Hello everyone and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on August 5th 2022.
With the van safely retrieved after our bike journey last week, it was time to move on again in Olivia Rose. The van could stay put for a week or so and then it would be a much shorter ride to come back and pick it up, only 34 kilometres, as we were doing a dogleg, travelling east along the River L’Aisne which then becomes the Canal lateral à l’Aisne before turning almost back on ourselves and heading west and slightly north on the Canal de ‘L’Oise à L’Aisne. Confused? Welcome to our world. We have added in this detour because we now have time on our hands. It had been our intention to bimble slowly up the Canal de Saint Quentin heading north to our winter mooring. However the weed problem is so bad there now that a lock keeper is having to accompany each individual boat along this canal as thick mats of weed are actually preventing the lock gates from opening and closing properly. The weed also blocks propellers and completely jams up the water intake on boats like ours as we have a cooling system that requires water from the canal to cool the engine. It’s slow and stressful for everyone concerned and we decided we would give it a miss.
So, a change of route and an opportunity to see something different. It’s a rare experience to feel hidden away, almost shut away, from the rest of the human race but, as we cruised down these two short stretches of canal, it felt as if we were quite alone.
We’ve got quite a few tunnels to get through in the next few weeks and the Souterrain de Braye was our first. Straightforward enough at just over two kilometres long and reaching a depth of one hundred metres below the surface. A one-way passage, controlled by traffic lights.
Back out in the open air we spent most of the week in what felt like a green tunnel.
On a grey day it could feel claustrophobic, oppressive. There was no towpath or cycle trails, no walkers or fishermen, no roads and hardly any houses for long stretches. We’d need a machete to fight our way through the brambles, nettles and trees that crowded the banks, stretching long fingers out over the water. Many of them had fallen in over the years and we had to keep a constant watch for the tell-tale sign of an innocuous small branch poking out a few inches above the water. All too often we would find a large branch or an entire tree lurking below the surface, eager to jam up our propeller. Our sense of isolation was heightened as for two days straight we didn’t see another boat. All the canal closures further south have drastically reduced traffic.
But on a sunny day the uneasy sense that nature resented our presence faded away under blue skies and instead we could wonder at the wildlife that accompanied us on our journey. I counted ten kingfishers flitting along the banks in front of us, and then decided when there are that many it isn’t necessary to count any more. Herons, always our faithful companions, lifted off majestically from hidden-away perches, flapping lazily down the centre of the channel in front of us, a mirror image reflected in the still waters.
The water was crystal clear, so unusual on a canal, and we could look down and see the fish swimming through the fronds as if it were an aquarium. A big one, almost two-foot long jumped clear out of the water along the side of the boat, splashing down with a thwack, showering droplets that glistened and sparkled in the sunshine. What a privilege. What a joy.
And then suddenly it all changed. We entered the penultimate lock on the Canal de L’Oise à L’Aisne with clear waters. On the other side, a thick blanket of something that we didn’t recognise covered the canal from one side to the other.
You can see from the next picture how different it looks as we cut a channel through it, but it took only a few minutes before it had closed ranks behind us, as thick as if we had never passed through.
We didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t weed, more perhaps a thin bloom of algae, but it felt unpleasant, unclean, and it was a relief when it disappeared as quickly as it arrived about seven kilometres later.
We finished this stage of our journey at Pont L’Eveque. Next week, after a short stretch on the Canal du Nord, we shall join the Canal de la Somme, heading towards the beautiful city of Amiens. For now I will leave you with a picture of the sunset after a day of 35 degrees of heat.
Hope all is well with you.