Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

So far so good.
Monday 29th August - Diksmuide


The weather forecast for next week is brilliant if you are stranded on a boat somewhere and waiting for a canal to fill with water, but if you are on a boat somewhere and wanting to get things tidied up before leaving for winter, it’s probably advisable to get things tidied up about now, before the rain sets in.

Therefore, one of us spent the day variously washing things that need washing, drying those very same things, and heaven forbid,  even ironing them.

The other, in the very same vein spent at least some of it out of doors, attempting to restore forty-something year old fibreglass to somewhere approaching it’s former glory.   This is a project nigh on impossible, but he does persist.   To be blunt; had the gelcoat finish been given a “best before” date at the time of manufacture, that time would have been long expired, and no amount of rubbing and buffing or dare I say it, “love” will bring the bits that have been worn down to the glass, or repair the cracks and gouges, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't live in hope.

The new polish says that it gives a gloss that lasts for “up to a year”, which seems to be Flemish for “lasts for maybe a few weeks”, so the great hope is that if we can make it shiny this week and get it into a shed after next, it might have some residual sheen by the time we return next year.

If the rain doesn’t wash it off in the meantime of course.


Challenging Times.
Sunday 28th August - Diksmuide

Being back a few weeks early is all very well for those not committed to daily journal postings, but for those who are, days filled with long walks, cleaning, and catching up with friends present something of a challenge to document

Sundays spent lying around reading and waiting for the sunset are very pleasant, but really don’t leave much scope for dinner conversation, even when one of the books presently being read is one of the delectable tales of the adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey.    

Thankfully we haven’t seen Meg and Chris since we were in Ghent in 2019 and they, through a series of mechanical and electrical misadventures have not left Diksmuide on their boat thus far, so tonight at least our post dinner discourse continued well into the night without reaching the end of new topics nor having to delve into the whereabouts of Lady Denver’s missing pearls. 

Whilst waiting interminably for a succession of repairs that would have them mobile again, they’ve had the opportunity to visit the surrounding areas and get to know the transport system just a little more intimately than we do.  We are hoping to emulate some of their meanderings in the next couple of weeks, that is of course if we are able to stop enjoying our selves long enough to actually get the boat packed up in time.


Saturday 27th August - Diksmuide

Because of the drought-induced restrictions on pleasure craft using the waterways, our return to Diksmuide was in no small way assisted by the operation of autonomous barges carrying sand on the canal from Oostende to somewhere past where we wanted to be, and therefore providing us with the opportunity to use the locks.   Yes it’s true, a man in a high vis jacket appeared from nowhere while in the lock, to stand on one in an apparent effort to circumvent the regulation preventing pleasure craft from sharing with unmanned craft, but as someone who used to travel to school on a steam train, being in the very presence of these things is just downright creepy.

Even if one likes to think of oneself as reasonably tech savvy, the first time four hundred tons of sand glides silently towards one’s boat, on a forty metre long barge being piloted by a few sensors and an algorithm, one’s nervous system is prone to making awkward involuntary responses.  The manner in which they respond, moving unhurriedly out of the way, picking their way through moored vessels, moving aside for one another and shuffling forward in the lock to allow others to enter is just… well…I'll say it again...creepy.

According to Wikipedia, of the 1962 cartoon series: “the Jetsons live in 2062, in a comical version of a century in the future with elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens, holograms, and whimsical inventions”.  We have forty years to go, yet we already have robot vacuum cleaners and driverless ships in day to day use.  

George Jetson is said to have been born in the year 2022 which according to our calendar is this year, I wonder if, seventy years from now he will write a blog post including the words “as someone who used to travel on an autonomous ferry…”


Monday, August 29, 2022

The triumphant return
Friday 26th August - Nieuwport to Diksmuide

Some days the only sign of life on the little lake in Nieuwport which is bounded by the boat harbour and the sailing club are a few seabirds idly passing their time fishing or gliding overhead.  This was not one of those days.

By the time we’d said our lengthy good-byes to Jørn and Birgit the day was no longer young, and the lake was by no means clear of obstructions.  With at least three dinghy races underway on separate courses, and multiple fleets of sailboarders scurrying about with junior sailors under instruction, at times it was difficult to actually see water between them.  Given that we needed to cross the lake to resume our homeward journey, this did tend to increase our degree of difficulty a tad.  

On the one hand it would be quite simple to blunder through, full steam ahead, hand on horn leaving dozens of alternatively angry and terrified sailors in our wake (always assuming we could travel fast enough to leave a wake, which we really can not.) but that would only end in tears of one kind or another.   So we gently picked our way around the perimeter of the fleet causing just a little angst to the beginners who’d strayed off course, more or less sticking to where the navigation channel is on quieter days and arrived at the river entrance without so much as a bug splatter on our windscreen.

A few hours of gentle cruising and completely incident free cruising later, we were back.

I am sure had there been a brass band on hand, it would have been brought out to mark our return such was the welcome we received from the Harbour Master and the few club members who were on hand in the Port at Diksmuide when we arrived.  We are  here a few weeks earlier than we need to be but that doesn’t matter, this place is starting to feel quite a bit like home.


And then there was one.
Thursday 25th August - Oudenarde to Nieuwport

We didn’t think we were at all concerned by the waterway travel restrictions, but being up and about in time to take a photograph of what looked suspiciously like sunrise seems to indicate that there may have been just the teensiest bit of tension in the air.  

