. It has given us the opportunity to spend some time messing about in the dinghy and take the boys to one of the beaches on the side of the Rhone. They are great little places – only accessible by boat and ever changing as the barges and hotel boats sweep past and their wash causes the water to recede and then rush back giving the boys some waves to play in.

Brody just loves to swim. He wanders off on his own swimming towards things we can’t see from the shore and biting at the water around him. We often wonder what is going on in his head, but he certainly gets a lot of enjoyment from it.

20190917 04 Lunch Break

I headed back to the UK for a meeting towards the end of our second week in Condrieu and I returned on Friday 20th September. First thing Saturday morning we continued our journey and although we hadn’t planned to go so far, we completed the full 40kms and final 2 Rhone locks to Lyon. Thankfully the harbour wall in the entrance of the marina was free and we were able to stay there the night.

We seemed to have stumbled upon a kayak and Stand Up Paddle (SUP) fair, but it was late in the day and they were just closing up for the night. We found a lovely restaurant to have a meal (Intermezzo) and then had an early night.

Sunday morning we left Lyon just after 9am. It was a beautiful morning with the promise of another warm day ahead of us. An hour or so into the journey we were passed by half a dozen small inflatable dinghies and jet ski’s and when they got closer we could see it was a rescue outfit of some description. Not the pompiers or the police but perhaps an inland equivalent of the coast guard.

A short time after they passed a police boat flew up river past us and we started to wonder if something had happened. The police boat soon came back and over to us. They told us there was to be a race on the river and we had 30 minutes before the river would be closed. For how long, who knew! We said we were heading for Trevoux and they gave us the thumbs up saying we should make that no problem.

10 minutes later, a large powerful bright orange RIB came over to us saying “you have to stop, the river is closed”. We protested that the Police had said we were ok until about 11am and he nodded sympathetically but said, “No, you have to stop now – I have 2000 boats in the water around that bend – you cannot come any further”. Just as he said it I looked back and saw a large commercial barge coming into view. “What about him then?” I asked, knowing that the commercials would not stop for anything. He looked, his shoulders slumped in defeat and he said, “Go slowly I will escort you through”. That’s more like it!

20190922 04 Small Craft Regatta near Couzon

And so with him ahead blaring his horn, which sounded very much like a large ships horn, he cleared a path between 2000 kayaks, paddle boards, canoes and dinghies. They were having a huge regatta for small craft and we slowly made our way through the middle of it all in a convoy lead by the rescue boat, followed by us, with a large commercial barge bringing up the rear. It was great fun!

As soon as we were past the small craft we let the barge pass us and he headed straight into the first lock of the Soane with it’s gate open waiting for us both to enter. We tucked in behind him (actually 6 boats our size could have got in behind him) and up we went.

We arrived in Trevoux at about 1:30pm and there was a perfect space on the end of the pontoon for us to slide into. And relax!

Aramon to Viviers and on to Le Pouzin

Aramon is a great little port but as it’s only a set of pontoons in the river it is exposed to the wake of passing barges, cruise ships and any passing pleasure boat. The Rhone is not hugely busy at this time of year but there is enough traffic to mean you are frequently rocked about and at one point our beloved tiffany-type wheelhouse lamp fell over. Luckily, I was there to catch it and it is now safely stowed for the rest of the journey to Auxonne.

We hadn’t seen anyone from the Capitainerie to take our fees until about 6pm on day 2 when a guy sheepishly came out from his very large barge moored on the inside of the pontoon, asked how long Thirza was and then pointed to the appropriate nightly rate on his fee matrix. €74.50 per night!! HOW MUCH??? We were outraged – we only paid €30.00 to stay in Avignon on the way down – a historically important city with a very safe and comfortable harbour, not a backwater one-horse town where you are woken at least 4 times a night with passing ships!! He was very embarrassed about the cost, said that everyone complains about it and offered for us to stay 3 nights for the price of 2.

This was still extravagant in our view and we declined his offer. I then said that Thirza was only just 15m – couldn’t he see his way to dropping us into the category below so our nightly rate was €40 instead. He readily agreed to this and I took €80.00 out of the ships purse and told him we’d decided to take him up on his 3 for 2 offer. He hesitated a moment and I thrust cash in his direction saying I didn’t care what he put on his paperwork about when we arrived, when we intend to leave or how big our boat is, it was up to him.

That swung it, he took the cash and recorded us as staying just 2 nights in our now 14.5m boat. Peace was restored.

We spent a relaxing few days in Aramon  during their festival weekend (eating the most amazing pizza from a mobile van!), grooming the dogs and playing with the new dinghy .

20190831 03 Aramon sur Rhone

We headed off first thing Monday morning……in a Mistral. For the uninitiated, a Mistral is a very strong Northerly wind that blows consistently for about 2 days. The skies are always azure blue without a cloud, a real defining feature of a Mistral.

We had the dinghy fastened to the handrail of the scooter platform to try and keep it in the lee of Thirza’s stern and for a few hours everything was fine. Then, as I watched, the dinghy rose up at the bow, took off and flipped over. As soon as I saw this happening I called to Frank to stop and he pulled Thirza’s throttle into neutral. It was enough to take the pressure off. Inflatable dinghies go through the water lovely when they are the right way up. When they are the wrong way up the amount of drag is tremendous and it wouldn’t take much to snap the ropes.

The trouble was that now Thirza was no longer underway her bow was being pushed round by the force of the wind so Frank had to quickly get back to the helm to straighten her up, leaving me with the task of righting the dinghy myself in 40 odd knots of wind. I managed it thankfully and we soon had it alongside, away from the wind where we could keep a closer eye on it. Despite that, twice it lifted again with the threat of taking off and when we were held at the next lock for an hour (Ecluse de Caderousse) we used the time to deflate the dinghy and pack it away. It is a good safety measure having your dinghy inflated whilst on the big rivers, and certainly on the sea, but when it becomes its own hazard then you have to make a judgement call.

When the weather improves we’ll re-inflate it and tow it again but until then it is on the back deck out of harm’s way.

We had left Aramon at about 9am (Monday 2nd Sept) and decided we didn’t want such a long day but mooring possibilities on the Rhone are dire. We are members of the Dutch Barge Association and they have long been appealing to the VNF to do something to improve this but so far they have done little. We aimed for Port2 about 4kms up the river l’Ardoise off the Rhone and arrived there at about 4:30pm. We had tried to call ahead but the Capitanerie appeared to be closed and all the way up we wondered if there would be anywhere for us to berth. With the dinghy now deflated anchoring was out of the question – there’s no way Bosun would lower himself to wee on the deck although Brody certainly wouldn’t have such reservations!

