Wednesday 9th September
Normally we catch a mid morning ferry from Dover and stay overnight on the way down, but for some reason we decided to do the journey in one day, taking the first boat out of Dover at 6.30 am and then driving for over 9 hours down the motorways from Northern to South Eastern France. An uneventful journey, with not a lot of traffic and mostly clear skies.
When we arrived at Buzet we dumped all our stuff in the boat and went straight to the restaurant on the quay for dinner. Neville had cod, and I had this restaurant’s version of Landais salad, which was a cold meal consisting of strips of duck, lardons, foie gras, salad with pinenuts and apple. We just had one course and then went back to the boat for cheese and a couple of glasses of wine before turning in.
The boat appeared to be in good order, no problems that we could discern.
Over the next few days we stocked up with food and wine, and checked the boat out. We were surprised how much darker it was in the mornings than in the UK. Obviously France is one hour ahead of the UK, but even so, it was still dark at 7.30am, probably due to being a lot further south. It was quite cool in the mornings, but by 11.30am the temperature would be rising rapidly until it was early thirties again in the afternoon.
The traffic on the canal had diminished significantly, and most of the trade at the restaurant was from cyclists, walkers and people visiting by car. Once the Grand Prix was over, we were ready to start our journey back to Meilhan.
Monday 14th September
Around nine-ish we started trying to extricate the boat from the inside of the big old barge, Pomme de Mer which had arrived during our absence and moored alongside. This manoeuvre involved me staying on the bank holding both ropes from the front and middle of the other boat whilst Neville edged Desormais out from her flank. Once he’d got her out and secured her on the quay he joined me in trying to pull Pomme de Mer into the bank. This proved too difficult, she obviously has more draught than us, and whilst on our outside flank she was in deeper water. Once brought into our former position however, we couldn’t get her stern close to the bank, so had to move her up the bank where it was a little deeper. This put her out of reach of the power cable to which she was hooked up, so there were a few problems there.
Eventually, all was solved, and we set off, arriving early afternoon at Villeton. Very quiet there. Villeton is the port from which the humanitarian sailor Pierre Ribes used to depart every year to sail singlehandedly on his yacht to Africa with much needed medicines. His last departure was in 2003 after which he was lost at sea, aged 75. There is a plaque commemorating his achievements on the port side.
The Uninvited Guest!
Over the next few days we cruised on to Meilhan, ferrying the car along with us on a daily basis. Neville ended up feeling quite fit after cycling 20+ kilometres every day, and his journey began to take less and less time.
During these journeys, I was left alone with an uninvited guest who had come on board either during the summer, or in the days before our departure from Buzet. Just before we left Buzet we discovered what looked suspiciously like mouse droppings and chewed up carrier bags inside the cupboard where we keep the cookware and food storage dishes. We weren’t entirely sure it was a mouse, as we couldn’t imagine it scurrying up the gangplank that we’d been using to board the boat, but we later learned that they quite often scurry up mooring ropes!
Repeatedly checking the cupboard, we decided it probably was a mouse and reluctantly put down some rat poison. The strange thing was that he appeared to be frequenting the cupboard where we kept the polythene containers, and the cupboard where the cleaning materials are. But he hadn’t yet (fingers crossed) infiltrated the food cupboard. Strange. Later, we realised he was probably living off the contents of the waste bag, which hangs inside the cupboard door.
After our arrival at Meilhan, I woke up in the night after hearing some rustling in our bedroom. Then that morning I opened the cupboard door in the galley, where all the evidence had been and found myself face to face with him. Well not for long, as he turned tail and shot off below the base of the cupboard where there is a cut out for the pipes. He could probably run the whole length of the boat in the lining in between the inner and outer shell of the boat, so that may well be what I heard in the night.
As a woman, you just can’t stop your instinctive reaction to running mice, can you? I think Neville was cross with me because I immediately shrieked and leapt a couple of yards backwards, but it will be interesting if he is the one that comes across him. See how cool he is! We have moved the poison into that cupboard now. I worry though, that if he dies he will crawl off somewhere and we will be left with a dreadful smell and no way of knowing just where the body is.
A few days later, with no evidence that the rat poison was being tampered with, I put some biscuit crumbs in the tray with it. In the morning all the biscuit crumbs had gone, and none of the rat poison apparently.
