Sunday, August 21, 2016

Exploring the canal to Eeklo, a Belgian dream world


We've been at it again - faring, that is. The pull of those unexplored watery corners of Belgium was too strong, and anyway, we still had more than a month's worth of Flemish vignette to use (for those who missed my last explanation, this is a cruising permit valid for a specified period of time - in our case, three months). 

Only three weeks after returning from our trip to France, we packed our Hennie H and set off again towards Ghent on the now familiar sea canal, but instead of going into the city as we did before, we took a different route. The Ringvaart, which is the watery version of a by-pass road, is like a huge moat that goes roughly two thirds of the way around Ghent. We turned right onto it from the sea canal and motored slowly between quaysides lined with working barges until we reached Evergem lock, just before the junction with the Ghent to Bruges canal. 

It's a massive lock, incredibly wide at 27 metres. If they use the whole basin, it is 235 metres long, but when we went in, they only used part of it, still an impressive 92 metres. There were two other cruisers with us and we had oodles of room, so much in fact we almost didn't know where to stop. It was a bit like choosing a place in an empty car park. The rise was only a metre or so, but due to its massive capacity, it took a while to fill and then we were off heading towards Bruges. But not for long.

A sideways look at the Ghent to Bruges Canal

About six kilometres from Evergem, we pulled in to a jetty in front of a beautifully restored lock; Schipdonk lock to be precise. It is part of the Afleidingskanaal der Leie, which crosses the main route to Bruges at this point. Heading south it carries all the big commercial traffic going to France, but from this lock north, it is only for pleasure craft heading to Eeklo.

We started our travels on the thick blue canal (denoting a sea canal)
just north of Zelzate. Travelling south, we turned right onto the
yellow Ringvaart, then headed towards Brugge/Bruges.
Then we followed the small, grey line
heading north to Eeklo, When we came back we carried on round the
yellow Ringvaart south of Ghent/Gent


Entrance to the lock at Schipdonk leading to
the canal to Eeklo

Waiting...

Inside the Schipdonk lock - one of the
prettiest I've ever seen
I have to say the restoration work they have done is perfect and it is the most prettily painted lock I've ever seen with its brightly painted red bollards and vivid yellow ladders.

Towering trees, waving reeds - along the canal to Eeklo

Once out of the lock, we entered a kind of dream world; the canal is too beautiful. Tall poplars towered majestically above and reeds bowed and waved gracefully as we passed. After a couple of kilometres, we decided we'd done enough for the day and we found a handy wall to pull into. At first we threw anchors into the bank to secure ourselves, but then I took our boat hook and converted it into a machete (of course) to clear a small path through the brambles. We then pulled a long rope up and wound it round the nearest tree, securing it to the Hennie H at the other end. This felt much more reliable should a speeding cruiser pass - and a few of them did. We kept the anchor at the stern end, though, and we only tied to two trees when we came back to the same spot on the third day.

Our overnight mooring - very informal and improvised

Evening on the bankside
An increasingly rare sight in Europe - cows in fields

The next morning we went walking to the nearby town of Zomergem, had coffee, and then walked back through lovely rural pastures to the Hennie H. Time to move on again...slowly.

A pleasant canal-side property

One of many bridges along the way
We carried on along the canal enjoying the breeze from its magnificent trees and the charm of the pretty countryside until we came to the end of the nagivation at Balgerhoeke. There is a low railway bridge there that used to be lifting but it rises no more, so we knew we would have to turn round and go back. Still, Koos wanted to reach it and it was just as well he did, for no sooner had we got there than we heard a long toot and a museum steam train crossed the bridge. We couldn't believe how lucky we were. What a moment to have arrived!

A steam train crossing the bridge! Yes, it is!

After turning, we headed back along the canal and spent another night in the reeds before taking the branch canal towards Eeklo. The earlier map (see above) shows the side arm that we followed. If you'd like to see more, then here's a link

At Eeklo, there's a factory where they make the unique Dutch/Flemish biscuits and spread called Speculoos. I took this photo for my friend Stuart, who is totally addicted to the stuff. Stu? See what you missed?

A rather special factory where uniquely Flemish/Dutch biscuits
are made in Eeklo

There were lots of boats moored along the canal, many of which were owned by British people, but we didn't see any on board - British people, that is. There were also a few English narrowboats, much to my surprise. Here's one of them:

The Romany Princess: a narrowboat we saw when we were
on our way to France. Sadly, there was no one at home this time

We spent a second night at our glorious informal mooring (see above re the second rope) and then the last night on the canal at a mooring just before the lock. In the morning, we noticed the lock gates were open so we went in. There were workmen doing very dusty stuff on the other side of the wall, so we retreated again to the entrance to avoid the regular clouds filling the air. In the meantime, Koos called the service number and was told the lock keeper would be there in about 30 minutes. 