A few hours later when we joined the concerned faces on the pontoon, we were greeted with the news that no commercial ships were expected today, one of the lifting bridges between where we were, and where we wanted to be was broken, and that generally we had a slim chance of being home by Christmas, but we should press on regardless, and that is exactly what we did.

As if to spite us all, having made it all the way without incident, the wind increased from unpleasant to horrible at exactly the time we were trying to dock in the confined space above the lock in Nieuwport.  By now though, our little gang brought together by our experiences (definitely not adversity no matter how tempting it is to paint that picture) we all cheerily rose to the challenge, and settled down to wait jammed in above the lock, with no prospect of movement apparent before the next lunar eclipse.

Eight hours of quiet contemplation later, we were advised that a pair of autonomous “Watertrucks” were due to arrive within the hour.  This was a little concerning because the satellite information had them arriving on the eleventh of November ,and autonomous vehicles with satellite anomalies are not entirely confidence instilling.  Never the less, hasty negotiations followed, as pleasure craft quite rightly are not permitted to share a lock with unmanned vessels.  Some arrangements were made behind the scenes and at the last moment a person arrived to supervise our passage through the lock in company with the two ships.

With an hour till dark and two hours to home, and our Navigation lights tucked in a box in the bilge, we waved farewell to our companions who seemed happy to head off into the twilight and equally happily found a berth for the night.   We hadn’t considered that we were at all tense or stressed about the days adventure, but then, safe in the knowledge that we would be home in the morning, the relief we felt was both curious and palpable.

It might be quite some time before we wake for the next sunrise!


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Wednesday 24th August - Brugge to Oudenburg

Our plan, if that’s what it could be called, was to tackle our journey back to Diksmuide one lock at a time, waiting as necessary for that one commercial ship that was our ticket to use each lock.  Given that we have a few weeks up our sleeve before we need to leave the boat, and three locks to go, time, we thought, was on our side.

The concerned faces on the Harbour Master and the crews of the other boats in the port heading in our direction told a different story however.   Meetings were being held among the Authorities, and there was a concern that Monday could bring a new round of measures which MAY make our return through the last lock (in Nieuwport) impossible.  Therefore, they had decided to beat a hasty retreat and we decided to join them.

There was a ship on the way apparently.  Our passage through the lock in Bruges was assured, and we’d been asked to wait in the lock to save a bit of time after it’s arrival, so the five of us entered the lock and huddled together in the far corner to await its arrival.  With all eyes scanning our “Vessel Finder” apps, when the approaching ship stopped for the day a dozen or so kilometres away, the collective gasp from within the lock could possibly have been heard on the moon.    

For the first time within living memory, there was not a ship to be found within a day’s travel of Bruges.  In the absence of options we settled in for a day of quiet contemplation.

Three hours later a ship appeared from nowhere.  Without notice, the lock began to drain, which caused something of a scramble, and even a little panic for those who had been happily sitting on the park benches waiting but it all worked out in the end as these things have a habit of doing and our little flotilla was on its merry way. 

The Plassendale lock our next obstacle, was open at both ends so presented no problem.  We arrived in Oudenburg in a state which was just a little short of euphoric.  With just one hurdle left to jump, our little group, now brothers in adventure, spent the night in quiet celebration of what would in other circumstances have been a very pleasant, but unremarkable day. 


In search of sustenance
Tuesday 23rd In Bruges

When one is staying in a town one knows quite well and one’s friends ask “do you know somewhere nice for lunch?”, it should not be difficult to form some sort of sensible response.

However, we are hopelessly indecisive when it comes to choosing a suitable eating establishment, usually relying entirely on the recommendations of others.  So after batting that question right back to the bowler, we were dismayed to learn that so were they.   We decided as a group that we’d walk the opposite side of town, perhaps just a little off the beaten path, and we’d eat at more-or-less the first place that took our collective fancies.

The first place looked well enough, and if just one of us had said “OK” we would have stopped, but we kept walking, passing a number of quite possibly very suitable places without hope or inspiration.  After some time we were in very real danger of missing lunch, so we phoned a friend who really knows about this sort of thing.

The first on her list was the first one we’d past, but it was twenty minutes behind us by then, so we decided to press on.  The next was just around the corner and it was closed on Tuesday, as was the next, and the one after that, and the one that was a further twenty minutes walk away, back to where we had been yesterday.   Fortunately in the tourist part of town, things don’t close ever, and by now at risk of hallucinating from lack of sustenance we stumbled blindly down a tiny lane towards some people seated at tiny two person tables.

“She has just finished” said the proprietor in response to our question, and in one single movement swept the poor lady’s table out from under her elbows and placed in deftly beside the one that was already between the four chairs we had occupied.  

Thankfully her sense of humour was as merveilleux as the food and service.

We were not similarly evicted, but left of our own accord after quite some time, congratulating ourselves on our new found skill in restaurant selection and feeling just a tiny bit more grown up than we had an hour or two earlier.


Once more into the Bruges, dear friends.
Monday 22nd August - Beernem to Brugge

We could be quite fairly accused of being quite blasé about some of the places we visit on a regular basis, even when those places are among the most visited and arguably most beautiful cities in Europe.   

A decade ago, when we first visited Bruges, it was with Dave and Ria as our local tour guides, and we were as wide-eyed as anyone might be when visiting the city for the first time.  They showed us places which took us years to re-discover walking the streets on our own in the years that have followed, and to some that we still haven’t found.  We were eager to learn a little (but not too much) about the city and naturally tucked away a few interesting snippets of trivia for future reference.