Did some washing today, as the weather is forecast to get worse, and decided we would put the continental quilts on the beds as it is getting a bit cold at night now. During late morning Malcolm took his boat out to search for more wood. Beatte and Alan took their hire car back again to Marmande. The site was fairly quiet most of the morning.
We went for a walk down to the river early evening, and found it to be very low. Large stretches of shingle have been exposed, and the water is very clear. Nevertheless, it still appears to be reasonably fast moving.
Friday 18th September
Last night I put some biscuit crumbs in the rat poison. Woke up this morning and all the biscuit crumbs had gone – none of the rat poison though!
That day we found some mouse droppings in another cupboard and possibly some on the table in the wheelhouse. I found myself constantly wiping down surfaces and beginning to entertain the notion that I could smell mouse pee everywhere. I looked on the internet to see if I could see any hints or tips, and we decided to try one humane measure alongside the lethal rat poison.
We greased a large deep plastic bowl with butter and placed some more of the same biscuit crumbs in the bottom. Then we constructed a boarding plank from some old wood, and, propping it against the top of the bowl we scattered a few crumbs along the plank. Hopefully the mouse would munch his way up the plank, drop into the bowl to get the rest, but then would not be able to get a grip on the greasy sides to get out of the bowl. Once we found him in the bottom of the bowl, we would cover it tightly with a cloth and take it outside to release it.
Easy hey? But he didn’t immediately avail himself of our generosity. Perhaps, we thought, he had already partaken of the poison and was preparing to lie down somewhere to die. That way, we probably wouldn’t get to find the body and would have to put up with a dreadful smell until it shrivels away. This was getting worrying.
Then one night I awoke at 4.30am to the sound of rustling towards my right. I woke Neville and asked him to put on his light, rather than reach my hand out towards what might be a mouse. There was nothing to be seen, he was obviously inside the walls. He scratched around there for several minutes before wandering off, but that was it for me for the next two hours. Initial investigations next morning showed that the mouse had climbed up the gangplank towards the greasy bowl, eating the trail of biscuit crumbs, but declined to pop into the bowl itself. I think this was one smart mouse.
So reluctantly we set a trap in the cupboard where we first found him, priming it with a solitary sugar puff. We had to bring this to an end, but after checking again around lunchtime we found the little blighter had managed to prise the sugar puff off the mousetrap without triggering it. I repeat, this is one smart mouse. More sugar puff on the trap, and a further trap set up in the cupboard next door to its favourite haunt.
Later on during the evening I went to check the mouse traps. At first glance it appeared that the bait had been removed from the second trap but a closer look showed that in fact the mouse trap was upside down, and sprawled on its back was the dead mouse. Job done. I felt very sad about it, but on a boat a mouse is a very dangerous thing. They can be busy gnawing their way through wiring or plastic pipes, and you will never know about it. One evening we had heard the water pump start up for a few minutes, which worried us as neither of us were using water, and we speculated on whether the mouse might have attacked the plastic pipes. We’d have to wait and see, but all the gubbins is between the inner and outer shell of the boat, so you would never know.
Neville wore my marigolds to take the mouse to the rubbish dump and the next day I cleaned and disinfected the cupboards, hopefully for the last time.
Monday 21 September
During the afternoon we had a violent thunderstorm and torrential downpour. Later on Mike, the Capitaine came out to tell us there had been a breach of the canal bank up near Buzet and that navigation has stopped. That put paid to our plans for moving on the next day. We took the bikes out in the car and then cycled along the towpath to see if we could see the breach of the canal bank. We found it eventually – not spectacular, but the levels were down about a metre and still losing water.
We have to take the front wheels off the bikes to be able to fit both of them in the car. When we were cycling along the towpath I asked Neville whether it was uphill, as I was finding it exhausting work. He told me I was unfit! Unknown to either of us, until about a week later, the brakes were jammed on, rubbing away at the wheel. No wonder it was hard work.
We decided to stay on an extra day. The VNF man had said work would begin today on repairing the breach, and that the likely time of opening the canal would be Wednesday afternoon but knowing VNF it’s as well to build in a margin of error. We would be making a further stop before we get to the place where the breach is, so we could hang about there if necessary.
Big gathering at the bar tonight. We called in and talked to the Canadian couple Pamela and Bruce, who own a large old barge called Riverdance. We have seen it before up at the locks at Negra. They have a website for their boat, on which they advertise holidays. It’s a ‘working holiday’ arrangement, but I should imagine that kind of thing could be quite popular.