As we battled current and wind I secretly wondered why on earth we were putting ourselves though this and my anxiety grew apace with the increasing wind when Frank joked that there would be an empty hammerhead pontoon waiting for us right next to a bar and a boulangerie that would open at 8am the next morning. Yeah, right!

As we approached the port I strained to see through the binoculars what opportunities there might be for us when a woman appeared on the end of what was increasing looking like an empty hammerhead pontoon beckoning us to moor there. What luck! She introduced herself as the harbourmaster, in excellent English, and said she would be in the Capitanerie after 5:30pm. When I took the dogs for much needed shore leave I looked into the office built on a large pontoon and saw not only the office but tourist information and ………… a bar!!

After dinner we went to pay our €20.00 for the night (come on Aramon, get with the programme!) and decided to put some money over the bar and have a couple of bevvies. There we met Benjamin, the partner of our lady harbourmaster and an ex-pilot. Ben was an interesting guy and also had an excellent command of the English language. Good job really or it would have been a quick natter about the weather rather than an hour or so of conversation. And to top it off, after he’d explained that the nearest town was several kilometres away, he offered to pick up some bread in the morning and drop it to the boat between 8 and 8:30am.   Ok, so now this really was looking like someone from above had intervened and made sure we were looked after. Thanks Mum!

At 8:30 sharp the next morning we left the port in similar weather that we had arrived in. Again, we vowed to stop as soon as we saw a viable mooring but as the day wore on and the wind continued it’s relentless blow we came to realise that it was going to be Viviers or a holding pontoon for the lock. If you are going to use a lock holding pontoon your timing has to be perfect. You have to get there before another boat takes the berth and after the locks have closed to pleasure boats, 9pm, otherwise they will simply lock you through and insist you keep moving.

As it turned out we snuck beautifully into a berth in Viviers at 8:30pm (well done Frank!) just as the light was fading and immediately set off in search of food, which we found in a lovely little restaurant called Le Ginger. Frank had steak and I had a burger – both flame grilled and cooked to perfection! Perhaps it was just the long day, but we both devoured our meal and the accompanying carafe of wine!

20190903 07 Le Ginger in Viviers

Wednesday morning, Frank walked the dogs and paid the harbour fees (€20.00 again) while I headed to the supermarket to stock up before heading out on the next leg. We are currently in 38C heat, no wind at all and getting a wonderfully impressive 7kms up the Rhone. We really didn’t think we would get that speed so we are delighted.

We were held up for an hour at both the Chateauneuf and Logis Neuf locks and we were unable to use the holding pontoon at either of them as other boats were already there. It makes for a longer and more tiring day when that happens but there is nothing you can do about it.

We passed a new marina at Port de Cruas because it didn’t look viable for us – small and tight spaces that would have been challenging with a bow thruster so not worth the risk without one. The next possible stop was at Le Pouzin where I had marked the chart on the way down to say there was a potential overnighter up a small tributary. It worked out great with us being just off the main drag of the Rhone and next to the town’s sports and activities facilities, which meant we were nowhere near traffic. The dogs could get off and run around to their hearts content and we sat on deck enjoying the last of the sun on what had been a scorching hot day.

20190904 05 Le Pouzin

As we sat there a few cars arrived, some parking next to the canoe shed and some next to the music hall adjacent to the quay. A guy got out of his car and came over to compliment Thirza and to say it was good to see a boat here. We conversed in simple french and then he asked if we liked figs. Yes we do. He went back to his car and brought out a tray of figs from his garden and presented it to us. I went to take one and he pushed the whole tray towards me and said “non, tous” and I accepted all of the figs with thanks. He suggested that I put them in the fridge to cool down, wished us a “bon soiree” then headed off with his trumpet to make a racket for the next hour and half. It was actually lovely sitting there listening to the brass band practice in a beautiful setting.

Bessan to Aigues Mortes and on to Aramon sur Rhone

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.

20190812 06 Villneuve-les-Maguelone

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.

20190822 05 Course Camarguaise Grau du Roi

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.

20190824 06 Medieval Festival Aigues Mortes

 

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.

20190818 01 Aigues Mortes

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.

20190830 01 Small staging mooring near St Gilles lock

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!!

20190830 10 Fire planes dumping unused water

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.

IMG_1429

We’ll stay a few days – and why not!

Capestang to Bessan, Herault

We really enjoyed Capestang. Le Bateliere restaurant proved time and again that it was a lovely place to eat – not just the stones throw it was from the boat (easy staggering distance) but also the food was consistently good. Not top of the range but certainly good enough to be great value for money, a telling statement given it is not the cheapest place we have eaten.

We had a couple of nice trips out with the boys on the scooter, going up into the hills North of Capestang and looking down across the valley to the Corbiere’s and, in the distance, the Pyrenees.

We met a couple of really nice members of the Midi canal cruising community and it seems we are not the only ones to have had reservations about others we had met previously.

Eventually, on Wednesday 31st July, our week was up and we decided to move on and pottered to Poilhes just 6kms along the canal. Again, a nice little village but not really our thing and we stayed just one night before moving on to Colombiers. There is an ancient lake just outside of Colombiers and we were keen to see it. Unfortunately where we’d moored it wasn’t possible to get the scooter off, and the only way to really see Etang de Montardy was to get up into the hills either side so you could look down onto it. It was very hot and the thought of walking or cycling up a hill was soundly rejected by us both and we contented ourselves that at least we’d seen one small section of it.

The following day (Friday 2nd August) we continued to Villeneuve les Bezier, having traversed the dreaded Fonserannes locks above the town of Bezier. Thankfully we made our way down much more gently than we had on the way up and shared the lock with a friendly German family. All went without a hitch…..phew!

We stayed at Villeneuve for 3 nights and spent a couple of days on the beach, which was about 8kms from us. We took the boys with us the first day and set up a big shady area for them using the umbrella that Alan had given us when we were staying in Homps, with a great big canopy over the top of it weighted down by a couple of lumps of driftwood. It worked a treat but after a couple of hours the beach security came and told us that dogs aren’t allowed on the beach and that we had to leave. It is so annoying that they have these rules about dogs – and we all know it’s because they don’t want dog mess everywhere but we always pick up after our dogs, keep them on their leads when there are lots of people about and generally ensure they aren’t a nuisance. Clearly others in the past haven’t been so considerate and so we have to suffer a blanket ban. Shame.

It seems we hit Villeneuve at a good time because there was a festival going on the whole weekend with live music, a kiddies funfair and fireworks. The firework display was held at the lock and so once again we had ringside seats!

