Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A mini May meander on the waterways

In my last post, I was all excited that we were going to the boat lifts in Belgium, wasn't I? Well, that proved to be a no go. We set off on Sunday as planned but when we were half way there we learned from a skipper on one of the locks that a stretch we needed to go through would be closed until this week Tuesday, so that put an end to our plans for an uplifting experience (sorry).

As a result, and after dealing with my severe wobbly of disappointment, we turned off the Scheldt (Schelde here) onto one of our favourite stretches of water, the Canal de Roubaix and decided to spend a couple of days of relaxation at a mooring we haven't used before in Roubaix itself, a suburb of Lille. 

The canal starts as the Canal de L'Espierres on the Belgian side of the border and this was the first surprise. We have always loved this eight-kilometre stretch up to the French border because of the glorious, towering poplars that line the waterway. Well for the first few kilometres, we were revelling in seeing them again, but then suddenly, at the second lock, the scenery changed dramatically. The friendly (as always) lock keepers warned us we'd be seeing big changes and I can't honestly say this was a totally unexpected as I knew it was happening, but given we were in the same place only last August, it was still astonishing to see. To cut the story short, all the poplars are being felled and replaced by lime trees, and the first phase of the programme has been completed in just six months.

The first stretch of canal looks the same

Then came the surprise

The new look mooring: open and a little empty
but the trees will grow...

How the mooring at Leers looked last year


In fact, they've done an amazing job. The felling, clearing and replanting is complete along a stretch of about two kilometres. The towpaths have been resurfaced and everything is neat and tidy. But it looks open and empty compared with how it used to be. I suppose it didn't help that the weather was also cold, dreary, grey and misty, but we missed our glorious poplars. And did I just say it was cold? 

It will be many years before the lime trees reach a height that provides the lush shade and magnificent tunnel that their predecessors formed. Apparently, it was very necessary as the poplars had reached the end of their lives and were becoming dangerous. I do understand it, but yes, it was sad to see. Next year, another stretch will be done, and the year after, the final reach to the beginning of the canal. I took plenty of photos as I don't know when we will pass this way again.

All the same, it was good to moor up at Leers Nord again and cycle to the familiar village supermarket to fetch a few supplies. It's a wonderfully peaceful mooring and I am sure we will be back again in the future. It has that feeling of having arrived.

The next day (Tuesday), we travelled on under the care of the French canal authorities. The two cheerful novice lock assistants helped us through the system at something of a snail's pace. We couldn't help remarking at how last year, we'd had the A team and this year, we got the B team. That sounds unfair as they were lovely and very helpful and definitely working on their A status, but it seemed to take forever as they were both learning the ropes and spent a lot of time on the phone taking instructions. Unfortunately, as we drifted around waiting for one of the locks, a youth walking along the towpath with his mates decided it would be fun to throw stones at us, something we've never experienced before. I'm just glad they were quite small — the stones, not the boys.



Mooring in Roubaix


Anyway, eventually, we arrived at the moorings in Roubaix. The lock assistants helped us connect up to the electricity and then left us to it, promising to be back on Thursday when we wanted to make the return journey. Then the charming PR lady, Camille, from the canal administration dropped by to give us yet another folder of information about the canal (we already have two from the previous two years). She was accompanied by one of last year's A Team so we have to assume he's been promoted. It was great to find that he remembered us, another welcome we shall treasure.

After lots of laughter and convivial chat (well, more Koos than me as my French is limited to occasional interjections and an attempt to look comprehending and agréable, as one does), they departed, but with a warning not to leave anything outside that could be stolen. Roubaix is part of the greater Lille urban area and, like Rotterdam, carries the attendant problems (which we are used to) of petty crime – as we were soon to discover.

However, what we also discovered is that today's millenial petty thief has lost his edge and become what we quickly termed a Vulnerable Vandal....but perhaps I'll keep that story for next time. Suffice to say, it was très amusant.

Watch this space allemaal! To make up for a late post this week, I'll do two instead...or maybe even three!

8 comments:

  1. Isn’t it wonderful how a plan B can sometimes work out to be simply the best!

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    1. It was certainly a lovely alternative, Jo!

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  2. It seems you had a nice little adventure, just not the one you expected! I would be sad to see the poplars coming down too, and it does look rather bare. Not knowing lime trees, I can't imagine how it will look in the future, but hopefully it will look attractive. Now I am wondering if we will see locks on our river cruise on the Elbe - that would be a first for us :)

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    1. I’ll bet you’re looking forward to that, Patricia! I think the lime trees will still be lovely, but they do take longer to grow.

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  3. Hi Val - sorry to read about the poplars ... though so good to read they'd sorted everything out for the coming season. At least you had a reasonable time ... stone throwing perhaps not so ... and that vandal ... well I await to read more ... take care - and glad you some time out and about - cheers Hilary

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    1. It was a lovely week, Hilary, and the stone throwers and the vandal, well they didn't do us any harm and we are used to life in a big city anyway, so it didn't spoil it for us!

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