26th of May, and if the previous couple of days’ boating had been the first we’d ever had, I’d have missed out on several happy years of boating, as you’d never have got me on the water again. But now, after a couple of hours of drama at Neuves Maisons, we were on the third leg of our round trip, and looking forward to the relative peace and beauty of the Canal des Vosges (or Canal de l’Est).
There are a couple more locks before you reach Richardmenil from the Moselle, one of them being a very deep one that required the use of lock ladders to put the ropes up. I was becoming quite adept at clambering up and down by now! There is an attractive optional mooring at Méréville, south of the embranchement towards Nancy, but it was crammed full of boats.
Richardmenil is a lovely mooring with a very long quay, water and electric. There were already two or three boats there, but there’s plenty of space here along an approximate 100metre wood-fendered shuttered edge. The village is off to the left, something of a climb but well worth a visit. There is a good wine shop (bring your own empties for refilling) and a café and restaurant. The one we could see from our moorings, which we assumed to be the café, did a very good trade during the evening with plenty of cars parked there.
Sterling efforts have been made to restore the passarelle-type footbridge here, (which takes you over to a series of lakes beside the canal) and there’s an interesting photo display of the original construction. We were charged 6 euros for the stay and 2 euros for electricity and water. We’d recommend a stay here.
A difficult day was crowned with the discovery that we’d used up all our 12 gig internet allowance (downloading patches and googling solutions for my laptop problem) and we were now on a speed marginally worse than the old dial-up. Hey ho!
Next morning (27th May) we continued our journey through pleasant countryside. The locks were all around 3m with the bollards set a fraction too far back to be able to secure your rope without climbing on the roof of the boat. The zapper and the locks worked well, which was useful since throughout the entire day we only caught a fleeting glimpse of a lockie in his van up ahead. This part of the canal, from Richardmenil to the boundary of the Moselle-Meurthe department was in serious need of some ‘tlc’, and we were kept busy avoiding fallen or protruding trees. One moment of inattention left us with a badly scratched rear cabin, not to mention a liberal distribution of leaves and branches right across the boat.
But as we moved into the Des Vosges department there was much evidence of tree clearing from the bank sides, and the canal widened up considerably.
This didn’t happen before our encounter with a heavily laden commercial barge at the narrowest part of the canal where the sides are sloping, and since he couldn’t move from the middle of the channel, when he drew our bow in on passing we took a good bottom- bumping with the stern.
We passed plenty of delightful mooring opportunities at Flavigny, Crevechamps, Neuviller, Roville devant Bayon and Gripport.
We arrived in Charmes mid afternoon, and were very impressed with the mooring. Admittedly we were overlooked by a row of motor homes (it’s motor home city around here) but the whole place is beautifully laid out and very well run. You pay at a machine with credit card for your mooring (electricity included) and display your ticket on the boat. We’ve since heard that there can be something of a struggle between boaters and camper- vanners for electricity, but it wasn’t a problem for us.
There is a winding staircase near the bridge which leads up to the main street, and if you walk up that street, turn right, then left, you get to a Match supermarket, which is very large and well-stocked. The town has all amenities, boulangeries, hairdressers (even a dentist on the main street) and the market is held on Friday. We decided to take a day’s down-time and enjoy the view on this wide stretch of the canal.
We found another internet connection here called STOP, which offered unlimited internet for two days at 3 euros. This helped enormously, as our new monthly allowance wouldn’t be available for two days. An enjoyable break, with few boats passing and only two new moorers arriving
We left Charmes on Friday 29th in company with a Belgian couple in a steel cruiser with whom we boated all day. We switched lock positions after the first lock, as they seemed to be struggling, taking the brunt of the turbulence at the front of the lock, and everything worked well after that. The water levels were down, making the 3 metre locks even deeper and sometimes putting up ropes was a struggle even standing on the roof of the boat. As you rise up toward the Epinal embranchement, take care at the last lock where the sides are in bad shape and you might get your hull or your fenders wedged beneath a substantial overhang as you ascend.