20190802 01 Villeneuve les Beziers

On 5th August we continued on to Vias, through the Passage du Libron, an unusual sluice system that allows the canal and the river to cross each other on the same level but can be closed in times of flood.

20190805 04 Passage du Libron

We found a spot at Vias and as we arrived the bowthruster gave out on us…….again! he following day we opened up the front locker and proceeded to investigate the cause of the problem this time. Just at the point of us being up to our elbows in grease and dirt the VNF came along to say we had to move. I showed them my hands and said “désolé, nous avons un problème avec le bateau”. I wasn’t expecting any sympathy but he shrugged said “ok, just go as soon as you are able to”. Merci!

We identified the problem part and have placed an order for it. As we are heading to Aigues Mortes we asked our friends Dave and Fiona if they would take delivery of it and they were happy to help. You can’t beat good friends!

On 7th we left Vias and headed back through the round lock at Agde and made our way to Bessan on the Herault. We decided to stop just after the lock because we knew there was a roadside stall selling fruit, veg, bread and an assortment of different local products. As we approached the quay a French boat was just leaving to enter the lock we’d just left. So, he is moving along the quay towards the lock and we start to slip in behind him – heading in the opposite direction. It was all going beautifully well until, for some unfathomable reason, he gunned his boat into reverse and smacked straight into our scooter platform knocking the bike into the back rail. I was shouting “Attention, arret arret, avance AVANCE!!!” Crunch! He then shouts at me “you are crazy, why did you do that!”. All attempts at French dissipated along with my usual ability to remain polite and he got a full-on Basildon toned mouthful.

Thankfully he didn’t damage the platform or the bike so there was no need for us to set off after him to get insurance details.

After I got a few bits of shopping we continued into and up the Herault, not really expecting to find anywhere to moor or anchor but as we approached the small pontoon there was just one motor cruiser already there and about 10ft free on the end. We crept up, tied on and couldn’t believe our luck. It is a beautiful spot. A lovely restaurant resides among gigantic plane trees and a brilliant activity centre operates from the other end of the pontoon. The paddle boards, canoes, kayaks and pedalo’s are all in mint condition, along with the various paddles, oars and lifejacket accessories.

The guys who run the operation, Coco and Coco, are the most friendly, helpful and fun people we have ever seen running this type of business. And their beautiful collie dog Mika is not a problem at all, even though she has the run of the place. She is a bit shy but the boys have both taken quite a shine to her!

20190810 01 Coco Coco and Mika

A couple of hours after we arrived the motor cruiser left and we moved Thirza into a more comfortable spot along the pontoon. Soon after Del and Jane arrived on Amethyst, the syndicate boat that we have met other members of in the past, including Alan and Jenny and John and Wendy. They rafted Amethyst alongside and we moved the swim ladder so we could all use it to get back on board after a lovely refreshing swim.

20190808 05 Bessan

The day after we arrived, 8th August, we booked a 2-hour paddle board, because neither of us had ever tried it, apart from standing on Nick’s when he launched it in the swimming pool in Portugal! It was interesting, we got 1-2-1 tuition until we got the hang of it.  This was much more than we’d seen the hire boat companies give people when they were taking out 50ft destroyers!

We both got on quite well with it and I was pleased to have not fallen in the entire trip. As we approached the pontoon to give the boards back Coco asked how it went. “It was great fun” I started to say but lost my balance and fell in right there – in front of everyone! Oh well, it gave them all a laugh!

Brody joined Frank on his board for a quick spin round and he loved it! I think he was more comfortable on it than Frank was!

Once again, we found that Bessan was having a festival weekend and last night we walked into town and spent a few hours watching the local dancers strutting their stuff. A pop-up bar served cheap wine and beer – half a pint each for just €3.50 and we, of course, made the most of this great value.

Del and Jane had also headed into town and signed up for the community meal, similar to the one we’d had in Salleles d’Aude. We had a lovely evening and headed back to the boat in a slightly more wonky line than we carved on the way out.

This morning we awoke to find that Del and Jane had managed to get away early, as planned, and will now be well on their way to the Etang de Thau.

We will leave tomorrow (Sunday) and take a leisurely journey back to Aigues Mortes. Happy days…….

If you are ever in the area we highly recommend that you visit Coco and Coco at Bessan Aventure, Base de Loisirs, and take one of their craft up river to the barrage.  The birdlife and natural surroundings are well worth experiencing.  To book call +33 6 04 49 76 54or visit them on Facebook.

Lazy Days

We decided to stay for a while in Salleles d’Aude because there were celebrations lined up for Bastille Day and we’d been told by the locals that the thing really worth staying for was the Eau, Terre et Vin Festival, an annual event due to take place the following weekend.

Friday night we wandered into the Place de la Republic where the local Pompiers had set up a bar and laid on a disco for the kids, which included a huge foam machine aimed over the makeshift dance floor, inactive for now but poised for action. As soon as there was a good number of kids on the dance floor the machine was switched on and foam poured over anyone and everyone who was within reach. It wasn’t long before most of the adults joined in and everywhere you looked people were covered in masses of foamy bubbles. It was a lot of fun to watch!

20190713 05 - Pompier party

Saturday was Bastille Day and again the Pompiers laid on entertainment and a meal that cost just €14 per person. It included a starter, main, desert and as much wine as you could drink. We got our moneys worth! After the meal everyone walked to the bridge by the lock to watch a firework display over the water. We headed back to the boat to put the dogs inside then sat on deck in our big comfy ring-side seats to enjoy the show. After the fireworks everyone trouped back to the square for some live music that went on late into the night.

Having found a great place to swim when we were down at Gailhousty lock, next to the dry dock, we decided to see if we could get the dogs on the scooter so we could all head back there for a swim. The temperatures were soaring and the heatwave was still yet to hit so we figured some hours spent by cool waters each day could only be a good thing. We loaded Brody into a rucksack that Frank wore back-to-front and pearched Bosun on my lap, sandwiched between us, and headed off to the river. It worked a treat and after a couple of trips Brody started to get excited as soon as he saw the rucksack coming out!

20190712 07 - Heading home from swimming

The place we went to was lovely. A good flow of water meant it couldn’t stagnate and a weir above our spot kept most branches, leaves and other flotsam to a minimum. We really enjoyed our daily swim and are delighted to have found a method to ferry the boys about on the scooter. If you read their blog you’ll find they feel the same!

