Life’s Little Locks

France 2018 4 of 16

(Here’s Ronan coiling rope)

So, yesterday we had just arrived at the first lock. Locks are like steps for getting up-stream or down-stream on a canal. Or maybe they’re more like a lift because you have to wait until the gate opens, get in, close the gate and then wait while the lift (water) rises or lowers at your floor. (With locks there’s only one floor.) Then you wait for the gate to open on the other side and you move forward on your journey. I might be making this more complicate than it needs to be but I like it.

I’ll use pictures to explain the steps we took, but all the rope coiling was in preparation for this moment of reaching the lock. Here goes…

France 2018 6 of 16

1. So here was are approaching the first lock. Valerie is out front ready with a rope. Can you see the white car on the left hand side? That’s the lock-keeper’s transport, sometimes they have mopeds or even bicycles. They are employed by the canal system to drive up and down opening and closing the locks (like a lift attendant.) The locks are open from 7am to 7pm. This lock-keeper is probably working for the summer on the canal, can you see her standing between her car and the water? She has already opened the gate for us to sail in. By the way, the house on the left is no longer in use but in the past when canals were used for the transport of logs and other goods to Paris there was a lock-keeper and his family living in these houses beside each lock.

France 2018 7 of 16

2. Here we are inside the lock and there’s Laura closing one side of the gate behind us. The lock-keeper has closed the other. Notice the level of the water. Notice how much higher we are than the bank.

France 2018 8 of 16

3. In this one Laura has jumped back on the boat. This is important, if you ever find yourself going downstream on a boat in a lock and you’ve got off to help with the gates, jump back on the boat quickly. Because the boat is about to be well below the level of the bank and you might have a long jump! Notice the level of the water in this picture and the position of the bank. Also notice the gate in front of us is still closed.

France 2018 1 of 6

4. This is the gate behind us again, notice the level of the water now. Lift going down.

France 2018 3 of 6

5. Sorry about the quality of this photo but it tells a story so I’m ignoring it’s imperfections… That’s the gate we will be going through. You can see the level of the water in the lock has dropped, that brown mark on the gates and on both walls shows the level when we arrived. There’s the lock-keeper on the left and Stuart on the right. They are waiting for the level of the water inside the lock to go down to the level of the water on the far side of the gate. Valerie and Laura are chatting. Everyone (including Ronan who’s not in the picture) looks relaxed but they are actually wide awake and ready for what needs to be done next.

France 2018 12 of 16

6. Here’s what’s happening with the ropes from earlier. Ronan is holding one end of this rope at the back of the boat. You saw Valerie at the front chatting with Laura – she’s holding another rope. Both ropes are attached to mooring bollards on the bank. When we got into the lock their job was to lasso a mooring bollard with the rope. Then as the water level slowly went down to stay awake and ease out the tension on the rope.

France 2018 9 of 16

7. And the gate is open. The ropes are rolled up into coils again. Stuart is signalling back to Ronan who is manoeuvring the boat through the lock and the gate. Notice the height of the bank now.

France 2018 6 of 6

8. Here’s the lock-keeper going back to her car. She then drove on to the next lock…

France 2018 1 of 1

9. And there she is on the right this time with Stuart on the left. By the way, we were going downstream. The boat in the distance under the bridge in this picture was going upstream, so they will enter this lock as we exit and the lock keeper will close those gates that she and Stuart have just opened. Then she will slowly open the opposite gates to let the water fill the lock. Lift going up. Their boat will rise up until the level of the water in the lock is at the same level as the canal on the upstream side and the lock-keeper will open the gates and the boat will sail on upstream.

It was time for me to get off with my bicycle. In an hour we had travelled nearly 5Km and now I was going to cycle back to the motorhome along the tow-path. It was a glorious day, not too hot and the tow-path is level all the way. Laura came back with me, to make sure I didn’t get lost! On the boat every moment counts, the world slows down, 5km takes ages. No wonder there’s time to chat and to spot birds and to notice how life works in a different country and to stay awake to what needs to be done. Ronan says, there’s a surprise around every corner and there is. The difference is when you’re travelling like this you see all the surprises. Don’t miss the surprises…

Thank you to Valerie and Stuart and to Laura and Ronan, for the experience, the kindness, the insights and the surprises, Mairead.

Our New Boat!

