Guny – Anizy-le-Château – Pargny-Filain – Bourg-et-Comin
We were in no particular hurry to leave – our next series of cruises were all going to be short and as the locks were automatic, we didn’t need to make any arrangements.
We were quite delighted to be travelling at a gentle pace (about 8 km/h), on a small canal, with pastoral and woody countryside around us.
Along this stretch, we refined our lock procedure to have Catharina Elisabeth positioned so that Lisette could climb up to operate the poles
and then scamper down as the gates behind us closed and the lock began to fill. Often, Ian would then move Catharina back a little while Lisette played out the rope, to avoid getting caught on the cill in front (depending on whether the lock was filling or emptying). We would not normally condone Lisette climbing lock ladders as they can be treacherous, but getting close enough to the lock levers was not always easy, and pushing the pole upwards is a task in itself.
We arrived at a pretty mooring in Anizy-le-Château (also known as Pinon) just in front of another small, typically French bridge over the canal. We tied up with Catharina’s stern almost in some bushes to get some shade, next to a small park.
From our DBA waterways guide, we knew that the Carrefour supermarket was just the other side of the bushes and Ian took advantage of this to go and gather some wine and beer replenishments. Lucky it was close, it was a heavy load as we were catering for our prodigious consumption of, particularly, beer – due to the heat! The supermarket did have some strict rules governing the purchase of alcohol – no more than 100 litres of beer (at a time) and something less for wine. We figured we would be well within those guidelines, so with large shopping bag and backpack, Ian bravely fought his way through the bushes to the ‘wine bin’ as we might call it in Australia.
There was nothing of a tourist bent nearby, as far as we could determine, so it was sanding and cleaning the decks prior to painting and staining to keep us occupied. Ian gave Lisette a bit of a hand with some of the hatch she had been stripping while she started dinner.
Dinner was one of our increasingly-standard but delicious chicken and roasted vegetables, cooked in the Weber. Ian always comments that the huge pile of vegetables is “too much”. But there are never any leftovers. At least we have started cooking only a couple of chicken Marylands if we are on our own, rather than an entire chicken.
Next day we pushed on to a spot where we wanted to pause a little and take on some water. The mooring at Pargny-Filain marks the top of the Canal de l’Oise à l’Aisne and features a large lake which forms the reservoir to provide water for the Canal. More importantly, given the recent unremitting heat, it has been converted into a very popular water recreation park, the Axo’plage – with extensive sandy beaches.
Still, first we had to get moored and this proved to be a prolonged exercise.
When we arrived there was a derelict boat occupying one half of the pontoon and a yacht occupying the other half. As we approached, Lisette asked if we could raft alongside for the night. The owner, who spoke fine English, said he was only going to be there for a little while. So Lisette got a line on the derelict boat to bide our time until he left and we would then take up his spot on the pontoon.
However, it turned out that he was leaving by air.
The poor chap, a Spaniard, had been making his way from the Mediterranean to parts north. His engine had broken down and could not be fixed. The only solution was to truck his boat back to Spain. However, the quotes from French transporters had been so far outside his budget that he had been marooned for a month waiting for a truck to arrive from Spain. To our good fortune, and his great relief, it was due today!
Over the next few hours we watched as the truck and the crane arrived; the delicate task of placing straps around the yacht in a position that would not damage the rudder, prop or keel was accomplished; the gentle raising of the boat and then its deposition and securing on the transporter. Fascinating.
For our space on the little pontoon, we paid our second, and most expensive mooring fee for the season – €7 per night and that only because we were taking on water (we could have used the power – but we didn’t bother). Once all the excitement was over, we took off on some bicycle exploration.
We had a lovely ride and the town, elevated above the canal level, provided some scenic views of the lake and we could just barely make out Catharina in the distance. This was one of the last times Ian forgo the chance to attach his battery to the bike. He rarely uses it, while Lisette has to pace herself between assisted and not-assisted cycling. The hill proved to be very steep, and Ian looked as though he needed oxygen long before we reached the top. He vowed to bring the battery along in the future (well, mostly, although it often comes with us as a back-up for Lisette when her battery runs out on some of the longer rides).
Next day, we did more maintenance and prep chores in the morning and then we cycled off to a nearby Bee Museum.
It was associated with a beekeeping (apiculture) supply and retail store. Lots of honey, beeswax, smokers, hives and the such like. Honey tasting as well, of course!
For a couple of euros you could walk through a collection of different types of hives and apiculture equipment – both modern and historical.
Then you could go inside and walk through a series of displays describing the biology of bees and the techniques of apiculture. Finally, you could watch the process of removing honey and the wax from the combs.
What interested us particularly was that the company runs hundreds and hundreds of hives which they move all around France. This allows them to collect different types of honey as each regional flowering takes place. The hives are placed in a refrigerated truck, which calms the bees (they think it is winter), the hives are then taken out in the next location, sometimes right across the country, hours later, allowed to warm up, and off the bees go to make some regional honey
After cycling back, we were hot enough for a swim so we rode the short distance around to the recreation park, paid a modest entry fee and spent a pleasant few hours practising our Aussie beach lifestyle.
The water was clear and warm, the sand pristine and ice creams and beers were very welcome. There were lifeguards every hundred metres or so, and clear demarcation floats to keep you within range of the beach. Not that the water was more than waist deep anyway.
The next day we were to be heading downhill after we passed through a modest-sized tunnel.
The Braye-en-Laonnois tunnel, which runs under a ridge known as the Chemin des Dames, is 2.4 km long and wide enough for only one vessel at a time, controlled by a traffic light system. The ridge was the site of several battles in WWI. As we approached the tunnel the light was already green so we entered immediately.
We had an uneventful passage through and emerged the other side to start a close-packed series of four down-locks.
We had recently had a nice dutch barge pass us in the opposite direction so we anticipated that the locks would be set for us and we could pass quickly.
At the first lock, the light remained steadfastly red. We moored up, contacted the VNF and they promised to come and check it out. Apparently, they had been having troubles with some of the lock machinery because of the prolonged high temperatures. Sure enough, in about 20 minutes, a couple of friendly VNF workers arrived and we were soon on our way.
All the other locks worked fine and by midday, we were passing over the pont canal that took us across the River Aisne and into the halte (port) at Bourg-et-Comin.
As we came to the end of the canal, there was a lovely pontoon, but unfortunately there wasn’t quite enough space for us. Well, Ian was keen to try, but the people on the boat that was occupied, who could have moved up a smidge to make room for us, studiously managed to not look up at all, no matter how much reversing engine noise – and smoke – we were generating. No help there! So we cruised on a couple of hundred metres to a commercial mooring just around the corner on the Canal latéral à l’Aisne, just in front of the lock. There we managed to find some shade, some free water from a tap buried under a ratty lid behind some safety tape and settled into a quiet afternoon of keeping cool.
As evening approached, commercials began to come in for the night and moor around us. One in front and one behind hanging off the mooring, seemingly barely attached. We waved and smiled and they waved and smiled back so we assumed our mooring position hadn’t inconvenienced them too much.
The couples on each of the barges were soon socialising and, as it had cooled down, we took the opportunity to do a little more work – amongst other things, preparing the deck for painting.
Our next cruise was to take us down the Canal lateral à l’Aisne and then to the River Aisne itself as we headed back westwards gradually making our way towards Compiègne.