Saturday, 14 April 2018

Mike’s Foot Gets A Soaking at Sancerre (Or, Too Many Sancerres Makes The Boat Wobble!)

Sancerre's vineyards make a beautiful patchwork

We were up sharp on Monday (9th April) morning and Mike headed to the Beffes Tourist Info office, which advertised opening at 9am, with the hope that they could flick the water switch and we could fill up before heading off for our first lock at 10am.  There was not a soul in sight though, so we headed off, frustrated and hoping that we’d get water somewhere.  To add to our frustration, we’d woken to the usual sound of rain on the roof and donned on our waterproofs for a wet cruise.  If only we had a waterbutt……..

At the first lock of the day we asked the lock-keeper if there was water at our next stop.  No, it wasn’t switched on yet and as with most of the ports wouldn’t be switched on for at least another week.  However, he thought it was on at the port at La Chapelle-Montlinard and offered to phone and check.  It was on there, so we said we’d take a break for water and were provided with the phone number of the next lock to let them know once we were on our way again.  As we filled up I set the washing machine on to get a load at least started and filled a bucket as well to top up a bit once we were underway.

The rain hung around for most of our 4 and a half hour cruise to Champalay, where we stopped on the pretty rural mooring and as soon as we got the pins in, the sun came out – woohooo!!  I took advantage to clean off the yellow dust which had been half washed off by the rain and no sooner had wiped down the length and breadth of the boat when the skies darkened and the rain came on for the evening – oh well, at least she’d be really clean.  There wasn’t a great internet signal, so Mike stropped about a bit and got on with some work before battening down the hatches for the night and watching a crap film from Billy’s hard-drive.  We need to find some DVDs somewhere……

Thankfully the next morning dawned a little brighter, though with a chill in the air, we put the fire on to warm up the boat a bit and set off for today’s target – Sancerre!!!  Or rather Menetreol-sous-Sancerre, which is the nearest stop-off to reach Sancerre.  Having decided to stay a couple of nights there, we were given the phone number for the next lock, to call ahead when we decided to move on.  The little port at Menetreol is free to moor, but 7 euros for water for 24 hours, and 7 euros for electricity for 24 hours.  Having filled with water, we didn’t need it and hoped that there’d be enough sun to benefit from our solar.  We had a quick wander round the pretty little village, bought a baguette, had some lunch and then set out for our first wine tasting.

We walked back up the canal a bit to Eric Louis, where we were given generous tastings of several of their white wines and quite delicious they were too!
Don't know where to go for wine?  Just follow the signs...

Oooooo.... a little bit of each would be very nice thank you!

Half of our purchases... yum!
We purchased a dozen bottles in total, including a treat of the Cuvee du Pauline, named after the great grandmother, and lugged them back to the boat, where we found we now had company as barge Aurigny with Peter and Nicci on board had arrived.  We hadn’t met any other boats since leaving Puzzler the previous week, so we were delighted to have some company and arranged to meet for beers in the local bar a bit later. 
The port getting fuller at Menetreol-sous-Sancerre

Our local, on the right :)
Round about 5.30pm, the waterway became like Piccadily Circus with around half a dozen boats zooming past, one hire boat bumping us as they moored behind us, another mooring in front – but then changing their mind and moving on, and a New Zealand couple on a hire boat managed to squeeze in between the other hire boat and Aurigny.  Peter and Nicci had sensibly had their dinner before heading to the bar just after 6pm, so after a couple of glasses of wine we asked for menus and had some dinner there which was very good and good value for money too.  We were also the first company Aurigny had had for a few days, so after leaving the bar, we accepted an invite for a nightcap and we continued our evening til about midnight!

The next day was sunny, but cool in the shade and as Peter and Nicci set off on their bikes to pick up their car, we set off on foot to Sancerre, perched on a hilltop and surrounded by a patchwork of vineyards.  It was a lovely walk along an old railway line and then across the vineyards with a last climb up the steep hill to the town.  As it was lunchtime the town was quiet so we did the best thing and went for a leisurely lunch.
Menetreol has a few interesting old water pumps which were the only way to get fresh water up to the 1950s!

