Saturday (16th April) we finally set off from Narbonne which has been our home for the last six months and Charles is hoping he hasn’t forgotten how to manage Bluegum. We travel up the Canal de la Robine to Salléles-d’Aude and find Maggie and Nigel moored up on Gesina who have been here for a week, so we have a pleasant time enjoying a sundowner before we sample some wines at a very convenient cave opposite our boat.
After two nights here we set off now on the Canal de Jonction with five locks over a 3k distance so I enjoy the walk between them as I have to operate the locks which are all electronic – this only means I have to press one button to prepare the lock and one button to complete the procedure. We see Gesina moored up between locks – ermm wonder if they just wanted to get away from us!!!
At the top we turn left and are now on The canal du Midi which was designed by Pierre Paul Riquet and is famous world wide for the quality and historical interest of its waterways structures. Construction of the 240 kilometer canal with 63 locks and dozens of aquaducts, spillways and siphons began in April 1667 to link the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and was completed in 1681 – it has operated without interruption for more than three centuries. Not everything went smoothly over this time as Riquet faced opposition regarding the technical and financial problems. For example Riquet demolished the first locks to reduce their height and rebuilt the chambers with the oval shape which makes them distinctive today. Part of the canal had to be re-routed and there is speculation that the cuttings of Millegrand, St-Julien and Dejean required more gunpowder than any battle fought….. On arrival at the foot of the Enerune mountain work stopped and it appeared Riquet was defeated until he noticed a small tunnel and diverted his workforce to dig a narrow passage through the mountain. Whilst there is a happy ending for all the boaters who enjoy wandering through this magnificent setting, the same cannot be said for poor old Riquet – the cost of its construction ruined him and he was so embittered by the vehemence of his opponents he died in 1680 only six months before his dream materialised.
The canal is also famous for its alleys of plane trees which are being cut down due to canker stain. Whilst it is sad to see their destruction on a selfish note it does provide wonderful vistas of the countryside which otherwise would be hidden. Many young saplings have been planted and to avoid a repetition of the spread of diseases numerous wooden posts have been installed along the canal to reduce the necessity for boaters to wrap their ropes around trees when mooring which is reputed to be one of the causes of the disease spreading.
The weather is lovely and warm and its great to be back in shorts and T shirts although slightly confusing when we can see snow capped mountains in the distance. Our first stop is at Ventenac-en-Minervois a very small pretty village with a wine cellar and museum situated conveniently on the quay.
An entrepreneur has set up a small wooden shack supplying boaters with baguettes and other basics. Shore power is scarce along this stretch so our batteries are being charged as we motor and we always have our generator should we need a boost.
All the locks have lock keepers who operate the locks electronically and initially I was remaining on the boat but have learnt that not all the lock keepers will assist with the ropes and some of the locks are very deep so Charles now drops me off at the bottom and it works out well. The only problem is when too many boats are being crammed into the lock chamber. We are not sure what the hire boat companies tell the hirers but they have a look of terror when they have to join us in the locks especially when they don’t appear to have a clue how to manage the ropes. I am a nervous wreck when I see young children wandering all over the boats and jumping on and off the boats in the locks – no life jackets, no parental control – an accident waiting to happen………….
Our next stop is Homps which does have shore power – free on the first night…. pure luxury which I take full advantage of by doing all the washing. Charles walks over to En Bonne Compagnie to book a table as we have been recommended this restaurant and then I go for a little four mile run before getting ready. On route to Homps we share a few locks with Margaret and Chris, a couple on holiday from Newfoundland and later join them for a drink.
We then go for our meal which is probably one of the best meals we have enjoyed in France. Especially nice as I don’t have to pick out lardons as proper vegetarian options are available.
Puichéric is our next stop and in retrospect we should have halted at La Redorte which has more facilities. The weather has turned so we decide not to get wet visiting Puichéric a small village with twisting narrow streets and we think the only attraction is a burnt out 11th century chateau – I know we are just heathens. Three young kids decide our boat would make a good climbing frame but get a shock when I bob out of the wheel house and they make off but unluckily for them not before a local farmer clutching a scythe sees them and chases after them. Later he walked back with a satisfied expression on his face and we never saw the kids again……..
As we set off we keep our eyes out for rice fields as apparently in 1851 a tunnel was dug between the River Aude and a lake enabling farmers to go into the rice growing business; long grain and round grain according to our guidebook but all we see are rows and rows of vines. We are in no hurry so are only travelling a couple of hours a day which is around 10 kilometers and a few locks. We stop at Marseillette with plenty of mooring posts but very few boats.
This town is on the southern limits of the Minervois wine growing region but we are having a rest from drinking so to avoid temptation remain on the boat. On Friday to settle in Trébes for the weekend. In comparison to our previous stops this is quite sizeable with two supermarkets, a number of bars and restaurants and of course opportunity for wine-tasting. The lock keeper warned us to stay away from this town in summer as he said there would be too many hire boats and it sounds like it could become a bottle neck – we actually had to wait an hour for the treble lock which is probably a flavour of what we will be experiencing on this popular canal.