|Industrial buildings near Jeumont|
|Marpent, the first lock in France|
Rumour had it we could reach Pont sur Sambre, a village about thirty kilometres along the course, without paying for a French Vignette. This proved to be out of date information as when we reached the first lock and phoned to ask for the remote control to operate it (the télécommande), the VNF man on the other end asked us if we had a vignette. We had to admit we didn't and he told us, apologetically, that we would have to pay for at least a week as a one day permit was not going to be adequate even for the first stretch. We gulped, discussed and then Koos decided we would cough up the €90. We clearly weren't going to get the remote control until we'd agreed and as we dearly wanted to explore at least some of the French section of the river, we bit several bullets, swallowed the bitter pill and accepted.
|Industry between Jeumont and Hautmont|
As it transpired, it was worth it. Every cent. The Sambre changes character in France. The first stretch through Jeumont, Maubeuge and Hautmont is quite industrial. The three towns are attractive but the wonderful old warehouses and factory sites of its earlier affluent past are marvellous. We already knew them well from visits by car. Koos, too, had been along it by boat in 1990, but for him, the reaches beyond Hautmont seemed fresh and new.
|A new winter storage for pleasure craft near Hautmont|
Just a few kilometres past Hautmont, we spotted a lovely shady Halte Nautique at Boussières sur Sambres. It was still very hot then, so the inviting sight of shade, trees and grass was very welcome. The mooring itself was slightly decrepit with rather old wooden bollards and some seriously dodgy sidings, but once we'd tied up we were very happy with our find. There was also a sort of fountain that claimed to be from the source but as it had an electric pump at the back, we were happy to use it as drinking water. We chatted to some of the locals and enjoyed an evening walk around the area, more for its peace, quiet and sense of solitude than for any particular sights. For all that, it's a beautiful setting and the countryside is a feast of rolling golden grain fields interspersed with green pasture where real cows are out to grass (I say that because in the Netherlands, it's not all that common to see meadows full of cattle). It was also noticeable that the drought has not been as bad in northern France as it's been in the Netherlands. The banks of the river are still lush and green as are many of the fields.
|Nose to the bank at Sassegnies|
The following day we snaked our way along the meandering curves and oxbows around Pont sur Sambre until we reached Berlaiment lock, where we were received by the VNF officials. At Pont sur Sambre, we'd seen a couple of very cheerful and friendly VNF staff who were not in the least interested in taking our money. However, at Berlaiment, it was all business and the office on the lock had the latest technology where we saw they'd been able to watch us approach every lock on their video surveillance system. There would have been no escape. All the same, the VNF manager there was very nice. He apologised that he had to charge us so much for such a short time and encouraged us to make the best use of it, showing us where we could go and how far. We'd been told that there was a bridge down before Landrecies, but it seems that was misinformation and we could go all the way to Tupigny, a place that's long been on our wish list. If we'd known that, we'd have left Thuin earlier, but as it turned out, we could go further than we'd expected anyway, so there was a silver lining to the cloud.
|Stormy evening in Landrecies|