Salleles is a lovely town and there is a fairly good contingent of Brits living here, which for us meant being able to socialise and mingle quite nicely. There is only one bar in the small town and so the great and the good meet there at some point or another and it’s where we met Jan and Linda with their lovely black schnauzer Freddy. Poor Freddy was poisoned a few years ago while they were in Spain and is now suffering teriminal illness as a result. On hearing this devastating news Jan and Linda have made it their mission to give him the best of everything for as long as they can, so Freddy lives like a prince – quite right too!

We also met Lorna and Marcus, who have a cottage in an enviable position overlooking the port, right next to the lock. Lorna has started her own business as a small Artisan creating prints, greetings cards, postcards and business cards from pictures with unique styling. She told us she’d taken some photos of Thirza in the port and did we want to see what she could create for us? Definitely! We’ve lost count how many times we’ve seen pictures and videos being taken of Thirza but it is very rare to see the resulting image. This time we not only got to see the image but also styled by Lorna! We love her work so much we’ve ordered a bunch of stuff and can’t wait for it all to be ready.

Really sweet of her, Lorna sent us a styled picture she took of the boys and they can’t wait to show it off on their blog! I’ve included Lorna’s company details at the end.

As the week progressed a number of boats and barges moored in the port waiting for the festival due to start on Saturday. We’d been told the weekend festivities would include a market with local artisans selling their products and creations, Lorna among them, and on Sunday there would be a huge Vide Grenier, or boot sale to us Brits. There was water jousting lined up both days, were men in boats approach each other and the jouster positioned at the back of the boat on a raised platform attempts to engage with his rival in a bid to knock him off his pedestal with a very long lance. It almost always ends up with one of the competitors in the water.

A couple of pop-up bars were set up and a replica post boat gave a lovely demonstration of being pulled along the canal by a draft horse, the original vessel operating in 1681.

20190721 01 - Midi Post Boat

All the vessels in the port were in pole-position for the festival and we invited our friends Sheila and Alan to join us for the fun. Then Friday morning we were all served with an eviction notice saying we couldn’t be in the port for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. There were protests and arguments from all those affected but the ones we felt most sorry for were Peter and Ruth from Austria who had a broken gearbox and were unable to move unaided. After some toing and froing two barges left and as soon as Sheila and Alan arrived we followed suit.

We didn’t go far, just up past the next lock and when one of the other barges got kicked off the waiting pontoon for the lock and left in a huff, we waited until the locks closed for the evening, turned Thirza around and legitimately moored there for the rest of the evening. Bliss!

It was only about 500m back into town and we kept our table reservation in Chez Herve that evening.

The following morning we went back through the lock and sat in the port until we again had to vacate but this time we went downstream to just below the large lock in the town and again turned Thirza ready to come back through as soon as they reopened at 6pm. It was a bit of nautical Hokey Cokey but actually made it more fun and we were so glad we didn’t just leave like all the rest. All, except Peter and Ruth who remained moored in the port after the VNF took pity on them and their plight and left them alone……perfect!

Sheila and Alan left Sunday evening and as I had payroll to push through for work we decided to stay until Tuesday. It was handy to discover they’d left in place the temporary electrical points that had been provided for stall holders so we plugged in, charged up and had full in electricity for the rest of our stay!

We left Salleles d’Aude Tuesday afternoon with a warm feeling, like we’d been among friends for a couple of weeks – well, we had. It’s a lovely place that we would recommend to anyone.

Frank cycled up to set the 6 locks taking us out of the canal du jonction back into the canal du Midi proper. Yes, that meant I took Thirza on my own and threw the ropes to Frank each time I reached a lock. It was good for me to do this on my own – although I have helmed Thirza on many occasions I’ve always had the comfort of knowing Frank is there if I screw up.

We pottered along the canal until we reached the Passenger Boat quay at Pont Sierge and as it was empty we stopped for the night. It was blissful and we heard our old friend the Scops Owl calling to a potential mate in the distance. The following morning we set off after breakfast and headed to Capestang. When we came through Capestang on our way to Carcassonne it was pouring with rain and we didn’t really get to enjoy the town. This time around as we came through the low bridge there was a spot right on the quay outside Le Batelier restaurant and bar. It was a fraction too small for us but the nice French privateer in front happily moved his boat back a couple of meters and we snuck in. As soon as the Capitainerie opened in the afternoon we checked we could stay where we were and booked in for a week.

There are a good number of Brits here too and a local couple wandered along with their young Westie, which of course meant a chat along with the obligatory Westie-fix. They told us about the illumination spectacle held every Wednesday evening in the square where they project images onto the walls of the church, Collegiale St-Etienne, and tell the story of Capestang, or Cap de l’Etang – head of the lake – as it was many many years ago. We went along and really enjoyed it, as much because the place was packed, noisy and a great atmosphere as well as the fun way the town’s history was portrayed.

So far we’ve had a couple of excellent meals in Le Batelier, and Frank sneaks in for a pint most lunchtimes, and why not! Breakfast for the past couple of days has been grabbing a pastry from the boulangerie in the square and taking it the Cafe de la Paix to enjoy with a small strong espresso. How nice this life is at times. We have nothing much planned for the rest of our stay here, although I’ve got a busy week of work coming up. But that’ll keep me out of mischief and afford Frank the opportunity to spend some of the beer tokens I’m earning!

If you have any digital photographs you would like Lorna to style for you please do get in touch with her by calling +33767259580 or email  littlefrenchgallery@gmail.com – she would love to hear from you!

Roundabout to Salleles-d’Aude

So, here we are in Salleles-d’Aude. No, we haven’t been here the whole time we’ve been on a little adventure to Narbonne and down the Orinoco.

We stayed 2 nights in Salleles, until Sunday 7th July. We then decided to head down to Narbonne and onwards, down the  Embranchement de La Nouvelle, to Port Nouvelle on the Med. Narbonne is an interesting city to cruise through because, whilst not a big place, it has an ancient bridge over the canal that has been expanded and built on over the years, so it is a mini tunnel you go through as you pass under one of the oldest streets in the city.

As we emerged back into the sunlight we could see there were ample empty spaces for visiting boats, but the high walls either side seemed to provide the perfect opportunity for the local youths to hurl objects down at the boats.  We moved on through to the next area, but it was clear that these were permanent moorings to cater for liveaboards and those wishing for their boat to be based in Narbonne. There were no spaces at all here.

It’s a tight channel as you pass through the city and there was definitely nowhere for us to turn Thirza and head back to the visitors quay, and so we decided to continue on and through the final lock to stay the night before heading down to Port Nouvelle the following day.

We found a lovely spot, near to Gruissan, only spoiled by the occasional train passing on the tracks located on the other bank.  Apart from that it was a great wild-camp – perfect for the boys to run around and do their own thing, and nice and peaceful for us.

