Read about this trip from the start – here.


The terrain was becoming more pastoral. We were on a high plateau. The canal snaked through grain farms while cows munched on greenery in the fields. We had locked up 60 metres since entering France from Belgium. That afternoon we tied at at Dun-sur-Meuse. Another village. You can see all there is in a quick walk-about if you skip the museums. Not sure if there are any. The mooring spot was right next to a motor-home facility. There was a notice next to the quay saying if we planned on going further through the locks – um yes – we had to phone a number given on the board by 15.00pm. It was a bit late for that at 16.45pm. We got chatting to a couple from Yorkshire who come with their camper van to the same place every year. They gave us directions to a little supermarket. We walked past the lock and found a bloke lurking in the office. We explained our dilemma and he seemed to indicate he would be available to open the locks for us. He asked us the time and name of our boat. Problem solved. Or so we thought.

The next morning our eclusier (lock-keeper) was a no show. So we tied up and went looking for the intercom to call for help. These locks are manual. You can’t click a button to make them happen. It has to be done by a staff member. The lock didn’t have an intercom. Luckily we found another man in an office at the lock. He kindly phoned around and eventually managed to locate someone to come and open the lock for us. It’s hard enough trying to speak French but when they reply, they speak so fast, the words are a complete blur. Afterwards I can sort of pick a sentence apart and understand bits of what was said to me. And then you get words in French like – person – which means nobody but can also mean people. How about vingt which is twenty, vent which means wind and vin which is wine – all pronounced the same.

Pastoral scenes

Now I know this happens in English punctuation, think see and sea. Or two, too and to. But the French also drop the ends of their words and add them on to the beginning of the next word. So Je t’aime is actually Je tu aime (I you love). If  we did that in English, a sentence like – Let’s go – would turn into – Let sgo. And that’s not all. A word like aimer – like or love – can have multiple forms. It could be aimé, aimai, aimons, aimerant or aimeraient. No flipping wonder we were battling to understand French.

Quiet countryside

Our lock keeper duly arrived and took us through three locks. Poor bloke had to wind paddles and open bridges by hand to work these locks. He sure earned his lunch break. And then he said au revoir (goodbye) and we headed for the next lock. Not much happening there so we tied up and went to see what was in store. A boat was coming into the lock. We were happy to wait until that was done so we could pass through. The new lockie mentioned that we had to stop and gave us a number. We thought he meant stop and wait for the next lock keeper, so tied up outside the next lock. And phoned the number given to us. Only to be told they had no staff and we were supposed to pre-arrange someone to take us through the locks. We thought we’d done that. Maybe there was a miscommunication with the lock keeper we encountered the day before? Or maybe you have to phone by 15.00pm end of story. Whatever, we were stuck in the middle of nowhere outside a lock about to lose half a day of travel.

My other half on rope duty in a lock

When things go wrong they tend to all go wrong at once. The astrologers blame it on the stars and say a planet is moving the wrong way in your chart. Whatever, we managed to bash our boat tying up to that pontoon. I was standing on the deck ready to tie us up when a gust of wind took the boat and next thing we had a big fat scratch on the side. With an afternoon to spare all of a sudden, my husband decided to sand-paper the scratch down and cover it with paint to prevent the steel rusting. He had his hands full climbing back on board the boat, lost his grip and dislocated his little finger. The best we could do was create a make-shift splint out of a handkerchief and hope it would be OK. We made good use of the afternoon listening to Michel Thomas French CDs and drinking French wine. That was probably the most peaceful night we had to date.

Stuck outside the lock

The next day all went well, the lock-keepers got us through and we tied up in Verdun. It’s not shown as a particularly big place on the map but it’s a key waterways centre. And a lot bigger than we were expecting. Many of the towns in this area had been destroyed in successive wars and there were quite a few new buildings. Verdun had a lot to offer a visitor but we desperately need to buy food before the shops closed. We had also booked our next day with the waterways staff so we had to leave Verdun. The lock-keeper mentioned a place to shop for organic and healthy foods called La Vie Eclair which means The Lightening Life. We thought that was an interesting choice of name. Then we discovered a massive supermarket called E. Leclerc. We completely misunderstood the lockie. He meant – The E Leclerc. We located E.Leclerc and they sell absolutely everything. Plants, engine oil, tools, appliances and yes, healthy food. We made two trips there.

Stuck outside the lock

I’ve mentioned that this section of the waterways had been really quiet. I wasn’t sure if it is a chicken or egg situation. Perhaps they don’t allocate resources because there is so little boat traffic? Or perhaps boaters don’t come because it’s under serviced? We soon found one reason why. We got chatting to a German couple on the boat in front of us and they regaled us with tales of things going wrong on their boat. One story entailed them entering a lock, he tried to kick the engine out of gear and a cable snapped at that point causing him to smash his boat into the front of the lock. They were such friendly people. Only thing is they both spoke at the exactly the same time. We were trying to listen to each of them as they knew the French waterways well and had lots of useful advice. They mentioned they had been without electricity for the last 5 stops and their batteries were so low they struggled to start their engine in the mornings. We were glad to have our generator.

The story continues – right here.

My other half has his blog – Waterway Wanderer – which you can find – on this link.

And if you can get past our cheezy attempt to show family and friends back home what our boat looks like, you can see a video tour of Shangri La – by clicking here.

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