France 2018 13 of 16

(I can drive* a boat! (*Might not be the technical term))

Surprise! We found a new method of travel! A house boat! A bit of a story… Sunday was a wet day in France, we left the beautiful green fields, trees and cows and went in search of our next aire. The first one we tried was full and the second was not for overnighting, we moved on. The wind was rising when we arrived in the village and drove towards the tourist office beside the canal. There was a space and we could stay overnight. We both got out to find the perfect spot and that was when I spotted the Irish flag.

France 2018 1 of 16

(There’s Valerie and Stuart and their boat, talking to Denis. Can you see the scary plank? and the Irish flag?)

It was attached to our new house boat! Well, when I say our house boat, I mean Valerie and Stuart’s house boat but we’re all friends now. Our new friends spend their time between their boat in France, winter warmth in Spain and home in Ireland. And they are very generous people, not only did they invite us onboard (very first time on a canal boat!) for a coffee but they already had their friends Laura and Ronan from… you’ll never guess! From Greystones (yes!) visiting for the week. No, we didn’t know Laura and Ronan or even recognise them from the supermarket, we will in the future.

France 2018 2 of 16

(Bye, Denis!)

I should really have written down all the terminology before waving goodbye to our new friends, I didn’t, you’ll have to forgive my mistakes… Getting onto the boat for the coffee turned out not to be as simple as you might think. Or at least I didn’t make it look simple. Imagine if you will a very narrow (slight exaggeration..) metal plank one end on the land and the other at a slight incline up to the level of the vessel. Then imagine me, arms outstretched like a tightrope walker taking teeny tiny steps. My method was very successful though because each of the sailors (what I will be calling the boat people) seeing me approach in this manner shot out a steadying hand. Perfect really, because my main concern was falling into the water and drowning, much more difficult to do while holding tight to someone who knows how to swim. (I learned later swimming wasn’t entirely necessary and I am prepared to share a tip with you, in case you have occasion to fall into this canal – stand up it’s not that deep.)

France 2018 3 of 16

(Look, they have flowers!)

I made it onto the boat and we had a lovely coffee and a little look around and compare and contrast houseboat -ing and motorhome -ing. They have two en-suite bedrooms, a kitchen dining room, two fridges, two steering wheels (probably not called that) one inside and one outside, a deck with table and chairs under awning (that’s called something else too) and a little path all around for the rope work (more on that later.) So, we have half the bedrooms, bathrooms, fridges and steering wheels. We have no ropes except for the clothes line. Speaking of the clothes line… they have luxury of luxuries, a washing machine! They also have air-conditioning which is pretty amazing but cannot top the washing machine… I’ll say no more about the washing machine. They probably have a clothes line too but I didn’t see it.

France 2018 15 of 16

(Here’s one of the pages in the map. The numbers, PK 34 etc. refer to a distance of one kilometre)

I was having a little day-dream about washing machines (yes I’m sorry for mentioning it again) when Valerie showed us the book of maps they use to navigate the canals of Europe, each page covers probably 20km. I love maps, always have so when I saw this map I was intrigued. It covered such a small area, with so much detail. I don’t know if I mentioned it previously but generally I’m not very focussed, I quite like to flit from one thing to another. Lately I realise if I’m to get my wish about completing things I will need to focus. I wondered if travelling with a canal map might tend to focus my mind. So when Valerie offered an experience of this way of travelling, I nearly took her hand off. Denis of course would have to work but I was definitely coming along!

France 2018 5 of 16

(Do I need to duck?)

So at 9am this morning I was all set with my rucksack and my bike asking permission to come aboard! The bike? I tell you in a minute. I did the whole tightrope walking again and took one last picture of Denis onshore and we were off. At this point I didn’t realise there were two steering wheels so I was a bit surprised to notice everyone was outside and I was the only one at the wheel. Laura guided me out to a very sturdy looking handle that ran all along the side of the boat and I held on tight all the way up to the deck where I arrived at the other steering wheel. Already, Ronan and Valerie were coiling ropes and Stuart was steering. So I sat down and I was floating (not technically, as they have a diesel engine but it goes at a floating pace) down the river… Laura pointed out vineyards and caves in the hills and recommended a very good museum, Stewart pointed out the walnut trees and the lady picking windfalls from yesterday’s storm, Valerie knew the names of the birds paddling in the distance. It was so peaceful.

Then we came to the first lock. Locks are really interesting. I think I could write a whole post about locks…

I’ll have to tell you about the bike tomorrow, Mairead.