Wednesday September 23
With the breach repaired, we set off and cruised slowly up to Mas d’Agenais. This is quite a good mooring, and not usually very busy. There are very good facilities, shower block, electricity and water all provided by use of jetons. There is a machine where you can use your credit card to obtain jetons. The village is up the hill and fairly quiet. We’ve had varying tales about the shops in the village. The boulangerie in the square is reputedly the better of the two. A fellow boater once told us that whilst visiting the local supermarket she was asked to leave her rucksack behind the counter, so obviously the shopkeeper must have had a bad experience with tourists.
We’d also heard that one of the restaurants has surly owners, and asks top prices for pretty unremarkable basic fare (16 euros for two sandwiches and coffee). On this particular day I went to the greengrocers and saw packets of beetroot on display priced at 1.58 euros. I had counted the exact money out, but when I got inside the shopkeeper charged me 1.85. I should have said something, but figures are not my particular forte in the French language and I was not sure I could have sustained an argument in French.
I should have, because when I got back to the boat and opened the packet for lunch I discovered that the beet juice was brown, and the beets themselves were dirty grey. Checking the packaging, I discovered that the best before date was 22 01 2009!! Almost 9 months old! I chucked them in the canal.
The good news though, was that we found a horse-chestnut tree which had hundreds of conkers on the ground around it. We’d been searching for this year’s crop of conkers because in our experience they are quite effective for deterring spiders on the boat. It’s an old wives’ remedy of course, but some boaters swear by it. As last year’s conkers had aged, gradually the spiders’ webs have started to re-appear, though not markedly so, so a new supply would be great. I sew them into little bags made from the nets that onions and potatoes are packaged in, and we hang them at the windows and place handfuls in bowls up in the wheelhouse.
We planned to move on to Villeton the next day. The word was that the canal was opening again that afternoon, having taken longer than anticipated to refill it after drainage for repairs. However, we heard later that it had been reopened before the level of water had been sufficiently restored, and a boat was now stuck in the mud .
Friday 25 September
Another warm day. Neville drove the car down to Villeton, and cycled back before 9.00am and then we set off. We reached Villeton quite early, and went out to Damazon to get some bits of shopping. Quite close to the moorings there is a kitchen garden which is a site which arranges visits by schoolchildren. There is also a hall containing exhibits of old farming machinery.
Throughout our visit the moorings were plagued by power cuts. The owners of the restaurant are responsible for reporting problems, and they became very exasperated as moorers repeatedly went to complain. On Saturday night the boat next to us, mostly South Africans had just sat down to their evening meal on the top of their pleasure cruiser when the power went down again, plunging them into darkness. We took them some candles and matches to enable them to at least finish their meal.
Over the weekend we took a drive up the Lot Valley through Clairac, Castelmoron and
Villeneuve, all lovely quaint French towns built on the side of the River Lot. Sadly the levels on the Lot have been so low this summer that there have been hardly any visitors, by water anyway.
The business in the town must have suffered, and even the capitainerie offices appeared to be closed. It was a shame, because a lot of thought and artistic design has gone into building the moorings, which are very picturesque and well equipped.
During the course of the day I managed to spill a cup of coffee all over the cables/transformers on my laptop, immediately shorting out all the electrics on the boat. My excuse, that I’d been startled by a dog suddenly appearing in the doorway of the wheelhouse, did not do anything to improve Neville’s mood as he set about undoing the damage. And the dog ran away.
Monday 28th September
A quiet day. We moved from Villeton up the canal to Buzet and moored up outside the restaurant there. Neville went back for the car. Quite a few boats came in at lunchtime. When we here a few weeks ago there had been little boat traffic, but the previous week had seen the start of the low season for hire boaters and there were some reasonable deals forwhat can in fact be a very expensive holiday.
Some South Africans moored up next to us, and were quite amazed to see a coypu swimming in the river. There is only one duck (a young one at that) here at Buzet, and the coypu is probably the principal reason for that.
The scraggy cat was hanging around the boat most of the afternoon. He looks no better than he did – poor mite.
Tuesday 29th September
Moved up stream a few hundred yards to take the place that John and Irene in Moet Chandon were just vacating at the marina which is a base for boat hire, and which offered internet if you were close enough to the office.
(Note that the other mooring at Buzet, by the restaurant, now offers internet and quite reasonably priced compared to some ports.)
