The faring has begun and today we’ve arrived in Geraardsbergen on the Dender river in Belgium. It’s the last town in Flanders and tomorrow we will be in Wallonia, the French speaking area of Belgium so I will be able to stop struggling with the Flemish accent and switch to struggling with French...haha. It’s been a lovely trip so far. We had a bit of excitement when we left Gent. We’d noticed the cooling system on the Hennie Ha had been acting up, so when we were in the first lock taking us onto the tidal Schelde river on Friday morning, Koos decided to investigate the water pump impeller, a part with a known limited life. Luckily we had a spare, because it transpired the old one was in a bad way, a VERY bad way. Still replacing it in the lock was a bit nerve wracking and he didn’t finish in time, so we had to pull ourselves out of the lock and tie up to the wall until The job was done. That also meant we missed much of our advantage on the ebb tide. We’d wanted to leave at 7:30, but the lock in Gent didn’t open until 8:30 (owing to the Gent festival) and then we had to sit in the big lock onto the river until 10:30 while a huge passenger boat filled with water; hence Koos’ decision to change the impeller. High tide was at 8:30 and we only got going at 11:00. Luckily, the current helped us do the 33kms to Dendermonde in 2,5 hours (normally, it would take us about 4hours to do that on a canal) and we arrived at the lowest of low water). I was fascinated to see the mud flats and banks. They looked as if they’s been sculpted into shape by a huge pallet knife. It was also interesting to see there were no ducks or coots on this tidal section; only seagulls. How do they know? I shall have to look this up!
Geraardsbergen Square, where I’m drinking coffee as I post this blog
The first lock on the Dender is massive. It’s 168m long and very wide. We were the only ones going through. I expected to see huge 2000 tonne barges on the other side, but there was nothing — not a thing anywhere. It was also interesting to see the different water lines on the lock wall. If the tide is very high, the farer will go down to the Dender on the other side; there is a distinct high water mark on the lock wall, but it was quite dry. Normal tide is visibly at the normal level of the river and then there is the low tide mark. Because of the dry weather, we did not rise very high even though we were there at low water, but at high tide on the Schelde, we would probably have gone down to the Dender a bit, even though we were heading upstream. We spent our first night at Aalst at a gorgeous free mooring that announced ‘For a chat and a smile, you can stay for a while’. It was lovely and very peaceful. The river is too beautiful, and is picturesque in a typically Flemish pastoral way. There are reeds, bushes, wild flowers and trees along the banks, and the coots and ducks were back. The baby coots were just adorable scooting along after their mums. They haven’t yet got the hang of walking on water, so seeing them hurry after their mothers was both funny and sweet. The next day, we headed further upstream through Aalst to Ninove. We did all the locks and several low bridges with an English couple and a German couple on their cruisers. It wasn’t very comfortable in the locks as it was a tight fit for the three of us. The German man was a really boys’ own type and while he was cheerfully yelling commands to his long suffering wife, Koos was yelling at me too. What with the noise from the lock gates, the pouring water and the general cacophony, neither of us could really hear what our respective skippers were saying, so we just turned to each other and shrugged. A nice bit of cross cultural connection.
At Ninove, there was nowhere for Koos and I to moor up, so we had to find a shady bank with some trees to fasten our lines to. There really was nothing else to be done. Sadly this also meant there was nowhere to go. Ninove is not the most appealing place in Belgium, so we stayed on board. I read while Koos played his guitar with his brand new birthday amp. On reflection, it was probably as well that we weren’t at a real mooring. This morning, we started late. The cooling still leaks and there are another few leaks that are niggling, but even after trying to fix those, we still left before anyone else. We suspected they might have been nursing hangovers celebrating or commiserating over the football. I’m sad England lost the game, but happy for Belgium that they won.
The river to Geraardsbergen is, if anything, even more beautiful. It winds its way theough stunning scenery and we saw real hills for the first time too. What a gorgeous stretch of country this is. We’ve done three locks and a bridge with delightful lockkeepers to help us and are now moored up at an informal spot...once again, no room for us at the inn. Still we are in the shade of some trees; there is a path nearby; we are comfortable and at rest. Have a great week, allemaal!
Our informal mooring today in Geraardsbergen