Thursday, 27 September 2018

Castelsarassin To Buzet-sur-Baise (Or….The Final (and long awaited) Entry for this year!)

Leaving The Tarn at Moissac to head back up on to the Canal
Well, that’s it for this season’s cruising and whereas previously we’ve lived on the boat over winter, this year we have moved into our house and after much deliberation, I’ve decided that it’s not really fitting to hijack Quaintrelle’s blog of her travels and tribulations with tales from terra firma.  So this entry will close Quaintrelle’s blog for this season and it will recommence as we do with our travels next year. 

But to continue from where we last left off (apologies for such a long delay), the morning of 21 September dawned bright, warm and sunny and we pushed off from Castelsarassin only to pull in after the first lock for Mike to make a quick visit to the large Brico store before Ilona caught up with us and we made our way together to Moissac. 

Fiona and Richard on Ilona following us over the Aqueduct across the River Tarn
We’d reckoned it would take us a couple of hours, but with everything going smoothly we got there a bit quicker much to the surprise of Jim the Capitaine who wasn’t expecting us for another hour.  We pulled into the port and filled up with diesel and then took our lunch break to wait for the lock-keepers to put us through the two locks that would take us down to the Tarn and our mooring.  We headed down to the mooring to find Billy and Jane on Lazybones and it was lovely to see them again.  We hung out there until it was time to move and Billy came with us for the ride.
Exiting the locks from the canal down on to the River and our mooring on the quay there.
Once settled into our spot next to Lazybones we enjoyed a few bottles of fizz with Billy and Jane and Fiona and Richard before all too soon it was time to head to the weekly Port Social in a local bar.  We were introduced to some of the other residents of Moissac Port and had a lovely evening, finished off with more wine on Lazybones – well, it had been ages since we saw them!!
Sunset on the Tarn
Needless to say, we weren’t feeling to sharp the next morning, eventually heading into the market after a dose of paracetomol to ease the heads.  We’re familiar with Moissac as we spent a few nights there in September 2016, and it’s where our beloved Kitty Cate(rham 7) died and had to be taken home on the truck of shame.

Thankfully Quaintrelle did not follow in Kitty Cate’s shoes………

After a lazy afternoon, we joined Fiona and Richard for drinks on Ilona in the evening before heading into town to enjoy a meal at Le Florentine, where I paced myself with a non-alcoholic aperitif!

The next morning provided a slightly cooler start to the day as we bid farewell to Lazybones who headed up the locks just before us, turning right at the top towards Toulouse.  We would be heading left towards our winter mooring at Buzet sur Baise.
Such a nice picture, I've put it in twice! :D
The Canal Lateral de la Garonne is quite delightful on this stretch with trees overhanging the canal and few boats on the move and we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise of 17km and 5 locks which took us to the town of Valence d’Agen.
Leaving Moissac through the port which is very popular for over-wintering.  We're just passing Kendra Erin here, Kevin and Michelle's boat, who we travelled with last year.

Waiting for the swing bridge at Moissac.

Much excitement as we pass into our home department; Lot et Garonne
With it being Sunday the town was shut, but it was bigger than we expected and had some interesting statues dotted around the town and a beautiful circular ‘Lavarie’, ancient wash-house.
The unusual round lavarie at Valence
Back at the boat we took advantage of the warm afternoon to polish the paintwork on the starboard side.

There were showers overnight and it was only when we went to cast off the next morning that we realised the gas locker had been left open and everything inside was wettish.  We left it open to dry out and headed off on our 4 hour cruise to Agen where we would meet up with Nikki and Gorette on Puddleduck.  Having only met a handful of people to socialise with over the summer, we were now making up for it, catching up with our friends from Roanne who had headed south at the start of the season.

Moored opposite the hire base in the large basin at Agen, after saying hello to Puddleduck we set off for the VW dealership, where we had ordered car mats and a boot mat for collection for our new car.  We figured they would be too awkward to carry on bikes and couldn’t find a bus so by foot off we went.  As usual, the route seemed much longer and further than predicted on google maps – and this was without getting lost! 

After an exhausting and very dull 8km round trip, carrying flapping boxes all the way back, we celebrated back at the boat that we won’t have to do that again once we pick up the car at Buzet in 48 hours.  The walk of shame along motorway verges is an element of boating life that we have not entirely enjoyed………….  The evening was spent with the girls on Puddleduck catching up on their exploits over the season and enjoying a most delicious curry for dinner.  It wasn’t a late night as we were so knackered after our walk, so much so that we decided to stay put at Agen the next day and take our time to catch up on some chores.  After a coffee with Nikki and Gorette, they headed off back the way we had just come and we got on with stripping back and oiling the worktops.  A rewarding job in that they look fantastic when they’re done, but one of the worst for the dust that it creates!
Looking across at our mooring at Agen.

Nikki and Gorette head off on Puddleduck

While we get on with sanding and oiling......
In the evening we walked to the edge of town and treated ourselves to a kebab for tea.