Looking down on Menetreol from the old railway line


Sancerre on the hill

Looking down one of the pretty streets to the vines
After lunch we wandered around the town a bit more then visited the little museum which included a four-minute 4D film.  I’m ashamed to say I squealed quite loudly at the ‘snake’ which came out from under my seat – thankfully we were in there on our own – heh! 
There's also a tractor simulator you can have a shot on!
The visit finished with a taste of the local produce, which was quite unexpected and very welcome.  Last year we were in Chablis region, which is made with the chardonnay grape and which we really enjoyed.  Sancerre is made with the sauvignon grape, on four different types of soil, which gives the variety of taste.  It’s superb and we’re now interested to buy some more Chablis and do a direct taste between the two!  Our next stop in Sancerre was the Feif’s Tower, the last remaining part of the original castle, its 195 steps take you up to the most incredible 360 degree views of Sancerre and the surrounding areas.
The current chateau at Sancerre



Heading back down to the boat through the vineyards
Our descent from the tower continued into our descent from Sancerre and we began our walk back down to Menetreol, enjoying the  views and tranquillity of the vineyards.  Back at the port another boat had arrived, Whisper, with Sue and Allen (Australians) on board.  After our late night the previous night, we weren’t too fussed for a heavy one, but joined the others for a couple of beers for an hour or so.  As ‘regulars’, for two nights anyway, a bowl of whitebait found its way from the kitchen to our table, complements of the proprietor, and as one of only three fish eaters between us, I managed to scoff most it to myself – yum!  We then went back to the boat and watched an episode of The City and The City on iPlayer, which Mike almost managed to follow………

The forecast for Thursday was not good, and we were enjoying the company at Menetreol, so we decided to stay put another day.  As the heavens opened in the morning, I went with Nicci and Sue to the market at St Satur, had a coffee while waiting for Peter to come back for us, then stopped off at the supermarket to top up our supplies, which were thin on the ground.  Mike meanwhile, stayed on board and did some work.  The afternoon was spent on board, Mike working and me playing with SmartDraw and designing various options on what we can do with the house to have a layout that is more suitable to our lifestyle and way of living in the house.  Mike has also been doing some drawings and although we’ve not compared, have agreed we’re probably going to fall out over it.  Both of us will have to compromise over something………

Meanwhile, the other lot went off to Eric Louis to do some tasting, and bought enough to warrant a free bottle (frankly they bought enough to warrant a free case, in my opinion), so an invite to apperos at 5.30pm ‘and it’s only apperos, just for an hour or so….’ said Nicci……….was offered and taken up.  Figuring one bottle wouldn’t really go that far between six of us, we took a bottle along and some nibbles, to find Sue and Allen had had the same thought.  We drank all our bottles, plus a couple more at least, I think, and at one point I came back for more nibbles……. I think it was after 9pm when we left……. And a few minutes after that that Mike misjudged the distance between Quaintrelle and the quayside and almost got a dunking!  The thing is, in his defence (mwuahahahahahahaaa……), the quayside has a sloping wall, so we had to sit Quaintrelle quite far out or she tippled (well, rather Mike than her – mwuahahahahahaha), and we’d find all the drawers on the port side opening up and we’d list horribly to starboard.  So it was quite a step onto her, and in his, shall we say, vulnerable state, he didn’t quite make it, but did manage to hang on (thank the lord for good handrails) and only one leg went in, mid-shin deep.

The trousers and shoes were put on the stove, and Mike was put to bed.  I wasn’t long after him………

None to crisp the next morning we got up and got ready to move on.  Aurigny were also heading off but Whisper was staying another night as they’d had word that paint they’d ordered had arrived at Corbigny and were driving over to collect it. 
Peter and Nicci heading off and Sue and Allen staying put behind us
We cruised for 10 minutes then pulled over at the supermarket for some diesel, then as we left called the lock-keeper to let him know we were on our way.  It went through to an answering machine, so I left a message and we continued on.  50 minutes later we arrived at the lock and there was no sign of anyone.  We waited and as time ticked onto ‘Lunchtime’, we settled down to wait until 1pm, using the time to forage some wood for the fire.  By 1.10pm there was still no sign of anyone pitching up, so I rang again – a different number that was posted on the hut at the lock, and this time I got the lock-keeper who said he’d be there in 10 minutes.  30 minutes later he arrived and put us through the lock – one of the less communicative of the VNF workforce, he didn’t do the usual, “where are you going?  When will you stop?   When will you start tomorrow? “ but merely grunted and pointed in a forward direction at each lock….  At the third and our last, I said, “Monsieur, on s’arrette a Lere pour ce soir, et continuer demain.”  He grunted, said “Au Revoir,” as we left and we guessed that at the first lock of the next day we’d just have to wait til we got there and make a phone call.
The port at Lere under a pretty evening sky

