We left Soissons in the break between showers, having stopped at the Supermarket and baker's before they closed. May 8th is a national holiday celebrating the liberation of Paris in WWII.
The mooring at Soissons is very run down and the quay is covered in broken glass and dog turds. It's a shame as the mooring runs the length of a nicely landscaped promenade opposite the Hotel de Ville. It's spoiled by the beer drinking 'yoof' who gather at one end and the winos at the other. Had it not been for our need to fill the water tank and not having the right hose connector, we might have stayed another day and used the landerette at the end of the quay. MWNN also wanted to visit the internet cafe to check out the British War Graves fomr his QE project. The town was the first capital of France under Clovis and is close enough to St Quentin for a visit by car when we're back in our home port, but it would have been nice to have done the research on the spot.
This is the first day that we have not seen the sun and have had some heavy showers and continuing strong winds. In a little under 4 hours, we pulled into the halte nautique at Vailly sur Aisne on the navigable river that deviates from the canal outside the town. The deviation is marked as 2km on the canal map but the river winds and loops and the map is not to scale. Depth is just 1.5m and the river narrows to such a degree that I began to suspect the mooring to be a chimera. Many trees had fallen into the water and I was also concerned at the number of branches descending in the strong wind.
Eventually we sighted the town bridge beyond which it is not possible to navigate. The pontoon, with both electricity and water, is exactly the length of our narrowboat, and it was with great relief that we tied off on bows, stern and mid-roof cleats. Just 250m from the pontoon is a Champion supermarket and service station where we could replace the spent gas tank and fill the diesel cans.
As we sipped the last of our afternoon cuppas, MWNN spotted a large cruiser making its way slowly towards us with some difficulty across the shallow section below the mooring. We invited them to breast up and they towered over us on our starboard side. They have a 7 year old Boxer aboard and we were concerned that they would have difficulty getting him ashore. Monsieur lifted him over their guard rail onto our stern deck as if he weighed no more than a Yorkshire terrier. At the moment, he's standing on the cruiser's gunwales peering in to try to glimpse the bitch he KNOWS we have aboard our boat.
With a full tank of water and shore power for the kettle and recharging of the mobile and laptop, I am now happily preparing the evening meal - pate de fois gras, pork chops petiti pois and carrots, Roquefort, strawberries and cream, coffee.
Vailly sur Aisne stopover
The forecast is for rain and strong winds so we are staying put and exploring the town today. The pontoon is right beside the town river bridge and from it we can see the second bridge crossing the canal that is barely 50m away at this point but a good 4 km back down river, through the lock and up another 2km of canal to reach the same bridge by water. MWNN took some photos of our boat on her river mooring, then crossed the bridge and took some of the peniche moored on the canal. He had some difficulty preventing Loony GSD 'helping' what we thought was a surveyor with his marker sticks which surely needed retrieving after he'd strung bits of string between them. On returning from our walk to the War Graves, I asked what he was doing and was disappointed to hear him say he'd been marking out areas so that he could calculate how much weed killer to prepare for each sector. He was there to kill the daisies and buttercups. I told him to stop immediately as they were beautiful flowrers that made the grass pretty, and made a mental note to keep Loony GSD well clear of that area.
Vailly was completely destroyed during WWI but rebuilt between 1923 and 1927 with the help of the city of Lyon and its Mayor, Edouard Herriot. MWNN and I walked the half kilometre to the military cemetery and toured the graves while the War Grave staff tended the lawns in the Commonwealth section. A very large proportion of those buried here died between 10th and 16th September 1914, the rest between May and August 1918. A significant number are un-named with no date of death, some known by their regiment, others totally unknown.
In the French section of the cemetary, most died in 1917, but a memorial opposite the mooring bears witness to the fact that almost 2772 French soldiers of the 287, 306, and 332 regiments 'disappeared' between 29th and 30th October 1914 - 'Les Vaillysiens Reconnaissants' - the town remembers them with the memorial stone and the street named 306.
It's almost 90 years since the end of the 'Great War' and France is staging a series of commemorative marches - 40 in all, starting at St Quentin on March 3 2007, and ending with one to the Clairere de L'Armistice' at Compiegne on November 8 2008.
'40 journees pour revivre et comprendre les rebondissements des 20 mois de la Grande Guerre - 90 ans plus tard!