Sunday dawned bright and sunny. It was a lovely morning, so we decided to make a bit of a day of it and took the Hennie H back the way we'd come to the first (or last) bridge at Grimonpont. We'd noticed some good moorings there when we were on the way to Leers and we thought it would be fun to go and spend a few hours there. It was only about twenty minutes faring, but we enjoyed the move to this lovely spot.
|Mooring at Grimonpoint|
|Looking towards the bridge at Grimonpoint|
|I loved these colours!|
|Symmetry and classicism - seriously|
We then cycled into Wattrelos, which had some nice architectural features. I quite liked the town altogether even though it wasn't very coherent.
|I loved the upper windows on this house|
and the pretty balcony
|Looking down a side street in Wattrelos|
|The Wattrelos town hall complete with palm trees |
and decorative paving
|Wet paving always looks lustrous. This|
was just after a shower
When we got back to the Hennie H, we called the Wallonia waterways service to ask if it would be possible to go through the locks beyond Leers. Being Sunday, we weren't sure if they would do it and it was already nearly 4pm. At first, they asked if we could wait till the next morning, but shortly afterwards, they called us back to say we could do it as there were some other boats coming through.
We cast off and headed back to Leers where a crowd was at the lock to watch the action. This is always fun as we know how fascinating it is to watch boats locking through - we do it ourselves all the time.
The Walloon lock keeper was every bit as nice and friendly as our French crew and he took us through the three bridges and two locks with great good humour and friendly banter. In truth, he was too good as we were tempted to stop on the way, but he was ready for us in advance every time so we didn't have the heart to say we didn't want to go further. This eight-kilometre stretch of the system is called the Canal de l'Espierres (the 's' seems to be optional depending on what you're reading) and it is absolutely beautiful as you can see below:
|Tree-lined canals like this are just so Belgian. I love them|
|A lovely sight. This girl stopped her horse to watch us pass|
|One of the classic lifting bridges on the Canal de l'Espierres|
|Our delightful lock assistant. What a nice man he was/is|
|Magnificent barns around a village church|
As we left the last lock and waved our friendly Walloon goodbye, I felt a great sense of loss. This was it now. The holiday was over and our return through Oudenaarde and Gent would be all too familiar. After all, we'd done it all last year on the way south. But I hadn't taken into account that everything looks different when going the other way. Added to that, this time the weather was beautiful (it poured with rain last year) so in fact I enjoyed it to the full all over again. The Schelde/Scheldt is a lovely river. It has a sort of majesty in its remote beauty as it winds its way north and down to the huge estuary the other side of Antwerp. It also has some of the industry we enjoy seeing so much, as well as being very busy with commercial barges. Here are a few images.
|Waiting at a lock on the Schelde for a big one. The barge|
that came out was 110 metres long!
|The kind of industry I like seeing|
|Industrial art in heaps|
We spent the night in Oudenaarde, a classical Flemish town on the edge of the Vlaamse Ardennes, so called because it is an area of outstanding beauty with some unusually high hills for this rather flat region. I like Oudenaarde, but for me it's a real sign of being close to home. Everything is familiar and normal, unlike France, which still feels exotic in its different customs and culture. Shops in Belgium open all day, as do restaurants - just like the Netherlands, so in many ways it is more comfortable; I love being in France almost because of its differences. All the same, it was good to be there and the morning light at our mooring was breathtaking.
On Tuesday we made the final push for home. Once again, it was lovely weather - in fact even lovelier than the day before. I had such mixed feelings heading north. The river was magical, the skies were clear with picture book clouds and the scenery was a perfect mix of rural splendour and industrial loading quays heaped with a variety of sand, coal and cement. There were commercial barges aplenty whose skippers waved cheerfully to us.
|Huge commercial barges waiting to go through the lock|
|Rich reeds and greenery|
|A lunchtime stop at Gavere|
|Industrial buildings on the Schelde|
In other words, it was a perfect day, but all too soon, we were crossing the Ringvaart round Ghent and winding our way through my favourite of all cities. Again the mixed feelings fought each other: the sorrow of a journey reaching its end, but the joy of being on some of my favourite stretches of water. The lock-keeper at Brusselsepoort lock in Ghent was another lovely chap who cheerfully operated the lock manually (which takes time) and seeing we had trouble getting our umbrella down, he sped off on his bicycle to open a low bridge for us (Yes...his bicycle! All the other lock assistants we've had have driven vans - even to go a couple of hundred metres. I was very impressed with this one :)).
|The lock assistant in Ghent|
|Approaching the lifting bridge|
|There's much love for the Hennie H|
|Our passage here is the middle of a roundabout|
|And back out on the Ghent to Terneuzen Canal|
We finally arrived in Sas van Gent at about 6:30pm. It had been a glorious day, both uplifting and poignant, but now we've brought the Hennie H to rest after two months of fantastic faring. What a great little barge our Hennie is! We can really give thanks that she never once let us down. We had a few battery issues but that wasn't her fault and she brought us safely and happily through 930 kilometres of glorious waterways. A big 'hats off' to our Shoe for her faithful service.
So that's it, allemaal. I hope you all have a wonderful week. I will have some other news next week, but for now, our journeys on the Shoe are over for this summer. Many, many thanks to all of you who have been kind enough to read these blog posts. I am so grateful for your kind comments. I've loved writing them for you and it's been a great way of cementing my impressions. Bless you all!