Tuesday, August 02, 2016

From Tournai to Wachtebeke

I promised I'd write a last post about our travels...well, I promised myself I would, although I have already started writing what will be an e-book based on my daily diary about the whole trip. This blog post, though, is about the last leg of our journey through Flanders.

We left Antoing on a day of scudding clouds that successfully obscured the sun for much of the time, so there was little need for the sunbrella and on occasions, we could have done with heavy duty umbrellas.

Within half an hour or so, we were on the outskirts of Tournai (known as Doornik in Flanders), following a huge commercial. Koos wanted to keep up with it so we could follow it through the any bridges that needed to be lifted through the city. For the large barges, they are done in sequence so it was worth going with its flow so to speak.

Approaching Tournai

Tournai Church from the water

Pont des Trous, Tournai

Tournai is impressive from the water and the magnificent Pont des Trous, which dates from the 13th century, remains as a testament to the city's historic importance. It is still more impressive to see modern barges inching their way through its central arch (heightened during reconstruction after WWII). I watched with baited breath as the barge we were tailing manoeuvred its way through with great care and skill. But I then realised the skippers who ply this route probably go through the bridge at least once a week if not more.

When we were out of the city, the tree-lined, Wallonian section of the Schelde continued. We shared the first lock out of Tournai with the same barge we'd been through the city with. The locks on this river are not as big as they might be and there was only room for one large commercial, so we snuk in behind it. Despite our mere fifteen-metre length, I have to say that even this felt too close for comfort.

Over the next few kilometres, we were both drenched and sunburnt by turns as those scudding clouds I mentioned earlier hid some pretty heavy showers. The river was lovely, though, and I enjoyed this stretch of Wallonian scenery very much. As we passed the entrance to the Canal de L'Espierres where we'd been just three weeks before, I almost shouted to Koos to turn left. How I would have loved to start over again.

Wallonia stretch of the Schelde/Scheldt/Escaut

At the next lock, we pulled up to wait our turn, and as we tied up, a smart white van sped along the towpath and stopped next to us. On the sides, I read 'Police de la Navigation'. Here we go, I thought. We'd managed to do the whole trip so far without being inspected, but it seemed our luck was about to run dry even if the weather hadn't (sorry). But, I reasoned, this was the last lock in Wallonia, so it was as likely to happen here as anywhere.

Out of the van stepped two smartly dressed officials.
"Have you been inspected yet?" they asked us.
"No," said Koos.
"Well," they said. "We may as well take advantage of your waiting here to do it."
My wicked side wondered  what they would have said if Koos had answered 'Yes', but it seemed that they would have had the details on the computer in any event, so I suppose the question was just a courtesy.

As it turned out, it was just a courtesy inspection too as all they wanted was our paperwork details and off they went with a smile and a cheerful wave. After all the stories I'd heard about Belgian inspections taking an hour or more, this was a relief.

We were now back on the stretch of the Schelde we'd started on, but instead of continuing to Oudenaarde after the Ecluse d'Hérinnes, we turned left onto the Bossuit to Kortrijk canal. Waiting before the massive door of the lock, I realised it must be a big one, but nothing quite prepared me for the surprise of seeing its cavernous size.

Commercial lock on Bossuit/Kortrijk Canal. Ten metres deep

It was (is) massive, as in very deep and is one of three that replaced eight smaller ones so as to service the industry on the canal. However,  there is little of that left, so pleasure boats are often alone and moorings are few. We went on, hoping to find somewhere to stop for the night, but the environs became busier and ever noisier with highway road bridges creating a roaring sound and wind that was actively unpleasant. Eventually, we came to the first of the last three locks: all small, all hand operated and all subject to prior arrangement. It was time to stop. Koos pushed the Hennie H's nose into the lillies in front of the lock. I climbed off onto the bank and found an old bollard to tie up to. And there in the sunshine, we spent the evening on the outskirts of Kortrijk.

Bossuit/Kortrijk Canal


Where we stopped...
The following day, we were helped through the locks in pouring rain by a friendly Flem. I could and should have enjoyed it much more as it was a very leisurely process and made me think this was what it must be like in the UK as Koos and the lockie both worked the paddles. We even did our bit by sawing off a tree branch that was lying across the canal after the first lock, and it was all good fun - just a bit too wet. And sadly, I have no photos as a result.

Once out of the Bossuit canal, we made a left and then another one and moored up in a side branch of the Leie running through the town of Kortrijk itself where we spent the night alongside another Dutch barge and were treated to electricity and water for a modest fee.

Mooring in Kortrijk

Our next leg of the journey was downstream on the Leie, a busy commercial river, fully canalised with very large locks, but there were only two of these before we turned off onto the old section of the Leie, which wiggles its way through pretty country with very rich riverside homes all the way to Ghent. We spent one night at Astene, the place where fifteen years ago we'd stopped on the way to Lille and learned about the 9/11 WTC attacks. Tragically, this time we heard about the Nice catastrophe while we were there. But it was as beautiful as I remembered; just busier. In fact the whole of the Leie was busier and more populated than I recall. Memory can be deceptive, can't it?

