Firstly an apology for the extreme delay in updating the blog, however here goes with our trip up and down the wonderful River Sambre, the 2 Belgian wonders, the Ronquières inclined plane and Strêpy Thieu lift, finally returning to Diksmuide.
Firstly a map of the voyage, outbound shown in orange and return in yellow highlighter.
After Thuin and Lobbes the river continues some 19km until the French border. The locks are in excellent condition and all manually operated by keepers (you are allowed to assist in opening the gates if you want).
We left Thuin on Friday 31st August after a quick visit to the fine but expensive market. The railway line follows the river here with stops in all the villages, as a result there are many commuters to Charleroi and beyond and the area is generally rather upmarket. Cocoon had just moved off leaving a large gap on the pontoon where we moved to fill with water.
Our only other stop above Thuin on the Belgian Sambre was at Fontaine Valmont where there is a fuel depot with small quay, we were just in time to catch the owner before he went to lunch and bought a replacement bottle of Belgian gas (not available in France)
There appear to be nice moorings at Merbes on a low quay but we did not have time to stop. Nor did we stop at Erquellines, a rather larger ex industrial town, there is a boat club in the basin and a wharf which did not look inviting.
Instead we pressed on into France, there are no locks between Erquelinnes and the border and we were soon in Jeumont. The river runs a further 50km to Landrecies where it joins the Sambre à L’Oise canal which used to form a through route to Paris and beyond. Unhappily the canal has been closed for some 10 years due to a failed aqueduct. Happily though agreement has been reached between the vnf and the local authorities to fund repairs and currently the canal is expected to reopen in 2021.
In the meantime however the Sambre is very very quiet, particularly as the Belgian boaters are not keen to pay for a licence to stray onto the French end. There is no commercial traffic and the quays marked for trip and hotel boats are empty. We saw just 3 boats on this part of the River, Aurora being sailed single handed by a Dane and who accompanied us for part of the way as he spoke little French, Cocoon a large self built boat we had met in Thuin and a small day hire boat.
Jeumont is a pleasant enough little town. There are moorings on the right bank which is convenient for Lidl which is right on the river, but there are no facilities and the bollards are widely spaced. On the left bank however there is a little park. It is run down with the chateau that used to be a tourist office shut and the mooring pontoon roped off as unsafe. However there is a length of quay by the chateau with free water and electric so that is where we stayed both on our way up river and upon our return. The town had pleasant parks a nice and open church and we were well pleased. We swapped tales with Niel off Aurora that first evening and he came with us to the first lock next day.
Marpent is the first lock and the French Sambre locks difers from the Belgian locks in that they are automatic. The procedure is convuluted, tie up to the dredger which is helpfully moored on the lock landing stage. Call the number on the lock keepers hut. Confirm you have a vnf licence. The lock then opens to let you in. Following which you collect a remote control to operate the other locks from a dispenser on the side of the building.
We had to reverse sharply back from Maubege lock, which had looked as if it was preparing itself but actually there was a boat in there lock and Cocoon then emerged after a short delay involving a rope which had caught and freed itself with a bang.
We went past Hautmont where there is now a fine marina and boat storage sheds being built. As a consequence the free moorings on the pontoon outside the port have been removed. Hopefully not the shape of things to come.
Also we passed through Boussiers where Aurora stopped, the mooring on the green below the bridge being occupied by a fisher person Aurora moored to the passenger boat pier above the bridge.
Our stop for the day was Pont Sur Sambre, another delightful village. There is a small quay, also a pontoon previously used by day hire boats but now redundant (and a little rotten looking. The moorings are in a little park with small supermarket (plus butcher) nearby and a very good baker. One of the restaurants appears to have closed though. We visited the church and were lucky to find it open.
Next day we stopped at Bras Mort de Leval which is a nature reserve for lunch
and thence to the end of navigation for now after Landrecies lock where we found a long pontoon with free electricity and water. We visited this pleasant small town and enjoyed a vintage car show. We walked round the town and shopped at the supermarket before leaving next day (Monday 3rd) and were rather delayed when we picked up a bag on the propeller and had to stop to remove it.
