Monday 1st June
We left Carcassonne early, around 8.30am. Today was a national holiday in France, (for why I’m not sure) but there didn’t seem to be much more traffic on the waterways than usual. We locked up with a small hire-boat full of women, (a man and what appeared to be four or maybe five daughters). Neville said he bet there was a hell of a wait for the bathroom on that boat. We moored at Bram after a hot and sunny day, and my hay fever was rampant.
The side of the bank we were moored on was undergoing reconstruction and installation of electricity and water, so we had to use mooring pins in the soft soil. The atmosphere felt very gritty and there were lots of sugar-stealers (dandelion fluff) floating in the air, which didn’t help my hayfever much.
Tuesday 2nd June
Set off just after 9.00am and at the first lock we met up with a hireboat with an English foursome in (very jolly people). A French couple then joined us again in a plastic pleasure cruiser, shorter than ours but longer than the other cruiser.
This woman turned out to be a bossy nightmare of a locking companion, and in the end we moored up just to get away from her. We cruised on in the afternoon in a far more relaxed manner and moored wild at the Lock La Guerre, in very pleasant surroundings with only one boat passing during the late afternoon and early evening.
Wednesday 3rd June
We did several locks, some doubles, trebles and a quadruple. There’s nothing quite like the wall of water rushing down the double lock chamber to make your heart race! No problems though, we were locking alone and could choose our pace and positioning.
At the last lock before Castelnaudary, the lockie brought out this huge apple pie, made from apple trees in the lockside gardens and clearly wanted us to buy it. 10 Euros! It took me aback, and I didn’t have a ready excuse. Now we have to eat our way through it and it is enormous. Next time I will be ready and will ask him if there is anything smaller! The lockies do seem to be cashing in on the holidaymakers, some having tables and chairs, and wives providing sandwiches and drinks etc. Plus of course the local vino!
When we got to Castelnaudary we met the English boaters from the day as we came out of the staircase lock. They had moored in the big basin, and were now turning round to go back. They told us the French couple were moored beyond the bridge in the port, and sure enough, when we got to the port we ended up moored behind them. Icy stares were exchanged.
As you leave the staircase locks on the rise up to Castelnaudary you enter a large basin with tiers of houses on your right, looking like something from a Greek fishing village. There is a huge Le Boat hire-boat base on the other side of the basin. You need to keep to the centre of the basin and head for the bridge opening to the port.
Don’t go to the left of the island, which is what we did this first time! One navigation guide said go to the left, and the other one said to the right. The other one was the correct one. There is an interesting old mill just before the entrance to the port area, providing a great photo opportunity.
Once in the port, you can choose either to go on the left side, under the shade of the trees, or on the busier side, next to the road. Unfortunately we were moored on the busier side, close to the bridge and right between the music school (persistent drumming and recorder music) and a huge roadwork excavation, so it was really noisy all afternoon.
(nb: At this point in time there was no electricity or water at Castelnaudary, but it was in course of preparation. Now this is one of the best moorings that we have encountered along the Midi, complete with water, electricity, internet, showers, laundry facilities and a small library. Odile, the capitaine, is very helpful and speaks excellent English. At the time of writing, the port is run by the municipality, though there is talk that it may be taken over by Suez, the services conglomerate. At the moment the fee structure is quite reasonable – that may not be the case in the future.)
We decided that this would be a good winter mooring and we applied for a place, but were not successful that winter. Places were at a premium now that Carcassonne was no longer available. Apparently VNF (the canal authorities) were wanting to drain the entire canal and basin the following winter, which was a shame as there was a good community there. Castelnaudry is slightly better appointed than Carcassonne though.
The apple pie was fantastic! I cut it into two and froze half of it, quite successfully.
Thursday 4th June
In fact the road works went on until gone 7.00 pm the night before, as did the sounds from the music school, but eventually peace was restored. We decided we would not stay another day as we had planned, and set off at 8.00 to get a long run up to the first lock. There were a couple of single locks, followed by a triple, a double and a couple more singles.
