Cappy – Corbie – Amiens
The start of our cruising day became quite standardised. When we were ready to leave, Lisette would call the central number and arrange for an éclusier to come and open the first lock. On most occasions, the lock was just nearby. If it was some distance, we would estimate the time of arrival and provide this. Almost always this was met with a polite response that the éclusier would be there in 15 minutes or so. There was probably only a couple of occasions where some mixup occurred and the lock was not getting ready for us by the time we arrived. That seemed to be when our request was getting too close to lunchtime. The French really do like to stop for an hour or two for lunch. The Somme Department would be responsible for all the écluses and bridges on our cruise down the Somme.
We had a date with our the first of our two sets of guests in Amiens two days hence. But for today, we had just planned a short cruise to the town of Corbie. Again, the weather was fine and the cruising a pleasure.
Ian was especially pleased with how he was handling the locks. His confidence in entering the locks had increased during the series of Freycinet locks we had passed through on the Haute Lys from Armentieres onwards. They are about 5.1 m wide and so there is a certain amount of skill to be applied to get Catharina Elisabeth’s dainty 4.25 m waist in without the occasional knock against the écluse wall. He was now having no trouble with the Somme locks and boasted on how, with practice, the locks were so easy to enter they even looked bigger. Until, of course, Crew pointed out that the Somme locks were 6 m wide “in actual point of fact” – so there! Anyhow, we were enjoying having locks to ourselves, chatting with the éclusiers and the relaxed cruising between each of them.
As the river is surrounded by these peat lakes, there are numerous opportunities for recreation. Spread along the banks, at various points, are permanent parks where the French own small holiday houses. They doubtless have many ways of relaxing but, judging by the ubiquitous fishing platforms at the edges, dangling the hook is a major one.
Another sport that is practised with great fervour with some is duck shooting. We passed numerous ‘hides’ where the shooters wait for unsuspecting birds to alight nearby. They even keep captive birds to lure them close. Not our kind of thing but it’s their country.
We tied up at the town of Corbie just after midday. We took the commercial quay because the pontoon was fully occupied. The quay was occupied by several fishermen and Lisette apologised profusely in French, saying that as soon as we were moored, they were welcome to fish in front of and behind Catharina. But, with delightful smiles and nods, they packed up and drove off. As soon as we had tied off, we checked our position and could see there was soon room between Catharina’s bow and the next vessel’s stern. That didn’t leave a lot of space behind us on the last part of the mooring. So we reset the warps and dragged Catharina forwards to leave a bit more space astern. Most responsible, courteous folk cruising the waterway try to think of those who might come later. On the flip side, some stupid or downright rude hicks can plonk themselves in the middle of a mooring and deny space to others then either refuse to move or give you grief if you press them.
Anyhow, we had been waiting weeks to be moored at Corbie and immediately hopped on the bikes and headed off through the village (actually Fouilly which is on the south side of the river with the larger Corbie on the north side), southwards to the hill that dominates Fouilly on one side and the village of Villers-Bretonneux on the other. The summit is, of course, the Australian National Memorial for soldiers killed on the Western Front in World War I. After Gallipoli, it is the most important war memorial for Australians.
As neither of us, or parents, or family, were born in Australia (we took up citizenship in our early 20s) we were not there, as many others were, on a pilgrimage to the grave of a relative – but, it was important to us to honour those of our country who had fought in this awful theatre of the war. There are 10,7733 young men whose names are recorded here. The names of many others, who died but whose bodies were never recovered, are inscribed on the Menin Gate which we visited last year in Ieper (Ypres).
The memorial was placed there to honour the contribution of the Aussies who fought in the second battle of Villers-Bretonneux which took place over the 24 – 27 April in 1918. After being forced back by a German offensive Australian and British troops recaptured Villers-Bretonneux on the 25th April (ANZAC day as we would now know it, although that commemorates fighting in Gallipoli three years earlier). The original lines were restored a couple of days later and the town was never lost to the Germans again.
The memorial was officially opened in 1938, just a year before the start of WWII. While the memorial made it through that second war largely intact, there are spots around the memorial where shrapnel has damaged the stonework but left as part of its history.
We crested the steep hill and parked our electric bikes and walked up through the portico, past and through the gravestones, to the tower. We spent some time reading the inscriptions and the descriptions of the memorial and the history of the war and battle that are placed on the level of the cemetery. We chatted with a lady who had come to visit the grave of one of her relatives and listened to her stories about how he came to the war – both fascinating and moving. She was an Aussie who was on a tour and would place a wreath at the Menin Gate the following night. You can contact the authorities, and as a genuine descendant of someone who fought and lost their lives, are entitled to take part in the ceremony.
Very moving indeed.
Then we climbed up the tower to look over the cemetery and, in another direction, across to the village of Villers-Bretonneux with the now pleasant, grassed fields around us. A far cry from the muddy horror of the war. While we were there we chatted with a couple from Australia, James Corbett and his wife Jodie, who were visiting the memorial after James had just been exhibiting some of his sculptures in Belgium. His sculptures cover a wide range of subjects but are all created from scrap car parts. Great work, check it out! It’s such a thrill to meet such interesting people, even if only for a few minutes.
