On the Road Again

We departed our winter mooring of Valenciennes, near the Belgium border, heading south on the Schelde River, known as the Escarpe in France, then to the Canal du Nord. We are now on the seldom traveled Scarpe River, whose ancient locks are too small for modern barges and thus the lack of that sort of traffic. Even few pleasure boaters seek its pleasures, for in France canal boating is not terriblly popular among the French. It’s mostly us foreigners.

We spent the first night in Bassin Rond, near the town of Paillencourt. There’s room for three boats our size on a well maintained pontoon. We were welcomed by our winter neighbors, whom we’d just met in Valenciennes as they were readying their 15 meter barge for summer’s outing. They told us how pleasant a mooring this is so we followed them a day later.

We walked to town of Paillencourt the next morning, a Sunday. The bakery was open, with fresh bread, pain au chocolate, tartalettes and more wonderful treats awaiting. They even had a corn flour baguette-shaped bread. It’s just past the town’s WWI-WWII memorial. There the deaths were numerous during WWI. Several civilians murdered by the Nazis are listed. Down the road there is a plaque to a pilot who died when his plane crashed in May, 1944.

The locals, or at least some of them, were happy to say hello. One in particular wanted to try out his very limited English and even offered to buy us another coffee as we sat outside in the sun. He’s the one who told us about the plaque down the street. His wife joked with us about her husband’s gift of the gab and that he appeared to know everyone. This is not a surprise, I suppose, given that we are in a small pond after all. There are just some 1000 residents.

He tried to remember our names. Mine was the most difficult for some reason. After three efforts I gave him a hint. That did not work. Then I said, “Macron.” “Nooooo” he said. This is the second time I’ve had this reaction, the first in Valenciennes when I joked with the cashier, saying “Macron” as I signed the credit card receipt. I have read that there is a lot of support in northern France for Le Nazi. My take is that people in some areas are more worried about economic issues than being associated with a person with a racist past. They do not want to support any more immigrants- they have many indeed.

After two nights in the Bassin we continued on the Canal de la Sensee, passing large barges being loaded with grain. After a bit we radioed the next lock. He had told us to enter. He returned a bit later to explain that two barges were coming in behind us. Normally the large craft enter first while the smaller ones wait for the barges to completely stop. The two came in behind us very slowly, and given the size of the lock, there was no problem, even given that the one to our side just had the captain aboard. Behind us a woman with purple hair handled the huge lines, gave a big smile and waved hello. That made me feel warmed all over.

Lock on the Canal de la Sansee, northern France
Lock on the Canal du Nord, northern France
In the lock on the Canal de la Sansee

The friendly lock keeper gave us the remote control for the locks on the Scarpe River. He said there were additional instructions at the first lock. After we entered the Scarpe River, we came upon the lock and no instructions in sight, or we missed them. The lock did not operate. The phone number he gave us led only to a recording. After 30 minutes we were still waiting for a reply so I wrote to our winter neighbor. He gave us a number that worked. Soon we had a proper explanation. We thought we were supposed to touch “Avalant” not “Montant.” Montant means going upstream, that is going towards the source of the river, and that is what we are in fact doing. Our error. After it would not open I did try Montant but apparently once you make this mistake they have toreset the system. Finally we entered the lock to find the two rods that fill the lock and open the gates. I pulled down. Nothing. Another VNF truck had come by so I looked at the driver. He said you push up. We had not been told that. I supposed I would have tried that eventually.

We went through another lock without incident, but the third would not open at first. After about 30 minutes I tried again. The gates opened, it filled slowly and gently. We stopped for the night in Blache-Saint-Vaast.

Lock on the Scarpe River, northern France
Lock on the Scarpe River. It looks fierce but was quite gentle.

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