With Jo and Nutty aboard it was time to start exploring the canal and river networks of France. Once through the locks at Calais we joined up with Stuart in his Piper barge Victoria. Our first problem was the lift bridges on the Canal du Calais where you phone a number or call on VHF, neither proved successful.We eventually got through by calling the first lock beyond the bridges. This very helpful lady, a student working for the VNF (French river and canal authority) over the summer sorted us out and spoke perfect English. We followed the Calais water bus through the first 3.
We night stopped at Les Attaques, the following morning left Stuart and continued to Watten. A Pretty little town, with the few essential shops and bars. From here we took a lovely walk into the forest to visit the WWII rocket factory. Well worth a visit and on a hot sunny day very refreshing inside the cool bunker. Le Blockhaus
From Watten we moved along the Grand Gabarit canal to to Arques where we once again met Barge Patricia owned by Steve and Anna. A small marina we moored against Patricia and connected to electric allowing the aircon to work through the hot night. Exploring by foot we looked at the huge 13.13 meter deep lock that we’d have to go through. Next to this lock is a boat lift, now a museum and very similar to the one at Anderton in Cheshire. The deep lock was exciting with a large commercial barge in first we followed with Patricia on the adjacent wall. The rise was fairly gentle although as you’ll see from the video my bow did swing out once when the commercial put on some power to position himself and I wasn’t concentrating.
After a night stop in a siding at Aire sur la Lys we entered the river Lys to do a loop around Lille. The locks are operated by lock keepers travelling between each by van, very efficient just a quick call to set it up. The Lys is very quiet, narrow and weedy in places but plenty of water for us and for the kids jumping from bridges and pontoons trying to cool down. We passed a lovely mooring marina at St Venant for anyone going that way. We eventually stopped on a pontoon at Estaires and bought some much needed insect repellent, antihistamine tablets and cream for our many insect bites. Worth stocking up in the UK thankfully we now seem to be rarely bitten.
Onwards to Armentieres this looked like a great spot with a marina and park with a lake next to it that hopefully Nutty could swim in. The marina was very shallow and we just had enough depth to turn around but couldn’t get to the banks so left and moored on the main river. Armentieres is a fairly substantial town and well worth a visit but unfortunately the water park doesn’t allow dogs.
Our friends Matthew and David who now live on a hotel barge in Tanlay central France drove up to join us for a couple of day of drink and food. The next morning onwards to the end of the Lys and a right turn onto La Duele towards Lille. The guides and other boaters we’d spoken to warned not to moor in Lille so we headed for Wambrechies a suburb. This was a good choice, a delightful marina in a beautiful bustling sociable town. Smart shops, bars and restaurants. The Harbourmaster Allan took great delight in showing me round the town himself. Matthew and David after a further night stop got an Uber back to their car in Armentieres. Jo and I decided to stay in Wambrechies for 2 further nights and enjoy the town.
For anyone travelling through the Chablis region of France this year Matthew and David are open for B&B onboard their hotel barge. Hotel Barge Elisabeth. Lovely boat, location and hosts.
The Duele is a very busy commercial river and as each huge barge passes the marina the boats rise up and down as the water is pushed into and sucked out. A good reminder to not moor on the main river.
The trip through Lille was uneventful, interesting, but I’m pleased we listened to the advice some undesirable areas. The city centre is lovely, I went in to buy a Data sim card from Mobile company Free. The UK limit roaming data but free were offering 100gb for €19.99, great.
On our way out of Lille Nutty needed to go urgently so we quickly moored up against one bollard wrapping a rope round 3 times, as 2 commercial barges passed the suction pulled Angela Dawn significantly and the rope practically exploded. Thankfully no one hurt or anything damaged apart from the rope, another lesson in mooring on busy waterways. From the Duele we rejoined the Grand Gabarit to night stop at Courcelles les Lens. A small recreational lake with a few moorings, people playing in paddle boats, canoes and fishing. Although full a delightful French lady, Lou allowed us to moor against her steel cruiser. A lovely setting and Nutty was delighted to have a long swim in the cool water. A note for boaters, the mooring at Pont a Vendin is too shallow for a barge, we tried.
A long cruise to Cambrai followed, passing the junction with the Canal du Nord then a right turn onto the southern section of the river Escaut. Here we called the VNF to obtain a remote control as all the locks on this waterway are automated. Unfortunately our French and his English left some confusion. Once in the lock there’s supposed to be a box which opens and there’s your remote. This wasn’t working and after some Allo Allo style French a VNF man turned up to help us out. The cruise to Cambrai was lovely much more like the scenery I was hoping for and the locks worked well. The marina at Cambrai and town is again very pleasant. Steve and Anna in Patricia turned up the next day and we’ve enjoyed watching the World Cup with the locals. Well done England.