Yesterday was Friday, June 30th. I know that because it was Koos' birthday, but I honestly woudn't have known otherwise. Time seems to have stood still since we left over a week ago, so I need 'hold fast' dates like this to even know what month it is, let alone what day. We are moored at an halte nautique at La Bassée in a sort of triangular arm parallel to the Canal d'Aire, which eventually leads to Calais.
We've wanted to come here for years, so after leaving Deinze on Monday, we decided to make this place our first goal. The first kilometres between Deinze and Kortrijk were all known to me from last year. We had to wait at Sint Baaf's lock to be able go through with a commercial. Even on the Leie, they are being very careful with water. But when we arrived at Harelbeke, the next lock, the commercial had already turned off to go to Roeselare, so we had to simply wait until another commercial was coming through. In the end, we waited two hours in very hot sunshine. Koos climbed off for a walk around, and here he is on the bridge.
The lock we went through is new, but totally unfriendly to pleasure craft. The mooring bollards in the wall are so far apart we can only use one for both forward and stern mooring. It surprises me as there is a lot of cruiser traffic on this waterway in the summer. Most of the cruisers tie up to the ladders, which is very not done, but they get away with it much of the time.
|Looking back to Kortrijk|
We continued on through Kortrijk to Menen, where we moored up in another old side arm which was free for 48 hours. It's a great spot, but we had to put extra ropes on to compensate for the movement caused by the commercial traffic going past. I really enjoyed being at Menen. It's a border town and connects with Comines on the Wallonian side although France is not much further on. Originally it was a moated town with star-shaped fortifications, but when the Leie was canalised, it was also straightened, so the new canal cut through it. I don't know when this happened yet, but I'll find out when I have better access to the Internet.
|Delightful water bird paradise at Menen|
We spent a lovely evening there. I'd managed to get some piping hot water in my douchesak, so a hair wash in the sunshine was just what the doctor ordered. To add to my pleasure, there was a lively community of waterfowl: ducks with their tiny babies, geese, a black swan and several coots milled around as I threw bread crumbs for them. An old lady was sitting on a seat at the top of the bank when we arrived. She represented the dual community perfectly, speaking to us in a curious mixture of Flemish and French, although she said she was mainly French speaking. She was taking her dog for a walk in a pushchair. Yes. I know.
Further on from our mooring, there were a few liveaboards. One of them was amazing. It had a veritable conservatory on its roof with marvellous exotic plants and art work. We couldn't help wondering what the owner did when his barge needed a hull inspection, though. There is no way that barge would get through any bridges anywhere in the region.
|Guard dogs on the exotic barge|
The next morning, we left at about 11:00. At the first lock, the keeper told us we'd have to wait with another cruiser until a commercial came through. They'd been waiting for more than an hour. Eventually, though, the lockie took pity on us and let us through together. We continued on to the Comines lock, which is in Wallonia, so different rules apply. Our Flemish vignette was no longer valid and we had to give our special Wallonian number we'd been given last year. The cruiser we were travelling with got severely ticked off for tying up to the railings and ladder, so Koos and I felt a bit smug that we hadn't. It just goes to show that keeping to the rules is safer in the long run. A little further and we pulled in to Warneton, or I should say we did a U-turn to go back there. Initially we skipped the turning as it was obvious other boats were getting stuck in shallow water, but Koos, ever one for adventure, wanted to try anyway. As it happened it was a serendipitous decision as we met Fred, a charming Walloon, who lives there on his Groningen Snik. After realising we wouldn't reach the mooring pontoon available due to lack of water, Fred invited us to tie up next to him, and so began a great chat. What a lovely, lively man! He was so helpful and generous, and we were all so excited to discover we both had Sniks. Had he not told us that we needed to get through Douai before 1 July to avoid a month's closure, we'd probably have stayed. As it happened, the lock keeper at Quesnoy, the first lock in France and the first on the Deûle (which we joined shortly after leaving Warneton), explained that beyond Douai was already closed but would be opened on July 11th, so once through we motored on to moor up at Wambrechies for the night. No further rush needed.
The last time we were in Wambrechies was 2001 when Koos terrified me by steering his 22 metre Luxor through throngs of tightly packed and expensive cruisers. This time we were greeted by a lovely American, Don, who with his wife, Cathy, spend their summers cruising in Europe on their old Dutch barge. He watched us come in and told me kindly that it didn't matter if we nudged (for that, read bashed) their boat. "It's only paint," he said. "And she's old and strong!" We spent a very pleasant hour or two with them in their marvellous wheelhouse, chatting and filling each other in on what we knew.
In the morning, which was Wednesday, we took a long walk in overcast weather to find a hardware shop that turned out to be closed for lunch (we are in France, after all) before returning to the Hennie Ha via the supermarket. All in all, this took so long, we only left at 2:30. But then the weather cleared and the afternoon and early evening sun were beautiful. We eventually reached the second of our locks of the day at Don, so decided to go through and moor up behind an island we stopped briefly at last year. The lock was a bit nerve-wracking as there are no bollards in the walls at all and I had to do the slippery, slimy ladder routine to put a rope on the bollards at the top. My challenge was increased by the building activities they are busy with there, meaning I had to climb through scaffolding to reach the land too. I was very relieved I didn't have to climb down again and just waited till Koos and the Hennie Ha rose up to join me.
|Heavenly mooring behind the island on the Deûle|
The evening was bliss. We were the only ones using the gorgeous mooring facility offered by the island in the Deule, and it felt like paradise. We took our time leaving the next day and in fact we only spent an hour or so faring to reach La Bassée, where we've spent the last two nights. It's lovely here. Busy and lively during the day as we lie between two bridges that form a one way system in the town. At night, however, it is quiet and the canal is incredibly peaceful. After waking to heavy rain in the night when I had to close the roof window (koekoek) to stop the torrent in as well as outside the Hennie Ha, the water is higher this morning - good news for everyone. We shall probably leave again today, and head towards Calais, but we haven't decided completely yet. Watch this space!
|Mooring at La Bassée between two bridges|