Friday, July 14, 2017

Faring at a snail's pace: From La Bassée to Douai

We haven't travelled very far this week at all. Talk about pottering, we are taking the idea of snail's pace to new dimensions. The thing is, and it seems crazy to say so when you're on holiday, we needed a rest, so after another night on our island just beyond the junction of the Canal d'Aire with the Canal de la Deûle, we wended our way the short distance to the Canal de Lens, a stop I'd been looking forward to having loved it last year. Well, this time it was sadly disappointing.

You know when you think you've found your dream spot? That was how I'd thought of our mooring at Harnes last year. I even had visions of going there and spending some time writing. I don't know what has happened since then, but as soon as we entered the canal, the smell hit us. The scenery was still just as beautiful, but the water was horrible. Without going into detail, it was like an open sewer, black, stinky and with the obvious remains of things that are normally only found in toilets. Trying not to be daunted, we travelled the canal until the literal fizzing of the water told us we were stirring up unmentionable stuff from the bottom, so we turned round and went back. We spent one night on our last year's mooring (having intended to spend at least two). The upside was that at least we went for some lovely walks through the parkland that borders the canal. We also went into Harnes and had a drink at a café/bar, where I was charmed to find that every new customer that came in shook hands with every other patron of this small, friendly establishment. What a lovely custom, even though I was acutely conscious of being the only woman there!

The next day we moved on to the first of the moorings along the canal at Courrières. We didn't stop there last year, and after walking through what must be a prize-winner of bland and dull towns. That said, it had a central place that was attractive for its new cleanliness and pretty layout. We decided not to stay at this mooring, however. The water was still too smelly. It was such a shame as the locals were very pleased to see us and gave us some many thumbs-ups and warm smiles as we fared slowly past. I can't imagine too many boats will choose to pass along there this year, though.

After a further bit of faring and a brief stop in a side harbour we'd investigated last year, we found the old port de plaisance  at Courcelles. We turned in under the bridge and through a short stretch of canal, then it opened out into a large basin, only part of which has pontoons for boats. Wondering if we could stop there and find a place, we hovered uncertainly until a small lively man on the pontoons called us in, helped us moor and introduced himself as Bob. Everything was free, he said. No one was organising the marina anymore, so we could have electricity and water and stay as long as we liked. There were also showers for 50c a throw. What luxury! In the end, though, my showers cost me a rather precious watch as well. I'd placed it in the pocket of my jacket when I undressed, and it must have dropped out when I was putting the jacket on again. I never noticed until later and by that time it had disappeared, either into the water or into someone else's pocket. It was a leaving gift from the managers of the company I worked for in South Africa, so I will feel its loss for some time, I'm sure – not for the thing itself, although it was pretty and good quality, but for what it meant to me.

We spent three days and four nights at this lovely mooring and sat out some heavy winds and downpours. Koos did some man jobs and I wrote, read and did small chores indoors. We also chatted to the French lovely couple on the Dutch barge moored alongside the pontoon. They were making preparations to move south where they will run an épicerie in the Bourgogne. They even took us to the shops to save us a loaded cycle ride. Finally, on Thursday, we decided we really should make a move. Reluctantly tidying up for the last time, we filled up with water, hoovered inside and set off for Douai. Arriving late morning, we found we had a choice of moorings at the halte nautique right in the town, which was great for us as it filled up with other boats later on. We've met some lovely people here, Karin and Graham on the Tijdrover who have their mooring at Diksmuide and Lisette and Ian McCauley from Australia. Lisette is a member of Women on Barges, the Facebook group I belong to, and recognised my WOB flag, so it was great to see that it works as a signal to members of our roving boating community.

Today is Bastille Day in France, so much is closed or we might not have been on board. So it was luck that they were cycling back to their barge, saw me outside hanging out some washing and called out to me. Two hours and a cup of coffee later, we all realised we should be doing other things, so we waved them goodbye with hopes that we would see each other again.

We'll stay here in Douai one more day to finish filling up with diesel and shopping for supplies and then on Sunday, we'll head for La Scarpe and Arras. More adventures next week everyone. Have a great weekend!

Mooring at Courrières on the Canal de Lens

The oddly attractive place in Courrières

Gentle giant guard at a bar in Courcelle's marina

Duck houses on the marina's basin

Courcelles-les-Lens marina/port de plaisance

The Hennie Ha at the Courcelles mooring

Old barges used as liveaboard boats on the outskirts of Douai

Colour is the name of the game here

Beautiful doors in Douai. I'll be posting more of these later!


  1. What awful bad luck it was to lose your watch Val. We most certainly do make strong attachments to our adornments, I can vouch for that myself when I lost an irreplaceable ring a few years ago and still miss it.
    Nothing worse than foul water of the kind that you travelled through, most unpleasant.
    Good though to meet up with friendly people though. I very much enjoy reading of your travels, so thank you for sharing your faring :-)

    1. Thank you, Mel. Yes, I miss my watch. It had great sentimental value, but the people we are meeting are unfailingly friendly. It's lovely to be in contact with so much welcoming kindness.

  2. Sorry you lost your watch Val. Lovely blog post as always.
    We're missing France now, even though we've only been back a few weeks xx

    1. Thank you, Caryl. My watch was old and only had sentimental value, but I miss it. France is otherwise being its wonderful self! The people we meet are delightful!

  3. I'm just catching up, Val, and enjoying sharing your holiday once more. I was surprised at your response to the foul water. Is that not the normal way to dispose of your waste in the canals? All I've ever read and heard suggests it is, and it's given rise to the joke (by Terry Darlington, I think) "I used to love travelling the canals of Europe, but now I just go through the motions." Enjoy the rest of the trip!

    1. I fear this sewage is not from the boats, Roger. It's from the nearby towns, and no, that isn't normal. At the moment we're on the Uoper Scarpe river just outside Arras. It's canalised, but the water is so clear and clean it's quite magical. I'm glad you're enjoying the ride :)

  4. Hi Val - sorry about your watch ... these things happen - and just irritate for a long time to come. I wonder what the foul water was ... did anyone let you know? Because it's not the thing one expects on a canal trip and must deter visitors and thus trade ...

    Enjoy the next bit of your trip - and great you've met up with old friends and have been making new ones ... cheers Hilary

  5. Hi Val, lovely to read about your week's adventures, and I am sorry to hear about your watch - and the dream mooring that was anything but. However, you found a good spot for a few days, and Yay for the Australians who made themselves known. Aussies everywhere these days. Cute little duck houses, and those blue doors are absolutely gorgeous.

  6. Val,this sounds so exciting. And in France for Bastille Day!Wow! Lynn


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