River Rhone – the good, the bad and the ugly!

I must be wicked because apparently there is no rest for me – we arrive back into Macon on Friday (11th Sept) afternoon to find the boat as we left it. Time to unpack, put a load of washing in and then we are off on the bikes to find the supermarket which is just around the corner……or is it?  Not the one we decide to use and it feels like we have cycled around the whole of Macon before we find an Aldi – don’t you just love Google but we get what we need and somehow find a quicker way back to the port.No time to look around Macon on this trip as Mr P is in a determined mood so we cast off and travel 80 odd kilometers to arrive in Lyon late afternoon.

Porte de Plaisance, Lyon
Port de Plaisance, Lyon

We are glad we booked ahead as there is only one space left that is big enough for our size of boat.  Joy of joys I spy a large shopping centre next to the port although we had been pre-warned about it from Maggie who had stayed here awhile back.  I am getting quite excited to spend some time wandering around the shops as I haven’t bought any clothes for….let me see… oh yes last week back in the UK!! but we are in France so the shops are different.  Charles goes to pay the Capitain for our mooring and comes back with the news that the shops are shut on Sunday and probably being France on Monday too – but he is prepared to compensate by allowing me to window shop and takes me out for dinner too.

Sally runs a half marathon in Lyon
Sally runs a half marathon in Lyon

We indulge in our Sunday morning treat of croissants and later I decide to do a run even though it is a bit warm.  Charles gets out the bike and off we go along the Rhone – The French really do encourage fitness; there are always cycle tracks which runners, dog walkers and family’s share and we frequently see play areas for kids and outdoor fitness apparatus for adults to use and they are often being used.

The Good ….

Lyon modern buildings
Lyon modern buildings

Looks like we will visit Lyon as tourists on our return trip as Monday morning we are off again for our first experience of The Rhone.  In boating circles we often hear horror stories of travelling on the Rhone – the part we are covering is 313 kilometers from Lyon to Beaucaire with 14 locks.  The main cause for concern is the wind  which effects the speed of the current and conditions can change quickly. The Mistral can cause an extremely violent north wind which can blow in any season but the southern wind which sadly hasn’t been given a title can also be very frequent and both causes problems for boaters.  It is prohibited for pleasure boats to use the river when the flow reaches 3500. Fortunately there are detailed websites with all the necessary information and updates which we check daily.  We also have Maggie and Nigel preceding us and sending us details of mooring places and useful info. Apparently another problem is delays of anything from 20 minutes to 4 hours at the locks with pleasure boats giving priority to commercial barges and hotel boats. This river does have to be taken seriously as many a boater has come into real difficulty in the past so Charles has does his homework reading up on the do’s and dont’s – don’t want our loved ones to worry about us.

Setting off on the Rhone
Setting off on the Rhone

So with some butterflies in the tummy we don our life jackets and set off and soon arrive at the first lock which is 12 meters deep – the gates are open and waiting for us so we join another barge with a Canadian flag – we look very small  and don’t take up much space at all.  From previous advise we attach a rope from our centre pin onto the floating pontoon and switch off the engine – we are pleasantly surprised how smooth the descent is, much less trouble than many locks we have used. One down twelve to go….

The first lock
The first lock
Chavanay mooring. The two pillars are the remains of a bridge over the Rhone which was blown up by the allies in 1944 to impede the German retreat

We have decided to travel about 50 k a day which at 10 -12 kph will be around 4,5 to 5 hours depending on lock waiting times.  We reach Chavanay (47k) late afternoon and find a lovely pontoon in beautiful surroundings. Chavanay although small is well equipped with some shops and oddly many restaurants and bars. There is also a large supermarket and brico (DIY) a mile up the road which we walk to and treat ourselves to a cake for our tea.  This area is very hilly and perfect for vineyards of the Cote du Rhone having appellations Condrieu and Saint Joseph. I am hoping Mr P will allow us some time to sample some of these wines – I think it would be rude not to…… We expected commercial and hotel boats to travel late but didn’t expect to hear them at 1 in the morning – they caused a little wash but nothing more.

We find some lamp oil for the Lamp - a gift from Sarah and Damien
We find some lamp oil for the Lamp – a gift from Sarah and Damien

Tuesday we have an early run and cycle before heading off again – the weather conditions are perfect and we are just loving the new sights.  The river is wide but Charles is having no trouble just now and I take the helm every now and again to give him a rest although he tends to be reluctant to give up the wheel where he is in his element.  We intended to stop at Tournon but don’t fancy mooring against the quay – mainly because the large boats cause a wash and we don’t fancy bouncing off the wall so instead carry on to La Roche du Glun (51 k)which provides a pontoon mooring on an inlet which hopefully will protect us from wash and inclement weather.  How wrong was I?? We enjoy a walk around the little village in lovely sunshine and feel compelled to buy a bagette on our way passed the boulangerie.

