Diksmuide (BE) – Toul (FR)
Winter has come in Australia, so it is time again for these two birds to fly north to the summer, this time, in France.
We are finally going to spend almost all the three months of cruising in France, as we had always planned to do. However, we are so pleased that buying Catharina Elisabeth in the Netherlands meant we spent about three months in 2014 and 2015 cruising that country replete with waterways. Even more so that we listened to our mentors and did not rush past Belgium as some might do but have spent a full and fascinating season in 2016 on its diverse rivers and canals. One day, we hope to return and spend more time in both countries but, for now, it is onwards to La Belle France.
Our travel direction is determined by the location of the winter mooring we have booked, in the French northeastern town of Toul. We are also determined to spend a good chunk of time on the River Somme, even though it will be a ‘return’ trip – head downstream and then retrace our steps.
Our path across the north of the country will tend to take the most northerly of the waterway routes as we hope to use the more southerly ones at some time as part of a trip to Paris. When we get close to Reims, we currently plan to head north on the Canal des Ardennes and then turn southwards on the River Meuse to head towards Toul.
According to our navigation program, the route is about 1,100 km long and with continuous cruising, would take a little over 30 days of continuous cruising.
In the week before we leave, this plan is looking very wobbly.
The winter and spring have been very dry, they have already twice closed a key canal on the Meuse route towards Toul. If this remains a problem, we will have to turn southwards at Reims to Vitry-le-François and then almost directly east along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin to Toul.
There is also a blockage very early on our route, south of Dunquerke and Calais before we reach the River Somme. It is scheduled to be open again in mid-July and if so, will not present a particular problem. If it stays closed, then the detour around it is a long one.
Even worse, three days before we leave they are closing canals and locks all around us in Flanders because the water levels are so low, they have to preserve water for commercial traffic and are restricting pleasure craft severely. As we get ready to leave for the airport, there is no movement of vessels out of Diksmuide. If it doesn’t rain, we may be there all summer! If we do move, it will probably mean a trip right back into Belgium and then travel south on one of the bigger waterways. We shall see.
All part of the experience!
To manage these and other wobbles, we try to contact other bargees who have travelled just before us; follow postings in forums run by our waterways association and email lists; follow the updates from the French operators of the waterways; we even have an app that links to the VNF (Voies navigables de France) that will warn us of problems in a 50 km radius of our position. Otherwise, cross fingers!
Bergues – the beautiful walled town also the site featured in one of our favourite French films “Bienvenu les Chi’tes”. (now unlikely)
Dunquerke – the site of the small ships armada in WWII (now unlikely).
Calais – the historic town most recently acquired from the English (now unlikely).
River Somme, lots of WWI touring and some lovely towns and cities.
A canal throught the Ardennes.
The picturesque Meuse.
And lots more that we are not aware of, and for which plans have not been developed. And if they had, they would be wobbly anyway.
Must dash, the suitcases are only half filled and we fly out tomorrow morning. We’ll try to be better at blog updates this year (dubious) but we’ve said that each year!
More to come…