Big tree reflections
Which is exactly what we had to do this morning.  We spent a quiet night at Lere, a pretty village, where we managed to fill up with water, but their power wasn’t switched on.  It was a non-alcohol day (surprise, surprise), and after binging on the last three episodes of The City and The City, we headed to bed fairly early, only to wake up on a complete tilt as the pound had lowered during the night and we were sat on a pile of silt!  After straightening her up, we had our weekend bacon butties and headed off around 11am.  We reached the lock at Belleville at 11.20am and the lock was set for us, so we pulled into it and went to the hut armed with the phone.  The lock-keeper answered and explained he was locking through another boat at the next lock and would come to us straight after.

As it reached the magic lunchtime, 12 noon, we realised we’d be waiting til 1pm.  This time we used the time to make use of the tap at the lockside and topped the tank up as I’d washed some bedding this morning as we cruised.  I don’t know – it’s flood or famine with the water on this canal…….

Give him his due, the eclusier arrived just before 1pm and apologised that we’d had to wait, but it was just the timing – I said it wasn’t a problem.  We weren’t in a hurry and we only had a short way to go to our next stop – Beaulieu.  Which is where we are now, Mike is doing some work whilst listening to York City cock up another football game and I’m – well, obviously, I’m doing this!

It’s now two weeks since we left Roanne and it’s been lovely pootling along this beautiful section of canal, although the weather could be better.  Mike has had his shorts on twice.  I need my legs waxed….. :)



Sunday, 8 April 2018

New Waters For Us on the Lateral a la Loire (Or, Hey, Ports – Easter is passed – switch your facilities on!!!)

The sun comes out at last as we cross the Pont-Canal du Guetin

It’s now just over a week since we left Roanne and with reasonable cruising weather and a desire to hit new waters, we’ve made good progress – 183km, 40 locks so far, constituting roughly 8% of our planned trip!

At the end of Sunday 1 April, we came off the Roanne-Digoine and swung left onto the Canal Lateral a la Loire and it really felt as if we were underway now.  We cruised on for a couple of more hours and moored up just above the first lock we arrived at, a lovely rural mooring again with no traffic and just the towpath for company.  Sally and Andy had eaten at ours the previous night and returned the invitation, so after a nice day’s cruise we didn’t even have to cook!  The fresh air was catching up on us all however, and after dinner and a couple of rounds of a dice game I can’t remember the name of, we headed back to Quaintrelle and were in bed by 9.30pm!
 
Another boat trying to break free of the Roanne-Digoine canal - literally!!
One last lock....

And we're out - Puzzler takes a left at the junction on to the Canal Lateral a la Loire
  
A rare smile - brought to you by sunshine and cruising :)

The next day was Easter Monday, and although a public holiday, the locks were open and after a slight lie-in, the eclusier turned up to put us through at 10am as agreed the night before.  Our destination for the day was a shorter jaunt to the small port at Beaulon, where there was a good little ├ępicerie and bakery in the village which was a short walk away.  The shop was closed but would be open the following morning so we made a slightly later appointment with the lock-keeper for Tuesday.  It’s such a pain being back in the ‘nanny-state’ of cruising, having to tell the lock-keepers where you’re going, when you’re going, where you’re stopping……… but it’s better that than getting to a lock and having to phone (if there’s a number there at all) and wait for them to come from wherever they spend their time when not locking boats through……  There were a few boats at Beaulon but we squeezed ourselves in and settled down for the evening, and with Mike having cooked a vat of curry we couldn’t eat all by ourselves, Sally and Andy came round.