Another cool morning on 26th September as we headed off but as with the previous few days, once the sun was up it got hotter and hotter and as we were enjoying our cruise decided that we would just push on to Buzet today and stay the night there, which would mean we could take our time in the morning loading up the car before locking up Quaintrelle and heading to the house for winter.  With the weather still being so hot, we hoped to get use of the pool for a few days, but an email from our friend Katie who has been looking after the pool for us put paid to that.  The hard cover was jammed – shut!!  She put in a call for a technician but there would be no swimming for a few days at least.
Crossing the aqueduct coming out of Agen.

The few boats on the move are now making their way to their winter moorings.

Another aqueduct.....
At the last lock of the day, we came face to face with a double red light and gates that were fully open on one side and nearly fully open on the other.  Clearly something was stuck and preventing the lock from operating correctly.  We went into the lock and tied off and I called VNF who said someone would be there in 15 minutes.  Meanwhile a hire boat had pulled up further back and sent someone to find out what was going on.  She asked in French, so I replied in French that the lock wasn’t working and I had called VNF and someone was coming in 15 minutes.  She cocked her head and looked at me quizzically, so I repeated, “Quelqu’un arrive, quinze minutes.”  She shook her head apologetically, “Quinze minutes…” I repeated, nope – she still didn’t get it.  “15 MINUTES. SOMEONE’S COMING IN 15 MINUTES. QUINZE!” Mike offered.  “Oh….” She said, “QUINZE……You are English.”  “Scottish.” I replied, “Ah, you don’t speak French.” She concluded.  I didn’t know what to say to that.  I don’t speak French well but the VNF people on the other end of the phone had understood me……… I felt rather insulted by her as she proceeded to say in fluent English that she didn’t really speak English, French was her second language, she was Swiss German.  “Oh piss off!”  I said, but only in my head.

Anyway, she asked if they could share the lock with us and we said yes (begrudgingly as it would have felt good to make them wait), so she toddled off to report to the rest of her crew and bring their boat in.  Thirty minutes later the eclusier arrived and I pointed out the partly open, stuck gate and said (in French!), I thought there might be something behind it.  Sure enough, after fishing with a large hook, a huge piece of vegetation embedded in a monstrous lump of clayish soil was pulled from behind the gate.  It was so large and heavy that the eclusier couldn’t lift it out so just had to steer it to the side to get it out of the way.  The gates were then closed behind us and we went on our way.

The Swiss then sat up our arse as we continued our voyage, so I pulled over and let them pass, only to pass them again a short while further on as they pulled in to lock down on to the river Baise.  We hope to do the Baise next season.  A few minutes later we passed through the new port at Buzet and a few minutes after that arrived at the old port, Quaintrelle’s home for winter.  We pulled in alongside DB Papillon and went to check in with Kevin and Sara, but it was Wednesday and the restaurant is closed on a Wednesday, so Sandra had a chat with us and said we’d be able to catch Kevin and Sara in the morning.  Finally reunited with our new car, the first thing we had to do was wash it as it was filthy from two weeks of sitting under a tree in the port.  We then started to load up as much of our belongings as we could before having dinner and watching tv.

We had a leisurely start the next morning before doing the rest of the packing, cleaning and some maintenance.  Then it was time for lunch at the restaurant where we caught up with Kevin and arranged making payment for our mooring, passed our contact details onto Sandra, just in case, and all too soon, we were closing up Quaintrelle and tarpauling her rear end (to stop rainwater getting in the engine bay) and getting in the car to head home for winter. 
Getting safely tucked alongside DB Papillon for winter.
It felt a bit surreal.  It was the end of the most amazing season of cruising.  We had clocked up an impressive 2743 kms, rode the Ardviller Inclined Plane up and down, swam in the Med and conquered the Mighty Rhone.  It’s probably the last full season of cruising we’ll do for a few years, now we have a new home to enjoy and new adventures to unfold on Terra Firma, but we couldn’t feel sad as we had had such a fantastic time and were so excited about what was to come!

So what happens to this blog now??  Well, as I said earlier, it doesn’t feel right to hijack Quaintrelle’s blog with housey stuff – this is a blog about Quaintrelle and her travels, our travels, so I will put this to bed now for winter and wish you a ‘Bonne Hiver’ and hope that you will join us on our travels next summer.
Night, night everyone xxx

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Castelnaudary to Castelsarassin (Or….The Day A Lock Was Stolen Right from Under Our Noses!)

Chatting with a local while we lock down off the summit.

We weren’t too quick off the blocks the next morning, 14th September and after pushing off, pulled in alongside Steve two minutes later to have a coffee with him before we left.
Coming through the scenic basin at Castelnaudary.

