To follow on from my last post, we spent two very pleasant nights in the Thieu Port de Plaisance, a relaxing stay that was much needed on my part. Unlike many boaters who like to pile on the kilometres, I find it quite tiring and love spending a few days in one place. That way we can explore the area too and find many hidden gems we wouldn't otherwise have discovered. However, with Thieu, it was more a case of taking trips down memory lane and I found it quite an emotional stay as well as enjoying it thoroughly. The last time we were here was when our dog, Sindy, was still alive and all my memories of this beautiful area are bound up with walks we did with her.
On Saturday, the 21st, however, we decided the marina costs were a bit high to spend a third night, so we left Thieu with a last look at the old lifts at 09:30 and made our way down the lock and out onto the big Canal du Centre. Going down was much smoother than going up, I have to say. There were no problems or frayed nerves as this time we knew what to expect. Within minutes, we were in sight of the great Strépy Thieu lift, and with a green light ahead of us, we could go straight in to the left caisson. This was the moment I'd been waiting for and I felt like a child going to the fair for the first time. Much to our surprise, we recognised one of the other occupants of the caisson (there were only three of us). The Dawn Marie was a cruiser we'd met on the Canal de Roubaix last year and her New Zealander owners greeted us warmly. They told us they were heading for the other great engineering marvel, the Inclined Plane at Ronquières, but I'm afraid they probably didn't make it as we'd heard it was closed for repairs to a leaking caisson. It sounded from what we'd been told that there'd been quite a nasty accident, but nothing we've read since has confirmed this.
Anyway, back to the lift, it was all over in record time and we had risen the full 73,1 metres in what seemed like a few minutes. It was an amazing sensation to be rising so fast and so high and I took as many photos as I could as well as a short film clip, so I'll have to see if I can publish that when we get back to civilisation again. To see the doors opening at the top and to motor out at such a high level over the aqueduct that connects the lift to the main canal again was such an experience. The view is breathtaking and of course, the weather was perfect.
On that note, (as I've mentioned before) it has been incredibly hot for most of this trip and this past week has topped everything and seen us wilting in temperatures of between 35 and 38 degrees. I love the heat, but when there is no shade to be had at the moorings, it can be tough to cope with being in a steel box with no air conditioning.
By Saturday night, we were on the southern side of Charleroi at a free mooring in Marchienne au Pont. The pontoon was good and we had no trouble or interference, but it's a sorry area; very run down and dilapidated with a sad air of hopelessness. I was afraid we'd be stuck in Charleroi itself, which has no good reputation, but we managed to get through all the locks and make it to this spot on the Sambre. We shared the mooring with another family on a cruiser. I don't think they even left their boat, such was the lack of appeal in the environs.
On Sunday, we started off up the Sambre and after the first lock, the only commercial sized one on this section, we found what we'd been looking for. The Sambre is absolutely stunning. It winds its way through steep banks of the most beautiful woodland trees and scenery and every kilometre was a feast for the eyes. We spent a very hot night in the attractive town of Landelies, but fortunately the Port there had a lovely shady picnic area beneath some tall trees. The following day, we continued along this truly magical river to marvellous, historic Thuin, where we have been ever since; the reason being I made a quick dash back to the Netherlands to fetch a visitor of the four-footed variety, but more on that next time. I think Thuin deserves a post all of its own; it's such a special place.
I'd love to post more photos, but that will have to wait until WiFi connections are possible. I'm especially sorry there are no photos of the lift yet. I don't exactly know where they are on my camera, but I'll post some soon. For now, from a very warm and sultry Sambre, have a great week allemaal!