The next morning, Sally, Andy, Shannon the dog and I set off for the village at 9am, whilst Mike stayed back to top up our water, which meant a shuffle alongside the widebeam Renaissance.  At the ├ępicerie, an elderly gent and his companion were doing his weekly shop, which involved selecting one item, waddling to the cash desk with it, depositing it, making comment to the shopkeeper, waddling off again, selecting one item, waddling to the cash desk with it…. You get the picture……  Meanwhile, the shopkeeper kept us entertained with tastings of various delicious sausage, even reverting to offering us coffee while we waited, one cup of which he successfully made between serving the old bloke.  After 30 minutes, Andy kindly pointed out we’d need to go soon as we were booked through the next lock at 10.30 and time was getting tight.  With the old bloke now away, he began to attend to us, but not before having a try at introducing his cat to Shannon who was waiting patiently outside…….  We finally got our saussicon supplies and then popped over to the bakers for bread (and pastries!) then headed back to the port where it was time to cast off and head for the lock 15 minutes away.

Deep concentration as the pan goes through Quality Control
The weather forecast for Wednesday wasn’t good, so we decided that we would push on and try and get to Decize today, Tuesday, so if it was really bad, we would stay put for the day.  We arrived at Decize around 4.30pm and as we went for  a walk round the port and for a look at the river, Andy went into the VNF office to check on stoppages.  He and Sally were hoping to go up the Nivernais but our friend Charles on WB Xenia (now back in the UK as of this week!) having moored over winter in Auxerre, at the top of the Nivernais, had told us of a stoppage just south of Auxerre that wouldn’t be lifted until 15 May.  Andy and Sally hadn’t heard about it, and when Andy told the lady in the VNF office at Decize, she also hadn’t heard of it.  She said the canal was open all the way, but then said she’d make a phone call just to check.  Just as well she did as the canal is indeed shut due to weir damage until 15 May.  Andy and Sally were now faced with a dilemma…..to continue with their planned voyage on the Nivernais and dawdle along and wait for the stoppage to clear, or take another route ie. Come with us up the Lateral a la Loire.  With the stoppage, their original trip would take them six weeks, the alternative route would take them four, they had planned on taking three……..  However, they weren’t in a rush and having slept on it, decided to stick with their original plan and just take their time and then spend a few days in Clamecy until the stoppage cleared.

On Wednesday morning, stormy clouds were overhead and it wasn’t long until heavy rain started.  We got on with some chores and then during a break in the rain, made a dash to the supermarket to top up our supplies as we’ll be quite rural for the next few days.  By the time we got back to the boat, the sun was breaking through and Mike was confident the rain was over for the day, so went along to the VNF office and said we’d be leaving at midday and could we book the next lock for 1 o’clock.  It was dry when we left, and stayed dry for the next few hours and had we not got held up, would have been moored up by the time this came….
Dressed appropriately but these hailstones hurt!!
We got held up at a lock as we had to wait for another two boats coming the other way to come up, the lock being in their favour.  After putting us down, the lock keeper then disappeared off to put the other two boats through their next lock, which was 7kms away.  Ours was only 3!!!  And we were faster.  We would have put us though our next lock which was nearer, then gone back to the other two boats, slower and further away.  This is the problem when you have one lock keeper managing three locks and several boats meet in the middle one going opposite directions.  We got ourselves into our lock and closed the gates and waited.  We waited nearly an hour for him to come back, by which time the slightly leaking bottom gates had actually meant we’d dropped about 1 metre and we only had another 30cm to go before the gates opened.  We did keep trying them thinking it would be quite amusing if he arrived and we were gone and the next boat that had arrived to come up was in the lock instead………

Anyway, he arrived, we got through and the heavens opened as we travelled the last few kilometres to our evening’s mooring at Chevenon.  The evening cleared and allowed us a walk into the village to admire the chateau and the flooded lavoir!
Dropping down the lock without a paddle raised!

Splashing about in wellies in the flooded lavoir at Chevenon

The pretty chateau at Chevenon which you can't get into unfortunately.
The next morning we were un-nannied as we cruised a lock-free 7kms to the top of the arm leading down to the town of Nevers, where there were two locks, but they were automated and therefore no lock-keepers.  The avenue down to Nevers is lovely, but sadly ends at the rather grotty port on the outskirts of town.  We were informed that the capitain of the port only turns up sporadically and we happened to arrive on a day she wouldn’t be there, so we moored for free - there was a machine selling tokens for electricity and water but we didn’t need either.  We set off into the town for an explore and to treat ourselves to lunch at Le Gambrinus, reknowned for its steaks – mmmmmm.