We won't be sad to see the back of these feisty uphill locks!
It was then a short journey up to the summit of the canal at Nauronze where we pulled in to a cute mooring after just 13.5 km and 8 locks – the last of our ‘up’ locks for the season.  Our water tank was getting low making us sit higher out of the water as usual so Mike took the opportunity to touch up the blacking at the waterline while I busied myself inside with another maintenance issue….
Not my best look, but needs must......
I’d spotted dust around the tv unit a few days before and on closer inspection was horrified to realise we had woodworm!!  I managed to find a couple of adult corpses in the dust and had identified it as the common furniture beetle and had purchased a suitable treatment.  It was fairly time-consuming as it involved jabbing a needle, attached to the nozzle of the spray can by a tube, into each hole and tunnel and giving a squirt.  Sometimes when I squirted it into one hole, it squirted back out two or three holes in other places so you work out where they’d tunnelled.  Checking the rest of the boat later we spotted more of it on one of the kitchen cupboards so that was treated as well.  We’ll give it another spray before we close Quaintrelle up for the winter and hopefully that will be the end of it.

Being only a week or two from mooring up for the winter we are now in the phase of painting, polishing, waxing, varnishing and trying to get everything ship shape before we leave Quaintrelle at Buzet.

The next morning we started our way downwards still enjoying hot temperatures despite it being the middle of September and also enjoying the beauty of the canal.  
Lovely summit mooring that we'd spotted when we'd visited by car the day before.

Downhill through the trees....
Our smarties were severely stamped on however as we reached our second lock of the day just after lunchtime had started…..  A hire boat had come up just after 12 noon, so the lock closed for lunch after then in our favour.  On this section the locks are automatic and unmanned, so you have to get someone off the boat ahead of the lock, who go to the lock and press the button at the side for going up or down and the lock then begins to set.  Once in the lock, you press the green button to start the process of going down or up depending on your direction and the lock does the rest.  We waited above the lock and noted half an hour later a boat had arrived at the bottom to come up – we didn’t think anything of this as the lock was full and ready for us to go down once it opened after lunch.  At 1pm the lock lights came back on and Mike went to press the button to open the gates only to find the lock beginning to empty!  A French man from the boat below was stood at the button, with us in full view waiting to come down, and had pressed the button to empty the lock!  Mike pointed out to him that the lock was ready for us and we had been waiting before them, but the man just smirked, shrugged and turned his back on Mike and went back to his boat to wait for the lock to empty so they could come in.

Mike was furious, as was I, and incredulous – we couldn’t believe someone would do this so deliberately.  Mike looked up a suitable description on google translate to go back and let them know what he thought of them whilst I hovered waiting for our turn.  While I waited and after Mike had delivered his message to more back-turning I noticed that the man was now talking to another man on the lock-side – a passer-by from what I could see.  They seemed to be deep in conversation and I wondered if it was another boat arrived below asking how the locks worked or something, as the man on the boat was pointing at the borne (post with the control buttons).  All became clear soon as they left the lock, the woman of the boat leaning over the side towards me, smirking greatly.  I told her in French that the lock was ready for us and we were waiting and that was not nice to steal a lock.  Her smirk broadened into a huge smile as she shrugged her shoulders. “YOU are not nice.” I said.  She didn’t like that so much…… the smile collapsed and she opened her mouth to release a barrage of viciferous French – none of which I understood – and then started screaming ‘BREXIIIIIT!! BREXEEEEEEEEET!’ at me.  If she’s that upset about Brexit, she should write to Theresa May…….  Anyway, I bid her adieu with a one-fingered salut and turned my attention to the lock – which was closing its gates and starting to empty again.  The man they had been chatting to had pressed the button to reset the lock for someone coming the other way and then disappeared away over the bridge and down the road – not a boater!!

We could not believe it.  First steal the lock, then reset it again against someone waiting.  So childish and they were definitely old enough to know better.  We think they must have been a local couple, who think they own the canal, and the man was their friend from the house next to the canal, so when he came out to chat with them as they passed they told him to empty the lock again to make us wait again.

Anyway, we called the lock keeper, tried to explain what happened and then Mike just pressed the RED BUTTON – which is only meant to be pressed in an emergency and meant someone would come out to attend.  When he arrived, I tried to explain what had happened but he seemed more keen to know who had pressed the RED BUTTON.  I got the distinct feeling that this was more of an issue than the rude boaters, so I said the passer-by who had talked with the people on the boat had pressed it…………  He then asked if it was a cyclist and I said no, described the man and the way he went and he kind of lost interest at that point – probably he’s best mates with the guy that lives in the house next to the lock that committed the crime…….. He did however make some sympathetic noises and said because the bornes are exposed, they do get a lot of problems with punters pressing the buttons, but it didn’t make me feel any better about the rude French couple.  At least it was our first encounter with such behaviour, I’m sure it won’t be our last…..
Waiting for the oval lock to fill.

So we got on our way, with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths but order was restored as we pulled on to the little quay at the small town of Gardouche for the night.  While Mike continued to treat spots of rust by sanding them back before a coat of anti-rust, owatrol oil, primer and undercoat, I got started on sanding back the wooden lids on our back lockers.  I’d sanded back with four levels of paper, so nice and smooth, cleaned them and got a first coat of varnish when a Frenchman from one of the permanently moored boats further along pitched up in his slippers for a chat.  We must have chatted for nearly an hour, he was an interesting man, one of the last commercial mariniers on the Midi until all commercial traffic stopped with the opening of the autoroute in 1980.  He then worked piloting charter boats between bases along the midi, but at 75 has been retired for some years now but enjoys watching the bumper boats crashing about in the lock at Gardouche.

