Veurne – Veurne
Our plan on returning to Catharina Elisabeth was to collect a couple more items with the car, drop it back to Dunkirk and then cruise off into France on July 13th, ready to enjoy the Bastille Day celebrations again. It’s perhaps a good point to outline our plans for the year.
We had decided to overwinter in Migennes, having been unsuccessful in arranging a mooring in either Toul or Sillery (near Reims) in the North East. So we had made a booking to use Simon Evans’ shipyard at Migennes to give us some certainty. It would also provide a spot where we could get some work done between this and the next season.
Our big item on the list for this year was some time in Paris and we had already booked the central port in Paris, the Arsenal, for seven nights in late August. We would also insert a visit to Monet’s Garden on the lower Seine (near Vernon on the map above) before Paris and cruise up to the head of the navigable Seine (as far as Nogent-sur-Seine) after leaving the Arsenal, before dropping back to Migennes. For some variety, we also planned a detour from the shortest route down the Canal du Nort by heading east-ish along the Oise and Canal de l’Oise a l’Aisne and then back on the Canal Lateral Aisne and then the River Aisne. Also in our plan was to visit Calais and (again) Dunquerke using the Canal de Bourbourg.
Before we left Veurne we had modified the first leg of the journey and decided not to stop at Bourbourg on the Canal de Bourbourg because it required a bit of organisation; the water levels were a bit dubious for Catharina’s draught and we were unable to find any attractions to make a trip to Calais worthwhile. So, the first cruise would take us straight onto the ‘Grand Gabarit‘ along a path we had travelled last year, probably stopping overnight at Watten. The plan was to leave Veurne on Friday, 13th July, as we knew we would not be able to travel in France on Bastille Day. Lisette contacted the VNF and gave the requisite notice to have the bridges opened for us on the Canal de Furnes (Veurne) the following morning. We also advised the guys in Veurne that we would need to have the road bridge opened for us nice and early.
So, after offloading some new outdoor furniture, two bags of soil and some plant pots (the year’s plan also included starting to decorate Catharina with flowers), we returned the car to Dunkirk and took a bus and a train back to Veurne.
‘t Hof van de Hemel
For our last night in Veurne, we had more unfinished business to complete – a meal at the ‘t Hof van de Hemel, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by several friends, not the least because they have over 100 beers available.
When we arrived, our hostess settled us in and pointed us to a ‘Welcome to the McCauley’s’ sign that had been placed on our reserved table. So sweet.
We can also heartily recommend this restaurant to anyone who follows, great beer and food, moderate price and very friendly service, (complete with the owner chef’s hints for making a genuine Flemish Beef Stew which Ian felt he had to have as we were about to leave Belgium).
First Cruise for 2018
However…Friday morning arrived and off we set, backwards as is now almost traditional – this is our third year with this kind of start. We backed into the basin that links the canal and were travelling steadily backwards from the port towards the basin. Ominously, the engine began to labour and then power dropped off precipitously before cutting out altogether.
There was a bit of consternation on board. We were heading backwards towards the far bank. It’s not considered good form to stick your stern into the bank heading backwards. It has the potential to damage both the rudder and, when you restart, the prop. So, there was a bit of anxious engine restart activity. Encouraged by Lisette’s frequent observations about the decreasing distance between Catharina’s stern and the bank, Ian managed to restart the engine but it was barely ticking over. Fortunately, it was just enough for us to halt the drift to the bank and start to limp forwards to the pontoon just outside the port. As the engine gave out again, by judicious use of the rudder and bow thruster, Catharina nudged closer to the pontoon and Lisette managed to get ropes onto it and we were once again moored.
Cruising was over for the day and this was our new record for the shortest day’s cruising. Clearly, we would not be travelling further today! Now began the task of diagnosing the engine problem.
First, Lisette had to contact everyone again to say we would not be needing bridges to be opened/lifted/swung around that day. And given Bastille Day was the next day, we asked if we could raincheck any cruising until at least the Sunday morning assuming we could sort out the engine problem. All good. Lovely, friendly VNF and Belgian staff.
Ian was pretty confident that it was just the fuel filters. These were supposed to have been changed before we left, but we took a chance that they would be OK until we reached Bethune where we planned to stop to do some maintenance. We had run the engine for a few minutes after arriving but perhaps the filters had not passed enough fuel for an actual cruise. In the event, Ian changed the filters (actually while there are two for the engine, only one does any work) and after bleeding the air out, the engine started promptly and ran for about five minutes without issue.
As the next day was now free, we made excellent use of the additional time and decided to visit a local castle that we had always wanted to see but had never been able to find the time to get there. The Kasteel Beauvoorde was a short cycle trip through some pleasant countryside. And what a delight when we arrived. Small, but beautifully presented in some lovely gardens.
The castle had fallen into disrepair in the mid 19th century but was restored to more than its former glory by an avid historian, Arthur Merghelynck.
After his death, without any heirs, Arthur Merghelynck and his wife bequeathed the magnificently restored castle to the Belgian people. It’s now cared for by the Veurne municipality.
It’s easy to tour both outside through the gardens and inside the castle itself with the help of an audioguide and plenty of bi and trilingual displays. The rooms are opulent and feature a large collection of 17th and 18th-century items – actually far more that one might expect but Merghelynck was an avid collector was determined to make his castle into his idea of a well-to-do European castle of the period.
There were also good views of the gardens and the church opposite (where the Merghelynck’s are buried) available after climbing a narrow staircase up the clock tower.
Next, we crossed the road and went inside the lovely little church.
Pretty both inside and out, where we searched through the graves to find the one that held the Merghelyncks.
After a bit of searching (it’s always difficult to wander through, looking at each gravestone to locate one person even when you know they are there somewhere) we found their graves nestled beside the walls of the church, facing the castle across the street.
Cycling back we decided to stop in a little village and have a beer in a local pub. As luck would have it the playoff for third place in the World Cup soccer between Belgium and England was in progress. So we enjoyed a little time out of the hot sun, joining in with the locals as Belgium scored.
Off we went but, shortly after, the battery on Lisette’s bike gave up. The entire round trip was well under 20km, so this was a very disappointing performance for a battery that was only three years old, and which is only used sparingly for a couple of months each year. We swapped bikes (because Ian doesn’t use his battery unless we are climbing very steep hills) and made it back to Catharina without further incident. But now, we had to consider for the rest of the year that, on any long trips, we would have to carefully manage the battery resources on the two bikes to ensure there was enough oompf to allow Lisette to use the assist whenever she needed for any round trip.
Evening Market in Veurne
We arrived back in time for the big evening market that was being held in the town centre and surrounding streets.
There was plenty to see, buy and entertain – including, much to Ian’s delight, an accordion player. We had a beer and snack while chatting with some locals and fending off the roaming comics who attempted to steal Lisette’s bag.
Apart from the stalls and food, there was also an extensive display of antique cars from a local club.
A lovely way to spend a warm evening – everyone was in good spirits. Returning from the market, we realised that this had been a wonderful finish to our three-year association with Veurne. A warm, interesting and comfortable town. Everyone we have met has been polite and helpful and we have never had a moment’s bother with any aspect of being in the town. We will be able to add this evening to many pleasant and memorable experiences we have had here and the fond memories interwoven with our early days of barging. We will hope and look forward to returning sometime in the future.
Hunger and thirst satisfied, with a few gift and food items from stallholders, we returned to Catharina, ready to leave Veurne, for the last time.
Tomorrow – France!