Over the years since, we’ve spent a few months there, and while we have a comfortable familiarity with the streets, it took showing a couple of Danish mates around to make us realise just how much of the detail of the city’s past we’ve forgotten.   As we led them on a merry chase through some of our favourite alleys and parks and along the waterways of the town we should not have been surprised that we seem to have directed our energies more towards avoiding the places where the crowds are at their peak, than towards the actual history of the place.   We were simply not equipped for answering questions!

We could have, we supposed, signed our guests on to a walking tour, and tagged along out of politeness feigning disinterest while surreptitiously taking notes.  Instead we chose to take our normal course of action - just to be there and enjoy the efforts of all those who have gone before without the need for a history exam at the end.

Perhaps a ride on a boat would be perfect for a bit of revision.


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Quiet Enjoyment
Sunday 21st August - Gent to Beernem


Jørn and Birgit were at the very top of “people we like to visit in Denmark, even higher on the list than Mary and Frederik, so when they messaged us a week ago to see if we might like a pair of visitors, we nearly fell overboard with excitement.  We made arrangements for them to meet us in Beernem, which happily as we ended the call a few minutes before they were announced, turned out to be a perfect place for us to make decisions regarding what are now ever evolving restrictions on waterway travel. 

We had planned to depart Gent frightfully early to get to our planned rendezvous in plenty of time, so set the alarm for seven and did an aquatic tip-toe out of town on the dot of eight while everyone who wasn’t already going about their normal daily business surely slept on.   

As we sipped our coffee and watched the countryside drift past, we did spare more than one sympathetic thought for the other pair who had a commute which was roughly seven hours longer than hours at a hundred kilometres per hour faster pace.

Our reunion took place just below the Boathouse Restaurant, and we hoped we weren’t disrupting the patrons' quiet enjoyment of our mutual surroundings. If we were, their complaints were but a gentle murmur drifting off into the evening.

They didn’t know what they were missing!


Sunday, August 21, 2022

Ghent seems to have recovered well enough!
Saturday 20th August - Oudenarde to Gent

Apart from the odd spot of shipping avoidance, and one or two or perhaps five or six nights of catching up with old friends, we’ve spent the better part of the last month drifting about in the forests or through farmland or wandering in the nearly deserted streets of tiny villages.

When we were last in Ghent we described the place as “hungover” after the great summer festivities, and although most of it wasn’t exactly deserted, the crowds such as they were, even in the tourist centre, were were relatively thin and particularly quiet.  We felt we had at least a little personal space around us as we explored the centre of town then. 

It was an absolute shock to arrive in the early afternoon today to find an entirely different city.  It seems that in our absence the place has been over-run by a seething mass of humanity.  The streets and waterways alike were filled with all manner of craft bearing people intent on having a good time and not at all quietly.  

We did venture out, to have a quiet look around and to buy a seal for our coffee pot, because that seemed like the most important thing on our list of things to fix.   After jostling with the shopping crowd which was bigger than the tourist one, by the time we’d found the shop that sold the parts we’d forgotten what size we needed.  If it hadn’t been specifically for the making of coffee we might very well have abandoned that project there and then. 

Desperate perhaps, we doubled back, retrieved the pot and waded into the masses once more for a trial fitting in the store, bought said seal, and retreated as quickly as we could.  Tomorrow, as soon as we wake we will quietly slip away on what will be the first leg of our homeward journey, and we'll sip our coffee as we go, wondering which version of Ghent we’ll remember when we look back at our travels in years to come.   We know which one we prefer!


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Friday 19th August - Kirkhove to Oudenarde

“Don't Panic” is a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. 

This was apparently partly because the device "looked insanely complicated" to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travellers from panicking. It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopaedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."

It’s a pity that the Flemish Waterways people hadn’t taken a leaf out of that particular Guide, for today the intergalactic message-ways were awash with panic.   Dave and Ria called to calmly let us know there has been a notice issued to the effect that from next Monday, there will be restrictions on pleasure boats; lock movements will only be carried out in company with a commercial ship as a water saving measure, and in the absence of commercial ships, the wait might be interminable.   Not long after that rumours of disaster were swirling through the very air we were breathing.

The couple in the boat just ahead of us, who share our “home” port were not the only ones to have received a similar albeit slightly distorted message and were racing about loading their bicycles aboard and ready to depart post-haste, having first come to us to tell us that the second but last lock of our journey (at least three days from here) was closing on Monday and they were going to make a dash for it.    

I phoned the lock to confirm our recollection that since there was no water level difference at the moment it was permanently open and unlikely to change in the next week or so.

With that news, they decided like us, they’d take their chances on the Waterways Authority not changing its mind in the next week, unloaded their bikes, and went to lunch.

And so did we.


Friday, August 19, 2022

Thursday 18th August - Kirkhove to Oudenarde

When we last saw Koos just a month ago or even less, he may not have been leaking oil, but otherwise he was in a such a state of health that he bore a passing resemblance to our dear Mr Perkins all those years ago.  He was smoking, had a blockage in his supply lines and was generally not firing on all cylinders.  

Having been in for a bit of a mechanical upgrade in the intervening period we were delighted to discover  that not only was he not a “former” friend, but that his recovery had been sufficiently complete for he and Val to board the good ship Hennie H and set off on their belated summer of faring.   We were even more delighted to discover that if we could be in Kirkhove last night, we would be able to resume our somewhat curtailed earlier reunion, and we were, and we did!