We cycled up to the village, and as I tried to stop the bike I realised that the brakes weren’t working. This was because they had worn away quite a bit. Neville adjusted them, but they are still not as effective as before. I have lost the plastic chainguard off my bike – it cracked and fell off, probably due to UV deterioration in the strong sun. There is a sharp bracket which is now unprotected and I gashed the inside of my leg on it. We’ve always left the bikes on the back of the boat, even during the winter (albeit with the saddles protected) but they are gradually deteriorating and we decided that in future we will put them in the wheelhouse when we are leaving for any length of time.
Wednesday 30th September
We went out for a drive this morning to look at the towns along the River Baise, Nerac, Condom (yes!) and Valence sur Baise. The river is very quiet, again because of earlier problems with river levels. Seems it’s either famine or feast, flood or shallows. Nerac was a beautiful town with timber-framed medieval cottages overhanging the river.
Thursday 1st October
Went to the Le Vigneron restaurant in the evening and had a lovely meal, probably the best we have had in France. 4 courses for 14 euros. Potage to start with (soup), followed by mussels in a lovely sauce for me, and mushroom omelette for Neville, then the main course – for me Lamb Ragout, and for Neville grilled salmon, and then they brought the sweet trolley round. At that point I was feeling reasonably comfortable, (they had not been immense portions) but then we blew it and had Crème Brulee together with a light feux pastry concoction.
Went back to the boat and sat there feeling acutely uncomfortable. We are not the kind to normally go for the fixed Menu del Dia, or (Plat du Jour), as we normally just have one course and maybe have cheese and biscuits back at the boat. But it was a lovely meal, lovely restaurant and very efficient staff. We can’t recommend it highly enough.
Friday 2nd October
Cruised on to Serignac, and whilst Neville cycled off to Buzet to pick up the carI took my bike into the village to see if I could get some bread. Just as I entered the village I got my trouser bottoms caught in the chain of the bike. This has been a bit of a hazard since the plastic chain guard cracked off, but I have never done it quite so spectacularly. Fortunately, I wasn’t in traffic, and whilst firmly pinned to the bike by my right leg I managed to brake and drop the bike gently over to the left. There I was fairly well stuck into the chain, with my trousers too strong for me to rip them out of it. After several minutes struggling, (and contemplating whether I should just take my trousers off and stand there in my knickers while I attempted to free myself) I finally managed to free them by rotating the chain and wheeling the bike forward – not the easiest thing to do whilst still pinned firmly to the bike by the right trouser leg!
Found a Spar shop where there didn’t seem to be any bread on the shelves. When I asked, the assistant shot off into the back and after a few minutes emerged with an armful of red hot loaves. Almost too warm to carry! Took them back to the boat and when Neville returned we had them still warm with rillettes (a kind of salmon paté) on and big tomato slices.
Saturday 3rd October
Went into the village on our bikes for some bread, and then went on a car ride up to Boe to see what kind of moorings there were up there for the following day. We had planned to moor in Agen but we had heard about it not being a safe place to moor. Several boaters had reported waking up to find out that their ropes have been slipped during the night and they are drifting about in the basin. Fine if you still have your ropes on board, but expensive if the culprits make off with them.
Boe looked fine. We went to the Capitainerie and paid for a mooring there for Sunday night, along the bank a bit but still within reach of electricity. 5 euros, and they had wi-fi. We were hoping we would have a trouble free passage up the locks to Agen, but there were rumours of problems with the locks and VNF were there.
We went for a walk into the village in the early evening and took some photographs of the church and some medieval houses. This really is a very pretty village, and the shop on the road out of the village is very well appointed.
Sunday 4th October
Up at 6.00am to watch the Grand Prix from Japan. Then off on our way to Boe shortly after 8.30am. The long cutting through the forests from Serignac to the foot of the locks at Agen had been very narrow last time we came through here, with fallen trees dipping in and out of the water and branches perilously low for craft with air draft of any size, but today we found it had been quite well tended, and it was certainly more than wide enough for two boats to pass each other. Not that any did! We only encountered two boats throughout our 18 kilometre journey to Agen.
At the foot of the locks I got off the boat and decided to walk the 500 kilometres or so between each of the four ascending locks. We got through the first one, but as I reached the second one I saw that there was a hire boat in the chamber, coming down. I took their ropes off for them when the gates opened, but the boat wouldn’t move when he pushed the throttle forward. In typical French fashion he raised his arms, palms upward, raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. That it seemed, was going to be the extent of his contribution to the problem.
