OWNERS ARTICLE – The river Meause – La France a Belgique

The river Meause – La France a Belgique

Initially it didn’t seem so different, the change from the Canal de La Meause to the actual river, probably because a lot of the canal section is actually on the river itself.

However as we progressed the geography changed hugely and spectacularly.

We left Stenay after my early morning mammoth cycle ride up hill (again) to an Intermarche for a few essential supplies. It was so nice to cycle before the heat rose – we were still in the middle of a major heatwave.

As we passed down the river we saw plenty of cows taking the sensible choice and keeping cool in the river.

The days trip wound smoothly through meadows, past distant hills and was punctuated by stops at the locks. The high temperatures (34-36C) led to more than just cattle cooling off in the water!

By the time we reached our semi-wild mooring at Port Maugis I too was ready for a dip. We moored up and put the parasol up, I left Captain Stu for a siesta while I wondered off for a swim.

Later, after supper, I went off for a camera walk to see what I could take of the reflections and sunset. The light was amazing and everything was so still.

In the morning we were off  to Lumes. We had hoped for an early startat least at 9am when the lock opened but we were faced by a red light and had to wait until the lock keeper came at about 9.20 to bring a boat up before we could lock down.

We found the excellent Lumes pontoon without any problem and immediately recognised the one boat moored at the other end but before reacquainting ourselves with our Piper friends it was time for another swim in the marvellous Meuse to get over the sweltering heat of the day.

The next cool down was a cold beer – Cherry beer for me, it was a new one from Borgogne, highly recommended to those who like fruit flavoured beer.

The evening continued by taking advantage of the unexpected and delightful meeting with Vicky & Guy on Manuka, a great catch up on our French barging experiences over the past three years.

Even after the beer, rose wine and jollity I still managed a quick walk around Lumes before nightfall – a small village but evidently one with some history.

We set off for Chateau-Regnaut the next day, the style of the lock houses changed again and we really began to notice the drop in water level in the river.

At the lock even the lock ladders that should reach down under the water now ended above the water level. Hope I don’t fall in!

We came through the deepest lock at Charleville but saw almost nothing of the town because the main loop of the river through the city has been cut off by a new short cut and started to see evermore spectacular views laid out before us from the top of each lock.

We were lucky again with a nice pontoon mooring at Chateau-Regnaut withy a noisy frog in the evening and greedy geese in the morning.

It is still very hot, even my geraniums were being affected by the heat and which usually thrive in a Mediterranean style climate.

We went for our customary walk around the village , calling in at the Capitainerie on the other side of the river.she had helpfully lent us the correct connector for the water supply when she came for the tarrif.

As we crossed back over the bridge our shadows were starkly delineated by the high bright sun.

Early the next morning there was a fair amount of crashing and banging coming from the opposite bank, I had read that the region was famous for its metal work so should have recognised the anvil logo on the factory wall.

The village obviously celebrated its metal-ness with a fabulous 9ft horse.

As we left Chateau -Regnaut we were starting to see the Belgian influence on the gable ends of the houses and also rather liked the very art deco municipal baths.

We also kept being amazed b the wonderous scenery round every bend and from the top of each lock.

Later that morning we arrived in Revin, passing the tunnel on our right that we would go though the next day and wondered if we would fing a place to moor on the other side of the bridge.

Our spirits were raised when we saw a long empty stretch of quay and it wasn’t long before I found a boulangerie with a ham baguette for Stewarts lunch and some delicious pain complet for me to have with hummus  and salad.

Revin is a very well run port, it is total enclosed with code numbers for the gates. A pleasant garden with tables and chairs in the shadeand the usual showers, etc for 14 euros a night.

Once fed, watered and rested we went shopping as Stu needed some cool short sleeved shirts and there was a clothing superstore within a 5 minute walk.

We also managed a good food shop, stocking up so that we  could aim for rural moorings over the next few days.

Work done we decided that our walking tour of the old town the other side of the river should include a pizza and beer, both were easy to find and worth the walk.

Back on board, with the sun going down and night drawing in Stewart spotted a young cormorant that had flown up into a high branch instead of going back to nest with its mother. It was there for ages but was gone in the morning so we presume all was well in the end.

There was a shiny metallic smooth sheen to the water the next morning, a lovely backdrop for breakfast, before another boulangerie trip which this time included some galettes de Revin to be enjoyed next time we have visitors.

Off we set for our trip through the tunnel, which began by Calliope needing to make a 108 degree turn into the tunnel channel. Always fun being cross ways to the stream wondering if anything will come speeding round a bend and into you but all was well and we were back onto the river with its mountain high tree covered banks, blue sky and hot, hot sun.

We hadn’t encountered a broken lock for some time so it was a bit of a surprise.

Stewart managed to put me ashore to walk up and phone for assistance at which point I discovered a cross and overheated German whose boat was stuck at the bottom of the lock, he had been waiting for an hour for service (shitting in the shade as he told me).

The wait was not so bad for me in the shade, ripe cherry trees and an old sluice to keep me amused, in fact the VNF man arrived within 10 minutes and we were soon on our way again.

We arrived in Heybes thinking that we would stop there for lunch but we settled into the mooring, realised that it was still hot and we were tired so decided to stay for the night.