This morning, as we watched them disappear into the mist, it was without the slightest concern for their well being, except of course for the distinct possibility that they might run out of water.  Then we turned and headed in the opposite direction to yet another delightful Flemish city, Oudenarde, just a few hours away.

Of course we could have posted a photo of a thousand year old building, or a pretty flower box, and yes some of the buildings in Oudenarde are quite special, and the flower boxes spectacular, but we don’t have any thousand year old mates (although we might have some pretty ones come to think of it), but every one of them is a bit special, so perhaps this slightly anonymous photo will remind us how thankful we are to have you all.


Oh My! Haven't you grown up!
Wednesday 17th August - Tournai to Kirkhove


The first time we visited Tournai more than a decade ago we had the impression it was a city very much in decline.  Apart from the entire scaffold around the Cathedral Notre Dame and an extensive exhibition promising that one day it will once again look great in photographs, there wasn’t much to remember about our visit.

Then, as indeed it was five years ago, mooring for boats was still strictly for masochists who enjoy living while being constantly smashed against the wall by the stream of ships passing.   A few years ago we cycled in from Antoing and we were sufficiently unimpressed with the general unloved-ness of the place (and the pizzas) that we might not have bothered to visit this time had it not been for the wonderful facilities now provided for pleasure boats.  We thought we'd give it one more chance.

Perhaps it was the bright sunny day, or perhaps there really is a feeling of revival surging through the town, the Cathedral and 1000 year old carillion are now fully restored, work on the bridge of similar vintage is progressing well, and what we remember from our last visit as an empty square bathed in litter is now buzzing with activity despite the temporary road diversion through it.  Whatever the reason, in our eyes at least there’s a new positivity in the air.

Had we not been determined to ensure our paths crossed with Val and Koos once more, we might even have stayed another day. Actually, we would have stayed another day. We might even have visited a museum!

Tournai, all is forgiven.  We’ll see you again just to check progress on all those things still to come!

Thursday, August 18, 2022

On the Motorway
Tuesday 16th August - Antoing to Tournai

We have in the past, mentioned our fascination with the naming convention or lack thereof, of the monster ships we are playing with a the moment.   So often they seemed to be named after a favourite kitten or some not terribly obscure piece of Greek or US folk law or literature.  

If we had been looking for omens today, perhaps the fact that the first two ships we saw were  “Missile” and “Abyss” might have been a clue as to what awaited us beyond the bund walls of our quiet little harbour.  Since we don’t seem to connect those sorts of dots until after the fact, we edged out into the canal and turned right towards Tournai anyway.  

Things went extraordinarily well for a few minutes or perhaps ten, until we rounded the first bend to discover that every bargee that had taken the day off yesterday was bent on making up for lost time today.  Every turn in the river was effectively a road block, with ships trying to tip-toe past one another.  

All went smoothly enough with the skippers of each passing ship just as intent on avoiding us as we were on avoiding them.  Apart from a bit of drifting time while waiting for the one way system through the city centre, progress was slow but quite pleasant and we arrived relaxed and ready to watching the fun from the comfort of our inner city mooring, having travelled the nine kilometres in almost two and a half hours.

Given that each  of these ships has the load carrying capacity of around fifty semi trailers give or take, we shuddered to think just how long the “train” would have been if the loads they were carrying were on road transport, let alone what our states of anxiety might have been in had we taken the same time to travel the same nine kilometres by automobile in their company. 


Another Well-Deserved Day Off!
Monday 15th August - Antoing


When yesterday we had been told today was a holiday, we naturally assumed it was the sort of day where things like shops and cafes would be open for the convenience of selfish tourists like ourselves, but we were mistaken. It was a proper holiday, that kind of day where people stay at home and have fun with their families, even if they have supermarkets to work in or chandlery barges to open for passing trade.  

Which goes a long way to explaining why, when we arrived in Antoing after a not very taxing four kilometres and passing one large lock (shared with another pleasure boat as a water saving measure) the place was even more deserted than usual, and why there was no one to let us in to the supermarket or the boat supplies barge.

Having decided that what we wanted wasn’t so important that we had to wait here till tomorrow, we were in the middle of making our decision of the day; whether to move on after a cup of coffee, or maybe lunch, or perhaps after a bit of a post-luncheon nap, when we were interrupted by the arrival of another boat.  It became clear as we made our introductions that the crew were speaking with a vaguely familiar accent albeit one that we hadn’t heard for some time.

As it turned out Tim and Elaine were from West Australia, and if we thought we needed some time to catch up on a few years worth of news during our various re-unions this year, swapping the notes of a life time with people we’ve just met consumes even more!  We did stop to take a breather for a time in the mid afternoon, but that was only to gather strength for a much longer discussion that went well into the evening. 

What a curious place Antoing is.  The harbour is not exactly beautiful although the town itself is certainly in the process of some sort of renewal if not gentrification, and the new waterfront apartments overlooking kilometres of crushing plant are curious, but every time we have stayed here we’ve had a memorably good time!  


Monday, August 15, 2022

Another Reunion!
Sunday 14th August - Perronnes - Antoing

It seems of late that whenever we mention someone while reminiscing of our journeys in years gone by they simply bob up at the next port to say “Hi!”.