The Bad

La Roche sur Glun
La Roche sur Glun

Not long after returning we feel the wind blowing us around and then the heavens opened.  The force of the wind increases during the night and Charles checks that our ropes are secure before settling down for the night.  We have quite a disturbed night as the inclement weather continues to deteriorate.  It feels more like being on the sea than a river; proper waves and white horses – we feel quite intrepid…..

A Kingfisher visits during a howling gale!
A Kingfisher visits during a howling gale!

First thing Wednesday morning we checked the websites and are not surprised to read that all pleasure boats have been prohibited to travel so we go off for a run/cycle instead – it doesn’t seem to matter which way we face the wind is always against us making the run a bit tough but it is weirdly warm; about 24 degrees.  A good day to hunker down and catch up on all those jobs we have procrastinated over during the hot summer months.

The Ugly

Thursday is a better day and in retrospect we probably should have remained in Glun but its sunny and the flow chart on  CNR website looks manageable so off we set to Valence lock but  have to wait for a commercial boat to exit.  In addition there is a work boat towing a line of booms preventing us from reaching the pontoon – Charles really struggles to keep the boat in place and we are shocked to see how quickly we travel in such a short distance.  The force of the current and the ever nearing walls is pretty terrifying and probably our worse experience of boating yet. We are both pretty shaken by the time we get into the lock and decide we will stop as soon as possible.  We attempt to get into the Port de Valance but the current is  far too strong for us to steer Bluegum between the two navigation posts to guide boats from the shallow waters so we carry on.  Charles is happy going forward so we reckon we will be in Spain by the weekend……………Joni get the kettle on!

Lots of logs and other debris coming down on the fast current
Lots of logs and other debris coming down on the fast current
Debris is useful for some ....
Debris is useful for some ….

The good

Drama over the rest of the day goes without incident and we moor up at a quay for passenger boats but it says in our guide its okay for us to moor up – not sure the captain of the passenger boat agreed when he turned up at 9pm to find us in his place but he doesn’t turf us out and I have the best night sleep in months – could also be due to the fact I haven’t had a drink since last weekend : serious preparation for the marathon in four weeks.

Waiting at a lock ....
Waiting at a lock ….
... for a cruise ship to exit
… for a cruise ship to exit

The weather is even better on Friday and we check the flow charts which look good  so set off at 8 and book into the Port de L’Ardoise around a 90 k trip. The information website: http://www.inforhone.fr is fantastic and allows me to give Charles updates on boats behind or in front of us.  It categorises them into Commercial, Pleasure (that’s us), Passenger and Service. It records the name of the boat at the last lock it goes through which means I can keep an eye on their progress.  Not sure Charles appreciates a minute by minute update on the Rhone boat movement but it keeps me happy and I can tell him the name of all boats approaching before it gets anywhere near us – little things please little minds.

beatiful weather and scenery
beautiful weather and scenery
Bollene - the deepest lock in Europe at 23 metres!
Bollene – the deepest lock in Europe at 23 metres!

The Best …

The double TGV Mediteraenean rail bridge over the Rhone
The double TGV Mediteraenean rail bridge over the Rhone

After a long day cruising when we arrive in the port de L’Ardoise and once again checking the weather forecast decide to stay here for the weekend.  It is a small port tucked away from the main river and provides some shelter from the wind which is predicted to reach 80 kph.  We are welcomed by some winter moorer’s who help us with our ropes. We are a tad disappointed that the port restaurant is closed for winter as we had decided to treat ourselves so its back to the galley for me.  On Saturday Charles mends the puncture on his bike and then we set off for the longest run/cycle yet of 22 miles.  We only get 1/2 mile when his back tyre bursts! So we limp back to the boat for him to fix it once again. We give up on the run and both cycle to the supermarket instead. Up early on Sunday and Charles has planned a lovely route through the vineyards of the Cote de Rhone.  The scenery is truly stunning and helps to take my mind off the 22 miles ahead of me.  4 hours and 24 minutes later I am so chuffed to have completed the run and feel so much more confident for the marathon in three weeks.

Sally looking fresh at around 11 miles - just another 11 to go!
Sally looking fresh at around 11 miles – just another 11 to go!

I am running this marathon on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support because too many of my family and friends have died from cancer or are being treated for it right now.  I always had a marathon  on my bucket list  and it is one of those things I will do next year – But next year I am 60 and really want to complete it before I reach that milestone in my life and running it for a charity makes it more worth while.  I have been training since January so have been running 3 to 4 times a week for the last 9 months and have clocked up around 600 miles.   I cannot deny it is hard work but also when I complete a new longest distance it is very satisfying.  I mustn’t forget to mention that for many of those 600 miles Charles has cycled along side me shouting encouragement and reminding me why I am doing it.  So I would like to thank everyone who has donated so far, I really appreciate it and cannot tell you how much it helps me to continue.  I also know times are hard but if you could spare any amount no matter how small then please visit my Just Giving site, details below.


Sunrise at L'Ardoise
Sunrise at L’Ardoise

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