Joining a women’s tour to do this trip was a great idea – It is a regular on the Bushwise Women Calendar. I get to enjoy a trip like this on my own, but not on my own. We began to get to know each other – Yvonne – the tour leader and owner of Bushwise Women, who lives in Northern NSW, her friend Fiona from Adelaide, Sam from the Blue Moutains west of Sydney, Gwen from Christchurch NZ and me from Waipu, NZ.
Click this link to go the Canal Photos, and view them as a slideshow.
It took a while to organise our boat at the Crown Blue Offices– we were meant to be away at 4pm, but it was 5pm before we had had our practice ride, loaded up the bikes and headed off to the first lock. We moored up just before the 2nd lock, as they close at 7pm and shared a simple meal of tuna pasta and wine on the boat.
We were just 100 m from the town square so we gladly did a circuit of the town in the lovely evening before bed. The rain had stopped and the weather promised to be hot and sunny for our trip. Next morning Sam went out for a walk and found a small co-operative winery 30 m from the boat. We headed back to take photos, and taste and buy – a very nice carton of Rose. The local Rose is great and became our wine of choice for the trip.
Then we were off, on our own with a few small locks to practice on before the real challenge of the 7 connecting locks of Fonseranes. Unfortunately we just missed out on getting through before there was the obligatory 1.5 hr lunch break, and then we had to wait until 4pm before our side was allowed through. Like it or not, we were having to adjust to the slower more gentle pace of French life. However this time delay enabled team leader Yvonne and I to ride the bikes up to explore the beautiful old part of Beziers.
As 4pm neared and we waited for the light to turn green, there was a bit of saber rattling as some tried to get in ahead of those of us who had been waiting, but we were amongst the group of 3 who entered the first of the locks. The canal climbs 21.5 m over a distance of 280 m, and it is a real challenge – many come just to watch the process – very entertaining at times I am sure.
The late afternoon sun beat down relentlessly as we threw ropes, steered the boat into tight spots and out again, but by now the five of us were a well oiled team, and at the last lock we got a well done cheer from some of the spectators. Not bad as earlier in the day when we were still raw recruits someone else had said ‘Bon Chance’ – good luck.
We were a little behind in our schedule, so stopped by a small village. We shared a lovely cold bottle of champagne, but when we went in search of food, the only open cafe was out of food, so it was back to the boat for leftovers, and we fell into bed exhausted.
Day three dawned hot and sunny again, and we had a great day cruising along with 54kms without locks. Just one before we stopped at Argens Minerva for the night. I spent most of the day being chief pilot which I loved. We stopped off at small villages, rode our bikes along the canal, and generally slipped into the rhythm of our canal days.
- visit the bakery for fresh provisions
- cycle down the tow path ahead of the boat
- explore villages along the way
- meet up at a lock to help the boat through
- have a coffee in a village
- gather around the table for lunch.
Afternoons are spent wine tasting, sleeping, reading, steering the boat, sitting in the sun. We all keep pinching ourselves and asking where we are, we all respond in unison “the South of France”. It was hard to believe, but here we were – in the south of France, all chilling out and unwinding from our other lives.
It is amazing cruising through this country – old abandoned crumbling walls, beautiful unspoilt villages, vineyards as far as the eye can see, and beyond that wind turbines on the horizon powering us into the future.
It’s the juxtaposition of new and old that I relish – on top of an ancient house, a satellite points to the stars. The French seem to be happy with a slower pace of life – quietly working through a line of people with questions, a midday siesta – closing the locks on time for lunch, not matter how many are waiting.
We were a little frustrated by delays along the journey, but it was for us to adapt to this slower pace of life. Unfortunately we had to return the boat to the place we picked it up at Port Cassiferes, so we needed to allow time to travel back the way we had come. In the end it seemed that we might miss the great medieval fortress of Carcassone.
We decided it was faster to ride the bikes and save navigating of the locks, so the five of us set off. An hour later we were only at Trebes, and we decided there that 3 of us would catch a taxi the short ride to Carcassone which was a great decision.
Carcossone is a one of the largest and oldest fortresses in Europe, and a fantastic place. We did a tour of the walls on a mini train, then went into the old town, which was a tourist trap maze of shops and eateries. Finally the old church and a toilet (I find one on land whenever I can!).
Cycling home I got a flat tyre, which slowed us even more. By the time we reached the boat we were all totally exhausted, it was all we could do to muster our reserves and cast off, heading this time down the canal.
The last day was a big one – we had to get back through the seven big locks at Beziers, numerous other small ones, stop at an archeological site and get close to the final port ready to return the boat at 9am. The day went really well – I got to steer through the 7 locks which was fantastic – a little over enthusiastic at the first lock, I nearly left someone behind, but after that it was smooth saliing – once again big crowds there to watch the process and cheer us on.
After that we headed to the tunnel of Malpas where we anchored up to see a fantastic roman archeological site – the Oppidum of Enserune which dates from 6th Century BC to 1st Century AD. Walking amongst the houses, the cisterns over 2000 years old was breathtaking, as was the 360 degree view from the settlement. Yvonne is an archeologist by training which was great. We had cycled and pushed our bikes up the steep hill, which was worth it for the ride back down the hill.
Then it was full steam to Vias where we had decided to go to our favourite restaurant, Le Vieux Logis What a wonderful way to start and finish this trip – sitting outside as the evening fell, sharing stories of our trip and enjoying fabulous French hospitality. The evening was made even more perfect when the sounds of flamenco guitar reached us. We followed the sound to find the Square crowded with people and vibrant music drawing you up to dance. Magic!