We had been locking upstream and towards the middle of the afternoon we eventually reached the watershed, Le Bief de Partage, and for a change our last lock of the day was a descending one. I had almost forgotten how to do this! The heat was overbearing, around 29 degrees most of the day, but later on it became hazy which took some of the fierceness out of the heat.
We stopped at Port Lauregais which is a kind of tourist centre complete with museums, restaurants, trip boats etc around a man made lake. Incredibly, there is no capitainerie, and nobody around to dictate where you moor, so we moored in a reserved spot initially and then when someone left in a legitimate berth, we moved across there. We decided to stay for a few days as we were able to obtain Wi-fi here, since the local hotel has an unsecured network. And nobody came to collect mooring fees or request payment for electricity or water either on this occasion or on a couple of subsequent visits.
An hour or so after we had arrived the French couple with whom we had the altercation on Wednesday arrived but fortunately moored some way off across the lagoon.
Friday 5th June
We had to get up in the middle of the night to close the windows and the “pigeon loft” in the lounge when unexpectedly it started to rain. Then when we woke again the sky was quite overcast. Thunderstorms were threatened and it rained on and off most of the day.
Saturday 6th June
Walked over to the garage at the services nearby to get some bread and other bits and pieces. Weather was slightly cooler with some rain from time to time.
I awoke this morning to find a mozzie had had a whale of a time on my legs, arms and stomach during the night. I had been awakened by its whining buzz, and had got up to douse myself liberally with anti mozzie stuff. Too late, I counted at least a dozen bites.
Sunday 7th June
Went out on the bike this morning to the Partage des Eaux ( the parting of the water.) This is the point on the Canal du Midi where the water from the top reservoir splits, partially going west to the Atlantic, and east to the Mediterranean. This canal was the brainchild of Paul Riquet, and we cycled to the obelisk which commemorates his achievements. On the way there we saw a rather professional cyclist, (complete with yellow and black lycra racing gear, rucksack and all the bits and bobs associated with experienced racers) being pulled out of the canal by his mate. Both he and his bike had somehow managed to fall in! I can’t imagine having to cycle home dripping wet and smelly from canal water, and the last we saw of him he was anxiously trying out his mobile phone which had shared but probably not survived the unexpected dousing.
On our way back we passed huge clumps of furry stuff, and it turned out that an Alsatian owner had been giving his dog the grooming of its life! Great chunks of fur and fluff were drifting around in the air, and having liberally coated myself in sun cream before setting out, I ended up with bits of it stuck to my face!.
Watched Formula 1 Grand Prix this afternoon, Jensen Button’s sixth win of the season.
Monday June 8th
Set off in cool breezy weather, after a lovely peaceful (and free!) mooring.
Stopped at La Negra (lock) where there is a Locaboat Hire point. Managed to get on the side of the canal where there is water and electricity after a disagreement between the Locaboat administrator and the lock-keeper, the latter trying for some reason to make out that a trip boat might be due. The Locaboat employee was adamant the mooring was free.
Went out on the bikes with our shopping bags but the village appeared to be up a very long hill. I had already given up pedalling and was pushing the bike, when Neville, who was ahead, turned round and said he thought it got even steeper round the bend so we turned back.
We went down the towpath for about 4 kilometres but still no shops, so turned back. The gears were not working on Neville’s bike but later he fixed it. Our fridge is almost empty now, though we have lots of meat in the freezer. I had been planning to make a lot of casseroles in the crockpot, but it has been too hot and we have been mostly living on salads.
Tuesday June 9th
We did several locks; it’s much easier downhill, and you do get an opportunity to hone your lassoing and rope handling skills! We found a mooring just outside Toulouse for the evening, where the world and his uncle seemed to be cycling by for most of the evening.
Wednesday June 10th
A few dredgers went past this morning, taking up pretty much the central part of the canal. Fortunately they went by slowly, as we were moored on pegs rather than tied to bollards. We set off around 9.30 and cruised slowly past a long line of old moored boats, arriving in Toulouse just before lunch.