It wasn’t the cheapest lunch we’ve ever had but the steak was certainly one of the best.  We were unsure what some of the cuts were, so the chap asked us how we liked to eat our steak and when we said ‘rare’ he advised the best cut to have, Langue de chat…..  Having now researched this, this is a cut particular to the Charoliase cows, so we need to remember not to ask for it unless the meat is Charolaise or we might end up with a real langue de chat……….

We then visited the Cathedral and had a look around the old part of the town before returning to the boat to veg out watching some tv and dozing off our lunch (and lunchtime wine!).  The cathedral was impressive and both of us were remarking on the modern stained glass windows, when I found a sign explaining that the cathedral was restored in the 70s after being bombed by accident by the RAF on the nights of 15/16 July 1944…….oooops…….
The pretty 'avenue' down to the grotty port at Nevers


The old town of Nevers is really pretty
As we were now on new waters we slowed down considerable and there were a couple of days this week we just cruised for 9kms.  Friday was a short day leaving Nevers (our first two ‘upwards’ locks of the year!) and crossing the impressive Pont-Canal du Guetin (eventually, after the lockie came back from his lunch and put another boat up and across first).
The very impressive Pont-Canal du Guetin

Glad we're going over not under!

Green light for (Sergei) Go! :)



And straight from the Pont-Canal into a very deep staircase lock
There, in the sun, we put the bikes together and set off along the now unused arm of canal which used to join the river Allier to the Canal Lateral a la Loire.  From the round lock at the end of the arm, we continued another 1.6km to the village of Apremont-sur-Allier, a recommendation made by Anna and Steve, our neighbours on Victoria at Roanne.  We’re so glad they told us about it, it was fab.  Firstly we visited the gardens, which must be magnificent in summer, but we were just a bit too early for an abundance of colour.  It was lovely just to wander through them though and enjoy the surprisingly nice warm afternoon.  We then stopped for a beer and a coffee in the brasserie next door before visiting the museum in the grounds of the chateau, in the restored stable where we were hugely impressed by a bike exhibition sitting alongside the usual carriage one.  After a walk along the river then back through the very pretty village we got back on the bikes for our 6km ride back to the boat, where we enjoyed our warmest evening yet and had all the windows open until dark.
The disused embranchement from the river Allier to the Canal Lateral a la Loire

The stunning round Ecluse Lorraine to bring boats off the river onto the canal

So sad it's disused, it would have been amazing to see this in use.  You can just see me above the left small arch which gives an idea of scale.

The lovely gardens at Apremont sur Allier

Nice spot for a seat



The chateau at Apremont sur Allier


Mike's favourite bike in the exhibition
Mike was a happy camper the next morning as Saturday dawned bright again and he was served with a full English breakfast before heading off at 11am.  Having done a laundry earlier in the week, and wanting to do another that day as the bed needed changed, we decided to cruise to Cours-les-barres, where there was water and electric at the small port.  It was another short day, which suited us, as I wanted to catch up on the blog and there were various other admin-ny tasks we could do with getting done.  We were moored up by the back of 12, taking a space behind two rather shabby, suspiciously permanently-moored-looking boats, one of which was being worked on, and was plugged into a power socket – good, it must be working.  The power was, but the water was not.  It was still switched off.  So we didn’t bother hooking up to the power as I wouldn’t be doing my second load of washing until we had topped up with water.  Our stop for Sunday was another port with all facilities, so we would get  water then.

Or so we thought.  Another short cruise of 10km and three locks, past a cements work that covered us in yellow dust, brought us to the very pretty town of Beffes, with a cracking port of pontoons and three concrete quays, all equipped with stantions with power and water.  It is free to moor, 6euros for 24 hours for electric/water and there is a pump-out machine that is free and appeared to be working.  At the machine where you pay, there was a sign informing boaters that the water is closed at the moment………  That was very annoying as we are getting a bit low, not desperate yet, but if the next couple of places that advertise having water don’t have it switched on yet, we’ll be in dire straits.  Most of the ports normally switch everything on at Easter, or just after, so we’re puzzled as to why they haven’t yet.  It’s really annoying.  A search under every visible manhole cover proved fruitless as well, as did trying every tap in the port as last year we benefitted from a broken one that provided free water somewhere on the Bourgogne….

