Monthly Archives: May 2015
The story continues as we meander along the Canal from Port La Robine to Homps, with a stopover for the night at Argens-Minervois. This seems to be like the heart of the wine country. There are vineyards lining the banks of the canal stretching in every direction. The countryside continues to amaze with its patterns of vineyards punctuated from time to time by small villages and farm houses. Wind farms are plentiful in these parts but they do not seem to have affected the vines. Port la Robine is a junction point for another canal joining the Canal Du Midi from Narbonne in the south closer to the Mediterranean coast. We keep going along the Canal du Midi, although there was a slight inclination to go down and see Narbonne. It would have been difficult time wise as well as a good number of locks to go back and forth over. Another time maybe!
We are now back in lock country and we have to pass through one before entering the port at Argens-Minervois for our night stop. The team on board are getting quite good now at casting ropes up the lock wall and getting us set for the inflow of water in the lock as we rise up. Our trip involves us going up all the locks as the Canal does not reach its highest point until east of Castelnaudary, where our trip concludes.
At Argens-Minervois we had dinner out at a great little BBQ resteraunt. There is a big open wood fired BBQ .and we order steaks of various types followed by a crepe house speciality. The crepe was substantial. On top of the crepe was placed a big lump of ice cream, covered with chantilly cream and then topped with some strawberries and grand marnier. The crepe was then folded over this lot and drizzled with strawberry sauce. How to finish a meal! Slept like a log.
The next day we resumed the Canal and went the 5 km on to Homps a short distance for our next stop over. Homps is an old canal port which was a transport hub for the wine industry in the ‘good old days’ . It is now a little weather beaten and is trying to reinvigorate itself around tourism. Still a lot of wine here to enjoy. We dined on a Toulouse sausage of some sort cooked on board by Tony Watt and eaten on our top deck. We had some clouds in the early evening sky and these were painted a pale pink as the sun slowly descended in the west.
Fully recovered from our encounter with the steel hulled tourist barge we have now moved on from Colombiers and reached Port la Robine, a bit over a quarter of the way on the journey to Castelnaudary. Weather has been exceptional, clear blue skies with mid 20 degrees temperatures. Only issue has been a strong wind which blows the boat about a bit. After leaving the Fonserannes locks we have 54 km of canal without locks, just gliding along between the Flame trees that line the Canal banks. These trees are are having to be cut down because of disease which is a great shame. There is a big environmental campaign being implemented to replace them progressively over the next 20 years with a variety of other species. There are about 40,000 of them along the length of the canal to be dealt with. So it is a big job.
Part way along we have gone through the Malpas Tunnel, a one way traverse of 160 metres. The are actually 3 tunnels here on top of each other, the Canal, under that a modern rail tunnel and below that a drainage tunnel that takes water from an agricultural area that is actually a dried up lake bed. This tunnel predates the Canal tunnel. Quite a complex set up. To top it off on the top of the hill under which the tunnel go are the remnants of the Domitian Way. This was a road route linking Spain and Italy built by the Romans in the first century (I think, might have been the second). We climbed to the top of the hill and took in the scenery and the information centre. The lady here was so helpful in explaining the set up that the Watts presented her with one of their mini stuffed Koalas. She was quite pleased!
At Port la Robine we tied up on the bank at the entrance to the port looking back across the water to the bridge we passed under. Had dinner on the top deck overlooking this scene as the sun slowly sank into the horizon. It was about 9.30 pm and we had another half hour of twilight before heading for bed.
After a night on board at Port Cassafieres we set off for our first day on board Salsa 19 on the Canal du Midi.We were headed for our first stop at Colombiers., a journey of about 19km and just to the west of Beziers. Setting off early at 7 pm, not long after sunrise, we had a delightful meander down the canal in the early morning light.
During the course of the day we were to go through 9 locks. This included the 6 staircase lock set at Fonserannes that are encountered just as you leave Beziers. These six locks come after traversing the 198 meter long canal aqueduct over the River Orb. Looking back is a ‘postcard view’ of Beziers and the old cathedral high on the hill overlooking the river and canal.