Therefore we shouldn’t have been surprised when Ros stuck her head in our window yesterday evening to say exactly that.  Not that we had been thinking of her particularly, rather her sister Tuppence, who was one of those unforgettable characters that crosses one’s path from time to time.  

Tuppence was gifted with that sort of eccentricity that seems to be reserved for a particular part of the English gene pool and travelled for years solo in a six metre sailing boat, de-rigged and encrusted with an ever growing collection of other people’s cast offs and lost fenders which “might come in handy one day”.  She had  In her latter years been barely able to move from her tiny cockpit, with failing eyesight and fading health generally she travelling alone indefatigably, having adventures of the sort that they make moving picture shows out of.     We copied some charts of hers once, wondrously annotated in beautifully clear script which read things like:- “the mayor was very rude”, or “look out for noisy children throwing sticks”.

Ros and her little dog Sparkle, would join her from time to time, which we always thought was an attempt to bring some semblance of conventional order to her life.   When last our paths crossed it was a decade ago, Tuppence was in hospital in the UK, more seriously ill than anyone had suspected, and Ros was taking the opportunity of her absence to substantially reduce the payload of the little boat  by making repeated trips with a very large trolley to a rubbish skip. 

Sadly, Tuppence never left the hospital, but Ros decided to clean up the boat and keep cruising in her memory.  Sparkle is no longer with her either but her new little companion is a dead ringer, and the boat barely recognisable in its new ship-shape state.  

How can it be that after a night spent remembering the most absurdly insignificant conversations of a decade and a half ago, that one could forgot to take a photograph?  Thanks to the miracle of the modern bicycle it wasn’t too difficult to catch her entourage to make a suitable aide-mémoire of yet another delightful reunion!


Where are we?
Saturday 13th August - Peruwelz to The Royal Peronnes Yacht Club

Playing with the big boys is all very well although in truth it would be better if on the long stretches we could keep up with them, but we can’t so we (mostly) don’t try.  This removes one kind of stress and adds a very different kind; that of not knowing exactly when are going to get to anywhere.   

Instead of travelling faster than we want to, just to keep up, we simply bob along enjoying our own company until of course we arrive at a lock to discover the ships have long gone and the lock is in exactly the opposite state of operation to the one we need it to be in.  In that case, as we did this morning, we must wait for as much as a few hours for sufficient traffic to come along to justify filling and re-emptying the lock or until the kindly lock keeper takes pity on us and operates the lock anyway.   “Justify” is an interesting word in this context because the volume of water in a two hundred by twenty by fifteen metre deep lock is significantly more than we use while having a short, sharp shower, or even hosing the garden for an hour or two, and it’s a bit difficult to see any "justification" for letting us through alone, although we are certainly glad they do.  

Thanks to the lack of vagary in the metric system if one were to idly multiply the depth by the width by the length of the lock, one would know exactly how many litres of water it contains, and presumably this volume could be expressed it in terms of how may times it would take to empty to fill Sydney Harbour.  Someone clever might even be able to calculate just how big the tap is that enables them to fill in a ten minutes or so, but it’s suffice to say;- “VERY”.

Even when water is not in short supply, it’s difficult not to feel a little special, if not quite embarrassed during those times when we are the sole occupant, but it’s also quite nice not to be staring at the back of a ship with a four metre diameter propeller intent on washing us over the wall!   


Sunday, August 14, 2022

Dodging and Weaving
Friday 12th August - Ladeuze to Peruwelz


We both really enjoyed today, it wasn’t just the scenery and the scale of the canal, but with four locks up and ten down in the space of a dozen kilometres it really did put us in mind of France and the decade of delightful cruising we have spent there. 

For the last ten days we’ve been dawdling our way through some delightful countryside and visiting memorable, if not always entirely engaging villages.  When we came to the end of it all this afternoo we found ourselves briefly in a mist of wistfulness, wondering whether we shouldn’t just turn around and go back the way we came.

For reasons that we can’t quite put our fingers on, but quite possibly not wanting to spoil the memory, decided to press on and re-explore a bit of old territory, and a little new, get out of the intimate little waterway and mix it with the big boys for a bit. 

At exactly the time we reached that conclusion, we also reached the intersection with the main canal, as indeed did three hundred tonnes of ship aimed right at the place we wanted to be. With a little nifty helm and throttle work we managed tuck in behind said monster without any drama, just in time to meet six hundred tonnes coming the other way.   That in itself might have been OK, had another (empty) twelve hundred tonner not appeared at precisely the same moment in our rear-view mirror (or would have if we had had one), and as empty monster ships do, travelling very much faster than a certain little blue boat.

Just about anything else one can think of travels faster than we do, so it wasn’t very long at all until they’d shot past leaving us to contemplate whether we still had time to change our minds.


Friday, August 12, 2022

A day of exploration.
Thursday 11th August - Ladeuze


“Vertrouwen” is not a tiny ship.  She’s a twenty-five metre long slab of ancient steel in the shape of a former Dutch working barge, yet had Andrew not “reported in” a few days ago we may well have slipped quietly by without noticing her, hidden in plain sight.
But he had, and we didn’t, and as a result last night we had one of those happy catch-ups that have become a regular feature of our travels of late.  As usual we couldn’t possibly swap four years worth of news in one night so it was pretty clear that we’d have to stay another day so that we could pick up from where we left off this morning.