His parting was an earnest, “Vous etes magniphique.”  Well, I’ve been called a lot of things, but never magnificent, so I’ll take it thank you very much.

With my faith in the French suitably restored we got showered and changed and walked a short distance to Le Vieux Pressoir for a lovely dinner, served by a charming young woman and her mother, and had a nice exchange with the Swiss couple sitting next to us.

The next morning we were heading for Montisgard where we hoped that the water tap shown in the book and mooring guide would still be there and in water – we were getting very low now, probably another day’s worth left at best.  I know the paintwork has to get done on the boat, but I was getting slightly pissed off as I headed to the front of the boat to do the line at the locks with the, “Watch the dark gray bits, they’re wet.”  I like my full concentration to be on doing the lock, not having to watch where I’m putting my feet, but I managed a couple of days of this without gray footprints appearing through the boat!

At Montisgard the tap was working so we quickly got the tank filling and then took the decision to t-cut the roof.  We had been warned by a few folks that the sap from the trees down here will land on your boat, and mixed with insect blood (or something like that), it is red and appears like small rust spots or measles!  
Quaintrelle's measles :(

It doesn’t wash off.  We had avoided it until Castelnaudary when I saw it start to appear and by the time we got to Montisgard, it looked horrendous.  We’re very proud of our clean roof so we were devastated by the state of it, so decided to get it off.  Washing didn’t work, nail polish remover didn’t work, we couldn’t use an abrasive cream cleaner or anything as that would damage the gloss paint.  What did work was a scratch removing polish for cars which we’d bought and used on a couple of scratches in the UK – excellent.  The only thing was, it was bloody hard work and the roof is a big area. 
Come on man - give it some ooooooommmph!
Mike got about halfway down his side and I was a bit behind, by the time we finished for the day.  We were aching, my fingers kept locking and we’d have arms like Popeye by the end of it but we slept well that night.

Next morning another quick top-up of water before we left but we couldn’t find the hose connector that screws onto the tap.  Mike had taken it off and put it in a ‘safe place’ on the grass near the boat, but it was gone, either lifted by someone walking by or more likely kicked further away by accident.  We were annoyed because it was our good chrome one – that we had found left on a tap in the UK!  Oh well, back to using our plastic one then……..

It was quite windy and a cool start to the day as we made our way towards Toulouse and it was noticeably quieter with us passing only one of two boats the whole way.  After the usual 1 hour stop for lunch while the locks closed for theirs, we reached the port at Toulouse where there was plenty of room and after mooring up we headed to the shops for some supplies and spent the rest of the evening working on the roof.  We must have worked on it for nearly 3 hours and although we were hating it, the roof was looking really good!
Trees dropping more red crap on our roof as we make our way to Toulouse.
The bad news was, we had run out of the scratch polish and the t-cut we had wasn’t as good and took twice as much elbow grease to shift the sap.  A visit to every supermarket within a kilometre radius left us empty handed and the only car places, Norauto (the equivalent of Halfords in the UK) were all out of town.  Mike became all melodramatic at this point saying we’d need to hire a car for the day and drive out to get some, but I told him not to be daft, and worked out we could get the metro right out to one.  So the following morning we headed of sharpish, caught the metro to the out of town retail park, picked up two bottles of stuff that felt like our scratch polish, ie. A little gritty, and got the metro back into town in time to have lunch at Au Pere Louis, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We then wandered down to the river through the town, then back up along Canal de Brienne to the junction with the Lateral de La Garonne and Canal du Midi and then back to the port via the metro where roof cleaning started all over again…..  My arms must have been getting stronger with each session though as this one didn’t feel as bad!
The lock that joins the Canal de Brienne with the River Garonne - now only used by trip boats.

The junction of the three canals; Left is Canal du Midi, right is the Canal du Brienne and photo is taken from the bridge over the Lateral de la Garonne.
After filling with water, might as well, it was included in our mooring fees, we pushed off under an overcast sky and made our way through the Toulouse locks.  The canal goes right through the city and the locks are controlled at one of the locks by remote control and watching you via the cameras.  At the lock at the station one gate wasn’t fully open as we got the green light to go in and when they closed, they didn’t close properly.  Someone in the control box at the next lock tried a few times to open and shut them, but to no avail, so we waited and eventually a very tiny, petite, female lock-keeper arrived to fix them – they reckoned it was an electrical problem.  However, still no joy, so they were now thinking a hydraulic problem and someone else was on their way.  But after fiddling about at a different box on the lock landing, suddenly the gates shut properly, Tiny Eclusier gave us a thumbs up and we were back on our way.
Waiting at the lock outside Matabieu station in Toulouse.
Bearnaise Ecluse was the last in Toulouse and where the control office is, but the eclusier came out to ask where we were going and finding out we were heading to the Garonne for the first time gave us some advice on operating the locks and to watch out for currents as you enter and leave the locks.