We had a somewhat unexpected delay in passing through Beziers on our way to the Fonserannes locks. It seems that large steel hulled barge carrying 80 or so lunch time diners all eating and chatting on deck has a right of way over the smallish Salsa 19 carrying 4 Australians on a pleasant vacation on the Canal du Midi. Any way around a blind corner came this behemoth on the wrong side of the canal bearing down on us. Allthego was at the helm. And allthego he went in an effort to avoid any unpleasant consequences. Alas the result was a somewhat unpleasant and noisy ‘nose to nose’ engagement. There was much consternation on board the steel hulled barge. The captain of the said barge became most agitated and was using a range of french words which allthego and the crew of the Salsa 19 could not understand. All on board Salsa 19 remained calm and there were no injuries, a few disturbed looks on faces though and sucking in of breath. There was no damage to the steel hulled barge or its people. They were all still shouting at someone though, which was probably us! However, Salsa 19 incurred some damage to its fibre glass bow rails. We reported back to base and some technical people showed up after an hour or so and completed repairs so that we could continue the journey.
The ‘locking up’ through Fonserannes was hectic work. There were three boats in each of the locks with quite a deluge of water entering at the top. No mishaps though. Crowds of people lined the staircase watching the progress.
We then proceeded to Colombiers past some great countryside to settle in for the first night and await what the new day would bring.
We are now two days into our trip along the Canal du Midi with Tony and Rosemary Watt. We met up in Beziers. We had trained it down from Avignon and arrived in Beziers about 2 pm and moved into The Hotel Imperator, an impressive sounding place situated on the main boulevard. It has been around a while but then so have we, so it was more than ok…. the showers were hot, there was plenty of room and the bed was comfortable. After some wandering around town we enjoyed dinner at a small establishment down a back street….very tasty chicken and prosciutto, and also a ground beef with mushroom sauce……. forgot what else was eaten! Next day we continued our wandering. Beziers is much more sprawling than we first imagined. It is a very old town and has an inviting aura.
We walked down to the Canal du Midi and inspected some locks, the Watts have never experienced these before so this was a bit of look-see ahead of the trip. Later we were off to see some old cathedrals and do the initial shopping to providore the boat ahead of the canal trip.
At the appointed hour of 2pm the 4 of us set off in a small taxi for Port Cassafieres to pick up our boat. After a bit of a wait, followed by an induction and familiarization session we took control over the boat. We had decided to stay the night in the Port and start off the next morning. Timing wise this was good as it allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the boat and not rush off ill prepared.
The first stage of the trip is to take us to Colombiers about 25 km up the Canal. This will take us most of the day. But more of that next time.
Have arrived now in Beziers after 3 nights in Avignon. Weather was just great in Avignon, no sleet, warm with blue clear skies and wisps of white fluffy clouds. Avignon is visited by all and sundry because of its connection with Papal history in the 14 century when the Popes shifted the throne from Rome to Avignon for some political reason that I can’t recall. A great old complex of buildings,the Palais de Papes, was constructed in bits and pieces over many years, and then, after the Popes went back to Rome parts were remodelled and demolished to accommodate different uses. Much of its interior decoration was defaced in periods of occupation as prisons and army barracks during the Revolution.
The Avignon Bridge is also a great landmark here. Homealone did not perform the song or do the dance on the bridge (Allthego knows the tune but not the words) as it is a bit unnerving walking out across it into the Rhone River. It is quite high and narrows, not much in the way of railing to stop one slipping off! There are 4 arches left from the original 24 that stretched across the river and the marshy areas adjacent to it. Washed away by flood over the years.
Our second day here involved hiring a car and travelling up to the Caverne du Pont D’Arc. This is a long story. So I’ll keep it short. What we visited is a replica of the cave that was discovered back in the mid 1990s containing numerous wall paintings of animals. These have been dated back 36,000 years. The cave had been closed by rock falls about 20,000 years ago. Our replica cave contains a ‘copy’ of the cave environment and many of the original cave paintings, done by a team of archaeologists and artists using the prehistoric techniques. The replica at 3,000 sq m is about a third the size of the real cave. Over a 100 million Euro has been spent on the site. It was opened only a month ago. It is a wonderful bit of modern-day interpretation and display. But one is sort of left wondering whether the replica does look like the original! We can’t see the original because it has been ‘locked up’ to the public. Only gurus and scientific sorts can see the real thing! The major impact of this discovery was discovering cave wall paintings dating back 36,000 years which involved the use of techniques which had only previously been discovered in caves dating back 18,000 years. Effectively pushing art history back 18,000 years. The photo below is a copy shot of one of the promotional bits from the Caverne, but it is pretty true to what was in the replica cave. These were just so ‘real looking’ animals. The cave paintings have been used as ‘form and shape’ guides for the ‘stuffed models’ of the animals, ranging from cave bears, cave lions, bison, mammoth and woolly rhinosaurus.
