We get ourselves organised and then set off to tackle the Etang du Thau which is similar to being on the sea. It is important to follow the red and green markers and the fun of the trip is trying to find them – the French navigators demonstrate a sense of humour by hiding them in odd little places.
It is a little windy today making the water a wee bit choppy but nothing the capabilities of Mr P. cannot handle and we enjoy a couple of hours crossing from Sete to arrive onto the Canal du Midi – its a bit of an anticlimax really but spying the oyster beds and the Mediterranean in the distance makes it all worth while.
We moor against the bank before Bagnas; the first lock on this canal – we need to put metal stakes into the bank and I being ever cautious always double up the stakes by hammering them in on opposite angles to provide added strength. By Tuesday morning after half a dozen hire boats go past us under the misapprehension that they had in fact hired speed boats and having clearly not been shown where to find the go slow pedal our stakes are pulled out of the ground! We decide to move on even though it is raining as we try and avoid travelling in the rain whenever possible. We experience our first rounded sided lock which is a feature of the Canal du Midi – this canal was built by Pierre-Paul Riquet between 1666 and 1681 to provide an inland water route through Southern France between the Atlantic at Bordeaux and the Mediterranean at Séte via the Garonne. Originally the locks were designed with a rectangular shape however early in the construction the side walls collapsed so Riquet re-designed the locks with an ovoid chamber.
It is not long before we enter Écluse ronde d’Agde which has three gates enabling boaters to either continue on the Canal du Midi or make a turn and enter the river L’Hérault to travel to the Mediterranean – love all these new experiences.
As we meander along the canal we spot a row of moored barges and recognise the distinctive shape of Gesina so disturb everyone by tooting our horn and say hello to Maggie and Nigel on our way passed – we did predict we would overtake them as unlike us they haven’t got a fire in their tank…..We continue on our way and stop for the night at Villeneuve-lés-Béziers; a nice mooring against the quay with a small town to explore and a good place for a run/cycle.
We have a number of locks and a lift bridge to negotiate before we arrive in Béziers, not that we have any intentions of stopping but I put it on my list to return to one day. The lock keepers have a tendency to get as many boats into these locks as possible which can make it a bit cosy to say the least. At one lock whilst a hire boat did enter first it was necessary for us to leave the lock first, apparently much to the annoyance of the German crew – no I’m not going to make any politically incorrect comment about towels or anything else; I will just think it.
Anyway as they exit the lock they put their foot down and I really mean they put their foot down and proceed to over take us on a narrow windy canal – fortunately nothing is coming the other way but really what a plonker!!! I can tell you Charles has some choice words that are unrepeatable especially when they nearly collided with us.
We arrive at the 7 écluses de Foncérannes which actually have nine gates – a staircase lock allowing boats to rise to a height of 21.5 meters in a distance of 300 meters. They were designed by two illiterate brothers Michel and Pierre Medailhes and many of the labourers were woman – good to hear equal ops isn’t a modern thing………
We do have to wait about an hour to start locking up and incredible our German version of Sterling Moss proceeds to overtake boats so ensure being first in the lock – we hang back so we are not in the same chamber as them.
It is quite an experience, first we securely tie Bluegum and then the front gates open – not what we expected as we can see into the next chamber when suddenly the paddles are opened and the water floods through at quite a rate of knots. It is quite unnerving to start with but we soon get used to the system and within 35 to 40 minutes we arrive at the top still in one piece.Onwards and upwards we continue on our way passing Colombiers (another place on my list to visit) and through the Malpas Tunnel – the oldest canal tunnel in Europe excavated in 1679.
We reach Poilhes and both decide we have had enough for one day. We notice a couple of really nice looking restaurants but we are tired and as I have already prepared a meal so decide to have an early night. We locate a small shop across the bridge and buy a baguette before moving off on Thursday morning (1st Oct).
Although very narrow in places the canal is very picturesque and the only thing that ruins it is the large number of hire boats with boy racers at the wheel. We sight lots of kingfishers and they appear quite unperturbed and linger long enough for us to get some good photo’s.
We pass the turn towards Narbonne and continue a little further to moor up at the Porte Minervoise which is a free mooring next to what I can only describe as a shack that sells a range of refreshments and tapas. Its a lovely little spot and enjoy an excellent glass of rose. On Friday we decide to top up on fuel so Charles does an impressive three point turn to return from whence we came and stop at the Port la Robine and feel we are being fleeced at being charged 1.70 euro per litre so only get enough to get us through the winter.
We take our time travelling down the Canal de la Robine to arrive in Narbonne and our home for the next six months over the winter period. We meet John and Liz on a widebeam called Puddle Stone and look forward to welcoming Maggie and Nigel on Gesina later in the month.