As we went along the looooooooonng cutting away from Toulouse the sun came out to join us and with twisty poles to start the locks operating for us and no lunch hour to close the locks we made swift progress to a mooring at St Jory where we stopped to visit another Norauto for another polish to do once we’ve finished t-cutting!  We then continued on finally mooring at a very hot Grisolles for the night to continue our painting and varnishing.  It had been a long journey of 33km and 11 locks but hadn’t felt that long at all.  It was nice to be back out in the countryside again!
Lovely easy locks on the Lateral de la Garonne.....

Pretty bridges......

Not another moving boat in sight all day..... ahhhhh bliss......
Thursday 20th and after a quick phone call to Bill and Jane on Lazybones, we decided to push on today so we could reach Moissac on Friday rather than Saturday so we could spend some time catching up with them.  We were also due to bump into Richard and Fiona on Ilona at Moissac on Saturday, so it would give us time with both sets of friends if we had the two nights there.  This meant by-passing some nice-looking rural moorings today and our destination was Castelsarassin.  Just past the port at Montec there is a flight or locks alongside a chute, similar to an inclined plane, which was built in 1974 and then very swiftly went out of use.  Designed for boats 20metres and over, it was built to encourage the commercial traffic to use the canal by reducing the time from a couple of hours up the locks to 20 minutes on the chute.  However, the autoroute opening in 1980 saw the end of the commercial canal traffic so the chute’s lifespan was limited.  No one we spoke to knows if it is ever used at all now – it looked rather rusty……..

We got down the first lock no problem, but as we exited, realised the next lock had two red lights – broken!  We pulled in on the waiting pontoon and Mike went to see what was going on, met up with another English boater who was waiting to come up, had called VNF and was told they knew there was a problem and someone was on their way.  Shortly after an eclusier arrived and tried various things but couldn’t get it going.  At one point she seemed to and the gates started opening to let the boat below come in, but one gate stuck and after that she couldn’t get it to open or close.  Another eclusier arrived, but couldn’t help and after about half an hour we realised the water level in our pound was going down quite drastically.  We loosened our lines and went for a look, the first lock-keeper was still there speaking quite agitatedly on her phone.  We could see the sluice on the top gate were open and the water rushing straight through the open bottom gates – everything was stuck.  Once of the phone she explained it was quite a serious problem, someone else was on their way, but they might have to move us back up to the port if they couldn’t stabilise the water levels.  I asked for how long and she explained further that it might be a couple of days if they had to drain the two pounds to fix the gates then bring the levels back up.  That wasn’t what we wanted to hear, so we went back to the boat to think about options if this did happen.  Meanwhile, another boat, a cruiser, had come down the lock behind us (the one we’d just come down) before they closed the flight, and was waiting at the pontoon below the lock.

More VNF reinforcements arrived and all of a sudden I realised the water levels were back up again and we were back where we started against the pontoon rather than halfway down it!  The first eclusier came up and said it was all sorted, they’d do one more test of the gates and then we could go, and would we mind sharing with the boat behind.  I said of course, so she tootled off to tell them and as we got a green light shuffled into the lock to wait.  The approaching boat honked its horn at us and we turned round to see Richard and Fiona on Ilona pulling into the lock alongside us!!! 

At Montec the flight of locks is to the left and the chute to the right.

Ilona catches us up.
We travelled the rest of the afternoon together catching up with each other’s news in the locks we shared until they pulled in for the night and we continued on for another hour to Castelsarassin.  As we pulled into the port, Steve, who we’d said goodbye to at Castelnaudary, appeared on the quay to help, having driven up to stay with his friends on Jenna II for a few days.  We weren’t there long though as when Mike went to pay, the capitaine wanted us to moor on a pontoon, so it was a short reunion and we went and got settled into our space for the evening.

After a quick supermarket top up, I got another coat of varnish on the back pontoons while Mike cooked an autumnal chicken tartiflette for tea.  I was looking forward to getting a couple of nights at Moissac the next day as we seemed to have been cracking on, but it’s a strange feeling as we’re so excited to getting back to the house and settled in, so we’re not feeling the same sadness as our boating season draws to a close.  So much to do and so little time to do it in!!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Colombieres to Castelnaudary (Or….We’ve bought a car!)

Mike photo-bombing Neil, Karen and Buddy at Carcassonne
A hot and sunny 3rd September greeted us and the day got more exciting as a final phone call and email exchange to Aramis Autos meant we had bought a car!  Online!  Without seeing it!!  So we couldn’t relax and believe we’d bought the actual car until we would see it in the flesh the following week.

This is where the fun (stress) now really began though.  As in the UK it is illegal to drive without insurance but unlike the UK, you have to have your insurance in place when you go to collect your new car or they won’t hand it over.  Mike had already been in contact with our bank to get a quote and promptly emailed over the final details of the car.  He had also made a new best friend at BIBA, a broker specialising in insurance for English speakers in Aquitaine region, and Pierre was very keen to find us a good deal.