Heybes and surrounding area is famous for its slate mines so it was not surprising to see some wonderful slat roofs one of which being on the town hall.

What a history this village has, totally destroyed in WW1 across a period of just 3 days in August 1914, the village was bombed and burnt to the ground with 600 houses destroyed and 61 civilians killed. I am pleased to say that it is now rebuilt and thriving.

Our walk around the village was disturbed by a loud revving of motor bike engines and closer inspection revealed a bikers wedding at the local church with all their friend outside revving their bikes. The bride & groom then sped away helmetless on a Harley, she in high heels and a dress.

Still on our mission to reach Lille we again only stayed the one night.

As we begun the next days journey I spotted a fishing party camped out in a picturesque curve of the river – a heavenly spot.

We were now heading for the Ham tunnel a 500m tunnel that saves a 8km loop in the river, it has an interesting ceiling roughly hewn out of the solid rock and unlined most of the way through, among from uneven heights along the way.

Coming out of the tunnel is quite an experience as you go straight into a lock and look out over a wide valley with a different landscape.

That was our last lock down into the town of Givet with its towers and its citadel up on the hill but more spectacular citadels are to come.

We morred up on the quay opposite the main marina which oly has space for smaller boats but we have our own ladder to climb off and on and we were quite happy there.

As evening drew in we watched the storm clouds gather and indeed rain did, at last, fall that night, thank goodness! The heatwave was ending.

Next day we saw a big change, suddenly we were amongst the big boys! Just down from Givet is an ecluse named 4 Chiminees which has been brought up to European standards so that the large commercial barges can now come to the port there, loading, unloading and feeding the swans.

From now on we would be sharing the water and locks with these huge sturdy guys.

A third big change was a change of country, our last lock in France and into Belgium we go! Wallonia to be precise.

Lots of things seem different, the width and length of the locks, the shape and size of the lock gates, the sudden surprise when a huge barge creeps up behind you to share the lock with you.

Commercials have right of way and this definitely slowed our progress on this stretch.

We waited 40 minutes at the forest loack, another 30 at the next, both for barges to come up and for barges to join us to go down.

The landscape becoming more cliff like, so much so that it attracts lots of climbers which look like spiders on a wall, these are the Rochers de Freyr, south of Dinant.

It turned out to be a long day, mainly due to waiting for the locks, so we were please to arrive at Dinant.

We used advise from another bargee about where to moor and we were please that we had, we had the best views across the river to Dinant citadeland church, away from the bustle of the quayside bars and restaurants and after looking at an increasingly faded French courtesy flag for 3 or 4 years we now have a brand new Belgium one!

I think that we know that Belgians are famous for their beer, so no surprise that we found a little shop full of beers but did not dare to go inside.

It turns out that Dinant is the famed home of one of the most widespread Belgian beers Leffe which was brewed in the abbey on the outskirts of town. I don’t know what the monks would thinkof the modern brews like Rituel (subtle flavours of fruit and bitter spices) or Radieuse (delicate hints of citrus and coriander seeds) but I plan to try them.

Stewart began the taste tasting experience with a Leffe blonde outside the restaurant where we had our dinner, I had Picon beer more common in the north where they also serve Picon wine and for me the first dinner in Belgium had to be moules, this time with garlic & cream. Mmmmmmmmm. Tasty.

Dinant is famous for something else too, something I had no idea about beforehand.

The saxophone.

They were everywhere, madly coloured ones that somehow represented all different countries around the world, silhouettes attached to lampposts, a huge glass one in front of the town hall and one in the arms of Adolph Sax’s statue next to where he was born.

The moules gave me such energy that I washed down one side of the boat with these amazing views to keep me company as the evening drew in.

We set off early (for us) with our first Belgian baguette in the hope of avoiding too many commercials, we love them really and think it is great that so much is transported by water but………………it can seriously delay our journey.

The shapes of the roofs became more & more Belgian and there were some lovely designs.

Although the scenery has changed t a degree we still saw some tree clad hills, often with a few houses clinging near the top of them, they must have fabulous views down the river valley.

It was not far to cruise the final part of our La Meuse journey arriving in Namur, we chose to go around the corner onto the start of the Basse Sambre river where a) it seemed quieter, b) no fee to pay and c) away from the big commercial barges, or so we thought!

Within minutes we discovered it was not as quiet as we had thought, barge after barge, laden and empty growled past but not upsetting in any way. They didn’t even upset my mug of tea.

In habitual form we went to take a look at the city and sample more Belgian beer in a different shady square, this time a Houppo beer for Stu and for me a Pineau de Charente, very nice.

We moored beneath the citadel, an amazing piece of architectural fortification and history. The signs around the citadel approach told me that the original citadel dated to Roman times and it achieved its present extent in the 17th century under Dutch control, eventually becoming part of a new ring of forts around Namur to prevent the old city from being attacked with artillery.

My evening walk was a march up to the top og the hill and a march down again, swapping photos with Stewart on the boat down below.

The view from the top across the city roofs is panoramic and well worth the climb. I would spend longer there next time and go in the day time when the locked up parts are open.

So ends our Meuse meander, although to be fair, turning the corner onto the Sambre meant that we had already left the Meuse, well Namur is on the Meuse it is just us who were now on the Sambre which is the next shorter chapter.

Stewart & Lesley Carr

Calliope