We left the Netherlands on 22 June in pouring rain. Within a kilometre we were over the border into Belgium and forty minutes after that, we were approaching Gent in driving rain, fiollowed by an English narrowboat. Both of us with open steering. The following photos will say it all:
Ten hours later, we were in Oudenaarde. In distance, we'd done a mere 55 kilometres, but river time has its own dimension and we thought we'd done very well, especially as the sun came out as we tied up. Oudenaarde in lovely, but just an overnight stop this time.
By the next evening, we'd followed the Scheldt/Schelde river upstream (or south), crossed into Wallonia and turned into the magical Canal de L'Espierres that becomes Roubaix once over the French border and is a sort of back door into France.
We spent a total of 6 days and nights on this dreamlike canal and met some lovely people (the two Terries on their Widebeam narrowboat) at Leers Nord where we spent 3 of them, so when we left the day before yesterday, I felt quite down. The canal staff and lock assistants were wonderful on both sides of the border, and the whole week was made even more special by meeting up with Koos' son and daughter-in-law, as well as our lovely friends, Jackie and Noel Parry, but once we were on the move again, things seemed better.
The next night, Tuesday, we spent in Lille, revisiting the Bois Blancs where Koos took me the first year we were together. Much has changed and been redeveloped since those days, but the fun of faring through low bridges in the city that many others can't navigate is unmatchable. We almost didn't manage one and lost our flagpole when it was knocked out of its hold by the rungs of one particularly low bridge. Some rapid reversing and flailing with a boat hook and we succeeded in retrieving it.
After heading into the city (always worth a visit as Lille is lovely), we found the VNF offices (the waterways auhorities) and bought our permit from very charming woman, Francoise and were then warmly received by her manager who directed us to another kind woman who heaped us with maps and goodies to help us on our way.
Wednesday night found us in the quiet village of Don after two hours faring from Lille, and then yesterday, we had a longish day and eventually moored up in heaven, otherwise known as the Canal de la Souchez near Lens. I cannot imagine any place that fits my dream of cruising the French canals more than this one, but time is becoming limited and we had to move on this morning.
Tonight we will be in Douai and tomorrow, our goal, Cambrai. I cannot write more now, but will catch up again as soon as possible. As you can imagine, I am loving every minute of this trip. This is what I have dreamt of for years now and it's worth every treasured moment...rain and all!