I suggested, in broken French and sign language, that he should push the throttle forward and then pull it quite sharply back into reverse in case there was something “autour de la propeller”. He tried this gingerly for a second but never really put any great wellie into it, so I shot off to the lock house where I had seen a VNF van parked. The VNF man was already ringing Locaboat, the hire boat operator in an exasperated fashion, and I guessed that this was just one of many breakdowns this company experiences.
The couple in the boat seemed quite happy to sit there in the lock, holding up an entire chain of operations, but luckily a helpful passerby pulled them to the mouth of the lock and the boat drifted towards the right bank. They couldn’t really be left floating helplessly around in the pond between the two locks, particularly as the next downward locking procedure would generate a strong force of water, but I was torn between helping them and helping Neville, who all this while had been manfully struggling to control our boat in the pond between the locks, close as he was to an extremely strong by-wash which constantly pulled him to the left.
Fortunately the passer-by realised the predicament and crossed the lock to catch a rope thrown by the helpless couple and pulled at least their bow into the bank to enable them to secure it. The VNF man then arrived, expressed his disgust for Locaboat and wandered off. Helpful contribution.
We locked through the second one and I wandered up to the third, a bit frustrated as we had lost about twenty minutes on this stage of our journey. Neville entered the lock, and I pressed the start up button to close the doors, whereupon nothing happened. We sat there for a while, with a crowd gathering to witness the spectacular ascent of this rather cute green and cream boat, before eventually I pressed the breakdown button. This puts you through to a control centre, but whilst I can happily describe what has happened (in French), I am rather less adequate at understanding what is being said back to me, particularly with the distortion of intercom. Some woman, I guess it was a recording, kept on wanting me to press some buttons, but as there are no other controls on the assistance box I was somewhat at a loss.
Then a young French father who had arrived with his son to show him the intricacies of locking agreed to do the communicating for me, and soon we were assured that the VNF man was on his way. He arrived 5 minutes later, by which time some of the crowd had drifted away, unimpressed by the spectacle of a pretty boat languishing in the bottom of a 3 metre lock.
The VNF man was quite sanguine about the breakdown. “It’s quite normal” he said confidently in French. He then started the process manually and helpfully stayed with us through the last lock to make sure we didn’t lose any more time.
We cruised through Agen and out onto a quieter more affluent stretch of canal, fringed with expensive weekend retreats complete with swimming pools and magnificent gardens. Clearly this is the residential part of Agen, which is a major city in the Prefecture.
We arrived at Boe just after lunch, and once Neville had bolted a quick sandwich he cycled 18 kilometres back to Serignac to pickup the car. We had a leisurely afternoon and it was quite hot for an early October day.
Monday 5th October
Cycled out to the boulangerie this morning, but it’s Monday, and everywhere is closed. We did three locks, one of which had been broken just before we arrived but the VNF man had fixed it and was just leaving as we entered the lock. We got as far as Golfech, where we moored up. No point going into the village, we know from experience that Golfech is not open anywhere on a Monday! This is the lovely little town with a beautiful church, lovely flower bedecked houses….. and two massive cooling towers from a power station right behind it.
Neville went back to Boe for the car, he’s getting quite fit now, regularly cyling 18 to 20 kilometres a day. In the afternoon we went in the car with the dismantled bikes to see if there was somewhere down the line where we could leave the car and bike back to the boat. Pommevic was very isolated and I wouldn’t have felt happy leaving the car there, so we had a look at Valence d’Agen where some friends were moored. We left the car behind their boat and they agreed to keep an eye on it. That would cut about 4 kilometres off Neville’s load for tomorrow.
Tuesday 6th October
Moving on to spend two nights at Moissac, from where we cycled up to Castelsarrasin to ask if we could drop the boat off early for its winter mooring. The capitaine was quite agreeable, but our allocated winter mooring space was not free and we might have to breast up. She would get some of the live-aboard moorers to pull our boat back into its reserved space if we had gone by the time it came free.
We had a very late evening meal back at Moissac, eating in the dark in the wheelhouse with only candles for light. It was lovely, windows open, really balmy evening. Even at this time of the year the temperatures have been in the mid thirties during the day.
