Wednesday 24th May. Today we transversed the Balesmes Tunnel, nearly 5km long, built mid 1880s, and ‘supposedly’ well lit the entire way, more on that shortly. We left Piépape early that morning, climbing 11 locks in 9kms before reaching the tunnel and after a briefing from the VNF staff we headed on in. The lights are automatic so cruising slowly through they light the way forward. Unfortunately for us once we were well into the tunnel the lights went out and it was pitch black. While I raced into the galley to find a big torch Alan tried his best to work out which way was forward. Impossible as it turned out and we drove into the rail of the pathway on the left, causing crashes inside and out.
Then suddenly the lights relit and we could see one of our balloon fenders floating away behind us. Since we were handily connected to the railing I gingerly climbed off the side of the boat with a boathook in hand and ran back, managing to hook the fender out of the water and returned to the boat feeling just a little bit frazzled. But we set off again, this time I sat up the front with the torch just in case and sure enough out the lights went again. Alan did a superb job keeping the boat heading straight and just as well as the lights were on and off the whole hour it took us to pass through. We tried going slower or faster but it didn’t seem to make any difference and we emerged into the bright daylight damp, cold and very tired. Note to self: Have our spotlight, powered by the generator, ready to go even if the tunnel is well lit!
Still, job done and after two more locks, (now having reached the summit we started descending) and tied up in Langres-Marne, celebrating with a cold beer.
Later on we had a catch-up with a South African couple, Keith and Val on Baars, who we had met a couple of years ago.
Thursday 25th May we took a taxi up the very steep hill to the ancient walled town of Langres. It is thought that Langres was founded as early as 2nd century AD and it was occupied by both the Gauls and the Romans. It’s a stunning town and as it was Assumption Day, a public holiday and important religious festival for the Catholics, we chanced upon an organ and choir practice before the service at 11am. Just stunning and so atmospheric.
After walking back down the hill we cast off and headed along the canal this time with a lockeeper accompanying us. We wondered why since the locks were automatic but once we arrived at the 6th lock of the day they became manual again. We arrived in Rolampont after 3 hours and just managed to get our bow onto the full quay and staked the stern onto a grassed area with some excellent help from the other boaters. Another quiet night for us with a big day planned the next day.
Friday 26th May. After visiting the market at Rolampont (only a fruit and vege stand plus the Rotisseried chicken van, we may have been too early for other stalls) we fronted up to the first lock of the day with a grumpy female lockeeper. It was a long slow slog of a day in a 30° heat so no wonder she was grumpy. But eventually she and I had a chat in French about us, our boat and France and she even smiled at one point! 7 hours, 14 locks (12 manual) and 29kms later we finally pulled into Chaumont to find the quay full. So disappointing. We noticed there were 3 metres spaces between all the boats so called out asking if someone could move forward, or back, so we could squeeze in. Initially we were either ignored or told no but we persisted and finally a lovely Australian on a big barge and a rather annoyed Swiss on a cruiser each moved allowing us the finally moor up for the day. We were exhausted! A very quiet night. I’m in bed by 8pm at the moment, so tired!
Saturday 27th May we took a taxi up the hill (another steep climb) to the city of Chaumont, the administrative capital of this area, the Haut Marne. It’s another beautiful town with a stunning cathedral, where we heard the organist playing one of my all time favourite songs, Halleluia, by Leonard Cohan. Amazing. We treated ourselves to Le déjeuner in the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville. Crocque Monsieurs on steroids. We took in the sights, including the Jesuit Chapel, then walked back down the hill in the 31° heat.
And here we are now, crashed out on the boat trying to stay out of the sun and watching boys jumping into the canal to cool off.
Here are our stats since we left St Jean de Losne.
St Jean de Losne to Auxonne. 3.1 engine hour, 14 kms, 1 lock
Auxonne to Oisilly Viaduc. 6.1 hours, 35 kms, 8 locks
Oisilly to Cusey. 5.5 hours, 27kms, 15 locks.
Cusey to Piépape. 3.5 hours, 13kms, 11 locks
Piépape to Langres. 5.3 hours, 20kms, 13 locks, 1x 5km tunnel.
Langres-Rolampont. 3.1 hours, 11kms, 7 locks.
Rolampont to Chaumont. 5.6 hrs, 29kms, 14 locks.
That is 7 days, 32.1 engine hours (we have started to turn the engine off in the locks), 149kms, 69 locks and 1 tunnel.
We are heading to Paris but it’s a long way off yet and we still have the Champagne region to visit with all its Houses and those tastings don’t do themselves you know.