It’s early April and our pilot has just called, we are to be ready for the channel crossing at 6am. We’ve picked our day well as there is very little swell out there and our crossing is a breeze.
When we arrive in Calais, we have to wait a few hours for high tide and the lock into the canal system to open. This gives us time to shop around Calais and fuel up for the days ahead.
The next day we head out along the canal and join up to the river Aa. This takes us south onto the Liaison-Dunkerque-Escaut a major waterway into central France. We will be on this waterway for several days along with high capacity barges and push tow commercials, its a bit intimidating. On 20th April we enter the beautiful Saint Quentin canal our first stop is Cambrai.
We rest up and stay in Cambrai 3 days. it’s a nice city with plenty of history and things to see.On the 24th we set off again towards the longest tunnel on the French network. 5670m. A tug is there ready to pull us through. 2 hrs later and without any mishaps we exit the tunnel bound for the city of Saint Quentin. When we arrive there is a hooly blowing and it is difficult to moor Victor. Aghhh.... Kate has just caught her thumb between the bollard and the lines. Her thumb is burst open and blood is everywhere. After a minor panic a French couple close by offers to run us to the local hospital. Kate is well looked after and has 3 stitches put in her thumb. Next day we are invited to a party on the marina and meet new friends Wyn and Donna.
We stay a week in Saint Quentin while Kate’s thumb heals and she feels she can cope with the lines again. Saint Quentin has a lovely central square where they build an Ice Rink in the winter and a beach complete with tons of sand in the summer. We use the Market to stock up on produce and set off again. It is not long before we hit the river Oise and we travel down the Oise to Compiegne another big city. Here there is a good Chandelers where we can buy extra fenders and other boating equipment. Mooring on the river is a bit of a challenge though.
We have decided to avoid Paris and head east along the river Aisne. We head upstream and run into some lovely villages like Vic-sur-Aisne and Bourg- et –Comin. We enjoy the local markets and countyside. It is now mid May and the weather is warm and sunny. We meet Rob and Debbie on Cavu and Paul and Dawn on Casey. They advise us to go to Toul via the Ardennes canal.
A couple of days later we encounter our first mechanical problem our bow thruster has stopped working. We make it as far a Rethel on the Ardennes canal. Again there are plenty of boaters to offer advice and help but David a marine engineer kindly helps us replace the burnt out motor which has been posted to us from Poland free of charge. 10 days later we are fixed and ready to go.
It’s getting hot, we have just had 90deg day and a barbeque with David and June from Hanta Yo. There is now a flight of 27 locks ahead of us before we reach the summit of the Ardennes canal. The next few days are delightful. The canal winds up the hillside to the summit. The countryside is beautiful and serene. We reach the river Meuse.
The river Meuse is one of the great navigable rivers of Europe and cuts through the Ardenne hills. We will be on this river for 2 weeks or more and our first stop is the lovely marina at Sedan. We spend a couple of days discovering Sedan and move on to our next destination Mouzon.
Mouzon is a delightful village and has an interesting Abbey and town hall. We buy at the local market. The river itself is slow and winding but as we travel further upstream the current is getting stronger. Verdun famous for the battlements of the first world war is few days away. When we reach Verdun the moorings are good (in the middle of town) but there are a lot of boats here and to make things worse we have to move off the pontoons for a fishing competition. Nevertheless some of our boating friends moor up against each other so we can moor.
We have met some nice people along the way. We are introduced to Jean Pierre and Francois on Maloy, a French couple. They prove to be invaluable to us in the days ahead. After a few days in Verdun we leave and visit St Mihiel on route. This is another city offering plenty to see and well worth a visit.
We havn’t far to go before we reach Toul. When we get there we decide that Toul would be a good place to over winter in our boat. So with the help of Jean Pierre we put deposit down on a mooring. Toul is a walled city and close to Nancy. We have all we need to spend the winter here.
We have seen and enjoyed France over the last three months and met some super people. French,Dutch,Australian,American all have been pleasant and helpful. Kate and I are looking forward to the next three months where we travel south to Saint John De Losne in Bergundy and back up to Strasbourg and Toul.