On the way back along the Midi Canal – part 1.

Today is the first day of summer, the longest day, the June Solstice, midsummer night, and the Fete de la Musique – all rolled into one – and it seems hardly possible that four weeks have already passed since we returned to Toulouse from a week in England to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. The party went well, despite the rain in the afternoon just as guests arrived for tea, and a good time was had by all fifty or so family, local friends, neighbours and carers.

Family celebrations at The Patch, Lacock, Wiltshire.

We set off from Toulouse heading east and have so far covered 160kms of the 240km total length of the Midi Canal. Having spent 6 weeks getting from Carcassonne to Toulouse (April 1st– May 12th) we fairly raced back covering the same distance in 10 days, arriving in port in time for Pentecost and finding virtually all the shops shut on both Sunday and Monday, although fortunately Monoprix had an exceptional opening on Monday morning so we were able to stock up on food. And we managed to get a propane gas refill and 2 Jerry cans of diesel.

Port St Sauveur, Toulouse.

On our way we had made overnight stops at PK 18 above Vic Lock, PK 26.5 by the Intermarche above Montgiscard, PK 38 above Laval Lock, and for two nights at PK 57 by Not Poterie just below Mediterranee Lock, whilst it rained for a while.

Not Pottery Cassole gets summer use as a fruit bowl.

At Castelnaudary, PK 65, we missed seeing Anne and David on Cassandra but were lucky to find Maggie and Nigel, who came for dinner, at home on Gesina.

Gesina, 3rd from left, at Castelnaudary.

A night moored just above St Sernin Lock, PK 69.7 nearly ended in disaster as we found the water rising above the bank after the locks above were emptied at 7pm – we switched banks in a hurry!

Moored above St Sernin Lock, before the level started to rise.

At Bram, PK 81, we found that the Port really has closed, due to insolvency, and there were no services available. We spotted Alex, Busted Flush, picking up his car and had news of his progress. At Villesequalande, PK 91, it rained all afternoon and we suffered from too many flies, but we made the acquaintance of Sander and Tina whose boat, not called but from Sneek, we have passed many times over the last two years. On our descent into Carcassonne we passed Busted Flush and Lady Sue sitting together above the double lock at Lalande and agreed to catch up for drinks somewhere along the canal before we all reach the Rhone.

Carcassonne Port and Hotel Boat Alouette approaching the lock.

It felt rather sad leaving Carcassonne, PK 105, and saying goodbye, perhaps for the last time, to Stephanie and Chayma (at the Capitainerie) who had looked after us so well over two winters and several shorter stays in between. And we felt suddenly very tired – neither of us sure why, particularly – so when we spotted the empty 20m concrete quay at PK 115.5 just before Trebes we made fast against the speeding passing hire boats and stayed quietly on our own for four nights. First Cassandra and then Busted Flush and Lady Sue passed by on their way to Trebes. We cycled in the short 2km along the canal path for a lunch at La Poissonerie Moderne with friend Nigel (local resident, not boater!) and a trip to the Super U (one of two supermarkets in Trebes).

A quay to ourselves just before Trebes.

Feeling somewhat rested and with the British General Election results just in we headed on to Trebes and, finding the town quay empty, were able to stop and fill with water whilst also doing some last minute shopping. It was disappointing to find that the Tourist Office, which we remembered for having a good and well-priced range of locally produced wines, had changed hands and Tourism Grande Carcassonne doesn’t go in for wines. We arrived at the Trebes Triple lock at 11.30am, and chatted to Anne and David on Cassandra as they went in but, although next in line, we were not able to enter until after the lock-keeper’s lunchbreak had finished at 1.30pm. This gave us plenty of time to also chat to Paul and Sue, Lady Sue, and Alex, Busted Flush, moored nearby and who had heard that the water tap at Marseillette (hidden behind the wall – the secret that all boaters know about!) was out of action. They asked us to check it out for them and text back so that they could reverse up if needed onto the Trebes water point before heading on.

Taking on water in Trebes, beside the restaurant terraces.

At Marseillette, PK 127, the free water tap by the wooden jetty just after the bridge is indeed out of service. So too is the water bourne, €2 for 100 litres, on the smaller wooden jetty further along – I learned from a local boater that VNF (who run the waterways) had forbidden the local Mairie (who run the water supply) to sell water to passing boaters. So I was able to report back and was rather pleased with myself for having followed the well-known boater’s maxim “never pass a water tap without topping up”. At the nice bakery in Marseillette (the only shop in town) they have stopped making my favourite ‘Pain Viking’ and now do a sort of half-breed not quite malted but seeded loaf. It is not as good – and so another disappointment along the canal here. But Nigel came to the rescue with a lovely invitation to a BBQ lunch at his house, complete with swimming pool and full-sized snooker table, in Laure Minervois. It had been a very hot day and by the time Nigel had driven us back at 8pm the internal temperature in the boat had reached 37C/100F.

