Back to Briare and Klaus’ garage!

23rd – 26th May 2023

We left our Villeneuve Airbnb to head to our next one for 3 nights back in Briare, picking up Maggie from Marseille d’Aubigny boatyard on the way back. Their barge has been lifted for bottom blacking which Charlie is doing himself courageously. Maggie needed to come back to Briare to pick up their car as they need it in Marseille – there are no shops. Muffin came with us too. She has made a little doggie friend in the boatyard whom she zooms about with but she can’t be left to do that while Charlie is preoccupied. She doesn’t like being lifted up to the boat in a trug apparently so Charlie has to carry her up the ladder to get back on. All very tricky.

Back in Briare we said our goodbyes to Maggie until we see them back in the Uk. We had said goodbye to a dusty, masked Charlie in the boatyard! Sadly we hadn’t been able to book Jean Pierre and Florence’s Airbnb again (above the restaurant) and we were disappointed in the one we had booked; a house in a narrow street which was fine but the facilities were appalling. Only one old bath towel and one hand towel for the two of us, an old thin pilled bottom sheet on the bed, very few cooking pots and they were sticky, no cold tap in the bathroom basin and the hot was so hot you could make a cup of tea with it, no loo paper and despite trying every passcode we could find in the house guide book and on the Wi-Fi boxes, we could not get online. We contacted the host but she was less than helpful. I feel our very first bad review coming up.

But we were back in Briare! Dinner at St Trop with Klaus and June with Rocky under the table this time because Muffin wasn’t with us. June and I celebrated our up-coming birthdays. a lovely evening.

The new owners of Mariana were onboard but we carefully avoided them, having not parted on particularly friendly terms after the sale. Klaus and June now know them as Klaus has done some work for them and they tell us they are perfectly nice people but the buyers attitude was quite rude when we sold and that has stayed with us. The sun had finally appeared so they were enjoying the back deck where we had sat so many times and that gave me a sad pang but I know I shouldn’t be so sentimental. Anyway they left to go cruising the day before we came home so I stopped being reminded which was a relief.

Pizza night onboard Doris with K and J, then market on our last morning to stock up on cheese to take home. Car loaded to the gills and Klaus has space back in his garage. We leave Briare in sunshine! 6pm ferry crossing. Home by 10pm. We’ll be back……maybe another boat calls us.

Night night Briare

Catching up with more friends

19th – 22nd May 2023

The weather didn’t improve all week at Rocamadour; biting winds and showers interlaced with the odd teasing sunny spell. Needless to say we never used the pool which was a pity. On our last day we visited Saint-Cirque-Lapopie, another beautiful hillside town on the Lot. It was worth the winding drive to get there and actually it was warm enough to take off our coats as we walked around enjoying the narrow alleyways and ancient buildings. A sandwich and ice cream for lunch was perfect before we headed back, spruced up and went for dinner at the Roc du Berger where we had had our first meal here. Very nice and a sunset walk back through meadows to the hotel finished off a good day.

On Saturday we set off for our next 3 nights in an Airbnb, looking forward to being on our own schedule again. Eating breakfast in a hotel room (the hotel breakfast wasn’t great and at 13 euros we decided it wasn’t worth it) and having to drink out of mugs we had borrowed from Maggie (thank goodness as there were no glasses in the room) was restricting. We had arranged to visit Diane and Lennie at their new (old) house in Puy L’Eveque, which was only an hour and 15minutes away. We haven’t seen them since partying on our boats in Briare in 2020, since when they have travelled in their barge down South to the Midi, wintering in Castelnaudary. We arrived at their front door at 11.30 and it made us laugh hearing the click of shoes for what seemed like an age as Diane came to open it. We soon found out why: the long hallway of original stunning trompe l’oeil tiles leading to stone stairs to the first floor where the kitchen and living rooms are. On the ground floor more stunning tiles in a front parlour led onto the cellar at the back of the house dug out of the stone hillside which they have stripped out and had treated for termites. The wine racks are ready for wire brushing and cleaning and as we know Diane and Lennie well, they will soon be full of delicious wines collected from their journeys. Their plans for this space are already well underway. First floor had a tired old kitchen but they will paint it and replace the sink, along the corridor from there towards the front of the house is the dining area and then the living room overlooking the street. And a bathroom. Up another flight of newer beautifully made wooden stairs four bedrooms and another shower room. The place goes on and on even into the rafters where the old beams look so sturdy and the roof is clearly watertight. Stating the obvious, this is a typical old French town house with dark corridors opening onto intriguing rooms with vast shuttered windows. We could completely see why they were so excited about it. Well Di is, Lennie said he hasn’t worked so hard for a long time having spent many months gently navigating the canals and rounding his days off sitting in the sun with a glass of wine or sampling the delights of the nearest restaurant. They have chosen so well. We walked with Lennie whilst Diane prepared mussels for lunch. Narrow windy steep streets with beautiful buildings from the 12th and 14th centuries where battles have taken place and then a glimpse through to the vast winding River Lot.