On the trip back to Avignon we took a route down the Ardeche Gorge. Now, Allthego is known for taking these sort of Gorge drives and Homealone is also known for getting a bit tense at these times. Well this gorge trip did not do a lot for Homalone’s nerves, even Allthego at the wheel got a bit on edge. Pretty steep drop and not much between us and the edge. Made Frogatts Edge look like a picnic. The major attraction here is the amazing natural arch over the river at Pont D’ Arc. Seems to be a popular spot for a paddle down the Gorge.
In Avignon we stayed at the Hotel de Blauvac, in a little side street not far from the centre of town and all the action for dinner. The Hotel is the restored 17th century mansion of the Marquis de Blauvac, only 18 rooms and a great place to stay. Not real flash but very comfortable. This guy had a nice house but there were a lot of Marquis around at this time as well, so not sure how important he was.
Our major excitement here was a fire. Allthego awoke around 3 am smelling some acrid smoke in the room, after sniffing for a while I thought ‘Yes , I can still smell smoke, better have a look see’. So I awoke Homealone, who after clearing her mind also thought she could smell smoke. And smoke there was out our window! We were 3 floors up, not quite a Towering Inferno, firemen arrived and duly put out the fire in the rubbish bins outside the hotel, those big plastic dumpster type things that people sleep in the US crime shows. Thankfully, no one was in the bins in our case. We didn’t sleep much after this. Nothing dull.
After Avignon we headed by train for Beziers and the Canal du Midi.
Leaving Avignon today and have just got our internet back and working so a bit of catching up on Manchester times. Manchester was wet and windy and very cold. A little bit of sun in the afternoon on our last day as we were cruising down the Manchester Ship Canal. The Ship Canal trip took some 6 hours. Starting in Liverpool (we had left Manchester by train to go up to LIverpool ) on the River Mersey and ending back in Manchester. The vessel we were to travel on got delayed in a lock apparently and a new vessel had to be readied for us, meaning about half an hour wait in an English queue. There were some interesting types in this queue all jostling for position as we waited. Most seemed to be locals out for the day. For one it was his birthday celebration. Our boat had been decked out for the WWI 100th ‘celebrations’. It was called the ‘Razzle Dazzle’ and had been painted up with a range of WWI naval camouflage patterns.
Despite the weather and the somewhat tedious non stop commentary for 6 hours by a walking encyclopedia on the Canals history and current day status we found it an interesting trip. The Canal was built in the late 19 century from Liverpool to Manchester to compete with the existing railway. The railway owners were exploiting their monopoly unmercifully so why not build a big canal. The Suez had recently opened. All manner of sailing and steam vessels used the canal. Cotton from the US, live cattle and sheep, oils and other manufacturing inputs. It became a great success and operated through the 1950s until in the early 60s containerisation effectively killed it off .
Today the Canal still takes a range of ocean-going coastal type trading vessels……..petrol, chemicals, coal ………..and there are plans afoot to set up a small specialised container port for coastal operators. There were 5 lock sets, numerous swing road bridges, viaducts and a couple of lifting bridges to allow us up the canal. Also a swing viaduct for another small operating canal which crosses over the Ship Canal. After 6 hours Homealone found all this technology, whilst interesting, a bit repetitive, particularly the commentator. Overall though it was good trip finishing in sunshine back in Manchester.
The day before we had spent the wet weather dashing around town taking in the monuments. Spent a couple of hours in the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI). This was a great display of Industrial Revolution machinery and technology. Including a working cotton-spinning mill which was demonstrated to onlookers.
At the end of the day we charged off to find the laundromat to catch up on the washing, getting drenched along the way (including a brief shower of sleet), only to find it was closing…………at 5pm mind you. So back to the hotel to pack for the next days flight over to Paris and the train down to Avignon.
Well ‘almost’ is a slight exaggeration.