Chez Nigel. The way to spend a hot day.

With a forecast for hotter weather in the days ahead we set off in search of the first shady tree we could find which wasn’t until just before Puicheric Bridge at PK 135. Tying up to a couple of solid roots with a spring line back to a tree across a not very well travelled path we withstood the pounding from waves of speedy hireboats for four nights (one of the roots did finally come loose – the last straw being a passing Hotel Boat.

Some isolated shade near Puicheric.

Cycling into town (Vival grocery store, butcher, baker, small newsagent, wine cave and Martine the hairdresser who curiously enough I have now visited thrice) we saw no sign of Roberto Locatelli in the corner garden, with the flags by the bridge, and wondered if he was still around. It had been two years since we had last seen this local octogenarian when, as usual, he had appeared beside the boat with a basket of green beans and other veg, fresh from his garden. But later that afternoon we heard the familiar tinkle of the bell on his trug! This year he has gone into the flower business for the first time – which was most opportune as it was Pam’s birthday the next day and as it happened the roses on offer were her favourite colour. He couldn’t advise on the new restaurant Chez Modeste that has been opened recently by the butcher in town so we had to take our chances for Pam’s birthday lunch. It proved to be excellent value, spotlessly clean, nice fresh ingredients well cooked – but perhaps trying a little too hard and it seemed to us to lack a typically ‘french’ atmosphere. On our final morning Roberto came by as arranged with a basketful of fresh veg and some more flowers – and a week later we are still eating green beans.

Hotel Boat passing under Puicheric Bridge.

Our next stop at Homps, PK 145, the only place we know of with free mooring, water and electric for the first night, didn’t disappoint. We found a spot on the quay next to Amethyst, a shared ownership narrow boat based in Carcassonne, and were able to fill up with water and recharge our batteries whilst sitting beside the boat, in a small patch of Oleander shade, sharing a drink with Chris and Trish.

The Port at Homps, beside an Oleander and Amethyst.

We left port at 10.45am and it took us two hours to travel two kilometres, passing through first the Homps Lock, where we waited by an empty lock, gates open, for 20 mins (the permitted time lock-keepers can keep you waiting) for an Hotel Boat that didn’t arrive, and then by the double Ognon lock for 25 mins whilst the lock-keeper did two upward lock movements in succession without letting us down in between – because the hire boats had all been waiting for an hour and a half for the Hotel Boat – which had passed through as we arrived. Just after the Garde Lock d’Ognon, PK 147.5, we knew there was shade with wooden bollards (a valuable combination on the Midi) and we pulled in behind Evelyn J, Peter, just as Vintage Cru, Peter and Margaret, moored on his other side. After lunch and a siesta we were invited over onto Evelyn J’s aft deck (the shadiest spot between us) and shared a very convivial evening and impromptu paella. Next morning Vintage Cru left early but we decided to stay in at least partial shade as the forecast was for continued very hot weather and we also had a date for a ‘spa’ day with Nigel the following day – we needed to be somewhere easy to find and reach by car, which this is. Peter shared a BBQ lunch with us but was driven out the next morning by too many flies and an army of ants. We were glad to be able to shut up the boat and be driven off to relax in a shady garden and swim in a refreshing pool (un-heated water temp 28C!) – a real treat, and when my phone pinged, I realised it was Father’s Day too! On our return from Nigel’s, again well after 8pm, we moved the boat half a kilometre into an open space where we could benefit more from the breeze and get away from the flies.

Feet up on Father’s Day Chez Nigel.

The next day was mercifully overcast with a breeze blowing right through the boat and as we found ourselves on wooden bollards and ‘fly-free’ we stayed put – a little in need of a rest after 5 days of ‘social drinking’ and eating. It was even cool enough to get on the roof and wash it down with buckets of canal water.

A passing ‘peniche’ on an overcast morning.

Another morning of overcast skies encouraged us to move on down through the double locks at Pechlaurier and the single at Argens to reach the 54 km lock-free pound between Argens and Beziers. We had a much quicker run this time from PK 148 through the locks, and had reached Paraza, PK 157, in two hours. We stopped here for lunch on the end of a quay giving priority to passenger boats – there was no other free space and we have never found empty moorings at either Roubia or Paraza. Peter had advised us that he had found no shade until he reached Ventenac and with more even hotter weather forecast we thought we had better find shade again and so moved on after lunch. At Ventenac, PK 160, we found good wooden posts and empty moorings under trees – this despite many trees having been cut down since our last visit here.

Ventenac. In the shade as Alouette passes us again.

There is a good breeze, from time to time, shade all day, hardly any flies, peace and quiet except for the incessant daytime noise of the cicadas, and no lights at night. And today it is cooler here than in Reading, England, according to my Met Office App! So, as long as our water holds out we are putting our feet up and staying in the shade.

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