With the free pump out machine working and our black tank almost full, we decided to make use, so manoeuvred Quaintrelle alongside and connected it up.  As with previous machines we’ve come across, it was the wrong connection for us, but we managed to connect it and switched on.  It pumped away but did nothing.  Our tank remained full.  But not for long…. Having made up our minds to pump out, we put away the useless port one and dug our manual one out from the gas locker.  Normally done under cover of darkness and not in a port where other boats might arrive, we were so annoyed at the lack of water and lack of ‘pooh-sucky’ machine (name courtesy of Pip on Oleanna), that we decided the town deserved a dose of our waste and it shot out in all it’s glory to feed the local fish – yuk!  That done, we went back to our mooring, made a second cup of coffee, chopped some logs scavenged during yesterday’s lunch break, sat in the sun til the rain started and then came back indoors to do some more admin-ny things, including a blog update – you’re so spoiled, two in 24 hours!!

Tomorrow we hope to find water.  And if not, we’ll find plenty of wine soon at Sancerre and will just have to drink that instead!!

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Settling in to La Ganne and Escaping Roanne!

 
Our lap of honour with NB Puzzler before exiting the port!

My apologies for the lack of transmission over the last two(!!!) months…. We’ve been a bit busy…..  We have now become home owners again and finally made a break for freedom from the Port of Roanne, saying goodbye to friends on land and water as we set off on our summer marathon cruise (2500km!).  So with a bit of date manipulation (pretend it’s last week), here’s a catch up on what we’ve been up to until the end of March.

We signed for our new house on Friday 9th February and the first thing we did was go to the supermarket to buy 2 plates, knives, forks, spoons as it turned out our ‘sold as seen’ deal didn’t stretch to the crockery and cutlery after all and we had nothing to eat our tea with.  Everything else was left however, though we did have to use pool towels for a few weeks until John Lewis delivered the bath ones.  The second thing we did was light the fire as it was bloody freezing (the micro-climate Jerry????!), and the third was have a bath.  We then headed to Jerry and Caroline’s to join them for drinks for Caroline’s birthday and meet some new friends.  It was a chance to reconnect with our neighbours and B&B owners we’d stayed with last visit, Jeanette and Richard, which was lovely.
At last - OUR house :)

Rather a wintry view from our bedroom window

Our friends Michelle and Kevin had put us up the night before we signed, they live about 20 minutes away.  When they came to us for lunch, Kevin brought his toy with him!

Walking from the house down to Jeanette and Richard at Labarthe


When we were building the concrete base for the pool heat pump, we had to clear some vegetation around our well, so then had to make it safe until we will restore it later this year.

Apparently the migrating cranes signal the arrival of spring.  I'm still waiting......

One of our many frogs from the garden trying to get into the sitting room!
We then spent the weekend unpacking what we’d brought from the boat and going through every cupboard and drawer in the house, clearing out what we didn’t want/need and shifting things around to how we wanted them.  On Tuesday we woke up to no water.  A quick call to Jerry, our estate agent (and friend) and he discovered that the previous owner had cancelled his contract meaning our water had been shut off.  Jerry had specifically told them not to do this, as he would contact the water and electric people and simply change the name on the contract from theirs to ours, thus preventing anyone being cut off…….  It all got sorted out by Jerry and by late afternoon, our taps were running again.

By the time Pete and Jane arrived for the weekend on 22 Feb, we’d set up our EDF and Saur (water) contracts and direct debits, tried to set up our internet, but the house didn’t appear on Orange’s system, so an appointment was made for an engineer to come out the following week, purchased towels and sheets for letting the property out over the summer, taken our lives into our hands and travelled to IKEA in Bordeaux for everything else we were missing, bought and had delivered a new tv, got a pool person and gardener in place for over the summer and found a couple of good local wineries (5 minute drive from the house!).  We’d also started the ball rolling to get a pool heater installed, which was going to prove to be a bigger job than we thought…….
We took a couple of days off to do touristy things with Pete and Jane; our local Chateaux de Duras, being one of them.

The chateau is a great visit and we were all greatly amused by the secret door in the wall!

Could've done with these bellows for the fire......

Super views of Duras from the tower.