20190707 03 Near Guissan

The following morning we were woken just before 7am by crashing and banging around on the opposite bank. It transpired that a local farmer had come down to the canal to suck water out to fill 2 huge storage tanks, for the purpose, no doubt, to irrigate his crops. Within minutes he had his pump set and turned on his generator. It was deafening! With now no chance of sleeping any longer we got up, walked the dogs, had a bite to eat and moved on.

We managed to get about 2.5kms down the canal fairly easily, but then we started to slow down and kick up mud. We contemplated turning around, but frankly there was nowhere to do this, so we continued on thinking “it can’t get any worse”. The VNF guarantee water depths, allegedly, and this canal was supposed to have a minimum 1.5m. We only draw 900mm so we should have been fine.

Almost imperceptibly we continued to slow and soon we were doing less than 2.5kms per hour. Our usual speed at the same revs is 6kms. The canal itself was becoming more and more choked with weed and we could well imagine that as well as the obvious fact we were pushing mud, we had weed around the propeller as well. The quick and usually effective way to clear weed from the prop is to put your engine hard astern but a couple of attempts at this failed to improve matters, so we were more and more convinced that our speed was to do with a lack of depth.

20190708 - 002 Down the Canal de la Nouvelle

We had to turn around. The chance of us becoming stuck in the mud was increasing with each meter we travelled but 2 attempts to do so failed, with our turn stopping as the stern moved into the even shallower water at the canal edge.

Another potential spot loomed and I got the boat hook out so I could test the depth. There was more water here and we decided to give it another go. As you know, Thirza is 15m and we had certainly no more than 2.5 meters to spare as we made the slow 180 degree pirouette in the canal, with Frank throttling ahead and astern in equal measure every few seconds.

Eventually she came around. The relief was huge! And we were now buoyed by the fact that we had got down there, and so we could get back, yes? Er, yes but we slowed to less than 1.5kms for the first 500m then almost as imperceptibly as we’d slowed coming down we picked up speed and by the time we got back to the lock we were doing 5.5kms.

So, back through the lock and back to Narbonne we went. We had decided we would stop on the visitors quay, if only to get water, but once there we had a little look over the wall and were very pleasantly surprised by the café and restaurant lined esplanades either side of the canal leading into the heart of the city.

20190708 08 Visitors Quay Narbonne

We decided to stay a couple of nights and ate out in the main square that lunchtime. It was absolutely lovely, only spoiled when the resident cat decided to come out and stare at Brody. He went mental! Thankfully the restaurant owner came out and shooed the cat away “le chat partir!” he said and things settled down again.

The following day (Tuesday 9th July) we awoke to a thunder storm and rain, but it only lasted about an hour then the sun reappeared. We went to the covered market and had a fabulous hour wandering around the different stalls loaded with bread, fruit and veg, game bird of every description, enormous cuts of beef, cured meats, cheeses, seafood, olives, herbs, spices…..the list is endless. When I spotted a piece of filet that had obviously been aged for a long time judging by its dark colour I said to Frank we should get some because it would be wonderful. Just in time I read the label that was stuck upside down in the meat “Filet Cheval”. It was horse meat! Er, no thanks.  Check out the Gallery for plenty : of market pictures!

That evening we enjoyed a glass of wine in the square and walked on a preserved section of the Via Domitia, the ancient Roman Road linking Italy and Spain.

20190709 15 Via Domitia Narbonne.JPG

We also visited Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur, a magnificent Gothic style cathedral in the heart of the city, dating from the middle ages.  The inquisition established a base here during the Albigensian crusade against the Cathars, the good men and good women of the Midi.

On Wednesday we set off at around 10am and headed back up the Canal de la Robine and stopped just after the small navigable section of the River Aude before a clever double lock that houses a dry dock big enough for any boat that is able to use this canal. As we arrived we saw that Mike and Ann on their ex-working barge named “A40” and we wandered over to see how they were getting on with their bitumen re-coat of the hull.

20190710 01 A40 in the dry dock near Salleles d Aude.JPG

Frank found his way down to the river and took the boys for a swim while I caught up on some work. It turned out to be a brilliant stop for them – no traffic or anything to be concerned about and a large bank for them to roll on, sniff, explore and play.

Later that evening Mike and Ann came for a couple of drinks and it was lovely to get to know them a little better.

This morning, Thursday 11th July, we got the scooter off and Frank went into Salleles to get a few bits from the supermarket and some bread and cakes from the boulangerie. When he got back he reported that a perfect spot on the quay in Salleles was empty and we decided to make the 500m dash along the canal to secure the place before anyone else got there.

On this canal you have to operate the locks yourself by pushing a button with an arrow indicating the direction you are travelling. The lock sets itself in your favour and the gates open so you can enter. Once settled you have to push the green “go” button for the gates to close and the sluices to operate as appropriate. This is all well and good but the ladders they provide to get up and down the lock are not placed well for Thirza’s size and shape (coupled with the fact these are oval shaped locks still) and so we decided that I would take the scooter ahead and get the locks set so Frank could bring Thirza in and throw me the ropes. The first lock was fine but the second one is 7 meters deep with sliders to tie your ropes to – easy when there is two of you but a different challenge with just one! As it turned out the captain did a first class job and as I watched from above Thirza gently rose from the depths of the lock until I was able to step across onto the coach roof and re-join the ship.

Thankfully the place was still empty and will a little bit of push and shove, and some strategically tied spring lines we were in. We hoisted the bimini and sat in the breeze until the sun moved round enough for the trees to provide the most lovely cooling shade for the whole boat…….bliss!

Road Trip to Party!

Oh, it’s all been so hush hush.  Couldn’t say a word in case she got wind of it, but we had decided to drive to Portugal to surprise Cara on her 40th Birthday.  Having booked a car in April to be collected in Carcassonne we felt uneasy about leaving the boat there for any length of time and decided to go back to Homps, as you will know from the last blog.

However, what you won’t know is that because of this last minute change of plan it meant we had to go back to Carcassonne on the scooter so we could collect the car last Tuesday (25th June).  It took a hour to get there and poor Frank had to ride it all the way back again while I drove the car – 2 hours on a scooter doing 30mph is not for the faint-hearted!

Anyway, we managed it and having loaded everything we might possibly need into the boot (including 6 bottles of VCP and 15 litres of wine, of course) we set off at 6am on Wednesday morning, Frank’s birthday.  What a birthday treat – the prospect of a 13 hour drive across Europe!  We had intended to stop overnight halfway down but as it turned out the roads were every bit as good as French roads – i.e empty – and the sat nav was telling us we would be there at 6pm Portugese time.  So we cracked on.

