The last of these blogs ended at Bassin Rond again, where we had another lovely night and encountered this very special boat in the morning. It's an ex-salvage boat from an oil rig and the young couple who were living on Milda (as the boat was called) had crossed the channel in her and were on their way to Paris. Isn't it fabulous?
We left Milda and co. late Saturday morning and started on our way to Valenciennes. This involved some negotiating round the thick weeds at the exit onto the main canal of the Escaut/Schelde, but we made it without getting our propellor mixed up with or attached to any hangers-on. Almost immediately, there was a big commercial lock, and after establishing by means of my recently dusted off and sort of serviceable French that the lock at Bruay beyond Valenciennes had been re-opened since 1 July, we knew we could continue with this route (we'd had to change routes on the way south because it was closed for a week or three - the length of time seemed to vary depending on who we spoke to). In this first lock, we tied up to one of the commercials whose skipper was clearly delighted to have another man to talk to and proceeded to regale Koos with all his opinions on life and politics as well as on the Dutch, including why Amsterdam is so much better than Rotterdam. I left them to it. His opinions didn't leave much room for comment or debate.
After another two locks on this wide, beautiful river, we reached Valenciennes around six o'clock and, joy of joy, found a marina with showers as well as electricity and water! Luxury!
|On the way along the Escaut|
|A loading bay for the commercial barges|
|We lost our lovely Sunbrella in a gust of wind|
on the Canal de Saint Quentin, so I rigged up a replacement
|Luxury mooring in Valenciennes|
We spent a very refreshing night in Valenciennes (thanks to our first real shower of the journey - see previous post re camping shower if you are now mentally holding your nose) and after a Sunday morning walk through the town and some internet catch up time outside McDonalds (yes, it did work, even though they were closed!) we set off again down the Escaut. There were three big locks to get through and then no more before Antoing where we wanted to spend the night. It was hot. And it was glorious. Waiting for the locks was no pain at all, and at Fresnes, the last one before the Belgian border, we had to wait quite a while. We only later discovered it was because here all the commercials had to produce their paperwork. As we had our vignettes (stick on boating permits), we didn't, but of course we had to wait for them. Fresnes took about an hour and a half all told.
|More riverside loading quays|
|Waiting for the lock at Fresnes - not a bad life!|
After a long stretch of rather lonely canal lined only with bushes and reeds, and where the only entertainment came from the busy activities of the water fowl, we arrived at the Belgian border. Almost immediately, the scenery changed. An avenue of tall trees replaced the bushes, towpaths were suddenly alive with cyclists and there was generally more to see altogether. Unfortunately, the weather also changed and we got well soaked on the stretch of canal that took us into Belgium. But it cleared up and by the time we moored up in the side basin at Antoing, the sun was out again.
|The old customs house on the border|
|Crossing the border into Belgium - note the trees!|
|Approaching Antoing with the castle as our beacon|
|Mooring at Antoing|
We liked it so much in Antoing, we stayed there for two days. The town is not particularly beautiful although it does have a lovely castle (which was, sadly, closed). However, the people were really friendly and made us feel extra welcome; there were barges to watch and a great bunker station with a treasure trove of barge goodies; there was also an Aldi supermarket within a short walk of the boat. Tournai was an easy bike ride away too, and I cycled there to buy more cooking gas. On our second morning, we went to the market, where again we were treated with such friendly interest, it underscored for me once again why I love Wallonia so much. We met lots of lovely people in France too, but Antoing will remain in our memories as somewhere extra special.
Oh and yes, I bought Koos a hat at the market to protect his poor neck from too much sun - although from this photo, it looks as if his eyes do better out of the deal.
This was really our goodbye to France and the French-speaking waterways. The next stop would be back in Flanders, so I'll leave that for a final blog.
Kortrijk, Astene and Gent deserve their own piece, don't you think?
|This is by road as close as I can get to the route we took going.|
We went by way of Gent, Oudenaarde, Roubaix, Lille, Douai and Cambrai,
|And this is as close as I can get to the return route. We returned by way of Cambrai,|
Valenciennes, Tournai, Kortrijk, Deinze and then Gent.