Wednesday 20th September Joinville to St Dizier.
Dooneys American donuts for breakfast this morning because MWNN bought French apple donuts for afternoon tea yesterday and proclaimed them inedible - Dooneys never disappoints.
We locked down to our lunchtime stop at Chevillon through the last of the high wooded cliffs and Douglas Firs, watching the jagged fingers of fog stretching down into the tops of the trees at t he top of the hills and thinning as the sun burned it off. At Chevillon, the surrounding countryside opens up and we cross and re-cross the Marne as it tumbles its way down to Vitry le Francoise. All along the canal banks are covered with autumn crocuses (or is it croci?) and as we approach each lock, there are small orchards of apple and pear trees. Each km brings a different kite fishing both river and canal, and families of herons taking flight as we drive the fish ahead of us.
MWNN is anxious to find diesel and so we took the Ecliusier's advice and motored to St Dizier, when we'd planned to stop much sooner. Said Eclusier failed to tell us that a couple of locks ahead was a large commerical peniche going down ahead and making slow progress along the shallow canal (despite the high level of water, the sides are silted.) As we approched each lock, we could see the peniche descending and exiting even slower as the skipper manoevered her to the centre of the canal. Then there were several lift bridges that slowed him (and us) even more. The peniche had added an hour and a half to our travelling time, lengthening our working day to 7 hours. Each lock had to be re-set and filled for us to enter, which meant we were in danger of not making it through the last lock before it was closed (to Plaisanciers, not commercials) at 6pm. We made it with about 15 minutes to spare, unlike the unfortunate pair of Brit. boats a couple of km behind us. They had great difficulty finding anywhere to moor and had wanted to shop in St Dizier.
The mooring at St Dizier is much changed since we last visited 7 years ago. There's a swimming pool on the opposite bank of the canal and a cinema complex and new flats beside the mooring. There are no facilities here, however, other than bollards, but it's a short 5 minute walk to a new Atac supermarket and a further couple of minutes to a very good baker's in the Cathedral square.
Thursday 21st September - St Dizier to Orconte.
MWNN finally found diesel at a garage right beside the canal at lock 61, there was even a little footpath through the hedge. He emptied two 20 litre cans into the boats' tank and then filled the cans again to carry emergency supplies 'just in case'. We now have a full diesel tank but only one gas tank to see us through the final leg of the journey to St Quentin.
Sun, sun, and more sun. Today has been another blisteringly hot day but a gentler pace than yesterday as we covered only 17km and 8 locks compared with 32km, 14 locks, and a sprinkling of lift bridges. We pulled in to Orconte and 3.45 and stuggled to moor the boat against a fierce wind that suddenly descended on the Halt Nautique. It's a beautifully maintained Halt - as we sat sipping afternoon tea, listening to the wind singing in the trees, Madame from the Syndicat Initiative arrived to check the cleanliness of the shower and toilet - they are immaculate. There is electricity here but no water that we can take on board as the tap does not have a hose connection.
We watched an elderly gent collecting green things from the grass beneath the trees. MWNN knocked a similar pod from a branch - they are almonds and we have witnessed more people harvesting them alongside the edges of the canal.
Friday 22nd September - Orconte to Pogny.
A sunny trip down to St Dizier had us locking down the final lock into Vitry le Francois a little after noon. We're now on our own on a flight of electronic locks descending to Chalons en Champagne. We stopped at the Halt Linsen the 'Shanty Deux' (registered at Pasau) was not very forthcoming with advice as to how the tap connectors worked. The boaters' mantra's the same, no matter how posh or lowly the boat, "water, fuel, food."
We left immediately and lunched 'on the move', anxious to leave the town behind as it too has changed in the 7 years since we passed through and overnighted, having been photographed and interviewed for the local paper in June 2000.
As we started the 4 km run down to Soulanges, the rain started, a fairly light drizzle but driven on the wind, forcing me to lower the cratch cover on the washing that was drying nicely in the strong wind that has accompanied us from Orconte. With a full tank of water, more than enough diesel and food for the next 4 or five days, there's no need to keep pounding along and we will moor up for the night once the weather turns nasty.