Epinal is at the end of an approx. 3 km tree lined (euphemism for overgrown) embranchement with fairly shallow water levels outside of a narrow channel. There were some stretches where you might struggle to cross with a decent-sized boat, and the initial turn onto the embranchement (and subsequent aqueduct) requires care.
The canal widens out into a basin at the port, and you can easily turn here. It’s tree-lined, with a park on one side (quieter mooring on a stone quay there) and pontoons on the busier street side. The restaurant, La Capitainerie, is right on the quay, and we can highly recommend it. It’s very popular, with a big outdoor seating area making it look a bit like a café. Inside, however, it’s quite innovatively decorated in maritime style, and we had an excellent one-course (plus beer and pichet of Merlot for 35 euros). There is also another restaurant on the pontoon side which is open Monday to Friday. We moored next to an identical Sagar barge, which attracted several double-takes from passers-by. Peridot, as she was called, is under new ownership – a French couple who seemed delighted with their new acquisition.
Neville had managed to get a new version of Windows up and running on my laptop, and later in the day we downloaded and re-installed Microsoft Office, using up a whole gig of our new monthly internet allowance. I was indeed a happy bunny!
We awoke to fairly steady rain, and were away by 8.30am. Epinal is a pleasant enough mooring, but there isn’t much within easy strolling distance from the moorings, other than a cave (wine) and the two restaurants. The town, and all its amenities, are about 1 km away If you were staying a few days though, I’m sure it would be fairly easy to explore. Nice mooring at 6 euros a day for our size.
The next 14 locks were all close together, with big side-ponds for passing down-comers, and we would have got through them in under three hours if it hadn’t been for the top lock breaking down because of a branch wedged under the doors. Another lock ladder climb for me, and service arrived quickly, asking us to withdraw from the lock whilst he attempted to flush it through – to no avail. 45 minutes later we were able to continue after heretrieved the branch with a boathook.
We stopped for lunch at Les Forges – a lovely peaceful little village that offers a covered farmers’ market selling cooked meats, fresh meat, home-made yoghourts, salads, eggs, veg, potatoes, ice-cream. There is a Proxy epicerie which was closed at that hour, a bar/tabac, a restaurant and a pizzeria which offers take-aways. It’s a nice mooring, a new 15 metre quay about one metre high with three rings in the grass. I went to the market, bought sausage, pate and eggs.
There is a mooring at Sanchez, which looked heavily silted up and on the point of collapse. Along this stretch there was more evidence that efforts are underway to keep the canal and towpath reasonably tidy, though the resultant hedge-clipping and grass were drifting in the canal.
There is another new mooring in Chamousey on the right bank opposite the village, and a lovely church in the village with porthole windows.
And then we returned to a heavily overgrown section with many felled trees in the water.
At the top of the bief there is a narrow strait which we supposed is this canal’s equivalent of a tunnel. Might be difficult meeting another boat here.
We moored at Girancourt which is an excellent, very long mooring with rings and bollards set in a grassy field between locks 1 and 2. No services (though signs that they might be planned) but there is a big Intermarche 200 yards to the right of Lock 2. Very quiet along here.
The next stretch after Girancourt was well maintained, very wide at times and beautiful. The signal detectors for the locks have a very limited range and all the default position for these locks seems to be ‘empty’, with not all paddles opening on emptying.
Progress was very slow and when the wind increased, it became difficult hanging around waiting for locks to fill, so I started walking ahead to click at the transmitter post so that the locks could be filling whilst Neville was leaving the previous lock. It gave me the opportunity to enjoy the surroundings, and take lots of photographs of nature in all her glory.
We pulled up at Les Forges d’Uzemain, a heavily silted basin where you can moor at the far end on rings and bollards. Pleasant enough, though flies were a bit of a problem, and when we continued next morning we realised that we’d chosen the least attractive mooring option as there were so many more idyllic opportunities during the next stretch.