Andrew has taken a year or two to travel the distance we have covered in the past week, so he’s had more than enough time to learn a thing or two about the history of the surrounding area.  When he kindly offered to show us some of his favourite bits from the comfort of his air-conditioned car, we of course thought it would be rude to decline.  The entire region seems to have a reason to celebrate giants and witches in no particular order, and confusingly even giant witches. Festivals are held regularly in many of the villages to commemorate these and stranger goings-on in former times. We seem to have lost some detail in our translation  of the historical connection to all of this (and the absence of the museum in Ath didn't help), but there seems to be a quite romantic portrayal of a mix of historical and fictional persona. Curiously no real mention made of the terribly grizzly consequences for those who were accused of dabbling in those arts, possibly because those particular kinds of barbecues were no fun at all for the attendees.

So with more questions than answers in hand, we moseyed up hill and down dale, through villages and farmland, learning a little more as we went, of geomancy and giants, of energy lines and witchcraft  and owls and black cats, stopping only for shrimp croquettes and Belgiums finest potato chips, and possibly the occasional refreshing fizzy drink to nicely round off our time together.


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Wednesday 10th August - Ath to Ladeuze

During the course of the last fifteen years we have watched the mode of transport of the itinerate lock keepers progress from bicycles, to motor scooters, to little cars with the back seats taken out (a tax-saving device in France) to what has become the ubiquitous “camionnette” or little white van.

When the two young men charged with taking us through the first four locks and half dozen bridges ran past us this morning on their way to the first lock, we wondered if the Waterways Authority had taken away their cars in a round of cost-cutting. By the time we arrived they were involved in some sort of push-up competition, but they must have been tiring because they were only using one hand.

They did this for the entire five kilometres of our journey with them, winding every bridge winch and lock gate with what could only be called “gusto” and then presumably ran back from whence they had come.  Sadly we didn’t find out the name of their Rugby team, but as of today, we’re fans.

The next team were equally as efficient, with every bridge ready and waiting for us to pass, and who cares about the cars lined up waiting while we did.  Physically the difference was astonishing too and one must wonder if part of the reason for that is that everything on their watch was automated. While describing a person’s physical attributes in terms of circumference is no longer socially acceptable, we can only conclude that some sort of wizardry was used to insert them into their little car to move between obstacles.

After an hour or two of watching all this running, winding and in the latter case pushing of buttons on the automatic locks, and in the face of what must surely be the last few hot days of summer, we decided we’d do what we do best: We’d find a nice shady spot and take the rest of the day off.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Tuesday is Ironing
Tuesday 9th August - Ath


One of us was secretly a little sad because it’s so quiet here and she rather likes the sound of trains in the background, so she feels quite cheated, so we decided to stay another day to lounge around and perhaps to see what was going on in town.

The “House of the Giants” was worth a squizz according to everyone we’d spoken to, and although in a literal sense it’s open at the moment, it’s not open in the kind of way that will allow visitors until the year after next. The “Museum of Stone” seemed like a chance, but it’s a bit out of town and we’ve seen stones before.

The “National Ball Games Museum” looked interesting too, well it did to one of us, (The other has asserted that our televisions are not of the kind that best suited to those sorts of transmissions and therefore neither of us are particularly up to date on any score), however even if we had achieved Royal assent to visit it, opening hours are every third time an eclipse of the sun coincides with a Sunday, so that was out.

We knew the Graeco-Roman Museum had been open on Sunday because we’d spoken to him, and they have exhibits, including a 2,000 year old boat, which “speak for themselves” apparently.  Today when they spoke, it must have been: “we think we’ll have the day off”.

So we explored most of the central streets, concluded that the place is quieter than the Railway Station, and repaired to the boat to do a bit of afternoon train spotting.

And some Ironing.


Monday is Washing Day
Monday 8th August - Ath

When weren’t enthralled when we found the stone wall with the mooring bollards separated from the Railway station by nothing more than a patterned concrete fence.  There were no other boats there which is always an ominous sign, and we wondered if there’d been a mistake on the chart.   We even checked the satellite view on our Maps to see if it was us who had it wrong.  

The grass and trees were neatly trimmed it must be said, and after a bit of investigation on foot we did find a notice board with a welcoming message from the Tourist Office explaining how we could get a key to unlock the boxes which had water and power.   With this knowledge one of our hearts began to flutter as she thought of the prospect of a day of washing, while the other, aware that we had not taken water since leaving Ghent breathed a little more easily so we popped into town in search of someone to pay.

We found an office at the address provided, and in the absence of any sign that we might be in the correct spot asked one of the two personable young folk behind the desk if indeed we were in the tourist office.

“No”, said the young man, “I am the Gallo Roman Museum”, then indicating towards his colleague he said “She...”(pausing for effect) “is the Tourist Office”.   We had a lovely chat to both the Museum and  the Tourist Office and a delightful walk home!

Meanwhile, today back at the station, with a boat load of fresh washing and ironing done, things are so tranquil that we’ve decided that another day to recover from the forty kilometres we’ve travelled this week might be a good thing.   The trains are so  super-silent it’s as though they tip-toe past each other with their fingers to their lips, giving each other a knowing glance and a nod in our direction which says “shh…they might be asleep over there”.   

Just what exactly are the wheels of trains made from in Belgium?  Memory foam?


Monday, August 08, 2022

Smile and Wave Boys!
Sunday 7th August - Lessines to Ath


The canal between Lessines and Ath is narrow, winding, and delightful. It was a perfect place to spend a gentle Sunday morning ghosting through the farmlands and forests but it was also one of the most exhausting days we can remember. 

