Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 19

Travelling the Inland Waterways of Europe from The Netherlands to France – Part 19

Read about this trip from the start – here.  


We tied up that afternoon in a place called Ligny-en-Barrois. There was a petrol station right next to the marina. It would have been ideal to top up our fuel canisters but we were too scared to carry any diesel on our boat given the circumstances of the past week. It was a nice enough town but we had no time to explore as we needed to locate a supermarket before the shops closed. There was a Carrefour just over 1 kilometre out of town. And a Brico store which is what they call a hardware shop in France. We took a walk with our wheelie shopper bag.

Ligny-en-Barrois had Internet if you sat right outside the toilets. And it had clean facilities. The shower allowed 10 seconds of luke-warm water. I had to wash my hair with one hand so I could keep the other hand free to push the water button. My other half and I met a lovely Australian couple also trying to get wifi outside the toilets. Their boat was similar to ours, a Dutch steel motor cruiser which they bought around the same time as us. They had done all their boating in France and were heading toward the Netherlands. The opposite to what we had done. We got some really useful tips from them. One thing I wanted to see was what they did with their radar arch. The maximum height on the French waterways is 3.50 metres – with the odd exception. We had to drop our radar arch every morning and it was not only taking up space on the back deck but we kept knocking our heads. Not an ideal situation when dealing with ropes in locks every 500 metres. It’s always nice to meet fellow English speakers and share experiences.


Our next day was much easier with only 16 locks and 15 kilometres. While it’s easier to set your ropes locking down, the water levels inside those locks was so high that our boat fenders kept finding their way onto the quay and were not protecting our boat. Also the bollards to tie the boat up were so small our ropes kept popping off. They put the bollards at weird intervals so we were either almost at the front of the lock, not close enough to the pole to activate the automated locking process or our ropes weren’t long enough to tie up at both ends. But after what we had been through that was plain sailing. Never-the-less, pressure to get to our end point in good time was causing us both quite a bit of anxiety.

I was too scared to use the remote control but my husband seemed to have the knack. At one of the locks he pushed the button and the flipping thing wouldn’t work. Again. He tried a few times. Still nothing. We had an action replay of the day before. Me hopping off the boat and walking to the next lock to ask for help. Muddling in French to try and explain. Desperately trying to understand what the call centre said to me.

My other half activating the lock

They managed to open the lock from a control centre. Fortunately the remote control worked after that. We stopped around 15.00pm at Bar-le-Duc and planned to take a much needed day out. The marina was right next to a motor-home facility. They seem to do that in Europe – put all the travelers and happy campers together in one place. A lady pitched up at 18.45 to 19.45pm at the office next to the marina. My husband paid for our two nights, plus a R20 deposit for a key to the facilities and got his receipt to display in the window.


Bar-le-Duc had an old city and a new city. We found a walking guide in English at the marina and went to explore the lovely old medieval section of the town. We also had a meal at a Middle Eastern type cafe. Nothing sexy, a plate of chips and a salad sandwich. With sauce. Plus a pichet (carafe) of red wine. It was nice to do something different. The covered food market was a bit of a let down. A huge hall with only four vendors. However right opposite was a fabulous organic food shop called Bio Clair. Oh. My. Word. Lots and lots of fantastic food options for us. All the things we couldn’t find in any of the supermarkets were available and then still more options.

Meal out in Bar-le-Duc

The predicament we found ourselves in was because we had to add extra distance to our planned trip as a result of the Canal des Vosges closing and us finding out far too late. We had to to do quite a bit of back-tracking to get to an alternate route. It was partly our own fault. No-one was surprised the canal was closed. Apparently canals in France flood or don’t have enough water and close often. It would have been nice if the lock-keepers had asked us our route and offered advice but it would seem in France it is incumbent on a traveller to foresee any potential problems. The canals in France are divided up into priority canals and non-priority canals. France is big country with 8 000 kilometres of waterways and major waterways take priority over smaller ones. These little under-used canals do not get sufficient attention. Understandably. We would have to be better informed in future travels.


It was also apparent that very few if any people working on the waterways could or would speak English. We would have to improve our French. You would think in this day and age VNF would have something in place to allow for waterways travellers who don’t speak French to receive assistance? Particularly given the frequency a person experiences some kind of glitch passing through the locks?

We made a point of asking fellow travellers if they had problems with the locks. Our experiences were by no means unique. I remembered the words of the Australian guy we met with his Dutch wife returning after spending a few years in France. He commented that things are a lot cheaper in France. But nothing works. Certainly not a day had passed for us without at least one problem with either the telecommand (remote control), the locks or the lock-keepers on the waterways. All this added unexpected time delays to our trip. One other thing we had to do was allow a LOT more time for our trips.

Leaving Bar-le-Duc

The next day we wanted to get to Pargny-sur-Saulx. It was yet another long day so we got ready nice and early. My other half went to return the key at Bar-le-Duc. And collect his refund. The office was supposed to open from 8.30am to 9.30am. By 9.15am we gave up waiting for anyone to arrive and left with the key, leaving a note on the door with our mobile number. No-one bothered to call.

The story continues – right here.

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