We set off from Norwich at about 10am for the drive back to Manchester to return the car and spend a couple of days before heading for France. We took a route back north of that which we came on across to Norwich. This took us into the northern part of the Peak District via a road just south of the bottom of The Wash. The land is so very flat here one can understand why the climate change doomsayers consider this whole area to be very susceptible to inundation if sea levels rise. Back in time it was all actually under the sea as far back as Cambridge. Nobody seems to be heading for high ground though.
We could not resist the temptation of going on a short diversion to have a walk to Froggats Edge. Around this area there are a number of these types of landforms. High ridges that look down into valleys, the tops of the ridges are called ‘edges’. People come and climb these. Homealone didn’t understand why anyone would want to climb them. Apparently, they do it for training purposes before greater challenges are tackled in Europe. Anyway there are some great views to be had. The walk took about 30 minutes each way so we were running a little late heading off to Manchester.
The run into Manchester was pretty straight forward. Our hotel The Britannia was right smack in the middle. We were going along nicely until a turn was missed and we ended up going the wrong way. Some nimble work got us on track again only to be caught almost in a one way street, going the wrong way. Allthego had noticed a black car following and as this manoeuver ( going the wrong way down the one way) was about to be executed a sharp ‘toot’ was heard from the black car. A gentlemen leaned out of said black car and asked Allthego if he was ‘lost’. Allthego said ‘sort of’ and asked him if he was lost too. At this point the gentlemen said they were police (he had a offsider) and their uniforms became apparent. Some friendly discussion ensued about it being unwise to go down the one way street the wrong way as there had been a number of accidents in the past here and they didn’t want to do any more paperwork that evening. Allthego filled them in on our destination and, after a bit of consultation with his colleague’, one of the officers announced that we should ‘follow them’. So off we went with a police escort for several blocks and side streets to The Britannia. They even found a parking spot down a side alley for us and guided us in. What a wonderful constabulary! No arrest!
The Britannia is one of those old buildings that have been restored and converted into a hotel. It dates from the 1860s and was originally a cotton warehouse. Back in the late 1800s Manchester produced nearly 70 % of the world’s cotton fabric and cloth. It now produces less than 1%. This is why we call sheets and towels and the like ‘manchester’, just in case anyone was interested. The Britannia is a little ragged in places and could do with a touch up here and there. The ambience, period furniture and decor though more than compensate. The internet connection though was lousy and I am doing this blog from Avignon. Will catch up on the Manchester adventures next time.
The Hop on Hop Off bus got a good work over from us today in Norwich.
The day before we had spent with Russell’s cousin Roger Brown, down in Long Stratton. Roger is the grandson of the older brother (Number 1) of Russell’s grandfather Robert Brown (Number 8). It was interesting day of family chit-chat.
Norwich is a very easy city to amble around on and off the bus. The Norwich Cathedral was a most impressive building, almost 900 years old. Many feet have trod its floors. Henry VIII puritans had whitewashed its interior. Many of its secrets have slowly been uncovered; the intricate painting under the whitewash, hidden artworks, carvings and engravings in the roof work.
We had a great lunch at the Norwich Prison cafe. Run by rehabilitated inmates not long off release. Lester Piggott, the famous jockey, stayed here for a while for tax evasion.
Surrey House is the office of Norwich Union Assurance one of the first insurance companies the underwrote fire protection. Its foyer is almost entirely lined with magnificent marble which had been destined for Canterbury Cathedral but ended up here.
Medieval churches are all over the city as well as pubs. The Adam and Eve pub is supposedly the oldest in Britain and dates to the 1200s. We went there for dinner, but it shuts at 7 pm we got there a bit after and missed out. Maybe we were lucky!
After a long day we battled back to the hotel and had dinner there. An Australian was the manager on duty. He came from Moree, had married an English girl. Originally came over to play cricket in the Norwich league. After a bit of chat we discovered he knew Steve MacGoffin (plays for Sussex), a pace bowler who played for WA in Australian State cricket. Originally though he played junior cricket for Wests Brisbane and had faced the punishing batting of one Mitchell Brown. Small world!
We now head back to Manchester.