Meanwhile, we cruised a long 6 hour day to take us to the tiny village of Le Somail, where we squeezed onto a last remaining space opposite the Locaboat hire base.  A visit to the tourist information was followed by their film about how the Canal du Midi was built – yes, I know, we’d seen one yesterday, but this one was free and we were interested to see how this one differed.  It was set up in English for us and was a really good informative and interesting short film – well worth the visit!  Mike retired early with a slight migraine from car buying stress while I barbecued my tea and spent a quiet evening.
The replanting programme on the left - young Plane Tree saplings.

We were quite excited to see another narrowboat - there aren't many in France.

Things got very busy as we approached the lowest bridge on the Canal du Midi at Capestang.

A hotel barge only just squeezes through, whereas we didn't even have to take the parasol down!

By the time we came across this one we'd seen about six and realised that most of the narrowboats in France are down here, most likely sold on and used as living quarters now.  Not many moving at all.

Arriving at Le Somail
The next day as we moved on towards Homps, we tried various techniques in the oval locks to see which suited us best and find what the best position was for us and none of the bollards seemed to be in quite the right place.  We finally settled on a longish front line leading from a central bollard and driving against it to keep the back end in.  Although the locks are feisty, the surge comes down the middle of the oval keeping each boat into the side, until it’s near the top when it suddenly hits off the walls and pushes you out slightly – just as you think you’re almost done!  Whether it’s the heat or being near the end of a long season of hire boats passing through, we found the lock-keepers to be generally very lazy and unhelpful on the Midi.  They have remote control consoles that hang round their necks (like a cinema usherette’s tray), and we did actually go through a couple of locks where we saw no sign at all of the lock keeper and he just operated the lock via this from his office.  How they know if a boat is in trouble I do not know, but we were mainly very unimpressed with them.  We reached Homps, a small town to the east of Carcassonne that we have visited a few times by car, and pulled into a space on the town quay.  After topping up on fuel and food at the rather good supermarket/garage, we got showered and changed and headed to La Bonne Compagnie for a lovely dinner made by a chef from Shipley!
Finding our mojo in the oval locks.
Despite being out of season, each day we were still accompanied by the speeding, chaotic bumper boats and any hope of a tranquil afternoon under the trees had to be postponed until after 7pm when the locks closed and the bumpers were safely bedded for the night.  Our stop after Homps at Marseillete was no exception and finding ourselves on a low quay decided to black the side of the boat we hadn’t done earlier in the year at Melun.  The task was completed with only a few shouts and waves at people to ‘Slow the F!*% down’ from Mike as I tried to keep the masking tape in a straight line……  One day when he shouted at someone, they actually replied with, “Why?”…… where do you start……….
If the sky wasn't so blue, this could almost be in England!

At one of the locks was a sculpture workshop and we were tickled to see a model of Gromit and the Penguin from The Wrong Trousers :)

Yet again this weird way of coming up a staircase leaving the middle gates open......
Just after breakfast the following day, Thursday 6th, there was a tentative knock and ‘Bonjour?’ and I answered the call of Ben, who after explaining in French he didn’t speak it very well, was relieved to find we were English speakers, as he was.  He and his partner Bella were on a little dutch barge, Bawer, and their alternator had gone and their batteries were flat.  They were wondering if we could jump-start them.  We were happy to try but told them we’d tried to assist a cruiser in Leicester this way and it hadn’t worked, but if they wanted to give it a shot and had long enough leads we were happy to help.  After them trying to pull their boat to us past trees and brambles, we decided it was quicker for us to reverse up to them.  Sadly, by the time we’d extended the leads to reach, the amount of current going through wasn’t strong enough so after a lot of trying and a bit of smoking cables we had to leave them still broken down and we headed of for today’s target Trebes.

We were very excited to be getting to Trebes because it was here that we’d arranged to meet Neil and Karen from NB Chalkhill Blue 2, who were on a driving/camping holiday to Italy where they had rented a cottage in the hills of Tuscany.  They’d arranged their trip so our paths would cross and they’d be spending a day boating with us as a practice run for them bringing their boat over to France next spring.  By now we had got into our mojo for the Midi locks and we were only held up by a two hour wait at the staircase into Trebes, due to the sheer volume of traffic coming and going.  We had not long moored up when a familiar trio appeared, Karen, Neil and Buddy the dog and we enjoyed some champagne on board before a short walk into town and then back out to Le Moulin restaurant for a really lovely dinner.  The evening got cooler, windier and finally wet and we ended up moving to the inside of the restaurant for dinner.  Back at the boat, I decided it was time to get the winter duvet out – autumn was definitely here!
Waiting for the staircase at Trebes
It was late morning when Karen, Neil and Buddy arrived the next day and we pushed off and began our trip to Carcassonne.  Hoping to show Karen and Neil the delights of boating in France, it didn’t start off too well at the first lock when for once the lock-keeper was doing his job and told Mike that he had to switch our engine off.  Mike explained we needed it to keep control of our boat and the lock-keeper got really stroppy and said it was his lock and those were the rules.  Mike explained that it was our boat and we knew what we needed to do to stay safe in the locks but he wasn’t happy.  It was a bit tense to say the least, uncomfortable at best, but eventually he closed the gates behind us and slammed open the sluices allowing us up and through his lock.  We did admire that he clearly takes ownership of his lock and looks after those that pass through it, but he could have done it in a more pleasant way……..

