Our aim: To make our first French venture south through Lille, on to the St Quentin Canal and then to head east to Pont a Bar on the Ardennes.

The Journey: Lille to Pont a Bar

Dates: 15th of June to 5th of July

Distance: 352ks

Locks: 102

Tunnels: 3

The Journey: Impossible to generalise: busy commercial waterways, winding canals though mountains and forests, busy towns, rolling hills, flat farmlands, and short and long distances between locks then some sections where the locks came thick and fast.  And the weather varying from glorious sunny or blisteringly hot days and cooler weather with sudden storms.

 

 

The big challenge we had along the way was finding a mooring where I could get off with the wheelchair.  Thanks to new friend Catherine we were able to use the place where her fellow barge-living friend Willy normally ties up.  A perfect spot!  It was freezing cold when we came past this very spot in February.  Now the weather was perfect and we re-explored the city and it’s Citadel.

 

Endellion tied up amongst the commercial barges in Lille

Lille is full of splendid old buildings

Lille’s Post Office; a dog guards Lesley’s bike

Leaving Lille, one of France’s largest inland ports

 

Heading finally, off from Lille we were very much still on a commercial waterway, even equipped with container terminals.  But we have found the big péniche skippers were always courteous and helpful. After two days travel we left the main “drag” to head due south along the Saint Quentin, first stop Cambrai a great town but a bit of a challenge in a power chair.

 

Cambrai street scene

Cambrai cheese shop…. And a potential customer at the window

Cambrai Chambre de Commerce

A professional barge shows how its done – slow and steady

 

The St Quentin was once so busy the authorities fitted dual locks to handle all the traffic.  Unfortunately on our trip only one of each pair was operating.  The challenge was often to work out which of each pair was the one presently in service.  We generally had the canal to ourselves, but occasionally empty grain barges gently squeezed by. The green of the trees was intense and it was pleasant journeying.  We knew that before too long though, we would be confronting the challenges of the worlds longest canal tunnel.  An ancient tug running on a chain would drag us through in a procession of boats. We really started to get anxious when a lock-keeper up-stream mistakenly gave Lesley the briefing sheet in German due to her peppering her earliest attempts at French with some of her German.  When she returned on board and discovered the mistake she had to really scratch her head to make some sense of it.  We had to be at the mouth of the tunnel at 9 AM Monday so two nights were spent in little villages along the way over the weekend biding our time.

 

 

 

Along the Saint Quentin; green, green, green!

Moored overnight at Vaucelles – a canal side farmyard next door

 

 

At Honnecourt; the bollards were so far apart we needed our longest ropes

Entering the Souterrain de Bray under tow; 5.67 ks long – the world’s longest navigation tunnel

The conga line of boats tied behind us

Finally after almost two hours, the light at the end of the tunnel

 

South of St Quentin, the canal became wider and straighter.  The weather too got warmer.  After nearly seven hours underway and with the temperature in the wheelhouse topping 34 degrees and 39 ks done, the port at Chauny was a very welcome sight.  There we got to know the very friendly and colourful Englishman Ron and his wife Pat during our stay and also Peter and Brigitte on My Suna.  Ron who had spent time in the RAF and Peter an ex-Navy man were a very humorous pair with hundreds of jokes and stories to share.  After five nights, and with new fenders kindly fitted in the heat by Peter we had to say farewell and head on.

 

          Tied up for lunch on an island where the Canal de la Somme and the Saint Quentin meet

The Port de Plaisance in Chauny; a stop for several memorable days

 

The next few days were the longest and toughest we had done since we first set off from Mirfield 9 months ago.  Long straight stretches, few towns and hot, hot days.  We started off early and did better than 40 ks a day on two days.  We finally pulled into Attigny and had three nights there before we would move on to the lock intensive start to the Ardennes.

 

Our friends Peter and Brigitte’s boat My Suna tied up alongside Endellion

One of many, many beautiful lock-keepers’ cottages

Farming country

Another, thankfully shorter tunnel

A little old lady and her much loved dog, our neighbours at Berry au Bac

Heading off early on a day which threatened to be warm – and was

To open the lock, on this stretch you have to find, then twist the pole

The downtown traffic in Rethel

The tree-lined Ardennes.

Harvest had begun

 

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