France 2016, Canal de Garonne, Lot (Day 10)

Castelsarrasin – by road to Luzech – les Fosses

Monday 01.08.2016

0 Locks  7 km

The lad and myself get up 0600. Its still dark. Yuck. Anyways, we have to make the train. Turns out that undue haste was uncalled for. The morning train to Agen is 10 minutes late.
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But, pedal to the metal, we make it just in time to change to the train towards Bordeaux.  8.20 sees us in Marmande, which gives us 50 minutes to wait for the bus to Melihan. We search for a café, for coffee and hot chocolate with the obligatory pain au chocolate. Back at the gare / gare de routiere there is no bus showing, but another one in half an hour. The lad discovers a (real!) pinball machine in the café du gare. So we have got something sensible to do while we wait. When eventually the bus turns up, it turns out he will be only going half way. The driver who goes all the way has called in sick. So a taxi is called and after some more pinball we are on the way to Melihan, where we arrive 25€ later.

We are immediately greeted by Sue. Their plan to go down to Bordeaux came to nothing, so they were still hanging around. We have a quick cuppa, say good bye to everybody and of we go. What a friendly place, we really have to come back.

We join the motorway, and what took us four days by boat is covered in a mere 90 minutes by a car. Back at Castelsarrasin the boat is quickly loaded onto the trailer. We are really good at this, but also the slip way is very well layed out.

It is only 60 km to Luzech as the crow flies. But to get there we have the cross the Quercy Blanc. This is a lime stone upland of great beauty. Almost devoid of people and civilisation. The limestone washed out by numerous streams and rivers. Although its only about 300m above sea-level we have to dive in and out what feels like dozens of valleys on single track roads.

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At Saint-Daunès we find not only enough space to park up the rig, but also the little restaurant L’École. A gem of a watering hole, despite of not having much competition to fear. Even if the tiny village is the centre of population for many miles around. Any other infrastructure included in the next picture.
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Finally we make it to Luzech and subsequently to the Canalous hire boat base  a kilometre upriver from Luzech. It spots a rather daunting and steep slip way and a secure parking space. They are very friendly, 20€ changed owner and we can use the slipway and park up car and trailer for a week.
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With the boat set up we drive to town to stock up with essentials for the next week, while we have the luxury of a car. For the last week I have tried to book us a ticket for the Grotte du Pech Merle,  a cave with 17.000 year old paintings. But either there website has been down or only supported the Mandarin version, so I failed.  But the friendly lady in the Luzech tourist office books us in for next Sunday.
With the temperatures well in the high thirties again, we can’t wait to get off and do some swimming. The water is great, cool and clean.
Soon we pass the Chateu de Caix, the private vineyard of the Danish royalty. 
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Immediately the river gets into its pattern. The outside banks with a steep slope up to the Quercy.
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The inner banks are flat and full of vineyards growing delicious Malbec wines.
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We soon pull in at Les Fosses where the lad catches his first fish.
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And so, after a long day, we have a quiet night all by ourselves.

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France 2016, Canal de Garonne (Day 9)

Moissac – Castelsarrasin

Sunday 31.07.2016

7 Locks  7 km

We had some more rain over night and the temperatures dropped by more then 10°. A bit of a relieve. In exchange our boat was invaded by an army of ants. Our black mooring ropes are even blacker with them.

On the other hand it was a pleasant surprise to find that Moissac is bustling with activity even on a Sunday. There is a huge market in full swing, as we walk to visit Moissacs main attraction, the 11th century cloistered abbey. First and foremost is the south-west portico, a masterpiece of Romanesque art.

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The church itself is rather dull and depressing. Not so the cloister next door.
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Having fulfilled our touristic duties, its of to the culinary ones. Of to the market.
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Would we not be keen to get on to the Lot, we could lock through a double lock down to the river Tarn. From Moissac one can sail down to the confluence with the Garonne, were the two river create a lake like expanse of water. But at least we have a look.

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Using three locks, we climb out of the Tarn valley, in order to cross the mighty river itself on an even mightier aqueduct.
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The steal girder railway bridge running right next to it.
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From here it is not far to Castelsarrasin. One would have some expectation with such a promising name. But a fellow blogger (sorry can’t find it anymore) wrote, that Castelsarrasin is best seen from the canal. That pretty much sums it up.
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But then it has a very good slip way and a railway station. Even though there are only a couple of trains on a Sunday, the ticket office is manned by a very helpful gentlemen. Two ticket for the 6.55 to Marmande tomorrow morning are purchased. The lad and myself go on a stroll through town, just to find it mostly empty, the only attraction being the red-brick church.
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In exchange we have the honour to meet (and exchange a few beers with) Helmut. He has got a lot of interesting stories to tell, having sailed around the world twice. The wrong way round. Now he has retired to the inland waterways.

France 2016, Canal de Garonne (Day 8)

Boé – Moissac

Saturday 30.07.2016

7 Locks  38 km

 

Boé has little to offer in term of sights. But at least there is a boulangerie and a huge E.Leclerc in walking distance.
While we were idling a bit the last few days, we have settled on a plan for the route ahead. Its to arrive in Castelsarrasin on Sunday. With its slip way and train station it would allow us to retrieve the car and trailer and then move the boat to the upper Lot. The extremely hot weather calls for river cruising rather than ditch crawling. So its passage making. This is just as well, as the canal on its left bank is closely followed by the main Bordeaux – Toulouse railway line. So there is nothing to see but banks and bushes. Still there are some nice views to be had to the other side.

