Where have all the barges gone?

From Dinant we headed south up the Meuse and into France. Along the way we passed Bayard rock, which stands out on the side of the river like jagged teeth. Then it was onto Freye Chateau, built in the style of Versailles and the largest chateau in Belgium.

Bayard rock
Chateau Freye, which originally sat on the river bank by evidence of the mooring rings in its walls
The gardens of the chateau

Our guide fluvial (waterways guide) indicated there was a customs stop at Pont de Heer where we crossed the border into France, and although we kept a sharp eye out, there was no such stop, so with only a change of curtesy flag, we breezed along the river and into France. At the next lock we collected our remote control to operate the automatic locks, which were the feature of the next part of our journey. This control looks rather like the old fashioned garage door openers, and to operate it you point it at a box before the lock and voila, like magic the lock gates open to admit you. Once inside the lock it is only a matter of pulling a pole for the gates close, the water fills (or empties as the case maybe) and in about 10 minutes, you are on your way. Well, that’s the theory, and it does work most of the time, but when it doesn’t either the skipper or the crew needs to climb a ladder and contact the eculsier via an intercom, who jumps in a car and comes rushing to rectify the situation. Our first non operational lock was over 3 meters deep, so Peter kindly offered to make the climb!

Peter bravely climbing out of the lock to rescue our stranded boat
Safely back on board

Our first night in France was spent at Givet. The last available mooring was under the bridge, which was not a choice spot. We happily left early and made our way to Fumay, past the Charlemont fortress and through the tunnel at Ham which is 564 meters long. After the long tunnels in Alsace, I stupidly said as we entered”call that a tunnel” only to discover it was quite narrow and low, with rocky outcrops jutting down from the ceiling.

It was with a sigh of relief that we exited in less than 10 minutes, that felt more like an eternity.

Now that’s a fortress

Entering the tunnel at Ham

The countryside along the river is very picturesque, high cliff faces and rocky hillsides dressed in the varied greens of the forest, but of course where the terrain is mountainous there are a lot of locks.

This was originally a slate mining district so the villages are a mixture of miners cottages and large mansions, presumably once the dwellings of the mine owners. They all have one thing in common, slate roofs.

The rocky outcrop of Dames de la Meuse

This one needs a bit of work.

As the locks are too small, there is no commercial traffic on this section of the river. And with no commercial traffic, may of the locks need a bit of loving care and lots of money poured into them. The title of this blog refers not only to the absence of commercial barges, but also the general absence of pleasure boats. We had all the locks to ourselves, and moorings were very easy to find, even late in the day. The towns were very quite as well, though I did manage to find a boulangerie everyday , and in Monthermé there was a great chacutier.

It was only on our way back down the river that we meet some other bargees in the port at Charleville-Meziere.

Our destination was going to be Verdun, before we turned to head north again, but the river level past Charleville-Mézières dropped quite substantially so we erred on the side of caution and turned around at Sedan. The river past Verdun was closed last month due to a lack of water, and with the rumour of further closures we did not want to press our luck.

Between Charleville-Mézières and sedan, the river level has dropped at least a foot

But it does flood sometimes, a marker indicating past flood levels

Very few boats, and plenty of places to moor

We had the locks to ourselves

Perhaps the highlights of the towns in this part of the river is the place Ducal, at Charleville-Mézières which echoes the place des Vosges in Paris, and the fortified castle at Sedan , which is reportably the largest in Europe.

At Charleville-Mézières the place was sorting a summer plaza, with ‘trucked in’ beaches, and water amusements, even a 2 story merry go round. In contrast, the fortress at sedan, as well as the town and our mooring were deserted.

Viberant town square in Charleville-Mézières
A visit to the fortress at Sedan is not a popular destination for the locals

So now its farewell to Charleville-Mézières, as we travel down the river, visiting the villages that we missed coming up, then back to Belgium and then onto the Netherlands

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