They have identified 9 eateries in their vicinity – one virtually next door which is Michelin starred – it suits their lifestyle so well. 2 hours to the boat so they can pop back and forth as they wish. Diane is a great cook herself and we tucked into fresh Moules in a delicious sauce with crusty bread and a few chips, followed by local cherries and a piece of fruit tart. But it was the banter that was the best part. Catching up with them was such fun and it was hard to resist their offer of a bed for the night and a trip to the bar where jazz would be playing in the evening. Many’s the time we have partied with them, getting s…t-faced (as Len calls it) so we know what it’s like to grog on with them. These two are tremendous hosts and great company and they already seem to know all their neighbours. That doesn’t surprise me. Their life is here now and they live it to the full.

Our Airbnb was fine. A little strange as the owner (a single man but with children by the look of things around the place) has a room of his own still and obviously lives here some of the time. He had left wine, beer, jams and herbal teas for us which was kind. The neighbour had to let us in though as we could not get through the locked front gate to find the key safe for the front door key. Luckily the neighbour had spotted us peering around and called the owner who told him to climb over the fence. Hey ho, all a learning curve. Thank you neighbour.

We are in Villeneuve sur Lot which has seen better days. A bit of a sad rundown place surrounded by industrial and shopping areas. We walked in the following day but our attempt to walk along the banks of the Lot were thwarted as the paths came to dead ends sending you back up to residential streets to get through.

Today we found Don who had moored on the Lateral de la Garonne canal (Baise river) at Buzet which was only a 3/4 hour journey away. It was great that he was able to organise it so that we could meet him and we had lunch with him and his crew mate Kevin at the halte restaurant by the canal. We haven’t seen him since he and Cathyjo left Briare last year to head South too. Our last time of being with them was in Chalon sur Saone last summer. Today was a bittersweet meeting because Cathyjo is no longer with us. It was good to see Don and catch up and he was his usual bright self making the most of what will possibly be his last trip on his barge out here as he has put it up for sale. After much soul searching understandably. We remember Cathyjo with such fondness, her calm gentle laid back manner has stayed in our memories.

Saint Cirque
Saint Cirque
Happy Diane and Lennie
Puy L’Evque
Bunch of loonies

Moving further South

13th – 16th May 2023

On Saturday morning we met our chums at the Chattilon sur Loire brocante to browse and to say our goodbyes for the time being. Sadly the glass lampshade I had spied as a possible buy was not to be because the stall owner was nowhere to be found! We did buy a toy Citroen 2CV for our grandson however. Probably find he has grown out of interest in his car collection by the time we give it to him.!

We drove to Rocamadour in the Lot valley arriving late afternoon. The weather hasn’t cheered much, still grey and rainy and quite cool. The hotel is pleasant with a swimming pool which I am not sure we will use unless the sun appears. The jolly proprietor told us of nearby restaurants for our evening meal and we plumped for the Roc du Berger which was a short walk away through the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. The place was packed and it was a huge restaurant. We had grilled lamb cutlets, salad, potatoes with Gruyère cheese and a half carafe of red wine – perfect. Our bed like many in France is 2 singles made up as a double, comfortable and wide. The shower is odd as it has no bracket above the bath so has to be hand held and there are no glasses in the room for water? Luckily we still have Maggie and Charlie’s tea mugs we borrowed at the Airbnb because that only provided tiny coffee cups. The French don’t do mugs or kettles.