We ended our day with aching arms and faces from the constant waving and smiling at the throngs that lined the banks.  The fishermen (uncommonly friendly), the cyclists, the walkers, the picnickers and even the cows seemed to be inordinately happy, and why shouldn’t they be?  Even though the distance was a mere twelve kilometres today, the canal was at times not much more than a drain through the villages and at others could have been mistaken for a ditch as it bore us happily through little patches of farmland.

It was just one of those days when we reduced the speed a bit, and then a bit more until we were almost in reverse, as insurance against it ending sooner than it might.

Our journey had almost ended a few hundred metres after it had begun, at the first bridge, where quite some time after our lock/bridge keepers for the day had failed to arrive, we began to develop fleeting thoughts of defeat with perhaps even a drop of angst and even a dash of malice in the brew, albeit very much tempered with sympathy for asking them to come to work on such a beautiful Sunday when we supposed we could have chosen any other day of the week had we been more thoughtful.

They were probably just being considerate though, giving us time for coffee and cake while we waited.  When they did arrive they cheerfully advised they’d be with us all the way, and would definitely makes sure that there would be no further delays and we’d all be safely home in time for lunch. 

And we all were.


Sunday, August 07, 2022

Slow and steady
Saturday 6th August - Geraardsbergen to Lessines

We should have known better.

This morning, while poring over our charts to work out what we would do today, we came up with a plan for the rest of the week and indeed all was going very much in accordance with that plan for five kilometres or so, until we arrived at our first lock of the day.  

There we discovered unsurprisingly that a telephone was not the most effective means of communicating in French after a three year lay-off.   Three or four years ago I did a test in basic french literacy and discovered I was “sixty percent fluent” which came as quite a surprise until it dawned that it followed that I was “forty percent effluent”.  After today’s test it’s fair to assume that the eflluency score has increased substantially, yet we still managed to determine that:

a) The next lock, was not in operation and it would possibly be two hours before anyone can come to let us through this one so therefore this one is not in operation either. 

b) Perhaps it will not be four hours (which I think was the telephone equivalent of a Gallic shrug).

c) We can stay in the lock if we like while we wait.

The latter could have been left unsaid given the complete absence of alternatives. We happily read and had morning tea, and lunch to the sound of water cascading through the decaying gates, and over the course of the next few hours became intimately familiar with every brick in the lock. We had been for a few more hours when two knights in a shining little white van arrived to sort out our predicament and take us a little further towards achieving our plan.  

Eventually having settled us in to a nice little spot just three more kilometres further down the waterway, because by then we had run out of day, they assured us they’d be back at ten thirty tomorrow to raise the bridge for us.   We wait in hope.


Saturday, August 06, 2022

Split personalities.
Friday 5th August - Ninove to Geraardsbergen

I’ve often wondered if I have a split personality, so I’ll be ‘Frank’ now:  Belgium certainly does!

We are just a kilometre or so from Wallonia at the moment, that rather large part of Belgium that is more French than Flemish, where the language is different, the rules are different and it’s already been quite a culture shock leaving manicured hedges and painted houses behind.    

This is not a complaint.  Just because the textures are different does not make the place any less interesting or desirable to visit.

None the less, it must be said that when we entered the lock at Geraardsbergen this afternoon, we did wonder if we’d taken a wrong turn and accidentally discovered an abandoned structure.  The complete absence of any bollard suitable for a small boat, and the large ship ones hidden in the undergrowth combined with the crumbling timber gates which gave no confidence in their ability to hold back a couple of metres of water even one more time, were more than a little disconcerting.   

As if to emphasise the multiple-personalities of the country, the service at the lock came with it’s usual friendly smile in a body clad in a Hawaiian shirt rather than the blue of the waterways authority, worn slightly dishevelled and a little too tightly around the midriff area.  In a slightly Eastern Bloc twinge to otherwise perfectly articulated English, a conversation informed us that the occupant of the non-uniform had travelled no fewer than twenty-five times to Australia as a member of a Russian cycling team competing in the Tour Down Under.  He wished us a farewell from Flanders and a good time in our travels.

How could we not be having a good time?


A shock to the system!
Thursday 4th August - Aalst to Ninove

In the face of a forecast that predicted zero rainfall over the coming ten day period, I can’t imagine that anyone would have been in a hurry to reach for the toolbox to repair their non-functioning windscreen wiper.  In our case that little task sits happily on a growing list of things that might not need doing any time soon.  Therefore it came as a great shock to see little marks appear on the water and what appeared to be actual mist in the distance, as we drifted our way through a particularly lovely piece of forest today.

“Drifted” because we’ve been moving around twelve kilometres a day of late and sometimes even at walking pace the world just seems to rush by too quickly.

We had another kind of weather event as well, this time a massive, noisy whirlwind in the form of Juergen and Ele, who like almost everyone we know with a boat in France have found themselves unable to go anywhere in the face of a steadily declining water level across the country.  With the prospect of another week of high temperatures on its way, they had to face a choice between stewing on their boat or cooling in their pool in Wuppertal, (mentioned only because it’s the best sounding town name ever), and the boat didn’t win.

We were big winners though, because it’s only a large detour to get from where they were, to where they needed to be via where we are, and they took it!

