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La Somme

Now we are really getting into the French way of life and appreciating the lovely waterways.  After emerging from our first big tunnel we decided to moor for the May Holiday weekend in a big turning basin off the main canal.  The locks would be closed for the holiday and we could relax for a couple of days.  An isolated house stands nearby and soon the owners (Michel and Beatrice) had come across to say hello.  They invited us for drinks and then insisted we stay for dinner. Our new friends came to Esme the following evening. They are French, have a boat so of course a shared interest.  Beatrice speaks a little English but our French is now really improving!

May Day Weekend New friends Beatrice and Michel

May Day Weekend, Bois des Vaux                  New friends Beatrice and Michel

We now found ourselves in the area of the Western Front of World War One and visited the museum "The Historial of la Grande Guerre", housed in the chateau at Peronne. This extraordinary experience made us feel so lucky for the life we have. The following day we entered the River Somme. The entrance is narrow, obscured by trees and shallow areas but once in, its beauty is extraordinary. The sound of birdsong is overwhelming and we saw kingfishers, red squirrels and we think, an otter. One night we even heard nightingales. Again, quite a contrast to the big canals. We soon realised that the Somme is a real a gem. The appalling slaughter of the Great War is hard to comprehend as we travelled through the little villages which had suffered so and we found a poignant contrast between that living hell and the peace and beauty of the area today. A mobile team of lock keepers looked after us along the way and each day met us promptly when we decided to move on. We saw very few boats and we had it all to ourselves much of the time. On either side of the river are many "etangs" - lakes - where serious fishing takes place. The French are big on fishing.  At Corbie, Jo joined us. She had driven over on the ferry and found us without difficulty and without a satnav. her first experience of driving abroad.  Chris was very proud.  We took her up to Amiens and back on a three day trip which made it very special for all of us. Later that week we took a couple of marathon cycle rides to explore the area including visits to battlefields and cemeteries. We took a train ride on the "P'tit Train de la Haute Somme" - a small steam train on a narrow gauge railway which was originally used to transport ammunition and wounded soldiers during WW1.  This gave us another chance to see the fabulous countryside as we travelled through woods to the hill tops with great views over the river valley.  No surprise that when we came to leave the Somme we made a committment to return.

WW1 Museum Peronne VNF work party

WW1 Museum at Peronne                           VNF work party near the entrance

Perfect peace Fishermen's heaven

Perfect peace                                  Fishermen's heaven   

What a view! British soldier comforts his horse

What a view!                                   A British soldier comforts his wounded horse

Another cycle ride Belvedere de Cesar

Another cycle ride                             Belvedere de Cesar

CWCG immaculate care Jo's visit

CWGC - Immaculate care as always               Jo's visit

Amiens the magnificent cathedral

Amiens                                         The magnificent cathedral

On the road again Australian memorial, Le Hamel

On the road again - oh those hills!            Australian memorial, Le Hamel

Le P'tit Train de la Haute Somme Le P'tit Train de la Haute Somme

Le P'tit Train de la Haute Somme               Lovely view at the top of the hill


On to Paris

Having said goodbye to the river Somme we pressed on down the Canal du Nord to Compiegne. Here Sue and Ian joined us after a Eurostar trip from London. It was Joan of Arc week in Compiegne and a great mediaeval fair was held in her honour. Super food, costumes, music and dance including demonstrations of archery and weapons used against the English in the Hundred Years War!  We took Sue and Ian on a three day cruise up the River Aisne, where very pretty villages welcomed us and there is very little commercial traffic. From Compiegne we continued south on the Oise, occasionally meeting up with barge friends old and new who were going to Paris too, for the big rally. We stopped at Auvers, the village where van Gogh spent the last two months of his life and visited his grave. So easy to see why the landscape inspired him and the many other impressionists who painted here. Pontoise was another gem. A city on a hill with wonderful food markets and art galleries.  Another long day brought us to Bougival, another painter's heaven where we also visited the beautiful town of L'Isle Adam, very civilised and beautiful where some of the wealthy Parisians live. Another big spend at the foodie market!  Oh, the cheese and fresh produce - so tempting!

Then came the big trip through Paris - what a wonderful day and in perfect weather we negotiated the rather busy river past the great sights - the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame eventually into the Canal St Martin which is the prettiest part of the old Paris canals, a sunny afternoon through flights of ancient locks sheltered by plane trees, many tourists waving to us from the arched wrought iron bridges. Part of the canal passes as a tunnel under the Bastille, arriving via some more very pretty locks at the Bassin de la Villette where we were joined by 35 other barges like ourselves for our Annual Rally. (See June)

Anvers - meal and van Gogh's grave Pontoise at night

Auvers - meal and visit to Van Gogh's grave    Pontoise at night

Eiffel tower Notre Dame

Eiffel tower                                   Notre Dame

Tunnel under Bastille Canal St Martin locks

Tunnel under the Bastille                      Canal St Martin locks

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