En-route I booked a dog friendly hotel in Albufeira and we arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the wonderful view from our balcony and walk into town for the first chicken piri-piri I have had for 28 years – and the first Frank has ever had!  Oh my, it is still every bit as good as I remember it.  Hot enough to make you cry and so much oil it runs down to your elbows when you eat it in the traditional fashion, with your hands.

20190626 07 - Our view of the Algarve

Day 2 we found a great spot to walk the dogs along the cliffs and down to a couple of secluded little beaches where they could swim and in the afternoon we relaxed around the hotel pool before heading out for another great feast of my beloved piri-piri.

We had a wander around the town and came across some of the most amazing sand art I think I have ever seen – such detail and imagination – it was beautiful.

20190627 14 - Sand Sculputes

As the evening approached we were awaiting word from Nick about their arrival and sure enough we got a text to say they were 20 minutes from their villa.  We headed over and waited for them to settle in then sent a message to Nick to say we were outside.  He came and unlocked the gate with Mark, Cara’s husband, who was completely shocked that we were there. So, the secret wasn’t out……great!

And so our plan was set in motion.  Having let us in, Nick and Mark went into the villa with the 2 dogs – perfect, because Brody went first and Cara was asking “who’s that?”.  “We found a couple of strays out in the street” says Nick.  Enter Bosun.  He is unmistakable really – apart from the fact he is impossibly handsome, he has a docked tail because we got him in Ireland where it is still legal to do this.

“That’s Bosun!”  Cara couldn’t quite believe her eyes but knew there was not another dog like him and she ran to the door to find us waiting with enough booze to sink a battleship, let alone start a party!  Oh, it was lovely, there were a few tears but such a lovely end to her day, which had also seen her Mum, Paulette, join the party-goers on the plane just before the doors closed.  And her birthday wasn’t until the following day!

We headed back to our hotel later that evening and then joined everyone back at the villa the following day after they had spent the morning paddle boarding and kayaking.   Paulette stayed at the villa to decorate it with balloons and banners and everyone had contributed their favourite photo’s of Cara, which had been printed out and scattered on every surface.  It was lovely!

20190628 03 - The gang having fun

There were 10 people officially staying at the villa but that night there were a couple of stowaways in Cara and Mark dressing room and Paulette also stayed the night so a total of 13 plus 2 dogs.  More than enough to have a great time – which we did!

The following day there were a few hangovers being nursed so we just chilled out by the pool and relaxed around the villa – everyone chipping in to assist with shopping, cooking, clearing up.  It was blissful – very relaxing and lots of good fun had by all.

20190629 02 - The Birthday Gang

Brody was able to fully satisfy his love of swimming over the couple of days.  He rarely got out of the pool, regardless of whether there was anyone in there or not, but he never let anyone swim on their own – seeing himself as a Baywatch hero whenever he thought someone needed his help!  It was really funny to see.

On Sunday we got up early and made our way back to Homps – again deciding to do the journey in one hit and we got back at 9pm French time.  It gave us the whole of the following day to do washing, go shopping and get any last minute bits and pieces then the following morning we took the car back to Carcassonne again.

When we got back to Homps we decided to move on in the afternoon and went a whole 5 kms to our first stop at the lock near Argens-Minervois.  It was so nice to be out in the peace and quiet of the countryside again after the time in Carcassonne and Homps.

The following day (Wed 3rd July) we did another marathon 6 kms and spent the night on the brand-spanking new quay at Parazza.  It’s funny – they have built this excellent quay for boats to moor but have only dug it to a depth of about 700-800cm, less than one meter draft!!  Thirza hung off a bit but we could get ashore and went to the little café just above the quay where we had a superb formule menu for the day – 3 courses and a coffee for €20 each.  We added a litre of Rose, of course, but still the whole bill came to less than €50……amazing!

IMG_0686

On Thursday we moved on to Vieux-Pont and managed to squeeze into a mooring reserved for the bumper boats.  Frank found their office and double checked that it was ok to stay there and thankfully the English guy running the place said “sure, no problem”.  So it was canopy up and dinner on.  Just duck breast with cherries in a red wine jus accompanied by rice and asparagus……delish!

Today we turned off the midi and have taken the Canal de Jonction that will take us to Narbonne through a series of self-operated locks.  Unsurprisingly the first one didn’t work and by the time we got to the second one the lock had closed for lunch!  This is an unmanned lock that appears to adhere to the same strict French regime of downing tools dead on 12 for 1 hour!

Anyway, I knocked up some ztaziki and we sat in the shade of a tree with some fresh bread and a cold glass of wine to while away the time.  Not sure how we cope!

After lunch we continued to the small village of Salleles-d’Aude where we have stopped for the night.  All rather pleasant!

 

Carcassonne to Homps

While I was in the UK on business Frank enjoyed a peaceful few days, just him and the boys. It sounds like it wasn’t too onerous – meeting neighbours and frequenting The Celt, a very nice Irish bar in the Bastide, just off Le Place de Carnot, and taking the dogs for swims in the Aude.

The evening I arrived back we went to The Celt for a bite to eat and a couple of beers then wandered back through the streets where it seemed as through every bar and restaurant had live music, as this was the evening of the Fete de la Musique and we were very lucky to catch a set by Violinist Lisa Yang.

IMG_0537

Down the main avenue, Rue Georges Clemenceau, from the port to Le Place de Carnot they have strung colourful umbrellas all the way down, to provide much needed shade for the shoppers. It is a wonderful sight and makes you look up to expect Mary Poppins descending at any moment!

Brollys in Carcassonne

It is a shame that the port isn’t more secure for boats. We’d heard enough stories about people getting on boats – even when the owners were on board – and it just made us feel it wouldn’t be a good idea to stay for any length of time.

With this in mind, we decided to make Carcassonne our limit on the Midi and head back towards Homps. We had a really lovely couple of days, with the most helpful of eclusiers at each lock. It makes a huge difference to your day when the lock keepers are friendly and helpful.

Once back in Homps we decided to eat at the Les Tonneliers, Restaurant de Vignerons. It was superb. Probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had, anywhere! It was pricey enough but worth every single cent.

Today someone turned the heat up and it is blistering hot. Even sitting under the canopy you can feel the burn of the sun through the material and the strong breeze feels like we are sitting in front of a hairdryer!! Ah well, time for a cold glass of wine.

