It's been a long and rich week since I last blogged saying we'd reached St Qentin. We actually stayed the night there giving us the opportunity to walk through the city on Sunday morning. It was much more impressive than I imagined it would be with its steep hill leading up to the huge church at the top. Again, I don't know much about what happened there, so I'll be doing some more digging later, but given that this whole area bears constant reminders of both wars, I'm guessing the church was partially destroyed at its west end and that it was rebuilt later in a style that is different, but somehow in keeping. When we returned to the Hennie Ha, our departure was delayed a flat battery, which gave us a moment of panic, but thankfully our small generator came to the rescue and in an hour, we could set off - just as well as we'd been politely informed that the World Fishing Championships were due to begin the next day and we were moored right on the stretch they would be occupying!
The Canal de St Quentin continues to Chauny, but we didn't actually go very far on Sunday because we found a wonderful halte nautique in a side arm at Séreaucourt le Grand. It was positively idyllic, so we settled down to enjoy the delights of this green, peaceful mooring. It happened to be right next to the Somme river too, which has its source a little to the north east of St Quentin. In fact in its northern, rising reaches, the Canal de St Quentin is fed by the Scheldt/Schelde/Escaut (pick whichever name you prefer) and in its southern, descending sections, it is fed by the Somme. I liked the village of Séreaucourt le Grand very much. It has a fine church, mairie and war memorial, all of which are surrounded by attractive houses. It even had a small supermarket that was open late on Sunday afternoon, the proprietor of which was a very friendly, apple-cheeked lady who made us feel very welcome. I should also mention I would have been smiling too at the amount I was making from the goods on sale if I'd been her! They were steep to say the least, but that's convenience shopping for you.
The following day we set off again in grey skies. There were occasional bursts of sunshine and frequent showers of rain, but the Canal de St Quentin continued to delight us. At St Simon, we turned into the entrance of the formerly navigable Canal de la Somme. Sadly, this hasn't been open since 2005, but its lock is still beautifully kept and a woman living in a nearby house with a barge moored in front of it said she's been complaining ever since about its closure. It seems crazy considering it makes an ideal short cut for pleasure craft through to the still navigable reaches of the Somme. And it really is very lovely as our short walk along it confirmed. Anyhow, we carried on down several more locks and moored up on a concrete quay in Chauny for the night, the place that is officially the point at which the St Quentin canal ends and one of Koos' special places from former faring days.
Chauny was a lovely surprise. We went into the town in the evening and decided to go again on Monday morning. Koos hadn't explored it before and we were both charmed. It is lively, vibrant and colourful with some very interesting architectural features. I was very taken with it and enjoyed sitting watching the locals chatting, shopping, drinking coffee, queuing for their bread and generally causing traffic mayhem.
We then left Chauny after lunch and carried on the same canal although from there to Pont l'Evêque, it is known as the Canal Latéral à l'Oise. Some way along, we came to the turning leading to the Canal de l'Oise á la Sambre. We stopped here briefly as at the top of the very first lock, there is an aqueduct over the Oise river that we wanted to see. As luck would have it, there was a full-sized commercial péniche approaching, so we were able to watch it cross the aqueduct, enter the lock and go down to the canal we ourselves were on. I love watching commercials manoeuvring so it absorbed us both for a good half hour.
The last section of the canal to Pont l'Evêque went quite quickly as it is wide and rather stately, lined as it is with majestic, towering poplars. The two sets of double locks are in use and manned, so we had to give back our télécommande, which felt like a loss. We'd had one since entering the St Quentin canal system at Iwuy before Cambrai, and we'd got used to travelling at our own speed with it. Nevertheless, on Tuesday evening, we arrived at Pont l'Evêque where we spent the next two nights. Another small town at the confluence of the Canal du Nord and the Canal Latéral à l'Oise, Pont l'Evêque charmed us more as there was a working ship yard at the end of the harbour where we moored up. We had great fun watching the activities there, especially their 'shunting' session which involved moving a large section of a barge hull between the moored cruisers (including the Hennie Ha) to another part of the canal using a rowing boat and outboard motor as the tow boat. There were a few near misses, but it all went pretty smoothly and the yard workers were very cool. They used extra long boat hooks to ensure there were no real collisions and looked for all the world like medieval jousters. The quayside houses at Pont l'Evêque are gorgeous, although many are in great need of repair. However, one of the quirks about travelling in France is the frequency with which all types of establishments are closed. We would have loved to eat in a restaurant there, but the only one we could find was shut for two weeks, proclaiming proudly that it would be open in August, and a quayside brasserie was only open during office hours, and woe betide the visitor who wanted a drink while they were serving lunch as that wasn't possible either.
We headed up the pleasant Canal du Nord on Thursday in company with a British cruiser, whose owners, Jane and Andy were having great fun in the locks with their visitor friends. They made us seem rather serious with their constant laughter. On the whole, Koos and I communicate with hand signals in the locks and just get on with it , so all the hilarity behind us was fun to watch. We all spent the night at Péronne where the Canal de la Somme meets the Canal du Nord again and enjoyed meeting each other properly over a glass or two of vino collapso (so-named for what it does to me!). Péronne has a major WWI exhibition to mark the centenary of the war in its much restored castle and most of the tourist office is given over to WWI information. This was such an important town on the Western Front.
Friday found us all casting off at the same time to make our way down the Somme. As soon as we were through the first lock, we appreciated how lovely this 120 kilometre stretch of the canalised river promised to be. Richly varied with densely wooded banks, steep sides, huge side ponds, pretty well-kept locks and gorgeous wild flowers, we were very impressed as we moved through for our first night's mooring at Cappy. Yesterday, Koos and I branched off to Bray sur Somme leaving the others to go on ahead. Our diversion led us via a channel through several natural lakes, all well-frequented by fishermen. It was stunning and we enjoyed our evening at the halte nautique at the end of the oxbow arm next to a campsite. Many of the French visitors were amazed to see us there, so we can only assume boaters are rare on that part of the river, but Bray is a nice town with an interesting war museum that includes the entrance to an underground tunnel - apparently one of many that run under and between the town's houses and all of which are said to lead to the church. Like many others in the area, the church is pock-marked with bullet holes, but it is a fine edifice and a powerful reminder of what the area has suffered. There is also a German war cemetery and the museum had mock-ups of the Red Baron's airfield and planes that were based at Cappy.
Tonight, we have also arrived at Corbie, where it seems all boats must stop and stay before going on to Amiens. There are a lot of them here! However, tomorrow, we will probably turn round and go back. We have been wowed by the rural beauty of this river, but for us, it has been enough now and we miss the commercial traffic, the variety and informality of the less holiday-focused areas. The Somme is lovely and I can recommend it highly, especially to nature lovers, but I'm looking forward to the coming week when we'll be heading north and east again on our slow way back to the Netherlands. We're not sure which way we'll go yet, but it will probably be via Valenciennes and maybe the Dender/Dendre.
Okay, a few photos added now. See below. I still don't have much internet access, so these have been hurriedly plonked on :)
|The shipyard at Pont l'Eveque|
|Beautiful canal side scenery|
|A village on the Somme|
|The gorgeous white cattle so common in France|
|Entrance to our mooring at Séreaucourt le Grand|
|The scenery round Séreaucourt le Grand|
|The closed section of the Canal de la Somme|
|Mooring at Chauny|
|The mairie at Chauny|
|The pock-marked church at Bray sur Somme|