On Sunday we walked into the medieval city of Rocamadour which is on the side of a steep rocky hill. Touristy but very pretty, we strolled the street of shops and had lunch on a terrace overlooking the ravine and the sun came out for us. Later we trudged up the steep road back to the hotel where a thunderstorm rumbled around us for a while. We were able to sit outside later in some sunshine again though, enjoying the garden and views. The hotel is nurturing truffles by planting varying types of oak trees on its land along the driveway entrance. It will be a spectacular woodland eventually but the trees are only 5 years old at the moment. One of the owners explained how you cultivate truffles by planting the spores with an acorn. Good luck to them.

It is clearly walnut season here as they are for sale everywhere and in dishes on all the menus. Rocamadour goats cheese is delicious and the Roc du Berger restaurant also has a lavender farm so lavender miel and ice cream were on the menu. Pete had tried the ice cream and enjoyed it. Local special produce seems to be foie gras, truffles, walnut oils.

On Monday we toured the local picturesque villages of the Dordogne and Pete booked himself a canoe for a Thursday paddle on the Dordogne. It is high and flowing rapidly after all the rain here so his paddle might be cancelled. The villages are so ‘fairytale book’ with higgledy piggledy roofs and Rapunzle turrets set against backdrops of lush greenery, really charming. And today we went to another: Collange la Rouge which as it name gives away, is totally built of red stone. It would make the perfect setting for a Disney film. We had lunch there: good timing as the rain came down again. We are still in jumpers and coats against a biting wind. Still no swimming!

Hotel truffling dog under an ancient fir tree
The newly planted oak forest; our walk to the town
Collange la Rouge
No mortar??

Back to France as landlubbers

8th – 12th May 2023

Took the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry on bank holiday Monday after the coronation weekend where we had been in Bristol with grandchildren. A calm crossing but the weather is cold and grey. We stayed in an Ibis hotel for one night before driving the 4 hours (in non-stop pouring rain) to our home from home Briare.

Unpacked at our Airbnb above our favourite port side restaurant St Trop and immediately went to find our boating chums onboard their boats to hand out their English shopping (including newspapers with all the coronation coverage and photos) which I had gathered for them. A table had been booked for the 6 of us at St Trop so it was a very jolly reunion as we knew it would be. So lovely to see Klaus, June, Charlie and Maggie again and the wine and conversation flowed exuberantly. We were glad to still feel one of the club despite not being boat owners ourselves anymore. I had a slight pang of sadness seeing Mariana still in port. I had hoped she would have gone off on a cruise with her new owner. But she had been cleaned recently of the winter grime that our friends had told us was very bad, so we guess her owner will be back soon to set off somewhere.

Our 4 days here went quickly, filled with more socialising on boats. Maggie made a very impressive high tea which we devoured on the back deck of Proper Job but all zipped in as the weather refused to improve. Sharp contrast to when we were last with them out here last year in high 30 degree heat. Klaus and June gave us an evening meal in their cosy wheelhouse of Frikadellen and veg. Like a burger, but better – they were delicious. Klaus obviously well practiced at this German dish. And we even managed a pizza night for us all in our apartment in relative comfort on an assortment of odd chairs. we all seemed to enjoy it – there was certainly a lot of guffawing.

Charlie showed us his new found vineyard where we bought half a dozen bottles of wine from an interesting farmhouse setting . The winery has been in existence for three generations of the Guerot family and the old house is their ‘shopfront’. Dark and musty with rustic tables and chairs, deep recessed brick ovens and uneven brick floors. The perfect atmosphere to try their wine, only we didn’t, having already sampled it on the boat. When we had loaded our cases into the boot of the car, Charlie said where’s the dog? We returned to the dark depths of the house where Muffin was sitting quietly and patiently looped to the chair. Such a well behaved little dog. I had a warm companion in the backseat of the car all the way back to Briare.

Last 2 weeks in France

17th – 30th September

We settled into our basic little Airbnb house. Luckily the heating works well as the evenings and nights are now becoming quite cool.

The house has everything we need although once again I wonder why there is only one mirror, no cushions and a very poor supply of mismatched very old plates, bowls, cups and glasses in the kitchen. The house has obviously been renovated very well so why let it down by these small things? And the towels! Like cardboard and also old, thin and faded. I’m glad we had our own.