We discovered that even if we crossed with another boat, we couldn’t expect the next lock to be set for us. Even if they were just one kilometre down the line, the lock had already emptied by the time we arrived. It seemed like a dreadful waste of water, and we wondered if they change the programming, if and when water is in short supply.
A lockie who’d called by our mooring at Les Forges d’Uzemain to determine our start time, turned up right on cue to open the swing bridge just below Thunimont.
This part of the canal was possibly the most beautiful stretch of canal we’ve seen, even in the rain. It’s a shame that because of the weather the photos don’t do it justice.
We arrived around 2.00pm at Fontenoy-le-Chateau, a quaint little village, and another one that appears to be dying on its feet in commercial terms. The Proxi has closed, and there is a half-hearted attempt at an epicerie and a boulangerie also selling bits and pieces. There is a tea room and the inevitable bar. (We noted that the husband of the tea room owner is actually a boat mechanic based at Corre. We heard good things about him, and he actually attended the boat behind us – on his way home I guess. 🙂 ) A notice at the mooring indicated that camper vans were banned a couple of years ago due to the dangers of manoeuvring through the village. You’d have thought that together with a small hire boat base, and a visiting camper van population that might have kept the village going, but maybe the residents prefer it this way.
Mooring is expensive here at 12 euros for our length, plus 2 euros for electricity. You can moor wild on the opposite bank for nothing. Quite a lot of passing boats here.
We continued next morning, leaving the Vosges department and entering Haute Saone at lock 37. Another huge commercial barge was encountered at the foot of lock 38, and as this was, of course, the narrowest part of the canal at this point, we revisited the bushes on the banks.
Selles looked like a good mooring. Three or four pontoons outside a bar restaurant.
We arrived at Corre around 2.00pm. Here there are pontoon moorings which could have accommodated our size, but we moored up on the bank just a few metres further on, from where we could still reach electricity and water.
Electricity is 2 euros, (you put your money in a machine on the quay, after plugging in, and then punch in the number of your connection.) We put in whatever change we had, accepting it would probably run out before we left, but it didn’t. Maybe there was some credit left in it! There is a mooring charge here which is collected in the evening – I think it is 8 or 10 euros. Good Intermarche within 15 minutes walking distance, five minutes by bike, and a boulangerie nearby which is closed on Wednesdays
After shopping we took the bikes down to the lock onto the Saone. As we returned, a beautiful old barge entered the lock. Neville cycled back up to help take the ropes, to which the ‘captain’s’ response was “Get away…. You’ll only f*** it up anyway”. How very nice. Later he forced himself into a space next boat but one, but as you might imagine, we didn’t pop along for a chat, or invite him round for a glass of wine.
During the late afternoon a rook shoot took place in the woods beside us. Two shooters were culling the birds, firing up at the nests, and it was upsetting to see the occasional black body crashing through the branches to the ground. The shooters appeared to be from the chateau-type house next to the woods, and after they’d retreated indoors, the rooks (who’d gone weirdly silent towards the end of this cull) set up a cacophony to easily rival the one they’d been making before. Mnyeh, mnyeh!
Next morning we dropped down onto La Petite Saone. We were now onto the final stage of our journey back to port at Pont de Vaux.
• After an uncertain start, we really enjoyed this stretch, which offers scenes of unrivalled beauty. I’m not sure we saw them in the best weather, but even so, the surroundings were lovely.
• The waterway was very quiet, apart from two or three large commercial barges which we think were involved with some of the bank reconstructions along the way. At this time of the year we saw very few hireboats, and we had absolutely no problem obtaining beautiful and plentiful moorings, many of them serviced.
• The villages are very pretty, well kept, with many offering restaurants and we encountered two or three good supermarkets where we could stock up.
• Charmes was an interesting town, well worth a longer stay and with more time we’d have loved to explore Epinal further.
• We saw very few lockies, but they were there when we needed them, which wasn’t often as the locks were in pretty good repair.
• A very enjoyable stage to a long trip, and one I wouldn’t mind doing again.