On Wednesday morning we take a walk into Bram and are surprised at the size of the market with stalls stacked with beautiful cheeses, olives and the usual fruit and veg – very much worth a visit. Artichokes appear to be plentiful and as I have always avoided them as I haven’t a clue how to prepare or cook them decide it is time to be brave so watching how the French shoppers select one I pick one and am thankful the internet will provide the guidance needed to enjoy it.
(Thursday 12th May) We seem to be getting a real mix of weather – blue skies and sunshine one day and cool and rainy the next – very unusual according the the locals. It’s not so good for a couple of days so we linger a little longer in Bram than originally intended. We decide its time to cast off so mosey up the canal a bit – only managing three locks and 6 kilometres when we moor up in a beautiful isolated countryside mooring – its lovely having the place to ourselves so we relax on the back deck in the sunshine listening to all the birds chirping happily away.
We have heard a lot of hype about the beauty of the Canal du Midi and up to Carcassonne I felt I was missing something as I just couldn’t ‘get it’ but after Carcassonne the scenery is stunning. The plane trees seem to be surviving better as there is less evidence of their destruction here – maybe the Americans (who some blame for the cause of the disease through their wooden ammunition cases) didn’t reach this area. The other piece of hype about the unfriendliness of the lock keepers is also a myth – all of the ones we have met have been friendly and helpful.
After my morning run we set off where the locks are at regular intervals of around a kilometre or two apart and find an intriguing little shop at The Peyruque Lock (PK 71.5) which sells bread and other produce plus some very pretty ceramic objects – definitely worth a stop for a browse. Once again we moor in the countryside just outside of Castelnaudary on the left bank a kilometre before the double lock Gay. We take a walk into the town to find a bar for beer and meet the lovely capitaine where we book a mooring for the weekend. In retrospect we would have been better going through the double lock and mooring along this stretch as it is on the towpath side and less muddy. After this is a staircase of four locks where we find the lock keeper in a hurry. He gives us little time to secure the ropes before he opens the sluices – makes for a fun experience and keeps us on our toes!
On Friday we moor against Safran a Piper boat whose owners are back in the UK – or so we thought as Charles comes to tell me that either the owners have returned unexpectedly or the boat is being burgled. Fortunately it is the former and we meet Diane and Gerry who join us for a drink in the evening. In the morning a space on the quay allows us to move which makes getting the bikes on and off the boat much easier.
Castelnaudary is famous for its Cassoulet which consists of white beans, chunks of pork and duck – Charles is not keen and me being a veggie we both pass on this delicacy. The town also boasts having the 7 hectare Grand Bassin, the biggest port of the whole canal. It was dug to feed the four Saint Roch locks and also to supply a loading port for grain from the Lauragais plains.
I experience a minor crisis when we learn Monday is a public holiday and find the shops are closed on both Sunday and Monday – normally this would not be a problem but Eileen and David Smith some friends from Spain are visiting on Sunday and the cupboards are bare. To exacerbate the problem restaurants are also closed Sunday evenings and Mondays. So its a simple meal of cold roast chicken which I had bought from a rotisserie earlier together with roast potatoes and baby tomatoes followed by cheese. Charles is our guide as we take a walk around the town which actually doesn’t take too long. First we walk up to a windmill – Moulin du Cugarel situated on the hill du Pech; it is one of the few remaining from the original 23 windmills in Castelnaudray.
It was built in the 16th century and restored in 1962. Unfortunately for us it is only open between July and September so we take a photo instead. We make our way down the hill to the 13th century Gothic style church; Saint Michel – this is also closed but apparently was restored in the 17th and 19th centuries. Part of the building was a prison and remained in operation until 1926 which to me seems incongruous. Apparently the church holds a organ built by Aristide Cavaille-Coll reputed to being the most distinguished organ builder of the 19th century. Alas we are unable to hear its dulcet tones so I listened to a recording on YouTube and have to admit it sounded rather good.
After strolling around the Monday market our guests leave us for the return drive to Spain – we decide to stay another day so we cycle up to the supermarket for provisions. Tuesday (17th May) we leave Castelnaudray to continue on our journey and find the single locks are now self operated by pressing buttons, the French clearly do not trust boaters with the staircase locks which continue to be operated by lock keepers. Whilst manoeuvring from the first to the second lock at Roc the stern, having a mind of its own, glides against the lock wall resulting in one of my flower pots tumbling into the canal – Charles had re-arranged them earlier as our ensign had been battering the flowers due to the strong winds and we had both forgotten to move the pots back. The lock keeper decides it is his challenge to retrieve the pot which is alas empty of its content but we admire his effort – so I am now down to two small pots at the stern and one large flower pot towards the bow as well as my small herb garden… We reach lock number 18 Méditerranée; the last lock before we reach the summit so all the locks until we reach Toulouse will be going down which is so much more relaxing.
We stop at Le Ségala which could be a lovely spot except for the numerous apparently abandoned boats cluttering the banks. None the less we are happy to stay here a few days and we enjoy some cycle rides out. There is a little restaurant along the quay having cassoulet as its speciality so we give it a miss.
We are on the Biez de Partage – the summit pound – and therefore the highest point on the canal. Water is stored in 4 reservoirs in the Black Mountains and fed over 63 kilometers along a small feeder canal and into the Canal du Midi. In over 300 years it has never run dry – quite a testament to M. Paul Riquet canal building skills.
Labastide-d’Anjou is a couple of kilometres from the mooring where we enjoy a coffee at the little bar – I know; it is a surprise to us that we refrain from something alcoholic!! There is also a decent size supermarket, pharmacy and boulangerie. Charles has been having problems with a sore mouth so after checking on the internet he is happy to discover it is not life threatening but he does need to see a Doctor who informs him he has “champignons dans la bouche” (mushrooms in his mouth!) – nothing worse… He is prescribed a mouth wash and is happy the condition is improving.
Our intention was to stop next a Port Lauragais so we could get shore power and water but on arrival the only place for a boat of our size was on the pontoon which had a sign saying the water and electric didn’t work. All the other moorings were for the hire boats so we continued on our way for an overnight stop before the lock at Renneville. The mooring below the lock is taken up by a large 30 meter restaurant boat.
Friday the 20th May is Laura’s birthday so in her absence we enjoy a drink or two to toast her health. We moor in Gardouch which again is taken up with many boats which look like they’ve been here a while and we don’t see anyone with them but we find space on the quay for Bluegum. Its a lovely spot with a two kilometer walk to the small village which has a pizzeria, tapas and a restaurant which is closed.
There is a very good boulangerie for our Sunday morning treat. A couple of kilometres in the direction of Villefranche-de-Lauragais we find a very large SuperU and a Brico. The latter being essential as the sender for our water tank gauge has broken once again resulting in a wee bit of clean tank water leaking through!!! We think we have gone through four senders during our ownership of this boat which cannot be right can it?? It is slightly disconcerting discovering water inside the boat when it is suppose to be outside only. There is only a little; that we can see and are just hoping the bilge isn’t swimming in it.
Think we will get this published while we are still afloat…….