We reassured Neil and Karen that this was the first time this had happened to us, that normally the lock-keepers are fine, they either ignore you or are pleasant and helpful.

It was really nice having Karen and Neil on board and Mike was quick to hand the tiller over to Neil who took us up and through the last few locks to Carcassonne.  Just below the last staircase before you go up they were taking down some of the diseased plane trees with the biggest pair of clippers any of us had ever seen.
I'm sure we heard them scream :(

Although it had been drizzling when we left Trebes the day soon got very hot and we made sure Buddy had plenty of drinks.

First lock of the staircase into Carcassonne

And the next after rising a few inches in the basin in between.
We moored on a free mooring just before the town centre and then headed into town for a quick explore.  First off we checked the times for the bus for Karen and Neil to get back to Trebes and just had time for a quick supermarket shop and a beer in the square before they headed for the bus and we went back to the boat.

An hour or so later, I nipped out to get some shopping only to bump into Neil at the bridge over the lock – they should’ve been back in Trebes, and Neil went on to explain that having waited for the bus, when it arrived the driver explained that Buddy wasn’t allowed on the bus – only dogs who can fit on your lap are allowed!  So bizarre, as you can take dogs into restaurants here and the waiting staff will fuss them as they serve your food – but they’re not allowed to sit on the floor between your legs on a bus…………  Anyway, they’d then come to the station to find a taxi but had had to phone for one, which hadn’t arrived, so Neil was now thinking he’d need to get the next bus back alone, pick up their car at Trebes and then drive back for Karen and Buddy…. What a palaver and such an annoying end to such a great day……  As it happened, Neil missed the bus as it was early (compared to the previous one which was late), but they managed to get another taxi, who happily took Buddy, and eventually got back to Trebes.

We had a lazy start the next day before heading through town to the Medieval Cite that Carcassonne is famed for.  We really like Carcassonne and it was nice to be there on a nice warm, sunny day compared to the winter months we’d spent there in 2016.  We found our way to the restaurant L’Auberge de L’ise, where we’d had a great meal in 2016 and they managed to fit us in for a lunch on the terrace which was just as good as the last time.

Karen and Neil had also arrived by car and having had a quick look round the bustling with tourists cite, had made a hasty exit back down towards town, so we caught them up and had a cooling drink before walking back into town together.  We then parted ways as they would continue on their way eastwards now and we’d continue west along the canal.
The tourist train at Carcassonne

All of us in the square :)

I do love you darling :)
The morning of Sunday 9th was distinctly autumnal with overcast skies and leaves blowing across the roof as we made our way through the lock at Carcassonne and wound our way 15km and through 5 locks to a lovely rural mooring at Villesqueland.  The quiet moorings soon filled up and hearing a pipe band we followed the sound through the town only to find that the event had now ended and everyone had gone home.  After the bustle of Carcassonne it was lovely to be in the middle of nowhere and we spent a lovely quiet evening.
Carcassone port

A deep cutting takes you out of the town centre

And peace and quiet is restored.........
The next day we had our second lock-keeper asking us to put the engine off, but his lock-side manner was a bit better than his colleague from the previous encounter and he explained that the flow from our engine running would prevent the gates from closing properly and the lock wouldn’t operate.  Mike just looked at him, smiled and said bullshit, at which the lock-keeper smiled and repeated that we’d need to switch our engine off.  He took a rear line from Mike, but offered to hold on to it around the bollard to hold in the stern as we rose – I was on the front line.  We came up smoothly, as usual the flow pushed us in, until we were a couple of feet from the top when the current became to strong underneath us and came up between us and the wall and the stern started to swing out.  The lock-keeper tried to hold on but 20 tonnes of steel and tonnes of rushing water are no match, so Mike quickly turned the engine on and used it to pull us back in.  The lock-keeper smiled, but no words were exchanged, but I think our point was made……..

At our last lock for the day, we had the most smiley, helpful lock-keeper ever – he was just delightful, helped with the front line and then left us to do what we needed to do.  He spoke a little English so Mike chatted with him as we rose and established that we could moor just above the lock.  Once moored up, Mike got the Ninebot out (for the first time in ages!) and went on about half a kilometre, to find a lovely mooring with an amazing view, so we untied and moved on half a kilometre.  Again, the mooring was only blighted by the bumper boats racing between locks causing a wash that broke over the bank of the canal – I swear this canal probably used to be just wide enough for a narrowboat and they’ve made it wide enough for three widebeams to pass each other!
Not too shabby a view for the night.