And looking the other way towards our house :)

Then we went to St Emilion


Mike was there too!
When we were booking our hire car to take us to our house, we discovered that it becomes very expensive to hire for an extended period of time as they won’t hire for longer than 28 days.  The only way we could get around this was to hire for three and a half weeks, then return to Roanne for a few days, then pick up another car for another couple of weeks.  Unbeknown to me, Mike had decided to squeeze in a quick trip to Paris for a couple of nights as he had bought tickets to see First Aid Kit live on 5 March, as an early birthday present for me.  Very early – it’s not til the end of May!  We had a lovely couple of days and the concert was fab.  We then had a couple of nights back on board Quaintrelle and then it was the 4 and a half hour drive back to Baleysaggues.
Sacre Couer

Paris

The beautifully harmonic First Aid Kit - fantastically talented young ladies :)
This next chunk of time was spent getting the house ready for rental over the summer.  We’re not going to do this as a business, but we’ve bought a bit quicker than we intended and rather than leave the house sitting empty over the summer, decided to do some rentals.  The bookings would be managed by Tracy and David of HolidayCottagesandVillas.co.uk and we’d need to get House Managers in place to do the turn around between guests.  We had to have the house ready for a photoshoot presenting it exactly as it would be when rented out, so some tweaks here and there, painting some old tables to make them look more contemporary (thank you again Caroline!), and shifting anything not included out of the way and hiding all our own paraphernalia.  The visit with Tracy and David went well and they were confident we’d get a few bookings.  The only thing left to do was have a pool heater installed……..

On 15 March, we drove the long drive back to Roanne again as Mike had a commitment.  Over the long winter weeks, he’d got together with Dave (musician) and Roger (wannabbee, but more advanced than Mike) to play his ukulele.  As talk of the Roanne Rockers went around the port, there was much interest (curiousity?) and suddenly they were doing a gig at the Thursday night port social in L’Authentique on 15 March.  I got pulled in to sing a couple of numbers and thoroughly enjoyed myself doing so.  As Dave predicted, the night was a roaring success.

Then two days later, we were back in the car for a final 10 days at the house to try and get the pool heater installed.  Ordering the heater and arranging installation had been straight forward, until Paul the electrician arrived, and along with pool lady Katie, confirmed there was not enough power at the pool box and we’d need to install a new supply from the house to the pump – a distance of roughly 35 metres right across the garden, but more worryingly, right across the EDF mains supply to the house.  Mike spent a couple of days trying to find somewhere to hire a scanner so we could see the route of the mains, but they don’t seem to do this in France.  He contacted EDF who remarked on what an unusual request it was, but they’d pass it to their technical team.  With a week to go, Mike contacted EDF again, told them we’d be excavating that week and we really needed someone out ASAP to show us where the line lay.  By the way, Mike hasn’t become fluent overnight, EDF have an English Speaking helpline………  Someone would call us back.  They did.  They didn’t speak English, but they were only calling to say someone would call us back.  Yes, we know that, we were told that this morning by the English-speaking person…..  And then there was a call to say someone would come the next morning – wooohoooo!!!  At last.  I may have glanced over this issue on here, but it was causing us quite a lot of stress, to say the least! 

We could now book in Will, our grass cutter, with his mini-digger to dig the trench and we could begin lifting the turf on the part of the route before it would meet with EDF.

It was back-breaking, and there was only more to come……
My first ever concrete base - not sure I signed up for manual labour!!!

Then we lifted the turf

Mike digs around the EDF cable by hand - the wine bottles mark the route (as the EDF man had run out of spray paint......

Then having dug out the trench and laid the ducting, Will begins to fill it in again and re-lay the lawn....

The day after we dug, it absolutely chucked it down and whilst this was great for the trough across the grass as it settled the grass back in nicely, it turned the clay at the front of the house into slush!  Mike hurried off to the local Batiland (builder’s stuff) and bought several bags of stone which he dug into the clay and then tamped down with his new screwfix hammer.  Ten days on, he still has some soft tissue pain in his hand from this, and the front of the house was such a mess, we had to stop using the front door and use the side one instead.  The timing with Paul the electrician wasn’t great as he was going away for a few days so we were now faced with having dug in the ducting, he may not be able to pull the cable through and have to get Will to dig it all up again, and we wouldn’t be there.  The rain continued as we tried to get the house in the final state for renting, completed the Guest Information book etc.  Our House Managers, Stuart and Ursula, came round for a final visit on Monday 25th March and assured us that they’d make sure everything was okay and not to worry.  Clair the gardener had also done her first session for us, and then invited us round for drinks before we headed off.  She also assured us that she and Will would make sure everything was tidied up and looked good after the installation was complete.