It is taking a long time for me to come down from being in our own space on our lovely boat so I guess I am being fussy. Our buyer continued to haunt us with questions about the hot water and some paperwork (which we had already explained was in the pipeline) via WhatsApp. We could not de-register the boat and the radio until we had actually sold the boat, so it couldn’t have been done any quicker. He clearly hadn’t listened to anything we had told him as he thinks we are back in the UK now. He seems to forget that it was him who required us to give up the boat 2 weeks before our ferry booking back. He now has his partner with him and we hear from our friends in port that she is very nice so I hope they are just rejoicing in the boat they have bought. He had never shown this to us. It’s an odd feeling to hear that she is introducing herself as J from Mariana, it makes me desperately sad, but I guess I am just being childish. Pete has none of these feelings – just relief that the boat has sold this side of winter.

Our mates continue to prop us up with meals and drinks onboard their boats and they have come to our little cave to have lunch with us as well. That’s an odd experience too – being within brick walls with these people is a new experience. We had 2 lovely days out with Maggie and Charlie in Aubigny and Bourges. Aubigny has a very good market with the usual great produce on a par with Briare but their clothes stalls are a cut above. The town has half timbered houses dating from the Middle Ages and is very beautiful and has a connection to the Stuarts in Scotland. We lunched at an English pub (which was as average as an English pub apart from a glass of red Sancerre). Bourges has a huge cathedral and some equally old alleyway streets to explore. It was difficult to find a restaurant for lunch surprisingly but in the end we found a Salon de The serving lunch which proved perfect, a delicious mushroom soup, salad of beetroot, salmon, lentils, quails eggs, lettuce and fennel and a fromages Blanc or chocolate marron for pudding. All finished off with a herbal tea. It had a quaint atmosphere like an English tearoom and a wonderful little shop which Maggie and I enjoyed browsing; nice clothes, china and objet d’art.

We are staying just outside Briare in a little village called St Fermin sur Loire and can walk across the famous Pont into Briare in 25 minutes but it’s still odd not to be nestled alongside other boats and sitting on our aft deck watching life go by along that beautiful terrace we backed onto.

We return and sit on our friends’ boats. The lovely French lady Amelle who is part of the port, has a boat here and a flat above the Capatainerie has just become a grandma and we have enjoyed meeting her son, daughter in law and small newborn grandson which all adds to our feeling of belonging here. Our cheerful French neighbours seemed shocked and genuinely sad that we had sold our boat and bid us all the best. We will miss Francois and her little dog who always said Bonjour and commented on the weather ( Francois, not the dog!). And our friendly young family whose day to day life we encountered across the road with their two small sons who waved at us old folk on the boat. Lovely Bruno, the summer help at the Capitainerie and a boat skipper who works hard at keeping the port tidy and weed free and is so friendly, is leaving to go to Lucerne to be with his girlfriend and to take a position as a theatre technician which is his primary skill, so we have said goodbye to him as well.

On Sunday 25th, roads were closed for a classic car rally. Cars were parked in the market square where there were a few bric a brac stalls and food stuffs and a stage where jolly people were line dancing to loud music. We were invited for a duck roast lunch on Klaus and Junes boat so we continued on to them and after our main course the parade of cars started over the lock bridge and back again and down the terrace and back again so we had a front row view of all these interesting vehicles from their wheelhouse. The cars all hooting of course and Klaus joined in with the barge hooter, giving us a running commentary on the makes of the cars as they crawled past. Apparently the day was to celebrate the building of the N7 motorway some 40 years ago which stopped the heavy traffic coming through Briare and neighbouring towns. Good reason to celebrate.

When we left Klaus and June we dared to walk past Mariana as we know her new owner has now gone back to the states. We really hope he will return before winter sets in because we were upset to see he had not put the dodgers up on the windows nor the mast cover and probably not the back deck bench covers either. All these things and a good wax polish are essential to keep the boat protected. Oh well, not our concern now of course. I have to let it go!

Our last night was spent with our friends at the St Trop restaurant, starting with a glass of fizz on Doris Pickle (Klaus and Junes boat). Klaus and June had scrubbed up for the occasion, looking good in their finery. Muffin arrived very wet as there was a sudden downpour, but her usual mad greeting was as exuberant as ever. We had walked from our Airbnb and got there just before the rain. It goes without saying that we had our usual lively time and some great food with these kind friends and sad goodbyes and hugs at the end of the evening were poignant. We walked back across the Pont in darkness, the lights were off so good job we had brought a torch with us and next morning packed the last of our things, tidied the house and left for Dieppe.

We’ll be back to Briare next year, just not on a boat.

