Home > Travel Blog > 2012 > April


Start of the season

This year it's France. We thought we would get south as far as Burgundy but it turns out that there are more than 200 locks on that route as well as possible closures due to lack of water so we revised our palns. In order to be back in Brugge by October, we have decided to do a modest 1,400km route taking in the Somme, Paris, Reims, Champagne region, back down the Meuse and through central Belgium to Brugge.  France is such a big country with so many locks that the progress is slow. That's what we like, but you have to reduce your expectations in a single season. Plenty more years (we hope) to come back and see other regions. Here's the route plan: 

  France 2012 route plan

After just a few last minute jobs and stocking up with plenty of supplies we set off from Brugge on 16th April.  Though sad to say goodbye to winter friends we were excited to discover pastures new.  Lennar and Dolores came to see us off and in doing so cruised along with us for the first ten kilometers. Kris and Patsy came out and took photographs as we cruised out of town.

Goodbye Brugge Cruise with Jana

Goodbye Brugge                                 Cruise with Jana (Dolores and Lennart)

We stopped by at a favourite mooring at Schipdonk where there is a giant crossroads of the big canals.  Enjoyed a quick coffee with Kiwi friends Michelle and Craig on "Avonturier", who were in the area too. Heard all about their winter "down under" and plans for the season.

Met with Avonturier and Kiwi crew Michelle and Craig

Met with Avonturier                            and Kiwi crew Michelle and Craig


We followed the mighty Schelde (or Escaut) as far as the border with Wallonia, then tucked ourselves into the tiny Canal de l'Espierre. This canal, together with the Canal du Roubaix which adjoins it, lead us into France. The canal has been closed for 25 years due to lack of use and the decline in the coal industry in the 1960s.  After years of restoration it finally reopened last year and we were keen to see it.  A mobile team of lock keepers takes you through all the locks and bridges and suggest places to stop and places to visit.  Their friendly service is truly a luxury!  

Canal de l'Espierre Canal de l'Espierre

Canal de l'Espierre (Belgium) leading to the Canal de Roubaix (France)  

Just close to the border at Leers Nord is the "Maison du Canal" where we had a memorable lunch. No menu, just book the day before and she ask if you like what she is cooking. The biggest and most delicious rack of lamb we ever had! (and the best price). Wherever we went, the local people came out to greet us. They are so happy to see the life come back into their canal and their area (Roubaix, Tourcoing, Lille). 

Belgian French border Historic bridges and locks

Belgian / French border                          Historic bridges and locks

While in Roubaix we visited La Piscine a beautiful art deco gallery, originally the local swimming pool which now houses a great  art deco collection as well as a museum of the local textile industry. Also there was a Picasso exhibition in the same building so we had some serious culture that day.

La Piscine gallery Roubaix Camille team leader

La Piscine gallery Roubaix                     Camille - team leader

Incredibly, at one place a new ring road had been built and this included an enormous roundabout.  Camille (above) and our team stopped all the traffic for half an hour to lift two bridges while we cruised under the roundabout!  The drivers got out of their cars to come and look at us!  They were not at all put out by the delay - they hooted their horns and waved 'hello'.  We felt so very welcome in their town.

Under a roundabout! Tranquil canal

Under a roundabout!                            Tranquil canal

The original structures of the locks and bridges have been lovingly restored and the lock keepers houses still stand.  Parts of the canal are very industril, others really peaceful and green. We were sad to say goodbye when we finally left this little backwater and entered the big Canal de la Deule to take us south towards the Canal du Nord.

Lock keeper's house Goodbye to the team

Lock keeper's house                            Goodbye and thank you to the team

Having spent our first two years in relatively "flat" landscapes (Netherlands and Belgium), tunnels are for us a bit of a new thing and there are a lot of them in France.  Our wheelhouse is permanently fixed, not demountable like some other barges, so the dimensions of tunnels are important to know!  Anyway, our first tunnel was enormous and on a big waterway so no worries.  The Royaulcourt It is a long way through, 4.3 kilometers with a passing place in the middle.  Quite dark and no chance of seeing the light at the end of it until you are nearly there!

Our first tunnel 4.3km and dark

Our first tunnel                               4.3km and very dark!

QR Code