After leaving Melton Mowbray, with a slight after taste of pork pie on the palate, we headed off to Norwich. First stop for the day was in Kings Lyn, an old port city on the Great River Ouse. The port dates back to the 12th century. A fascinating place and we would have loved more time there. Some real old medieval buildings. The name of the river is a clue to the geography of this region. The river seems to literally ‘ooze’ out of the surrounding countryside. The land is very flat and marshy in these parts and water which comes down from the midlands through numerous channels, streams and marshy bogs flows out or ‘washes’ into a shallow rectangular bay, called The Wash, and ultimately the North Sea.
Leaving Kings Lyn we had a short stop at Sandringham Castle to see if the Queen was in with the new great-grandchild, Charlotte. She wasn’t there so we didn’t go in, however, we did manage to pick up a first edition Charlotte tea mug from the visitors centre as a keep sake of the occasion. The shop was doing a roaring trade.
Onward we went, but veered back towards the coast. By now we had traveled up the side of The Wash and was getting close to the sea-side tourist villages to which the Brits flock in summer. These are what you could loosely call ‘beaches’. Mostly shingle and pebbles with The Wash splashing ashore. Lining the waterfronts are Fish n Chip shops, amusement arcades and all manner of touristy type shops. It was a warm day about 16 degrees celsius and little chill wind from the north. Beach goers were a bit rugged up and huddled behind wind breaks and in the sand hills reading books or gazing out towards the wind farms that are on the horizon about 7 km out to sea. If you can’t have them on land because they disturb the grouse then put them out in the water and let the seals sit on them!
We stopped in at Wells-next-the-Sea a fishing village on the North Sea coast, beyond The Wash. This has also been a port in the past but now seems to act as a base for the remnants of the North Sea fishing fleet and the crews that service the wind farms. There is a big old granary here built in 1901 that acted as an import/export terminal up until about 1990. It is now luxury apartments.
At Cromer we turned south and headed inland to Norwich. Cromer is famous for its crabs. I would have liked to have tried some, but it was getting late in the day. At Wells-next-the Sea we had missed out on another English delight Cockells (Pippi like shell fish) and Periwinkles. I had passed these up in favour of the crab at Cromer. Instead I had a hamburger at the hotel in Norwich.
Went to bed rather late. The next day we were to catch up with my cousin in Long Stratton about 20 minutes south of Norwich City.
We are at Melton Mowbray. The home of Pork pies. And one of only a couple of areas in England where they can call the famous cheese ‘Stilton’. What more could you want……………….Pork pies and Stilton! Allthego had both, his pork pie was smeared with a generous helping of Stilton, and Homealone….well hers’ was covered with a layer of apple chutney…….what a gastronomic delight!
In chasing down the pork pie at the Original Pork Pie shop we bailed up one of the shop assistants and quizzed her on baking techniques and whether they could send some of these great pies to Oz. Well, low and behold they wont let the pies out of England just like the cricket ashes………but one of their ex employees in M-M has not long moved to Brisbane (of all places, but this guy is just another creative talent finding home in Brisbane!) and can supply an Oz variant. We will make contact on our return.
Back in 1837 the Marquis of Waterford was at the race meeting near town and he and a few mates stormed the town splashing red paint around all the town buildings, as well as creating general mayhem. This is the third thing Melton Mowbray is famous for………..the expression ‘painting the town red!’ Is this better than pork pies?
A prominent building known as Anne of Cleaves House sits in the main street. Apparently, Henry VIII gave it to her as part of the divorce settlement in 1540. He had just chopped Oliver Cromwell’s head off, Cromwell actually owned the house. Rough justice but a cheap settlement! Currently, the building is a restaurant and bar.
In the afternoon we headed off for Sherwood Forest to catch up with Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. Sherwood is a great old forest full of tales, some perhaps ‘true’ and others ……..well ….maybe we should just enjoy them! Sherwood is not like what one would ‘expect’. It is full of open spaces and scattered trees and grass lands. Supposedly, this is similar to what it would have been a 1000 years ago. In the Information Centre, much is made of the story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. What is a bit surprising is the vast amount of research that has been undertaken into the legend. Books are everywhere. It’s a great story anyway!
Returning to the hotel for the night we dined on some Fish n Chips. We couldn’t resist finishing dinner by sharing a dessert. …….Spotted Dick, covered with a pretty good custard.
We then head for Norwich, via the Norfolk coast.