On the return we stopped at Berlaiment which has an extensive mooring on a low quay in the weirstream above the lock. Unfortunately the quay has become silted and only the first 30-40m is usable. The electric and water facility also was not functioning. Rather disappointing but a nice stop nevertheless! At least the church was open and there was a bar and baker, also a good ironmongers where we bought rope next day.
We left after lunch and moved down to Boussiers where we were lucky to find that there was no fisherman on the mooring in the little park. We were pleased by this as the other mooring is rather high and a gathering point for the youth. Another pretty village and like other villages apparently better off than the towns around. There are no cafe shops or church (contrary to the map) but a town hall and school and more street lamps than the whole of Hertford. We did find a cottage where they sold free range eggs though. And the park is very nice with a little fountain where we have heard you can drink the water – though we rather doubt this.
Next day (Weds 5th) we headed for Maubeuge. The moorings which should be so good, right in the town centre with water electric and pump out! were an extreme disappointment. Neither water electric or pump out worked and there were not enough mooring cleats. Later the tourist office told us that the town had decided not to carry out repairs following vandalism. We decided to stay for the afternoon to shop and explore and then head for somewhere more salubrious for the night. The town centre is very much a 1950s construction reminiscent of Harlow, then on the outskirts there is an incongruous medieval town wall. The church of St Peter and Paul was of interest, built in the 50s an enormous concrete block with a clock tower looking like a fireman’s practice tower. Apparently the flat roof leaked almost from new, then in the 60s it was converted into a community centre, more recently it has been restored as a church with quite a pleasant entrance and interior. We noted good bakers but were not impressed with the butchers or selection of restaurants.
VNF were carrying out repair in the lock, we left when they finished at 3.50pm Weds 5th September and journeyed onto Bousois which was simply delightful, a nice length of mooring by a little park full of apple trees. The apples were a little sharp when picked but after a couple of weeks were sweet and excellent. The church and museum were unfortunately shut but there was a little supermarket and an outlet store where some out of date English real ale was bought. Oh and free water and electric.
Next day we proceeded on our return handing in the remote control at the last lock and stopping in Jeumont for the night, once again the only boat. On Friday the 7th we continued into Belgium.
We stopped at Lobbes on the way back. It is just outside Thuin. There are water and electric points but all were locked apart from one tap by the (locked) toilets. Allegedly you can obtain a key for the water and electric (and maybe the toilet and showers too?) from the nearby Mairie but we could not find anyone .
We had a look round there is a bar near the river the rest of the town being up a steep hill where there is another bar and some small shops. A really nice church however with a herb garden. The visitor moorings are downstream of the bridge on both banks but water and electric on only the left bank.There is an old tram line on which on summer Sundays the tram museum in Thuin send vintage trams, unfortunately we were not there at the right day.
We got back to Thuin which was again crowded but space for us on the end and after repairing our old electric lead and connecting it to the new one had electric. We were too far away from the water but filled up at the lock the next day. We went to Thudin en Ville again to eat and then went to the town fair watch the jousting. What is that you ask. Well in the words of wikipedia.
Water jousting is a sport practised principally in France and also Switzerland and Germany. It is a form of jousting where the adversaries, carrying a lance and protected only by a shield, stand on a platform on the stern of a boat. The boat is propelled by oarsmen or, in some cases, a motor may be used. The aim of the sport is to send the adversary into the water whilst maintaining one’s own balance on the platform.
The jousters stand on a wooden platform on their boats. As the two competing boats draw level with each other, each jouster, protected by their shield, uses their lance to push their opponent off the platform and into the water. The exact rules of the contest vary from region to region and country to country.
The lock keeper was there and explained all to us and that the course would be clear next day when we set off. On the Saturday morning the fair continued and whilst Ginette visited Notre Dame d’el Vaux John went to the boat museum which was free entry for the fair (normally very expensive as they normally just take groups.)
The last lock on this part of the Sambre is deep and had been fierce going up, the lockkeeper lowered us by ourselves very gently and unhooked our now unreachable ropes for us, we thanked him with a bottle. We stopped again in the now familiar Marchienne au pont where Ginette went to church and John had a haircut which was very good and 8 euros excellent value. The other nice thing about Marchienne is that shops open on Sunday.
Our next page will take us to the lift and inclined plane before return home.