Paradise found

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on May 26th 2023.

Our mooring spot on Slag.

I sat on deck, closed my eyes and listened. In the distance I could hear a cuckoo calling. Close by, hidden in the reeds, a coot was clucking in shrill annoyance at a duck that had strayed too close to its territory, whilst above my head I could hear the distinctive call of a pair of lapwings. The temptation to look at them was strong and so I opened my eyes and watched as they twisted and turned with acrobatic grace in the sky above me.

All around us birds were pairing up, a society made of couples: swans, grebes, herons, moorhens, terns, reed warblers, blackbirds, coots, Canada geese and ducks were all busily engaged in singing for a mate or sitting on nests. As is so often the case in the animal and bird world, size isn’t everything. From our mooring we had time to watch them all and soon realized that the diminutive coot was the one to be wary of, paddling out furiously from the reeds in defence of its nest if it felt another bird had overstepped an invisible boundary line.

We were moored up in a complex of man-made lakes north of Maastricht. These were formed through sand and gravel extraction so at some point in the past they may well have resembled the type of landscape we had just passed through in Belgium. As the extraction came to an end the commercial barges and the dredgers moved on and these days the lakes are used by recreational boats. Some of these boaters are like us, looking for nothing more than a peaceful mooring on the bank, but the recreational boating community is diverse and also includes the power boats and jet skiers who have an entirely different outlook on life. It’s not just the noise that is the problem, the wash they create is far stronger than their size would suggest and throws us around all over the place.

We picked a lake called ‘Slag’, not the most fitting name for such a beautiful place. We hoped Slag was too small and thin to be attractive to those strange people addicted to speeding pointlessly backwards and forwards all day, and luckily for us and our birds we made the right choice.

After so much concrete grass seems wonderful.
Path around the lake – our dogs would have loved this.
Beautiful blossom in the hedgerows.
Pair of crested grebes.

After three days soaking up the serenity of this magical place it was time to move on once more. We spent two long days cruising north up the Zuid-Willemswart Canal, followed by one night each in the pretty towns of Heusden and Woudchem.

The old harbour at Heusden.
This shop in Heusden sells nothing but fancy shoes. I was seriously tempted to buy a pair for Michael – his face would have been a picture!

From there we had a short stretch on the River Waal, which is a continuation of the Rhine from Germany, and a short stretch is all I ever need to see of it. It was a veritable motorway of huge commercial ships, a never-ending stream coming from both directions, and we had to cross from one side to the other. We had hoped that there might be a lull in the traffic at some point but they just kept coming and so we picked our moment and set off. It was a windy day with the spray flying and big waves as we hit the wake from passing ships. Olivia Rose must have thought she had suddenly gone to sea and I had a sense of both exhilaration and trepidation. We were as fragile and insubstantial as ants picking a path across a busy road and if our engine had failed in mid-crossing there probably wouldn’t be any more blogs for you to read. At times like these, thankfully rare, I can’t help but recall when our engine failed on the Rhone five years ago. I suspect that memory will always haunt me, ready to surface from my subconscious at the most unhelpful of times.

However, we made it through without incident and as I write this blog we are spending a few days cruising along the River Linge.

Affluent waterside homes along the river.

This river was recommended to us by some boating friends, who suggested it might act as a balm after the industrial landscape around Charleroi in Belgium. A balm indeed, a verdant and peaceful landscape, made all the more beautiful when seen from the water.

Each year there are moments when I am struck by how incredibly lucky we are to have our boat and to visit the places we do and this is definitely one of those times. I have never seen so many young chicks and goslings, or had the repeated pleasure of watching grebes diving for fish, nearly always coming back up with one in their beaks. The water is so clear in places that we can actually see them underwater for a few seconds before they go deeper and disappear from view. If Charleroi was paradise lost, this is paradise found.

Moored up at Heukelem .
A windmill in passing.
If you look hard you can see birds ahead of us in the water.
Water everywhere you look.
Somebody thinks they need to be fed.

See you next week, when the landscape will change again as we head to Utrecht.


10 thoughts on “Paradise found

  1. Hi
    That does look nice. I was in Toulouse last week
    And the water in the midi looked foul. I love canals, but I also love the ocean. Hard to
    Gets boat that does both.

    Sent from my iPhone


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