Thursday 8th October
Woke in the early hours to the sound of a mosquito and heavy rain. Got up to plus in the anti mozzie device and slather myself in insect repellent, and then couldn’t go back to sleep again. Until, of course, it was time to get up!
We headed off towards Montech. Climbing the locks there we were able to observe the Pente d’Eau de Montech, one of two water slopes (the other being Fonsérannes near to Bezier) which were built to allow commercial barge traffic to bypass the adjacent lock flight by being pushed up the ramp. This does not seem to be in general use any longer, though we had heard that one of the Rick Stein canal barge odyssey documentaries showed it in use.
We’d arranged to meet Mike and Jane on the Canal de Montech (which leads off to the left after you’ve climbed the locks at Montech) so were anxious to make good speed. Many of the locks were managed by lock-keepers, so our progress through them was quite swift, but all the same it was almost 4pm by the time we arrived at Lacourt on the Canal de Montech, to find Mike and Jane from Drumsara already moored there. There was room for us and a small boat (which came early evening). It was good to see them, and they have been back to Australia since we last saw them. The dogs seemed to recognise us and howled “herrow” as we came in to moor. Then they were on our boat and charging up and down, and sitting on the front like they owned it.
The weather was fine and incredibly humid and warm, but around early evening it got darker and darker, then a strong wind blew up and we had quite a violent thunderstorm. We had Mike and Jane round to us for drinks and nibbles, then I took a salad and cheeseboard round to their boat where Jane rustled up a pasta carbonara dish. We had a late night, and everybody drank too much! We wouldn’t be seeing Mike and Jane until the following spring.
Friday 9th October
The locks on this stretch don’t open until 9.30am, and we had booked a 10 00am locking down to Montauban. The little boat left first heading off towards Moissac, followed by Mike and Jane. Then the lock-keeper arrived and said he was ready to start us off. There are nine locks down to Montauban, and at the first you are given an electronic zapper which you point at the locks to start the lock filling/emptying and then the gates open automatically. Another button on the lockside starts the process off. As we approached the 3rd lock we noticed there were no lights on and had to call the lockie out to see to it. He attended the next two locks and had to start them manually, but after that things were OK., although the locks are very slow and several times we thought we had mechanical problems when the process was just slow to kick off. We arrived at Montauban at 12.30pm.
Saturday 10 October
It was raining most of the morning and we had planned to go into Montauban. We hung around waiting for it to clear, and finally there was a break in the showers. We went to the spot where the Montauban branch canal meets the River Tarn, and climbed down some steps past a huge waterfall flowing over the last lock. This lock didn’t appear to be used, as the stretch of river below was apparently unnavigable at that time. It’s a bit hellish round there, with two flights of damp steps leading down to a dark platform which takes you round to the river bank. I wouldn’t relish walking through there at night.
(Since writing this journal, this lock has now been renovated and will re-open the Montauban Tarn to limited cruising in in 2011. There are also plans to re-open the 5 associated downstream river ecluses and so provide a river route through Montauban to Moissac.)
We walked into the old part of the town which was very interesting. Montauban is the second oldest of the bastides (walled cities) of southern France with several interesting constructions, including the Place Nationale with its associated double arcades. Many of the buildings are of pink brick, and it’s worthwhile to visit the museums, the cathedral and the Church of St Jacques.
As were standing in the Place Nationale, a huge procession of cars came round tooting their horns, and with young people all sitting on the top of the doors (with the windows wound down). This is a French custom – when people are getting married they have to make a trip to the church and a trip to the Town Hall, a kind of religious and civil combination. For some reason these journeys have to be undertaken to the accompaniment of blasting horns from the entire cavalcade of wedding cars. It’s really weird! A kind of “look at us, look at us” type of activity.
A thunderstorm was brewing, so we cut short our sightseeing activities and retraced our steps across Le Pont Vieux, an ancient bridge over the Tarn, the building of which was launched by King Philippe the Fair in 1303, and which took almost 30 years to complete.
This port at Montauban is a hireboat centre, and all weekend there have been cleaners hanging around and people hosing down the boats. Yet we have only seen two boats leave. The price of these boating holidays is very steep, and I can imagine that business has not been so good this year. Towards the end of the afternoon a German family arrived, but they didn’t set off, just stayed on the boat.
Sunday 11th October
We started the last leg of our journey back to Castelsarrasin to lay the boat up for the winter.
