We got away from Reims just as the bells struck noon and worked the boat for 7 hours down to Berry au Bac and onto the Canal de Aisne. For the first time in years we found ourselves searching for a suitable mooring as the sun began to set and the light was fading.
We are now cruising one of the busiest commercial waterways links in France and the danger of being ripped off an unsecure mooring (such as pinnning off on the bank) are ones with which we are familiar. Having gone aground approaching a likely looking wall at the 'turning point' at PK25, I spotted a solid iron top to a section of shuttering on the opposite bank. Luckily for us, there were a couple of points through which we could pass a rope over the top and through a just-big-enough hole in the shuttering. Et voila, we had a secure mooring for the night - in the middle of nowhere.
We were both fairly tired and aching all over so, after a ready-cooked Boeuf Bourginon and the remainder of the fresh bread, we settled down for an early night.
Friday 29th September
We had a very early start (for us) this morning, casting off from PK25 at just after 8.30. There were 28km, 5 locks and a tunnel ahead of us and we wanted to avoid being held up by the commercial barges. It's not permitted to overtake a peniche, nor to go through a lock ahead of one if it is in sight as you approach the lock.
The locks are electric and the trigger for the flight up to the tunnel is what looks like a TV remote control. As we neared the junction where we turn onto the Canal de L'Oise a L'Aisne, we were overtaken by a small cruiser 'Dirty Harry'. He roared away, intending, we knew, to enter the first lock and pass through without waiting for us - the cad. And so he proved to be worse than a cad. He was kept waiting at one lock because there was a peniche coming down. Had Dirty Harry's skipper turned to check as he entered the lock, he would have seen us approaching - but he didn't and so we had to wait for each lock to empty again before we could pass through. Even with the delays this caused, we saw his stern proceeding along the 2.4km tunnel as we entered it.
We are now in Picardy and memories of our 2000 cruise down through the sodden fields of the Somme came flooding back. As we pulled into one lock, I spotted a stone telling us this was the site of the tomb of a French soldier killed in 1917. Five hours after we cast off, we pulled into a lovely Halt Nautique at Pargny-Filain and relaxed in beautiful sunshine; me after I'd taken a shower, MWNN _before_ his. He'd walked to the Bar D'ecluse to pay the mooring fee of 7Euros just after we tied up and reported that there was nowhere to tether Loony GSD outside the Bar so put her in the 'sit' position in the doorway. There she stayed throughout the negotiations with the 'normal for Norfolk' bartender/rent collector, not moving a muscle even when the little French mop of a dog peered at her from 'round the corner of the bar.
The notice at the lock gives details of all the facilties to be found within a 20km radius (the village shopping is 3km away) and proudly announces that this stretch of canal featured in the 1959 film 'Le Baron de L'Ecluse', a story of a bon vivant who wins a yacht at gambling, breaks down on the river and spends most of the film learning about the life of a lock keeper. Pargny's a very pretty spot next to a lake so, in the early evening sunshine, I practiced the Form and did some Sword waving stuff while MWNN took some pics so that I can study my posture and correct any mistakes.
Saturday 30th September. Plangy to Chauny.
We left Pargny early and started the descent to the junction with the Canal Lateral a l'Oise, where we will turn for Chauny and the few km to the next junction with the St Quentin Canal. There was no bread to be had at Pargny and as we passed through Pinon 6, I spotted a Champion Supermarket across the road bridge that crossed the canal. There, right beside the new little Halt Nautique, was a stopping point to take on board groceries, gas and diesel should we need to in future.
Locking down to Guny (where we'd planned to overnight) we passed a ruined Castle on the hill overlooking what _had_ been called Ecluse 3 - Crecy (still is on the 1999 canal map) but is now called 'Nogent'. We stopped at the mooring at Guny to let Loony GSD relieve herself - it was 2pm and she'd not been off since 8.30am. Then we decided to motor on to Chauny, another 14 km and 1 lock, as the Guny Halt was beside a main road and close to the lock where there were 3 peniches queuing.
This is a very pretty canal, wild and remote with hardly any facilities but providing one sticks to the designated mooring spots, it is wonderful to cruise through the heavily wooded hills, glimpsing Jays, Kingfishers, late autumn butterflies, a cormorant fishing the water ahead of us for mile after mile and, at one point a mole, struggling to climb out of the water. It would not be so pleasant for us if the weather hadn't been so kind. We've had barely two days of rain in the whole month, which for narrowboaters is an important part of the cruise. Apart from doing it slowly, we also do it (steer) with a tiller from an open back deck. It's no fun to poddle along at a maximum speed of 4mph when it's chucking down, it makes locking upstream dangerous; there is the need to get the ropes off a lock wall that can be as much as 5.5m high and then somehow pull the navigation bar that operates the gates.
We received a very warm welcome from the cruising association at Chauny who helped us tie up after MWNN executed a perfect reverse alongside the pontoon so that we were stern in to the quay to allow Loony GSD an easier disembark. We were then invited to drinks in the 'club house' which is the room above the Capitainerie. The Association members had converted what had been the attic into a beautiful club room, with 'pression' (beer from the barrel).
We ate a reasonable dinner in the local pizzeria and settled down for an early night in preparation for an early start for the final push to St. Quentin.
Sunday 1st October. Chauny to Seraucourt-le-Grande
We are only 8.5km and 1 lock short of our destination but we have pulled into Seraucourt to moor for the night. We have motored for 6 hours without stopping and covered 32km and 13 locks in very cloudy weather with more strong winds. The mooring here is an 'arm' off the main canal and the water is calm, the arm ending in a cul-de-sac full of lilypads. There is a pontoon here that allowed us to moor side on which was a blessing in the gusty weather. As we tied the final rope, the sun came out and we relaxed with two flasks of tea on our camping chairs on the pontoon until the sun began to set.
Monday 2nd October - Seraucourt to St Quentin
Dooneys donuts for my birthday breakfast but no Bucks Fizz as the Champagne hadn't been chilled. We then cruised into St Quentin Marina as the Cathedral bells struck 11 am.
MWNN's summarised our journey in my birthday card - 600km and 180 locks, 215 cruising hours . At our normal cruising pattern of 5 hours a day, it would have taken 40 days to complete. Instead, we covered it in 24 crusing days, a further 3 non-cruising days and two breakdown days taking us to 29 days since leaving Pont de Vaux. How many 50 somethings can say they did all that? Along the way I visited 1 launderette, had one haircut and received 7 to the power of 23 mossie bites, the last of which has caused my right hand to swell in exactly the same place the first bite of the season did back in June.
MWNN has gone to the raiway station to book a ticket to Pont de Vaux where he will empty the garage of its conents and overnight in a hotel before driving the car back here on Wednesday. Then we must arrange for a visit to the vet for the Passport treatment for Loony GSD (probably Friday), book a hotel at Calais for Saturday night, and book our tunnel crossing for early Sunday morning. If all goes smoothly, we should arrive home late Sunday evening.
My birthday was once again partilly spent 'on the move' but this has been such a great cruise I'm not complaining. We've left the luxuriant sunny south behind and are in the Picardy where the roses bloom. It's a different France, yet in many ways it's the same - the same values, the same respect for the cadre de vie.
Tuesday 3rd October
My roaming ISP was playing silly buggers yesterday and refused to send any mail. I could receive OK but no outgoing mail was successful.
MWNN is on his way to Pont de Vaux by train to recover the car. The journey will take over 6 hours as the connections are via Paris and Dijon. It's quicker, and more direct, to drive, but even so, he will take longer than that to bring the car back tomorrow as he will need at least two long rest stops.