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For much of our return journey from Paris to Briare the weather was cold and overcast, not exactly weather for taking photographs which was a pity because the autumn colours were stunning.
The journey up the Seine was uneventful. At Moret we retrieved our car and did a supermarket shop then in the morning retraced our steps down the river Loing to St Mammes to bunker. We had to wait for a commercial barge before we could come alongside then the pump for white diesel was very slow and took well over an hour to dispense 700 litres at 1.09 Euros a litre. We had to move to another berth to take on red diesel and in that manoeuvre we almost collided with a big commercial barge which came steaming round the corner at a great rate of knots then changed course to cut between us and the berth, sounding his horn as he did so. How some of these guys get their tickets I really don't know? We then took on 240 litres of red diesel in our generator tank at 64 euro cents a litre in a couple of minutes but unfortunately the nozzle would not fit into our central heating tank so we could not top that up. Hope we have enough for the winter.
Cruising back up the Loing, the ignition key, which had been giving problems for some time, finally gave up the ghost. We tied up at the Moret mooring and I played with it for a bit. This involved lots of turning it on and off, hitting it, cursing it and wondering what to do next! I walked back down to the local diesel workshop but it was Saturday and this was France. As we had the car here I could drive down to Briare and get the spare key I had ordered prior to leaving so I rang Keith Riley who I thought was in Briare to ask him to check if they were open. He was not in Briare yet and doubted, as I did, if the firm would be open over the weekend. The problem then was if I waited until Monday to get the new key we might not make Montargis before November 1st when they would close a lock for repairs for the winter. I therefore went down in the engine room and started the engine using a screw driver across the terminals of the starter motor (with a resultant shower of sparks and red hot metal when I did not get it quite right!) then tied the key into position with a piece of wire so I had some instrumentation (but no engine tacho and no charge from the alternator) and away we went up the canal.
We arrived at the lock at Nemours at 5pm and the lock keeper arrived at 5.30pm. I suggested we might tie up just above the lock but he volunteered to work us through the next three locks that evening and told us there was a good mooring just before the fourth lock. We ended up trying to find the mooring in the pitch dark using our searchlight to find the bollards amongst the tall grass; not to be recommended! We did have the advantage of knowing exactly where we were with our satnav so avoided hitting the lock gates! Jenny Riley had told us that the lock keepers along the Canal du Loing were an idle bunch and this proved to be the case. They each worked groups of three locks and fortunately they had left the lock keys hooked on the gates so we were able to work through several by ourselves but it was slow going. Lunch stop was supposed to be 12 to 1pm but at 1.20pm the lock keeper hadn't turned up so we worked through ourselves yet again. The same happened at the next set of locks so we only got as far as Montargis that night. Plenty of room at the port de plaisance and nobody to collect the fees so free electricity and water. We walked a few hundred metres into town and dined at a very nice chinese restaurant.
At Montargis you arrive at the junction of the canal d'Orleans (not navigable at present) whilst the main line becomes the Canal de Briare. There is a noticable difference in the canal architecture now with graceful stone bridges, iron lift bridges in the same design as the canal de la Marne à la Saône and fast locks with efficient ground paddles. The lock keepers also seem to be more efficient so we made good progress to Chåtillon-Coligny in quite wet weather. Here I purchased bread plus a huge almond meringue which, supplemented with marron ice cream, fed us both two meals! The sun shone the next day as we progressed up through the locks to Rogny where we stopped for lunch berthed next to De Tiid, the barge we met last year at Amiens, but nobody was aboard. The lock keeper here saw us up the six automatic locks to the summit pound. These locks are all over 4 metres deep which means that you normally have to land someone before each lock to take a rope as it is too high to reach a bollard from the deck. Having the lock keeper perform this task was a bonus and he and Sue chatted away at each lock.
We were now on the last leg, down through 6 fast automatic locks to Ouzouer where a fun fair was in progress booming out loud music. They finished early though so we had a peaceful nights sleep. It only took us just over an hour down two automatic locks then out onto the canal lateral de Loire and the Briare port du Commerce. I made a bit of a pigs ear of berthing on our winter mooring between two other boats and finally came in stern first. There is a camper van craze sweeping through France at present and at least half a dozen are lined up each night on the adjacent quay. I am told that they are to be seen right through the winter. They drive up on cold evenings and just sit there in the front seats and look out at the canal. Funny sort of activity to do for pleasure.
We cycled up to the station, discovered a train would leave in 20 minutes so left our bikes and caught it back up to Moret to collect our car. Back at Briare we retrieved our bikes and dropped in for a cup of tea with Keith and Jenny.
Wintering here will be a little more sociable than previously in Kerkhoven. Briare is a town of some 6,000 souls which is very well provided for. It has a Lidl, an Ed, an Intermarché, a Champion and a Spar. The local newsagent even has English papers. The Friday market has interesting vegetable, fruit, butchery, charcuterie and cheese stalls. Irish boaters, Mike and Rosaleen on "Aquarelle" introduced themselves and are on their third winter here. They have joined the local walking club and say the natives are friendly. Certainly Emanuelle at the tourist office was very welcoming where we signed up for French lessons provided twice a week by the Marie, free of charge and booked tickets for a flamenco concert at the local auditorium. Watch this space.