Briare from the Pont
Briare car rally
The last night, Muffin is under the table

Bye bye Mariana

11th – 16th September

Today (11th) our buyer came onboard to meet with Willem and to test drive Mariana. He arrived late, Willem arrived early. I jumped ship to go and have my haircut and to also avoid the lengthy process of him learning all about the engine etc from Willem and Pete.

As I walked away and wandered through Briare I felt such a loss. Briare is a second home and we now have great friends here and are on Bonjour terms with the locals. Our boat has been our home on and off for 4 and a half years and this year has been of extra importance as she has been our shelter and joy whilst we wait for our house to be built. Her quality is superior to that house.

Dear Klaus and June had invited me on for coffee so that’s where I went after my haircut, feeling for Pete as he was having to go through all the boats intricacies – information we never had when we bought her, we had to learn for ourselves. It was great that Willem could draw up the survey as he knows the boat inside out having serviced it all this time. I came back onboard to distribute some bakery quiches for lunch. My original belief that they would be done by lunchtime was way out.

Unfortunately I was onboard for the test drive which I hadn’t intended. Pete and Willem handled the boat with expertise and our buyer did well too for a first go. I stayed well out of it until Pete expertly backed in to our berth, whereupon we automatically clicked back into our roles – me getting off and guiding Pete the last couple of feet and tying off. Our teamwork is embedded in both of us.

They left around 3pm. Buyer satisfied but still not showing much enthusiasm which we find odd. He has asked us about things we are leaving and things we don’t even have onboard (coffee maker) and seems to expect quite a lot to be left. He will get crockery, cutlery, some pots, duvet pillows and bedding and the table that Stu built for us. He compares constantly to his 50’ sailing boat in the US which I guess is inevitable but to us a little pointless. This is a different boat for different waters. He has requested for us to leave on Friday (2 weeks before we had planned) and will stay out here on the boat until the end of the month. Stupidly and emotionally I don’t want to see him and his lady friend who is joining him on it, although I know I have to get over that.

So we move out with a heavily loaded car. Some stuff in Klaus’ garage which he has kindly found us some space in and some stuff already back in the UK at Charlie and Maggie’s. We know we will be back to Briare next year but in an Airbnb this time. By then I will have accepted that she is no longer ours.

Our buyer came back over the last few days to ask questions and sat on the bench behind the boat which we found intimidating and intrusive. One day he appeared at the window with a French friend and made me jump. On the day before we were due to hand over to him he arrived unannounced as usual and whilst we were out shopping helped himself onto the back deck to sit and work on his laptop. Uninvited of course – it was not his boat until the money had been paid. I found this behaviour very upsetting and Pete was outraged. Eventually he left after more polite discussion about money transfersso that at least we could have our last night quietly on our own as we had hoped. The sun shone again after some rain and we sat in the bow with our wine and talked about all the good times we’d had. This was in complete contrast to the night before when our 4 friends had come onboard for pizzas and fizz. The usual raucous mayhem! They seem to be genuinely sad to see us go but we’ve assured them we will be back to get in their way – Briare is in our blood now and these are friends we don’t want to lose.

On the 16th we packed the last things in the car, handed the key over and left the boat to go to an Airbnb in St Firmin, the other side of the pont. Our buyer left us to this once he had the key as he was going to meet his partner.

In my stressed state after a last hoovering up I shook the dust from the integrated plastic cylinder into the canal and dropped the unit. Some 45 minutes of fishing with boat poles and Charlie’s net that he uses for fishing the dogs toys out of the water, we gave up. The hoover that I had bought new at the beginning of this trip had to be dumped. I did confess to the buyer! Luckily in his new enthusiastic mood with a bag full of produce from the market, he didn’t seem to mind.

So now we are back within brick walls for our last 2 weeks in France.

The Agriculture bar on the right – many happy memories
Cheers Mariana, it’s been a blast

A trip to Italy

1st – 5th September

We decided to take a road trip from the boat to visit my family in Bologna. We closed up the boat as rain was forecast and headed off towards Geneva on the wonderful French motorways. The whole journey was to take some 10 hours so we split it into 2 days, stopping in Sallanches in the shadow of Mont Blanc and staying in an Ibis Styles hotel. We queued for the Mont Blanc tunnel for 30 minutes, but apart from that the journey was easy. That said, once through the tunnel and across the border, the Italian drivers proved their usual mad selves. They tailgate, rarely indicate to change lanes (even lorry drivers) and frequently exceed the speed limit. We have a theory that the more densely populated a country, the worse the driving habits. In the vastness of France, people feel unpressured and are therefore courteous even if they are in a hurry. We were glad we weren’t travelling any further through Italy!