On Tuesday we did a very short hop of 5 kilometres and 8 locks as we wanted to be moored up sharpish as we had a telecon with our bank about our car insurance.  Mike had spoken with them on Monday and, as usual in France, it wasn’t straight forward.  Because we haven’t owned a car for the last 18 months, we have no claims.  The French system doesn’t like that.  They want no claims with no breaks, but our bank advised that if they’d accept our no claims up to November 2016, we’d be looking at 1000 euros for one year’s insurance!!!!!  Our last insurance for Mike’s Audi TT in the UK was £218……………

Mike’s new best friend Pierre at BIBA insurance had gone very quiet and we were taking this to be a bad sign……….  Despite us chasing him and him knowing we were collecting the car on Thursday, he’d not provided any quotes.

The call with the bank in the afternoon was very short.  They wouldn’t insure us at all.  And they advised that none of the major insurers would insure us because………wait for it……’ll love this……….. “……the car you’ve bought is too powerful for your first car.”   Yes…. That’s why they wouldn’t insure us.  Our VW Tiguan 1.4 is too powerful for our first car.  Because despite providing no claims proof from 2008 to 2016, they wouldn’t accept that and were treating us as having never had a car in our lives and this was our first one!  Not sure whether to laugh or cry we started to panic a bit.  What if we actually can’t get insurance?  We’d need to cancel the car which would mean losing the 1000 euro deposit we’d paid.  But we needed a car, so what would we do?  We’d need to buy an old 1.1 engine wreck and try to build up some no claims before we could get the car we want……  If things are this hard in France, is this the right place for us – we were really panicking and thinking this was very bad news indeed.
To try and clear our heads and think what to do, we cycled 4km and back to the supermarket and then back at the boat, Mike rang Pierre.  Pierred asked for 5 minutes then he’d ring us back as he was just finalising a quote.  Good!  He had a quote.  That was positive.  How many thousands would it be for we wondered………  He called us back and could get us insured for 640 euros – woohoooooo!!!!!  Still expensive but more in line with what friends are paying for theirs so we were very happy.  Good old Pierre, he’d saved the day and by the evening, Mike had made the online payment to him and the paperwork we needed to collect the car had arrived in his inbox – phew!!!!!  For us, the moral of the story is; the bank is a bank, they can get us insurance but they are not insurers so if we don’t tick the right boxes the computer will say no – or ring up an astronomical price!  Pierre at BIBA is an insurance broker and deals face to face with the insurance companies and can explain things to them when they may not be quite so straightforward and thus enables a bit of flexibility to the norm.  We were so relieved, I think Pierre will be sorting our all our other insurances when the time comes……

So it was with slightly more excitement and less nerves that we shuffled up into Castelnaudary the next day, where we spent the afternoon sussing out the car hire place (our first time using a local French company, we wanted to be sure our booking was in order), and on my way back from posting some documents to Pierre I noticed the boat Porthos, with Steve on board.  He’d been moored next to us in Roanne and we hadn’t seen him since April, so I  knocked on the door and then rang Mike and we had a lovely evening with wine on Porthos with Steve and then he came along and had some dinner with us on Quaintrelle.  It’s really nice when you catch up with other friends and it was lovely to hear about Steve’s travels this year.

The scenic basin at Castelnaudary

Unfortunately our choice of free mooring was blighted by being hit with the red resin from the trees.  This lands on your boat and looks like rust spots and doesn't wash off :(  We would spend the next week t-cutting it out.....
Steve joins us for some chicken and chorizo paella :)
Tiguan collection day dawned and we were excited and still a bit nervous.  We picked up the hire car and having completed all the paperwork with no problem, the girl couldn’t get the car doors to open…..  A short wait of 10 minutes til a mechanic arrived and we were off taking a leisurely route on the side roads to visit the Obelisque de Richet – a commemorative monument to Paul Richet who conceptualised the Canal du Midi, and a quick visit to what would be our first downhill lock.

At Muret, on the outskirts of Toulouse, we were introduced to our Tiguan and gorgeous she is too!!  We were absolutely delighted (not to mention relieved) to see it was exactly as described on the specification and after a full guided tour of it and its workings we went to complete the paperwork.  Our hearts stopped on very briefly when our sales person asked how we wanted to pay……….  We had made a bank transfer the previous day and asked that the transfer be made at 3pm that day.  I showed her on my bank app that the money had been taken from our account the previous day, so she she made a quick call as she could’nt see the payment on her system.  Thankfully as she was on the phone the money appeared – it was just after 3pm.  Our bank had done as we requested and not released the cash from the account until we had seen the car.  Another big phew!  Once the rest of the paperwork was completed and they tried to sell us a maintenance package we were given the keys and were off.  I took our new car and Mike the rental for the two hour drive to Buzet where the port would store the car until we arrive in a couple of weeks to collect it.
Mike arrived some time after me as we’d forgotten to reset the satnav to use the autoroute, so he was taken a very long way round the back roads.  So at the port, we had a quick steak and chips at the restaurant and then headed off on our two hour journey back to Castelnaudary.

It was a very long, and fairly stressful day with the traffic in and around Toulouse being horrendously busy and we were knackered when we got back to the boat.  But very happy with this!