In amongst all the housey stuff, we had also being thinking about our winter mooring for Quaintrelle next winter.  I’d initially contacted the port at Castets en Dorthe, who had sent a booking form and pricelist, which we’d held back on completing until we’d looked at all our options.  It turns out that Clair, our gardener, and her husband David have just bought a boat that they are refurbishing, and it is moored at Fontet, so on her recommendation, we went and had a look round the port, found the prices online and emailed the local Mairie, who manages the port, about wintering there next year.  When we visited, there appeared to have been spaces, so we were confident it would be all systems go and were therefore slightly shocked when we got an email saying sorry, they were full.  We had a back-up plan though, and headed to Meilhan sur Garonne, where we had visited last year when on a house-hunting trip in September.  Last year we had met the English Capitain, Mike, who was retiring and now the port had been taken over by someone else, who it turned out, was the father of one of the girls opening the new florists in Monsegur, the opening night of which we’d dropped in on when visiting Clair and Dave for drinks…. (to keep it short!).  He was there working on the Capitainerie and was more than happy for us to over-winter there, although it all seemed to good to be true when he said it wouldn’t cost anything, we could just stop.  He gave us his contact details and said to ring him round about August to remind him, so it was all a bit loose, to say the least, but he was a nice guy, spoke good English so we were confident there hadn’t been a misunderstanding.  As we were about to leave, Mike, the old Capitain turned up, thankfully, as once the new Capt. explained what was going on, he quickly said we couldn’t, despite the DBA guide notes on the mooring saying you can…..  Up until 2011 you could over-winter there, but then the licence changed and it became a Haulte Nautique, rather than a port, and under which terms you cannot overwinter.  Mike suggested Castelnaudary, but that’s too far for us to get to the house and back to check on the boat, and Buzet sur Baise, where an English couple run the old port and take over-wintering.  We knew we still had Castets on a back-burner, so Mike contacted Buzet and they said yes, they’d be happy to have Quaintrelle over the winter, and at a cheaper rate than Castets.  We haven’t seen the port, but as we won’t be living on her, it doesn’t matter so much.  As long as it’s safe and secure, and it’s only a 50 minute drive from the house.  The deposit’s been paid and that’s another thing ticked off the to-do list!!

And so, leaving a half-installed pool heating system, a big hole in front of the house and a pile of clay under the tree we handed over wadges of cash to various people who we’d only just met, left them with our house keys and drove off into the sunset.  Well, we drove off into torrential rain and had a horrific journey back to Roanne on Wednesday 27th – it absolutely chucked it down for all 5 and a bit hours back – exhausting.  We really did have mixed feelings.  We are so excited about the house and have only just started making friends there and we’ve had to leave them until October.  But we were so excited at the thought of being on the move and cruising again, breaking jail from the port.  But we’ve got some great friends there, who we’ll miss……….

Meanwhile, Marmande Piscines managed to install the heat pump in between the rain, but we’re still waiting to hear from Paul if he’s managed to install the electrics.  Once he has, Marmande will go in and connect it all up and test the pump.  I hope it all works.  And then, if it ever stops raining, Clair and Will will be able to go in and fill in the holes left and make it look nice again.  Crikey, it’s making my heart race again just thinking about it all.

Back at Roanne, it was a quick catch up with friends and then stocking up ready for our departure on 31st.  Saturday dawned cold but bright and sunny – a good cruising day!  Just after 9.30am, Sally and Andy on NB Puzzler pushed off their mooring and headed down the port towards us, amid blasting horns from the other boats and shouts and waves as they passed by.  We were even accompanied by the sound track to Titanic at one point – thanks Nikki – we’re still afloat!!!  We followed them out to complete a lap of honour and were at the lock to the port ready to leave at 10am.  All our friends came to the lock to see us off, it was really quite emotional, but what a great feeling to be out on the canal again and on the move.  We did quite a long day, stopping at Artaix for the night, and I couldn’t stop staring out of the window at the trees and rolling fields that provided my view, instead of the back-ends of Portheus and Grizzled Skipper!  These are boats by the way……… 
On your marks!!.......

Here comes Puzzler - Get Set!!!.......

Go!!!  Saying goodbye at the lock.

Puzzler taking it easy.