The locks on this stretch are about 500 to 700 metres apart, so I cycled on ahead with my remote control to set the locks. Quite good exercise. Lots of joggers on the towpath. We stopped for lunch at Lacourt, where we had met up with Jane and Mike last Thursday. I walked into the village to get some bread.
Setting off just after 1.30, we arrived at the top of the locks at Montech. I went off on my bike to find the lockie, and eventually discovered him bringing a boat up the locks at the second lock. This is a set of five locks and today being Sunday, the locks were full of spectators (gongoozlers we call them in England). I can’t recall ever having had our photo taken so much on any afternoon. We call it “capturing our souls” because that’s what Red Indians used to think happened when someone took their photo. As we were descending, I had an opportunity to practice my bollard lassoing abilities, and was rewarded by more than one round of applause!
We arrived at a pleasant little mooring, (Saint Porquier) a new one, without services, beside a little village. We are not far now from our winter mooring at Castelsarrasin. Had a little walk into the village, which looks very attractive, but didn’t see any facilities.
In the evening, whilst having dinner, I heard a bang as if someone had knocked on the side of the boat, and looking out, (with some trepidation) I saw a small tortoiseshell cat, very timid, sneaking this way and that, darting low to the ground but clearly curious and keen to have further dalliance with us. We put some cheese down, which was seized upon with great alacrity and then hauled into the bushes. Once consumed, she was back for more. We had a packet of particularly smelly Roquefort which we had bought to make a sauce with, so I opened that and gave her a few chunks. Clearly French cheese for French cats! It was once again dragged to the bushes and devoured.
Later, whilst watching television, a different cat’s face suddenly appeared at the window on the canal side of the boat. It stared at me for a few seconds, and then slunk past the window. This episode was repeated twice more during the course of the evening, with different cats. Clearly this spot has attracted its fair share of benevolent holidaymakers in the summer, and the cats regularly case the joint for suckers like us.
If it hadn’t started to rain I think they might have slept on the boat – they were clearly making free with it!
Monday 12th October
Awoke to a flat unbroken grey sky and persistent drizzle. By nine o’clock the cloud seemed a little less dense, so off we went. Of course then the heavens really opened and we were soaked within a short time. There were only two locks to do though, and at each there was a lockie passing through who started off the lock cycle for us, so I didn’t have to get off the boat.
When we coasted into Castelsarrasin the guy who we were supposed to be breasting up against was on the quay waving us into another space behind him. This it turned out, was the space that had just been vacated by some friends who we had seen on the way into the basin, by the workshops where their boat is being craned out for bottom-blasting.
So at least for the moment we were not breasted up, but I would have to see Madame Maite (the capitaine) at 5.00pm and then no doubt we would find out what the score was. It would be easier to pull us into our designated winter mooring position from where we are now, ie directly behind the boat in our slot, than to put us on the outside where the inside boat would have to move us to get out.
Went to the supermarket to get some of the traditional French stuff that I like to take back, salmon rillettes, Comte cheese, wine and pate. When we got back we realised that our roof was leaking again and there was a big wet patch on our bed. It seemed to be from one of the seals between the roof and one of the instruments up there, ie the GPRS or the radio aerial, and although Neville had spent some time re-sealing these joints, it obviously hasn’t done the trick. Not the kind of problem we need when we were going to be away from the boat for weeks at a time. I would need to put a shower curtain or something on the bed to protect the mattress.
Tuesday October 13
Did a lot of cleaning and getting the boat ready for the winter.
As we dined in the wheelhouse that evening we noticed that a barge had drawn up on the opposite side of the basin – it was one we had seen moored at Montech. We also saw that where it had moored there is kind of social centre, and around sevenish a lot of young people started arriving. It turned out there was some kind of event on, and during the evening more and more youths arrived, and the music got louder and louder. The kids spilled out of the building onto the canalside, and some fireworks were let off. When we went to bed there was lots of noise from the disco and pounding bass beat. We were tired and went off despite that, but were woken at 2.15 am by even louder music and lots of chatter. We must have been fully 300 yards away, and sheltered by a tall boat which had breasted up beside us, but God alone knows what the couple in the barge must have thought – they were right on top of it! Be very wary about mooring on that side of the basin.
Wednesday October 14
Up early and off by 8.30am having made the boat ready for the coming winter. Now for the two day journey back to Cambridgeshire, and within a few weeks we would be off to Australia for three weeks.