The ibis stop was fine, the hotels are basic but very good. It was located in a beautiful valley setting with snow capped mountains around us but at one end of a shopping strip with ghastly restaurants including a MacDonalds. We walked to the other end of the strip where we had identified an Italian restaurant and had a great meal. It was nice to have pasta for a change; spaghetti putenesca my favourite. We waddled back to the hotel as the sun disappeared behind the mountain.

Next day we arrived in Monte San Pietro. How wonderful is satnav. We have driven here before many times but always struggled to find it as it is quite a remote spot and my aunt and uncles house is well hidden from the road, but this time by putting in the exact address it was a breeze. We arrived around 4pm and I was quite tearful with emotion as I hugged my aunt, uncle and cousin. It was so good to see them.

They are a warm and welcoming lot and we were soon into the wine on their lovely terrace overlooking the vineyard hills. Temperatures were comfortably warm. We enjoyed a meal of cold meats, salad and fruit whilst catching up with all their news and ours, my aunt translating for my uncle and my cousin stumbling with her English and apologising which she doesn’t need to do because she speaks it well. We are the ones who should try harder with our languages.

We slept well in the cool shuttered bedroom – the last time I was here I shared the bed with my sister, having come to visit them all with my recently widowed mum and my niece from Oz back in 2014 (?) my cousins house is next door.

The next day my cousin’s boyfriend and her ex husband set to work in the store room beneath the terrace, clearing out all the accumulated junk there in readiness for the building of 3 dwellings that the family have received planning consent for. Pete offered his help but they appeared not to need it – working so fast and loading a van to take stuff to the dump plus lighting a huge bonfire. The idea is with the properties is that my cousins son will have one and the other 2 will be rented out. My only thought is that my aunt and uncle will have their peace disrupted whilst the building work goes on and the land directly behind their back door will have garages on it. They are in their 80s now, so it will be a big change for them. That said they are totally resigned to the idea and seem unfazed – the property and land is owned by their daughter and her ex so it is their prerogative.

The young hard workers stopped for lunch of course and we had a fantastic tagliatelle ragu followed by tortellini around a noisy dining table. This is my abiding memory of my Italian family: noisy chatter with lots of gesticulating and excellent food and wine. Why can’t we make pasta dishes in the same way? It always tastes so much nicer here. I love the fact that Stefano and Francesco get on well together and that Dani is still good friends with her ex. Italian families look out for one another, despite the inevitable differences between generations.

The rest of our 3 day stay was spent walking in the hills, me reminiscing with my aunty about memories of my grandparents and their home, Pete enjoying broken English conversations with my uncle and my cousin coming and going to join in between being with Francesco and her shy timid dog in her house when she needed the break from being with us.

On the last night we took them out for a meal in a nearby village. Dani had identified a good restaurant although she was concerned it might not be as good as when she had first gone there a couple of years ago. We didn’t want to go into the centre of Bologna especially so were pleased she’d been able to find it. Need I say the food was superb.

We left the next morning and once again I felt tearful. My uncle isn’t well so it was a poignant farewell. I have so many happy memories of first being a bridesmaid at their wedding then coming to Italy to see them first with my sis and parents when I was 13, then with my friends, then with Brian and my children, my sister and her daughter and my mum and with Pete over the years.

Ann, Stefano and Daniela’s view
San Pietro
Stefano, Francesco, Stefano (Stefanino) and Ann. The quiet before the chatter.
My dear uncle who had just said ‘smell’ instead of smile for the camera which is why I am laughing so much
Meal out, Stefano choosing to sit on Pete’s lap for the photo
Aunty Ann looking like my mum

Briare life

5th – 17th August 2022

We are gradually sorting through stuff on the boat and working out how we are going to get everything back to the UK. Dear Klaus has let us store some things in his garage and Charlie has offered to take some stuff back to the UK to store in his garage as he has to return for a short time in August. We have gathered together clothes and bedding that we will not need immediately we get home as we don’t know when we will be able to collect it all from them. They haven’t decided when they are returning to their home.