We descended the tower and walked back to the bikes. Then we headed off down the hill to the town of Villers-Bretonneaux and had a lazy cycle around the town until we found the primary school.
The sacrifice of the Aussies who liberated the town and the building of the memorial nearby has cemented a close and enduring relationship of the town with Australia.
In 2009, the local children and local townsfolk of this small French village raised around $20,000 to repair the Strathewen Primary School which was burnt down in the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires, returning the gift of 83 years earlier that has always been in front of every child that has attended L’Ecole Victoria as it is inscribed above the blackboards “N’Oublions Jamais l’Australie” (Let us never forget Australia).
Unfortunately, the museum that is associated with the school was closed so we meandered around the town and then cycled up and then down the hill to return to Catharina.
There we were greeted with a busy mooring. Two vessels had managed to squeeze in behind us in the space that we had left. After greeting them, making arrangements, cooking and eating dinner, we all gathered under Catharina’s aft deck for a long and pleasant evening sharing stories with the English couple who had just sailed their tiny vessel from England and the Swiss couple who had were cruising in France. It certainly pays to consider others when mooring – the repayment is often lovely neighbours!
Next morning we started late after visiting the quite large supermarket in Corbie and a brief ride around the centre of town.
At 10 am, we left for a leisurely, short cruise to Amiens. It was pleasant and uneventful where we were fortunate to clear a lock just at lunchtime. Almost universally in France (we are told) if you arrive at a lock just before lunch, the éclusiers won’t operate it because it would eventually intrude on their lunch. However, not the Somme guys! We arrived just a couple of minutes before lunch and the two éclusiers were quite happy to check us through. We offered our apologies for intruding on their lunch – but “de rien” (no matter) was their reply. They were rewarded with a couple of stubby holders – and showed the usual warm delight we see when we offer small tokens of our Australian esteem. As we were leaving, we spotted another boat heading towards us, and Lisette asked the éclusiers if they would have to delay their lunch, but they shrugged in that delightful French way, and said the other boat would have to wait until ‘après déjeuner’.
Just beyond the lock was an art studio / bicycle rental / restaurant and all around the building and the canal were arty decorations. It had a spot for mooring with power and water – certainly one to remember. We were on a bit of a schedule so we made the most of our luck in passing the lock and continued downstream towards Amiens.
Off we cruised and gradually began to enter the outskirts of Amiens. On either side of us, we began to see extraordinary gardens – vegetables, flowers and shrubs.
Also, there was a small ditch/canal that ran parallel to us on the northern side, and the entry to each of the houses across this waterway was always marked by a set of steps that rose up about two metres to a landing with a door. We observed all sorts of sorts as we cruised along – colourful, ornate, impressive, tatty. All very individual.
We entered the city and made our worst landing of the season in front of crowds of locals and tourists in the central harbour. We were only stopping to top up with water so we did not stay long, so we could escape our mistake. It was a warm, if a bit windy, and while the tank was filling we watched, amused, as teenagers jumped off the footbridge into the canal below.
However, the weather took a sudden turn for the worse, getting rainy and windy as we cast off for a short cruise around the town to a more suburban mooring that we had been recommended. Right under the bridge, where the youths were content to wait for us to pass before once again launching themselves into the river with squeals of delight. When we arrived, the mooring before the lock was full, and only really has space for a couple of barge-sized boats. The next mooring available was the other side of the lock. As we hadn’t planned to traverse the lock that day, we hadn’t warned the éclusiers so there was no one there to operate the lock. In a strong crosswind we attempted to hold our position and not get blown onto the vessels on either side of the canal where we were waiting. Luckily, an éclusier was there in a matter of minutes (no doubt helped by the fact that the central control Office for the Somme waterway was right next to us). We traversed the locks and found plenty of room just past the lock in the third of the Amiens town moorings at about 4 pm.
Timing was excellent because, less than an hour later, our friend Panache arrived with Michel and Rebecca in tow. We were thrilled to meet them all again and everyone was soon settled in with Panache roaming Catharina as if it was his barge. As we were leaving next day, we decided we would just walk over to the nearby Cathedral and watch the renowned ‘son et lumiere‘ show that takes place every night during summer. Given the long days, it wasn’t going to start until 10 pm, so there was plenty of time to eat first. As is fast becoming tradition when they visit us, Michel and Rebecca provided the first night’s dinner which is always amazing. So we were able to get them settled and have a relaxed dinner before heading off over the bridge and up to the cathedral. This is the same cathedral at which we had seen our friend Maureen sing, only a few weeks earlier.
The light show was spectacular, although Rebecca and Michel said that an earlier show they had seen was better, but without comparison, we thought that it was splendid (albeit a rather modern music theme was used) – particularly after the main show had finished, and the lasers lit up the sculptures on the arches above the main doors, with glorious colours in incredible detail. But we’ll save those photos for our upstream visit a week or so later.
Back late and we all went straight to bed ready for the next part of our cruise – towards the mouth of the Somme.