We had a pleasant mooring on a marina in the centre with water and electricity. The capitaine was very helpful and although she doesn’t speak English I understood most of what she said to us because she speaks slowly and clearly. She also said we could leave the boat here when we go back to the UK mid July for six to eight weeks, should we decide to do so. There are showers and laundry facilities, a mini book-exchange and lots of leaflets for the tourists. There is so much to see and do in Toulouse, that I could fill pages. The leaflets at the Capitainerie serve as the best guide and source of information.
The port is locked and looks fairly secure. There is a fire station quite close by, which meant quite a lot of noise as emergency vehicles were called out during the course of the day, and there was a constant roar of traffic right through the day and most of the night.
We decided to explore the city a bit more when it was a bit cooler, for the moment it was around 28 degrees! But there was a baker and a couple of stores quite close to the boat so we didn’t have very far to carry our shopping. We had a few problems getting the satellite signal so had to turn the boat round.
Thursday June 11th
It was very cloudy and humid, so heavy that it seems to sap the energy out of you. We went out for a walk around the city, and probably walked a bit too far out towards the Garonne River.
We invited the couple from Angelique (he is English, she South African, both resident in Cape Town) round for drinks in the evening. They were a very pleasant couple.
Friday June 12th
Very hot, over 30 degrees. We stayed on the boat much of the day, and then around sixish went out on the bikes along the busy main road (cycleway, though!) which runs by the side of the canal. The traffic fairly roars by durng the rush hour and it wasn’t particularly pleasant.
At one point Neville cycled past a woman who, as soon as he had gone by, promptly pulled down her pants and took a pee right there in the open. The French really are very fundamental about this kind of thing. Neville said he thought she was drunk, but I have to say it’s not the first French lady’s bottom I have seen since we have been boating in France.
Saturday June 13th
Hotter still. The forecast was for 34 degrees. I sat out on the back of the boat for half an hour around 10-ish but had to come inside again – way too hot for me. We had been planning to set off today, and indeed were up, had visited the shop and the boulangerie, and had stowed the electric cable and disconnected the satellite, when I found out from Sylvia that there was a strike on the locks and we would not be able to leave. Seemed it was only one day strike, so had to stay for another day. It wouldn’t have been too bad if it wasn’t so hot, but you don’t feel like walking around in this heat.
A couple of boats went past, as, according to Sylvia, there was a strike in one direction but not in the other. So those coming down the locks to the east will not be aware that the next lock is closed. Hope they can find some shade up there! The marina is full.
It’s been interesting observing Sylvianne, the capitaine. She’s very able and obviously dedicated to her job. She personally assists, well takes over really, the mooring of every boat, deciding which ropes will be fixed to which cleats or bollards, decides how they should position themselves, shouts instructions to cut engines, or power up or whatever. Apparently she did this with one rather pompous moorer who announced that “I am the captain of this ship and I shall say how the ropes are positioned and tied.” So she just waved him away and wouldn’t let him moor there!
We explored the possibility of obtaining winter mooring, but were not hopeful. Our name went on the list. This was beginning to look like something of a problem for us this year. With Carcassone closing for next winter, all those who normally moor there had been ahead of us in the game of finding winter moorings along the Canal du Midi, and there was very little available..
Sunday June 14th
It seemed incredible that we had only been underway for a fortnight. It seems much longer. We did manage to get away quite early and up to the first lock where we found another boat waiting. The occupants were two French couples. One of the guys, probably a little older than us, jumped off his boat and discovered what I discovered about 12 months ago. There comes a time in your life when you can’t jump down from a boat. Don’t know what it is, but I know I remember happily jumping off boats when we were narrowboating, and then, all of a sudden, you reach the time of your life when you find that when you jump off, your body carries on with its momentum and you find yourself sprawled on your hands and if you’re very unlucky, face! It’s impossible to just land and walk on – you have to do this spectacular dive.
There are two or three locks to negotiate to leave Toulouse. Some of these are quite deep and depressing, with quite a few clochards hanging around the one close to the station. They are automatic, being supervised on cctv from further down the canal.
After negotiating and turning sharp right (with some difficulty) to go through the bridge opening, we were on the Canal Lateral a la Garonne and ready for the next part of our east-west journey.