So the days drift by punctuated by the odd day out, a paddle in the Loire, visits to shops with June and the market to buy myself a dress from her friend there, as well as the wonderful fruit, veg and cheese of course. We have been back from our canal cruise for 3 weeks but it feels a lot longer. The weather has been extremely hot and some days it is impossible to do anything but sit by a fan. The Loire ‘beaches’ are a blessing where you can sit in tree shade and wade in the river ( it’s a little too dangerous to swim and prohibited, although some folk brave it). Perfect peace with just the occasional canoe passing by.

We visited Alperment sur Allier, a famous medieval village just over an hours drive away where we had a delicious lunch and a walk around the beautiful park there. It’s a tourist attraction but there were very few people there and we had no trouble getting a table on the terrace at the restaurant.

Several evenings have been spent with Klaus and June too which has been fun. Charlie and Maggie are away cruising since being at their nieces wedding. They are dropping off their sons in Montargis for them to catch the train to Paris and then Calais for their journey home. We have seen Deb and Bob who have a boat here and a house in Briare. Like us, their floating travels have been curtailed by low water levels. They appear to be having a rethink about what they may do next year as are many people. It is clear things are not going to change and water supplies have to be prioritised for more important uses than leisure boating. Another English sea-going boat that arrived in port has been held up on its journey to the Med. it’s owner planning to have it lifted out and transported to Chalon sur Saone in order to be able to continue his cruise South via rivers, but the cost is prohibitive and he has now decided to cut his losses and return to Jersey by lorry transport. We think he has had enough of canals and locks! So disappointing for him. We marvel at the fact that he has got this far. The air draft is high so canal bridges must have been tricky on the way down, let alone the low water and weed problems.

The house build in the UK judders along on a stop start basis which at times is concerning. It’s another sign of the times I guess.

We had a birthday dinner for Pete and Maggie at the Petit St Trop which was great fun as always, starting on Klaus and Junes barge with a glass of champagne, then finishing there as well with a night cap. My evening meal was enhanced by having a little Muffin rest her head on my foot beneath the table.

The hot weather has given way to rain showers and a cooler temperature which we are all grateful for. Boats have stopped coming and going from the port now as canals close. Surface weed gathers in the port as there is less movement.

We watch Briare life go by from our back deck and mostly life is lazy and slow, not unlike our retired life generally. We still count ourselves very lucky to be living this life whilst we wait for our house to be completed. We couldn’t be in a nicer town with friends around us, good food and copious amounts of excellent local wines. What a shock it will be to go back to a UK winter!

Paddling place
Sorbet in a chocolate cup at the Pont
Loire sunset
Alperment Parc
A folly in the parc
Jousting tournament

Off to Montargis
On our evening stroll along the Loire

Enjoying company again and clearing boat

21st – 29th July 2022

Back to socialising with Charlie and Maggie and Klaus and June. Lots of jolly good loud fun on the back decks of their boats. We have made the decision to sell Mariana and none of them are happy about it which is flattering. We are sure we will come this way again and see Klaus and June though and Charlie and Maggie live quite near us in the UK so plans are already being made to visit each other. Briare is such a home to us now and we cannot imagine we will not be back. Just not on our boat. That said, she may take a while to sell so we could be back out here next spring anyway.

The process of cleaning and clearing her started as the broker was booked to come and take photos etc within 3 days. She gleamed by the time they came onboard and after 3 hours they had all the info they needed. Just like clearing our house to sell it, it is an emotional and tiring exercise. And it’s shocking to see how much clutter we have accumulated in 4 years of owning her.

We still have until 1st October to live here which is lovely and we will make the most of it. On Sunday there was a jousting event by the capitainerie building which was quite gentle and civilised. We have seen this in Sette and the atmosphere was far more competitive and aggressive. Fun to watch and we marvel at the boatmens ability to balance, wield the massive sticks and do the splits to brace themselves for the jab!

Charlie and Maggie’s sons came out to join them on Monday and it was a joy to meet them and have some younger people around. I fear us oldies bored them silly, but they were very polite and didn’t complain and added to the entertainment willingly. They are all off to Maggie’s nieces wedding in the Morvan by car so we won’t be seeing them for a little while. Muffin too.

