Saturday, July 22, 2017

Racing south From Arras to St Quentin

It's hard to know where to begin this week's blog. So much has happened and we've covered so much more ground than last week.

When we left Douai last Sunday, we said our farewells to the lovely folks we'd met there and turned right after the Douai locks to head up the Scarpe towards Arras. We'd managed to acquire the necessary remote control to operate the locks after Koos had been passed from pillar to post on the phone and eventually learned that we had to pick it up at the lock before the turning. The Scarpe proved to be a dream stretch of 24 kilometres to the end of the navigation. We loved it so much we spent two nights going up, a third night at the end and another night returning.

Info board on the lock at Douai

Through the first lock on the scarpe
 Highlights of the trip were a disused and semi -demolished China Clay factory, where Koos persuaded me to face my fear of going down steep ladders by climbing up to the old factory hall with our guitar and mandolin and recording a song there. The acoustics were amazing and it was great fun to do. When we were back on board (yes, I did it without incident) and Koos was taking photos, a security man appeared. Rather severely, he told Koos that photography was not allowed. Koos told him he understood he was doing job, but since the factory was being demolished, it seemed an odd rule to be imposing now. Mr Security relaxed, smiled ruefully, agreed and waved us on our way, for we were not going to make any other waves for him.

Leaving the industrial area at the beginning of the Upper Scarpe
The next highlight was our first and fourth nights' mooring at Brébières above the lock. It was so peaceful and really beautiful. By this time, we'd noticed how clear the water was and we could see right to the bottom. It was very weedy, though, so now and then some strong reverse action was needed to clear the prop, but we had the whole waterway to ourselves. For Koos, another peak moment was sitting in a camping chair in front of a railway bridge and filming TGV trains going past. While he did his train spotting thing (quite a challenge as the TGVs go so fast you've blinked and they're gone), I cycled to the nearby village of Fampoux and visited the WWI war cemetery where British soldiers were buried, all of whom died between 1917 and 1918. It was a very moving experience for me. So many, so young. Most of them were between 19 and 22 years old.

Brebieres lock and mooring where we first noticed
how clear the water was

Our mooring at Brebières

Beatiful, dream like Upper Scarpe

Koos watching and filming TGVs from the comfort
of the bank

At the end of the navigation, we spent the night at St Laurent de Blangy. We couldn't get all the way into Arras as the last two locks are no longer operating and the river has silted up. We moored up next to a children's water adventure centre and were hugely entertained by 'Chaos in Canoes'.  The kids were organised into a sort of rosta of activities, so every hour or so a new wave would arrive and the high jinks and fun would start again. I laughed till I cried at some of the nonsense that was going on. It was wonderfully harmless, cheerful fun and even better, not a smartphone in sight.

Chaos on Canoes at St Laurent Blangy

The end of the navigation at Arras - we couldn't get there by boat,
but I walked to the end on this beautiful summer evening.
After the Scarpe (which we left last just two days ago), we headed south to Arleux where we were going to take the Canal du Nord to the start of the Somme. Don't ask me what impulse got us though. We had to wait for a few commercials and decided instead we'd go via the Canal de St Quentin where we went last year. This time, however, we'd go through the tunnel I'd baulked at last year.  We spent Thursday night in Cambrai and Friday night at the mooring before the tunnel. What a dash through that was. 19 locks in one day was a bit much really, but the canal was as beautiful as ever. Last night we realised how far out of our way we'd come and felt a bit foolish that we hadn't looked at the map first, but heck, making beds and lying on them is something we're good at.

The Hennie H on the Canal de St Quentin (I walked along
the towpath to take this and some film footage too)
This morning then, I gathered up my courage again (remember the ladder) and faced the 5.5 kilometre Riqueval (or Bony) tunnel that we were towed through with two other cruisers. I was very quiet until we were more than half way through, and then life looked a bit brighter. It took an hour and a half, which was faster than I was expecting. It was also very cold, but then it was raining when we went in and when we left the tunnel. As an experience, it was something I am still absorbing, so there may be more on that later. There was another shorter (1km tunnel) after the long one, which seemed like child's play after the biggie.
Waiting to go in the tunnel

Leaving the light behind. Not to be seen again for 5.5kms
Now we are at St Quentin for a couple of hours (or maybe the night). We still have a long way to go to reach the Somme, which we'll be approaching from the south this time, but at least I'll be able to say I've done the whole Canal de St Quentin and all the Canal du Nord by the time we head north again.

More from me as and when I can. For now, enjoy your weekend allemaal!


  1. I love your writing and then some!

  2. Great blog Val. Facing your fears - well done you! x

  3. What a wonderful account, Val, I'd have been terrified at the very thought of climbing that ladder!

  4. Beautifully sharp photos Val and the account of your travels is exciting too!

  5. So glad you're having such a wonderful time.

  6. Thank you all so much. I really am very sorry for not reading all your blogs, but as I've mentioned elsewhere, internet access here in France is either very difficult to find or very slow, even if I use my phone to connect (which I try not to do as it's expensive for me). I really appreciate all your comments and the fact you take the time to read my posts. I can only promise to catch up with you all when I'm home again, but I hope to do so before then if possible. All my best from St Quentin where we are stuck for a few hours with a flat battery. Thank goodness we have a small generator to charge it with, and the McDonalds just over the road so WiFi works at a snail's pace.

  7. Nice post, Val! It all sounds wonderful. Are you going to post the sing the two of you sang??

    1. Roger, Koos has posted it on his Facebook page. His page is public so if you look for Koos Fernhout, you'll find it, I'm sure. He's online more than I am!

  8. What beautiful clear water indeed Val, and your pictures tell the tale of why you wish to go there. But as for the tunnel - 90 minutes in there would quite undo me, I fear. Sounds quite spooky! Have another great week and look forward to your next adventure at the Somme. PS My grandfather fought in the Somme in WW1.

    1. Thank you, Patricia...yes, it was very spooky. I was very glad to be out if it, I can assure you. I'll try and lost the video some time :)

  9. Hi Val - love Koos' idea of taking the guitar and mandolin and clambering into the abandoned china clay factory ... hope we get to hear it sometime. Sounds like you've had fun - though exhausting at times ... wonderful trip - enjoy life sans the phones! Cheers Hilary

    1. Bless you, Hilary! Yes, we are having both fun and exciting times. I so hope I can catch up with everyone soon, but it's also quite nice to be away from the Internet for a while!

  10. We were hoping to cross paths on the Somme but it looks like it's not to be. We're currently in Abbeville and will be heading back for the Canal du Nord tomorrow but it will likely take us a week to get there. We're on to Toul from there. So we'll keep an eye on your blog and hopefully meet again another season.
    Bon voyage!

    Cathy Jo and Don

  11. Lovely photos and so many lovely places. Another long tunnel?


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