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Others are wiser than us, and so this is the only boat moving we meet today.
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The only ones busy today are the cooling towers at Golfech’s Centrale Nucléair, the highest in Europe.
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Valence-d’Agen is preparing for its son et lumière. It seems to be quiet elaborated, with the canal and boats included in the show. Unfortunately its only taking place next weekend.
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So we take a a stroll to town. An air conditioned boulangerie looks very inviting and we have some sandwiches there. Other than that we have missed the market…
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…and so we settle for the wash house.
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The canal is getting increasingly weedy and the going gets very tough at places. Our usual 7,5 km/h  get reduced to a crawl as the prop needs cleaning every few minutes.
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But eventually Moissac and its and its impressive bridge come into sight.
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The canal cuts right through the town. A bridge keeper in his tiny house guards the swing bridge.
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We are made very welcome by the English harbour master and swamped with information about the town. The town itself is very busy with all kinds of festivities going on. At the square there is a a band playing music with some kind of Occitan bagpipe and what looks like steel drums. We do settle at the terrace of a restaurant next to it when heaven opens it sluices. We grab a table inside for dinner. After that its early bed, all being really tired.

France 2016, Baise, Canal de Garonne (Day 7)

Vianne – Agen –  Boé

Friday 29.07.2016

9 Locks  44 km

Bread and paper fetched from the village, a quick breakfast and a fare well to our new found friends start the day.  Setting of down the Baise we use the last change to get some refreshment swimming in the river. The next three days will be on the Canal de Garonne. Not really swimmable.

Pont de Calezun
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Soon the double lock at Buzet is reached. Watching the day-boat coming down is funny in a spine shacking way.
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Right at the little wedge of land hemmed in by the canal and the arm leading to the lock there is an Aire de Camping with all the facilities we need to fill and empty the relevant tanks of the boat. Then a quick stroll to the already familiar Spar market near the bridge.
Some non-boaters reading this might be wondering what this is all about. But part of the fun is the feeling of reassurance one can get from a full larder, a full tank of fuel and an empty black water tank. Knowing there is nothing to worry about for the next few days.

Soon after leaving Buzet, we cross the aqueduct carrying the Canal over the Baise. An aquatic fly-over.
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Although it is still quiet early in the day, the thermometer shows 35° rising. And to make maters worse there seems to be another universal law showing his ugly face. Napoleon decreed that trees have to be planted either side of the canals to provide shade for the boaters and their horses, still the sun always stands right ahead of the bow. Right between the two rows of trees. Regardless what time of the day.  Regardless what the direction of travel.
The Canal de Garonne around here is mostly dead straight. No boaters or cyclists around, even the ever present fishermen can’t be bothered today. Every now and then one can glimpse some views across the Garonne valley.

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Only once pat Sérignac we find a little jetty in the shade. And it even spots a water tap. Out comes the water hose. The clear and cool water is most refreshing as we splish and splash about. Great.
Just before reaching Agen there is a flight of four locks leading up to the aqueduct over the Garonne and subsequently into the town itself. But some local kids use the the first lock as their privat pool and must have upset the photo cells that control the automatic lock mechanism. We try ringing several telephone numbers given in the Guide de Breil, with no success. The numbers printed on the big information board also lead in some answering machine void. At the end we find  a tiny handwritten note attached to the operators cabin. The number on it summons an eclusier to the phone, who is clearly not pleased. But je arrive, je arrive is all I wanted to hear. It takes the best part of an hour for him to arrive.
So eventually we make it up the four locks and over the aqueduct.
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The Garonne.
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The harbour in Agen is situated in a huge basin. But hemmed in between the wrong side of the train station and busy main roads it just fails to tempt us today. We press on the port de plaisance at Boé. The first jetty we approach is guarded by a wasps nest and the IO gets stung. A bit further away we find an insect free mooring. The port and the moored boats are mostly worse for wear and tear. The capitainerie closed with no indications of opening times. But instead of being close to industry and the main railway line, we spend a very quiet night.

France 2016, Baise (Day 6)

Moncrabeau – Vianne

Thursday 28.07.2016

11 Locks  25 km

We share our breakfast coffee with the English couple from the steal cruiser next door. Turns out they also owned a Wilderness Beaver a couple of years ago. They are a bit worried about the water levels. Indeed one can almost watch it dropping. The hot and dry weather in combination with every farmer along the river abstracting with huge pumps, threatens to suck the river dry.  But having as little draft as we have, there are no worries for now.

So we set off down the green hell again.
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Only interspersed by equally green lock cuts.
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Eventually we arrive in Nérac, in order to visit the Musée Henri IV, which was closed on our way up. After café and ice-cream we set of again.
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The château de Bournac is one of the few landmarks visible from the river.
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We pass Lavardac again, which looks equally uninviting. Though I realized much later, that it would have been only a short stroll to Barbaste with its famous fortified mill and pack horse bridge. Although temperatures got so hot again, that I am not sure if the mill and bridge could really have enticed us for a walk.
The IO and myself take turns swimming in the river, while the lad is still afraid of crocodiles, or maybe piranhas, or Nessie, or Baisey for that matter.
Still we eventually arrive at the lovely moorings in Vianne.

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We have a lovely evening with the Breton couple we met already in Moncrebau and a very interesting bloke from Belgium. So again it gets very late.