Deinze on the old Leie

Astene on the Leie
Unofficial mooring at Drongen
After a further night at a wonderfully unofficial mooring in Drongen, a suburb of Ghent, we arrived in the city on Saturday morning and enjoyed a sunny meander through its urban waterways. I had a heart-stopping moment when Koos decided he wanted to try and go under an extremely low bridge into the old city and was hugely relieved when he realised it wasn't to be. It was the start of the Gent Festival too, so as we headed out towards the big canal to Terneuzen, we saw friends from our own harbour who'd come for the fun and were visibly delighted to see and hear we'd been so far with the Hennie H.


Ghent - so beautiful from the water
(and land)
That there low bridge? Koos wanted to go under it.
Thankfully, he decided against it.

Not wanting to get back to our own harbour until really necessary, we made a last detour off the grand highway home (the Ghent-Terneuzen canal) by taking the Moervaart, a beautiful meandering twenty seven kilometre waterway that leads to Lokeren. Just seven kilometres along it, we were able to moor up for our last night at Wachtebeke, where the marina's harbour master made us very welcome. It was good to stop as it was very hot; it was also a fitting and lovely close to our fabulous four week adventure.


A perfect last night's mooring at Wachtebeke on
the Moervaart

The Moervaart: the big waterway on the left is
the Ghent to Terneuzen Canal

25 comments:

  1. Fabulous writing Vally. It feels as if I was there (I was, hehe).

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    1. I'm glad it still feels like it... :-D

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  2. Wow! The photos and text are great as always. Only one problem...a bit of jealously, perhaps! But that would be my problem, not yours. Just thankful y'all had such a great trip and can write your adventures with clarity and humor...even after the less than clear weather and all the times of getting drenched. Great blog!

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    1. Ah, Steph, I am guilty of a bit of jealousy when I see others who are still cruising, so I know how that feels. And yes, oh my, yes! It was really great xx

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  3. Yes, a bit of jealousy here too!. Yaha low bridges! A lovely blog post Val. Looking forward to the ebook

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    1. Thank you, Caryl! That low bridge...I'm telling you that was the worst one ever. I felt quite sick at the thought, and normally I'm quite willing to give it a go. I was soooo glad he decided against it :)

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  4. These posts have been lovely, your writing and descriptions make us all feel we have been along with you. We were boarded in Ostende. Our friends on another boat had popped in to town, however we knew that they had forgotten their passports, so we sent the kids off to warn them about the customs officers. When they got back they showed their boat papers and then proceeded to have a big (fake) row about who should have picked the passports up. The customs officers decided not to get involved in a domestic and told them that they should remember them next time, phew got away with that one!!! Xxx

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    1. Great story, Fran! How clever of them! I'm so glad you have enjoyed our journey. Thank you for reading them all xxxx

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  5. What a wonderful time you've had. And now the joy of reliving it as you write an ebook!

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    1. Ah yes, Jo. That way I won't have to 'come home' for ages!

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  6. That all looks and sounds amazing, Val. Thank you for sharing it. How would a 59 foot narrowboat fare on these canals?

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    1. Fine, Roger! We don't see many, but there are a few and one of my very good friends has written a book about narrowboating in Belgium. It's called A Cigar in Belgium (by Anne Husar). You would enjoy it, I'm sure.

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  7. I can imagine that after having spent a month touring the canals, that it would be very hard to return to the home port and I for one would want to keep going ?

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    1. Oh yes, Mel, I would happily have kept on travelling. Maybe one day we can just do thatM

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  8. It does sound blissful, Val, floating along and stopping for the night at picturesque places. The Pont des Trous is gorgeous: what a stunning set of Gothic arches. Ghent looks lovely too. Your adventure sounds like the watery equivalent of the Australian habit of driving a camper van right around the country, stopping as the whim takes. These expeditions are undertaken by 'grey nomads', or retirees. And no, we have no intention of doing it; this country is too big for all that driving :)

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    1. Haha, but you do have some good rivers, I know, Patricia, so maybe a boating adventure in your future too?

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  9. Have just booked our 2017 excursion on the strength of this - see what you're responsible for? The UK canals do have the huge enjoyment of 'doing' the locks yourself. I'm smiling at the memory of my husband's insistence of doing a lock entirely on his own, to see how much longer it would take solo. There are plenty of people who do go it alone and they certainly welcome assistance when it's offered! Lovely final stage, Valerie - full of interest for you and your readers!

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    1. Now i know you love boating too, Christina, so I think I can guess what you'll be doing next year :) I've been reading Roger Distill's blog about the Leeds and Liverpool Canal where they finish up at (and in) Liverpool Docks. It sounds wonderful and is now high on my wishlist!

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    2. Nearly right! It's the Cheshire Ring, which takes in Manchester. We prefer a circuit, but the Leeds-Liverpool is just so varied and fascinating, we may do it one day! Need a fortnight at least!

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    3. The Cheshire ring sounds wonderful too. Manchester by canal must be lovely. I remember walking along the canals there! It was great to see what they had done.

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  10. Beautiful surroundings Val. Is Ghent the place that's like a mini Venice?

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    1. Yes, Anne! That's Ghent! I just love it...so beautiful!

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  11. Oh, what a lovely post. I felt like I was right there with you. Cannot wait to catch up with the two of you in less than two weeks. xx

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