It’s never quiet when we are together so we were a little grateful to have no neighbours for the night.  Yet again we were all astonished that no time had apparently passed since our adventures on the Somme three years ago.  Ele had attempted to send us a parcel on several occasions during our absence only to be told quite curiously, that Australia was closed.  Now we have even greater incentive to take a small road trip! 


Thursday, August 04, 2022

I love the smell of two-stroke in the morning
Wednesday 3rd August - Dendermonde to Aalst

It seems as though we were just getting to sleep after the gentle conversations of last night, when the sounds of two stroke engines of the garden weed-whacking variety burst through the stillness that usually heralds that six-fourteen has arrived.

In that stillness normally, that hour goes completely unnoticed unless one has to make a wee excursion before returning to blissful slumber for another hour or three.  If we ignored it, we thought it would go away, but by six-thirty the little thwacks and pings of twigs and clippings and extraneous garden excrement landing on our boat were beginning to annoy.

Then, from somewhere not far away added to the din was the unmistakable sound of someone shouting angrily in Flemish.   Flemish is such a cool language to be angry in, even for those of us who don’t understand a word of it the intent is very clear!   The poor young man guilty of nothing more than carrying out orders (without question), made things a degree or two worse when he attempted to make good by trying to blow off the great mountains of debris stuck to one of the boats by the morning dew with an even noisier two stroke blower.

Just why the manager of the waterways authority had dispatched two of his finest to denude a piece of river bank exactly three boats long at six in the morning was never completely explained.  Perhaps he correctly calculated that it give us time to clean the detritus off the boats before nine (just).  

I do hope his decision was worth the paperwork that he will now have to deal with given the number of emails, telephone calls and written complaints that were buzzing from our neighbours' devices.

Having completed just two thirds of our allotted sleep schedule for the night, there was a great temptation to photograph the debacle, but our memories of this mooring  will be from a time just six hours earlier, of a greener calmer place where the words “quite enjoyment” come to mind. 


Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Feel the Serenity
Tuesday 2nd August - Gent to Dendermonde

By eight this morning we had decided to proceed with plan A: we’d run the gauntlet of the drought and attempt to cruise on the river Dender although even then we were still a bit flexible about which direction we were going to tackle it.  Since we needed to leave at nine to get where we needed to be if we wanted the tide to sweep us down towards Antwerp rather than back to where we started, some might think would be cutting things a little too fine, but between lock operating schedules and tide there were a few variables in play.  If we missed that magic combination, we’d simply go the other way.

As it turned out we were in ship shape, ready to roll, or whatever it is that boats do instead of rolling, at exactly the stroke of nine which we took as something of a hint, exchanged the fondest of farewells with our Harbour Master and turned left.

As the almanacs had predicted, we rode the tide from Ghent to Dendermonde reaching a speedy twelve kilometres per hour at times under the bridges and round the twists as we failed entirely to keep up with the ships and other pleasure boat that had left the lock with us.  By early afternoon we were on the Dender, at the beginning of what everyone tells us is a long, quiet and beautiful waterway.

We disappointed a couple of Belgian boats who thought they would be alone on the only mooring. They must have had some American friends staying with them for the last few days as well because they were just as  happy as we were to sit quietly in their own space in the calm of the evening.     That was until, with their permission we decided to launch our flying camera from our dining table, when in the nicest possible way, all Hell broke loose.

We spent a little time filling requests for photographs of other boats from odd angles and emailing them, before discovering that Belgians are quite capable of staying up even later than Americans!


Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Party Party Party.
Monday 1st August - Gent

We may have been inadvertently giving the impression that our life of late has been one big party.

Be assured, there’s work to fit in between all those good times.   

Yesterday for instance, we had to visit the weekly flower markets, and the book markets as well, before wending our way through five levels of the Museum of Industry, and in the process didn’t get time to have lunch until afternoon tea time!  By then, if we had been keeping tabs on that sort of thing, our step count would have been well over sensible daily targets.   

Such is the intensity of our schedule that we didn’t even have time for a nap before finding ourselves back on Joel and Cindy’s party bus for another night of telling lies and general hilarity, not to mention quite enough food to make up had there been a shortfall during the course of the day.    Then of course we all happily backed up for a further dose today although by this evening the pace was starting to tell on us all.

We don’t know at the moment whether to be more grateful for the good times we are having or for the fact that we are going to leave tomorrow which will give us all some some respite.  


Monday, August 01, 2022

Another Sleepless Night.
Sunday 31st July - Gent


One late night sitting on the dock downtown waiting for the “golden hour” which confusingly was only going to last twelve minutes had it materialised, and then the fifteen minutes or so of “blue hour” at about the time someone thought to flick the switch on the street lights, was bad enough, but we were sure we’d recover in a day or two.

Then Joel and Cindy breezed into town and we knew we were in trouble.

We hadn’t thought about it too much, but when we did we realised that we’ve known them before we actually owned a boat, so they must actually be statistically speaking our oldest “canal friends”.  That’s a meaningless statistic to all except us of course but once again as so often happens, we immediately caught the tails of conversations unfinished from four years ago and continued into the night.

Well into the night.  

So far into the night that we’d missed the golden hour, the blue hour, the switching on of street lights and we even wondered as they cycled back to their van parked quietly outside the city’s inner environmental zone, whether they were at risk of having the street lights turned off before they got there.

Happily, we didn’t even make it half way through the things we needed to reminisce about so we’re going to have to do it again tonight!

Blogger Template Created by pipdig