However, not long after this a couple arrived in a cruiser. The somewhat agitated woman sitting in the bows screamed at us to move forwards. Koos tried to explain we were waiting for the lockie, but didn't want to go further in because of the dust. Well, she was having none of that and threatened to call the police. We were a bit flummoxed by such an extreme reaction, but Koos, being a conciliatory soul, just motioned to me and we pulled the Hennie H forwards into the lock, so they could come in behind.

The next thing we saw was her husband closing the gates with his own windlass. It seems that if you have a mooring at Eeklo, you can operate this lock yourself as a member of the club. If only she'd told us instead of being so antagonistic. Ah well, such is life. She didn't look very happy, though, so maybe that was her normal condition. Or maybe her other half, who was infinitely more amenable, had whispered sweet nothings in her ear...

Back on the Ringvaart, the main watery by-pass round Ghent

Back on the Ringvaart, we headed towards Ghent again. We were going to keep an appointment to meet long time blogging friends, Anne Marie and Austin, but that was the next day, so in the interim, we decided to spend the rest of the day on the lovely Leie south of the city. It was very tempting to turn left at this point and head for France!

On the real Leie river...turn left for France

We spent a glorious afternoon and evening at a favourite spot in Drongen, where we did odd jobs and swam in the river, greatly encouraged by two charming girls who were enjoying the hot weather on the riverside close to us. I think if it hadn't been for them, I would definitely not have risked the cold water, but it was very refreshing. Koos, on the other hand, took several dips. And he doesn't even like swimming, which (I think) says something for the attractiveness of the sirens, but he denies it all. On Thursday morning, we set off into Ghent and Koos dropped me off at a strategic point to walk to the station to meet our friends. It was wonderful to see them and the years since their last visit melted away in seconds. Once we were back on board, we had a marvellous time cruising round the city, then stopping in a side canal for lunch and lots of catching up before setting them back on the road as close to the trains as possible. A peak day!

One of Koos' wide angle 'unreal' photos this, but it gives an idea of the
lovely afternoon we spent in Ghent with our dear friends, Anne Marie & Austin

Back on the Leie for one last night with just the reassuring sound of trains (no sirens in sight), I noticed this pretty boat. I'd love to get my hands on it!


A nice project for someone? Back on the Leie after
our tour through Ghent
 On Friday (I think), we started out for home. We motored back round the Ringvaart, through the huge Evergem lock again and on until we came onto our home stretch on the Ghent to Terneuzen canal.

Heading back to Holland - in one of the Ghent harbours

We spent our last night of the week on the lovely Moervaart and on Saturday morning, our family joined us for the final leg back to Sas van Gent. I don't know what our total distance was this trip, but I'm guessing that it was around 140 kms altogether. Not so much, but at our pace, that's a pretty good week's faring. Life in the slow lane suits us just fine.


Going home, we went back round the yellow Ringvaart, up the
thick blue sea canal a bit and then turned right into the thin grey
one, which is the Moervaart. To reach home base, we have to go
back again to the sea canal and head north of Zelzate.

The family joined us for the last stages of the journey home
My daughter enjoying the sun

The family gathering on the aft deck

A wise canine companion - sleeping on route

It was a lovely way to end yet another magical trip. I am now having to adjust to a static life all over again, but for now, I'll enjoy the peace and tranquillity of working!

12 comments:

  1. Wanderlust is wonderful, eh Val?

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    1. Isn't it just? I know you know how that feels, Jo xx

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  2. Val I think that you are getting in some wonderful excursions this season and the more you experience the greater is the urge to go further for longer or am I ideas into your head :-)

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    1. You are dead right, Mel. You've just read my mind rather than outting the ideas there! It has been hard to beat this summer's excursions. What I have loved especially has been the simplicity of the lifestyle and the wonderful, slow pace!

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  3. Fabulous blog, fabulous photos, fabulous trip! You always hit the top, Val! Thanks for taking us along on your incredible "Watery Ways."

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    1. Thank you, Steph. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I keep changing parts, so one day I'll get it right, but at least it gives you a taste of what we've been up to while I've been absent! Thank you for your sweet concern, dear xxx

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  4. Another beautiful tour, it looks like an enchanting place to sail along.

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  5. I wasn't finished when I pressed publish! I love the little wooden boat, but I won't show Pete because we certainly don't need another project ;). I am rather taken by the spaniel (?) in the last picture xxx

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    1. Isn't the boat sweet? I'd love to have taken it home. The spaniel is my daughter's Charlie. He's the dearest little dog and I just love him. Spaniels are like that, aren't they, Fran? Xxx

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  6. Thank you both for taking the time and effort to meet up with us. We had a magical day with you that was one of the highlights of our trip.

    I loved reading about your journey, and admire your tenacity. ;) I am far too lazy for this kind of life, but there is an idyllic quality to it. xx

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    1. It was a highlight day for us too, Anne Marie. I'm so, so glad we managed to meet. And never say you are too lazy for anything! You?? Goodness, Imsometimes get tired reading about what you've managed to do and accomplish! Xxx

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