Nail biting timing

18th – 21st July 2022

Hooray on Monday 21st, exactly 2 weeks from when we arrived, the batteries finally arrived at 11 am and Sid (helped by Pete) fitted them by 1pm and we were off again in the searing heat. We knew we had to make headway now so set ourselves some gruelling deadlines to moorings. We arrived in Fleury by 6pm having been told by the eclusier he doubted we would get to the next lock before evening closing time 7pm. Fleury-sur-Loire’s little port was busy with mostly hire boats and their bankside restaurant was now completed so of course it was a no-brainer to have a steak and chips there under the shade of their trees on the newly laid gravel along with all the other boaters and camper vanners. So nice to relax as the evening cooled and we continued to cool off on our back deck with an evening cup of tea while children played around us until dark. Earlier a man of our age group had jumped in the water for a cool off with his paddle board only to find there was nowhere to climb out. He appeared at our stern and asked if he could use our swim platform to climb out onto, his family all gathering to help him. He managed to pull the ladder down and heave himself up but it was clear he was shaken. A lesson learned I guess.

Next day with trepidation because we remembered this pound being very weedy when we went up, we set off for our next stop Beffes. The temperature reached 40 and I think we virtually drank all the water in our tanks over the day. We travelled for around 7 hours which is a long time for us. Thankfully weed was not too much of a problem – we think the VNF had cleared some of it. The heat took it out of us though and Pete went by himself to the small supermarket and Boulangerie once we had tied up. I was so exhausted.

Next morning was cooler thank goodness and we continued our cruise intending to get to Beaulieu-sur-Loire at least, if not Briare. BUT despite making good headway we got to the lock above Mentreoul (Sancerre) and were held up in it whilst 2 fairly incompetent novice eclusiers faffed around with gates and paddles. After about half an hour all in all with holding out in the first place, 2 older eclusiers came and operated the lock but discovered an enormous wedge of weed in the top gates which was causing problems. We got through with another boat but time was wasted. The other boat moored and we continued. We were then told at a subsequent lock that we may not be able to go through Belleville lock as it was closing due to lack of water. Charlie and Maggie had warned us by email that these pounds were dangerously low so we were already aware. When we reached Belleville we were not allowed through to the visitor moorings with facilities because the water was too low. We had to moor above the lock with several other boats all in the same situation. That was the end of the day, the lock was closed as was the one beyond it; Maimbray. We had no option. The water was too shallow for us even in this pound so we had to tie up the bow. And let the stern of the boat swing out into the canal. At that point I realised I probably would not be able to get off.

Pete managed to jump to the bank and go to the see the eclusier to find out what he could about the situation. It wasn’t good news, nobody could tell us when the lock might reopen. It was Wednesday and the vague estimate was Monday. The reason given was weed further up from where we had come, but that didn’t really make sense to us. Why would that affect water levels? Later we found out that it was clogging the feed channels from reservoirs and until the VNF could clear that the water would remain low.

We settled for the evening discussing returning to Lere some 2 kms back where at least we would have hook up and the water was high enough for us to moor properly.

Next morning a decision had been made to ‘experiment’ getting 2 hire boats through the lock and pound. They draw less than us so we didn’t hold out much hope for our escape just yet but we watched with interest as they went on their way without running aground.

I braved trying to get off the boat in an ungainly fashion by squeezing under the rail, sitting on the edge of the boat and stretching my legs to get my feet on the bank while Pete held the bow in as tight as he could. Hooray, success, the thought of being imprisoned made me determined.

We went to the little supermarket to stock up. Belleville is a pretty place to be stuck, so it was pleasant to walk the streets. When we returned to the boat we saw a lady eclusier messing about in the lock and Pete went to talk to her. She had gone down with the experiment boats and reported that that had been a success, asked us what our draw was (1.1) and where our propeller was situated and suggested that we could try and leave at 1pm. Another angel eclusier with some gumption. Aurelie Bidoire, we thank you heartily. With heart in mouths we set off at a snails pace and after Maimbray lock the water was deep enough again and we were able to get up speed. By around 5pm we had crossed the Briare Pont and had arrived in port waving to Klaus and June in joy at being ‘home’.

The summer eclusier in port, Bruno was there to meet us looking for all the world like Jesus with his long dark hair and beard! He informed us that the canal going South would probably close in the next couple of days so we really had got back by the skin of our teeth!

Yay, happy to be back and to see our friends and tomorrow is market day.