Homps to Carcassonne

On Sunday (9th June) we went out for a lovely meal with Alan and Sheila at Auberge de la Croisade in Cruzy, about 30 minute drive from the boat. It turned out to be the very nice restaurant we had moored near to at Pont de Seriege. The occasion was a little bon voyage et a bientot because we planned to head towards Carcassonne on Wednesday and they were heading up to their boat in Pont de Vaux the following Sunday.

20190609 02 Sunday Lunch

We just had the small matter of fitting the new Brush Set into the bowthruster, which Alan had kindly said he would help with.

Monday morning Frank removed the bolts holding the bulkhead cover to the area that the bowthruster resided and, on cue, Alan arrived to supervise and assist on the task that Frank had assured me would take “a couple of hours”. As it turned out, poor Alan didn’t leave until 6pm (elbow-deep in muck!) but we had a fully serviced, re-wired and, perhaps more importantly, working bowthruster!

It was both difficult and a relief to leave Homps; difficult because we were close to friends and the GP who’d looked after Frank and administered the appropriate medication to assist with his high blood pressure, but also a relief because we were ready to move on. We came on this adventure to travel and staying anywhere too long is testing. That said, we have some brilliant memories of Homps, the parties, new friends, and a wonderful day out on the scooter that took us up to the medieval town of Minerve, a Cathar stronghold and interesting geographical set up.

When you cross the bridge to the old town of Minerve, it doesn’t take long to notice that the bridge seemingly crosses a river to one side, but not the other. It is only when you look closer that you realise that the river appears from underground just below the bridge. When we last visited this town, many years ago, the river was running and we didn’t venture much further than the bridge. This time, however, the river was dry and we could see a couple walking along the riverbed below us. So, of course, we took the track down to investigate where the water comes from when in flood.

20190608 01 Minerve

The answer came in the form of a cavernous natural drain that delivers a torrent of dangerous flood water in certain conditions but today stood empty and waiting for us tourists to explore and discover its wonder. Apparently, as the story goes, in 1210 during the Albigensian Crusade, whilst under siege by Simon de Montfort, the townspeople, including the indigenous Cathars, used this natural tunnel to smuggle food and essentials, and transfer messages with their comrades containing crucial information regarding their enemy’s intentions. Sadly, it was in vain and the Cathars fell to the invaders here as they did in many places along this route.

Having walked through the cave and emerged through the light at the other end we discovered that far from being pioneers and the first to ever do this (we knew this, of course) we found that many, many visitors had created their own little version of a cairn – literally thousands of them – and so we had no choice but to add to their number.

20190608 11 Minerve

As we left Homps we received an email from Fran, my lovely step-mum, wishing us a happy anniversary and we wondered, not for the first time, where the last 26 years had gone – and just how many times we had travelled from somewhere to wherever by boat on the date of our anniversary, 12th June.

On this day, we had intended to only go a short distance and spend at least 3 days to travel the 40 kms to Carcassonne. Unfortunately, the canal in this section is shallow, without good mooring points and festooned with locks at every turn. It took longer than we’d expected, in the sense of time spent travelling the short distance, but we did it with just one overnight stop at Trebes. Our anniversary night. Having walked the dogs we stopped at a bar in the main harbour and when I said that I not only liked the wine but also the glasses Frank went and ordered two more drinks and two glasses to go. And there was me thinking he’d forgotten to get me a pressie!

And so it was that on Thursday we arrived in Carcassonne and faced the dreaded Pont Marengo! Along with the bridge at Capestang, which is famed for its shape and challenge to us poor boaters, Marengo is noted for being the lowest bridge on the canal. And so, as we approached in a good strong breeze, there was more than a little trepidation amongst the crew of Thirza as we made our way under the bridge and into the lock. Phew, we made it with out incident! A bumper boat followed us in and as the lock keeper closed the gates behind us the harbour crew came to tell us that the berth reserved for us and awaiting our arrival was on the other side of the gates that were now closed behind us. “You’ll have to leave the lock and turn around then take the lock back down to pontoon C – but some asshole has taken your spot and fxxxxd off somewhere” said Isabelle excitably, in her east-coast American accent.

Great. As we entered the basin in Carcassonne and started our turn back towards our stolen berth, the bow thruster decided to pack up again. Not only did we need to get into and through the lock, but we had to negotiate our way back through the Pont Marengo – sans bow thruster! Thankfully, we managed it and we settled ourselves onto C pontoon, but not in our allocated berth, apparently.

The following day, we went to pay up-front for our stay, and attempted to secure the berth for a couple of weeks. Isabelle, who had been full of gusto and excitement the day we arrived, seemed distant and distracted, as though she was looking back at planet Earth wondering what it might be like to live here. We got the gist that we could stay where we were and not to worry about anything too much and that it would all be ok, and life was beautiful, man. Cool!

As it turned out, we found ourselves moored along with Ginesa, a very unique barge with an Aak-style hull owned by Nigel and Maggie and Amethyst, an English narrowboat inhabited by Jenny, from Braintree, Essex, and Alan (or Higgins, as he is more oft know), from Dublin, Ireland. An Irishman and an Essex Girl……..whatever next!!!!! Probably unsurprisingly, we took to Alan and Jenny instantly and have enjoyed a drop or two of the crater with them since.

20190616 01 Carcassonne

Today, Sunday 15th June, we walked up to the Citadel, which included walking along the Aude where the boys enjoyed a drink and a paddle, and, after a bit of retail therapy, we had a very nice lunch in one of the many restaurants in the medieval town.

20190616 - 01 Sunday walk to the Citadel

Where on earth have we been!!??

We left Pont de Seriege on 19th May after a leisurely start to the day and slogged 17kms to Ventenac-en-Minervois (ok, it took all of 2 ½ hours). There was nowhere to moor in the town but just a short distance past the port was a long line of the now familiar heavy wooden stakes, knocked into the ground to accommodate passing and not so passing vessels.

We chose our spot and walked back to the village to see if there was anything to see. Well, not a lot, actually, but there was a nice-looking restaurant with outside seating on the canal bank and as it was Sunday we decided to have lunch. Not long after we sat down, and I had ordered half a “poulet avec frites”, we noticed that there were several chickens wandering around among the tables being fed by the clientele. What a great business strategy. Get the customers to fatten them up, then cull and cook them for profit – ingenious!

20190519 01 - Ventenac-en-Minervois

Of course, the boys were with us and after the initial pandemonium when they spotted our feathered dinner guests they finally settled down with one eye closed and one eye on the enemy – just in case they got close enough to have a go at.

