Saturday 5th May
The first 'planned stop' is Vic Sur Aisne 30km and four locks upstream of the confluence of the Oise and Aisne at Compiegne. However, as we left the first lock and approached the bridge at Choisy au Bac, I spotted an empty mooring that wasn't marked on the river map, and a sign - Brasserie Bar. It was just after noon, so MWNN put me ashore to check it out while he checked the depth; it was less than a metre, making it unsuitable for most boats except some river cruisers and English narrowboats.
The Bar was offering 'Plat du Jour' for 10 Euros but on closer inspection was a little too Satre's Beach even for MWNN. I did a quick check of the village, found the Maison de la Presse where we'd surely get stamps (closed for lunch) and an excellent boulangerie/patisserie opposite a Traiteur who also offered fresh veg, fruit and fresh meat. By the time we'd tied up and lowered the side bollards to protect us from being battered against the wall every time a peniche passed, the traiteur had closed. We returned to the boat via the brasserie to find it too had closed. It was only 1.15 - this must be the only bar in France to open for just an hour and fifteen minutes for Saturday lunch.
The traiteur was open on Sunday morning and I queued with the locals for his fine ham on the bone, free range eggs, rare roast beef and a couple of pork chops. At the bakers, I bought a large pain au levain and some cakes for afternoon tea and, like Ratty and Moley, we set off.
The Aisne is a delightful river, one we've not cruised before. In some stretches it is similar to the upper reaches of the Thames; large houses set back from the banks, finely tended lawns sweeping down to private moorings and, in some cases, what looked like Victorian boathouses tucked beneath the willows. We cruised through the magnificent Forest of Compiegne, past the spot where the Armistice was signed in a railway carriage just outside the station at Rethondes, and through the lock Herant 14. A little way upstream, there was another surprise not marked on the river map - the Coin Pique-Nique mooring.
Just one lock and 5km short of Vic sur Aisne, we found another lovely mooring at Attichny and hauled in for the night. This time we had a floating pontoon beside a large meadow just a stone's throw from the baker's in the centre of town. It's a village of contrasts, the older buildings at the centre are being restored, the streets are narrow and winding with mere strips of pavement for pedestrians. Towards the edge of town, there is new building, flats beside the school which is undergoing modernisation. Running parallel to the river, between it and the narrow main street, is a wide tree-lined boulevard flanked by large detached houses with considerable sized plots of land. Across the river is the industrial sector while a little way upstream on the same bank as the residential areas, is a leisure complex with swimming pool and lake.
We pulled in to look at the mooring at Vic two days later than planned. It has all facilities but was full of French boats, one of whom we'd berthed alongside at Compiegne Yacht Club. We tied up at the wall of a commercial yard and MWNN reccied the town. There was a gas depot with its own mooring a few hundred yards downstream - always worth noting, especially as we'd just emptied one tank and are working off the second. The gas supplier had just closed for lunch and wouldn't reopen until after two and I was keen to motor on - we'd only been cruising an hour. The day had started overcast and was showing no sign of improving; the wind was still strong and chilly. At about 1.15, we pulled alongside the Auberge au bord de l'eau at Port Fontenoy and enjoyed a most agreeable lunch.
We locked up to Soissons with a hotel boat. Neither of us thought we'd fit in the lock together, but we did. As we approached the town mooring, the hotel boat made a bid to overtake us beneath the bridge, despite there being plenty of space. Too our surprise and delight, there is electricity at the halte fluvial, although it is closed - permanently according to the girl in the tourist office. We probably won't get any water, however, as we don't have the correct tap connectors. That shouldn't be a problem as there is often a water point some of the locks. We stopped in one to take on water - they are automated, activated by a remote control on entry, and a push bar system once inside. This particular lock is only 0.67 of a rise and as we were filling up, a lock keeper appeared to see what was wrong and why we hadn't passed through. He operated the lock for us so we didn't dare wait until the water tank had filled and exited with a 'merci, monsieur'. That was the first and only time we have been aided by a lockkeeper when we hadn't called him to report a fault.
Tea and bread and butter for supper tonight after the huge lunch at the Auberge.