Having got back to the boat we got a call from our friends, Sheila and Alan, “where are you?”. We explained our location and ½ hour later they turned up with Sheila’s brother, Gordon, their house-guest for the week. We had a lovely evening catching up since we’d last seen them in the Canal du Centre, when a competitive game of petanque ended with none of us really knowing who had won, only that we’d managed to consume a good deal of wine in the process!

Clearly, this night would be no different and they stayed late into the evening as we swapped boaty stories and caught up on all the gossip. It was really lovely.

In the morning we moved on to the head of the lock at Argens for a semi-wild moor (more wooden stakes but no other facilities) and were delighted to discover that the lock keeper was a collector of lost and lonely fenders. He had a perfect black ball fender for Thirza and at just €15 it was a bargain! He also had various wines, local conserves, fresh fruit and ice-creams. Two Magnum’s please!

The following day we made the final passage to Homps, where we planned to stay for a week or two. As we came under the road bridge into the harbour Alan was pointing us to an empty mooring and came to help us with our lines. It was a good job really; I’d had a dreadful day of rope throwing – as the saying goes, I couldn’t hit a cow on the arse with a shovel!! Anyway, safely in and tied up he invited us to join him, Sheila and friends of theirs for lunch. Don’t mind if we do!

Another Alan and a lovely lady called Beate were the friends and they proceeded to tell us of all the injuries Alan (Beate’s Alan) had sustained and the antics he’d got up to following, or during, boozy nights. He is currently sporting a substantial wrist support from his last attempt at flight whilst tanked up and proudly announced he had over $20,000 worth of titanium in his arm. “So, if you’re ever robbed they should forget your wallet and cut your arm off at the elbow” I quipped and new friends were instantly established!

When he told the story of how he ended up in a bush having ridden his bike home drunk as a sack I chimed in and said to Frank “oh, you did that once”. “Only once!” came Alan’s reply “you bloody amateur!!” It was a raucous and enjoyable lunch. Hello Homps!

20190521 01 Homps

After lunch we visited the Capitanerie and were told we couldn’t stay where we were for more than a couple of days because it was someone’s permanent berth, so we checked out the spaces along the quay as we headed back to the boat. And we met the Aussies. Now, I have to say at this point that we love the Aussies. We have had nothing but good experiences of them during our lifetime afloat and certainly never encountered grumpy ones. Until now. We moved to the tight gap behind their boat and asked if they could just move forward a tad into the gaping chasm between them and the boat in front of them and the answer was “nah, I get a signal for the wifi here and I’m working”.

Ok, no problem, we could get in but the stern on the boat was overhanging the corner a bit and it made getting the scooter off a bit perilous, but we managed it. Several attempted conversations with the occupants of the boat were all met with grunts and one-word answers. Ok then, stuff ya mate!

The following day we were invited to Sheila and Alan’s for an afternoon/evening soiree and we met more friends in Jacqui and Gordon, with their daughter Lisa and her partner Holly and Stephen and Lyn from Australia.

We had a lovely evening playing party and drinking games and needless to say we all had more than our fair share of the local wine!

The following day Gordon took Sheila and Alan to lunch as a thank you for his stay with them and invited us along. Poor Gordon had taken a tumble after we’d left the previous evening and was sporting a fetching plaster on his head! In any case, we had a very nice meal in En Bonne Compagnie in Homps.

Friday we all headed off to Alan and Beate’s  for an afternoon/evening soiree with them. Again, we had a lovely evening but the thing that thrilled me most was the mare and foul that are currently occupying their garden (several acres) and cutting the lawn while Alan’s titanium wrist is in recovery. They came right up to the terrace where we were enjoying Aparo’s (whilst looking over the foothills of the Pyrenees up to the majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance) and they ate apples out of our hands. Wonderful!

20190524 04 - Alan and Beata Soiree

Saturday we kept our heads down. We both felt like we’d been drinking heavily for days…….oh, we had! We took time to catch up on some shopping, seeing a bit of the area and avoiding eye contact with anyone who looked like they were in the mood for a party!

Sunday, we had invited Sheila and Alan, and Alan and Beate to lunch. Two chickens full of homemade stuffing, served with my Yorkshire puds and the obligatory roast potatoes seemed to be enjoyed by all. Beate had brought a wonderful crumble pie and custard with her and we had another enjoyable evening.

Monday (27th May) I noticed there was something wrong with Bosun. He wasn’t himself – he was whimpering, crouching down and not happy. We took him to the nearest vet on the scooter – him in my arms as Frank drove – and waited until someone was available to see us. The vet diagnosed pain in his lower back and gave him an anti-inflammatory injection and a course of pills for the next 5 days, with rest for 15 days. He settled down and thankfully now seems to be fine.

Then Tuesday Frank woke up feeling dreadful. He has been battling a cough for some time now and we had got him some medication from the pharmacy in Capestang, which had no effect. He was now not only coughing but his temperature and blood pressure were up. A message to Sheila and Alan brought about an appointment with their GP that evening and after he confirmed the very high blood pressure and heart-rate, along with increased temperature he said he wanted to see Frank again the next day. We stayed with Sheila and Alan that night and Frank deteriorated. The next morning the doc took some blood samples and prescribed anti-biotics and pills to lower the blood pressure.

Thankfully the bloods were all ok but he remains concerned that the cough is not improving.  So, Frank has more drugs and a referral from the doc to go to radiology to get his lungs checked out if the cough doesn’t go after this latest course of anti-biotics.

In between Frank feeling unwell and having better days, we have fitted the new bimini cover to the coach-roof in front of Thirza’s wheelhouse.  The difference it’s made is incredible –  lovely shade for us and the boys outside but it also has the effect of keeping inside a bit cooler too.

20190602 01 Homps

This is a lovely place to walk, with a huge lake not too far away where you can sail and kite surf, if you have the energy, and it is great for the boys to swim in.

20190530 01 Towards the Lake at Homps

There are plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance but not too much else to this small village – apart from 25,000 bumper boats……I exaggerate, a bit! They mostly provide entertainment as they zig-zag down the canal but the fender has been out a few times to ward off an out-of-control vessel or two. Frank has been heard to call out, more than once, “you can get ones that go in straight lines, you know!”

To add to the excitement in Homps, the local supermarket sells PG Tips, Colemans Mustard, Marmite (Frank loves it; I hate it!) Bourbon and Digestif biscuits and………..wait for it, wait for it…………..popadoms!

As Another Aside

We have now seen beautiful Azure-winged Magpies, colourful Hoopoes and have the pleasure of listening to a Scops Owl most nights. It is a very distinct noise that is not unlike a submarine sonar ping. Apparently the owl itself is only the size of a starling but without night-vision binoculars we are very unlikely to see one in the feathers, so to speak.